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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Long-Term Strategy Debate Continues

Matt Bai’s article in The New York Times Magazine, which I cited in my Sunday post, has generated a slew of commentary in Democratic circles. That’s a good thing, but the tone of some of the commentary bothers me a bit. Markos Zuniga of The Daily Kos, for example, questions whether there will or should be much of a role for the Democratic party as an institution in the future, given developments like the Phoenix Group, the 527s, online fundraising, etc.
I guess I don’t really see the point of discarding the party and relying entirely on the new institutions that are starting to evolve. There’s no logical reason why the new and old institutions can’t me made to work together and evolve in tandem (as, in fact, happened within the Republican party–see Michael Tomasky’s excellent column on the Bai piece where he makes this point and others very crisply). This will take some time, but then again evolving and perfecting the new institutions that are starting to emerge will take some time as well.
In other words, a little patience may be in order–though it appears SEIU head Andrew Stern, for one, is running out of his. David Broder quotes Stern as saying “if John Kerry becomes president it hurts” chances of reforming the party and that he doesn’t “know if it [efforts to create new institutions] would survive with a Democratic president”.
Whoa there, Andy! That’s not saying if we’ve got lemons, let’s make lemonade, that’s asking for wall-to-wall lemons! People like to win and, if Kerry does, a feeling of triumph will suffuse both the party and the emerging institutions Stern supports, giving them both a burst of energy. Losing, on the other hand, will deflate both and will be an obstacle, not an aid, to moving forward.
So, to review:
1. The party is not dying and we don’t need to kill it.
2. Winning is good.
Repeat these points to yourself several times and you will find yourself feeling calmer….more peaceful….and refreshed.

13 comments on “The Long-Term Strategy Debate Continues

  1. Steve Cohen on

    Chris, I quarrel with nothing you’ve said here. My quarrel was with the air of frustration expressed about the Democratic Party that emerged from these folks right on the eve of the convention, with vague threats about what is to come – right at the moment when the combined force of the “new forces” and the traditional Democratic party (about whom, by the way, I share many of your frustrations) finally seems to be bearing down on victory. I know recrimination can be fun, but let’s at least wait until we lose before wallowing in it.
    My point is that the new forces did provide some powerful (and necessary) wind for the moribund old Democratic sails but that without each other we aren’t going anywhere. And here on the eve of that achievement they were talking about getting a new boat? Did Andy Stern really say it would be better for the new forces in some way if Bush won? I hope to hell he was drunk when he said it, because there’s no other excuse. That’s the worst sort of Naderism (and yes, I voted for Nader in 2000).
    Re the “entrepreneurs”, there was one quote in the Bai article, in which one of them could think of nothing to say to the “old” tradtional Democrats. That’s a problem, and it’s one they need to address before I’ll take them as seriously as they want to be taken. It’s also part of why Kerry and not Dean is the nominee, and I have all the respect in the world for Dean.

  2. Chris on

    These entrepreneurs are funding the traditional base of the party, not running away from it. They’re giving the traditional base its voice back, after having had it silenced by the cubicle wing of the Democratic Party. I think the point is that the traditional base of the party is liberal, while the current leadership of the party is far from it. The entrepreneurs, the bloggers, the Deaniacs, whatever have stirred and are working toward giving the party back to the traditional Democrats.
    Why do you think these political entrepreneurs are on the rise? It’s not because of an excess of good ideas coming out of the Party. The appalling slide of the Party toward little more than middle management for the country has spurred these people to action to empower the base. It’s the current leadership who has disconnected themselves from the traditional base, and are endangering the entire party because of it.
    And as for Howard Dean, yes he lost. He lost for a number of reasons, not the least of which was an inability to contain the well-timed onslaught of negative coverage right before Iowa. So it goes. But it takes a fully-loaded ocean-liner about six miles from the time it decides it wants to change course to the time it’s on that new course, and I wouldn’t be spouting about successes and failures of Dean just yet, especially given his goals were something akin to a bottom-up change in the entire Democratic Party.
    His immediate success is the fact that Democrats are energized and making headway in defeating the Republicans. His immediate success is currently populating the floor of the DNCC in Boston, and populating local and state campaigns all over the country. His long-term success, I’d wager, will be more profound than that.

  3. Lawbug on

    The Party needs new blood and new leadership. The problem is as I see it the old guard will not give up power so we have to take it. We must run for party offices and build new coalitions to take back our Party !!!

  4. Sara on

    I don’t think the Democratic National Committee or Party HQ is in much danger — but its role must be massively updated, keeping the essentials. For like it or not, politics in this country is still done by geography. Yep, it matters what precinct, ward, State Senate District, Congressional District, County, State and all you live in, and vote in, and thus must devise politics in and aroudn.
    Thus while one can like and participate in the blog world, the fact that it is non-geographic is a significant limitation. Likewise, if the inventors of new entities don’t comprehend this, they too will fail to accomplish much.
    I’ve also get real reservantions about the seeming absence from the planning groups of any significant representation of racial and ethnic minorities and women. Something that doesn’t seem to have such persons sitting around the planning tables profoundly offends me. It’s the failure to recognize this absence that really offends me.

