As most all of you know, there’s a heated race going on for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, something that hasn’t happened since before the Clinton era. The race will be decided in about two weeks; but so far I’ve only done a handful of posts about it.
Partly that’s due to time constraints and the inherently opaque nature of the selection process. But mainly it is because I have been so focused on the Social Security issue. And getting into a tussle among Democrats is not easy to square with doing what you can to unify them. As I guess must be pretty clear by now, I think preserving Social Security is the transcendent issue today for the Democratic party — indeed, for the country as a whole.
A few weeks ago I actually wrote some version of what you’ll find below, but then trashed it because I didn’t want anything getting in the way or anyone’s negative reaction distracting from what I was trying to do on the Social Security issue.
So, with that over-long introduction, let me just address the issue here briefly and in one shot.
If I were one of the four-hundred-odd people who have a vote in this race, I’d be voting for Simon Rosenberg. And I’d feel very strongly about the vote and cast it without reservation.
Two basic reasons.
First, I think Simon is one of the relatively few people in the Democratic party today who combine two things: a) a deep and considered understanding of why we must and how we can rebuild the infrastructure of the Democratic party and — and it’s a huge ‘and’ — b) the organizational abilities and skills to be part of making it happen.
This means everything from building up the decrepit state of state and local parties, to funding and nurturing think-tanks and activist organizations that are an essential part of a modern American party, to harnessing the roiling political energy emerging on the Internet, the whole bit.
I’m not telling anyone anything new by noting these imperatives. It’s become almost a cliche — though an awfully important one — among all thinking Democrats of late that the Democratic party has to undergo the sort of process of internal transformation that the Republicans did beginning in the early 1970s.
But how to do it exactly? This is a different era and the Democrats are a different party. I’ve spoken to Simon about this a number of times and I think he understands what needs doing and has a keen sense of how to proceed.
Second, the issue of party divisions. There are obvious divisions in the Democratic party today. From some vantage points, it seems like a left/right, Old Dem/New Dem issue. But I think it’s more an issue of establishment vs. rising activism and very different understandings of the Democratic party’s role in a country where Republicans now control all of the federal government and are the dominant national party. I think everyone who observes the Democratic party today knows the cleavage I’m talking about even if it’s not always clear just how to define it.
Simon’s the only candidate in the race who has credibility and strong associations in both camps. You only have to look at the name of the group he runs — The New Democrat Network — to see his connections to the Clinton/New Dem part of the party. On the other hand he was one of the few people from that world who was a defender of Dean during the primaries and someone very in touch with the new and unruly world of net activism. Joe Trippi, Dean’s campaign manager, is now actively supporting Rosenberg’s campaign for chair.
All of this is very important because the Democratic party will be a cracked vessel without both camps coming together, not to agree on everything or make nice, but to build a powerful coalition. We can’t afford to let either feel like they wholly lost out in this contest or that the other group is in the saddle to their exclusion.
What I’m saying here isn’t aimed against anyone. I think Howard Dean and Marty Frost are both great Democrats. In very different ways both demonstrated that in the last two years. I just don’t think either is the right one, right now, for this position. I think that’s Simon Rosenberg.
Back in July, at the convention, I sat down with Simon for a few minutes at an NDN event. And this was just after the Matt Bai article in the Times magazine had come out about the movement afoot to rebuild the Democratic party’s infrastructure and so forth.
Spirits were high all around at that point in the campaign. And Simon’s work had figured prominently in the piece so he was very jazzed with that along with everything else that was happening at that moment (check out the piece, if it’s not clear what I’m talking about). And at one point he said that what this network of people were trying to do would take a good ten years to accomplish — building new institutions, sustainable sources of funding, new party infrastructure, and so forth.
I entirely agreed, I said. But my great worry, I told him, was that if Kerry lost the whole thing could be snuffed out in the cradle. Even today the sort of things we’re talking about have only been in motion for a year or two. And the truth is that that’s just not nearly enough time. So my worry was that you had all these people joining these new groups and giving money and getting involved in online activism and throwing themselves into the political fray. And if Kerry lost there might be some collective sense of, Wow, we did everything imaginable, had a united party, a motivated base, gave money, went door to door, blah blah blah. And it didn’t work. So it’s hopeless. Or all this rebuilding infrastructure business just didn’t pan out after all. Or, in some sense, what we thought was the beginning of something new was just a dead-end.
And, so, here we are. In case you haven’t heard, Kerry lost. And so what was my worry — and I’m sure one many others felt too — becomes a concrete challenge. A year or two was never going to be enough time. It’s a much longer process, one with rhythms deeper and more sustained than the every-other-year election cycle. I remain excited and optimistic about the Democratic party’s future. I think that a decade and two decades from now we’ll look back and see what happened here in the first few years of this century as a beginning point, the beginning of a process that bore fruit in powerful and consequential ways in subsequent years. For reasons I’ve described above, in this race, I think Simon’s the one to push that process forward.