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A Fight Worth Having

Ed Kilgore offers something of a peace pipe to the netroots, but wonders if the "Dean/MoveOn insurgents understand that the Washington status quo includes the leaders of many of the Democratic interest-and-constituency groups they think of as the party's base." It's a good point. One of the downsides of being an outsidery movement and a bottum-uppish movement is that you tend to lack the specific, detailed knowledge of what's what and who's who that a more hierarchical, establishment organization would have. I regularly see, for example, comments, blog posts, or emails that seem to betray a good degree of confusion about what the different components of the alphabet soup of Beltway party organs are, what they do, and they relate to one another. On the other hand, in my experience the leading lights of the insurgency (if not always all of their followers) do grasp Ed's point.

Certainly anyone who reads this Jerome Armstrong post will start to get the point. The problematic aspects of the Democratic Party stretch far and wide and don't especially correlate with ideology. Instead you've got a group of people with varying views who've been running things for years and, in essence, not running them very well. The party as a whole lacks accountability -- failure is not punished and success not rewarded. The potential negatives of new people -- new candidates, new operatives, new strategies, new everything -- are discussed as if the status quo is working fine and it therefore makes sense to be extremely risk-averse in thinking about new directions. But this is clearly wrong. 48 percent of the presidential vote and two bucks will buy you a latte [EDIT: Actually, it takes $2.25 where I buy most of my lattes]. A large minority in the House of Representatives have no value whatsoever. Increasingly, the same is true of the Senate as well. Doing worse would be bad, but at the end of the day it wouldn't really be much worse than how the Democrats have been doing so far. Something that has a 40 percent chance of bringing victory and a 60 percent chance of bringing a bigger defeat would, to me, be a risk well worth taking.

This, I think, is the intra-party fight worth having. Are we going to conclude that what's been going on isn't okay and that we need to try new things -- new things that may be risky, new things that may not work -- or do we keep on doing the same thing.

December 12, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

Frist!

Posted by: Real Lefty | Dec 12, 2004 12:39:32 PM

I think of it this way. The point is not to replace all the traditional constituencies and interest groups. It is to interconnect and synergize them by them all by plugging them in to a broader populist movement, so that the whole sytem is flooded with a burst of new energy and new ideas from the street below, and less dependent on the well-intentioned but dim and claustraphobic policy guilds that provide too much of the thinking under the current arrangement.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Dec 12, 2004 1:04:13 PM

1. One of the main things that some of the outsidery movements and a bottum-uppish movements in the Democratic Party are working on right now is learning as much as possible about the what's what and who's who in the Party, how it is organized and how it works (or doesn't). Notice the unprecendented grassroots attention the DNC Chair race is getting -- and the same thing is going to happen with lots of state Chair races in the new year. Jenny Greenleaf -- new DNC member out of Oregon -- has great thoughts on all this, as someone who has come from the grassroots and figured out how the Party works. They're in the comments thread to the Armstrong post you linked to.

2. One of the best functions of liberal DC blogs, in my view, is the dissemination of this sort of information -- what's what, who's who, and what's really going on -- to those of us out in the states.

3. While I like the content and tenor of Kilgore's most recent post much more than some of his others, and while I am fully on board as a Reform Democrat, I do think he fails to appreciate the extent to which some of the new folks -- perhaps Dean people more than MOveon -- in fact distinguish themselves from the status quo interest-and-constuency groups of the Party usually seen as the base, even as they object to a whole number of things that the DLC -- or perhaps I should say From and a couple others -- have done and continue to do. In my experience, the insurgents in the Party really are the ones leading the way in willing to try genuinely new things.

Posted by: Jeff L. | Dec 12, 2004 1:04:47 PM

It makes a considerable difference if Texeria is right that demographics are working in the Democrats' favor. If they are, then a strategy of wait and see makes sense--the apple will fall when it's ripe, in the long run we're all dead but that most often takes decades, we can wait.
So it's quite disturbing to read the Scheiber piece in the NYT Magazine today that picks up on the difference in birth rates between red states and blue states. I'd like to see this data taken down to a household level. But assuming it's true that Bush voters are having more kids than Kerry voters, and assuming that these voters as parents are equally good in reproducing themselves despite external factors, the apple ain't gonna fall, and serious changes are imperative. Unless you like living in the wilderness.

Posted by: Worried | Dec 12, 2004 1:33:51 PM

I haven't followed the details of this fight, but I do think it is important that the Democrats need to flush the hacks and losers who have been running the party.

The last three elections, counting 2002, should have produced gains. Instead they have been disastrous. We can intellectualize about ideas and values and all that as much as we want, but a big part of the problem is simple execution. I'm damn tired of putting money into the pockets of people who don't know how to win elections.

Accountability is certainly the first requirement for a successful organization. Let's start there.

Posted by: Bernard Yomtov | Dec 12, 2004 1:42:53 PM

We should face facts, Democrat equals dead right now. And, it will be this way for the next few years.

Posted by: KC | Dec 12, 2004 2:01:57 PM

> t makes a considerable difference if Texeria
> is right that demographics are working in
> the Democrats' favor. If they are, then a
> strategy of wait and see makes sense--the
> apple will fall when it's ripe, in the long
> run we're all dead but that most often takes
> decades, we can wait.

