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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Drama in the Burner-Reichert Race

posted by on October 23 at 10:00 AM

First, there’s a new SurveyUSA poll that shows Democrat Darcy Burner four points ahead of Republican Dave Reichert. That’s the first independent poll I’ve seen showing Burner ahead in this race—ever—and if her lead sticks that’s a huge change in the political dynamics of the contest for the eastside’s congressional seat.

Second, and far more explosive, is a controversial Seattle Times report that says Burner has been exaggerating the truth about her Harvard degree:

In recent weeks, congressional candidate Darcy Burner has touted her Harvard degree in economics when talking about the nation’s financial crisis and her opposition to the bailout package passed by Congress.

At two debates this month, she brought up her academic background in her opening statement.

“I loved economics so much that I got a degree in it from Harvard,” the Democrat said at an Oct. 10 debate at KCTS-TV. “Now everywhere I go in this district, the only thing people want to talk to me about is the economy.”

She made an almost identical statement at a debate on Oct. 8.

But while Burner studied economics at Harvard, she doesn’t have a degree in the subject.

This has touched off a furious response in the liberal blogosphere—including this and this from OpenLeft’s Matt Stoller, who went to Harvard and says Seattle Times reporter Emily Heffter doesn’t understand how the degree system there works. (Stoller also notes, with some satisfaction, that the Seattle Times decided to change its headline from “Darcy Burner’s claims of a Harvard degree in economics aren’t true” to “Darcy Burner’s Harvard econ degree an exaggeration” after the campaign and people like him started complaining.)

McJoan of DailyKos weighs in here, with Goldy at HorsesAss adding that in his opinion Heffter is (or is being used as) a “partisan hack.”

Heffter does note in her current piece that “Questions about Burner’s degree originated with the National Republican Congressional Committee.” Which strongly supports the idea that there was a political motive (the committee’s, not necessarily Heffter’s) involved in the genesis of this story.

Here’s one problem, though, with all the pushback against this news story. Yes, the timing of the story, and the fact that it was planted by the NRCC, is more about politics than anything else. But the fact is, Burner did say that she had a degree in economics from Harvard. You can watch video of the statement here.

This is the Republicans’ attempt at finding a “Maccaca moment” for the Burner-Reichert race. And, you know, since one of the raps against Burner is that she has a confidence in her abilities that’s not rooted in actual public service experience, it has the potential to stick. It’s on tape. It fits with the Republican theme—true or not—that Burner isn’t as qualified as she claims. And, to repeat, it’s on tape.

You can be certain that if the shoe were on the other foot, and Reichert had misstated or exaggerated or clumsily described his Bachelor’s degree, on tape, that Democrats would be having a field day. Every blog that’s now pushing back on the Seattle Times story would be posting a YouTube video of Reichert’s “lie.”

Which is simply to say that this kind of political “gotcha” is completely standard, completely predictable, and completely avoidable. That was one of the things about Sen. George Allen and his Macacca moment. It showed that beyond perhaps being racist, he was also a sloppy campaigner who didn’t get that the world had changed and everything was now on tape and YouTubable in an instant.

Burner, the darling of the Netroots who worked at Microsoft and understands the power of the internet better than most candidates, should get this. She should know that if she misstates, or exaggerates, or clumsily describes her Harvard degree it will eventually be caught on tape and she will eventually have a moment like the one she’s having now. To not protect herself against that possibility was just plain sloppy campaigning.

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Burner saying she has a degree in economics from Harvard is a damn sight closer to the truth than Reichert's claim that he caught the Green River Killer.

So where the hell were all those press watchdogs -- including you, Eli -- when Reichert got a free ride for that gross exaggeration for so long?

Posted by ivan | October 23, 2008 10:02 AM

Matt Stoler is absolutely correct. Burner doesn't have a degree in big-E Economics, but she does have a Harvard degree in little-e economics -- a computer science degree with a concentration in economics IS an economics degree. It's BETTER than a straight Economics degree. She's not exaggerating; she's simplifying, and this is in fact a smear campaign by the Times.

