An Open Letter to All Presidential Candidates

(The comments are funny. – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

Dear Presidential Candidates,

In the extended text you will find the complete open letter to the presidential candidates. I wrote the letter in hopes of deterring candidates from making the kinds of mistakes that South has made throughout his career and to avoid the Democratic infighting that South is so happy to instigate.  I warn candidates that by hiring Garry South, you will be wearing the Scarlet Letter “T” as in Triangulator or DLC or whatever.  I think we all get the point.

I appreciate your attention to the letter.  Of course, feedback is appreciated.  Finally, please recommend this letter at MyDD and DailyKos

At the UC Berkeley forum entitiled The 2006 Governor’s Race: An Inside View, I was reminded of an issue which I had intended to address a lot earlier.  Garry South. As always, South was in the events talking trash to the Angelides staffers. As if trash talking Angelides BEFORE the general wasn’t immature enough, he apparently hasn’t yet gotten over losing the primary.  And while I was frustrated with the Angelides campaign myself, I understand the difference between providing constructive criticism and being a self-aggrandizing blowhard.  So, presidential campaigns I offer you some free advice, ignore it at your own peril: Do not hire Garry South.  You will regret it.

So who is this man, Garry South?  He may not be the most well-known figure in California politics.  He doesn’t have the name recognition of an Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Darrel Issa, or even a Tom McClintock, but he’s caused more harm to the State Democratic Party than those three could wish for in their grandest dreams.

As the presidential campaigns staff up in California and across the nation, I implore them, for their own sake, to stay away from Mr. South.  This state is sick of his apparent disdain for the base of the Democratic party.  Furthermore, his triangulation for every candidate that he has managed has ultimately led to an erosion of the Democratic brand.  If you care to read George Lakoff’s books, you will see that South violates pretty much every suggestion provided by the progressive movement’s greatest linguist.

I do not intend to make idle threats, but there is no surer way to writing off the support of the netroots in California than hiring Garry South. In fact, Mr. South has received votes of no-confidence from national blogs as well. It’s never good to be compared to 8-time loser Bob Shrum as South was by Matt Stoller of MyDD

To show exactly how you will regret it, I’m including a little history.  This is the complete letter, merged from its two day form. UPDATE: Please note that I mistakenly made an off-hand remark that South managed the 2003 recall campaign. This is not correct as he left the Davis staff before the recall campaign. I issued a correction in another diary, but failed to correct this diary, and for that I apologize once again.  The way the No-Recall campaign was run wasn’t really discussed all that much in this diary, but nonetheless, as many people were more than happy to point out, I was wrong about this remark, and for that I apologize.

Just who is Garry South? He’s known by many names: “The King of Mean”, “Mouth from the South”, “Master of Sleaze”, and, of course, he’s been labelled part of “the  current underbelly of American politics.”  All glowing reviews of a political hit man.  But it’s been argued that we need a few more political hit men in the Democratic Party, and I’m not sure I would dispute that.  But we don’t need Garry South.  In fact, Garry South and his DLC fellow travelers like Dan Gerstein are at the root of all that ails the Democratic Party.

As a side note, South claims on his California Majority Report Bio to have been called “one of the top political strategists in the Democratic Party”. Fair enough. Kos labeled him that way on June 10, 2003.  Now I’m not sure what Mr. South knows about dKos, but is the address of the dKos archives, and those archives have a bit more about him than just his boast.  For one: his love affair with the invasion and occupation of Iraq , his fear of mentioning the war on the presidential campaign trail and, of course, the tag “Master of Sleaze”.  Kos also called both  of the 2006 Dem Primary gubernatorial campaigns “amateur” (including the Westly campaign run by Mr. South), hardly what you’d expect of one of the “top strategists” of the party.

Garry South isn’t a simple Democratic hit man, attacking Republicans through the traditional means. Karl Rove is a master at this from the other side, and his skills haven’t impeded the progress of his party.  The difference between these two men?  Not as great as the similarities KR uses personal attacks and political imagery favored by his party’s base to attack progressives and Democrats.  Garry South also uses the values of the Republican base to attack progressive values and other Democrats.  South acts as  a barrier to really liberal candidates.  South drives the specific kinds of polarization that the Republicans want and uses the language of the Republican base to call his opponents extreme when they dare to stand up for our values.