  5. Steve Cohen on

    Folks, folks, did Howard Dean win the nomination? He did not even come close, notwithstanding all the passion of his supporters.
    Are these Silicon Valley entrepreneurs funding the movement by themselves? Hell no! They’ve helped provide the means by which the little people can pool their small contributions to the point where it comes close to equaling those of the fat cats. But its the little people who are doing the funding.
    Disconnect this network from its base and you will wind up with … Ralph Nader.
    The creators of this network deserve the thanks of Democrats everywhere, because they’ve made themselves into a vehicle for them. But a car does not drive itself.
    The minute these guys start to try to dictate policy, it becomes a whole new ball game. Especially when they gush on and on about “entrepreneurialism” and admit they have nothing to say to the “traditional base of the Democratic party.” People who call themselves entrepreneurs have sometimes built great things … and sometimes been snake oil salesmen. You get no points from me by talking about your being an entrepreneur. You get points for your results. And they’d better have something to say to the traditional base of the party before they run off to replace it. This is where Howard Dean failed, and it’s where these guys will fail if they repeat his mistake. They haven’t shown me that they fully understand the nature of the beast yet.

  6. Mimiru on

    Note: I’m advocating keeping the Democratic party, but as a figure head. Something that most people can recognize.

  7. Mimiru on

    The only thing I’ve seen from the Old Institutions in response to the new, is a lot of jealous power-guarding.
    Turn over the power as soon as the New are developed enough because the OG will NEVER want to work with them.

  8. frankly0 on

    The idea that somehow the progressive movement in America would enhance its prospects by trying to do an end run around the Democratic Party is so deeply crackpot that I scarcely know what to say.
    Democrats are infamously disorganized, and suffer thereby — so the answer is to junk the party, and create even greater chaos? This is just unspeakably stupid.
    Kos represents, to my mind, a nearly perfect example of what is wrong, not right, in the progressive movement in general, and in too much of the blogging left in particular. He seems to incapable by deepest nature of thinking and behaving strategically, and seems to follow his impulses for sneering and lashing out whereever they may lead.
    There are about a thousand reasons for trying to work from within the Democratic Party — not least of which is the clear expectation of the vast majority of American voters that that is one of the two authentically credible parties in the nation.
    I ask these cretins who propose this “new approach”, how, exactly, is a candidate espoused only by these new institutions, and not the Democratic Party, going to get elected? Do these idiots imagine that, say, the Democrats are going to fail to put up a candidate if these “new institutions” put up their own candidate? And if, instead, the candidate runs under the aegis of the Democratic Party, how is it that he or she could presume NOT to be involved in the infrastructure and constituencies of the Democratic Party?
    I can most certainly see the point of new institutions trying to inject their point of view INTO the Democratic Party — that indeed is only welcome. But to declare the Democratic Party dead or irrelevant is the unmistakable mark of self indulgent purism or spite, and nothing else. Such advocates are detestable, no different in any way from Mr. Narcissism himself, Ralph Stinking Nader.
    Truly, the idea of investing all our hopes in the new institutions at the expense of the Democratic Party is not just wrong. It is sheer idiocy and perversity.

  9. laurak on

    Exactly. I got an email from Dean suggesting that all of his supporters go out and become precinct captains. In other words do to the Democrats what the right wing lunatic fringe did to the Repugs–take over from the ground up. The DNC is dead wood. The Party is as good as it’s members. Let’s get thru this election, then refocus our party.

  10. Eldon on

    I can’t believe all this perfect-or-nothing talk. We have a damn good chance to win an election and all of a sudden it’s not good enough. So the patient is sick and we want to kill him so he won’t ever get sick again. Perfect or nothing at all. My way or no way at all. Sounds like a bunch of spoiled Republicans appointing judges. Is someone dreaming of some past paradise that I missed along the way? Let’s hear it for Ozzie and Harriet democracy. Ah, those were the days!

  11. jeff roby on

    If Kerry were elected and the day after his inauguration the entire Supreme Court dropped dead (god forbid!), he would not be able to appoint a single nominee.
    What the Bai article points out is that the DP lacks the day-to-day muscle that the Republicans have, and Kerry’s election won’t change that. Who will be the most happy about that? The business-as-usual Dems who will see it as their vindication. See how smart we were to not mention Iraq!
    As the independent force tries to emerge within the DP, the Joe Liebermans will try to cut its throat. What the Bai article notes is that there is the potential for a MAJORITARIAN independent party to emerge.

  12. santi on

    “Calmer, peaceful, refreshed.” By repeating certain things to ourselves our anxiety level about winning in the fall is supposed to come down. Ruy seems to always be calming his readers down with hopeful interpretations of polling data etc. and i have to admit that i come to this site in large part to see if a thoughtful person like ruy is still optimistic about kerry’s chances. But i can’t help but think of Derrida’s statement in Spectres of Marx that “an assertion of hegemony is a crisis of hegemony.” it seems the more we hear repeated that there is “an emerging democratic majority” the more likely that it is not emerging, but threatening not to emerge. When (if) it actually arises it will be so obvious that there will be no anxiety to quell about its arrival. The repetition of hopeful mantras (as ruy advocated at the end of his post) is a kind of nervous garlic waving to keep the vampires of doubt away.

  13. Samuel Knight on

    Not quite. The party is hurting – very badly. Like it or not Clinton came into power in 1992 with the Presidency, the House and the Senate – and left it in 2000 with none of the three. And his hand-picked DNC chair, McAuliffe, has to say it mildly, disappointed a lot of the faithful. Disastrous 2002 campaign, boring speaker, embarrassing financail ties, etc.
    Questionable tactics for 2004 – early primaries? Gee thanks for cutting the coverage.
    Never go negative? And that hasn’t worked for the Republicans? etc.
    In fact his failure as leader of the DNC is what is really driving the other organizations. People with money just don’t want to invest in a loser. And McAuliffe is just not doing much with the cash.
    The party is hurting – but killing Kerry is certainly not going to help. But a coup at the DNC just might.


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