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February 01, 2005

Ideology, Schmideology

By Andrew Dobbs

Today Howard Dean sewed up his election for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and frankly I'm disappointed. Two years ago it would have been among the happiest days of my life, but now I can't say that. And I have a good idea why. My old arguments to my quite Left wing friends in support of the admittedly more-moderate-than-he-looks Dean was "it isn't the man- it's the message and the movement." In other words, it isn't important who the candidate is, it is important the message he is spreading (make the Democratic Party more Leftist) and the movement of people he has attracted.

Now that argument has turned on its head, or perhaps I have turned on mine. His message is mistaken and his movement is destructive, and I think that there is a good chance Democrats will suffer as a result. I am not giving up hope yet, but without some signs in the right direction soon, I'll have no other choice.

His message is my primary problem. It seems that Dean and his college of sycophants believe that the reason Republicans win is because they are wholly, universally and unwaveringly committed to a far-Right philosophy and Democrats aren't similarly committed to a Left wing alternative. This is the source of Deaniac bellyaching about Frost's Bush-friendly commercials, their constant mouthing of Paul Wellstone's "Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party" quip, the origin of their hostility to "DINOs" of all varieties. His supporters wish to play amateur political consultants, and they are very bad at it.

They are bad at it because they are completely wrong. They are incredibly wrong about the GOP. The GOP is the master of adapting their message to the place where they are running with enough in common everywhere for national candidates to rally around. In the Mountain West they run Barry Goldwater libertarian-conservative types- not terribly interested in social issues, more interested in a hands-off approach. In the South they tend to run religious right types. in the Northeast they run moderate to liberal Republicans. They pick their battles and shift their message accordingly.

In places with strong Unions they run labor-friendly Republicans (Rudy Giuliani), and in places with weak unions they run labor-not-so-friendly Republicans (Dick Armey). In places with mostly pro-choice people, they run mostly pro-choice candidates (Mitt Romney), and in places with mostly anti-choice people they run mostly anti-choice candidates (Roy Moore). In places with a lot of environmentally friendly people, they run environment friendly candidates (Chris Shays, Christine Todd Whitman), and in places where people don't like hippie tree-huggers they run people who hate the Earth (Tom DeLay). In places where people are cool with gays, they run candidates cool with gays (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and in places with people who aren't into gays, they run gay bashing candidates (Bob Dornan, for example). In other words, they are flexible.

Furthermore, they have some serious ideological strain in their own party- much like ours. Business conservatives and social conservatives don't tend to get along. Business conservatives want cheap labor, so they like the status quo with immigration, social conservatives don't like immigrants so they don't like the status quo. It is a brewing battle that might just blow up in their face in the next 4 years. Social conservatives don't like vice, while virtually every big vice- booze, cigarrettes, gambling, corporate porn- has an even bigger lobby that gives lots of money to the GOP. That is a source of strain here in Texas. So the GOP is hardly the picture of ideological rigor that the Deaniacs fancy it as.

The issue isn't ideology- Democrats need not move to the Left (as the soon to be crowned King Howard III would say), nor to the Right (as the disgraced Duke Tim would argue). The issue is organization, structure and money- three things Dean has little to no valuable experience in and which my guy, Frost, had in spades. The GOP has a strong state organization in EVERY SINGLE STATE. Don't believe me? Name a state with a weak GOP. Illinois? Short term hiccups because of some personality problems. Massachusetts? They have a GOP governor. California? Ditto. In fact, there is only one state- New Jersey- without at least one Republican elected statewide. There are several, including Texas, that don't have any Democrats. The Republicans have a great national organization, Democrats don't and that is the problem, not that we are too liberal or too conservative.

If ideology were our problem, Dean would be perfect for the job. With a distressingly large army of nihlistic Bush-hating Leftists he could push our party to the Left better than almost anyone. But as it stands, his record is not good at handling our real problems- resources, organization and strategy.

In his presidential campaign Dean burned through $40 million bucks like Paris Hilton tears through overpriced god-awful skanky couture. In fact, we might want to see if that is where the cash went, because god knows it didn't go to winning votes- he could only eek out a win in a state he had been elected to statewide office in 7 times. $40 million bucks and nothing to show for it- even the Cowboys can do better than that (well, actually...).

In that same bid he managed to get more volunteers and more organization than any other campaign in Iowa by several orders of magnitude. Yet in the comparably simple task of winning Iowa (as opposed to the 49 other states and District of Columbia), he couldn't close the deal. He had more money, more people and better support from more important figures (Tom Harkin, Al Gore, AFSCME and SEIU etc.) than anyone else and he came in a rather distant 3rd. If he can't use an unprecedented and unparalleled organization to convince a plurality of 100,000 committed Democrats to rally around his cause, what makes us think he can get a majority of 100,000,000 mostly hostile people to do the same?