South does all this in the name of triangulation, of false moderation, of rejecting principle.  South has a history of triangulation that is really extraordinary. A brief review of some of his campaigns over the last eight years:

  • 1998 Gray Davis: Davis was considered the underdog when he started his campaign for the Democratic nomination.  Although he was the sitting lieutenant governor, he was at a cash disadvantage compared to Al Checchi and Jane Harman.  And with those big bank accounts, Checchi and Harman chose to attack the hell out of each other, leaving Davis to fly under the radar.  While the two front runners were attacking each other, Davis was raising money and building support.  The Checchi campaign, managed by the now infamous Bob Shrum, raised and then burnt through money like it was going out of style.  Similarly, Jane Harman and her campaign manager Bill Carrick, now an Angelides strategist, leveraged her personal wealth into a sizable war chest.  Perhaps this election is where South learned the true zen art of slinging shit.

    After the bruising Dem primary in which Davis outslugged Checchi and  Harman for the nomination, South went on to run a Davis campaign that fought desperately hard to avoid looking too “liberal” in its quest to represent the “mainstream”.  He raked in cash from any source he could get it, a trait which eventually led to his downfall.  He fought the entire time for the “moderation” without principle  that has since been redubbed “Bush Lite”:

    “This election was a clear affirmation that Californians want to take a moderate course to the future,” Davis told supporters here even before Lungren conceded the election.(WaPo 11/4/98)

    The California governor’s race got off to its earliest start ever as Democratic Lt. Gov. Gray Davis and Republican Attorney General Dan Lungren sparred in their first debate Friday night over who truly represents the mainstream of the nation’s most populous state. … “I think Singapore is a good starting point, in terms of law and order,” Davis said, adding the state can’t punish criminals enough. … In Friday’s debate, the styles of the two party leaders were clearly etched. Davis, a cautious politician and skilled fund-raiser, was more often on the defensive, and he seemed to dance around several direct questions. (WaPo 8/2/98)

  • I mean, come on! “Singapore is a good starting point?”  Is that really where we want Democrats to position themselves along the ideological spectrum?  To the right of Singapore on crime?  Does California really want to cane children for leaving gum on a street?  How ridiculous could one Democratic campaign be in pandering to the Republicans?  Well, more ridiculous, as it turns out.

    But in 1998, this campaign worked.  All three Dem candidates were of the principle-free moderate mold and Davis was ultimately the least objectionable of all four candidates.  (Dan Lungren’s votes as the Representative from CA-03, by way of explanation.)_ Davis ended up receiving 58% of the general election votes, primarily because of the growing realignment from Red to Blue in California.

  • 2002 Gray Davis: If 1998 was a fight for the middle, 2002 was a slog through the filthy bowels of the value-free “center” of the body politic.  Ultimately, the ill-will created by this election spawned the recall.

    The Primary:  Davis was a sitting governor, so he had only token opposition.  South and his crew decided to meddle in the GOP primary by preemptively attacking Mayor Richard Riordan hoping to face the less formidable Bill Simon.

    After South spent money fueling Bill Simon’s campaign, Davis defeated Simon, although in a surprisingly close race. Considering that Simon was something of a political novice (and a radically conservative one at that) and Davis was a sitting governor, the fact that Davis garnered only 52% as a sitting governor with a substantial party registration advantage was something of a bad omen.  South was forced to go negative early and often during the race, a fact that made Davis even less popular.  Davis was considered by most to just be a bit less scary than Simon; his constituency had evaporated.

  • 2003 Recall: Please note the above correction. South did not run the No on Recall campaign. I don’t actually discuss how the 2003 recall campaign was run, but some people thought it was very important to note.

    The bad omen of Davis’s close win in 2002 of course portended the 2003 Recall. The energy crisis hit the state full bore and neither Davis nor the rest of the California government could seem to do anything about it.  The press and the voters began to discover just how big of a mess the state was really in, and momentum began to build.  The idea of a recall actually began being bandied about soon after Davis’ re-election.  Davis and South took it about as seriously as I took Peter Camejo’s chances in the 2006 election. According to Jerome, South took it as something of a laughing matter:

    Garry South is OK, but I realized he was very old school when I talked with him at the CA convo in ’03. When I brought up the potential that Davis would be recalled, he scoffed, citing history as proof it couldn’t happen. I brought up that wingers on FreeRepublic were hopping it up, and all they needed was a bit of money to organize the effort. He couldn’t fathom the internet-thing making it happening. … (MyDD 8/27/06)

    What’s really important to understand about South’s remark there is that South didn’t believe that people outside his little circle could make anything happen.  He still doesn’t.  The bungling of Davis’ first administration combined with the tone and tenor of the 2002 campaign run by South had left Davis with few friends; he was left with contributors, though.  Davis was still able to raise a boatload of cash for the recall fight, but it was essentially lost the moment that Arnold Schwarzenegger entered the race.  Thanks in no small part to Garry South, Davis was, by this time, a symptom of all that ailed Sacramento. He was a politician in the worst sense of the word, and no amount of money could save him. With approval ratings in the 20s (sound like anybody else you know?)

