washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Thinking Veepstakes

It may seem early to be thinking about the Democratic presidential nominee’s running mate, but, hey that decision is less than a year away. Somebody has to get the ball rolling, so just for fun, here goes one blogger’s early shortlist:

Bill Richardson – Assuming he doesn’t pull a NH upset, he has to rank high on everybody’s veepster short list. Obviously, he brings serious Latino creds. And he just might ice the SW for Dems. He also has an appealing ‘regular guy’ quality that comes across in interviews. And he matches nicely with any of the other Democratic aspirants. Hard to see a downside.
Chris Dodd – Senator Dodd has decades of experience, and if there were more equitable media coverage, he would likely be one of the front-runners. Presidential nominees always say the primary criterion for their V.P. choice is someone who is “ready to be President at a moment’s notice.” Nobody in the current field fits that qualification better than Dodd.
Howard Dean – Smart, passionate and straight-talking, Dean would bring impressive grass roots creds to the ticket. Plus he can articulate the case for voting straight Democratic ticket down the line better than anyone, and we need that big-time. The “Scream” media fallout that ended his white house run in ’04 now seems more about trifling MSM coverage than his emotional stability.
Russ Feingold – Would energize left-progressives like no other nominee and bring home a swing state in the bargain. Would fit best with a more centrist presidential nominee.
Three rookies – Claire McCaskill, Sherrod Brown and James Webb. Each reps a swing state, and the “fresh face” thing might draw some extra interest. All three won close elections, but with broad-based support and could rumble with the best anywhere. McCaskill is an energetic champion of working families, Brown is one of the fiercest debaters in the Senate and Webb exemplifies the strong but more thoughtful foreign policy yearned for by many Americans.
Caroline Kennedy – Stop scoffing and try to remember her speech at the 2000 Democratic convention. Talk about poise, class and symbolic power. Yes, I also doubt she would accept it. But she is highly patriotic and, if called to serve by the right uncle, who knows?

My short list is based on the assumption that none of the ‘Big Three’ would accept the V.P. nomination. Can’t see Clinton or Edwards accepting it, or being offered it for that matter. And my hunch is that Obama might prefer thriving as a top Senator for a few years to cutting ribbons and attending funerals. Just thinking here. If you have any better suggestions, fire away.


Should FL and MI Take One for the Team?

According to the latest reports, Florida is going ahead with it’s plans for a primary on January 29th. Florida Dems have a few days to change their minds, since the DNC has set September 29 as the last day to comply with Party rules preventing the seating of any delegates from a state that holds a primary before Feb 5th, except for NH, SC, IA and NV
It’s hard to say how many Floridians are pissed about being told they can’t have an early primary because it might offend the privileged status of those four states. But judging by the sour grapes over early primary scheduling that keep rolling out of Florida, it is a problem. A recent example comes from the Sunshine State’s top columnist Carl Hiaasen, who makes some valid points and gooses a few bitter chuckles out of Florida’s unhappy predicament along the way. Says Hiaasen:

At first, the dispute looked like a fiendishly clever ploy to make the party leadership appear self-destructive and incompetent, thereby lulling Republicans into a sense of complacency. Now it’s obvious that the DNC really is self-destructive and incompetent, stubbornly insisting on perpetuating the charade that allows only Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to hold nominating contests before Feb. 5.

Hiaasen’s point should resonate with those who can actually count electoral votes. Florida is a big bad mother, electorally speaking. So is Michigan, the other state dissed by the pledge of Democratic Presidential candidates not to campaign in states that have scheduled primaries before Feb. 5th, except for the privileged four.
FL and MI are being asked to take one for the team, but without a sweetener. Some of this fuss is about economics. NH reportedly rakes in about $300 million as a result of it’s first-in-the-nation primary. Perhaps giving FL and MI each one of the Democratic conventions in the years ahead could help with the resentment. In that event, however, you couldn’t blame other states for grumbling. Sooner or later Dems will have to allocate primary dates equitably, either through random selection or taking turns.
The early primary conflict between the DNC on the one hand and FL and MI on the other has been likened to a game of chicken. Unless grown-ups prevail and work out a compromise everyone can live with, after September 29th it may look more like a demolition derby.


