The proverb, “Too many cooks spoil the broth” comes to mind while reading the Washington Post article on the Kerry campaign’s policy structure. While intending on casting a broad net to display inclusiveness, the nominee instead teeters on the edge of an unmanageable mess:
From a tightknit group of experienced advisers, John F. Kerry’s presidential campaign has grown exponentially in recent months to include a cast literally of thousands, making it difficult to manage an increasingly unwieldy policy apparatus.
The campaign now includes 37 separate domestic policy councils and 27 foreign policy groups, each with scores of members. The justice policy task force alone includes 195 members. The environmental group is roughly the same size, as is the agriculture and rural development council. Kerry counts more than 200 economists as his advisers.
In contrast, President Bush’s campaign policy shop is a no-frills affair. Policy director Tim Adams directs about a dozen experts who make sure the campaign is in sync with the vast executive branch that is formulating policy. Adams’s group also analyzes Kerry’s proposals and voting record. Fewer than a dozen outside task forces, with five to 10 members, also help out on education, veterans’ issues, the economy, and energy, environment and natural resources, said campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel.
Perhaps it is this structure more than any other external factor which accounts for the notorious Kerry “nuance” displayed time and again during this campaign. When you have thousands of voices, each with their own pet causes and projects, coming together to develop coherent policies, you will wind up with either no product at all or long-winded and self-contradictory policies that look more like legal papers instead. Early on in our history, we were wise enough to limit the House of Representatives to 435 members for this very reason. Any body much larger than that increases policy inertia to a point where it is too difficult to overcome.
While the entire article is interesting, it fails to ask one key question: why does John Kerry, after having spent over 30 years in public office — the last twenty at the federal level — need thousands of people to decide what he thinks? One of the selling points of his campaign is supposed to be his long experience in government and foreign policy. Shouldn’t that mean that Kerry has his core principles already staked out, and if so, shouldn’t a smaller group of people be able to use them to build policy papers?
This overgrown and unwieldy organization not only looks like a throwback to Great Society-level bureaucratism but also demonstrates that Kerry has few core principles on which to build his policy. We already know that John Edwards is pretty much an empty suit from his legislative track record during his only term in office, but Kerry was supposed to be ready to take the reins right now. Candidates choose staff carefully to ensure that they match up with their already-expressed beliefs and principles, making large numbers of people for policy development unnecessary.
If Kerry needs a cast of thousands to make up his mind what he thinks at this late stage in his career, why should anyone vote for him?
UPDATE: Hugh Hewitt has some good thoughts on this article (and you should buy his book, If It’s Not Close, They Can’t Cheat), and also points to another Post article that dovetails with the above:
Democratic Party leaders said yesterday they plan to make their nominating convention in Boston later this month a four-day reintroduction of Sen. John F. Kerry, enlisting his wife, children and former war comrades in Vietnam to make the case for a man they acknowledge remains an opaque figure for millions of Americans.
“Stronger at Home, Respected in the World,” is the theme of the Boston event, said Democratic National Committee Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe. The phrase is designed to underscore the centrist and forward-looking image Kerry wants to present to voters — an implicit attack on President Bush and a rebuttal to Bush’s argument that Kerry would be a weak and irresolute commander in chief.
Not that there’s anything weak or irresolute about needing a few thousand sign-offs on your policy statements.