Don't Fund Fratricide, Fight it!
Effective contributions and actions for Election 2004
Do you want to beat Bush in 2004? Then whatever you do, don't donate money to the Democratic presidential contenders this winter.
That may seem like an odd statement, but I'd like to try to convince you of the sense of it.
Let's start with the man who drives so many Americans to despair: George W. Bush. Conventional media wisdom has it that George W. Bush is winning the campaign fundraising race. After all, he's raised a whopping $84.6 million so far in 2003 (Source: Center for Responsive Politics). Wow! Nobody can possibly catch Bush, right?
Even on "liberal" NPR, Neal Conan could be heard in early November of 2003 exulting that Bush had raised more than all the Democratic contenders put together. Amazing!
The problem for that story is that during 2003 the Democratic candidates have raised a whoppinger $98.6 million so far. Go ahead, look it up. This is a fact that the media is almost completely ignorant of (Help Neal Conan get his story straight: e-mail him at email@example.com).
But behind the commonplace misperception that Bush has raised more money lies a powerfully disturbing truth: Bush is saving his money for later, determined to use it against the candidate that finally emerges. The Democratic candidates, on the other hand, are spending great gobs of money now and in the next few months to ensure that they emerge on top as the nominee chosen to face Bush. Unfortunately, many of the candidates have concluded that the best way to ensure that they will win the Democratic nomination is to make their fellow candidates look as bad as possible.
This too-popular King-of-the-Hill strategy is counterproductive in four ways.
- Because front-runners are the biggest target of this tactic, it makes those candidates most likely to win the nomination look the worst.
- Even if the current front-runners fall prey to the second-tier candidates' negative attacks, the act of engaging in mudslining makes the second-tier candidates look nasty, making them less appealing should they ascend.
- Such internecine battling wastes dollars that could be spent making Bush look bad.
- Every Democratic dollar used to dig up and air dirt on a Democratic candidate is a Bush dollar that won't have to be spent on the exercise and can instead be used for other pro-Bush purposes.
I firmly believe that most progressive Americans are less interested in seeing one particular Democratic candidate win the Presidency and more interested in making sure that Bush isn't re-elected. Does this describe you? Ok, then listen up: if we don't want Bush to win, then we have to keep our eyes on the prize. We have to prevent the particular personal interests of the candidates from getting in the way of the eventual nominee's chances of beating Bush. We have to make every dollar and every action make a step toward the goal of getting Bush out of office.
This means, my friends, that we must call a halt to every action and every donation that makes steps in another direction. This means:
- No more monetary contributions to candidates until the identity of the nominee is clear. You just don't know what the candidates will do with their money until then, but events of late give us a hint: mud-slinging. Although any of the crop of Democratic candidates would be better than Bush, they aren't doing a good job at remembering that and maintaining a positive tone. Let the Republicans sling mud at us; don't fund Democratic mudfests.
- If you have a favorite candidate, don't lift a finger to criticize his or her competitors unless you consider those competitors to be absolutely unacceptable to you. Yes, in the past we've dabbled in Lieberman-dissing from time to time because he's such a... STOP! See how easy it is to slouch into internecine criticism? ... ahem. Although we've dabbled in Lieberman-dissing from time to time, we won't any more, because even he would be better than Bush. Dean supporters can stop posting taunts on the Kerry Blog. Lieberman supporters can stop saying he's the only candidate who can win. I know, it's hard. Try.
If donating cash to a campaign and slamming competitors for the Democratic nomination are out, there are still a lot of positive things left that you can do. These include:
- Contributing to general anti-Bush efforts. If you're itching to take out your wallet and put your money where your mouth is, consider one of the following campaigns. Rather than endorsing any particular candidate, they are gearing up for a variety of "Anybody But Bush" efforts in 2004:
- Take Back America Fund: this independent organization works simultaneously on four fronts: Local Campaigns, Voter Registration, Supporting a Progressive Democratic Party, and the Take Back the Media Group to support challenging media voices.
- America Coming Together. This group will go door-to-door and over the Internet to communicate the failings of George W. Bush and raise Democratic voter turnout. These folks have a head-start with start-up funds from the likes of George Soros, but they need your help to keep things going.
- Partnership for America's Families. Second verse, same as the first. Voter education, voter registration, voter turnout. These folks have decades of experience in union organizing -- they know what they're doing.
- NAACP National Voter Fund. This group is dedicated to increasing voter registration and voter turnout in the African American community.
- Voices for Working Families. This group is dedicated to registering working women and people of color in 16 states where election results were close in 2000. Mobilizing voters in these states can turn the tide against Bush in 2004.
- ePatriots. This effort comes straight from the Democratic National Committee. At ePatriots, you can set up your own web page from which people can contribute money to the Democratic Party. This money will be dedicated to supporting the eventual nominee and to getting out the vote in November.
- MoveOn.org. MoveOn.org has a proven track record when it comes to putting out messages that lay bare the flaws in the Bush Record. These folks run regular ad campaigns against Bush and his policies that depend on a large number of small-dollar contributions.
- Project Vote. Project Vote has been working for more than twenty years on campaigns to register low-income and minority Americans to vote and get out the vote on Election Day. Although Project Vote is itself scrupulously non-partisan, it is an empirical fact that low-income and minority Americans are more likely to support Democratic candidates than Republican Candidates. (For instance, data from the General Social Survey show that for those individuals who did not vote in 2000, low-income non-voters were disproportionately likely to say they'd have voted for Gore or Nader while high-income non-voters were disproportionately likely to say they'd have voted for Bush.)
- Center for American Progress. Although the leaders of this organization are incorrect when they say that the Democratic Party needs a new fundamental idea, the Center for American Progress does a bang-up job in researching the actions of the Bush Administration and generating informed critiques of Bush policy.
- Actively Volunteering in general pro-Democratic efforts. ReDefeatBush.com is an example of this kind of effort. Sign up on their web page to make calls to unregistered voters in areas of Democratic strength every Tuesday night between now and the election. They'll hook you up with interested others to make it a fun, shared experience.
- Getting involved in a candidate's campaign in a positive a manner you control. When you give a candidate money, that money just might go toward making another Democratic candidate look bad. But if you get personally involved in a candidate's campaign, you can choose to participate in a manner that promotes your favorite candidate without cutting other candidates down. Here are some options:
- If you support John Kerry, you can make phone calls to residents of Iowa and New Hampshire explaining why you're so enthusiastic about him.
- If you support Howard Dean, you can write letters to residents of Iowa and New Hampshire, talking up a Dean candidacy without talking others down.
- All the candidates have self-organizing "Meetups", local gatherings of a candidate's supporters across the country. Register for a meetup promoting a candidate of choice in your neck of the woods. When you attend, you can sign up for a campaign activity that helps your candidate without hurting others.
None of these activities is quite as easy as writing out a check to a candidate. They each require a discerning choice, and some require a commitment of time. This level of commitment could be seen as a burden, but I think it is better seen as a reflection of the democratic (and Democratic) ideal of people-powered politics. Cribbing from Gandhi, to make a positive change in this country, you need to be the change you want to see.