Wednesday, July 14, 2004

kerry's inner circle

This Washington Post article by Jonathan Weisman analyzes the positive and negative aspects of Kerry's ever-expanding "inner circle". In doing so, however, there is a curious omission.

Weisman suggests that Kerry's large circle of advisors, numbering in the thousands, is a departure from normal presidential campaigns. This may be true, but you can't tell based on Weisman's examples. (Weisman's treatment of the issue overall appears to be fair and balanced, which makes the omission rather strange.)

Weisman compares Kerry's circle to Bush's current "campaign policy shop", which numbers about 100 people. This group is responsible for making "sure the campaign is in sync with the vast executive branch that is formulating policy."

Weisman also compares Kerry to Gore's 2000 campaign, which apparently was also much smaller: "Back then, Gore had a wealth of policies already formulated by the Clinton administration. After eight years in power, weary Democratic policy experts weren't clamoring to share new ideas. A stripped-down campaign policy shop existed mainly to push proposals that moved only incrementally beyond then-President Bill Clinton's or to ensure Gore's campaign proposals were consistent with the administration's record."

While Weisman talks about differing styles, between Kerry and Bush as well as between Democrats and Republicans, he seems to miss the most blindingly obvious point: incumbent parties don't need a large independent staff of advisors.

There are two reasons for this:

(1) Incumbent parties already have a huge staff of advisors working for them in the form of their political appointees in the federal government. These appointees were almost certainly independent advisors when the incumbent was merely a candidate.

(2) As Weisman intelligently pointed out when discussing Gore's campaign, incumbent parties don't have a huge list of changes they want to make.

So why didn't Weisman compare Kerry's campaign to candidate Bush's 2000 campaign after eight years of Democratic rule? It is the most logical next step, and Weisman brings us right to the brink of the question. It would also have been useful to know how large Clinton's advisor staff was in 1992, after 12 years of Republicans, as well as in 1996 as an incumbent.

I can only assume that the reality didn't fit the point Weisman was trying to make. Perhaps it is only normal for the challenging party to gather lots of advisors. Perhaps, in fact, the real story is that Democrats generally advocate large, egalitarian governing structures that promote many voices and avoid stifling any of them.