Bushenfreude revisited.

Commentary about business and finance.
Aug. 6 2004 5:53 PM

Bushenfreude Revisited

How the president's tax cuts have revived Democratic fund-raising.

Getting the wrong donors fired up
Getting the wrong donors fired up

Last November, I noticed a strange new malady affecting the rich: Bushenfreude. Democrats who were big beneficiaries of the Bush tax cuts were suffering from a weird mix of confusion, annoyance, exhilaration, and anger. They were enjoying their extra income while loathing its source—a Republican in the White House and Republican-controlled Congress.

Democrats were ambivalent about these ill-gotten gains. One of the main symptoms of Bushenfreude turned out to be a tendency to spend the windfall on luxury goods and on the Democratic Party. In the months since, Bushenfreude has become a major force, so important that it may help send John Kerry to the White House. The left-wing rich—like the right-wing rich—are still shopping at fancy stores, buying expensive real estate, and saving for their kids' sure-to-be Ivy League educations. But thanks to the Bush tax cuts, they still have plenty left over to spend on John Kerry, 527s, and Democratic candidates for Congress. Bushenfreude might be the most important reason why Democrats are raising more money in 2004 than ever before.

Advertisement

The invaluable OpenSecrets.org Web site is a Baedeker to Bushenfreude. This page shows the remarkable success both parties have had raising funds. President Bush raised $228.7 million through June 20, of which $225 million came from individuals. Very impressive. But the Democrats have collectively raised more. John Kerry raised $186 million through June 20—far beyond the wildest expectations of the Kerry team. (Fund-raising activity in July brought that total over $200 million.) Add in the totals raised by Kerry's primary competitors, and individuals have given more than $300 million to Democrats seeking to unseat President Bush. Meanwhile, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has nearly matched the fund-raising prowess of its Republican counterpart.

Then there are the 527s—independent organizations unbound by McCain-Feingold donation restrictions that have harvested $192 million so far this campaign cycle, according to OpenSecrets. A glimpse at the top 50 reveals that the 527s are almost an exclusively Democratic phenomenon. While some are backed by unions, the biggies are funded by some of the single largest beneficiaries of the Bush tax cuts. The largest is the Joint Victory Campaign with $41.7 million (big donors: hedge-fund manager George Soros, Progressive Corp. honcho Peter Lewis). It in turn has funneled cash into the second and third largest 527s, the Media Fund, a Harold Ickes attack vehicle, and America Coming Together. The Club for Growth, the first Republican 527 in the top 50, is the eighth-largest with a mere $4.8 million in total receipts. (You can tell it's run by supply-siders because the numbers on receipts and expenditures don't add up.)

In my suburban Connecticut town, where I first detected Bushenfreude, a virulent strain is still raging. The president isn't waging much of a campaign in one of his ancestral home states, the wealthiest in America. So, angry rich Democrats in Fairfield County—Stepford Country—are taking out their anger on their congressman. Moderate Republican Christopher Shays is a decent guy seemingly perfectly in touch with his suburban constituency—he voted for the tax cuts and went to the recent pro-choice rally. In 2002, his challenger mustered a mere $110,000, and Shays was re-elected to serve a ninth term with 64 percent of the vote.

This year, Shays is getting a run for his money—literally. In the first quarter of 2004, challenger Diane Farrell, the first selectwoman of Westport, hoped to raise $250,000; she raised $370,000, more than Shays. So far, the records show she's raised $721,000, virtually all from individuals in the district. Shays has raised $1.044 million. Farrell's coffers are being filled by Metro North Democrats—men and women whose natural habitat is the New York-Stamford-New Haven corridor and who toil in finance, insurance, real estate, media.

Like many Bushenfreude sufferers, they're generally comfortable with their social and financial lot. So why are they blowing their hard-earned cash on political ads, yard signs, and $1,000-a-head dinners? They're angry about the war, science policy, the religious right. They're worried about the Supreme Court, air quality, and the budget deficit. They're worried about everything but the prospect that John Kerry might raise taxes on those who earn more than $200,000. "It doesn't come up," said Diane Farrell. "These people realize that life is about more than tax cuts. People feel so strongly about the administration."

President Bush isn't a man given to irony. (This is a guy who talks with a straight face about fiscal discipline.) But here's an irony so obvious even he could appreciate it. What if his signature accomplishment—cutting taxes on the rich, including many angry Democrats—sowed the seeds of his own destruction?

Daniel Gross is a longtime Slate contributor. His most recent book is Better, Stronger, Faster. Follow him on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

How Facebook’s New Feature Could Come in Handy During a Disaster

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

View From Chicago

You Should Be Able to Sell Your Kidney

Or at least trade it for something.

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Terrorism, Immigration, and Ebola Are Combining Into a Supercluster of Anxiety

The Legal Loophole That Allows Microsoft to Seize Assets and Shut Down Companies

  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Oct. 19 2014 1:05 PM Dawn Patrol Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s critically important 5 a.m. wake-up call on voting rights.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 19 2014 11:40 AM Pot-Infused Halloween Candy Is a Worry in Colorado
  Life
Outward
Oct. 17 2014 5:26 PM Judge Begrudgingly Strikes Down Wyoming’s Gay Marriage Ban
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 17 2014 4:23 PM A Former FBI Agent On Why It’s So Hard to Prosecute Gamergate Trolls
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Oct. 17 2014 1:33 PM What Happened at Slate This Week?  Senior editor David Haglund shares what intrigued him at the magazine. 
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 19 2014 4:33 PM Building Family Relationships in and out of Juvenile Detention Centers
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 17 2014 6:05 PM There Is No Better Use For Drones Than Star Wars Reenactments
  Health & Science
Space: The Next Generation
Oct. 19 2014 11:45 PM An All-Female Mission to Mars As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 16 2014 2:03 PM Oh What a Relief It Is How the rise of the bullpen has changed baseball.