GOP Diss of Troops Overshadows MoveOn Ad

Whatever traction the GOP had in sliming Democrats as troop-bashers because of MoveOn’s General Petraeus ad has been replaced by spinning wheels as a result of the Senate Republicans’ vote against the Webb amendment. Webb’s proposal would have provided American soldiers serving in Iraq with guaranteed time at home at least equal to their length of service in Iraq, before being sent back into battle. (For complete vote tally, click here).
The MoveOn ad was a non-issue even before the Webb amendment vote, based on the GOP’s trying to equate the organization with the Democratic Party. It’s one thing for an independent liberal organization to criticize one general, rightly or wrongly. It’s quite another for all but six Republican Senators to vote against giving our soldiers in Iraq a much needed break. Every Democratic Senator voted for the Webb amendment, which was supported by veterans’ organizations. The inescapable conclusion is that when it comes to providing substantive support and relief for our troops, only one Party shows up, and it sure ain’t the GOP.
Republicans will still try to trot out the MoveOn ad as somehow indicative of Democratic disrespect for our soldiers serving in Iraq. But it will have a very hollow ring from now on, since the GOP blew its best chance to show meaningful support of our men and women in battle.
Outgoing Republican Senator John Warner, performed the ultimate flip-flop on the Webb Amendment, saying “I endorsed it…I intend now to cast a vote against it.” He isn’t running for re-election next year, but the Republican running for his seat will likely reap a bitter whirlwind. As WaPo’s Dana Milbank noted in his report on the Webb amendment vote, “Pro-war Republicans, who had been grumbling about Warner’s perfidy for weeks, suddenly celebrated him as an American hero.”
As one commenter on Milbank’s article, SarahBB, put it “The tolerance for hypocrisy in the Republican party, the art of saying one thing and doing the opposite, or projecting that which you do onto others, is truly staggering.” Another, Joy2, said it this way:

Shame on Senator Warner! I certainly thought he held the best interests of the troops in the foremost. But, alas, loyalty to the Bush administration and their continued bungling took precedence. He will have to live with the consequences as our troops burn-out and die in greater numbers.

Virginia veterans and their families will certainly remember which Senator — and which Party — was there for them when it counted. The Republicans stopped Senator Webb from getting a fillibuster-proof majority. But in so doing, they handed Webb — and all Democratic candidates — a potent example of GOP hypocrisy when it comes to supporting our women and men in uniform.
Meanwhile, Democrats can be proud of Senator Webb, and our troops have no greater champion.


Dems’ Untapped Unity Issue: Kids

Cultural historian Riane Eisler talks some practical politics in her Alternet post “The Ignored Issue That Can Get Progressives Elected.” Eisler makes a point that has been made many times before, though less frequently in recent years — that the health and well-being of America’s children is a unique coalition issue that can bring diverse constituencies together and empower progressives (read Democrats) to win big next year. Eisler cites polling data from an unusual source, The Barna Group, “a Christian polling organization,” noting:

The poll asked conservatives and liberals, whites and blacks, men and women, Christians and non-Christians which of 11 changes were “absolutely necessary” for the United States to address within the next 10 years. The 11 ranged from national security and environmental protection to the state of marriage and families and the spiritual state of the country. But the issues that emerged as the frontrunners were “the overall care and resources devoted to children” and “the quality of a public school education.” That was the response by 82 percent of the adults surveyed.

