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Friday, December 12, 2003


Tomasky nails it

posted by annatopia at Friday, December 12, 2003 permalink View blog reactions
Michael Tomasky does a fine job of analysing the current situation faced by the Democratic party. He correctly notes that Bill Clinton rebuilt the Democrats in the 90s via fundraising and ideology, while the grassroots became more and more alienated:
It turned out that Bill Clinton was the comer the party needed. He rebuilt it; indeed, he saved it. But for the purposes of thinking clearly about the Dean phenomenon, it's crucial to think about the particular ways in which Clinton rebuilt the party, and one way in which he did not.
Clinton rebuilt the party ideologically. He shed it of some of its more hidebound ways. Whether one agrees with, say, his support for welfare reform or NAFTA, it must be said that those moves took some political courage insofar as there wasn't much of a natural constituency within the Democratic Party for his positions. Moving something as large as a political party off a marker on which it has stood for a generation or two is no easy thing.
He also rebuilt the party as a fund-raising machine. This, as we know, has had both its good and its ill effects. But whatever the downsides, this rebuilding, too, was necessary. From the stock-market boom to the exorbitant price of gourmet mustards, the 1990s culture was about money. Politics was not immune. The Democrats, always cash-poor compared with the Republicans—and especially so after losing three presidential elections in a row—needed to join the financial big leagues to be able to compete.
But there is one way in which Clinton did not rebuild the Democratic Party: from the ground up. Beyond rhetoric, and the occasional action, he didn't really make it a party of the people. He and Al Gore did energize a youth vote in 1992, and he made millions of voters who'd been disaffected feel comfortable voting Democratic again, bringing important states like New Jersey back into the Democratic camp.

I was one of those "youth voters" energised by camp Clinton back in 1992 (although I'll admit I wasn't that enthusiastic about Bill, but rather his great VP pick, Al Gore). Bill talked a good talk, but when it came to governing, he essentially abandoned us. Now, that happened for a number of reasons which don't need to be hashed out here, but the fact remains that both the youth and the grassroots were left behind by the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party.
Tomasky writes about why the establishment (mainly Clinton leftovers) is so nervous about Dean: they are irrelevant to this part of the rebuilding process. Time and again, people on this site (myself included) have stated that the DNC and the DLC need to get out of the way or get steamrolled. Why? Because this part of the process is not about them, it's about us. It's about getting the grassroots, the "average Joe Democratic voter" invested in the party again. It's about showing people how their $10, $20, or $50 can match up with the high rollers courted by the DLC and DNC. It's about rebuilding the Democratic base so that we can win elections again.
Now I'm not saying that the DNC and DLC will be rendered irrelevant. Quite the contrary. We are the ones who were rendered irrelevant in the 90s by that establishment. All we are doing is asserting our rightful place within the party. We matter. Without us, the party isn't going to win. The DNC and DLC are just starting to come to that realisation, as Al Gore did over the past few months. Gore realises that it's going to take all of us - the average Democratic voters, the grassroots, the DLC, the DNC, the 527s - to beat Bush. Tomasky writes:
Insiders need to start thinking about making their peace with Deanism. The party—the (still) post-1988 party—needs a rebuilt base, and Dean is doing that in a way that has no precedent. And instead of fretting about all the ways Dean could lose, the insiders might do better to spend some time thinking about how he might win.

Thank you, Michael. And you know how we win? We take the remnants of what Clinton left behind (a strong fundraising base and a moderate ideology) and combine it with what we're building (the grassroots base, the re-energised Democratic voter).
And not only do the insiders need to make peace with us, but we need to make peace with them. We need each other. It's a symbiotic relationship. One side could easily sabotage the other. If the grassroots abandon the party, the insiders will be left to lose more elections (witness 2002 midterms, or how many grassroots abandoned the party for the Greens in 2000, or how they just sat out). If the insiders try to sabotage us, there's potential to permanently alienate the base which will then lead to four more years of BushCo. This is a big tent party, and there's plenty of room for liberals, moderates, conservatives, Greens, Indys, Republicans, DLC insiders, and $10 donors. I think that the insiders are starting to realise that the Dean movement is the best way to put that finishing touch on the new Democratic Party. Tomasky concludes:
It was interesting that, in the wake of Gore's endorsement of Dean, it was conservative commentator William Kristol who wrote the column that most emphatically enumerated Bush's vulnerabilities. Sure, Kristol may have had his own reasons for arguing that Dean is competitive, but the facts of Bush's weak points are real. He has the powers of incumbency, money and a feared (actually, overly feared) political operation. But his numbers are soft. Gore's 2000 states plus Ohio or Arizona is a long, long way from being an impossible task—for Dean or for any of the aforementioned.
So let the race begin. And expect the impossible. It happens often.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.