Friday, April 06, 2007

The Business Of Presidential Campaigns

Running a Presidential campaign has, I'm sure, had business-like aspects since the dawn of time. But have the internal business processes of campaigns historically been of interest to voters? I don't think so. I can't recall, prior to the start of this election cycle, ever hearing people talk about the logistics of particular campaigns in anything but the most general terms: how much money was raised, how much advertising was being purchased, etc. I think that might be changing, however, and I'm not sure that I necessarily like where that leads.

Yesterday on The Diane Rehm Show there were a bunch of folks talking about the various Presidential contenders and their campaigns. Ms. Rehm's panelists spent part of the time scrutinizing the various campaigns from a very business-oriented standpoint, talking their burn rates and whether a bureaucratic campaign structure lead to inefficient use of campaign funds. They contended that these items, which I would previously have categorized as trivia suitable primarily for consumption by political junkies, were now being viewed as important by primary voters in general. Primary voters want to be sure that whomever wins the primary will make the most efficient use of their campaign funds come the general election.

I can't argue with that theory; it seems reasonable enough by me. But the implication is that success in the primary is dependent, in no small part, on a candidate's ability to run a "businesslike" campaign. Being able to do so has certainly helped candidates in previous elections; running an efficient campaign helps the candidate better spread their message. But not until now has having a high ROI been seen as good in-and-of itself.

Its not clear to me that such evaluation leads to better Presidential candidates. It furthers the process whereby we end up with candidates in the primaries being selected largely for their perceived "electability". The decision as to whether it should be Clinton or Obama shouldn't rest on the minutia of their staffing decisions; it should rest on some sort of substantive policy differences between the two.

I've complained about this in the past, this attitude among progressives that we should get someone into the White House at all costs. If we end up sending some triangulator with a stable full of half-baked half-promises its not going to do us any good in the long run.


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