Democrats: Not as lame as you think

By Doretta Schrock of Portland, Oregon. Doretta is a regular commenter here at BlueOregon and describes herself as "Baby boomer geek Portlander, neighborhood activist and sometimes Internet blowhard."

Apparently I just can't follow the rules. Guest columns are supposed to be fresh and original and about Oregon and here I am promoting a national article written by someone else and sent to me by my mother-in-law in Utah.

But there I was sitting in a jury selection pool on Thursday morning at the Multnomah County courthouse listening to two of my fellow prospective jurors agreeing that the Democrats just don't have any leadership or any platform. When I found myself urging them to read this article from the Washington Monthly ("Not as Lame as You Think") I just knew it was something I should share with BlueOregon.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    Sullivan was also the author of the influential and controversial article, "Fire the Consultants."

  • (Show?)

    Wow, that's a great article. Very informative, interesting analysis. It's long though, so here are some of the more salient points, for those who don't have the time:

    Democrats are often criticized as lacking unity, leadership, the ability to articulate an opposition plan.

    There is some truth, but there is more to it. Furthermore, the oft-cited "Contract with America" was only presented 6 weeks before the fall election, and the GOP showed much tension between its moderate and right-wing elements in 1994.

    The Dems have actually been successful in several significant ways, by virtue of good strategy. For instance:

    • Murtha's advocacy for Iraq withdrawal, and the volume of media coverage it received

    • defeating Bush's Social Security "plan," and averting demands for a compromise plan

    • pressuring Bush to reinstate Davis-Bacon in Katrina aftermath

    • several smaller, "quixotic" victories that show spunk, if not broad leadership, in the Democratic party

    Media has failed to credit Democrat unity, instead rallying around the unfounded notion that they are fragmented.

    • Dem. Louise Slaughter played a key role in preventing the House Rules committee from coming to DeLay's aid. The GOP lashed back, and the media—including prominent liberal bloggers like David Sirota—bought into the GOP version.

    • Media fails to cover Democratic plans "until they reach the floor," perpetuating the myth that there IS no planning going on.

    Paradigm Shifts

    Sullivan closes with a reference to Thomas Kuhn's theory of paradigm shifts, in which a prevailing theory is clung to even as contradictory evidence mounts, until the weight of all that evidence demands a new theory.

    Currently, the paradigm that the Bush administration/GOP is a "well-oiled machine" is already looking dated. And the paradigm that the Democrats are "hopelessly divided and ineffective" may be belied, if they can take a congressional house in the fall. It looked similarly bad for the Republicans in 1994.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Thanks Doretta - If I were in charge, we'd name you an honorary Second Congressional District member. (We know you have the "rural" credentials!)

    We are running into the same thing that this article uncovers - "conventional wisdom" saying something apart from the truth - in the Second CD. Today the Oregonian editorial stated that Congressman Walden "reflected the views of this district". Yet, no one in the media pays any attention to how Walden votes. So, when he votes to send jobs overseas, votes to cut rural health care and education funds, and when approached by Rural Counties looking to restore some lost Federal funding basically says - you find the money --- no one in the media pays attention. If the Oregonian had done 10 minutes of fact checking, they would have found that Walden votes 180 degrees the opposite of the views of people in his District. The only thing that makes what the Oregonian published ethical is that it was on the editorial page, because it sure didn't reflect any facts that would stand up to journalistic ethics. Just like this article you bring to our attention says, in the real world one thing is happening, but what makes it into the major media is entirely something else.

    The Democrats aren't the fools the media plays them to be, and the Republicans aren't what they say either.

    That was a great article - already forwarded it to a couple dozen Central Oregon Democrats.

  • (Show?)

    This is a great read; informative and more than a little inspiring as we're in the second inning of the campaign season. I pride myself on reading through and around the mainstream media drivel, but I found myself corrected on several misconceptions I'd had.

    Thanks for the post... well worth it!!

  • (Show?)

    Like KC, I learned a couple of things from Ms. Sullivan's article.

    One point that she glosses over is the internal assasinations that the Beloved Rahm Emmanuel has orhcestrated, like Paul Hackett in Ohio for example.

    Not saying that this negates Ms. Sullivan's central thesis, but it does demonstrate a foible that she shares with the same media that she condemns---An unwillingness to address inconvenient facts while attending to the ones that help make her points.

  • (Show?)

    Pat,

    I have yet to hear a convincing case that the DNC was unfair to Hackett. His complaints sounded idealistic and naive from over here. Having a politician complain that he has to deal with politics seems a little ironic to me.

    Care to convince me otherwise?

    -Pete

  • (Show?)

    I dpn't think it was necessarily the DNC as much as it was the committees dealing with Congress who treated Hackett unfairly.