Just because demographics is trending your way does not mean you will automatically win. There will always be people at the margin who can be converted by the other guy /if your offering is not attractive/.

I think the Netroots guys are trying to say two things: (1) the Democrats' offering is not attractive (2) there are entrenched groups in Washington DC who cash their 200,000/year paychecks whether Democratic candidates win or lose. These two problems need to be addressed.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Dec 12, 2004 2:19:06 PM

failure is not punished and success not rewarded

True, and this is the root of a lot of the Dean-for-DNC-chair resentment bubbling up right now. It's perfectly fair to note that he didn't bring in the votes as a candidate, but dismissing his success as a party promoter-- and as a good foot soldier for Kerry once the nomination was secured-- is insane. And if failure was punished, well, a lot of people would have been out of jobs long since.

BTW, regarding the birth rate stuff-- I wouldn't worry about it. The generation coming up is more tolerant wrt sexual matters and more concerned about others' welfare probably than any we have seen, and those aren't exactly GOP-leaning qualities. Besides, the red-state types (meaning those who believe in that heartland provincialism, regardless of where they actually live) wouldn't be so enraged if they didn't know that the future is just against them; most of their kids do not & will not believe as they do, because of access to a much broader & more interconnected world. Hell, all four of my grandparents were Republicans, and while their children & grandchildren are majority conservative, a bit more than a third turned out flamingly liberal... that's certainly enough to offset birth rate differences, given that liberal parents don't seem to have quite the same problem overall.

Posted by: latts | Dec 12, 2004 2:25:24 PM

"48 percent of the presidential vote and two bucks will buy you a latte."

We should make no mistake of what the agenda of the Jerome Armstrongs of the world truly is:

Beyond trying to mau-mau their way into a share of the consultancy pie, they are quite explicitly looking to undo the party reforms of the past 15 years.

And we shouldn't forget that while we may be a 48% party right now, we were a 43% party before those reforms.

Just because things aren't great right now doesn't mean that things can't become significantly worse by making wrong turns.

Posted by: Petey | Dec 12, 2004 2:44:53 PM

I think a big part of this still has its roots in Dean's (and others) admonition that the Democrats shouldn't act like Repuiblicans. In my view, this has to be separated out into politics vs. policy. I'm not sure the solution for the Democrats is to suddenly adopt Republican-sounding policies. Politically, however, there seems to be some utility in looking at what the Republicans have been able to do politically (by which I mean structure, framework, framing the argument, etc.) and seeing what the Democrats can cannibalize for the forces of good, as it were.

Posted by: Jonathan | Dec 12, 2004 2:59:25 PM

Our policies poll well. It's the character of our leaders that doesn't. One reason it doesn't is that our mult-millionaire media consultants are incompetent. Could the Democrats have handled the media any worse than they did in 2000 and 2004? And so far, no accountability, no reason to expect that Bob Shrum won't be on the 2008 campaign.

Posted by: Seth | Dec 12, 2004 3:35:33 PM

Seth: Right on! On the issues, overall, Democrats poll much better than Republicans. You'd think, with that advantage (I mean, Republicans have to spend a lot of time and energy lying to the public in order to sell their policies), Democrats would do better. But the Dem elite doesn't understand marketing. Doesn't understand character. Doesn't understand that voters don't vote from their heads but from their hearts. The Dem elite doesn't get it.

Probably my favorite example of lack of accountability was Gephardt's run at the presidential nomination. I mean, seriously: I thought I'd gone through the looking glass. This was the man who, since taking over the Dem leadership in the House, had overseen one loss after another after another. And people were taking seriously his candidacy?@!!?

Posted by: pdp | Dec 12, 2004 4:11:30 PM

"Our policies poll well. It's the character of our leaders that doesn't. One reason it doesn't is that our mult-millionaire media consultants are incompetent."

How do you get from the first to the second?

If we'd kept the same consultants and nominated Edwards instead of Kerry, the character of our leaders would have polled much better.

Over the past 35 years, our party has nominated one candidate who could talk to regular folks and appear to be one of them - Bill Clinton.

The party's persistence in nominating candidates like McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, and Kerry who seem "elitist" and "aloof" is not the fault of the consultants. Over and over again, candidates whose appeal is that they can talk to regular folks don't fare well in the primaries.

In 2008, No Dean. No Kerry. No Hillary.

Posted by: Petey | Dec 12, 2004 4:17:32 PM

"(Gephardt) was the man who, since taking over the Dem leadership in the House, had overseen one loss after another after another."

FWIW, we had more House seats when Geppy left than we did when he took over the leadership...

Posted by: Petey | Dec 12, 2004 4:20:05 PM

Where're you getting a latte for two bucks?

Posted by: Ian | Dec 12, 2004 4:35:49 PM

"Where're you getting a latte for two bucks?"

The exact same place where Jerome Armstrong is going to help make the Democratic Party more successful - otherwise known as Fantasyland.