Eisler feels strongly that progressives have underemphasized child health and welfare in recent political campaigns, and the Barna Group poll suggests she may be on to something. Republicans as a whole have been downright negligent in addressing the needs of American children, and now we have President Bush threatening to veto an expansion of health care coverage for uninsured kids under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Meanwhile, the Children’s Defense Fund has a post up reporting new data indicating that in 2006 more than 700,000 children were added to the uninsured — more than double the increase from 2004-5.
The proposed $50 billion expansion in funding for the SCHIP program in the House of Reps. version would insure millions more vulnerable American children. It would cost what taxpayers shell out to pay for 5 months for the Iraq quagmire, according to the latest figures of the Congressional Budget Office (Some observers believe $10 billion per month is less than half of the real cost).
So far, Senator Dodd has probably been the leading advocate for children in the U.S. Senate, and all of the Democratic presidential candidates supported SCHIP increases and other health and welfare initiatives to help children. By raising the well-being of children from a continuing concern to a top priority, Dems can not only help solidify progressive support, but also win some votes from moderates and other swing voters who have the compassion and/or good economic sense to help children in need.


Citizen Action Can End Iraq Quagmire

In her American Prospect article “The Missing Measure of Our Outrage,” Courtney E. Martin repeats a frequently-asked question about public attitudes toward the war in Iraq, “Why haven’t we been more outraged? And if we have, why hasn’t it manifested in desperate action?” And later in the article, her question is boiled down to the inevitable “What the hell do we do?”
It’s the right question, much better than simply whining and griping about lousy elected officials.
I’ve heard this same question asked in different ways in various conversations several times over the last year or so. Martin’s article does tap into a sense of helplessness many opponents of the Iraq war, particularly young people, feel about what they can do to help end this horrific quagmire.
There is still plenty of apathy. As she points out, many people seem to be tuning out the Iraq War because it hasn’t yet touched their families in readily discernable ways (although, hello, 10 percent of the federal budget is now being spent on Iraq-related outlays, and that touches every family). For another, there is a sort of “ostrich reflex” where war is concerned, a denial-like tendency to tune out what is ugly and brutal.
But what Martin is getting at is not the same thing as apathy. Many people who do care and who feel a sense of outrage also share in feelings of political impotence. Martin is more concerned about what more those who oppose the war can do.
I often hear expressions of regret that we’re not seeing so many of the big anti-war demos and marches that characterized the Vietnam era. I took part in quite a few of those large demos. As a practical matter, however, I would rather have a half-million people visit the offices of their elected representatives, ask for a meeting and appeal for an end to the war than have a half-million protesters have a rally in downtown Washington, and then have all that time and energy evaporate into a feel-good exercise with little follow-up, as is so often the case. Large demonstrations still have a place in the arsenal of protest, but they are no longer the most powerful means of citizen action, if they ever were.
What the hell do we do? We channel outrage, sweat, toil and money into political work. We face the painful fact that 51 U.S. Senate seats just ain’t enough to stop a war, and we get busy organizing voter registration and education drives and participating in campaigns of anti-war candidates. If we already have a good anti-war voice representing us in Congress and the Senate, we “adopt” an anti-war candidate running a close race in another district and send them a check and/or offer our help (for suggestions, see our posts below on close Senate and House races).
Electioneering is only one part of the political work needed for change. Equally important, yet more often overlooked, is the work of the citizen lobbyist. Yes, the “K Street” corporate lobbyists in D.C. are a powerful force because they have plenty of money to throw at candidates, and we don’t. But they are also powerful because they are there, a constant presence in the halls of congress, and yes, the white house. They stay on top of issues of concern and monitor every single vote that bears on the profit margins of their companies. That commitment we can emulate. Their strength is their money, which we can’t match. Our strength is our numbers, which they can’t match.
No, we can’t all live in Washington. But we can all become a familiar presence in the district offices back home. Petition campaigns, rallies and the like are all helpful. But there is no substitute for personal visits – getting in the faces of our elected officials. If that isn’t possible, we can be a ‘presence’ through phone calls, emails, text messages, faxes or snail mail. Contact members of Congress and ask for a response. If they don’t provide one in reasonable period of time, badger them relentlessly until they do. The point is to take up so much of their time and refuse to go away until they get it that addressing our concerns will actually be easier than ignoring us. We must stay on elected officials, because even the better ones will backslide if we give them enough wiggle-room.
None of this will come as a revelation for the already politically-engaged. But maybe there is a need for more training programs and workshops for citizen-activists. Perhaps local Democratic parties and community-based organizations could help with this. There is no good reason for bright young people to feel powerless.
What the hell can we do? We can do a hell of a lot — with enough personal commitment.