    They've (the DSCC and DCCC) gotten themselves into this mess several times this past year in actively searching out another candidate when they already had a candidate who did fairly well last election and was willing to run again. We've got to start realizing what Dean says is true-- people often need two or three times to run in order to build up their name recognition enough to win.

    The Republicans get this, which is why they'll run the same candidate again and again. Democrats need to get it as well. We've got to stop discounting candidates just because they lost last time.

    Hackett was only one example.

  • (Show?)

    Sherrod Brown doesn't have the name recognition to win?? He's been active in politics since the 70s or something. Sure, Hackett looked great from the upper left coast...but Brown is a known figure, locally. And I gotta say, Hackett's crying foul after the fact doesn't make him look like somebody with a bright future in politics.

    Okay, I understand you're talking about a trend I might not be aware of, and that extends beyond that race. I'll keep my eyes open for an article that goes into more detail on this matter. But a couple of comments here without much to back them up won't change my perception.

    -Pete

  • (Show?)

    Not to turn this post into a rehash of the whole Hackett/Brown thing (which after all, was in Ohio) but as a person who didn't take sides on it, it seems to me that Hackett's primary appeal was that he was a Marine who kicked ass and wouldn't kowtow to anybody. Only when the DCCC pushed, he caved. And poof - there went the justification for his campaign. If he was really the asskicker he was purported be, he wouldn't have caved so easily.

    The other thing I can't figure out is why all the lefties liked Hackett over Brown, when Brown is so clearly more liberal than Hackett.

  • (Show?)

    Kari,

    The thing with Hackett/Brown wasn't so much a left v. moderate, as insider v. outsider. A lot of Hackett's early support came from the netroots and grassroots who have typically felt left out of the process. A lot of them (and I'm linking of Kossites in particular) aren't so much far-left as anti-establishment. Aside from a few very interesting articles on the subject, this is something the traditional media keeps missing. The liberal blogosphere is not, as a rule, significantly to the left of mainstream Democrats. However, they are highly resentful of the existing power structure, backroom deals, and what they see as deliberate exclusion of outside voices. This was the reason for the resntment of the way Hackett was supposedly treated by the Dem establishment. What's often overlooked is that one of the biggest reasons Hackett was so competitive in OH-02 the first time was because Sherrod Brown hooked him up with all his personal contacts, consultants, and infrastructure. Without them, Hackett was never going to be competitive in the primary anyway.

    I think a much better example of the DCCC sandbagging a grassroots candidate is the Duckworth/Cegalis debacle that just played out in Ill-06. There you had a Christine Cegalis, a known candidate who had run very competitively against the all-but-invincible incumbent Henry Hyde in '04. Now, with the race being for an open seat, and the demographics trending blue, the DCCC and even Barrack Obama threw all their weight behind a primary challenger, Tammy Duckworth. Duckworth narrowly knocked off Cegalis a couple weeks ago and will be met by Pater Roskim in the general. Duckworth is by all accounts a competent candidate and, as a severely wounded veteran of Iraq, plays into the developing "Fighting Dems" narrative. She looks to have a good chance in the general as well.

    These and other questionable decisions aside (coughCaseycough), it's great to see the DCCC and the DSCC finally putting up a fight. Part of me still fears yet another letdown in November, but so far things are finally looking up for the Dems, who might be finally getting their act together again...

  • (Show?)

    Well said Nate.

    The liberal blogosphere is not, as a rule, significantly to the left of mainstream Democrats. However, they are highly resentful of the existing power structure, backroom deals, and what they see as deliberate exclusion of outside voices. This was the reason for the resentment of the way Hackett was supposedly treated by the Dem establishment. What's often overlooked is that one of the biggest reasons Hackett was so competitive in OH-02 the first time was because Sherrod Brown hooked him up with all his personal contacts, consultants, and infrastructure. Without them, Hackett was never going to be competitive in the primary anyway.

    You got me precisely pigeonholed on this one. Your point about Sherrod Brown being an early and strong resource is not something that I've overlooked either. In fact, putting myself in Hackett's position, It makes me even more resentful that they took this guy in, led him down the primrose path, and then decided to make him walk the plank because they changed their minds.

    See, I don't want to be inside ever. What I want is for those who are inside to be open minded enough to recognize that good ideas can come from sources other than their own little group of folks who have exhibited infighting skills.

    Such displays of skill show only that you know how to navigate inside a particular pyramid, not that you know how to get people elected.

    There are buttloads of folks in all levels of all organizations that rise to their levels of incompetence or even way above it.

    Which is why being an insider has little charm or significance to me, and I'm guessing to hundreds of thousands of other dedicated progressives in the blogosphere.

