The West Wing Characters Become Lobbyists

Follow the money.  If you want to know why Democrats keep losing, don't offer advice, follow the money and get your hands dirty.  You see, Democrats aren't losing because they are stupid.  Democrats are losing because a significant portion of the operative class is paid to undermine successful populist positions.  Just follow the money.

Here we have a nice example.

The calls are starting to come in from shocked or angry seniors. They have just learned that their Medicare drug plans are maxing out on early coverage and that they must now spend $2,850 from their own pockets before coverage will resume.

"I can't pay for my medications," one man told Howard Houghton of the Fairfax Area Agency on Aging the other day. "What do I do?"

Over the next five months, several million Americans with high medicine costs could find themselves in a similar bind. The gap in insurance, popularly called the doughnut hole, is an unusual provision in most of the private plans offered in Medicare's new Part D prescription drug program. Advocates for the elderly say it is misunderstood and problematic.

This obvious and foreseeable political problem didn't stop Carter Eskew's lobby shop The Glover Park Group from passing around memos arguing Democrats shouldn't take on the Medicare prescription drug fiasco because of bad polling.  Their corporate clients are of course various players in the health care industry.  Here are the opening few sentences of the memo.

After a thorough review of early public polling on the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, our analysis suggests that support for the program is solid.  Five months into the program, enrolled seniors are satisfied with the program, found enrollment to be easy and think it's saving them money.

Here's the full memo, in case you're curious. Carter Eskew was the chief strategist for the Gore campaign in 2000, and his colleagues at the Glover Park group include Joel Johnson, a top Clinton White House advisor on communications and policy, Joe Lockhart, who was Clinton's spokesman from 1998-2000, and Howard Wolfson, a key Hillary Clinton advisor.  If you're looking for a more accessible sense of who these people are, it's the senior team type characters from the West Wing.  They all went into lobbying after the Clinton show was canceled.  This is a HUGE problem.  The people who know how to run campaigns are not politicians, they are the people who run campaigns.  The fact that this class of operative/consultant is working for corporate interests and not for Democratic gain means that there is little to no infrastructure that can effectively push for legislative and political victories.  That infrastructure is too busy getting rich off of corporate payola.  Had this infrastructure been focusing on winning for Democrats, we'd have a campaign ready to go based on the donut hole.  It's not like we didn't know this was coming.

This machine is incredibly powerful, but it's vulnerable, and that's why DC is freaking out about the Lieberman challenge.  How does this machine tie directly into Connecticut?  Well, Carter Eskew is Lieberman's ad man.  

It doesn't stop there, of course.  The corporate Democratic machine extends far into the structure of how camapigns operate. For instance, we have senior Kerry and Dukakis advisor Michael Whouley, who is apparently building a $3 million model on how to win in the battleground states in 2008 in preparation for Yet Another Insider Presidential Losing Campaign.  Whouley runs Dewey Square, a premier lobby and PR shop whose clients include the Chamber of Commerce and corporate health care interests.  Dewey Square employed three separate 2004 Demoratic campaign managers; the campaign manager for Edwards, Gephardt, and Lieberman all did time at Dewey Square.  It's also worth pointing out that diversity doesn't seem to be a, well, primary goal of this group.

All of these lobbyists/PR people (including Steve Elmendorf) have telecom companies as their clients, and are working against net neutrality.  If you want to know why the Democratic party has a muddled message, look no further than the conflicts of interest in trying to run a populist campaign when your other clients have a direct financial interest in not seeing a campaign like that succeed.

There's more...

Carter Eskew and Democratic K-Street Culture

This Lieberman-Lamont race is becoming exceptionally important, because it's the most high-profile of a series of clashes between two different ways of doing politics.  The bear ad, and the ad man named Carter Eskew who is the consultant behind it, unwittingly reveals a lot about what's going on in both DC and in Connecticut.

