washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ruy Teixeira

Democrats Need to Be the Party of and for Working People—of All Races

And they can’t retake Congress unless they win over more white workers.
by Robert Griffin, John Halpin & Ruy Teixeira

Read the article…

Matt Morrison

Rebuilding a Progressive Majority by Winning Back White Working-Class Moderates

From the findings of Working America, the AFL-CIO’s outreach program to non-union working people.
by Matt Morrison

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The Daily Strategist

March 22, 2018

Impeachment Politics Getting Tricky

Todd Gitlin’s TPM Cafe post “Impeachment Pit” adds some common sense to the debate about the wisdom of impeaching Bush and Cheney. Gitlin concedes the strong legal case for impeachment based on the puppet’s and his master’s reckless commission of high crimes and misdemeanors, then adds “But impeachment is one those apparently golden ideas that tarnish in the bright light of day.”
Gitlin quotes from Michael Tomasky’s insightful WaPo op-ed, “The Dumbest Move the Dems Could Make,” arguing,

Nashville and Chicago

I promised to offer a few ruminations comparing and contrasting the DLC National Conversation in Nashville and the YearlyKos conference in Chicago, as one of a very few people who attended both events (though the National Education Association was a co-sponsor of both conferences).
Both events were well-attended, with probably 700 people in Nashville and 1500 (swelling to perhaps 2000 for the presidential candidate forum) in Chicago. They were pitched to very different audiences, with the DLC focusing on state and local elected officials (about 350 of whom showed up, from 45 states) and YKos billing itself as a bit of a netroots family reunion. Both events were very wonky on one level, with lots of workshops on a variety of policy and political topics. And in both Nashville and Chicago, there was plenty of Republican- and Bush-bashing; a sense of disdain for the horse-race/money-race coverage of the presidential campaign by the MSM; and a lot of optimism about Democratic prospects next year.
In terms of presidential preferences, there were no straw polls, but I’d guess that in Nashville the bulk of participants would lean towards Obama or Clinton (not sure which would actually lead), with Richardson, Edwards and Biden enjoying pockets of support. In Chicago, Obama and Edwards had the most visible support, but Clinton got a warmer welcome that most expected, and Richardson and Dodd clearly had support as well.
Neither event developed any sort of formal policy pronouncements or political manifestos. But in the workshop sessions, both dwelled on issues like global climate change, universal health coverage, and economic insecurity and inequality. The Nashville event, focused as it was on state and local electeds, didn’t have workshops on Iraq or national security issues (though there was one on homeland security), but during the public session, there was some talk of what might be described as a post-Iraq national security strategy. There was plenty of talk about Iraq in Chicago. But on the issues dividing Democrats (residual troop commitments and a funding cutoff strategy), the presidential forum was notably muted.
The major “tone” difference between the two conferences–aside from the natural excitement in Chicago over the presidential forum, and the frank disappointment in Nashville that the presidentials didn’t show up–was really about the nature of the fears underlying the general optimism going into 2008. In Nashville, the oft-expressed concern was about Democratic overconfidence, particularly in terms of the party’s credibility on national security, leading to an insufficient focus on swing voters and yet another close election. (This fear was articulated quite clearly today in a Washington Post op-ed by DLC Chairman Harold Ford, Jr., and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who spoke in Nashville). And in Chicago, the big fear (often linked to the FISA reauthorization which occurred, with significant Democratic support, the night before the presidential forum) was about Democratic temerity in the face of Republican efforts to once again play the “fear” card in 2008.