Meanwhile, of course, Reichert's degree as The Stupidest Cop In The Universe is unchallenged.

Posted by Fnarf | October 23, 2008 10:04 AM

Darcy Burner? More like Darcy Dumbass.

Posted by zing! | October 23, 2008 10:17 AM

I do agree with Fnarf that she was simplifying, particularly since the AHrvard system is complicated to explain. It's something I do all the time since I had a major, a minor, and a concentration. But, it would have been better for her if she had just said "I studied computer science and economics" instead of "I have a degree in".

It's a manufactured controversy, but they wouldn't have been able to manufacture anything if she had just worded it a little differently.

Posted by Julie in Chicago | October 23, 2008 10:20 AM

Thank you, Eli. Well done.

PS. I thought Goldy was complaining that it was Esser who is the partisan hack, which he is. They both are.

Posted by calvin | October 23, 2008 10:24 AM

#1 - oh sweet silly Ivan

Even Sarah Palin keeps saying let's campaign forward ... dear, get a clue.

It is 2008 and the vote is NOW for this cycle. You alone keep hacking the Green river stuff, old, old, old, faded news.

Bruner is toast. She manipulated the truth, that is called a lie when done by adults with motive.


And on the Eastside where folks keep close track of stuff like that...

Following her telling voters she was a Microsoft Exec. Not true. Darcy has a loose tongue....maybe a palinesque imagination.

Posted by Jack | October 23, 2008 10:29 AM

#1 - oh sweet silly Ivan

Even Sarah Palin keeps saying let's campaign forward ... dear, get a clue.

It is 2008 and the vote is NOW for this cycle. You alone keep hacking the Green river stuff, old, old, old, faded news.

Bruner is toast. She manipulated the truth, that is called a lie when done by adults with motive.


And on the Eastside where folks keep close track of stuff like that...

Following her telling voters she was a Microsoft Exec. Not true. Darcy has a loose tongue....maybe a palinesque imagination.

Posted by Jack | October 23, 2008 10:31 AM

Way to circle the wagons Eli.

Do you think for a moment that the "liberal blogosphere" is unaware of the double standard? There are a lot of smart fuckers out there and every one of them likely did a palm-to-forehead and silently cursed Burner. They then went about the work of trying to defend her and hopefully dilute the impact of her bonehead comment.

Save the criticism and postmortems for a few more weeks if you can help it. For the greater good.

Posted by Ozymandias | October 23, 2008 10:36 AM

And there goes Eli, skipping merrily down the path toward becoming a Reichert stooge.

Eli, you're the one engaging in misinformation here. Burner never misstated her qualifications. You are trying to salvage something from a story virtually everyone who knows anything about Harvard knows is wrong, by saying "well OK, but Darcy still shouldn't have said she had an econ degree."

But she didn't.

Her campaign submitted this bio information to the Seattle Times, which has been featured on the Times' website for months, that reads:

"Education: Harvard University, B.A. in computer science with a special field of economics, 1996."

Your reporting has been pretty consistently biased against Burner. She has to win on her own, of course, but I don't see why you're carrying water for the right wing. It's the last thing I expected to ever see from an Eli Sanders byline.

Posted by eugene | October 23, 2008 10:42 AM

The amazing thing is that she (supposedly) went to Harvard, since she appears as a dimwit to all.

Posted by John Bailo | October 23, 2008 10:45 AM

It's not a fucking lie, Jack, you shithead.

Posted by Fnarf | October 23, 2008 10:45 AM

Okay, so, let's say Harvard did official have "minors". If she majored in Computer Science and minored in Economics, and she said "I have a degree in Harvard in Computer Science and Economics"... would that be okay (i.e., not a lie)? Because if you think that is okay, then you shouldn't have a problem with what she said...

Posted by Julie in Chicago | October 23, 2008 10:52 AM


Yeah, and let's suppose that you could get a PhD from Harvard by drawing a rabbit really well.

But it's not the case. There are no "minors" at Ivy Leagues and Burner LIED.

She has a a degree called an L.I.E. and it don't mean Long Island Expressway, bucko.

