The aristocracy of consultants

Published February 16, 2005 1:29PM (EST)

When Howard Dean took the helm of the Democratic National Committee in Washington over the weekend, he offered his prognosis for taking the country back.

"Republicans wandered around in the political wilderness for 40 years before they took back Congress," Dean said Saturday. "But the reason we lost control is that we forgot why we were entrusted with control to begin with. The American people can't afford to wait for 40 years for us to put Washington back to work for them. It can't take us that long. And it won't take us that long, not if we stand up for what we believe in, organize at the local level, and recognize that this party's strength doesn't come from the consultants down, it comes from grassroots up."

In singling out "the consultants," Dean strummed a chord that has been played a lot by Democrats lately; one of Deans challengers, Donnie Fowler, Jr., made ending the "aristocracy of consultants" a centerpiece of his campaign.

In the January/February issue of The Washington Monthly, Amy Sullivan sets out the problem in stark detail: Over and over again, the same Democratic campaign consultants "continue to get rewarded with business even after losing continually." Sullivan's favorite repeat loser is Joe Hansen, who has worked in recent years in the losing campaigns of Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, Max Cleland in Georgia, Alex Sanders in South Carolina, Tony Knowles in Alaska and Erskine Bowles in North Carolina. When Sullivan asked Hansen about his record, he sent her an email touting some wins and saying: "Our firm has an unmatched record of success that no other firm can match."

Maybe that's right, but it's sure hard to match Bob Shrum, the man Sullivan calls the poster boy of Democratic social promotion." Sullivan writes: "Over his 30-year career, Shrum has worked on the campaigns of seven losing presidential candidatesfrom George McGovern to Bob Kerreycapping his record with a leading role in the disaster that was the Gore campaign. Yet, instead of abiding by the 'seven strikes and you're out rule, Democrats have continued to pay top dollar for his services . . . .'

John Edwards and John Kerry fought it out for Shrum's services in the 2004 race. Kerry won -- and then lost, of course. The last time we saw Shrum was the day Kerry gave his concession speech. Shrum gave us a wonderful, detailed rendition of watching the race slip away from him, and then he disappeared.

Turns out he was off to Tuscany for vacation. He's back now, Sullivan says, advising Sen. Jon Corzine on the New Jersey governor's race.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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