[UPDATE: So after finishing this wonderful opus, I check my email and of course one of my Google alerts tells me that the Post has an article about Barve’s press release. Curse you, Bill Turque, for having the nerve to publish about this issue while I was writing about how nobody had written about it. And the fact that it’s a good article is more galling still. My larger point remains, but take my “nobody is paying attention to this story” whine with the appropriate grain of salt.]
So when I wrote about Kumar Barve’s press release on Monday, I believed that others would follow. Here was a substantive story (Barve’s qualifications and Jamie Raskin’s – implicit, at least – denigration of them), combined with the attention-grabbing technique of conflict. Who wouldn’t want to write this story?
Everyone, it turns out. And therein lies a story all its own.
On one level, it doesn’t make any sense. What Barve complained about was demonstrably true. Jamie Raskin has issued a series of TV ads claiming that he was the “only” candidate to have authored and pushed through progressive legislation on marriage equality, a fracking moratorium, and gun control. Barve had been involved in all these laws, as well as hundreds of others. He’s been in the General Assembly for 25 years to Raskin’s 10. He was the Majority Leader of the House for 12 years, and is now Chair of the Environment and Transportation Committee. Raskin has no such position of authority in the Senate. As one informed source said to me yesterday discussing the Barve press release, “Kumar is a member of the House leadership and has been involved in most of the state’s big issues over the last couple decades. His record deserves respect.”
But Barve’s not getting it, either generally or in this particular situation. And there’s another layer to the story: the increasingly grandiose rhetoric of Jamie Raskin. There’s his “The Only” ads, but also his recent comments that he’s the most qualified candidate not just in this race but “in America.” Not only is this attitude unlikely to succeed as a persuasion technique, but it violates a whole set of unspoken rules in Annapolis. Nobody ever gets anything done alone, and self-aggrandizing rhetoric is highly frowned upon. The reality of being a legislator is that sometimes you lead, sometimes you’re part of a group who leads, and sometimes you just push the green button when the time comes. Claiming to have done more than you did is a quick way to bring down the wrath of everyone from leadership to legislative staff, and that’s what a lot of the chatter has been about in recent days as the rhetoric ramps up from the Raskin campaign.
So why the deafening silence on a story with a whole bunch of interesting angles? Is it disdain for Barve? An unwillingness to criticize Raskin? No and no, I think. I submit that it’s more about how the race has been defined, and the extent to which everyone – including me – gets caught up in the narrative that has been created as a result.
In this case, the narrative has been about money. Who’s got it, and who doesn’t. Reporters (and bloggers) like to measure things, and there are only so many metrics we can use until the votes get counted. Who wants to wait that long?
One potential metric is polling. But other than three self-serving internal polls, there hasn’t been any. This is one of the marquee races not just in Maryland but in America (Boy, that sounds good, doesn’t it? I can see the appeal now.) It’s incredible that the Post or another media outlet hasn’t commissioned a poll of this race. A complete dereliction of duty, in my opinion.
But absent independent polling, there’s only really one other measurable metric, and that’s money, which is fraught with all kinds of peril. Early on, both Jamie Raskin and Kathleen Matthews were defined as serious candidates largely because of their fundraising prowess. And Kumar Barve and the other candidates were relegated to the status of “not serious” because they were judged a “failure” at vacuuming up large amounts of cash. But in what is going to be the most expensive primary in America (OK, that’s enough. Stop now.), Barve has raised over $600,000. In any other race – including neighboring CD4 – that sum would not only be respectable but highly competitive. But in CD8, it’s “failure.”
So the race came to be defined by money. And then the conversation devolved into minutiae over whose money was “better” as between Raskin and Matthews, a conversation later upended by the massive self-funded spending of David Trone. And for all the purportedly serious talk about campaign finance reform, little has been made of the fact that the three wealthiest candidates were 1-2-3 in fundraising/self-funding, even after the financial disclosure forms were revealed recently.
So ultimately, as I see it, nobody was interested in a story generated by Kumar Barve – who demonstrably has the most legislative experience of all the candidates – because he’s not a “serious” candidate. Who decided that? The same people who now don’t want to write about the important and interesting issues he raises.
And I’m just as guilty as anyone else. If Joel Rubin says something, do I pay it as much attention as I would if it came from David Trone? No, I don’t, because nice guy that Joel is, he doesn’t rate because he’s not a “serious” candidate. Yes, we in the media have had help, Jamie Raskin and Kathleen Matthews both helped feed the notion that they were a cut above because they had more money, but at the end of the day it’s on those of us who make choices every day about what to write about – and what not to. Bottom line: there has to be a better way to create a narrative.