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Editorial: Bush's Rangers / Money shouldn't make the political world go round

Monday, July 21, 2003

Since officially launching his 2004 re-election bid, President Bush has scooped up $41.4 million in campaign contributions. While the nine Democratic candidates represent a range of policy views, their chances for winning the party's nomination are often ranked according to just one factor: how much money they have been able to accumulate in their campaign war chests.

This phenomenon raises troubling questions about presidential campaigns. Is the candidate who spends the most on the election the one who will win? Is the candidate's ability to raise money the true gauge of potential effectiveness as president?

What's behind the questions is the suggestion that the votes of the American people are basically for sale. They may be considered to be for sale indirectly, through television ad campaigns, through campaign events organized most efficiently across as much of the country as possible and through the largest staffs possible put to work promoting the candidate. Basically, however, there is assumed to be some linkage between how much money the candidate has and spends, and the chances of being elected.

Now that's pretty scary if one still has a lingering idea that America should choose its presidents on the basis of the quality of the ideas that he will put into effect as president, his ability to attract capable -- as possibly opposed to rich -- people to his staff, and the integrity of character that he is likely to bring to the job.

Mr. Bush's current poll numbers, although dipping as Americans begin to scratch their heads about casualty figures in Iraq, the wisdom of the approach that put us there and the financial policies of the administration, are consistent with the amount of money he has so far accumulated for his campaign compared with what the Democrats are stacking up.

In the past three months, Mr. Bush collected more money than all the Democratic candidates taken together. Mr. Bush's "Rangers" collected $200,000 each for him; his "Pioneers" did $100,000 each.

Whether the relative electability of the Democratic candidates, ranging from former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean at the top through so-far undeclared retired Gen. Wesley Clark at the bottom, is reflected in the success of their fund-raising campaigns in the past quarter is very questionable.

In fact, this process of assessment is far too much like handicapping a horse race for the serious business that it actually is in this time of international terror and domestic fiscal peril.

Everyone has probably always said it -- and saying so has probably changed almost nothing -- but it is true that the choice of the American president is far too serious a business to be principally about money.

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