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Daily Howler: It happened during Campaign 2K. Are you happy with how it turned out?
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DEM-ON-DEM VIOLENCE! It happened during Campaign 2K. Are you happy with how it turned out? // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 8, 2007

POST FLUNKS TEST: We’re often struck by the Washington Post’s editorials on public education. Case in point: Tuesday’s lead editorial, praising George Miller for supporting No Child Left Behind.

As often occurs when the Post writes about testing programs, the editorial makes a basic mistake. It seems to think that annual testing can show a school how to fix the problems the tests may reveal. We groaned when the editors lumbered ahead in paragraph 3, for example:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (8/7/07): There is no question that No Child Left Behind has brought accountability to America's classrooms. In the past, schools could claim overall success while masking the failures of poor and minority children; No Child Left Behind doesn't allow any group to be ignored. But Mr. Miller is right in saying that students are still not achieving as they should and that there are flaws in the law. Certainly there is an argument for more flexibility in rewarding schools that have improved student achievement but still fall short of proficiency goals. It is encouraging that Mr. Miller wants to toughen state standards, focus more attention on high schools, improve the quality of tests and pay more to teachers more who perform better. That he is willing to take on the issue of teacher pay is especially important, given the opposition and clout of the National Education Association.
It’s the law! In mainstream “journalism,” you’re not allowed to write three grafs without sliming the vile NEA!

In the larger sense, what’s wrong with the reasoning in that passage? “There is no question that No Child Left Behind has brought accountability to America's classrooms,” the editors say. Note: By “accountability,” they pretty much mean “testing.” Here’s what the editors actually mean: There is no question that No Child Left Behind has brought testing to America's classrooms.

For the record, we’re not opposed to annual testing (although it’s often put to bad uses). Quite the contrary; in our view, annual testing is extremely important. (Without it, schools are free to tell you any damn thing—and they frequently will.) But annual testing can’t tell a school what to do if its test scores are weak. In many low-income schools, annual tests will show that the school’s deserving kids are years behind traditional standards. But as a general matter, those tests can’t tell the school what to do to fix that grinding problem.

The Post never seems to get that. Despite all that “accountability” (despite all that testing), the editors observe that “students are still not achieving as they should.” But they think they know what we should do! We should “toughen state standards,” they say; in saying this, they irrationally skip right past the fundamental problem revealed by the tests. (Many kids can’t come close to meeting the lower standards—the ones that already exist.) And we should “improve the quality of tests!” But in low-income schools, new, improved tests will say the same thing the previous tests have already said. They will often say that deserving kids are years behind—but they won’t tell you how you can fix that.

In this editorial, the Post makes a familiar mistake—a mistake that drive-by bleeding hearts have been making for many years. They seem to think that annual testing shows us how to fix the problems which are revealed by the tests. But these tests don’t—and can’t—do any such thing. Endless, know-nothing huffing and puffing won’t ever tell us how to serve the interests of poor children either.

TOMORROW: Our guess: There are more problems with Washington’s textbooks than are dreamt of in M-Rhee’s philosophy.

DEM-ON-DEM VIOLENCE: We groaned when the YKos audience cheered. Obama was responding to Clinton. Here’s what the solon said:
OBAMA (8/4/07): I disagree with the notion that lobbyists don't have disproportionate influence.

[Applause]

Look, the insurance and the drug companies—the insurance and the drug companies spent $1 billion in lobbying over the last 10 years.

Now, Hillary, you were talking earlier about the efforts you made back in '93. Well, you can't tell me that that money did not have a difference. They are not spending that just because they are contributing to the public interest. They have an agenda.
Duh—they have an agenda. But our analysts groaned at Obama’s response—because they’d seen what Clinton had said. She hadn’t said that industry money doesn’t have disproportionate influence—that it didn’t have influence in 1993, for example, when it paid for those “Harry and Louise” ads. And Obama, of course, is a very smart person. He must have known that as he “responded” to Clinton’s prior remarks:
CLINTON (8/4/07): I don't think, based on my 35 years of fighting for what I believe in, anybody seriously believes I will be influenced by a lobbyist...