And in terms of strategy, his campaign was very good at this from time to time. Unfortunately it had nothing to do with Dean. Before Joe Trippi, Howard Dean was an anonymous candidate with no money, little organization and a Kucinich of a chance of winning. After Trippi came on, the emails started rolling in, the cash was flowing and his name was on everyone's lips. Save for peaking too soon things might have worked out differntly. But Dean is obviously not the genius, Joe Trippi is. And Trippi endorsed the now former-candidate Simon Rosenberg.

Furthermore, when Dean decided to keep his campaign list annoyed (or enraptured, as the true believer caucus seems to have done) and form Democracy for America, his candidate selection process was nothing if not senseless. David Van Os got his support- who had absolutely no chance of winning. But so did some candidates who had absolutely no chance of losing. In fact, the only real strategic consideration that seems to have been taken into consideration was paying back people who supported him in his race for the Presidency. As a result an insignificant minority won and almost all of them would have won anyways. The rest recieved little more than a mention on his website and few small donations from supporters who couldn't possibly contribute to all of the list of Dean's Dozen. Ask Katy Hubener how well his endorsement did- she lost and Dean's support made little to no difference. Strategy is clearly not Gov. Dean's strong suit.

In the end Dean is uninspiring, but not quite distressing. What he says to the people on the inside is different from what he says when the cameras are rolling. Not contradictory, nothing controversial, just his rhetoric is toned down and his proposals are a bit more specific. More money to state parties, funding much of their core staff, etc. Many of these ideas are worth listening to and I hope that they work out for the best. Indeed, it seems that his followers are a bit snowed over- Dean is hardly the Wellstone-esque crusader for ideological purity, the dot-com-age William Jennings Bryan that they envision him. Rather, he is a typical urban pol done good. He knows how to fire up a crowd in the front and cut a deal in the back. He knows just what words will rally the masses to his standard even as he rubs shoulders with the CEOs and millionaires in back. This isn't an indictment, quite the contrary, but it is a much-needed dose of reality for his starry-eyed cadre of communicants. Don't get your panties in a wad over the good governor.

In the end, our party does need to do what the GOP has done- learn how to create a viable national message that can be adapted to the ideological proclivities of particular constituencies and disseminate it with 50 states' worth of first class organization. Texas should have pro-life candidates, Minnesota probably shouldn't. Alabama should have candidates who are less than vocal for their support of gay marriage, California probably shouldn't. Candidates in Mississippi don't need to be 100% union all the time, candidates in Ohio a bit more so. You have to compromise because without 218 Congressmen you don't have shit, without 51 Senators you don't have shit and without 270 electoral votes you don't have shit. We have to build a national coalition and being extremist just won't do it. What will unite us is a message that we are the party of the American Dream- if you work hard, play by the rules and want a better life tomorrow than today and a better world for your kids than this one, you can have it, and we can help. It should be disseminated by neighbors, co-workers and members of your church. It should be on the radio and on the TV, in people's yards and on their cars' bumpers. It should be unavoidable and undeniable until everyone interested in the continued magnificence of this country stands up and asks to be counted with the Democratic Party.

If Howard Dean can manage to achieve that he will go down as the best DNC Chair in history. I'm willing to give him the chance, and I pray that he does.

Posted by Andrew Dobbs at February 1, 2005 10:43 PM | TrackBack

Comments

John Kerry: Half a Billion $$$ And what does he have to show for it, the arguably more leftist candidate? His Senate Seat.

Don't give us this Republican talking points bullshit Andrew, I'd expect more from you. This battle has been about reform not ideology and it's only when people say it's about ideology, that it becomes that. So don't say it, what do you have to gain from bashing what seems to now be apparent. I may not have liked Frost all that much, but you can be damn sure that if he had won I wouldn't start writing a diatribe on the failure of the Democratic Party. You comments seem to be more a reflection of your evolving political viewpoint (dare I say it, flip-flopper?) than of anything worth actual discussion.

I respect you Andrew, but maybe you should spend more time ranting about SG than our Party. You don't have to destroy both.

Posted by: Karl-T at February 2, 2005 12:37 AM

You're entitled to your opinion Andrew but your opinion is wrong. Dean's movement has NEVER been about ideology. I know very few Deaners who would say that the Republicans win by pushing their ideology. No. The Republicans by not being afraid to stand by their convictions.

Democrats have been losing not because of their ideas but because they haven't had the guts to actually risk losing. And it is only when you are willing to risk losing that you can have the real chance of winning.

You've bought into the media and establishment myths of the Dean movement.

Posted by: Chris Andersen at February 2, 2005 12:43 AM

Grooooaaannnn....

And a big part of Dean's "compelling biography" for his supporters was exactly the kind of "adaptable ideology" you say we need - and it's not just you, the DLC, the New Republic, etc etc have been saying "let's look to Montana for our new political model." We would talk up his NRA endorsements, his pro-business record, the fact that Dean represented the most rural state in the nation: look, the "Deaniacs" agree with you. We discovered Montana two years ago, in Vermont, with last-decade's DNC darling.

When you have (recent) Greens talking up a Democratic nominee at gun shows, that's open-minded adaptability. And so far as you're calling for a ideology-blind version of partisanship, I think I can say that those "sychophants" get it.