    But Schwarzenegger’s announcement was just the final blow to Davis; he had been dealt the rest by South’s campaign.  Davis and South had promoted divisiveness and the principle-free pay-for-play politics that many of us, on both sides of the political spectrum, have come to abhor.  Democrats abandoned Davis as an old political hack.  The 2002 Campaign had played his last card.  Davis and South had come out swinging with everything they had.  By the time the recall election was approaching, it was clear that Davis and South were spent.  They could no longer play to moderates, as they were sick of “politics as usual” and were abandoning Davis in droves for the shiny new “moderate” model, Arnold. 

    Nope, this time Garry South’s principle-free triangulation had done him in.  Progressives sat on their hands as they watched the triangulating Dem flail as he sank into the depths of a recall.  But Garry South had not yet finished with his triangulations.

  • 2004 Lieberman campaign: When Lieberman announced his candidacy, he did so to much fanfare.  Lieberman had a significant advantage in name recognition and had a decent amount of money.  And he even had a SWEET jingle (MP3) for his campaign. I particularly like the line “he voted for the Iraq War but you would probably have too”.  Um, yeah, not so much. I wonder if Garry came up with that line.

      South came aboard in 2003.   South and Lieberman went on to run his inherent advantages into the ground, primarily by running a campaign that A) didn’t address the invasion and occupation of Iraq and B) simply didn’t connect to voters.  Now, part of this is just Joementum: he’s not a great campaigner (as we’ve seen recently) and he’s annoying in general.

    This campaign became a laughing stock.  Joe’s claim that they finished in a three way tie for third place was laughable.  (The man came in fifth place.)  Of his dropping out of the race, David Letterman said: “Because of poor results at the primaries last night, Senator Joe Lieberman will be dropping out of the race. Earlier today, he broke the news to his supporter.” 

    For South, “one of the top campaign strategists” this marked just one more embarrassing defeat.  But he’d have others.

  • 2006 Steve Westly: Westly entered the race after Phil Angelides, but with plenty of time to spare.  He also entered the race with a fist full of cash.  He made it clear that he would drop much of his own money to pay for his campaign for governor. Westly hired Garry South soon after launching his campaign.

    The campaign hummed along for quite a while.  At one point, an LA Times Poll had Westly up by 13 points.  However, South’s principle-free “moderation” reared its ugly head. South, ever the cynic, went negative early and often.  In one of the most cynical political moves of the primary campaign, South pushed Westly to demand that Angelides sign a no-negative advertising campaign pledge http://www.americanc….  While South was talking up the “pledge” he was simultaneously issuing attack press releases, and making negative comments about Angelides to the media.  You see the letter was limited specifically to “paid advertising.” If reporters wanted to repeat South’s slung mud as “earned media”, South wasn’t opposed to that.

    And the cynicism ended up hurting the campaign and the party.  As Angelides started to shrug off the Westly leads of April, South went back to his attack-ad comfort zone.  Unfortunately, only a few weeks earlier, Westly had run an ad touting his no-negative-campaigning pledge.  Oops!

    To political strategists not involved in the campaign, the most telling sign of the shift in momentum was Westly’s launch of attack ads. It was particularly telling, since by doing so Westly violated his own pledge, touted only four weeks earlier.

    “The guy to throw the first punch is the guy who is losing,” said Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist unaligned in the primary. (LA Times

    In the end, people were angered over the turnabout.  The negative campaign pledge ended up hurting Westly far more than it ever helped.  But what did more damage is the way that South chose to attack.  Some of his ads, fact checked on the series of tubes

    1. An attack ad about an illegal Lake Tahoe dredging project blaming Phil Angelides for the project.  This was a lie: Angelides had nothing to do with the project.  An Angelides corporation owned a portion of one condo in the community.  Angelides was cleared of all claims.
    2. A series of false attacks on Angelides’ position on taxes.  Westly, and South, used old proposals, essentially anything he had ever said, and totaled them all up to reach a total of $10 Billion.  Bottom line:  This was a lie.  Angelides didn’t propose $10 Billion in tax increases.  Period. It’s just not true.  The truly damaging element of this line of attack is that South worked very very hard to push the Phil is a big-government tax-and-spend liberal bad guy.  Thing is: Democrats don’t fear government for fear’s sake.  That’s the domain of the GOP, as is the fearmongering built into those talking points.  In fact, many Democrats consider government action for the greater good to be a core liberal value.