You know, a lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans, they actually do. They represent nurses, they represent social workers, they represent—yes, they represent corporations that employ a lot of people. So, you know, the idea that somehow a contribution is going to influence you—I just ask you to look at my record. I have been fighting for the same things, my core principles have not changed, but I do want to be the president for everybody, and I want to represent the entire country, and that is what I'm aiming to do in my campaign.
Clinton hadn’t denied the obvious fact that lobbyists have a large influence. She had said something totally different—that lobbyists don’t influence her. You might think that’s true, or you might think that’s false. But surely, Obama must have known that his “rebuttal” was off-point. But so what—the applause rolled down! Moments later, Edwards didn’t do a whole lot better:
EDWARDS (8/4/07): How many people in this room have a Washington lobbyist working for you? I see two, three. How many people are in the room? Fifteen hundred, 2,000? You are not represented by Washington lobbyists. They need to cut these people off, that's what we need to do.
Apparently, there were no teachers in the room. Yes, kids—teachers have lobbyists too! So do America’s firefighters.

Should Dems take money from registered lobbyists? In our view, it’s a fairly narrow point—a point some may have misunderstood when they applauded Obama’s non-rebuttal rebuttal. But we’re now reaching the season of Dem-on-Dem violence—the juncture in a primary race when one Dem might trash another Dem’s character to boost himself with primary voters. Bradley did this to Gore in Campaign 2000, and it was deeply harmful in the general election (example below). Because we think this is such a dangerous tack, we thought it was worth a bit of clarification about the lobbyist matter.

Should Dems take contributions from lobbyists? In our view, it’s a fairly minor point. Here’s why:

First, many people may have gotten the impression last weekend that Obama and Edwards were debating with Clinton over the question of taking corporate money. That’s just not the case. In yesterday’s Post, for example, Matthew Mosk wrote a general piece about the work of campaign fund-raisers. At one point, he described some chunks of change that Giuliani and Edwards have accepted:
MOSK (8/7/07): The evidence that candidates and their supporters are working their connections can be abundantly clear on campaign finance forms. The phenomenon would explain, for instance, why 67 lawyers at the Texas location of Giuliani's law firm, Bracewell & Giuliani, donated a total of more than $100,000 to his campaign. Or how Fortress Investment Group, the firm where Edwards worked, became the source of 87 contributions totaling more than $150,000 for his presidential bid—including checks that came not only from top executives but also from analysts and executive assistants.

Several Fortress employees who contributed to Edwards in April declined to comment when contacted at their offices. Human resources director Michele Cohen said her $1,000 to Edwards was a "personal contribution that had nothing to do with Fortress" and added: "I can't say what other personal decisions my colleagues have made."
There’s nothing “wrong” with what’s described there; for ourselves, we trust Edwards’ character. But at some point, a lobbyist for Fortress might seek to influence a President Edwards about some sort of bill. (There is no reason why this shouldn’t happen. Nurse and teacher groups make their case too.) But if that happens, the facts are the facts; Edwards has received a large chunk of change from this corporate entity; the fact that the Fortress lobbyist didn’t kick in her own $1000 is a minor part of a much larger story. Edwards received $150,000 from 87 Fortress employees—not $151,000 from 88. Would that missing thousand make the difference when he reached his final judgment about the bill the group wanted passed? By the way—he could be approached by those “top executives” of Fortress, and they did kick in their own dough.

In short, when lobbyists are told that they can’t contribute, this constitutes a very small slice of the total money which might be received from a corporate entity. (Or from nurses. Or from firefighters.) A larger problem may exist when lobbyists are allowed to “bundle”—to collect larger sums for a candidate. But we get the impression that many people have misunderstood the exchange last weekend—the exchange where the YKos crowd applauded Obama’s non-rebuttal rebuttal. Many people may have thought that Obama and Edwards were swearing off contributions from corporate players—were swearing off “corporate money” itself. That’s wrong, as Mosk’s passage helps us see. But the impression does seem to out there.

Of course, as always, there are hustlers and pimps who are trying to spread that misperception. To state the obvious, Hardball’s Chris Matthews will always be there when the public is being sold some line of malarkey. Here he was Monday morning, on Today, instantly pimping a slick conflation as Matt Lauer stared into air:
LAUER (8/7/07): Hey, Chris, good morning to you!

MATTHEWS: Good morning to you, Matt.

LAUER: Give me a headline on the Republican side and the Democratic side from the past weekend.

