Friday, May 19, 2006

Paul Begala’s Night of Long Knives

Just what are you saying, Mr. Begala?

In his HufPo post, “Bringing a Knife to a Gunfight,” Inside Politics insider Paul Begala starts with an apology:

I should never, ever have denigrated young men and women who are working in the political trenches in places like Mississippi and Utah.

I was being arrogant and flippant when I said they're just picking their noses. Mea culpa. You live by the smart-ass quip, you die by the smart-ass quip.

What he is apologizing for, as many know by now, is his, yes, “smart-ass” attack on Howard Dean and the 50-state strategy that Dean has advocated as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Begala accused Dean of spending all of the DNC’s money on nose-pickers in Utah and Mississippi. Why he’s apologizing, is because Zack Exley called him on it.

While I commend Begala on bucking up, and sucking it up with the opening apology, I have problems with the rest of Paul’s attempt to come back after his foul up.

Writing again about the discrepancy between the $74 million raised by the DNC and the $10 million that the DNC reportedly has left, Begala first notes that only $8 million has gone to those stateside nose-pickers, and then asks, “So, where’s the money gone?”

I won’t take you through Begala’s math, but he says, in so many words, that $45 million of the Party’s money is MIA. Unaccounted for and just plain not in the bank.

Where does Begala think that money could have gone; what are some possible things it could have been spent on? Paul’s immediate response is, “I have no idea.”

So, now, I have a question for Paul Begala: Just what are you accusing Chairman Dean of, exactly?

Seriously, Paul, you’ve worked on campaigns (you brought us Zell Miller, for instance), you’ve had more than a cup of coffee inside the corridors of power, you’ve prognosticated on politics for years, do you really have “no idea?” (And don’t tell me about the consultants again—you’ve dismissed that explanation, yourself.) C’mon, Mr. Begala, show us the money—or show us where you think it has gone.

I am, in fact, wondering, have you asked Howard Dean to show you the money? Don’t get me wrong, I think the DNC should be accountable for how it spends the funds it raises, but you begged the question, so I’m asking you, have you just asked?

You see, at this hour, I have no idea, either, but I bet that given a couple of days and a few phone numbers, I could get some reasonable answers. Hell, I could throw it open to the blogasphere—who out there knows how the $64 million got spent?—and maybe get the info even faster. But I think you, Mr. Begala, could call the Chairman as soon as you’re done reading this, and just ask—couldn’t you?

Until then, what are you trying to say by stating that you have no idea what Dean has done with $45 million? Are you accusing Dean of embezzlement? That was my first thought. Are you accusing Dean of rank incompetence and mismanagement—maybe even corruption? That was my second thought.

If either of those readings is in your thoughts, then come out and say so. Don’t just apologize with one breath, and then continue to use innuendo to undercut Dean’s leadership with the next.

And what about that leadership? You say, Paul, that you are sorry for taking our focus away from crafting a winning message, yet your article’s big strategy point is that you want to make sure there’s money left in the fall for attack ads. You say—now—that you favor a 50-state strategy, but you more than imply that the policy is born of a political fantasy camp. What’s more, you insult the netroots (“desktop campaign manager-wannabes,” “this newfangled Interwebnet thing”) that have, in many cases, given your new favorite candidates across the country a lot of recognition, and quite a few campaign contributions, too.

Rather than being thrilled that after a decade of profound losses, the Democratic party is now about to matter again, rather than being excited about all the new voices, candidates, and voters that are inspired by this progressive, party-of-many approach, rather than lending another pair of hands to the struggle, you use those hands to attack your Democratic brethren. You say you know “how vicious Republicans can be,” and warn against the evil Mr. Rove, but then you do Rove’s work for him. Saying, “I've lived almost my entire life in red states—not Berkeley, not Burlington,” is as good as dismissing the Democrats as the Party of lefty nut jobs (or worse, Birkenstock-wearing, New York Times-reading, latte-drinking. . . Jews). You know that, Mr. Begala.

It is possible to look too often to history for lessons or metaphors, but the past contains more than a few examples of ambitious men riding the passionate wave of a popular movement, and then purging the movement of that passion to consolidate power. Trust me, Paul, you don’t want to be part of that historical allusion.

The Democrats haven’t won anything yet, Mr. Begala, is it really that smart to start knocking your pals in Berkeley and Burlington? I mean, what good is bringing a gun to a fight if you’ve already knifed all of your own soldiers?

(cross-posted over at Daily Kos)


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