Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Playing the same game

Pc270109-Vi The Decembrist writes Bill Thomas Gives the Game Away:

[T]he Bush/DeLay goal is not primarily to privatize Social Security, although they would be happy to do that if they can. Rather, the goal is to create a political dynamic over the next one to two years in which the Republicans appear the party of opportunity, ownership, dynamism, and forward thinking, while the Democrats appear to be the defenders of old, boring, inadequate safety net programs. As Gingrich said, going for the biggest privatization of Social Security has the biggest political payoff, but only if it doesn't actually become law.

This is like abortion, evolution, and a host of idiot issues that Republicans cook up. I hadn't really thought of Social Security as one of these cultural issues, but of course it is. Thomas Frank, in the incomparable What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America discusses these at length. The thesis is that people vote on ideology, even when the actual solutions offered cannot take effect. Having elected the “righteous,” they can sleep through the boring part of politics, when their taxes rise, their wages fall, their jobs move overseas, and battles are fought over ideology with the tacit understanding that no change will be made.

Which brings me, once again, to message in the DNC chairmanship race.

I need to clarify what I mean by message. I do not mean talking points on Social Security. Nor do I mean that Howard Dean or Simon Rosenberg ought to be speaking on behalf of the Party, nor campaigning publicly on Democratic issues. What it means is promoting and organizing the Party's ideology.

I've been having a back and forth with Joe Trippi (discussed here) and via email with Matt Stoller of the Rosenberg camp, and the Blogging of the President. While I didn't quite get my questions answered, I did clarify what I need, and where the consensus is in the world of big shots.

Matt sent this link to some comments on what a former chair thinks the chair should be. He served through Gore's disastrous campaign, so maybe we should take that with a grain of salt. The problems I see today are those that existed under Joe Andrew, too.

Elsewhere at the Rosenberg site, the argument is made that we don't need the DNC chair to be the voice of the party because there are dozens of great spokespeople for the party (he generously includes Dean in that list). But that's the problem. There are lots of party surrogates, but each has a personal agenda, some of which means picking on other Dems. Without a strong centralized guiding force, the surrogates will as happily attack each other as they will the Republicans (see the Iowa primaries for examples of that).

I think state and county party committees badly want the message stuff to stay out of one central body. Fine. I don't need a chair to be out there telling people what to say. I want a guy who will put his surrogates together in a room every so often and make sure they're all on the same page. Make sure they see the central issues the same way, and knock some heads if they don't. The chair can be a neutral arbiter between the various messages proposed.

Organization is great, but organizing what? Fundraising is important, and Terry McAuliffe has made the party solvent, bless his soul. Dean is a great fundraiser, and Rosenberg has worked to create a group of big donors to help the party on big projects. But what do the funds do?

People I know and press reports from Ohio found that the canvassing and advertising was too heavy, that the Democratic message was too hard. People got turned off and decided they hated everyone. Fixing that requires a different sort of organization.

Getting everyone in the Republican party to go after Social Security en masse is yet another kind of organization. I think the Democrats have done OK with the first two, but man do we suck at this last one.

An anonymous source had a crisis about November 1, since this person really supports family and stuff, there was a sudden urge to vote for Bush. I managed to preserve a Kerry vote, but God. No Bush voter wavered like that. They didn't say: “My personal economic interest, and all evidence from the past four years, say I should vote for Bush, but that message of Kerry's, that's strong.” What was Kerry's message? It may have had to do with Vietnam, or maybe jobs, or something. It changed day to day. His beliefs didn't, and he isn't a flip-flopper, but his message flipped and flopped.

If we want to win in 2006 and again in 2008, we need not just to bog down Bush's eventual Social Security plan, but to use that as a way to promote a single, coherent, powerful and uniquely Democratic message. Whatever candidate for DNC will do that, I'll work like hell for. The others can go back to losing elections.

Here I Dreamt I was an Architect ” by The Decemberists from the album Castaways and Cutouts (2002, 4:29).