Two Roads Diverged In the Woods for the DNC...
by Chris Bowers, Thu Mar 29, 2007 at 11:17:15 AM EDT
I generally despise Robert Frost, but quoting him here seems relevant, given several stories today surrounding Howard Dean, Harold Ford, Iraq and fundraising. First, remember how, in the wake of historic Democratic victories last November, James Carville became the front-man for an anonymous group of rich donors, narrow-targeting television consultants, and ultra-conservative Democrats who wanted Harold Ford Jr. to replace Howard Dean as DNC Chair:
Some big name Democrats want to oust DNC Chairman Howard Dean, arguing that his stubborn commitment to the 50-state strategy and his stinginess with funds for House races cost the Democrats several pickup opportunities.That is how the Democratic Party was run in the recent past: to appeal to large donors as much as possible. Further, before the grassroots and the progressive movement starting taking an ownership role, it led to statements like this becoming the face of the Democratic Party:
The candidate being floated to replace Dean? Harold Ford.
Says James Carville, one of the anti-Deaniacs, "Suppose Harold Ford became chairman of the DNC? How much more money do you think we could raise? Just think of the difference it could make in one day. Now probably Harold Ford wants to stay in Tennessee. I just appointed myself his campaign manager."
Former Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., the new chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), yesterday said he does not agree with efforts by Congress to set a deadline for U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq.With Ford as DNC chair, we would have been regularly treated to statements that contradicted the hopes and beliefs of somewhere between 95%-99% of the Democratic Party's rank and file, not to mention the work of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Instead, without Ford, we are treated to statements like this:
"I think most Americans want to win, they don't want to see us leave early, and if we leave prematurely, we may create a broader set of conflicts and invite a bigger problem in that region than before leaving," Mr. Ford said.
The Democratic-controlled Senate ignored a veto threat and voted Thursday for a bill requiring President Bush to start withdrawing combat troops from Iraq within four months, dealing a sharp rebuke to a wartime commander in chief.I'll take the latter, thank you very much. A Democratic controlled congress voting to end the war rather than Democrats out of power trying to forge their way back in by appearing identical to Republicans--that is not even a choice. Lots more in the extended entry.
In a mostly party line 51-47 vote, the Senate signed off on a bill providing $122 billion to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also orders Bush to begin withdrawing troops within 120 days of passage while setting a nonbinding goal of ending combat operations by March 31, 2008.
I'm sure it is just a coincidence that now Emanuel isn't at the DCCC, we aren't seeing those anti-Dean stories anymore, and that once his role in the supplemental fight was reduced, we actually managed to pass a bill with a deadline. Consider the following passage from subscription-only Roll Call:
Since Dean assumed the helm of the Democratic National Committee in early 2005, cooperation between the party chief and leaders on Capitol Hill was hampered by sparring over spending priorities and funding of competitive House and Senate contests. Dean's proclivity for off-the-cuff remarks and tendency to spark controversy further fueled his tense relations with some Members of Congress.It is nice that the friction is gone, and Van Hollen--who I think holds a lot of promise--is getting along swimmingly with Dean. You certainly did not see articles this this about Dean when Rahm was in charge of the DCCC. To continue quoting from the Roll Call story, it is also cool that the large donors seems to be falling in line
But with new Democratic majorities now controlling the House and Senate agenda, party insiders say Dean has settled into his role as chairman and that relations with his Hill counterparts appear to be running more smoothly.
"We are cooperating going forward," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said in a recent interview, adding that despite some internal party dust-ups with Dean in the past, "everyone is on the same page" heading into 2008.
The most recent example of that cooperation came on the Iraq supplemental spending bill, when House Democrats took Dean up on his offer to make calls to whip support from liberal Democrats for the measure and its timeline for troop withdrawal from Iraq. The bill passed the House by a thin margin last week.
Dean regularly squabbled with Van Hollen's DCCC predecessor, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), who believed the DNC's 2006 fundraising strategy relied too heavily on a national blueprint at the expense of key House and Senate races.
After Van Hollen became chairman he said he welcomed Dean for a tour of the DCCC offices and introductions to staff. Looking ahead, Van Hollen said Democrats are coordinating with Dean on the party's political plans, and the DNC chairman also gave the DCCC an early "good faith" donation -- a measure that knowledgeable Democrats said has been done before.
Dean faced public criticism from some on the Hill in the previous cycle not only because the DNC's fundraising lagged behind its GOP counterpart but also because the DNC had a much higher burn rate, leaving the committee far behind the Republicans in available cash on hand.As I said, this is cool, but with an overall fundraising increase of between $5.5-$6M, if large donors only represent $1.5M of that increase, the vast majority of the increase came from small donors. Still, if bigger donors are going to take a "if you can't beat them, join them" attitude, I am all for it. However, the truth is, that whether or not the same large donors who recently were backing Dean's ouster in favor of Ford have now come around does not really matter in terms of the safety of Dean's position. The source of Dean's strength comes from two groups who form what I have previously termed an alliance of the ignored: state party chairs and progressive movement activists. Under the guidance of DLC-nexus, the wishes of state Democratic parties in places like Nebraska were as easily tossed aside as the wishes of progressive movement activists: only the large donors mattered. By way of contrast, Dean is willing to pay attention to, and help solve, the needs and desires of both groups, who jointly hold enough power to form an activist majority within Democratic politics. This is actually one of the reasons why many large donors don't like Dean--he pays attention to people other than large donors, who typically don't like seeing any of their power and influence decline. At the same time, one problem with making your support base a bunch of rich donors and consultants is that there just are not that many rich donors and consultants (at least in the Democratic Party), and so you will always be outnumbered.
So far this cycle the DNC is keeping closer pace with the Republican National Committee. At the end of February the DNC showed $7 million in the bank while the RNC had more than $10.7 million on hand. The DNC is still shouldering $4 million in debt from the previous cycle, money that the committee diverted to Congressional races.
The DNC expects to report raising $14 million in the first three months of 2007. By comparison, the committee took in $8.3 million in the first three months of 2003, the beginning of the previous presidential cycle.
For all of the progress we have made in the Democratic Party and the progressive movement these past few years, I shudder to think just how close we came to suffering a wealthy donor coup that would have squashed the grassroots, dismantled the fifty-state strategy, undercut us in our attempts to end the war despite its unpopularity, and installed a right-winger who somehow managed to lose an open Senate seat in the best Democratic year since 1974 as our new spokesperson. It would have been a total, and utter, backslide. Ironically, that is the true path of contemporary, electoral McGovernism, even though we in the progressive movement are the ones most often accused of walking the party down such a road. As I said at the start of this post, two roads diverged in the woods for the DNC, and we choose the one that led us out of the wilderness.