MATTHEWS: Hillary's defending the fact that she's dealt with corporations, she's taken money from corporate interests as well as all kinds of interests. She's the establishment candidate, and clearly she has to pay the price for that, but, still, it's probably the strongest position going into the general election if she gets that far.
But all the candidates have “dealt with corporations,” “taken money from corporate interests.” They’ve taken money from corporations’ “top executives,” in the case of that Fortress example. The question last Saturday was much, much narrower—will you take a personal contribution from a corporation’s registered lobbyist? That’s a vastly narrower question than the one Matthews recited for Lauer. But on Monday and Tuesday, Matthews kept confusing the issue on his gruesome show, Hardball. Last night, he previewed the AFL-CIO debate with Pat Buchanan—and he kept confusing the issue, as he’s done for two days now. He also used the lovely imagery to which people of his low type are drawn:
MATTHEWS: OK. Suppose [Edwards] opens a cut on her eye—using the metaphor of a boxing match—and that cut above her eye is the fact she took corporate money. She takes lobbyist money. Can she ignore that kind of punch?

BUCHANAN: Well, yes, she will say, up to—you know, yes. Well, she will just answer it, but I would not come back cutting him up—“You do this, you take money from trial lawyers.” That brings you down to their level. She is above that. She is at a presidential level right now and she ought stay there, take the hit and come back tomorrow if you have to.
To listen to Matthews in the last two days, you might well think that “lobbyist money” and “corporate money” are one and the same. We’ll assume he knows how stupid that is. But there’s a lot of money at stake in his network’s ratings, and cable networks love a good fight—and a good close “horse race.”

After all, no one ever said that Matthews himself won’t do what it takes for the money. But will Clinton? How about Edwards, Obama? We’re OK with all three hopefuls. But in the case of Edwards, he took all that dough from those top execs—then got all Bill Bradley with Clinton.

We were saddened when we saw that crowd applauding Obama’s blatant non sequitur. But then, there are no “smart crowds” in world culture and politics. And sometimes, Dems will go all Bill Bradley on other Dems—more specifically, on the one who’s ahead.

Bradley did this in Campaign 2000. Happy with the outcome?

THE SOURCE OF A LOBBYIST’S INFLUENCE: Saturday morning, before the YKos debate, the Los Angeles Times’ Dan Morain did a report on Obama’s fund-raising. This passage helps to clarify the issue involved here:
MORAIN (8/4/07): In his campaign finance statements, Obama has disclosed that he has returned more than $52,000 given to him by Washington lobbyists, though there is no law against taking money from them.

Even as he shuns donations from lobbyists, Obama has taken more than $1.4 million this year from law and consultancy firms that have partners who are registered to lobby, a Times analysis of Obama's fundraising shows. He has received hundreds of thousands more from corporate executives while turning down money from their lobbyists.

"This may be an imperfect ban, but it is an important symbol of the kind of administration that Obama will have in Washington," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement.
Obama “has received hundreds of thousands from corporate executives while turning down money from their lobbyists.” But as with Fortress, so too here. Those corporate lobbyists get their clout from their company’s larger chunk of donations, not from their own piddling donation, which the Obama campaign will not take.

A lobbyist doesn’t obtain big clout by virtue of his or her (small) contribution. But hustlers like Matthews are clouding the waters, and Dem-on-Dem violence has been in the air. We think it’s risky when Big Dems start sliming the character of other Big Dems. We basically trust all three of these Dems—until they start this malarkey.

Bradley did this to Gore in 1999 and 2000. Happy with how that worked out?

HOWLER HISTORY: How low was Bradley willing to go? He even played the Willie Horton Canard—and the press corps, of course, was happy to let him. It was Dem-on-Dem violence at its best. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/1/02. (Note what Bradley had written about this matter in his own book, in 1996.)

This was Dem-on-Dem violence at its best. Happy with how it turned out?

GROUNDHOG ISSUE: This same thing happened in the 2004 Dem primaries. As Kerry drew near the nomination, Edwards and Dean attacked him for taking money (or for taking too much money) from lobbyists. “Dean, who has raised more money than Kerry in this campaign, has taken considerably less from lobbyists,” Jim Vandehei reported in the Post on January 31. We presume this means that Dean did take money from lobbyists. (Edwards did not.) Kerry insisted that the money he’d taken from lobbyists would not affect his judgment. Meanwhile, all the candidates were taking money from major corporate interests.

Fairly small sums were involved in this matter—especially as compared with the much larger sums being taken from corporate interests generally. This Post editorial—from January 2004—may give you a slight deja vu.

EDWARDS SPEAKS (CONTINUES FRIDAY): No one (but Krugman) is allowed to talk health care. Part 5! Right here, this Friday.