WHEN DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANTS GO BAD. I was all set to blast Matt Stoller and Markos for putting their agendas before the facts. Carter Eskew may be cashing checks from Big Pharma, but his memo to Democratic candidates that the polling shows solid support for Medicare Part D is fully factual. Indeed, it's inarguable -- I looked into the numbers myself. And believe me, no one is more depressed by that polling than I.
But then I erased the post. Those points still stand, and Markos and Matt shouldn't have implied that Eskew was peddling bad information. But the implicit criticism they're offering is a rather important one. Whatever the polling says, Medicare Part D is a bad bill, a giveaway to the pharmaceutical companies that will, over time, cost the American taxpayer trillions of dollars. It is also an easy bill to fix: One line empowering the Secretary of Health and Human Services to bargain down drug prices would largely (though not totally) heal the legislation. Democratic consultants shouldn't be telling Democrats what to talk about, but how to talk. And they really shouldn't be telling Democrats not to talk about their other clients, particularly without prominent disclosure of who those clients are.
This is a rather deep dysfunction in the Democratic Party -- it's an ideological institution run by a rather detached professional class. For Eskew and Joe Lockhart and various others, ideological concerns are secondary to occupational responsibilities -- which is fine. There are many jobs where such a prioritization is useful. Running political campaigns, however, isn't really one of them. I literally cannot imagine a definition of "Democrat" that would embrace the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit bill. It fleeces seniors and taxpayers, was so expensive that the Bush administration threatened to fire an honest auditor if he didn't deliberately lowball the price, was rammed through Congress with nearly illegal force, bars the government from using its power to negotiate with corporations and protect seniors, and is generally among the most offensive pieces of legislation passed in the last couple of decades.
It may indeed be that seniors think, for now, that it's good enough. But political consultants shouldn't end with that data. They should be explaining how to make the case that it's a mess, that it's easily improvable, that it's corporate welfare on an astonishing scale. Were they ideologues, they would do exactly that. As disinterested professionals picking up pharmaceutical work on the side, however, they glance at the data and -- not even dishonestly -- advise that Democratic candidates focus elsewhere. It's not that Democratic politicians don't stand for anything. It's that the folks they're told to listen to don't.