Evidence piles up that presidential politics is mired once again in horse-race polls, TV ads, and, most of all, political consultants. Consultants in both parties rake in millions of dollars, often with as much bad advice as good.
For several presidential cycles, the nation has been locked in an era of these hired guns. As author Jules Witcover wrote in 1999 in his book No Way to Pick a President, consultants play a dominant role. It is even more significant today than nearly 10 years ago.
Candidates grumble about it from time to time, but they always wind up hiring consultants for huge chunks of campaign money.
Two of the worst examples today are Mary Matalin, a Republican, and Mark Penn, a Democrat.
Matalin learned her politics from the late Lee Atwater, a gunslinger from South Carolina. In this cycle, Matalin signed on first with the presidential quest of then Sen. George Allen of Virginia before Allen imploded in his 2006 Senate race. She then moved over to former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, who was an early dropout.
This is the same Matalin who was a close adviser to Vice President Cheney in the controversial run-up to the war in Iraq and its disastrous aftermath.
Yet she has the gall to be quoted this way about Scott McClellan's exposé book on the war: "This will stand as the epitome, the ultimate breach of that code of honor."
Matalin does not understand a fidelity to seeing right from wrong or even loyalty to a country being deceived by the Bush White House in selling the war.
Mark Penn, a highly paid adviser to Sen. Hillary Clinton, was demoted this spring to a lesser role in her campaign after it came to light that in his capacity as head of the Burson-Marsteller ad agency, he had been advising the Colombian government about a free-trade agreement that Clinton opposes. He had been a divisive force in the campaign: One Democrat close to the campaign told me he was "a horror show."
Another consultant of recent Democratic vintage is Dick Morris, who had President Clinton's ear. This is the same Morris whose famous dalliance with a prostitute made headlines in 1996. He even allowed her to listen in on a personal conversation with Clinton.
It should be mentioned that there are people of solid reputations in the world of consultants. The late Bob Teeter and John Deardourff represented largely GOP moderates for several years and were true professionals. Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster and adviser, has excellent credentials for being a straight shooter.
Too bad there just aren't many Teeters, Deardourffs, and Harts around in these campaigns today.