Monday, March 03, 2008

Howard Dean's redemption

The Nation:

The race for the Democratic nomination is a window into how the candidates view the future of the party, which is being shaped in large part by Dean's efforts. Are Clinton and Obama similarly committed to Dean's fifty-state strategy? How much faith would each, as the Democratic nominee, put in the party's grassroots? In the Internet era, the party is less about elder statesmen sitting in Washington than millions of people across the country organizing locally around issues and candidates. Dean and Obama have understood how the party is changing--and have embraced it. Clinton, thus far, has not. ...

Tensions have cooled since then, and both Clintons have voiced their support for Dean's fifty-state strategy. Yet in a larger sense, Hillary's candidacy represents the polar opposite of what Dean built as a candidate and party chair: her campaign is dominated by an inner circle of top strategists, with little room for grassroots input; it hasn't adapted well to new Internet tools like Facebook and MySpace; it tends to raise big contributions from a small group of high rollers rather than from large numbers of small donors; and it is less inclined to expand the base of the party.

A single example of the old-school/new-school made plain to this activist:

While I have received a robocall on my home phone from Texans for Hillary every single night for the past week, communication from the Obama campaign during the same period has consisted of two text messages to my cellphone, each inviting me to tonight's rally at the George R. Brown.

If you were wondering about that 'change' meme, this might be evidence of it. Oh, and this too:

In his sprint across the country before Super Tuesday, Obama wisely hit places where the party had barely existed years before. "They told me there weren't any Democrats in Idaho," Obama told a raucous crowd of 14,000 in Boise. "I didn't believe them." On Super Tuesday Obama won fifteen of Idaho's eighteen delegates and virtually swept the Midwest and Mountain West.

Fourteen thousand. In Boise.

I have been railing about minimalist strategies for years now. Writing off sections of the country -- not just states but entire regions -- is what nearly bankrupted the Democratic Party in the Nineties. And it was destroyed here in the Deep-In-The Hearta.

Yes, we had a Democrat in the White House, but he was under seige from an emboldened Republican majority in Congress. Democrats were decimated legislatively, not just in Washington but in statehouses coast to coast. While the rest of the country reversed the tide in 2006, we here in Texas of course are only just now emerging from the darkness.

This most clearly signifies my inability to support the Clintons' return to power. The twenty-state strategy, focusing a on a few select targeted races, using Texas only as an ATM ...

... the wisdom of this philosophy tricking down to the Texas Democratic Party, where losing every statewide office since 1994 and ekeing out a half-dozen wins in the statehouse in 2006 (while the rest of the nation turned blue) is defined as as 'victory' ...

But I digress.

Tradition dictates that whoever wins the White House will install his or her own regime in the DNC. Dean says that if a Democrat wins in November, he does not want to hang around the building past 2009. Yet few in the party believe it's possible, or preferable, to go back to targeting a dozen swing states every two or four years. "You cannot lurch from one election to the next with no game plan," Dean says. "I do believe the Democratic President is going to want a permanent political operation, and I think we're going to leave a very strong one here." Dean says the state party chairs have already persuaded Obama and Clinton to commit to funding the fifty-state strategy, which at a cost of $4 million to $5 million a year is a tiny fraction of the $300 million budgeted by the DNC for '08. "The one thing they should not get rid of is the fifty-state strategy," says Democratic strategist Donna Brazile. "We need to do more, not less."

Dean had the vision, but others will get or share the credit. It took an Obama to realize the potential of the Internet and grassroots organizing to transform politics. And it will take the commitment of future DNC chairs to the fifty-state strategy to continue building the party from the ground up. "You know the expression, to be a prophet without honor in your own land," says Steve Grossman, Dean's former campaign chair. "That's Howard Dean."

Kos adds:

... We saw the party elite (dominated by the Clintonistas) in DC hoarding their power, sure, but we also saw that the masses outside the Beltway were far bigger, and collectively wielded far more power than the Ickes and the Podestas. Sure, they could raise a buttload of money and get their new organizations funded (and there's some good ones in that mix, like the Center for American Progress and MediaMatters), but their efforts to dominate and control the party machinery were doomed from the start. The people-powered movement would swamp them out. So Dean became our surrogate and we propelled him to a dramatic victory as chair of the party. Sure, establishment Dems wailed and threatened and tried unsuccessfully to find an establishment-approved alternative to Dean. ...

Those of us outside that DC cesspool knew better and we have been obviously proven right in the subsequent years. It's amazing how responsive the nation gets when you reorient your efforts beyond a few special states and decide that the whole country -- and the grassroots in each state -- actually matters.

But what's surprising to me is that in this day and age, the Clinton people are still so wedded to the early 90s that they continue to misread the political landscape -- a mistake the Obama camp has exploited to full advantage.

Precisely. And also this, from Booman:

Maybe Hillary Clinton's personality blinded people. Maybe her gender was weighed too heavily. Maybe they took her voting record and policy positions at face value. Maybe they just craved partisanship. Maybe they were just afraid to stand up to the 'inevitable' candidate. But, for me, this has always been a contest between the DLC and the netroots/grassroots, with Obama and Edwards on one side and Clinton on the other.

We netrootsers have been going into battle every day for five-six years without the Clinonistas at our side. Half the time, and on the most critical issues, they have been standing on the opposing sidelines or actively undercutting our positions. How could any blogger/activist have ever seen the Clinton campaign as anything other than the mortal enemy of the movement, I don't know.

I have blogger friends (hopefully still friends) whose support for Mrs. Clinton remains steadfast to this moment. It's easy to disagree over candidates in politics, even -- sometimes especially -- those within your chosen party. Obama is going to have to mend fences after Tuesday, irrespective of the outcome in the headlines. Even if he does not 'win' Texas and Ohio, he will almost certainly pad his delegate lead, continue to erode Mrs. Clinton's last remaining base of support -- the superdelegates -- and eventually be conceded the nomination. If not on Wednesday, then shortly thereafter. Much sooner than later, I would hope.

And perhaps the Texas Democratic Party will ripen for change as well, with a groundswell of millions of new voters, an energized base of activists and supporters, and a mandate for change. Pesky word, that.

All thanks to Barack Obama's execution of Howard Dean's strategy.

Dean has always spoken for me.

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