Greening the Dems — to Win

To follow up on yesterday’s post on the need to build some bridges of cooperation between environmentalists and labor, can we have a lusty “Amen” to the point made in the concluding couple of sentences? For many years, not a few environmentalists seemed to be saying, in essence, to workers “The bad news is that your particular job would be toast as a result of the reforms we advocate. But take heart, good fellow, the good news is that there will be net job creation.” Tough sell, that one.
Jock Young’s Kos post touched on one such highly difficult conflict — between the advocates of tougher CAFE standards and auto workers. This conflict is especially troublesome because of the central importance of America’s auto industry in our economy, and also because stricter CAFE standards can help cut our addiction to mid-east oil and thereby reduce the propensity of knuckleheaded political leaders to get bogged down in military quagmires in oil-rich countries. Not incidently, it’s also one of the key reforms needed to reduce air pollution and global warming. This conflict HAS to be resolved in a way that both protects America’s auto industry and it’s workers and drastically reduces U.S. oil consumption. The science has arrived. Now it’s time for the best thinkers in the Democratic Party to do their part to resolve the conflict, and there isn’t a hell of a lot of time.
“Energy Independence” is a great rallying cry. But somebody’s got to take the lead. One possibility is Al Gore, who deserves a lot of credit for raising the level of environmental concern in the Democratic Party, as well as in America and worldwide. It’s bitterly ironic that the Green Party’s presidential candidate prevented Gore from winning the presidency, according to one popular analysis of the 2000 election. But as grown-ups, we have to face the fact that the Green’s constituency didn’t come from nowhere, and Nader’s Florida vote wasn’t all about Nader. The Democrats’ track record on environmental concerns has not always been impressive — that’s why there is a Green Party.
But Gore’s emergence as one of America’s preeminent environmentalists, along with his savvy as a seasoned political leader who understands Labor’s agenda and just grievances, affords an opportunity to strengthen the Dems’ claim on Green votes. Gore isn’t running for President, but he can nonetheless play a pivotal role in building a bridge of solidarity between unions and workers on the one hand and environmentalists on the other — all under the banner of the Democratic Party. Give Dems a sharper profile as protectors of the environment, as well as jobs, and we will win the votes of Americans concerned about environmental degradation, including many Green Party members, Independents, swing voters — and even some Republicans.


Iraq Overshadows Labor’s Agenda

Labor Day ’07 finds America’s union movement in a paradoxical situation with respect to its political influence. First, the bad news. Union representation has been declining significantly, as E. J. Dionne points out in his Labor Day column at WaPo.

Labor’s political gains have occurred in the face of a steady decline in its private-sector role. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24 percent of the American work force was unionized in 1973 and unionization rates were roughly equal in the public and private sectors. The latest figures, for 2006, show a decline in unionization to 12 percent of the workforce and a radical shift in labor’s composition: Now only 7 percent of private-sector workers belong to unions, compared with 36 percent in the public sector.

But numbers can be deceptive, as Dionne concludes:

The shift in labor’s base and the overall drop in membership may be central to both the growing political sophistication and influence of the unions. The public-sector unions, with an obvious interest in the outcome of elections, have developed highly effective political operations. This is true of the teachers and nurses, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the police and firefighters, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
…Thus the paradox on Labor Day 2007: At a moment of organizational weakness, labor’s political influence and ideological appeal may be as strong as at any time since the New Deal. Every Democrat running for president seems to know this.

