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Have Evil Political Consultants Corrupted American Politics?

Over at Slate Magazine, Markos Moulitsas (founder of DailyKos.com) and GOP consultant Stuart Stevens recently engaged in an email debate over the role of political consultants. It's in the context of talking about Joe Klein's new book, Politics Lost.

As Markos puts it:

There's no doubt that consultants do their best to strip politicians of anything that might turn off some focus-group-tested demographic. Too often that means scrubbing candidates clean of their humanity and spontaneity, and all that's left is, well, what we see running around in politics today. ...

Democratic politicians share in the blame for hiring these loser consultants, but perhaps you view this through the prism of your party. As a Republican Party official once told me, "We treat our consultants like the hired help. You guys treat them like equals." That would be bad enough, but it's even worse than that: We treat our consultants like they're our bosses. ...

My point is that, in the Democratic Party, consultants have stifled innovation and created a self-interested clique of insiders who have driven the party into the ground.

Stevens argues that if the consultants are bad, and the candidate follows their lead, it's the candidates fault:

The underlying theory is that a candidate has some natural gift, which is corrupted by an evil consultant like Shrum. But who are we kidding? The problem with candidates like Al Gore and John Kerry is Al Gore and John Kerry. ...

There's no doubt that there are a lot of venal and opportunistic, not to mention just plain dumb, consultants out there in the political world giving bad advice. But there's one essential flaw in the "blame the consultants" approach you and Joe Klein take: No candidate has to take their advice.

If John Kerry allowed his position on Iraq to be crafted by consultants, then there's no one to blame but John Kerry. The notion that any candidate would turn over as critical a decision as whether to support a war to a bunch of hired political consultants is so damning that, were it true, it should instantly disqualify him or her. Consultants are called consultants because that's what they do: consult. They're in the business of giving advice...

Interesting stuff.