Obama, Dean, and the New Politics

There's so much rhetoric about the demographics and symbolism of the Clinton-Obama split in the Democratic electorate (young/old, black/Latino, male/female, rich/poor, vision/experience, change/restoration, etc.) that it's refreshing to read journalism that breaks down what this means, and why campaigns for candidates who don't differ sharply on much really don't seem to like each other.

This Washington Post piece on union organization in Ohio reads in part like typical on-the-campaign-trail stuff, but also notes that while most of the AFL-CIO unions have backed Clinton, Obama's won most of the the splinter group Change To Win, including the Teamsters, the hotel and service workers, and others. Change To Win broke with the AFL-CIO over political and organizational strategy, and has a greater emphasis on grassroots organization and expanding the base of union workers.

Likewise, The Nation has an excellent piece that reads the Clinton/Obama split in the light of Howard Dean's 2004 Presidential campaign and his management to date of the DNC. Since Dean lost in 2004, it wasn't clear whether his message and his strategy was really the wave of the party's future or just a neat new way to raise some money. Likewise, Dean was criticized for devoting DNC funds to organization in all fifty states rather than focusing on a few battlegrounds to build a larger congressional majority.

Well, now Obama is riding Dean's wave, connecting with younger and affluent voters on the web, organizing precinct-by-precinct from the bottom up, and winning delegates by rallying Democrats and independents in heartland states. He's Dean with vastly more charm, more profile, and more discipline. Meanwhile, the Clinton folks are stinging at the fact that they're not only unable to beat back Obama, but may find it difficult to win the war of ideas and resources against a vindicated Dean at the DNC.

It all goes to show you that many stakeholders in the party have a lot more at stake than who's at the top of the ticket -- and why strategists may be quick to attribute whatever happens in this election to the personalities and capabilities of the two people running, and not how they ran. Otherwise they could find themselves marginalized not just for backing the wrong horse, but the wrong direction.

Compare this to this NYT op-ed by Clinton supporter Geraldine Ferraro. :

In the Democratic primary in South Carolina, tens of thousands of Republicans and independents no doubt voted, many of them for Mr. Obama. The same rules prevail at the Iowa caucuses, in which Mr. Obama also triumphed.

He won his delegates fair and square, but those delegates represent the wishes not only of grassroots Democrats, but also Republicans and independents. If rank-and-file Democrats should decide who the party’s nominee is, each state should pass a rule allowing only people who have been registered in the Democratic Party for a given time — not nonmembers or day-of registrants — to vote for the party’s nominee.

The notion is that the superdelegates represent grassroots Democratic voters better than voters in a presidential primary -- where turnout often fails to crack 30 percent. This, despite the scandalous fact that each of these elected officials won in a general election in which both Republicans and independents were gratuitously allowed to participate, often after winning uncontested or even more sparsely attended primaries.

In fact, Ferraro is so concerned about these superdelegates winning their primaries that she worries about them being coerced to vote for Obama in order to stave off a primary challenge. Meanwhile, let's keep as many people who might not have their party bona fides together (especially the young people and nonvoters we keep talking about turning out in the general) from participating in the party. Now that's grass-roots democracy.

Ferraro also reminds us of her history in the long tradition of mediocre big-D Democratic politics. The superdelegate system was created after Ted Kennedy tried to introduce amendments to make the party platform more liberal after his unsuccessful primary challenge to Carter in 1980.

In 1984 I headed the party’s platform committee. We produced the longest platform in Democratic history, a document that stated the party’s principles in broad terms that neither the most liberal nor the most conservative elected officials would denounce. It generated no fights at the convention. It was a document that no one would walk away from. We lost in 1984, big time. But that loss had nothing to do with Democratic Party infighting.

Kudos to you, Ms. Ferraro. Democrats lost the Presidency again in '88, needed a third-party challenger to win in 1992 and 1996, quietly accepted a stolen election in 2000 and nominated another unobjectionable and unelectable candidate in 2004. Heaven forbid anyone see Democrats disagree with each other on TV. Let's just bleed for another quarter-century.

