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Michael Barone / October 15, 2010

The Democratic ‘D’ Now Stands for Demagoguery

I’ve been in campaign meetings. Sometimes the atmosphere is grim. Your side is down, and you’re looking to turn things around. The pollster goes down the list of issues tested. Health care? Nope. They hate your stand on that. The economy? Thumbs down. Foreign policy? Nobody cares anymore. Then, finally, something that works. An assistant at the polling shop throws in a question about campaign contributions by foreigners. Turns out most voters don’t like them. They don’t think it’s an important issue, but, hey, nothing else works. So let’s go with it. This or something like it seems to have taken place at Team Obama Central sometime in the past few weeks.

I’ve been in campaign meetings. Sometimes the atmosphere is grim. Your side is down, and you’re looking to turn things around.

The pollster goes down the list of issues tested. Health care? Nope. They hate your stand on that. The economy? Thumbs down. Foreign policy? Nobody cares anymore.

Then, finally, something that works. An assistant at the polling shop throws in a question about campaign contributions by foreigners. Turns out most voters don’t like them. They don’t think it’s an important issue, but, hey, nothing else works. So let’s go with it.

This or something like it seems to have taken place at Team Obama Central sometime in the past few weeks.

Back in January, the president attacked the Supreme Court for ruling that corporations and unions have First Amendment speech rights and pointed to the possibility that foreigners might try to influence American election outcomes. Now he and his spokesmen on the campaign trail and on Sunday interview programs are charging that outfits like the Chamber of Commerce are smuggling foreign money into the campaign.

Their evidence? Well, there isn’t much, as even The New York Times, The Washington Post and factcheck.org agree.

The smoking gun? The Chamber of Commerce collects $100,000 in membership dues from foreigners out of a $200,000,000 operating budget and spends some of that budget on campaign ads. But Obama uberadviser David Axelrod says it’s up to the chamber to prove it’s innocent.

There are a couple of odd things here. One is that the 2008 Obama campaign, by deliberately not using the address verification software most enterprises use to determine it’s really your credit card, took in a lot more illegal foreign money than its rivals. The Obama folks may be projecting their own sins on their opponents.

The other is that this charge of foreign money doesn’t fit into any familiar political narrative. At least when the Obamaites attack evil rich people, some voters think of 19th-century caricatures of fat cats (and ignore the fact that Obama carried voters with incomes over $200,000 in 2008).

But who are these evil foreigners who are trying to inject their dirty money into American campaigns? The guys who got the jobs that were supposedly outsourced from Youngstown, Ohio? Americans who gave up their citizenship to avoid taxes? James Bond villains like Auric Goldfinger?

I seem to remember that it was candidate Barack Obama (not John McCain or Hillary Clinton) who gave a big election year speech in the Tiergarten in Berlin. It was Obama cheerleaders who told us that foreigners would love us once again if we sent George W. Bush back to Texas and installed their multicultural champion in the White House.

Back in 2008, we were supposed to vote for the candidate foreigners loved. Now, in 2010, we are supposed to vote against the party foreigners support.

You can be pretty sure that this is not where the Obama Democrats wanted or expected to be three weeks before the 2010 election. They operated on the assumption that history is a story of progress from no government to big government and that American voters would be grateful for little bits of economic redistribution, like the $400 tax rebate in the 2009 stimulus package.

But as Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute (where I’m a resident fellow), points out in his book “The Battle,” happiness does not increase in proportion to dollars taken in. Lottery winners are happier for a few months, then go back to feeling the way they did before.

What makes us happy, Brooks argues, is earned success, often in the form of money we think we’ve fairly earned, but also satisfaction from fulfilling family and personal responsibilities or performing community service.

Obamanomics hasn’t resulted in much earned success, and Obamacare doesn’t seem likely to, either. The chief talking point on the latter seems to be that you can stay on your mommy and daddy’s health insurance until you’re 26.

Last month, Barack Obama took to saying that D (Democratic) stood for Drive and R (Republican) stood for Reverse: shorthand for his notion that history inevitably and correctly moves left. Focus groups and polls showed that didn’t work.

So now we have the issue of supposed foreign contributors to Republican campaigns. It looks like D stands for demagoguery and desperation.

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