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The Struggle for DNC Chair

What is the struggle for chair of the DNC chair really about? Are we seeing a re-run of the DLC-liberal spats that have pre-occupied the party for so many years? I hope not. That would be stupid, counterproductive and pretty far removed from an emerging and much more important dispute about the party's future. Nick Confessore over at Tapped gets it exactly right:

[T]he most consequential split in the Democratic Party going forward is not liberals versus centrists. The key split is not really ideological at all, when you get down into it. Here's how I see the fight shaping up. On the one side are the rump Democratic establishment of consultants, pollsters, and senior members of Congress, people who span the ideological continuum but who share in common an inability to adapt to the Republican ascendancy and recognize it for what it is. Many of them would like Democrats to win more often, but they are not ready to give up the Beltway fiefdoms and influence they still possess in order to achieve it. On the other side are party reformers of left and right, who tend towards ideological ecumenism but are determined to change the way the Democratic Party is organized and funded. Pretty much anyone who is deeply invested in restarting the DLC/liberal food fights is by definition part of this rump establishment, since the distinction of vision between Democratic centrists and liberals pale next to the differences between the Democratic average and the Bush-era conservatives.


I can't say I agree. Since we live in an age where just a slight nudge to the center on a few key issues (partial-birth abortion? terrorism? gay marriage?) could mean the difference between getting a Democrat elected--both as President and to Congress--those small policy differences between Democratic centrists and liberals become very much personified, though they pale materially in comparison to the average Democratic views the Bush-era conservatives. Love the site and the book. thanks.

It is hard not to come across as a sychophant, great post Ruy, I wish this could be fed into an amplifying circut.

. Top-Down or Bottom-Up .

I think that in addition to the Liberal/Dino conflict and the Washington/Heartland struggles there is the Top/Bottom struggle.

In the past the parties have been lead by the people on top, but with the Dean/Trippi group there was the start of a leadership from the Bottom. Many of us in the Virtual community are starting to suggest that it is possible to have a party that interacts with us rather than just uses the WEB as a way to gather money and foot soldiers.

It may be that this time the struggle for the DLC leadership is between those who want a classical party structure and those who whould like to explore if the party can really be organized as a Bottom-Up representative group.

If the Bottom-up'ers are represented then perhals we can develop the tools, community, etc. so that we can really separate the CORE democratic/progressive/populist... issues from those that are desirable or wedge issues, and then ofcourse proceed to properly frame/communicate these to the people who also believe in them.

Lead, follow, or get out of the way. From where I was working (for the first time ever, in a very red Florida county) all of the leadership and most of the effort came from DFA and MoveOn. I am shocked and infuriated that Kerry lost, that the entire national slate was beaten so badly, with a few brilliant exceptions. When someone suggests Joe Lockhart for chair, I want to scream.

Great post. I do wonder if there isn't a need of a partially shared ideological agenda for us to strengthen and motivate a base? It seems to me that only a shared well articulated vision can begin to compete with the structure the Republicans have built since Goldwater. I heard life long democratic friends (who would never vote for Bush) accept Bushís criticism of Kerry that he took both sides of every issue. I donít say this to criticize Kerry or his campaign. I think it was not a Kerry problem but a problem we have in the party. We canít just be for more jobs. Everybody including Republicans are for more jobs. Saying you are for jobs isnít a vision. Itís a value. Bush got away with selling the Iraq war because it was presented as a way forward. It was a dumb strategy for which we are paying dearly but it was a strategy that could be clearly articulated hence sold. Personally I am socially liberal but am a somewhat conservative fiscally. Do I believe government has a role in peopleís lives? Sure. Do I think deficits are bad for America? Yes. The old liberal/conservative economic dichotomy no longer typifies where many of us are. But even if they did, those are values not strategies. Message is about strategy. The Republicans had a bad message/strategy for dealing with a serious problem but it was clear. We canít wait four years when we have a new candidate for president to articulate a clear message. The new DNC chair must be message bearer as well as fundraiser. Those of us more to the left and those of you more to the middle must come together to find some shared values around which we can establish a clear programmatic message. Itís the vision thing. And if I can steal one more thing Republicans own and wrap myself in semi-scriptural language, ďwithout a vision the democratic party will perish.Ē

"Pretty much anyone who is deeply invested in restarting the DLC/liberal food fights is by definition part of this rump establishment, since the distinction of vision between Democratic centrists and liberals pale next to the differences between the Democratic average and the Bush-era conservatives."

I disagree. There a fundamental differences between DLC and progressive Democrats over, for want of a better term, economic populism that goes to the core of the party's beliefs. While I would not dispute the need to shake up the party's beltway establishment, that pales in the face of resolving what the party stands for.

