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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Greetings From Nashville

I’m blogging from somewhere inside the massive Opryland complex in Nashville, where I’m attending the Democratic Leadership Council’s annual meeting, styled as the “National Conversation.”
At the moment, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer is delivering a smart and very funny speech on renewable energy. Here a sample. After discussing the long history of our “four billion barrel problem” with oil dependence, he said:

[Last year] George W. Bush looked straight into the teleprompter, and read Karl’s five words: “We are addicted to oil.”
I’ll be damned! Who knew?

Two other governors–Phil Bredesen and Kathleen Sebelius–have already spoken, and Martin O’Malley’s up next.
The meeting actually began yesterday, with twenty separate workshops. The three I participated in–on election reform, “values voter” trends, and new social media, were SRO, and had some unexpected twists. In the first, a farily routine if fact-filled series of presentations of redistricting reform and state-level public financing of campaigns veered into a discussion of out-of-the-box ways to deal with uncompetitive legislative seats and disengaged voters, including cumulative voting, multi-post districts, and Instant Runoff Voting (Oregon, I learned, recently authorized IRV as an option for local governments, and is building a positive precedent for the innovation).
In the “values” discussion (which began with an analysis of some of the recent trends in public opinion on hot-button cultural issues). Tennessee Senator Roy Herron delivered what I can only describe as a sermon on Republican moral perfidy. At one point, he got into rhyming couplets worthy of Jesse Jackson at his best.
And in the social media workshop, which focused on YouTube, MySpace, and FaceBook, I was a bit surprised to discover how hep many state legislators and mayors seem to be about the political and civic implications of these innovations. Some, of course, seem to be relying on their kids as “new media” consultants. I got a good round of applause for suggesting that the era of politics dominated by paid broadcast media may be coming to an end.
Now most of the very limited national coverage of this event has revolved around the non-presence of presidential candidates (though a rather famous husband of one of them is showing up later today). You can read Noam Scheiber’s piece on this that appeared in the New York Times on Saturday, and the DLC’s response, and judge for yourself if presidential cattle calls are an accurate measure of an organization’s political relevance.
But as someone who used to be involved in planning these events, I do know that for at least the last ten years, they’ve been focused on state and local elected officials, no matter who else materializes at the podium, and by that measure, the 350 or so attending is the DLC’s biggest crowd ever.
Last week Markos Moulitsas, who it’s safe to say has some personal issues with the DLC, said this meeting was going to be nothing more than “a cocktail party for Liebercrats.” Well, I have to report that the only person I’ve heard mention the name of the junior senator from Connecticut was a reporter. And most of the rhetoric about Iraq, Bush, and Republicans generally wouldn’t at all sound out of place at YearlyKos. In a lunch break during yesterdays workshops, Drew Westen, author of The Political Brain, spoke, and his presentation of the need for passionate, principled partisanship from Democrats had the crowd cheering.
But you can’t take the politics out of politics, eh?
I’ll do a post later today after President Clinton’s speech.

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