Look, I understand that to some degree, you view Dean through the filter of his opposition to the Iraq war, though I don't understand why even this supposed "extremism" gets to you -- I can't remember a single thing that Dean said during the primaries that wasn't more or less true on its face.

I also understand that loyalty is playing into your calculation, but remember that blind loyalty is destructive to the work we have to do. There was some shady "takedown" work in Iowa, but Dean's supporters didn't turn and cannibalize Kerry after those first few primaries: they gave in record amounts to their recent opponent. Soechting had loyalty to Frost, and when his man left the race, he decided to endorse Dean. The Colorado chair had loyalty to Webb, and when his man dropped out, he endorsed Dean.

So your man is out, now: you can "endorse" someone else you think will do a good job. Do you think Fowler would do better? If so, give him a good word. If not, do you think it's really helpful to beat up on your fellow party members? I think everyone can agree it's not about ideology, that this left-to-right "split" in our party is, for the most part, a made-up narrative CNN uses to caricature us. Frost left the race without endorsing anyone else, and still did so with a lot of class. So please, don't gouge a wound where one doesn't exist.

Posted by: Matt W. at February 2, 2005 03:27 AM

Andrew,
We did it the moderate centrist way.

Demos ran from a grass-roots candidate to a candidate who supposedly could win after Dean's fellow democrats worked behind the scene to crash Dean.

Kerry went on to hire the same tired group of professional election losers.

In other words . . . demos got themselves a candidate the insiders said could win.

We lost. By 3%, but we lost.

I dunno about ya'll, but I am ready to have someone who can go into our party and clean out the stable of these jagoffs like Shrum.

-Prodigal Son

Posted by: Prodigal Son at February 2, 2005 07:16 AM

Wow.
Most of the above comments reflect my disagreement with your post, so I wont beat a dead horse, but:

"In the end Dean is uninspiring, but not quite distressing"

A lot of things have been said about Dean, but "uninspiring" certainly is not one of them.

You may disagree with his views, or buy into the Republican spin on what he is and/or stands for, but I have yet to meet someone who is indifferent or uninspired. You are way off base here, Andrew.

Posted by: xerixes at February 2, 2005 10:12 AM

wow, I guess I'm the only one who thinks this post is right on. Additionally, while I supported a Frost candidacy for chair, I have never indulged in the starry eyed, this is our hero rhetoric that I have observed in many of Deans supporters.
Why is it so difficult for us as Democrats to accept that Republicans win because they tell people what they want to hear not what they want them to believe. Republicans do not use campaigns to convert the masses to their ideology, they use them to win elections. Period. We have to do the same. I agree that Howard Dean is great at getting the Democratic message out there and at getting Democrats fired up, but that's not what I feel we need in a DNC chair, we need someone who knows how to get people elected, and please do not point to the piddly number of people Dean supported who were shoe-ins to prove to me he knows how to do this.
I have heard it said that Frost would not make a good DNC head because he played to his nearly all republican potential constituency. I won't choose now to repeat how rediculous this is, I will say this. How can we have a DNC chair who doesn't know how to win elections? Can we really have a chairman that couldn't even manage a close second in a Primary election of people who didn't need to be convinced to vote for a Democrat? That's what this is about. Winning elections. I just hope Howard is man enough to seek the appropriate advise to make this happen. I'm not saying he isn't, I don't really know. Only that I hope he is, I for one am willing to at least give him a chance along with my support.

Posted by: comeon at February 2, 2005 12:07 PM

Howdy Andrew,

It looks like I am the only one that has posted a favorable response to your remarks regarding Dean as DNC Chair. This is not to say that there isn't any merit for disagreement, but certainly there are others voicing agreement elsewhere such as Greg Wythe.

For those monitoring the DNC race more closely than myself, is it absolutely a forgone conclusion that Dean is in and as you put it the better of the remaining alternatives?

If it is a forgone conclusion, then we need to move beyond the Dems vs. Deaniacs debate and determine how we in Texas will make the best of it.

My message to the Dean Camp is that those of us not thrilled with Dean are not buying into "Republican Spin" rather we acknowledge the reality about how Republicans WILL use the Dean Factor against us Democrats whether it is a misrepresentation or not. We cannot ignore this fact.

Texas really needs a new populist champion of our own the likes of Jim Hightower or Ann Richards rather than any national Democratic figurehead.

Do you know of anyone?

Posted by: Ted A. Waterston at February 2, 2005 12:46 PM

I'll answer part of my own question. Based upon the endorsements listed on Fowler's and Dean's sites, it's Dean.

Curiously, there is a link to an AP press releasing on Fowler's site saying that Fowler expects the endorsement of a committee of state chairs today. I didn't do an exact accounting, but many state chairs have already endorsed Dean including our very own Charles Soechting.

Again, the question I just posed to Charles Soechting is to explain how Dean is good for Texas.

Posted by: Ted A. Waterston at February 2, 2005 01:43 PM
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