Posted by John Bailo | October 23, 2008 10:55 AM

"Degree in Computer Science with a focus in Economics" is what the official wording is. I dunno, sure sounds like she spent an awful lot of time studying economics to me.

Speaking as someone who has two degrees that no one understands at face value (ACMS and Informatics), I totally understand the instinct to phrase it in a way that is technically accurate and yields the least confused looks.

Posted by Zelbinian | October 23, 2008 10:55 AM

Is this a Reichert endorsement, or just apathy about what happens in the suburbs?

Posted by djsauvage | October 23, 2008 10:56 AM

Comrade-Sheriff Reichert has a degree in bankrupting counties, however.

He's good at that - and at running up massive debt nationally.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 23, 2008 10:57 AM

#14. Wrong.

She took five courses in Economics.

She didn't have to prove her overall knowledge to get her degree.

There was no "special focus" or degree in Economics.

She took five courses.

Since when are you nitpicking Libs so generous with words?


Anyone with a real economics degree should be calling for her to step out of the race.

Posted by John Bailo | October 23, 2008 10:57 AM

@17 - oh, Comrade John Bailo, great Socialist Republican, why would we believe anything you read in the GOP Pravda or on Fox-Socialist?

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 23, 2008 11:00 AM

@ #17 - Ease up buddy. I wasn't inspecting her transcript, I was just going by what I could find with a simple Google search.

As long as you're so indignant, mind linking me to the proof of your indictment?

Posted by Zelbinian | October 23, 2008 11:02 AM





Posted by i LIKE eli | October 23, 2008 11:04 AM

There WAS a "special focus"; that's why it SAYS "focus" in the name of the degree. And five courses is quite a lot, actually, at a good school like Harvard. How many courses did you take at DeVry's before you got your degree in steno, John?

Posted by Fnarf | October 23, 2008 11:06 AM

This is actually incredibly hard to figure out, since Harvard's degree structures seem to have changed dramatically since 1996. Either way, I don't think this is really much of a big deal. I think the proper test is whether she can actually speak about economics. If so, who the hell cares about any of this?

Posted by Zelbinian | October 23, 2008 11:13 AM

The Times article said she took 5 courses. But... Isn't 5 courses during 8 semesters at Harvard a pretty significant amount, which honestly would add up to a minor? If she "majored" in computer science and had other graduation requirements to meet as well, I'm not sure it would be feasible for her to take more than 5 courses and still graduate in a reasonable time.

Posted by lily | October 23, 2008 11:14 AM

The problem is that in the debate she didn't say "degree in computer science with a concentration in economics." She said, "I have a degree in economics." More than once.

It shouldn't be a huge deal, but the fact is she was embellishing. And she got called on it.

Posted by rjh | October 23, 2008 11:23 AM

Dude. I totally understand what she did. I did two interdisciplinary masters degrees, and could truthfully describe one as a civil or ag engineering degree, and the other as a policy degree or an ecology degree. None of that would be a lie, and the truth is a painfully long explanation of the structure of my graduate programs. Who cares?

Posted by Megan | October 23, 2008 11:25 AM

I suppose the take home lesson for the kids is that if you're going to spend enough on your education that you could have bought a five bedroom house, try to arrange it so that you get a degree that will make a good impression, plain and simple, without needing endless protestation to justify it.

Of course, you've gotta love the Seattle Times for quibbling over the education of someone who went to Harvard. That's a classic.

Posted by elenchos | October 23, 2008 11:33 AM

What the fuck has Harvard done in the last three decades? What has their research accomplished? Who have they given the world that isn't a copy of a copy of a copy? Again, what have they done? Oh yeah, nothing but affirmative action. How to get into Harvard:

1) Be black -or-
2) Have tits -or-
3) Be the child of some famous overpaid asshole -or-
4) All of the above

Posted by harvard schmarvard | October 23, 2008 11:40 AM

I can understand the simplification of explaining one's degree more than a decade after it was earned. UPS changed the History req's twice during my 3.5 years there, and my official minor of "Psychology" was just a vestige of freshman dreams. I took a lot of courses in Classics (religion, philosophy & history), so I say my degree is in "Classical History". UPS does not offer such a degree. I would not make such a statement in a known "gotcha" situation. That would be foolish for an educated person.