  • (Show?)

    Kari: Thanks, that's a great way of putting what I was trying to say. You hit the nail on the head.

    Nate and Pat: Sorry if I'm dense or uninformed, but I honestly don't understand half of what you guys are saying.

    There are two common, but opposing, concepts.

    (1) The Democrats lack the kind of unity necessary to rise out of irrelevance. (2) The Democrats fail to include diverse elements, or listen to "outsider" voices.

    I think there is truth to both, and would never argue that one should "trump" the other in all cases.

    Sometimes a call has to be made, about who is more electable. Honestly, my heart sank when I first heard about both Hackett and Cegalis. But it's not my job to ensure a win in November in those districts. And I have yet to hear an argument that convinces me there's enough nasty backroom politicking going on to warrant my concern.

    If these candidates are truly the fighters they're cracked up to be, they'll find a way to get their voices heard one way or another. I look forward to that day.

    -Pete

  • LT (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Sometimes a call has to be made, about who is more electable. Honestly, my heart sank when I first heard about both Hackett and Cegalis. But it's not my job to ensure a win in November in those districts. And I have yet to hear an argument that convinces me there's enough nasty backroom politicking going on to warrant my concern.

    Here's my concern. If Brown (or Casey in Pa. or any number of others) win and turn out to be the second coming of Barak Obama (well spoken, thoughtful, explain themselves well, appeal to a broad spectrum of folks) that is fine.

    However, if Brown and / or Casey lose---or if they turn out to be incredibly mediocre once in office--seems to me there should be some soul searching done, and the DCCC and DSCC be cleaned out by the sort of outsider Howard Dean is.

    With DCCC, this isn't a new problem. In the late 1980s there had been several unsuccesful elections against incumbent Denny Smith. In 1988, there was a DCCC poll and an Oregon poll done and they conflicted. The DCCC poll said of course incumbent Denny would win. The Oregon poll (as I recall, done by someone living in the district who actually knew Mike Kopetski) said he had a chance. DCCC trusted their poll. The recount said 707 votes elected Denny. THEN the DCCC sent an apology letter. In 1990, Oregon's 5th District elected the Honorable Michael Joseph Kopetski who served until he retired undefeated. And there were some of us who never trusted DCCC after that.

    Should such a situation happen again, there shouldn't be apologies, there should be housecleaning---and a new approach that is something other than "clear the decks, because powerful people know who will win". And someone who carried Republican counties in a previous election should get at least as much support as a good ol' boy whose "turn" it is. Not only that, if anyone in "leadership" ever recruits someone, they should mean it--not recruit someone, later dump them over the edge, and then say "it was necessary to win this seat". The DSCC and DCCC had better hope Brown wins!

  • (Show?)

    I loved Mike Kopetski, but let's not pretend that he rode off into retirement on a white horse.

    He got in trouble, and declined to run again in 1994 - which was just as well, since that was the landslide year.

  • LT (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I loved Mike Kopetski, but let's not pretend that he rode off into retirement on a white horse. But he was smart enough to decline to run for re-election, and deserves credit for that.

    Last I heard he was living in Japan???

  • (Show?)

    putting myself in Hackett's position, It makes me even more resentful that they took this guy in, led him down the primrose path, and then decided to make him walk the plank because they changed their minds.

    Well, I don't think that any side played this particularly well. While Brown and the DSCC certainly could've handled things a little bit better, I think Hackett may have drunk a bit too much of his own Kool-Aid too. Brown was in a better position to make a statewide run and Hackett could probably win OH-02 this year if he had tried again and worked his way up; Voinovich won't be around forever...

    Nate and Pat: Sorry if I'm dense or uninformed, but I honestly don't understand half of what you guys are saying.

    That's okay. It's not necessarily important (or sensible?) to follow the minutiae of obscure House races in other parts of the country for fun or profit, but some of us do it anyway...

  • Karl (unverified)
    (Show?)

    The problem with dumping Hackett was that he was a national symbol for standing up against the bush crowd. And he's got some charisma. It's true that from here in Oregon I really don't know what Ohioans think and I don't know anything about Brown, but Hackett was a bright light and I was excited by him and ready to send him some money. When he got the rug pulled out from under him I felt let down. I think the dems missed a galvanizing opportunity.

  • (Show?)

    In 1990, Oregon's 5th District elected the Honorable Michael Joseph Kopetski who served until he retired undefeated. And there were some of us who never trusted DCCC after that.

    Sorry to be redundant here but I almost choked to death on that one. That's how Karl Rove would describe the Mike Kopteski episode in Oregon politics. I hope for more reality and less spin from people around here.

