Privilege Breeds Bad Campaigning

Ezra Klein: I had it out the other night with a very pro-Lieberman writer who, it came clear to me, believed the entire concept of a primary challenge against Lieberman a simply illegitimate form of opposition. Lieberman, as a Democratic incumbent, had a claim on his party's nomination and his Senate seat that couldn't be challenged by a bunch of bloggers and a cable television executive named Ned. It was the impudence of the whole thing that so offended.

I've really been saddened, in fact, by how often, when I drill down into anti-Lamonter motivations, I find their ideological and electoral motivations, mere sandrock obscuring a core rage at this affront to tradition and orderly succession. TNR, via mcjoan: [T]he fundamental reason for Lieberman's travails--a reason that a number of the senator's friends and supporters are increasingly willing to share--is Lieberman himself. Despite efforts to imbue the senator's troubles with greater significance, in reality they are largely the result of his and his reelection campaign's own missteps--from his behavior prior to the race to his belated realization of the serious challenge Lamont posed to his continued insistence on doing things that served to anger Democratic voters. "I think it's a mess," one Lieberman friend says of the campaign. "And, frankly, I think much of the blame lies with Joe. ... It's almost like he goes out of his way sometimes to make a difficult situation more difficult." There is a connection between the sense of privilege Lieberman and Lieberman supporters feel, and between his terrible campaigning. Matt hinted at this back on Tuesday night, as has emptywheel over at The Next Hurrah. It is actually a problem that is a serious detriment to the Democratic Party's electoral success. Because so many Democratic elected officials, staffers and consultants feel they are entitled to their positions, rather than viewing those positions as something they have to earn and justify to the voters and / or rank-and-file Democrats, they have failed to develop the new, innovative campaign techniques and general political will necessary to wrest power from Republicans. Lieberman's campaign has been terrible precisely because he feels he is entitled to his Senate seat, and isn't accountable to anyone. When even having to campaign becomes offensive to you, you are probably going to suck at campaigning. By way of contrast, even though we are significantly out-resourced everywhere, movement candidates are starting to wrest power from establishment Democrats in places like CA-11, Montana, Virginia and Connecticut (and came very close in IL-06), precisely because we know we aren't going to win unless we are innovative, and unless we work our asses off. While they find campaigns offensive, we find them places into which we need to pour all of our creative energies. Thus, even with far fewer resources in every single campaign I listed above, the progressive movement candidate has performed far above expectations and, more often than not, has actually won.

Jerome and Markos wrote about this extensively in Crashing the Gate. Too many of our elected officials, consultants, advocacy organizations, and staffers feel they are not accountable to anyone. They particularly appalled when forced to confront plebian, outsider, progressive activists. Not only is this a main reason why establishment candidates are starting to fall like flies to progressive movement candidates, it is a reason why Democratic candidates in general have had so little success against Republican candidates lately. If you believe you are entitled to your position, how can you possibly hope to wrest power from a group of people--the conservative movement--who wrested it from you through a series of driven, innovative political techniques during the past few decades? If you don't like campaigns, then get out of politics. If you don't like innovations in politics, then step aside for the good of the party. If you can't handle a little competition, then you are simply going to sink to the bottom as political entrepreneurs rise to the top.

It is somewhat ironic that the pro-corporate wing of the Democratic Party is most threatened by the new, entrepreneurial spirit within Democratic Party politics. Who would have ever thought that the entrepreneurs in progressive politics would come from the left-wing? Then again, considering that our current business environment generally favors conglomerated corporate power rather than entrepreneurs, maybe it is neither surprising nor ironic. As new power centers such as the netroots, Change to Win, and the Democracy Alliance continue to crowd out the old progressive and Democratic establishment with new energy and smart political innovations, it can only good for the Democratic Party and the progressive political ecosystem as a whole. As soon as the people in leadership positions in the Democratic Party no longer feel entitled to their positions, we might just be able to once again capture the will and the innovative, fighting spirit necessary to win back power from Republicans.</Gordon Gecko&gt

Tags: Democrats, progressive movement (all tags)

Comments

26 Comments

Re: Privilege Breeds Bad Campaigning

The only reason why you and the other liberals are doing this is to try to purge moderates from the party. Hopefully, your Stalinist tactics won't work.

by liebermanlives 2006-07-21 10:17AM | 0 recs
Re: Privilege Breeds Bad Campaigning
And with that comment, you are banned. Off to the Gulag with you.