A subset of this difference in basic outlook towards the party’s problems is reflected in the general assumption made at each event about long-term Democratic strategy. In Nashville, the feeling was that Democrats needed to win big in 2008 and then “solve problems across party lines” in order to build a durable progressive majority. In Chicago, long-term Democratic prospects were most often linked to movement-building efforts, ranging from new media sophistication to mobilization of potential constituencies.
A final point of comparison, inevitably, is the extent to which these two Democratic gatherings fired bullets at each other.
In Nashville, there was plenty of grumbling about the presidentials tripping over each other to get to Chicago, balanced with observations that it actually made sense for them to do so, given the netroots’ importance in the nominating process. But the only “named” villain at the event (he was even rebutted by Bill Clinton) was, ironically, the New Republic’s Noam Scheiber, whose thank-you-now-go-away assessment of the DLC appeared in The New York Times the very day the conference began. It’s also worth mentioning that one of the featured speakers was Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who has been something of a netroots favorite for years.
In Chicago, I’m sure there was some DLC- and centrist-bashing going on in the various workshops, but it wasn’t terribly visible, and the general tenor was that the netroots represented all of the party, united in partisanship and a commitment to grassroots activism if not in ideology. New Dem types (e.g., Andrei Cherny, Ken Baer, Rob Shapiro, Austan Goolsbee, Gene Sperling) were sprinkled amongst the official speakers. There appeared to be a semi-conscious collective effort to ensure that Hillary Clinton got a respectful hearing at the presidential forum. Interestingly, forum co-moderator Joan McCarter did a post today listing some of the prepared questions that didn’t get asked, and one was to HRC about her feelings towards the DLC. But by the same token, Dennis Kucinich got booed for uttering one of the ancient Left intra-party arguments that “voters don’t think there’s much difference between the two parties.”
In the end, I came away from my Nashville-Chicago swing impressed more than ever by what unites Democrats against Republicans even among these two particularly different groups, and frustrated by the Dialogue of the Deaf that so often supplants healthy intra-party debate over real issues.
Self-conscious New Democrats need to understand that the netroots can no longer be dismissed as marginal, or unserious, or simply as a small group of people with a big internet megaphone. And they should also realize that there’s as much diversity of opinion in the netroots as in any other element of the party.
By the same token, netrooters should not let preconceptions about the DLC and its fellow-travelers blind them to what they are actually saying and doing. The spirit of partisanship in Nashville was very intense (viz. their extremely positive reaction to Drew Westen, the one speaker equally popular at both events). These are people who want Democrats to win very badly, and as Bill Clinton said there, the challenges the DLC helped him meet in 1992 are not irrelevant today. And though Markos Moulitsas did a post today mocking the “350 or so members” of the DLC, it’s worth remembering that these are elected officials who represent a lot of other Democrats and swing voters as well, and who have been largely ignored for many years by a DC-Centric national party.
In the end, if you eliminated the factional emblems in Nashville and Chicago and paid attention to the bottom line, there’s a lot of unity apparent on the surface and even underneath it. And attending both events gave me a better overall view of the current state of the debate among Democrats, and a renewed hope that it can be refocused on differences that actually matter instead of those that really don’t.