I also thought the TAP piece presented a caricature of progressive Democrats, then and now. Gee, I remember when TAP wasn't trying to emulate TNR's rush rightward. Now with such items as this Tapped piece and the presence of people like Matthew Yglesias, I'm beginning to wonder.

I agree with Nick Confessore that this is more a battle between an entrenched establishment and reform forces, with both sides having their fair share of both liberals, moderates and even a few conservatives.

Where I disagree with Confessore's opinion is his suggestion that it is the OUTSIDERS, the REFORMERS who want to make this a battle about ideology. That may have been true a few years back, but my experience in the Dean campaign has taught me that the #1 reason people got involved in that effort was because they were sick and tired of Democrats rolling over every time the Republicans or the establishment media barked.

It had nothing to do with ideology and everything to do with testicular fortitude.

On the other hand, we have people like Al From and Peter Beinert who continue to frame the debate as one about ideology, as if they are the great defenders of the Democratic big tent against the crowd of pitchfork wielding radical lefties.

I suspect this may have something to do with where both Confessore and I are coming from. He is closer to the insiders than I am, so he can't see what is so painfully obvious to us out here in the "heartland".

Ever since the Reagan administration we progressives have been on the run. We can't even call ourselves liberals anymore, since that word has been so thoroughly vilified. All elections are fought on the RightWing's terms, and the only time we win is if we run someone who is not too bad, for a Democrat.

The fact that we could get close to 50% of the vote in each of the past two presidential elections is a tribute to the correctness of our ideas. I believe that the ideology of the current Democratic Party sits firmly in the middle of the American electorate. If it did not, given how poorly we have done in advocating our ideology, we would be getting 20% in elections nationwide.

So I donít think we need to move to the middle, we need to do a better job of advocating our position and CLAIM THE MIDDLE.

Frankly, the Dean/Trippi folks are the only ones I have seen who advocate, unashamedly, for progressive ideas.

First , Kerry did not lose...the election was stolen through frudulent manipulation of the electronic voting system.

That said, Howard Dean is the only possible person to lead the Democratic Party.
We do not need to move ANYMORE to the center. The Democratic Party is already Republican lite!!!

It has to be Howard Dean...there is no one else articulate, passionate or honest enough. All this pontificating is diplomatic and appeasing but too corporate!

Moving left or right could pull in some swing voters is the classic political theory. But it's wrong, most people are just not ideological. More important to the vast majority of people is: Does this party or candidate really stand for something? And that's what Bush succeeded on making the election about: And more people thought they knew where Bush was coming from.

What the Democrats failed to do is to position the central question as simply: Does this guy have any clue about what he's doing?

Those are the simple things that most people vote about, not ideological tests. And focusing too much on ideological tests detracts from the clear message on other items.

So definitely the most important thing is to stand up for something. That to me is the core problem right now - can one point at anything which the Democrats have stood their ground on in the past 4 years?

To me it's completely about wresting the party away from the corporate/beltway leadership and building a grassroots party. That's why I think Dean, Ickes and Rosenberg are the only acceptable candidates.

But really, I don't think that there is any question that it should be Dean.

Except for being prematurely right about Iraq and bold about his criticisms of the Bush administration, Dean is not particularly liberal. He was part of the DLC at one point. It was however, his strong criticisms of Bush that got the Dems back in the race.

In this last election most of the volunteers on the Kerry campaign started in the Dean campaign. When his candicacy tanked, Dean started DFA, the organization raised $5 million contributed to over 700 candidates up and down the ballot and made a difference in some long shot and pivotal races.

What did Leo Hindery do in '04? What did Wellington Webb do?

It's not a left-right thing really ... what does that mean anyway? There are probably some "right" things that I could get behind. From where I am, a blue area in what once was a blue state, the party needs to remember its real roots -- the people. Those inside the Beltway haven't a clue, and because of that all they manage to do is try to emulate Republicans. Well, I'm not a Republican. And if someone doesn't take this party away, far away, from that, I'd say it's time for a true third party. Read Adam Werbach's Nov. 3rd Theses (http://www.3nov.com/images/Nov3Theses_letter.pdf) for an idea about that. And forget about any nudges to the center. The party has gone too far in that direction already. And you know what it says to voters when one party keeps trying to look like the other party? That the other party's right. And it's not.

With his habit of hurling epithets like "Republican lite," Howard Dean is the best prime example of somebody who (in Nick's words) "is deeply invested in restarting the DLC/liberal food fights" and would therefore be part of what Nick calls "the rump establishment."

Dean has done much at the grassroots level and has much to contribute to the party, but he is far too polarizing a figure to be a plausible candidate for DNC chair.

I agree that this is unacceptable, yet it is not surprising. The old Democratic establishment does not want to reform its party "from the grassroots down" because they would loose power. The people would be in control, not the McAuliffes.
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