Friday, January 20, 2017

Can't keep doing the same thing

Happy Mardi Gras, losers

As we prepare to welcome the time of the dark lord (pictured*) this weekend, it's time for the highly compensated political professionals who run the Democratic Party... and who failed miserably in 2016... to start figuring out how to do better.  There isn't a whole lot of cause for optimism.

The DNC apparatus runs on money.  Not that there's anything wrong with that in and of itself.  But the people who have been in charge of raising that money only know how to get it by cozying up to banks, and tech billionaires and multinational corporations which in turn become the source of the corruption which most people see as Exhibit A in the case of "Why Dems Lose Elections."  The problem is that the people in charge would very much like to remain in charge. But the party can't make the kind of transformation it needs to make unless they are relieved of duty. 

Okay so you've got your pitchfork and your torch and you are ready to go round up some #HillaryMen. The problem, then, is what next? Unless you replace the Democratic Party establishment, you can't repeal the Democratic Party establishment. The object is to find new ways of doing stuff or else the default machinery just keeps chugging right along. As with most things, this is easier said than done.

American Poli Sci 101 theory holds that the parties go through cycles of emphasis; that they can either choose to be the Presidential Party or the Congressional Party. It often works out this way... our constitutional structure all but invites it to, actually.. but I don't think it necessarily has to be like this. In any case, I would argue that the GOP has been the "stronger" party in terms of raw policy influence in recent decades even during the years when Democrats have held the White House.

This week, PBS Frontline ran a pretty okay four hour retrospective of the Obama years. I have quibbles with some of the points of emphasis and interpretations of events.  But it does a fair job of documenting the political (ugh) narrative of this Presidency. The film doesn't set out to make this point as explicitly as it should but the Obama years should serve as an object lesson in how to run an effective opposition. The pattern worked as follows:  1) Republicans stake out an unreasonable, obstructionist position. 2) Obama rushes to meet them halfway 3) This not only fails to satisfy them but they go on shouting and screaming that he won't meet them all the way because socialist/Muslim/Kenya.. yargle bargle and so on.  4) The press shakes its head at all the "polarization" because both sides. The Republicans more or less control the agenda in this fashion. This was all obvious and many of us identified it at the very beginning.

While that went on unchecked, Republicans used the perception of powerlessness as a rallying cry at election time to build strength in the Congress and in state houses across the country. Meanwhile the Democrats' sole focus on the Presidency only exacerbated their failures everywhere else. The party was built to raise money from big donors to run big Presidential campaigns every four years with money trickled out strategically to select "winnable" districts elsewhere. Over time such districts became fewer and fewer.

So it takes more than just winning Presidential elections in order to make a real difference.   Keith Ellison, currently bidding to chair the DNC, understands that. Or, at least, he says he does.
I think the reason that we've had those losses is because the DNC is viewed more as a presidential campaign apparatus rather than a program or an agency designed to get Democrats elected up and down the ballot all the time. The DNC really should be the instrument for the rank-and-file Democrat all over the country — in Idaho, in Chicago, in Minneapolis, in Florida. But we treat it like it's not the Democratic National Committee; we treat it like it's the Democratic Presidential National Committee. Because of that, we have not really had the outreach and the door knocking and the engagement year-round that we need to have. That's too bad. 

The thing is that before 2008, we had the 50-state strategy, and that is in fact still pretty popular among DNC members. As you notice, we did pretty well in 2006; we did pretty well in 2008. I think that's because we still had enough connectivity in place from that 50-state strategy, but as time wore on, the tremendous popularity of Barack Obama, his amazing rhetorical skills, his just unparalleled ability to explain things and to inspire people really is the fuel that we lived on. Because of that, we lost a lot.
Good luck to him. The so-called Hillary Wing is already circling the wagons
Third Way is joining a crowded field of Democratic organizations which are redefining themselves in reaction to the upending results of the November election and trying to map out a path forward. Many outside groups that backed Hillary Clinton during the campaign are now vying to become the nerve center of the anti-Trump opposition in Washington, D.C., ready to fight him on everything from Cabinet nominations to key legislative battles like the upcoming showdown over repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

The liberal, non-profit Center for American Progress, led by Clinton loyalist Neera Tanden, has reorganized itself with the mission of resisting Trump’s legislative efforts. Clinton defender David Brock is also relaunching his super PAC, American Bridge, to act as a watchdog group monitoring Trump. And the super PAC that spent close to $200 million to support Clinton’s presidential bid, Priorities USA, is also rebranding itself as an opposition group to the president-elect, with the longer term goal of bringing voters back to the party.
Naturally, their "rebranding" strategy involves moving the party even further to the right. 
Part of the economic message the group is driving -- which is in line with its centrist ideology -- is to steer the Democratic Party away from being led into a populist lurch to the left by leaders like Sen. Bernie Sanders or Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

“Populism is inherently anti-government,” Cowan said. “That works if you’re a right-wing conservative, like Donald Trump. That doesn’t work if you’re the party of government." He added: "You can’t meet right-wing populism effectively as a matter of politics or governing with big government liberal populism, or 1990s centrism. You have to do something entirely new for a new era.”
Did any of that make sense to you?  No, me neither. "Populism" = "anti-government" so you can't do "big government populism." This is what marketing ghouls who care nothing about people's actual problems sound like. They're definitely going to "do something entirely new for a new era," though, these same people who have been running things forever.

So far the "something new" is an amazingly new level of cognitive dissonance. On the one hand these wealthy bundlers are branding themselves as a #Resistance to an administration they have labeled illegitimate and traitorous. (I'm open to that rhetoric, by the way. But not on the unsubstantiated conspiracy grounds they are currently pushing.) On the other hand they are fighting tooth and nail to defend the very ideology the incoming right wing government is animated by. In other words, they are allowing their own cynical ambition to snuff out whatever meaningful "resistance" their slogan purports to offer.

The worst thing about all of this is it's very likely the conservatives are going to win and the Tandens and Brocks of the world will continue to run whatever is left of the Democratic Party machine as long as it pulls in enough money.  As far as they're concerned, that's Mission Accomplished. They're the pros. They can do this forever. The rest of us can't go on doing the same thing, though.  It's costing us too much.

So the outlook isn't good but the best advice I can offer Democrats, if they want any, is this. Protest everything (GOP is about to make that difficult for you), obstruct whatever you can (difficult with no control of any branch of government), and dump your corporate faction as soon as you can. That last bit might actually be the easiest one, all things considered.  Today is a good time to get started.

*Actually the monster in the photo is David Simon encountered on Mardi Gras Day 2016.  Turns out you never know who you're #Standing with at the parade.

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