Thursday, June 5, 2008

Money Matters, Institutions Matter

The RNC has outraced the DNC by six times in its fundraising effort. According to the latest Federal Election Commission reports filed through the end of March, the RNC had $31 million in cash on hand, while the DNC had only $5.3 million. In absolute terms, this is dwarfed by the amounts Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama raised compared to John McCain, but this is my point exactly. These fundraising patterns are the institutional reflections of what is already manifest from this year's race: the Democratic party is far more candidate-centered than is the Republican party, and this could be a dangerous thing for the Democrats in the long term.

Candidates' fundraising efforts, and therefore the influence of candidates, exist in a zero-sum relationship with the efforts of their party. If the candidates are successfully appealing to a finite pool of donors, then usually the party is not getting much. This is a turnaround from what the Democratic party was in the 19th century: when once the candidate was the "faceless representative of the party," the party is now the creature of the candidate. If Democratic candidates in the 19th century were lacklustre, the rockstars of 2008 are siphoning off attention and money that were once owed to the party.

While the Democratic party waxes and wanes with the charisma of its leader, the Republican party, on the other hand, stands (relatively) independently on its own legs. And while the Democrats regroup and struggle to rebuild their party every election season, the Republicans have for the past decades and with the notorious help of Karl Rove been building their party and forging a more symbiotic relationship between their candidates and the party. No wonder that even though many Republicans were not a fan of McCain, they have closed ranks under the banner of the Grand Old Party. No wonder that while the Republican party transcends personalities to speak of conservativism and conservative issues and values, there is less talk of liberalism and the liberal platform on the other side, but a lot of talk of the internecine feud between Obama and Clinton.

Just like it took a while for the party to find a nominee to fill FDR's oversized shoes, excepting Hillary Clinton, it may be a while before the Democrats find someone to fill Obama's shoes in future elections. Rockstars prefer to occupy the stage alone, not on institutional platforms. As Democrats cheer their hero on this year, they may do well to plan for a future concert when their designated soloist may be in greater need of a backup chorus than appears this year.

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