In terms of issues, health care reform now tops Labor’s agenda. In his Labor Day message, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, launched a campaign for universal, comprehensive health care. Sweeney points out that one fourth of voters in ’06 were union members, and says:

it’s painful this Labor Day to look around and see America isn’t working the way it should… One of the greatest economic burdens working families face today is the insane, out-of-control cost of health care. One in four Americans say their family has had a problem paying for medical care during the past year. The cost of health care — rising far faster than workers’ wages or inflation — is a major factor in housing problems and bankruptcies. In fact, every 30 seconds in the United States someone files for bankruptcy in the aftermath of a serious health problem.
Meanwhile, insurance and drug companies are making stunning profits, health insurance CEOs averaged $8.7 million in 2006 compensation and pharmaceutical company CEOs pulled down an average of $4.4 million.
The rest of us aren’t faring so well. The annual premium cost for a family health plan has close to doubled since 2000, from $6,351 to an astonishing $11,480…As costs grow higher, fewer employers are providing health coverage for employees–and fewer workers are able to afford their share of the costs or to buy policies on their own. The outrageous price tags on insurance policies are driving increases in the number of people without coverage. The federal government just let us know that another 2.2 million people — including 600,000 more children — lost health insurance last year, meaning 47 million of us now cannot afford to get sick.
In the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth, that is just not acceptable. In America, no one should go without health care.

See also the AFL-CIO’s guide to where each of the presidential candidates of both parties stand on six key “working family issues”: the Employee Free Choice Act; Good Jobs; Health Care; Trade and Manufacturing; Retirement Security; and Education.
Union endorsements of presidential candidates are somewhat spread out thus far. Dodd has been endorsed by the Firefighters union. Clinton has the nod from the Machinists and the United Transportation Union. Edwards, who may get the lion’s share of endorsements in the months ahead, has been endorsed by the Carpenters Union. Change to Win Chair Anna Burger, quoted in Dionne’s column, says the labor movement sees a field of Democratic candidates who believe that “unions are the solution, not the problem
In an interview with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales on Democracy Now, Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union and author of “A Country That Works: Getting America Back On Track,” also expressed his concern about Democratic leaders’ need for unity on health care reform:

…the employer-based healthcare system served us well, but it’s a relic of the industrial era. We need a new universal 21st century healthcare system, because in the end, our employers just can’t compete in a global economy when they are putting the price of healthcare on the cost of their products and their competitors aren’t. It’s just not good economics. And at the same time, we have the greatest healthcare system in the world, and now 46 million people don’t have access to it.
…I’m so encouraged that we may see a change in Washington, but yet I’m so concerned that Democrats don’t understand. Most people get up every day, and they don’t think about whether they are in a red state or a blue state. They think about how they’re going to get their kids to work, how they’re going to be able to take care of their aging mother, and how are they going to pay their healthcare bills. Half of the bankruptcies in the United States are due to unpaid healthcare bills. CAP and SEIU just released a report about how middle-income people can’t afford one medical emergency. How can Democrats say we don’t need a new universal healthcare system? I mean, it is so basic and so important to America’s competitiveness. If the Democrats want to be the leaders in the House and the leaders in the Senate, which I hope they soon will be, then they need to lead, as well.

Stern, who lead a group of unions into a new labor coalition, Change to Win in 2005, says “We are at a crucial moment, a moment that makes us ask what kind of country we want to be.” He advocates “new models of organizing” and had this to say about the importance of a stronger union movement in his HuffPo post for Labor Day:

This Labor Day, a greater percentage of the economy is going to profits than to wages, and a majority of parents believe their children will be worse off economically. Tens of millions of people in the U.S. are working harder than ever before, but they’re still falling behind….The answer to that question must include more workers uniting in unions — the labor movement. Unions have always been the best anti-poverty, best pro-health care, best pro-family program around. Unions have done more to help working people experience economic success than any other program.

But the war in Iraq remains a potent obstacle to winning social reforms in all of these areas. Both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win web pages have little to say about the Iraq quagmire, an ignored ‘elephant in the room.’ Yet it makes no sense to avoid the issue, when Iraq-related expenditures now consume 10 percent of the federal budget, according to Robert Sunshine, assistant director for budget analysis of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
As the traditional end of Summer, Labor Day marks the moment when greater numbers of Americans begin to pay more attention to the upcomming primary races. In the months ahead, American voters will increasingly turn their attention to the positions of candidates on the key issues noted by Sweeney and Stern. But voters also understand that progress on the social and economic agendas of both labor and the Democratic Party is being held hostage to the Iraq War. Ending it should be the central priority of both unions and the Democrats.