As someone who lived & played near the Green River during the Killer's prime years, I seem to remember Reichert was a detective on the Task Force and never dropped the case as he progressed through the department. He's been effusive in saying that the capture was a team effort, which it was. (Though way too long in coming!) In a world that thrives on simplification, using Reichert as the face of the Task Force is very understandable. Not much different than my "Classical History" shortcut, or Burner's econ degree statement. Has Reichert said "I caught the GRK myself" on the stump, in a recorded setting? That would be the natural counterplay for Burner here.

Regardless, is Darcy Burner the best candidate the Dems can come up with in that district? No one with any governing experience wants to run against a mediocre GOP Rep in a landslide Dem year? Being a mid-level manager at the Group Think Capital known as Microsoft is qualification for.... a similar position in the same company.

Posted by SirVic | October 23, 2008 12:03 PM

Five courses is the standard for a minor at other universities. So, in my mind, she has a minor, it just happens to be called something different at Harvard ("specialization" or something like that).

But, I still am not sure whether saying you have a "degree in computer science and economics" would be a valid thing to say if you only have a minor in economics.

Posted by Julie in Chicago | October 23, 2008 12:03 PM

@27: You are a dipshit.
I got into Harvard. My wife got into Harvard.

None of your fucking stupid points are correct in our case (well, she has tits).

Sorry you are such a pathetic loser that they rejected. Umm, actually I'm not sorry.

Posted by Karlheinz Arschbomber | October 23, 2008 12:21 PM

@29, she might have said she has an academic background in economics, and it would have been fine, if a little stuffy.

I understand her desire to simplify an arcane degree system. She should have done it more cleanly than she did.

But lets assume she took one music theory course, was bored to tears, and never darkened the music department's door again. If she were to now say she had a music degree, that would be much more egregious than this. If I were in the 8th, it sure wouldn't be enough to switch me to someone who swallowed the Iraq lies hook, line, and sinker.

Posted by onewink3 | October 23, 2008 12:24 PM

But it's NOT a minor. It's a specialized degree in computer science with a focus in economics. It's a third thing, not a regular CS degree, not an Econ degree, but a combined discipline.

Posted by Fnarf | October 23, 2008 12:26 PM

Looks like SurveyUSA is kindly setting things up for a move to claim that Mr Reichert "stole the election" if he wins.

Damn those stupid voters. Why don't they wise up and just do what the pollsters and opinion mavens tell them to?

Posted by Seajay | October 23, 2008 12:48 PM

From Eli's post:

if...Reichert had misstated or exaggerated or clumsily described his Bachelor’s degree

Reichert doesn't have a Bachelor's degree. He has an AA from a Junior College. But most of his bios just say "graduated from Concordia College," certainly implying he had a traditional 4-year degree.

BA in two challenging concentrations from Harvard vs. AA from a junior college. Hardly even a comparison to be made.

Posted by skinny | October 23, 2008 12:52 PM

@32 - man, you're gonna hate the new degrees we grant at the UW in Public Health and Global Health then, Fnarf.

Or the ones in Environmental Economics.

The world is changing.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 23, 2008 2:17 PM

Will @ 35: Harvard is shaking in its gilded boots at the prospect of the UW's plans. Crap, the Crimson could kick the Huskies' sorry asses as things look now...

Posted by Karlheinz Arschbomber | October 23, 2008 2:49 PM

Wow, it is amazing how the media has circled the wagons around their bad reporting. I guess this is what we have to look forward to during the wilderness that is the GOP minority, at least they can always get their lies pushed by their stenographers in the MSM.

Posted by Greg in LA | October 23, 2008 10:19 PM

You can watch the full KCTS 9 Reichert-Burner debate online at

Darcy Burner's comment about receiving an Economics degree is at 4:28.

Posted by Mark Daneker | October 24, 2008 9:39 AM

Why are you in the tank for Reichert? Are you as classless as he is?

Posted by Joe Klein's conscience | October 24, 2008 6:58 PM

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