Surge Spin Docs Fool Some of the People

Sooner or later, even the most skeptical among us succumb to a bout of wishful thinking — it’s human nature. Perhaps this accounts for the 6 percent uptick in the percentage of Americans who think Bush’s surge policy is beginning to work, according to a Rasmussen poll, released August 3.
Administration spin doctors are working overtime and having some success in persuading MSM to parrot the party line, that the surge is beginning to work. In this case, however, the spin is about to collapse under the weight of the facts. Juan Cole, professor of modern Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan lays it out today in his Salon post “A surge of phony spin on Iraq.” On the political goals, Cole explains:

Presidential Parade

[note: This is the last in a series of posts about the YearlyKos conference in Chicago] The big press magnet at YearlyKos was, of course, the Saturday presidential candidate forum, which attracted all the announced candidates except for Joe Biden. It was a relatively traditional forum, lasting 90 minutes, with a majority of the questions and follow-ups posed by the two co-moderators (Matt Bai of the New York Times and DailyKos’ Joan McCarter), with some drawn from audience suggestions submitted earlier. Bai’s role was itself rather symbolic, given the often hostile relationship between the netroots and the MSM, and sometimes with Bai himself. He got a large round of applause when he appeared on stage.
The audience itself was interesting. I gather official registration for YearlyKos topped out at around 1500, but with the media and campaign worker hordes present, the forum may have drawn close to 2000 people. At the very beginning of the forum, Bai announced they would not follow the usual rule of seeking to suppress audience reactions. That turned out to be a useful if counter-intuitive decision. The audience reacted in some form to almost every candidate comment, including subtleties that would usually not elicit much response. It felt a bit like being in the middle of a huge focus group of political junkies.
When the candidates first trooped onto the stage, Obama won the initial applause-o-meter contest. But every candidate, including Hillary Clinton (who didn’t draw the initial boos some had anticipated) had at least one moment of heavy applause during the debate. Perhaps the most unusual development, as compared to previous debates, was the feral roar that met several of Mike Gravel’s patented screeds, though at least in my section of the room, quite a few people were laughing and grimacing as they applauded, clearly viewing Gravel as prime entertainment (and the Alaskan got his own share of hisses and groans when he was asked about his support for a national sales tax).
There was not a whole lot of overt audience-pandering during the forum. Clinton mentioned her support for “net neutrality” a couple of times. Kucinich clearly thought this particular audience needed to be reminded repeatedly of his support for a single-payer health care system. Dodd managed to work in a reference to his appearance last week on Bill O’Reilly’s show to challenge the host’s attacks on this very conference. And Edwards (generally considered the debate “winner” if there was one) followed a very consistent tack of stressing his combative attitude towards lobbyists (more about that in a minute) and Republicans; at one point, he even said his campaign was not being guided by a “political strategy,” a clever allusion to the netroots aversion to “poll-driven centrists.”
As you probably know if you saw any of the TV or newspaper coverage of the forum, the one “gotcha” moment occurred when Matt Bai directly asked HRC to respond to Edwards’ demand (which he repeated a second time to make sure the trap got properly baited) that all candidates follow his and Obama’s example by refusing to accept “a single dime from lobbyists.” After curtly refusing to give her fundraisers heart attacks by suddenly ruling out PAC contributions, Clinton did something I’ve never seen her do: she flubbed an answer. Instead of immediately touting her support for public financing (which Dodd did in a follow-up, to rapturous applause), or citing the need to match Republican campaign dollars, or even blurring the issue by reminding everyone that progressive causes have lobbyists, too–she basically said lobbyists represent real people, and she wants to represent everybody. It did not go over well.
But other than that, HRC, like all the candidates, were well-received. (At one point, McCarter was asking her a question about the current administration’s policies, and mistakenly said “President Clinton” instead of “President Bush.” HRC immediately quipped: “A Freudian slip.”) Efforts by Richardson, Dodd and Kucinich to hit Clinton and Obama over residual troop deployments in Iraq or a funding cutoff strategy fizzled, as they did in the CNN-YouTube debate.
Obama started slowly, but warmed up as the debate proceeded, and won high marks for a very substantive answer to an unusual question about how to deal with China. Richardson did as well as he could with the very first question of the debate (from McCarter), about his infamous debate citation of Whizzer White as a model for his Supreme Court appointments. (“I screwed up there,” he admitted, before going into a comfortingly conventional statement of commitment to pro-choice judges). After that, the New Mexican looked more relaxed than usual in the debate format, and got his share of applause. He also drew lusty boos after going out of his way to repeat his pledge to support a balanced budget constitutional amendment (via Ezra Klein, I just read Ben Smith’s great quip that this was “the first fiscal policy booing on record.”) Chris Dodd got a higher percentage of questions than in past debates, and took good advantage of them.
The perception that Edwards probably did himself more good than his rivals was reinforced by his answer to a question that was definitely the softest softball of the forum: an audience inquiry as to whether the candidates would appoint an Official White House Blogger. “I will,” he said. “And her name will be Elizabeth Edwards.” Clearly, the man didn’t win all those trials by being slow on the uptake.
Somehow or other, there were no questions about energy policy (which much as I think global climiate change is an overriding issue, I didn’t mind that the candidates didn’t soak up a third of the debate reciting their 35-point energy plans), and not much about health care. But it was a good event, with positive vibes attributable in no small part to the feeling that the netroots had “arrived”‘ by attracting the candidates.

Will FISA Vote hurt Dems?

Progressive political blogs are abuzz with the fallout from the vote expanding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to permit warrantless wiretapping on American citizens. You can read about it all over the pro-democratic blogosphere.
But Glenn Greenwald has the most persuasive argument that Dems who voted against the FISA expansion need fear no political repercussions. As Greenwald explains in his Salon post “Attention Democrats: GOP fear-mongering does not work“:

Downloading Bloggers

[note: this is the fourth in a series of posts on the YearlyKos conference in Chicago] One of the reasons I was interested in attending YearlyKos was entirely personal: the opportunity to actually meet people whose stuff I’d read for years–and in many cases, people with whom I’d had online exchanges and off-line email discussions for a long time.
Not having worked in the 2004 Dean or Clark campaigns, or lived in Montana, my personal acquaintance with bloggers has been pretty much limited to those in Washington, and even there, given the ever-shrinking amount of time I spend in the Emerald City, there are many I haven’t met.
I struck partial paydirt my first night in Chicago, at a party sponsored by Time Magazine’s Swampland blog at some sushi bar. After a few minutes of random conversation with people who weren’t particularly amused by my ancient and unoriginal joke about southerners inventing sushi (“We called it ‘bait'”), I found myself chit-chatting with a mild-mannered middle-aged guy who turned out to be Duncan Black, better known as the fiery Atrios. Within minutes, I also made the acquaintance of MyDD’s Adam Connor, TAPPED’s Ben Adler, not to mention Joe Trippi and two editors of realclearpolitics.com. Later that night, at an informal gathering at the conference hotel, I met Mark Schmitt of the New America Foundation, a blogger and wonk whose work I have admired for eons. And then I spent some time talking and drinking Jim Beam with a tall young man who finally introduced himself as Bob Brigham, formerly of Swing State Project and now a political consultant in California. Brigham, you see, has probably written more abusive stuff about me than anybody else in the blogosphere. But we wound up trading war stories and even talking about possible projects we could cooperate on in the future.
On Saturday, after the presidential forum, I grabbed a very late lunch at a cookout sponsored by the Teamsters, risking the possibility that the sponsors, offended by my DLC-free-trade associations if not my pink polo shirt, would figure out who I was and beat me up. Instead, I ran into Joan McCarter (better known as the DailyKos front-page blogger McJoan), who was getting well-earned props from everyone there for her role in co-moderating the forum. Joan, whom I’d never met, is far and away the Kossack who’s been friendliest to me (succeeding Armando Llorens as my personal link to KosWorld), and she was generous enough to spend some time introducing me to other Kos front-pagers (e.g., Georgia10, DavidinNYC), not to mention several congressional candidates who were there in hopes of getting endorsed for ’08.
I didn’t have a chance to finally meet Markos Moulitsas himself (with whom I’ve exchanged many an email). Closest I got to him was at the Teamsters event, when he performed the unlikely task of introducing James Hoffa.
None of this personal outreach experience matters much to anyone other than me, but I have to say that all the folks I met at YearlyKos, including the people familiar with my background, were unfailingly polite and often positive about my own work (though sometimes only relatively, as in “Yes, you’re one of the reasonable ones Over There”). It’s often said that the relative anonymity of the blogosphere sharply reduces the perceived need for civility. Whether or not that’s true, “downloading” bloggers into real people can’t hurt.


[note: this is the third in a series of posts on the YearlyKos conference in Chicago] I alluded to this in my Friday post, but the vast scope of talk was one of the most striking features of the YearlyKos conference, which added to its depth but detracted a bit from its sense of community. According to the official 72-page program (which reminded me of the tomes I used to haul around to find things at National League of Cities meetings), there were 35 workshops, 31 roundtables, and 42 panels, not to mention 34 “caucus” meetings, the break-out sessions held by most of the presidential candidates, and the (relatively few) “plenary” sessions.
After sitting through a couple of panels, I decided to “float” for a while in order to get a better sense of all the topics under discussion.
One of the largest panel discussions (never did quite figure out the distinctions between panels, workshops and roundtables) was entitled: “Ned Lamont for Senate: What really happened?” This session was enlivened by an apparently unexpected appearance by Lamont himself, who credited the blogosphere with the initial viability of his candidacy.
During the time I was in the room, all the discussion of the Lamont campaign focused on his primary win rather than his general election loss. This brought home once again that the whole Lamont-Lieberman experience can be used to reinforce diametrically opposed points of view about the future direction of the Democratic Party (personally, I think the contest was entirely sui generis, and of limited predictive value).
I also stopped by a session called “Blogging While Female,” featuring Pandagon’s Amanda Marcotte (one of the famous former Edwards bloggers), TAPPED’s Garance Franke-Ruta, Feministing’s Jessica Valenti, and YearlyKos organizer Gina Cooper. The talk there focused to a large extent on the hate mail and very personal threats of violence many women in the blogosphere routinely encounter, to the point where some have felt constrained to enlist protection from law enforcement officials. The chilling examples the panelists provided certainly shamed people like me who have in the past gotten agitated and aggrieved by the occasional email or comment-thread insult (you know, corporate whore, AIPAC stooge, Republican Lite, etc., etc.).
There was also some discussion of the overall lack of diversity in the blogosphere, which has been a source of general anxiety at this and at the first YearlyKos. To tell the truth, the overall gender (and for that matter, age) balance at the conference, as measured subjectively, seemed to be better than I would have expected. But it was most definitely a highly honkified event, with less racial diversity than, say, the DLC conference in Nashville (something the DLC has worked on for many years). Diversity concerns were reportedly one reason YearlyKos organizers have decided to rename next year’s event “Netroots Nation,” as part of an effort to expand participation well beyond the readership of DailyKos.

