Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
November 18, 2004
POLITICS: The Democrats' Dilemma - Part II: Personnel
Part II of a three-part series on what the Democrats need to do from here; Part I, on Communications, is here, and Part III, on Policy, will follow.
1. Governors and State Legislatures
Obviously, the Democrats need to start by rebuilding their hold on governorships, which they lost in the mid-1990s. Republicans presently hold the governor's mansions in the nation's four largest states - California, Texas, New York, and Florida, although New York may be due to swing back their way when Eliot Spitzer runs in 2006, with George Pataki probably wisely choosing not to run again. Republicans have also captured several natural Democratic strongholds - Massachusetts (which hasn't elected a Democratic governor since Dukakis), Maryland, Hawaii, even Vermont. The near-abandonment of the South has left the Dems in a serious bind there as well, although the cyclical nature of governorships, particularly due to the lure of corruption in state government, means that they take one from time to time.
As far as developing presidential candidates, I'll get to that later when I'm handicapping the 2008 race, but they are just at the wrong part of the cycle, with few governors in office long enough and one of their biggest media stars (Jennifer Granholm in Michigan) ineligible to run because she's Canadian-born. It didn't help when Gray Davis was humbled by the California voters, Jim McGreevey stepped down amidst a multitude of scandals, Roy Barnes lost in Georgia, and even smaller-time governors like Gary Locke felt the need to quit and go home. The process of building up governors to run for president or Senate means having someone be successful and popular enough to get re-elected. Even Granholm may face a tough re-election battle in Michigan.
The picture at the state legislature level is much stronger, as the Dems gained a lot of seats this year in seveal states, both red and blue. If they can consolidate those gains, it will be particularly important when another round of redistricting arises after the 2010 census, which seems likely to send still more congressional seats and electoral votes out of the blue states and into the red states.
2. Carville for DNC Chair
I take it he doesn't want the job, and there seem to be too many other people focused on their own self-interest (and on stopping the Hillary juggernaut) for anyone to persuade him, but much as I loathe James Carville, he's exactly what the Democrats need in a party chair - he's a regular-guy type, knows the South, doesn't fall into the trap of believing his own BS, and understands how you craft a message to win elections. You can always have a McAuliffe type as your #2 to work the fundraising - Mercer Reynolds, for example, raised vast sums of money for Bush this year and I'd never even heard of the guy until last week. The party chair winds up on TV a lot, and Carville is good with TV.
More thoughts on the DNC/consultant side: The Dems badly need a new batch of consultants who have cut their teeth in states outside the Northeast and West Coast. They need to permanently banish Bob Shrum and his grim populist message from the party - not just from presidential races, because half the problem is that all their presidential candidates have been groomed from the start by Shrum. Ditto for humorless types like Tad Devine and Chris Lehane who don't know when to stop spinning. On the other hand, Donna Brazile is one of the more sensible types and an expert on turnout among African-Americans, and needs to get a larger role. And as with accepting the loss of Shrum's good record with Senate campaigns, the party needs to cut bait with Terry McAuliffe even if it means losing some of his golden fundraising touch; the guy is a disaster in every other way (McAuliffe was one of the fools whose obsession with Bush's National Guard record led to so many bad decisions this year, from Rathergate to the overdone stress on Kerry's combat record), and his fundraising skills are partly offset by the scandals he engenders.
3. More Chuck Schumer
In developing presidential candidates, the Democrats need to present the face of moderation, bring along people who have the personal touch. Congressional leadership is a different game. That's why, if it was my party, I'd have wanted Schumer rather than the soft-spoken Harry Reid to head the Senate Democrats. Schumer will never be president; as a liberal Jewish lawyer from Brooklyn with an accent to match, he's too NY to be president in the way that Phil Gramm was too Texas and, frankly, Kerry was too Massachusetts (truth be told, in an ordinary year Kerry would never have won the nomination). But Schumer brings to bear a number of advantages that would make him ideal as a party leader in Congress. He's insanely hard-working. He's exceptionally PR savvy; I've noted before his habit of doing a press conference on a consumer-protection issue every Sunday, guaranteeing him a block of time on the Sunday evening local news once a week to the point that the local networks know they can give their consumer reporters the night off. He's actually relatively sane on national security and law enforcement issues. He's tough as nails. And, unlike guys like Daschle and Gephardt, Schumer doesn't talk down to people and doesn't sound like he's reading made-up focus-grouped talking points he doesn't believe in.
4. Say Goodbye To Hollywood
Hollywood stars tend to lean very far to the Left, and tend to spout off their political opinions without being asked and whether they know anything about the subject or not. The Democratic Party can't change this fact. They also give a lot of money to Democrats. The Dems shouldn't want to change this fact. But what the party can and should do is stop being star-struck and just stop making public appearances with Hollywood types. It's one of the tendencies that makes so many people identify the Democrats with the values-free zone that is Hollywood and with unserious dilettante leftism. Take their money? Sure. But don't telegraph to the American people that you take Ben Affleck's opinions seriously.
Of all the celebs who worked with the Kerry campaign and supporting 527s this year, only two seemed like they might help: Bruce Springsteen, because he's a fairly serious guy with an older fan base including a lot of blue-collar types (although as I noted some time ago, Bruce's fans tend by the nature of his music to be more conservative), and Puff the Magic Diddy, because he would help get young urban African-Americans registered to vote. It's not clear even that these two were any help, although it may be that Bruce's appearances in Wisconsin were part of the major Kerry operation that delivered the state by a hair.
5. No More Moore
For many of the same reasons, the Democrats need to walk away from Michael Moore. Yes, his movies and books are beloved by a segment of the Democratic base. But having Moore appear in public with Democratic candidates like Wesley Clark and appear at the Democratic Convention (they couldn't really stop him from appearing at the GOP convention) led to far too close a public association with a shameless and deeply dishonest huckster. And worse yet is allowing Moore's favorite hobby-horses to become Democratic talking points and ad campaigns.
Don't like that advice? Think the GOP has people it should distance itself from? Well, to some extent yes - but as a matter of practical electoral politics, the Democrats lost. They are the ones who disregard such advice at their peril.
6. No More Sharpton
In the current political environment, racial division helps the Democrats. The 2000 NAACP James Byrd ad, promising that a Bush Administration would set off a wave of lynchings, was highly effective. The Bush camp was probably politically wise to give no reason for this election to be racially polarized, even to the point of compromising its principles by signalling to the Supreme Court in the Michigan affirmative action case that it would not attack racial preferences.
More astonishingly, Republicans even held their fire when Al Sharpton, the David Duke of the Democratic party, spoke at the convention in prime time; if there had been a similar speech at the GOP convention, you would have heard nothing else for months. But don't think voters didn't notice: as I noted before, Bush won white voters by a 17-point margin, and while Sharpton may not have been much of a factor in that, the Democrats simply have to suck up the short-term cost of annoying Sharpton if they want, in the long term, to win back the confidence of non-Jewish white voters and stem erosion of voters from two groups Sharpton has targeted with particular bile: Jews and Asian-Americans.