    As a resident of the 5th District I was pleased to give Mike Kopetski a small contribution very early on in his campaign and put up one of his first lawn signs, etc. I wasn't inclined to "give him credit" when he screwed up and declined to run again. I was very unhappy that he pissed away everyone's hope and hard work. It doesn't take too much imagination to get how awful it had been all those years to be "represented" by Denny Smith. To add insult to injury, Kopetski was replaced by Jim Bunn, someone I had personal reasons not to think much of.

  • (Show?)

    The issue as I understand it was that when it looked like no one would run against DeWine (Brown had essentially said no), people like Schumer gave Hackett the hard sell, and pushed him into a race he probably wouldn't have ordinarily entered, on the basis of full party support and resources.

    Then BAM, Brown decides he's in the race, and those promises to Hackett began to melt away. If that's all it was--that Hackett had been abandoned once Brown arrived, that'd be one thing. But having gotten him into it, now the party bosses started trying to get him OUT, back over to OH-2. And while this part is the most sketchy, it also appears that party operatives--whether senior or not, authorized or not--began discouraging donors to contribute to Hackett's Senate run.

    In a nutshell, they got him in by building up his maverick appeal, and then tried to force him out by making him into a party "team player" who'd move and shuffle like a chess piece. Naturally he balked--but rather than swallow his pride and take OH-2, or screw the party and stay in the Senate primary (knowing he'd be ostracized by the powerbrokers and lose anyway), he said "Screw you guys...I'm going home."

    If that's just politics, fine. But Sullivan doesn't then get the opportunity to say that Emmanuel eschewed traditional backroom deals when recruiting candidates--because that's EXACTLY what they did to Hackett, and Cegelis.

  • (Show?)

    torridjoe -

    But Sullivan said no such thing.

    Even if she had, I think any reader would be a fool for believing it.

    Consider this analogy: a sports commentator says "That starting pitcher knows how to win games. It's what he does. Every day, he puts on his uniform and goes out and wins games."

    Was the commentator inaccurate, simply because every pitcher team loses games once in a while? Or should some of the responsibility fall to the audience, to apply common sense to what they hear?

    In this case, I think anybody with some common sense would understand that sometimes promises are not upheld, as the political climate changes from day to day.

    I'd say a central political skill is understanding the basis for a promise, and making your own determination about heavily to rely on it. From where I sit, Hackett hasn't developed that skill yet.

    -Pete

  • (Show?)

    Wow, I mangled that last comment. Started off by misspelling my own name, and then mixed up "How do we read Sullivan" with "How should Hackett interpret Schumer's promises."

    I'd fix it, but this thread is getting old- think I'll just move on instead…

    -Pete

  • (Show?)

    Joe, I've heard that version of events, which is pretty much straight from Hackett and his campaign. I've also heard a version where Brown had not yet made his decision final on whether or not to run (and was perhaps waffling a bit much for Hackett's taste) so Hackett tried to get in the race first, without consulting with anyone, to force the party's hand. And the line about contributions drying up had more to do with the fact that Hackett was basically recycling Brown's donor list, given to him when running for OH-02 (donors who unsurprisingly were less likely support him against Brown). Now I don't believe any of the accounts I've read word for word; I suspect what really happened was somewhere in the middle.

    Brown has one of the most progressive records of anyone in the House. Senator is a big job that requires a lot of connections, which is why it's generally not considered to be a job well-suited to political neophytes. Brown has more experience, more connections, more money, and more progressive views, as well as twelve years in the House (and eight as SecState). If he wanted to run, the Dem nomination was always going to be his for the taking, and the Hackett campaign should've known that.

    I don't really have a side in this argument, and as I said above, I'm disappointed in all the players here. And I'm certainly not afraid of criticizing the DSCC or DCCC (see Duckworth/Cegalis). However, I think Hackett really did himself a disservice by just taking his ball and going home. He had a great opportunity to make a difference either in OH-02 or some state office, working his way up and gaining political experience along the way. Instead, he jumped into a big race that was probably over his head, for a job that he may not have even had the chops for anyway...

  • Matthew Kopetski (unverified)
    (Show?)

    It is nice to see my dad, Mike Kopetski, mentioned in a recent conversation in www.blueoregon.com. I would like to close a few loops for you.

    Mike Kopetski currently lives in Washington, DC where he has been working on improving US/China relations since he left Congress.
    More recently, he has become involved in international pro-democracy initiatives. He played an important role in gathering international support for Yuschenko's "Orange Revolution" in the Ukraine. Just yesterday he arrived in Baghdad where he will spend the next few weeks advising Iraqi MPs about the legislative process. He opposed our invasion but considers efforts such as this a "must" if democracy is to have any chance of success.

    I am quite proud of him.

guest column

connect with blueoregon