The Dem New Media Advantage

[note: this is the second in a series of posts on the YearlyKos conference in Chicago] The second panel I attended at YearlyKos was entitled “Modern Campaigns,” and focused on how new media were transforming campaigns operations. Moderated by NDN’s Simon Rosenberg, the panel included Dean ’04 (and Edwards ’08) strategist Joe Trippi, Kerry ’04 communications director Stephanie Cutter, and MyDD co-founder and political consultant Jerome Armstrong.
Trippi’s rap mainly dealt with the vast growth of internet-based campaign organizing and fundraising in the current presidential cycle, and especially with the concentration of this growth on the Democratic side of the partisan
divide. The Democratic nominee in ’08, he argued, will enter the general election battle with an extraordinary advantage over the GOP nominee in terms of pre-mobilized citizens (including campaign contributors) and new media savvy.
Armstrong got into the nuts and bolts of how internet-based politics was affecting the internal organization of campaigns, beginning with small “internet-outreach” efforts and quickly changing the structure of most campaigns’ political, communications, and fundraising departments.
All the panelists agreed that the long era of domination of campaigns by paid broadcast media strategies was coming to an end.
In answering a question from a Texan about technology and Hispanic voter outreach, Rosenberg talked about last year’s monster pro-immigrant rallies as an example of where new media trends may go next. These rallies, said Rosenberg, were largely organized, almost overnight, via Spanish-language talk radio (the third largest radio format in the U.S. today) and text messaging. With the continued evolution of cell phone technology (e.g., the I-phone), it is increasingly likely that this will become the dominant medium for political communications in the near future.

Inside the “Wave,” and Why Bloggers Don’t Like Hillary

I’m about to do a series of posts about the YearlyKos conference in Chicago this weekend (having chosen against weekend blogging, which hardly anyone was going to read).
It was quite an event, aside from the presidential forum on Saturday. The most frequent comment I heard, uttered by confirmed Kossacks and more mainstream types alike, was that the conference reflected the maturing of the netroots from an anguished collection of self-conscious outsiders into an accepted constituency group (overlapping with many others) of the Democratic Party. The focus was less on intra-party disputes than on the question of how to win in 2008. And the atmosphere was more ecumenical and less left-triumphalist than I expected. These are all relative terms, and I’m not suggesting all or even most of the participants have lost their edge, for good or for ill. But the whole thing felt like a normal and healthy Democratic gathering–with about 800 laptops. (I’ll mention a few stranger moments as I go along).
As indicated in my Friday post, the first thing I attended in Chicago was a panel on public opinion. If you read the previous staff post about Democracy Corps’ latest strategy memo, you’ll get a sense of what Stan Greenberg had to say: the basic dynamics of public opinion going into 2008 are actually better than those Democrats enjoyed two years ago. Indeed, said Greenberg, the deterioration of Bush’s approval ratings and the intensification of “wrong track” sentiment has accelerated more since 2006 than it did between 2004 and 2006. All seven of the targeted Republican Senators up in 2008 have terrible “re-elect” numbers. And given the very strong position of the “Class of 2006” of House Democrats, and the persistent vulnerability of many Republicans, additional House gains look plausible as well.
On the same panel, Mark Blumenthal, a.k.a., the Mystery Pollster, focused on the Democratic presidential nominating contest, and stressed the exceptional volatility of public opinion in the pre-primary period, with John Kerry’s astonishing rise in 2004 being just one of many historical examples. One particularly interesting nugget he offered was the hypothesis that Iowa and New Hampshire’s impact represents an inchoate feeling that voters there have paid greater attention to the candidates than those in “later” states, and essentially serve a vetting process for the rest of the country.
In the Q&A after this panel, one audience member asked about the disconnect between Hillary Clinton’s popularity among rank and file Democrats, and her lack of support in the blogosphere. Chris Bowers jumped on the question with encyclopedic thoroughness, going through the demographic characteristics of progressive bloggers (disproportionately white, male, upper-income, self-identified liberal, and secular) and concluding: “If the Democratic electorate looked like the blogosphere, Hillary Clinton would be in big trouble.”

‘Wave Election’ Taking Shape

A new DCorps strategy memo by James Carville, Stan Greenberg and Ana Iparrraguirre, “2008 House Battle Moves Into Republican Territory,” discusses DCorps second battleground survey of the 70 most competitive congressional districts. The authors see class of ’06 Dems holding solid leads and Republican House members lagging by an average of 5 percent — for a net Democratic gain of 20 seats as a realistic goal. “There really could be another wave election,” say the authors.
As for the Senate. MyDD’s Todd Beeton has an interesting post, “How Realistic Is A 60 Seat Majority?” Beeton reports that MoveOn’s Washington Director Tom Mattzie sees a path to a 60-seat fillibuster-proof majority. Want a little icing on the cake? David Brooks, never unduly optimistic about Democratic prospects, said on the Chris Matthews show that the GOP is in such bad shape that Dems could run congress for a decade.