Monday, November 15, 2004

Per Our Prior Conversation

A discussion of Josh Marshall's recent post about the Democrat's "aristocracy of operatives."

His main point: some top level Dem operatives, most fine, expert folks, are just not so relevant today. As he puts it:

So for all these reasons there is something rich and precious about hearing some of these folks sagely noting how the leadership of 'the party' is out of touch with the Red States when they are the party, when they're the folks who've been in the drivers' seat for years. If there’s a problem and especially if it revolves around being out of touch with the lives of ordinary Americans, then by all means the first place to start is for some of these folks to say a collective, my bad, my time has passed and depart the scene --- especially if their proposed remedies are as clichéd and pathetic as the ones many of them are offering.

The problem for Democrats is not that they don't cite scripture enough or that they don't live for NASCAR, though they do need to be able to appeal to both. Democrats who just tack a few gospel references on to their standard speeches will simply compound losing an election by losing their dignity. That's not a disparagement of religion; it's a recognition that mere pandering will achieve nothing politically and invite deserved ridicule.

Those aren’t the heart of the problem. The difficulty for Democrats today is that they excel at the libretto of politics but have little feel for the score. . . .

This doesn’t mean Dems should just stand-pat or be satisfied with what they have. They shouldn’t; indeed, they can’t. It is only to say that there are real limits to how many positions and rhetorical styles Dems can ape to good effect. And it means having a little more respect for themselves, their voters and what they claim to believe in than to collapse into a puddle of self-doubt just because this election didn’t go their way.
I certainly agree with that last part - and, in fact - with most of his sentiments here. It struck me as odd during the home stretch of the campaign, just how many higher-ups were veterans of the 2000 election. It was comforting and disconcerting, I suppose. They knew just how off-track things could go, but I worried about them re-fighting the last cycle.

Josh's post comes down to the now age-old strategy question: do you just need to get out all your base or do you need to get the swing? Clinton found success in the latter, and we'll never really know if the former works at the presidential level nowadays because, I'd argue, Dean wasn't the nominee. For that matter, are we using the right language anymore at all? That is to say - is our base really our base? There was plenty of 2000 cross-over and 2004 cross-over as well. Perhaps we need to reevaluate our arithmetic as well.

Today, Josh has posted a response from a reader who, from the information given, has much more direct experience with the "aristocracy" than I. His argument is that the potential stuck-in-the-past-ish-ness of the Party is systemic: credible candidates need credible consultants. Credible consultants are given "credibility" by old-school, K Street fundraisers. Upset the apple cart at any level and, presto, instant credibility gap. From Josh's reader:

This creates a different problem. For those of my generation of political operatives, the searing election experience was 1994. And the animating ideas, strategy, and tactics of the Republican House majority still dominate the way the Republicans do their politics. Unfortunately, for most of the folks still at the top level of our party, the 1994 election was just one of many elections, and you win some and lose some. For example, it would have been impossible for anybody who lived through 1994 as their baptism into politics to assume that the Swift Boat Veterans attack was anything but harmful and required any reaction but a vicious and immediate counter attack. Yet, that is what the Kerry campaign did….inexplicable. But clearly a decision made by our “older” party hands…one that I believe proved decisive.

The further problem is that in order to succeed with careers in Dem politics – well, you got to join the big boys -- i.e., the young successes in Dem politics tend to hold the same ideas as the people in charge.
This phenomenon isn't limited to presidential politics, of course. My Sacto readers could easily come up with their own examples of the weighty hand of history smacking down novel strategies or ideas (both in the Building and on the way there). Josh and his reader contend that these problems demand open, immediate Democratic discussion - which is badly needed.

My take on things doesn't vary much. And though I did spend a lot of time entangled in the effects of operatives' decision-making, as a field organizer, well, it wasn't my place to argue (though there were a few "field organizers" who did waste a few precious hours strategizing ways to win swing voters. Not our job).

But here's where I come in - and where bloggers, generally, come in. We're part of the conversation. At least, I hope we are. We're marginally influential (I'm not influential at all, except to maybe, like, 4 people. And even then, not so much). But as part of the collective murmur of Democratic politics, eventually, our ideas of today may become the ideas of tomorrow. I doubt very much that current A-listers will step aside gracefully to make room for ideas that might work. And, frankly, leave aside the "blogger" ID - I consider myself part of the Party to stay. So whatever medium I choose, the conversation and risks are the same. Unfortunately, only time will tell if what I write here now will bolster my reputation as a forward-thinking, action-oriented young leader or whether it will provide that albatross my opponents (inter-, and, most dangerously, intra-party opponents) will be looking for.

In the most simple terms I can think of, it seems that: a) we lost in 2000, b) we lost in 2004, c) some of the same leadership was present for both losses, d) we ran some of the same drills and hid behind some of the same thinly-constructed messaging, and e) the time may have come to look in a new direction.

I remember someone explaining how something becomes a "law" in physics when it happens repeatedly. It stays a "law" until it not longer happens. The sun rose yesterday, and today, and will rise tomorrow. Unless it doesn't.

The sun did not rise for the Democratic Party this time around. But I believe it will again. We have to come together and evaluate where, exactly, our sun went, and how we hoist it up there again. The current Administration's dusky policies are dangerous, disregard working men and women, and, most dangerously, the world population generally. We have about 18 months to hash out our problems and help new blood - already boiling over the state of our country and the world - rise to influential Party posts. I'm in for the long haul.

Are you?

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