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There are plenty of stark contrasts between the Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns, starting with the fact that all of the Republicans sound like morons and both the Democrats have credible policy ideas that they appear to have thought about.
But the thing that struck me most in the week before the California primary was the tone of the GOP debate at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, where John McCain, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Ron Paul spent an inordinate amount of time arguing over who was the most authentic conservative.
The c word came up about every five seconds. I'm a right-wing conservative! No, no, I'm even more conservative. Hey, I'm so conservative I think all the immigrants ought to be lassoed with a chain and dragged back to Mexico behind a Hummer. Romney even hit McCain for winning the New York Times endorsement, saying that means he isn't a real conservative.
And I wondered: what would the world be like if the Democrats were arguing over who was the best liberal?
Imagine if Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fought over who can be most trusted to reverse the 25-year trend of economic and social inequality in the United States, who would most effectively tax the rich and shift some of the wealth to the middle class and poor. Imagine if they fought over whose health care plan would move the nation toward a single-payer system with no private insurance participation? Clinton: "I'll cut the defense budget so fast that the military-industrial complex will think it's 1976 all over again." Obama: "Yeah? Well, I'll eliminate 90 percent of the nuclear arsenal, quit selling high-tech weapons to trouble spots around the world, and institute an excess-profits tax on any corporation that milks the taxpayer in a defense contract." Take that.
I have a friend who's in the political consulting business; he works on big national campaigns and does high-level strategy for the Democratic Party. He'll laugh when he reads this; when I say this kind of stuff, he shakes his head and says, "This is a conservative country."
But I don't believe it.
Another political consultant, a guy who's run some of the most important liberal campaigns in the state over the past couple of decades, stopped by our office a few weeks ago, and after he talked about an energy plan he's pushing, I took him aside and asked one of my favorite questions:
How much money would it take what kind of a campaign would you have to run, and for how long to counter a quarter century of brilliant, effective right-wing propaganda and reconvince the American people to have faith in the public sector? What would we have to do to make people think as they did during the '30s, '40s, '50s, and '60s that government is part of the solution, not part of the problem? If some rich person put up a billion dollars, could you do it?
"It wouldn't take that much," the guy said. But from the look on his face, I suspect he thought it would be close.
I used to blame the media for all of this, but I've been in the media for a very long time now, and I don't think it's that easy. Somewhere along the line the bad guys figured out that if they repeated their message often enough and funded their think tanks and promoted their political leaders, eventually they'd sell a scam of cosmic proportions to the electorate. We could tell our story too, if we thought it was important enough.