--The Politbureau
by Chris Bowers 2006-07-21 10:19AM | 0 recs
Re: Privilege Breeds Bad Campaigning

Thank you.

by adamterando 2006-07-21 10:26AM | 0 recs
Re: Privilege Breeds Bad Campaigning

About time.

by Bob Brigham 2006-07-21 11:55AM | 0 recs
Hahahaha

I am a moderate, and even I want Joe Fucking Lieberman gone.  

by Delaware Dem 2006-07-21 10:21AM | 0 recs
Gordon Gecko?

Greed is good?

by Delaware Dem 2006-07-21 10:20AM | 0 recs
Re: Gordon Gecko?
Maybe in this case, the drive to take over as the governing party is good.
by Chris Bowers 2006-07-21 10:25AM | 0 recs
Agree

And to extend the metaphor....our greed in growing the progressive anti-DC movement is good for the party and the nation.

by Delaware Dem 2006-07-21 10:26AM | 0 recs
Re: Privilege Breeds Bad Campaigning

Nice post, Chris.

About the connection between privilege and poor campaigns, I can't help but think of Kerry. Biographically, he was a great candidate. But he didn't campaign like he needed to.

About entrepreneurialism...both in DC and in the country more generally, we're no longer an entrepreneurial capitalist society. We're a crony capitalist society. Which is one of the reasons other countries are beginning to kick our butts in the marketplace.

by emptywheel 2006-07-21 10:22AM | 0 recs
Re: Privilege Breeds Bad Campaigning

Another great example of this is the Massachusetts governors race. Tom Reilly is the consensus choice of all the Democratic insiders (the ones who brought you Shannon O'Brien last time.)  Now Tom is a decent, honorable man, but he can't campaign worth a darn.  

Deval Patrick came along and, through a combination of great personal charisma, innovative campaigning and a focus on building a grass roots organization, he has surged to the lead.  

Fortunatly, none of our candidates has the sense of privilege that Joe L. has, so our campaign has not turned nasty.  In fact, I have already been invited to a "unity breakfast" -- all I had to do was pledge to support whomever the party ultimately nominates.  Maybe we should invite Joe to one

by The Goatherder 2006-07-21 10:48AM | 0 recs
Re: Privilege Breeds Bad Campaigning

all I had to do was pledge to support whomever the party ultimately nominates.

I just can't see myself doing that in certain instances. I would certainly never take a pledge to support a Zell Miller -- or Joe Lieberman -- or many Democrats.

by Sitkah 2006-07-21 11:10AM | 0 recs
Re: Privilege Breeds Bad Campaigning

Being an independent, I clearly see that the worst public servant is one who feels that he has established an entitlement in his position.  In order to reach such a state, the judgment of such a person must have become corrupted by the corrosive effects of the power that has been wielded, and the prattlings of the courtiers.  

Lieberman has given us his entire soul, that soul has been used up by the needs of the state.  It is time for him to be replaced. Let him be feted for his sacrifice, but under no circumstances continued in power, lest he destroy what he once was and the rest of us as well.

by AlphaHydroxy 2006-07-21 10:53AM | 0 recs
Privilege &amp; Message Passivity

I think this analysis applies as well to the message passivity that Lakoff criticized, and was undeservedly criticized for, as I note in my recent diary, "George Lakoff, Fingernail Clipped...Or Not."

