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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

A Note on Thomas Riehle’s Piece

by Scott Winship
As part of our new pre-election issue, we commissioned a piece by RT Strategies’s Thomas Riehle, a long-time Democrat and respected pollster. While his piece was primarily about the kinds of new voters who will be added to the Democratic coalition after the elections, many readers objected to Riehle’s characterization of the netroots in a tangential point toward the end of the piece. For critiques, see the discussion section at the end of the piece.
The editors and I want to emphasize that The Democratic Strategist does not endorse the positions taken by its contributors — it is a forum for diverse perspectives throughout the Democratic community. In addition, we are adamantly committed to empiricism to the greatest extent possible. That said, it is impossible to write a meaningful commentary without going beyond the data in any way. It will always be necessary to extrapolate, speculate, and make inferences.
As managing editor, I retrospectively realize that I should have asked Riehle to elaborate on his argument about the strategies advocated by the netroots and by “old-timers” prior to publication. The question now is, given my oversight, what is the appropriate course of action. Were Riehle’s argument indefensible, the answer would be — as a number of commenters have called for — a retraction.
I have chosen a different approach. Thomas Riehle strongly believes — as do we– that his claim is defensible. Taking advantage of the magazine’s web-based medium, Riehle has provided a good-faith response to his critics in the discussion section to his piece, which will be appended to his piece in a note for future readers. In it, he reiterates and extends the credit he gave the netroots in his piece for their early advocacy of expanding the playing field. At the same time, he defends the limited assertion he made that it was “old-timers” who were the first unwavering advocates that the Party widen the ’06 election to take advantage of a late electoral wave. The editors and I, while not necessarily agreeing with him, believe that Riehle’s comments clarify that his point is not one that is simply patently false. Of course, we are also committed to airing all of the views we receive on his argument, as the tough-but-reasonable criticisms in the discussion section attest to.
To the extent that I could have avoided or mitigated this controversy by asking Riehle to elaborate his point before we published the piece, I personally apologize to our readers and to Riehle. The magazine believes the approach we have chosen is the most appropriate one. I expect that many readers will air their disagreement in comments to this post and to Riehle’s, and that is all to the best, as I know Riehle would agree.
One final thought from me, removing my official managing editor hat and donning my independent blogger cap. It is disheartening when people representing one side or another in Democratic debates — and both the Establishment and the netroots include guilty parties — impute ill motives to their opponents, who they generally do not personally know. The view that Thomas Riehle is on another planet when it comes to understanding the netroots — whether I agree with it or not — is defensible. Absent supporting evidence, the view that he is trying to steal credit from the netroots on behalf of the Establishment is not. This sort of accusation of bad faith happens on both sides, but our efforts to come together as a Party are not served by such claims.

2 comments on “A Note on Thomas Riehle’s Piece

  1. uncle_milton on

    Thoughts? Sure. Reihle didn’t make a “limited assertion,” and his response is not in good faith, as he didn’t respond to the points made, other than to attempt to change the subject. Given the history of disdain that “insiders” have shown the “netroots” surely you doth protest too much. One example (retracted immediately) does not a debate make. A lame attempt at creating dramatic tension does not good faith impute. Especially give his resistance to correcting it, and sending his colleague (who by the way didn’t really defend him, and essentially acknowledged the point) to his defense is lame too. As stated on the post, just change the paragraph, and we can all play in the sandbox.

  2. Sam on

    The netroots movement has become an important part–perhaps even the focal point–of the energized base of the Democratic Party. However, they without a doubt make up not even close to 50% of the reason Democrats are doing well this election cycle. The view held by some that there are only two opposing sides here in the “establishment” and the “netroots” is patently absurd. This is the same dichotomous type of worldview that leads to the “either with us or against us” bull that spouts from Bush’s mouth on a regular basis. Furthermore, I challenge the netroots to embrace their natural place in the grand scheme of American Politics–to push those in power toward the values and policies that we hold as progressives. The value of the netroots is its honesty and genuine energy. Replacing those in the establishment will simply rob you of those strengths. Make yourself a viable constituency, and the establishment WILL listen to you.


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