Looking into how Carter Eskew does business will illustrate the stakes of the Lamont-Lieberman fight.  Eskew isn't just your every day ad man; he's a partner at the Glover Park Group, a high profile lobbying and communications shop in DC that includes him and ex-Clintonites such as Joe Lockhart and Joel Johnson.  This firm does a fair amount of business, and it is extraordinarily well-known in this town.  And while I don't want to point fingers, there's sometimes a sort of ethical flexibility about the lobbying work they do.  For instance, I've uploaded this document, a polling memo from the Glover Park Group, on the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan that they distributed to the media.  It is a summary of public polling that starts with this passage:

After a thorough review of early public polling on the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, our analysis suggests that support for the program is solid.  Five months into the program, enrolled seniors are satisfied with the program, found enrollment to be easy and think it's saving them money.

Clients of the Glover Park Group include groups that represent the pharmaceutical companies and groups that represent insurance companies who manage the prescription drug plan.  The memo was sent to Democratic Communications directors on the Hill, as well as journalists.  That's not really the problem, though it's kind of distasteful.  The problem is that Joel Johnson, the high profile Clinton advisor turned Glover Park lobbyist, represented the memo as dispassionate advice from a Democratic Party elder.  Here's a passage from a Roll Call article on the memo:

Joel Johnson, a partner at Glover Park, said his firm came to "the conclusion that with all the issues the Democrats have to work with, it just seems clear that there are more valuable targets upon which to focus our fire: tax breaks, Iraq, energy, environment, ethics."

...

"Nobody's more interested than I am in electing a Democratic Senate and Democratic House," said Johnson, a former senior policy and communications adviser to President Bill Clinton. "I hope we fight the most effective battle and are not falling into any traps."

That this election strategizing just happens to cohere nicely with the interests of corporate clients is interesting.  And that's the culture of Carter Eskew's firm.  They sell access to Democratic and media insiders, and they sell their political judgment.

Which brings me to Carter Eskew's bear ad.  The ad is a judgment failure on Eskew's part.  The ad works on one level - it would convince Joe Lieberman to vote for Joe Lieberman, for instance.  But for normal non-machine people who don't see Lowell Weicker's 1988 loss through the same earth-shattering lens, it doesn't make any sense.  

For Lieberman, however, and Carter Eskew, Weicker is the opponent.  Lieberman is a machine politician, and Carter Eskew is a DC machine lobbyist.  Their memory is long, sharp, and out of sync.  Lieberman's last real Senate race was in 1988, but that's how he won it, so that's how he'll win this one.  Now, I'm not from Connecticut, so I can't pretend to know a great deal about lingering feelings about Lowell Weicker and whether the ad stings in some non-obvious Connecticut-specific way.  My guess is that it doesn't, because people don't really care that much about someone who hasn't been in office for many years.  Political machines, though, have long memories, and are always fighting the last war.  

And that's where the lobbying complex of the corporate Democratic DC comes in.  In both lobbying and campaign ad work, a political operative is selling judgment.  The same bad judgment that led to the dishonest flackery on the prescription drug bill led to this bear ad (and the Iraq war, Alito, etc).  They are the same people.  They are similarly out of touch.

The lobbying is tied very much into the campaign work.  Some of the major campaign consulants, such as Dewey Square, use the connections they build on campaigns to create profitable lobbying practices, and this narrows what kinds of campaigns they run.

For another example, look no further than our old friend Mike McCurry, a generational and ideological colleague of Carter Eskew and the whole lobbying crew, and a John Kerry advisor in 2004.  McCurry bases his argument against net neutrality on an anti-government attitude; throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he thinks that an embrace of big government 'got our heads handed to us'.  He believes that Democrats lose when they adopt economically populist positions.  This is the attitude that permeates the political culture of Democratic leaders, because they succeeded with this attitude.  Having ascended in politics during the Reagan era, people like Chuck Schumer, Carter Eskew, Joe Lieberman, Mike McCurry, Joel Johnson, Joe Lockhart, and Bill and Hillary Clinton share a cultural and political aversion to the use of government for economically populist ends.  

This is a profitable belief.  Tony Coelho, the Democrat who created the original K-Street Project in the 1980s, helped to both hold Congress in the 1980s and to pave the way for a profitable post-political career for all sorts of Democrats.  Delay took this machine and supersized it, but the blueprint was Coelho's, and the remnants are people like Carter Eskew.  Major campaign consultants, with their roots in this Democratic K Street culture, are the human link between Democratic campaigns and pro-corporate beliefs.