Lakoff's criticism on this point is clearly on-target--and in synch with the blogosphere--that it was truly strange seeing it distorted and criticized.  He said:

Secondly, there's a terrible Democratic strategy being put forth which is to say, as Chuck Schumer said last week, this is a referendum on the Republicans. They all talk about the Republicans as being incompetent. That's a big mistake for two reasons. What that says is that you're going to be quiet and let the other guys fail. That's wrong because what that does is allow the Republicans to frame all the issues between now and the election. If you're silent and you just say, "you're going to fail," you're letting the other guys control the debate, and you can't do that. Moreover, if you say that they're incompetent, what is the incompetence frame? It says, "you've got the right idea, you're just not carrying it out right." So what does Bush do? He appoints more competent people.
This is so obvious, one wonders how it can be argued against.  And this diary is the answer: If you feel that you're entitled to rule, then you don't have to explain why.  Just point that the other guy has failed, and Bingo! it's your turn at bat!

And they're always so surprised when the GOP pulls it out anyway with their "Yeah, but you've got cooties!" strategy.

And after the way that the CT Senate race has unfolded, I really think that it's just as simple as that.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-07-21 11:01AM | 0 recs
Hold on one cotton picking minute...

Too many of our elected officials, consultants, advocacy organizations, and staffers feel they are not accountable to anyone. They particularly appalled when forced to confront plebian, outsider, progressive activists.

Wow! And you guys who've started to crash the gates hadn't worked out that the owners of the gates might be a bit miffed? Defensive, even?

You sure planning for this wasn't done by the guys who gave us the Iraq war?

As for

If you can't handle a little competition, then you are simply going to sink to the bottom as political entrepreneurs rise to the top.

that's really the question before the court.

The most important thing for any political machine is to keep control of the machine. They don't mind losing a few elections. Because they know that, sooner or later, they'll be on the winning side, and the gravy will flow.

It's like the old saying: for the likes of Lieberman, the GOP are their opponents. Their enemies are Lamont and insurgents like him.

And it's absurd naivety on behalf on the insurgent forces to suppose that, if Lieberman gets back to the Senate, by hook or by crook, he won't be getting hugged by a load of Dem senators who'd never previously given him the time of day.

Even someone like Obama, say. Or Feingold.

You need to have done something really bad to get kicked out of the incumbents' club. And dissing a few bloggers or running as an independent doesn't come close.

I applaud the cojones of a guy like Lamont (however rich he might be) in gunning for a three-term senator.

But any of his supporters that suppose that incumbent Dem senators will thank them for their contribution to a vibrant democracy should really take more water with it.

by skeptic06 2006-07-21 11:05AM | 0 recs
Re: Hold on one cotton picking minute...

the point is that whether they will be thankful or not is ot relevant to the process of a democracy. the fomrer concern is the politics of personality - or what we affectionately used to call royalty, and the later- the one of which you seem to have a problem with- that of lamont's support, is the reason why we live in a democracy. in other words, if they don't like it- tough shit welcome to the world that the rest of us live in.

by bruh21 2006-07-21 12:43PM | 0 recs
Re: Hold on one cotton picking minute...

I'm not suggesting that the likes of Lamont shouldn't take their shot in a primary: that, after all, is what primaries are for.

Nor would other primary campaigns be seen by incumbent Dem senators in the same light as CT; one regular seeking to replace another is all part of the game.

But it's been clear ever since the Lamont campaign really got going that Lamont is not a regular. Quite the opposite.

He's been happy to align himself with the Crashing the Gates crew and insurgent Dems online and off; so far that he's become (willy nilly) point man for the movement to renew the party.

Of course incumbents aren't going to find that a congenial prospect.

And Lamont's unique position gives them an opportunity to do it to them before they do it to you.

Insurgent Dems have more or less bet the farm on Lamont, credibility-wise. Kill his candidacy, and all Dem incumbents breath a sigh of relief.