    3. In the end, South’s strategy in primary so handicapped the winner, no matter who it was, that Arnold was given a huge advantage.  By attacking liberal values, South could not have teed up the winner for Arnold’s campaign team to hammer if the Republicans had paid South for the favor. 

  • Since then: As a coda to South’s actions in the Democratic Primary, one can’t forget South’s lashing out at Angelides in public after South had led the Westly campaign to a loss:

    “When it comes to Angelides, it would be hard to single out his biggest liability because he’s a walking Achilles heel,” said Garry South, the chief strategist for the Westly campaign. “Arnold and his Karl Rove-trained wrecking crew will tear the guy apart, atom by atom…he won’t know what hit him.”

    Or how about this story in Capitol Weekly.  I’m pretty sure that this didn’t really help the Democratic cause:

    But South has become Angelides’ most vocal Democratic critic. One of the most common threads of South’s posts–and a theme Westly harped on during the primary–is what South perceives as Angelides’ lack of electiblity.

    “In the face of what should have been a sobering contrast in viability, the big-shot Democratic politicians and interest-group poobahs continued to cheerlead for Angelides and badmouth Westly,” South wrote on July 11.

    Regarding the state party endorsement at the convention, South continued, “67 percent of the delegates! The level of self-delusion about Angelides in that hall was so high you could drown in it standing on a step-ladder.”

    Don’t you just love his utter disdain for the base of his party?  Isn’t that just great how he mocks the convention goers?  How he believes that his triangulation would have worked soooo much better.  His remarks were less about Angelides and more about his wounded pride.  Frankly, we don’t have time for that bullshit.

    In the end, Garry South hurts the California Dems more than he helps.  If “Crashing the Gate” is to have a real and lasting legacy, I hope it is to put principle-free party operatives like this far, far away from our campaigns.

  • 13 thoughts on “An Open Letter to All Presidential Candidates”

    1. Gosh, Brian, you must be a Very Influential Player on the national political scene to be writing open letters to candidates running for president of the United States!  Who knew?  I’ll bet Hillary, Barack and John Edwards dropped everything to soak up your error-riddled, ludicrously reasoned diatribes! 

      I noticed your blog’s “Terms of Use” states “we do not welcome personal attacks . . . in any form.”  I guess in this case you’re exempt, because, after all, BYOB — you da boss of your own blog.

      I’ve been a bit busy lately myself, with a demanding consulting business, raising an 8-month-old baby boy, dealing with a wife still recovering from a severely broken ankle suffered during the pregnancy, and a 96-year-old father who’s in remission from cancer.  But I did want to take the time now that I have a few minutes to offer a few modest suggestions for your future postings. 

      I think your next several-part series should be castigating the longest-serving Democratic Speaker of the Assembly in history, Mr. Democrat himself, Willie Brown, for publicly denigrating and belittling the chances of your boy Phil Angelides right from the start — oh, yeah, and for serving as MC at Arnold’s second-term swearing-in.  LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa might be next, for taking three months after the primary to publicly endorse Angelides — then going on a lengthy trade mission to Asia right during the middle of the general election.  Next, you’ll want to trash labor for, after endorsing Angelides, spending only about $5 million of the widely rumored $25 million they had supposedly set aside for the general election.  Then, of course, you should rake pretty much the whole Westside LA Democratic donor community over the coals for abandoning Phil wholesale and even openly supporting Arnold, including people like Spielberg, Geffen, Stu and Judy Resnik, and Haim Saban (the latter only one of the biggest donors in history to the DNC), to name only a few.  And also, those unforgivable 30% of Democratic voters who deserted Angelides in the general election; why, what idiots, not to see that Phil was the very embodiment of Democratic values and ideals!  (By way of comparison, Gray Davis, who you obviously disdain, received 81% of Democratic votes in the ’02 re-election — even with a job-approval rating in the 30s — and got 76% of Democrats to vote against the recall, even with a 22% approval rating.) You apparently still can’t face the fact that your candidate was, as I warned, totally unlikable and utterly unelectable — and that it wasn’t my public comments or blog postings that made him so. 

