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Dog Ate Gov. Vilsack's Homework

By Terry Michael

"It was money, and only money," Gov. Tom Vilsack assured me in the sound-bite delivered to my Jeep by NPR as I was driving home from the office Friday.

That's all I heard from his exit press conference, as I steered my way through traffic on the Southeast Expressway past the U.S. Capitol, leaving me to wonder whether he also explained how Spot ate the killer speech he planned for the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Des Moines. Or if racking up all those frequent flyer milers was putting a terrible stress on the time he gets to spend with Christie, and sons Jess and Doug.

Give me a break! But, of course, NPR didn't.

Vilsack's "I'm outa' here" was immediately followed by the requisite nonsense "reporting" on the terrible burden of raising money in presidential politics, and the collapse of public financing. Without a pause, the public radio reporter breathlessly delivered up a quote from Fred Wertheimer about the corrupting influence of evil campaign cash.

Listen up, those of you who report, write, broadcast, cable-babble and blog politics for a living or avocation: Money follows message in politics! Not the other way around.

It boggles my mind that those in the First Amendment business will let themselves be used by the Washington ethics industry to further an assault on free, and sometimes expensive, political speech.

How convenient the self-styled Public Interest Groups make it for candidates without an appealing message or a pleasing personality to excuse their failure to connect with voters in the free market of ideas and first impressions.

Patriotism is often the last refuge of scoundrels. And "I can't compete with opponents who prostitute themselves to the money changers" seems to be the first excuse of presidential non-contenders who fooled themselves into believing they were Leader of the Free World material.

Just ask Hillary "No-Last-Name" Clinton if money can buy you love, or whether loving sleep-overs at David Geffen's can buy his money.

Maybe if you're rich and running for office in some little state with a sleepy press corps you can bankroll your way into the governor's mansion or the United States Senate. But when you're playing on the stage of presidential politics you have to have something to say that people want to hear.

You are deluding yourself if you insist that dollars are the most important asset, or even of secondary importance, for making a race for The White House.

Just ask President John Connolly, or President Phil Gramm, or President Ross Perot. Or try to convince yourself that Barack Obama is only viable because Hollywood zillionaires have turned on Bill and Hill.

Terry Michael is director of the non-partisan Washington Center for Politics & Journalism and writes personal opinion at his "libertarian Democrat" blog, www.terrymichael.net.

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