Fail, and - well, Senator Bowers does have a certain ring to it...

by skeptic06 2006-07-21 02:00PM | 0 recs
Re: Hold on one cotton picking minute...

please tell that shit to people who don't come to blogs regularly. first off, by your definition, they haven't been also supporting webb, tester and hacket to name three- and we both know that makes you full of shit that this is so unique of a sitution.

second, off, let's get real here. you claim you support democracy and primaries, but then whine by suggesting that this candidacy is blog driven. its utterly stupid to say that. no race can be solely driven by blogs at this point in American politics. I don't know of anyone outside of critics trying to explain their obsession who believes that people powered (d kos wording) equals blogs alone. What it equals is voters and the base deciding what they want. The voters in CT when given a choose- are making a decision. it will be their decision. period. if you can't handle that reality then you can't handle democracy. period.

third, if they, the establishment crowd thinks this will end with killing off lamont, then they really are as out of touch as I fear. this isn't about lamont, or frankly lieberman for that matter. it's about larger questions of how we can not continue along the way we have been heading. that in the terms of one political phisopher we have to engage in a little creative destruction to produce innovation. reading the above post is all about the need for innovation and how it happens.

bloggers aren't saying anything new politically. they are just remind folks of the bare principles for building a party. these are lessons that i learned  15 years ago in my pol sci degree. what scares me is that the leadership of the party so enamoured of their status are too afraid to do what needs to be done to rebuild the party.

by bruh21 2006-07-21 02:50PM | 0 recs
Whoa, there!

I was just putting myself in the shoes of incumbent MCs, and trying to explain why Lamont's run against Lieberman might have excited particularly strong feeling among them.

As for Webb, Tester and Hackett, none of them were trying to unseat an incumbent Dem.

And I'm certainly not suggesting that, viewed objectively, Lamont's candidacy is blog-driven.

But it does seem fair to say (subject, of course, to quantitative evidence to the contrary) that leading lefty bloggers themselves have taken a close interest in the Joe-Ned race, and (I think) all of those so doing are supporters of Lamont.

A key driver for this support has been Lieberman's record (at least as generally accepted in the left sphere) of being an apologist for Bush and not terribly liberal despite representing a state that could well elect at least one pretty liberal senator.

At a time when the lefty sphere was feeling its oats (Crashing the Gates, and all that), along comes Lamont who is not a mere cipher for lefty discontent but proves himself to be an able candidate.

Perfect storm!

If Lamont wins the primary, the crowing from the lefty sphere will be loud; if he wins the general, multiply that by ten.

The importance would be mostly symbolic: the bloggers wouldn't have won the election for him; but the mere fact that they were so heavily identified (probably in the MSM as well as the blogs) as Lamont backers would make an irresistible storyline. (And we know how journos love storylines!)

And symbolism in politics counts, obviously. Part of the reason why incumbents get the moolah they do is as an investment in the long term.

And the investment that the MCs themselves make (by staying in Congress, rather than doing something else more lucrative) can only be realized to the full by a dignified exit after a decent length of service. (Followed by juicy lobbying contracts and other goodies.)

Not unnaturally, incumbents will generally think that they are the best guys to represent their constituents; incumbency is a fortress that's hard to breach; for a party that's been in the minority for 12 years, my sense is that the turnover of Dems has not been as great as might have been expected.

So support for a little creative destruction would surely be a little hard to find amongst Dem MCs three months out from the general!

I'm not trying to justify (what I'm supposing to be) the views of Dem incumbents, just pointing out some reasons why those views are bound in general to be hostile to what they think Lamont represents.

As I pointed out upthread, the lesson of history is that those in charge of a machine (let's say, the Irish) would rather lose an election than win it by ceding a share of control of the machine to out-groups (say the Italians and Poles): a lost election is a one-off, the loss of Irish power would be much harder to recover.

Plus, the decentralized way that candidates are chosen militates against any large-scale renewal of the party in Congress over one or two elections. Dem leaders may therefore feel that candidacies like Lamonts create a great deal of turbulence for the party generally without actually being capable of fulfilling the promise the appear to offer.

