Via BlueIndiana, Woody Myers has donated another quarter-million to his own campaign, bringing his total self-financing up to $806,000. That's some serious money, and Abdul thinks Woody has momentum. Maybe so, but I also have to wonder if it doesn't indicate that Woody is having trouble raising money on his own, which, by my estimation, would mean real trouble for his candidacy--not because he needs the money, but because it would mean he wasn't "hitting his mark."
Woody Myers, Self-Financing, and Jeffersonian Democracy
Woody's primary appeal is technocratic, not personal: he has a sterling resume, but it's filled with accomplishments elsewhere. He has a history in Indiana, but it was about two decades ago. His ties to the democratic party and the Indianapolis community are, at this point, a bit thin. So his natural constituency is people who are persuaded by a first-rate CV and not particularly moved by the sort of person-to-person campaigning and high-mobilization strategy favored by the Carson campaign. Technocratic appeals are particularly effective when directed to people who have some credentials of their own--professionals, the well-educated, and generally upper-middle class voters. That's why I've always argued that Woody's voters will mostly come out of David Orentlicher's pocket, not Andre's (there isn't a hard and fast dichotomy here, but I think Woody's candidacy, generally, hurts David more), since David's appeal is also largely technocratic.
As it happens, professionals, the well-educated, and upper-middle class voters usually give lots of money to their preferred candidates. In other words, a candidate who is successfully embraced by the "creative professional" class shouldn't need to self-finance. He should have an affluent constituency ready to go. In that sense, problems raising money are a bad sign for Woody's campaign not because they indicate Woody will be short on change (self-financing solves that problem), but because he isn't being embraced by the group of voters who should be most likely to buy his personal narrative.
Now there are three potential problems with this analysis:
(1) If Woody's media barrage has successfully overcome his "connection" deficit and transformed the appeal of his candidacy from a technocratic one to a populist one. This is certainly possible, though I'm not sure it's probable, given the content of the commercials, which don't really make a strong case for his "Hoosier roots."
(2) If Woody's media barrage is intended to introduce him to the "creative class" and the financing is just staggered. In other words, now that Woody has put his name in the ring, the "creative class" will take notice and begin to contribute. This also strikes me as possible, but not terribly probable. For starters, Woody is donating the money, not loaning it to his campaign. If it were the latter, it would suggest that he expects to be able to raise more funds later and pay himself back (which would complement the hypothesis I just advanced). In addition, if the funding were staggered, he wouldn't need a second infusion of cash from his own pockets. The second donation suggests that he donated the original half-million thinking it would be sufficient and only later discovered it was not.
(3) Abdul's "new voter" hypothesis. I find this one the most persuasive, but I have at least one objection. Abdul's argument suggests a terrain that should be as equally advantageous to Andre Carson as to Woody Myers. Woody needs to run massive amounts of ads precisely because no one knows who he is. Maybe his ads will successfully introduce him, but Andre already has a natural advantage in name recognition by virtue of incumbency, his grandmother, and his ballot position. Even if "new voters" have been totally politically unplugged in the last few cycles, there will be a sort of ambient quality to the Carson name. Sure, "new voters" are particularly invested in the presidential race and won't have strong preferences in the congressional race, but I would suggest that the presidential race will create too much political "noise" to hear the challenger's argument. Such terrain obviously favors an incumbent.
Regardless, the one thing that I find interesting about this self-financing business is the way in which it reveals an obvious tension in Joh Padgett's advocacy. Joh memorably assailed Carson's candidacy as anti-democratic in a distorting and mendacious blog diary on BlueIndiana. Carson was "The Machine's" candidate according to Joh--unaccountable, without real root in the district, and without a real connection to his constituency. It overlooked Andre's copious community activism, Andre's active involvement in Marion County politics for his entire adult life, and his decade of service to the community as a law-enforcement officer. When the election rolled around, Andre's very real grass-roots GOTV organization turned out 13,000 more votes than the mayor in Center Township, buried Elrod, and exceeded everyone's expectation (mine and Joh's included).
Joh has since found employment as a member of Woody's campaign. Good for him. I'm wondering, however, if he can answer a little query of mine:
How democratic is self-financing? From a "macro" view, as you put it, how does the presence of self-financing millionaire candidates effect the possibility that someone like you or I can successfully run for office? Is Woody's candidacy "people-powered"?
I don't ask this question because I think it's wrong for Woody to self-finance, or because I have any illusions that Andre doesn't have advantages that the "average" candidate lacks. I ask this question because it is transparently ridiculous and hypocritical to assail Andre's candidacy as undemocratic and then hitch your wagon to a candidate who is employing a campaign strategy that would be completely unfeasible for the 99.9% of us who don't have a tens-of-millions of dollars in the bank.
Meanwhile, it is certainly fitting that Joh wrote the following in that post:
Thomas Jefferson, whose home Monticello is the inspiration for the name of this blog, famously spoke against the participation of political parties in our Republic. Political parties, Jefferson argued, were anathema to the democratic principles upon which This Great Country Of Ours was founded. He was right, every political party in the history of the United States has chosen the path of the partisan bickering and skullduggery we have come to expect from our alleged leaders. This is why good people with great leadership skills go into other lines of work where they can do some good. See Al Gore if you need an explanation for this.
(There is no small irony, on a side note, in Joh invoking the example of Al Gore to prove his point. The same Al Gore who made his entry into Tennessee politics largely on the strength of his father's political legacy. But I digress.)
What most historians would tell Joh, is that Jefferson's vision of democracy was strikingly exclusive and that Jefferson used the much-tauted rhetoric of nonpartisanship as a bludgeon against his political opponents. Nevertheless, the vision of a disinterested, nonpartisan political figure pursuing the "public good" was foundational to the "republican" ideology of antebellum America. And it worked just great. So long, of course, as you were a rich, white, male landholder who had the time and money (and slaves!) to treat politics as leisure activity. For the hoi poloi -- the rest of us -- it was less ideal. The wealthy rich guys who formed the political class Joh is describing tended to look after themselves and not to solve problems that would rock the boat or work against the interests of anyone in that club of gentlemen. And rest assured, those rich guys earnestly and honestly -- Jefferson included -- believed with all their hearts they were looking out for the best interests of everyone in society. They weren't being disingenuous when they decided that 70 years of appeasement and compromise was the only way to deal with slavery. Indeed, they believed fervently that "republicanism" demanded that they eschew a factional politics which would polarize the nation on the basis of slavery.
Of course, political differences -- as the nation learned about slavery -- aren't so easily elided. One can't compose a nonpartisan, disinterested solution to most political questions. A political solution will inherently help some citizens and disadvantage other citizens. That's why we form parties: so that we have means to ensure that public policy reflects our shared vision about the way the country should be governed, rather than the visions promoted by our political foes.
Strong political parties, as most Europeans would tell you, actually have the potential to give voters a variety of political choices and the means to hold politicians accountable for outcomes. They offer a much better system of organization than a world in which a few obscenely wealthy "disinterested" voices -- after all, it was true in 1800 and is true now that only the very wealthy can afford to pursue politics as leisure rather than as vocation -- meditate on what is best for the rest of us. I'd certainly rather have politicians who actively crave the support of the Democratic party, rather than deride it as a blood-thirsty "machine." In other words, Joh can have his bucolic Jeffersonian fantasy, so long as he stays in the pasture with it. I'll take the Democratic Party -- warts and all --that brought you the New Deal and the Great Society.