So that's what we're dealing with, a group of people who believe in an outdated machine politics.  For twenty years, there was no conflict between being a Democrat and being a corporatist.  Today, there is, and in the case of Lieberman and his lobbyists/consultants, it's producing excessive greed and disloyalty.  Lieberman's refusal to rule out running as an independent, Chuck Schumer's noise that he might support an independent bid, and McCurry's work for the telecoms are all part of this.  And in Carter Eskew, you can see this at work in real time.

Now, to be clear, working in politics and then lobbying politicians is not in itself a bad thing, but you do have to be careful about the ethics involved in trading on these relationships.  In today's DC culture, this revolving door is so commonplace and so normal that K-Street Dems pretend like ethics are just not relevant anymore.  That's just a dated attitude.  So if the bear ad seems out of place, it's because Eskew believes that we are still in the 1980s in the midst of the Reagan Revolution, or the 1990s, during the Clinton era.  He is part of the machine that produced a profitable niche for all sorts of lobbyists and single issue groups, and an easy path for Democratic politicians who could play the single issue scorecard game without actually moving a progressive agenda.  It was quite the nice racket.

These K-Street Democrats have a lot of power, and they are angry at the Lamont challenge because it's a direct threat to their revenue stream.  And in Carter Eskew, you can see how tied together these machine people and lobbyists really are.  I know it's hip to say that Lamont is not a single-issue candidate, but it's true in a deeply fundamental way.  The Lamont challenge is a direct attack on how DC does business.

There's more...

The Clash of Two Machines

This Lieberman-Lamont race is becoming exceptionally important, because it's the most high-profile of a series of clashes between two completely different ways of doing politics.  The bear ad, and the ad man named Carter Eskew who is the consultant behind it, unwittingly reveal a lot about what's going on in both DC and in Connecticut.

Looking into how Carter Eskew does business will illustrate the stakes of the Lamont-Lieberman fight.  Eskew isn't just your every day ad man; he's a partner at the Glover Park Group, a high profile lobbying and communications shop in DC that includes him and ex-Clintonites such as Joe Lockhart and Joel Johnson.  This firm does a fair amount of business, and it is extraordinarily well-known in this town.  And while I don't want to point fingers, there's sometimes a sort of ethical flexibility about the lobbying work they do.  For instance, I've uploaded this document, a polling memo from the Glover Park Group, on the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan that they distributed to the media.  It is a summary of public polling that starts with this passage:

After a thorough review of early public polling on the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, our analysis suggests that support for the program is solid.  Five months into the program, enrolled seniors are satisfied with the program, found enrollment to be easy and think it's saving them money.

Clients of the Glover Park Group include groups that represent the pharmaceutical companies and groups that represennt insurance companies who manage the prescription drug plan.  The memo was sent to Democratic Communications directors on the Hill, as well as journalists.  That's not really the problem, though it's kind of distasteful.  The problem is that Joel Johnson, the high profile Clinton advisor turned Glover Park lobbyist, represented the memo as dispassionate advice from a Democratic Party elder.  Here's a passage from a Roll Call article on the memo:

Joel Johnson, a partner at Glover Park, said his firm came to "the conclusion that with all the issues the Democrats have to work with, it just seems clear that there are more valuable targets upon which to focus our fire: tax breaks, Iraq, energy, environment, ethics."

...

"Nobody's more interested than I am in electing a Democratic Senate and Democratic House," said Johnson, a former senior policy and communications adviser to President Bill Clinton. "I hope we fight the most effective battle and are not falling into any traps."

That this election strategizing just happens to cohere nicely with the interests of corporate clients is interesting.  And that's the culture of Carter Eskew's firm.

And now, to the bear ad!

My guess is that it's not a particularly effective ad, though it is unusual.  It doesn't really hang on any resonant mythic cloth.  The ending line is, "One thing about bear cubs is that they always do what they're told." What?  I didn't know that about bear cubs.  I just thought they were cute, and if Ned Lamont is a bear cub, that's just kind of, well, adorable.