Frankly, I think this sort of Miss Havisham wedding-breakfast of a Congressional Dem party is a ghastly prospect, for the party as a whole and for the country.

But what evidence I've seen would tend to support the conclusion you fear, that

the leadership of the party [is] so enamoured of their status are too afraid to do what needs to be done to rebuild the party.

by skeptic06 2006-07-21 05:30PM | 0 recs
Constituent Service as Canary in the Coal Mine?

What is interesting to me about Lieberman is that he is notorious for lousy constituent service - not showing up in CT to talk to people, when almost all of densely compact CT is a very easy Amtrak ride from his home in DC.  Not like he's Ted Stevens, 4,000 miles from a state with almost 900,000 sq miles of territory.

Oh wait, he has a home and is registered Democrat in CT, right, that's how he gets to run as a Democrat from CT.  Oh wait, he is changing his registration to Connecticut for Lieberman?  Hmmmm.</snark>

Snarks aside, consider the examples of Senators like Barbara Mikulski of MD, who votes surprisingly conservatively for a senator from a Smurf-blue state.  But her constituent service is amazing.  Everybody in MD - even conservative Republicans - know that Barbara is our designated "tough broad" from the marble-stoop East Baltimore school of retail politics.  She is known as one of the meanest members of Congress.  But Barbara is not attempting to be Senator At Large For Life, but Senator for one term at a time from Maryland, and she is brass-knuckle ruthless in protection of the state's interests.  So no one can touch her, Dem or GOP.

In East Baltimore, a perceived smug, self-righteous prick like Lieberman would be politically deader than yesterday's chicken.  And he probably will be pretty soon in CT as well.

by Bruce Godfrey 2006-07-21 11:18AM | 0 recs
Re: Constituent Service as Canary in the Coal Mine

You know, someone ought to do an ad in support of Lamont on that. I can't count the number of time I've seen people post, after having called Lieberman's office to share their views, "They couldn't care less." Joe may be angry, but no angrier than his constituents who have been rudely ignored in the past.

by emptywheel 2006-07-21 12:00PM | 0 recs
Bad Campaigning

I'm not from CT, but I saw Joe campaign nationally in '00 and '04.

Was he ever a good campaigner?

Maybe "privilege breeds worse campaigning," but in my book, Joe wasn't all that great to begin with, getting elected to the Senate on good PR and issue managemetn tactics more than rhetorical prowess and charisma.

It sure helps when your opponent's whining is accentuated by a characteristically whiny voice. Somebody get Joe some Senna extract, for heaven's sake.

by redstar67 2006-07-21 12:08PM | 0 recs
Joe was a great campaigner...

  ...for Dick Cheney.

by Master Jack 2006-07-21 06:03PM | 0 recs
Re: Privilege Breeds Bad Campaigning

It seems to me that this is less Wall Street and more Glengarry, Glen Ross.  Quite a few Democratic leaders have forgotten that they must Always Be Closing.

by kenfair 2006-07-21 12:41PM | 0 recs
More Like the Three Stooges!

Let the pies fly freely!  That'll keep 'em on their toes!

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-07-21 01:25PM | 0 recs
Senator Durkin

In the '70s I worked very hard to elect a Democrat to the U.S. Senate from New Hampshire, John Durkin.

He won against an entrenched Republican by the slimmest margin in US Senate history - 10 votes.

For the next six years he embarrassed both himself and those of us who worked so hard to get him elected.  He was belligerent, nasty, loud and ineffective at his job.

I don't remember that he was challenged in the primary but he should have been.  I voted for his Republican challenger in the general election, the first and last time I have ever voted Republican.  Durkin lost as he should have.

What a shame. Anybody out there remember John Durkin?

by cjfb 2006-07-21 02:04PM | 0 recs
Re: Privilege Breeds Bad Campaigning
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