      And while we’re at it, you also should clearly launch on those dirty DLCers triangulators, Bill Clinton and Al Gore, who in ’92 beat the first sitting (elected) GOP president in 60 years, and were overwhelmingly re-elected in ’96, Clinton becoming the first Democratic president to win a second tem since FDR in ’36.  Why, that neo-con Clinton actually was a founder and chairman of the DLC, and the reactionary Gore was a charter member of the group.  Then, of course, a follow-up evisceration would be in order for the second all-DLC ticket, Gore-Lieberman in ’00 (damn, that traitor Lieberman was also a founder and chair of the DLC), which won the popular vote over George W. Bush. (Hillary also, by the way, is still an active DLCer, so you’ll no doubt want to puke all over her, too, in your self-appointed role as arbiter about who’s a good Democrat and who’s not even a Democrat.  Vilsack, too, is the immediate past chair of the DLC. Damn, it’s as insidious as the Masons!)

      BTW, I was amused that you mentioned my alleged “vanity” and “ego.”  Guess which one of us doesn’t have a personal Web site that, among other self-indulgent narcissisms, lists such things as “My Pictures,” “My Friends,” “My Pets,” and even “My Favorite Sports Teams?”  I bet Hillary, Barack and John Edwards– and probably Biden, Dodd, Richardson and Vilsack, too — were just dying to know what NFL team you root for and what your cat’s name is, in addition to your views about Garry South.

      Your rantings and ravings are those of a petulant child and a political zealot, Brian.  I see you were at the Berkeley Seminar but didn’t have the cojones to come up and introduce yourself and confront me with your fantastical charges during the entire two days.  I guess you prefer to slink around and hide behind the Internet.

      Here’s my final word: When you have actually run and won a campaign electing a Democrat to any office at any level, instead of just sitting at your computer composing bile and bilge and hitting “send,” come back and talk to me.  Until then, you can kiss my . . . baby. 

    2. I don’t know who you are, Brian. But until you have the ability to run two successful democratic gubernatorial campaigns in CA – or in any other major state in this country for that matter, I suggest you should be the one to shut your mouth. You simply have not an ounce of political savvy or wisdom to second guess one of the most brilliant political minds of our country. 

      To threaten any Dem presidential candidate that you will withhold your support if he or she were to hire South is not only unprofessional but extremely immature, childish and stupid.  Do you believe in democracy or not — sounds like you don’t, or only when it works for you.

      And for you to suggest all Democrats should blindly rally behind a loser like Angelides in the general election shows how uneducated and uninformed you are about CA Democrats.  He ran one of the most terrible campaigns in CA.  He never even bothered to introduce himself to the voters because he arrogantly assumed everyone knew who he was.  And to keep talking about raising taxes when the majority of the voters weren’t with him on that shows how out of touch he is with the voters.  HE’s the reason why Arnold won the second term — not Westly, not South, but HIMSELF!! People took one look at him and listened to what he had to say and decided he was definitely not the right candidate!

      Even his own consultants quietly admitted after the fact that they really couldn’t counter most of the arguments made by the Westly campaign because they were, how shocking, TRUE!  How are you different from die-hard Republicans who blindly voted for Bush for the second time even if they knew he was a terrible President?

      South has every right to make his opinions known about Angelides as a private citizen and as a concerned voter who believes in democracy.  You certainly don’t have to share his views, and you’re certainly welcome to counter argue his points in another opinion piece in the LA Times or in Sacramento Bee. Unless of course, no credible newspapers wanted your crazy rantings printed in their publications.

      How sad and shameful for you, a so-called Democrat, to play the game of scare tactics against the only consultant in recent CA history that has brought the party a winner in the Governor’s race. 

      And for your information, since you obviously couldn’t get your facts straight, South was not heading the No on the Recall effort. In fact, long before the Davis’ re-election was underway, South had informed the Governor his wish to move on.  After all, a decade is a long time to work for any politician as most consultants would agree.

      You’re shameful for not recognizing South’s loyalty to Davis and to the Party in time of crisis even though he was no longer employed by the Governor. (BTW, to the person who overheard South’s conversation on the plane, you obviously had no idea what political spin means.  What did you want him to say? “Sure, Gray would be recalled!”  Would that make you feel better?  Would that have made him an honest and humble consultant?  Would it have impressed you to hear South badmouth his own ex-boss on the plane to a fellow Democrat?  You didn’t have to appreciate his loyalty to Davis to the ugly end, but to mistaken that for arrogance is truly remarkable!) 

      Bottom line:  to suggest as a Democrat you must support any and all candidates from your party in an election no matter his character, and no matter where he or she stands on issues of importance is truly idiotic. There’s no doubt you’re the reason why many Californians choose not to be affiliated with either the Democratic or the Republican party.

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