Now, I'm not from Connecticut, so I can't pretend to know a great deal about lingering feelings about Lowell Weicker and whether the ad stings in some non-obvious Connecticut-specific way.  My guess is that it doesn't.  Usually, old politicians in a state are not particularly important to an electorage, though there is often a small base on either side that remembers and strongly likes or dislikes them.  The anger at a politician is usually based on an interwoven moment and personality, the right or wrong person at the right or wrong time.  

The institutional memory of a political machine, however, is much greater than the memory of the electorate.  For instance, there are still New Jersey residents who detest Jim Florio, but not that many.  NJ politicians are scared of the negative tidal wave election that he provoked, and react within that context.  Like cautious generals, they are always fighting the last war, even though New Jersey residents aren't particularly passionate about him one way or the other.  Not having much experience in Connecticut, I can't speak to this exactly in that state's terms, but I imagine that a similar dynamic is going on in that state.  My guess is that Lowell Weicker is not a particularly important politician for most Connecticut residents, since he hasn't been in office for many years.  

For Lieberman, however, and Carter Eskew, Weicker is the opponent.  Lieberman is a machine politician, and Carter Eskew is a DC machine lobbyist.  Their memory is long, sharp, and out of sync with that of Connecticut voters.  Lieberman's last real race was in 1988, but that's how he won it, so that's how he'll win this one.  

This attitude is out of touch, but it's also tied essentially with the lobbying complex of the corporate Democratic DC.  I was at an event on net neutrality today at the  Institute for Politics, Democracy, and the Internet. I found one thing that Mike McCurry said particularly interesting.  McCurry is a generational and ideological colleague of Carter Eskew and the whole lobbying crew.  After he was done advocating for his side of the net neutrality discussion, McCurry brought up his partisan activities.  I'm paraphrasing, but essentially he said that the Democrats adopted the tools of big government throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and 'got our heads handed to us'.  It was only in the 1990s, during which time the Democrats approached government with a much lighter footprint, that the Democrats were able to win elections.  His conclusion was that regulating net neutrality was a mistake, for pragmatic reasons but also because the American people don't really support the use of government, and that Democrats lose when they adopt economically populist positions.  This is the attitude that permeates the political culture of Democratic leaders, because they succeeded with this attitude.  Having ascended in politics during the Reagan era, people like Chuck Schumer, Carter Eskew, Joe Lieberman, Mike McCurry, Joel Johnson, Joe Lockhart, and Bill and Hillary Clinton share a cultural and political aversion to the use of government for liberal and populist ends.  

A lot of this has to do with Tony Coelho, the Democrat who created the original K-Street Project in the 1980s, and helped pave the way for a profitable post-political career for all sorts of Democrats.  Delay took this machine and supersized it, but the blueprint was Coelho's, and the remnants are people like Carter Eskew.

So that's what we're dealing with, a group of people who believe in an outdated and bipartisan machine politics.  But that's not all, because there's a certain amount of, well, greed and disloyalty couched in this attitude.  Lieberman's refusal to rule out running as an independent, Chuck Schumer's noise that he might support an independent bid, and McCurry's work for the telecoms are all part of this.  And in Carter Eskew, you have the perfect specimen, the insider lobbyist turned machine Democratic operative until Lieberman wins, at which point he can go back to making money.

Now, to be clear, working in politics and then lobbying politicians is not in itself a bad thing, but you do have to be careful about the ethics involved in trading on these relationships.  In today's DC culture, this revolving door is so commonplace and so normal that people here pretend like ethics are just not important anymore.  It's a machine.  And Carter Eskew's lobbying group is part of it.  

The attitude that Eskew brings to the table is one of entitlement, and an expectation that we are still in the 1980s in the midst of the Reagan Revolution.  He is part of the machine that produced a profitable niche for all sorts of lobbyists and single issue groups, and an easy path for Democratic politicians who could play the single issue scorecard game without actually moving a progressive agenda.  It was quite the nice racket.

And in Carter Eskew, you can see how tied together these machine people and lobbyists really are.  And through this bear ad, you suddenly realize why the are losing.  They still think it's 1988.

There's more...

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