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.

12 thoughts on “The Democrats’ Dilemma – Part II: Personnel”

  1. “Even Granholm may face a tough re-election battle in Michigan.”
    Take my word for it (I live here), unless something unforeseen occurs, this is simply not true. Granholm is immensely popular, and has no Hillary-like negatives even for the Republicans in the state.

  2. This reminds me of some of those Yankee sites that would spend at least one long post each offseason detailing what the Sox would need to do if they ever hoped to catch the Yankees.
    And of course the advise pretty much read like a laundry list of what had been successful for the Yankees themselves with the caveat that the Sox would never spend as much as the Yankees or with the disconnect being that the post would never recognize the importance payroll played in the success of the Yankees.
    Yes, there are parallels between the two types of posts. But I just realized that I had a better idea of the differences between the Sox and Yanks over the years and of what the Sox needed to do in order to be successful than I do of what the Democrats need to do to be successful.

  3. Jennifer Granholm IS in trouble; MI was the only state in the union to lose jobs last month, and her high tax policies had a lot to do with that fact.

  4. The Democrats’ Dilemma

    Baseball Crank has an ongoing series about the Democrats that is superb. Don’t miss it; Crank really hits the mark when discussing the problems with the Dem party.
    I just hope the Dems don’t read it, because it’s full of great advice.
    Part I o…

  5. Baseball Crank’s advice continued

    Baseball Crank suggests personnel changes for the Dems. His recommendations and my comments:
    Build up the bench strength in governors and state legislators
    Having the sitting governors of the big states may not be as important as having some candi…

  6. Her high-tax policies cost MI jobs? What the hell are talking about? Granholm has not raised taxes on anything but cigarettes and liquor that I can recall (which, by the way, I do not support). She inherited a $3 billion deficit from the Republican she replaced, and has had a Republican legislature to contend with the whole time she’s been in office.
    This is the typical crap from the right that since Granholm isn’t handing out tax cuts or corporate welfare she’s jacking taxes through the roof and driving away jobs. Bullshit.

  7. 1. Agreed. The Dems need to rebuild, and it starts in the minors. Governors are the AAA system, state legs are AA. Local is A-ball. They need to make inroads at all of these levels, and I think they are poised to do it. I think there will be a bit of a blue-state backlash against Republicans currently in office.
    Oh, why wait til the census to redistrict? republicans don’t…
    2. Disagree. I almost think this is a schadenfreude pick on your part. Carville’s day is over. He has practically become a parody of himself. He might have a valuable opinion and know his stuff, be he is now literally a political clown. I’d sooner let Jon Stewart or Bill Majer be DNC chair. From what I understand they gave Carville a big role in Kerry’s campaign, and it didn’t work out too well did it.
    As far as the Shrums, Lehanes, McCauliffes and all the rest? Adios.
    3. You have Schumer summed up perfectly. I think I agreed with every word of your paragraph. I’d almost believe you voted for him.
    4. Agree to a degree. They can’t really turn their backs on ’em, but they could manage not to appear onstage with Michael Moore and Whoopi Goldberg. Though this is a ridiculous double-standard. The notion that none of these people know anything is wrong. Many stars are politically active because they are passionate and knowledgable. That should be welcomed, but the process needs to be better stage-managed. Most of the bloviators on the right are no more “qualified” to be spewing their opinions or expertise. Oh, and no one calls Bush and Cheney to task for appearing on The Rush Limbaugh Show…
    Only the pundits propel these people to the false role of actually influencing policy. Affleck rides on a tour bus and gives a few interviews. Do you think John Kerry was sitting down and running his debate notes by him? None of the lefty wingnuts exert anywhere near the control on the Party that their counterparts on the right do.
    5. See above.
    6. As a New Yorker you have a more natural revulsion to Sharpton than the rest of the country. I went to College in Westchester in the ’80s, so I am quite familiar with Sharpton’s history. But it was a local issue almost twenty years ago. the rest of the country doesn’t know about it or doesn’t care and the press did nothing to change that. He got a surprising pass from the press and the Right, but it’s because his actions somehow (wrongly) were treated as anchient history and irrelevant, coupled with his entertainment factor in the debates, I think everyone decided he was worth keeping around.
    I do not think he was a factor one way or the other.

  8. I considered voting for Schumer, and might have if I’d submitted my absentee ballot on a different day. I voted against him strictly on the judges issue. But we do need some Democrats in Washington, and I regard him, liberal though he is, as a guy who serves some useful purposes. Plus, you can’t help but respect how hard he works.

  9. Mr. Furious wrote:
    6. As a New Yorker you have a more natural revulsion to Sharpton than the rest of the country. . . . I do not think he was a factor one way or the other.
    I disagree and think this goes with Crank’s point in Part I about how people don’t like to be called racists, explicitly or implicitly. Al Sharpton blames a whole host of problems on racism by whites.
    I have voted for Democrats before but I am constantly turned off by the holier-than-thou attitude toward race by the party as a whole and the implicit accusations of racism for anyone who doesn’t vote Democrat. Giving Al Sharpton any national platform in the party reinforces that message.

  10. Yeah, the Dems, who lost 51-48, and by 60,000 votes in Ohio against a wartime President (although admittedly an incompetent one), need your advice.
    Heck, the only thing they’ve done wrong is elevate Schumer to more prominence. Chuckles is the Ed Koch of the 2lst century — there’s no one around to tell him he’s an ass.

  11. Keep telling yourself that . . . the “60,000 votes” thing ignores the fact that another 5,000 or so votes for Bush in Wisconsin or New Hampshire and Ohio wouldn’t even have been necessary.

  12. Hey, why don’t I give the Republicans advice.
    You know, you all have a reputation for rapacious greed. Hold off, and great things can happen — the people voting you for reasons other than rational self-interest might not realize they’re being fleeced.
    Oops. Presidential yacht. Congressional right to review and publicize IRS records. The GOP leader Delay can remain even post-indictment, proof –by the GOP’s own standards and call to arms — that the GOP is now sclerotic and above reproach.
    And that’s in the first two weeks post-election.
    Well, hey now, better idea. Why don’t y’all just stick to preachin about how being righteous is better than bein gay or a baby-killer or – opposin our troops or – livin in the city or – supportin that sex-driven TV programming or – bein’ absent church or – supportin that sex-pervert Clinton or – killin that God-fearing preacherin Waco or – shootin that man’s wife in Ruby Ridge or – wan’tin to take away our handguns or – preventin us rooting out the terrorists or – fifth columnists in league with Europe or…anything that sticks.
    For all the crap, Clinton left the country in better shape than he was given.
    Why don’t you try, anytime over the next four years, to make the same argument for the GOP/Bush.

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