This is why I feel like the style vs. substance distinction is a flawed one -- process and politics, after all, fuse the two. The way you conduct your campaign isn't about "issues," but it's nevertheless substantial. How you think about the future of your party and electoral politics is substantial. So is your theory of how political change happens.

On all of these counts, I agree with Obama and not Clinton, and it's ultimately the vision of the Democratic Party first articulated by Dean but shared by Obama that I most believe in. And there, I think, is the sharpest distinction to be drawn between them.

(These paragraphs originally appeared in two posts on my personal blog Short Schrift. I am volunteering for Barack Obama in 2008.)

One quibble

Dean was criticized for devoting DNC funds to organization in all fifty states rather than focusing on a few battlegrounds to build a larger congressional majority.

Odd, but it seems that the fact that the Dems did win a Congressional majority by using Dean's strategy would have to count as a victory for Dean, rather than the 'old guard.'

After all, the 'old guard's' primary claim to fame seems to have been losing the large majority of Presidential elections over the past 30 years, as well as the Congress for the first time in decades. That, in and of itself, suggests that they don't have a clue what they're doing. Combine this with the success of Dean's tactics, + I suggest that anything that the Democratic 'old guard' says should be taken with a rather large salt lick.

Obama '08,
-Z

True

Yeah, if you read the Nation article, the same point is made. It still didn't stop James Carville and others from calling on Dean to resign as DNC chair.

Obama and Dean Are The Candidates of the Untargeted

Both Obama and Dean were the candidates of the untargeted as picked by the Democratic powers that be in previous elections. Dean's support of the untargeted helped him win election as Democratic National Chairman, and Obama's support for them has carried him to the cusp of the Democratic Presidential nomination.

The battle between Obama and Clinton is, in significant part, a battle between the philosophy and strategy of campaigning in every state and the philosophy and strategy of campaigning in key states.

Progressives who want major changes to occur have a vital interest in the 50 state strategy because it is the only to get Democratic majorities big enough to make major changes. Small majorities in Congress (or in the state legislature, for that matter) will only get us small changes.

Yeah, you're right Mark

Nobody ever courts middle-class white people. Obama may be going after young voters, Republicans, and "low information" voters (known as "independents" in the press and idiots to those who look at the research and don't feel the need to sugar coat their terms), and yeah, that's a strategy that all Dems really need to go after in some respect. But really, your read of his support is so goofy (or, rather, maybe it's just your title), it barely merits a response, so I'll keep this short and sweet. The typical Obama supporter, amongst Democrats, tends to be middle-to-upper-middle-class, highly educated, and middle-aged. He does get a large section of the youth and African-American vote, but in general he's going after the demographics that everyone targets. OTOH, it is certainly fascinating to see how people react to the pretty Rorschach test that is the Obama campaign. I swear, ask any Obama supporter what "hope" and "unity" and such means and you get what they want those things to mean. I'm guessing many social scientists will be making names for themselves studying this mass madness.

What's typical

I swear, ask any Obama supporter what "hope" and "unity" and such means and you get what they want those things to mean.

Yeah, that never ever happens in politics either.

Clinton supporters defund the DNC

NYT, Delegate Battles Snarl Democrats in Two States:

Reflecting how tense the situation has become, influential fund-raisers for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton have stepped up their behind-the-scenes pressure on national party leaders to resolve the matter, with some even threatening to withhold their donations to the Democratic National Committee unless it seats the delegates from the two states or holds new primaries there...

The situation in Florida seemed more intractable, with Clinton supporters arguing the party’s prospects in November could be jeopardized if a satisfactory resolution is not found. Some Clinton backers said they were intentionally withholding their contributions to the party, arguing that Howard Dean, the D.N.C.’s chairman, has left the situation in the hands of the states and the candidates, as opposed to exercising leadership to resolve it.

Whether it began as such or is just manifesting itself, the Obama-Clinton campaign has become a proxy fight over who controls the national party.

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