Posted by: Petey | Dec 12, 2004 4:55:28 PM

You know Petey, you rode this hoobyhorse over at Kos for who knows how long and I thought that you might have put him out to pasture after the election.

The reform dems are trying to shake the party out of its stupor and make it a vital actor in politics again. IMO, Dean's got a blueprint for that even if he doesn't get the party chair position.

The Washington dems have been electoral washouts over the past six years and its because of their accomodationists policies and their timid approach to the GOP.

Posted by: Sharon | Dec 12, 2004 5:40:32 PM

its because of their accomodationists policies and their timid approach to the GOP.

Was filibustering the Estrada nomination until it was withdrawn accomodationist or timid?

And the Owen, Pryor and Pickering filibusters? Accomodationist or timid? Maybe both?

Maybe we should help them out and try and get them a majority so they don't have to resort to such timid and accomodationist tactics to begin with.

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Dec 12, 2004 6:01:20 PM

SoCalJustice: More than half the country thinks Saddam had something to do with the 9/11 attacks and had weapons of mass destruction.

We can't even promote the fucking truth when it helps us.

We're timid and accomodationist. Bush should have been a little smear on the road after a fiasco like Iraq. He wasn't. We're the opposition party. We can't even OPPOSE effectively.

Posted by: Morat | Dec 12, 2004 6:24:55 PM

Where're you getting a latte for two bucks?

Exactly! I think Matthew hasn't been to Starbucks lately. Is this the new "how does a gallon of milk cost" question?

Posted by: Al | Dec 12, 2004 6:34:17 PM

Morat,

Those are good points, and you could very well be right. You definitely are correct about the fact that polls indicate that many Americans are misinformed about 9/11 and Iraq.

But around the time of the election, didn't polls show that over 50% of Americans felt the Iraq war was both going poorly, and it had been better had we not gone over there?

Maybe not, but it seemed that things were trending Kerry's way on that issue.

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Dec 12, 2004 6:46:37 PM

"The reform dems are trying to shake the party out of its stupor and make it a vital actor in politics again."

Sure. And the beauty of the word "reform" is that it's vague enough that we call all embrace it.

For me, reform involves cultivating and nominating candidates who can win nationally, and restore the competitive nature of the party in all regions.

For Peter Beinart, reform involves forming a defense policy that won't be a albratross around the party's neck.

For Josh Marshall, reform involves becoming an effective Congressional opposition party.

For Howard Dean, reform involves finding a way to justify his demagoguery and opportunism of 2003.

For Joe Trippi, reform involves settling decade-old scores with the rest of the party.

For Jerome and Markos, reform involves getting themselves lucrative careers.

It's a wonderful word in its elasticity.

---

"The Washington dems have been electoral washouts over the past six years and its because of their accomodationists policies and their timid approach to the GOP."

The "Washington dems" seem to me to have been doing a pretty good job in a country where twice as many voters self-identify as conservative than do as liberal.

If you learn your history further back than 6 years ago, it might begin to make some sense to you why "Washington dems" have chosen certain strategies.

Posted by: Petey | Dec 12, 2004 6:51:12 PM

"Our policies poll well."

Of course, you might also ask whether or not you've got lousy polsters; You went into the last election thinking you were going to win, after all. Maybe your polsters are just telling you what you want to hear, and your policies are just as unpopular as the election returns suggest.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Dec 12, 2004 7:39:29 PM

My beef with the Dem party leadership is that they don't know how to fight the Karl Rove tactics of the Republican party. We have the majority on issues. But our leaders consistantly let themselves be defeated in the debates. They allow Republican framing, bullying, misleading, and dirty tricks. They allow themselves to be put on the defensive. They even internalize the Republican messages about us. As one blogger put it, our leadership people behave like abused wives, timid, self-blaming, defensive.
For example where the hell is the leadership on Social Security? The Rethugs have already been allowed to frame their destruction of SS as "reform" Our "leaders" are unwilling to take a stand because they don't want the Rethugs to call them "obstructionist" Why do they care what hte Rethugs will say? The one thing we can count on is that no matter what, the Rethugs will put some kind on negative label on us, so why are we letting fear of their labels limit and control our behavior?. Right now our leadership should be standing up and shouting, "Damn right we are obstrutinist! We will obstruct the destruction of Social Security!" Instead they are tiptoeing around, peering at opinion polls, moving to the right in search of the center,and letting themselve be shaped, manipulated and intimidated by the other party.
With leadership like that, we would be better off with no leaders at all.

Posted by: Jill | Dec 12, 2004 9:40:50 PM

"Of course, you might also ask whether or not you've got lousy polsters; You went into the last election thinking you were going to win, after all. Maybe your polsters are just telling you what you want to hear, and your policies are just as unpopular as the election returns suggest."

Nah. That's not the root of the problem. You should've seen the faces on Team Bush at the election eve event in Dallas. They thought it was Kerry's election too.

We really do outpoll you guys on "the issues". That's the triumph of the "Washington dems" the shortsighted ones on my side don't see.

We've just had trouble in candidate selection. Rove's greatest triumph isn't on strategy. It's in finding and grooming a candidate who can connect.

Posted by: Petey | Dec 12, 2004 10:42:15 PM

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