The 50-State Fallacy
by ASDem, Wed Jun 11, 2008 at 01:58:23 PM EDT
This week, the Obama campaign announced that it would be placing paid staff in all 50 states over the next five months. This is a huge symbolic and strategic move that deserves the support (and, frankly, the awe) of everyone in Democratic politics.
I've seen a couple prominent figures and diarists around the blogosphere suggesting that Obama's move is somehow a vindication of Howard Dean's 50-state strategy. I respectfully disagree. I never supported Dean's version of the 50-state strategy and, if anything, Obama's decision has proven to me why Dean's was flawed in the first place.
More on the other side...
When he announced the "50-state strategy" in 2005, Chairman Dean's essential argument was that he was going to use the funds raised by the DNC between presidential election cycles to build party infrastructure even in places where electoral victories at the time looked nearly impossible. Put another way, Dean's implemented an investment strategy, focused on producing benefits that would likely not be realized within his tenure as Chairman.
This kind of forward looking deserves to be commended - it frankly should be a model for our elected officials to follow - and I have absolutely no quibble with it...in theory.
My issue with the Dean "50-state strategy" was that, in practice, it ignored the problem of limited resources. The DNC - at the time of the announcement of the strategy and indeed to this day - simply does not have the money both to invest in places where electoral victory is unlikely AND to spend the money necessary to win in the current electoral cycle. There are probably a lot of you reading this post right now that would love to put more money into your IRA but simply can't (or better yet, shouldn't) because there are more pressing things to do with your money - like pay for your next visit to the pump or save up for those looming back -to-school expenses coming up in August.
Put another way, I think Chairman Dean's error was one of timing. The DNC was ill-equipped to launch a 50-state strategy in 2005 because there was no cause that would rally the rank-and-file to contribute money in the amount necessary to satisfy immediate obligations and to prepare for future ones. And in a battle between paying the bills and saving for retirement, I think paying the bills wins. Put another way, what if Terry McAuliffe had decided to launch a 50-state strategy in 2001 rather than put pretty much all of the DNC's resources into electing Mark Warner Governor of Virginia?
Today, however, the timing is impeccable for the 50-state strategy to be put into full effect. Because of Senator Obama's fundraising capacity, the Obama campaign - NOT THE DNC - is able to make plays for Alabama and Oklahoma without sacrificing in Ohio and Iowa. Because of the passions and interest inspired by the primary campaign, there is a palpable excitement out there waiting to be unleashed - a potential energy ever ready to be converted into kinetic. And assuming that Senator Obama wins the presidency in November, the next DNC Chair has an obligation to use the infrastructure developed during this campaign to continue a robust 50-state strategy for as long as resources allow.
To those who argue that the 50-state strategy is responsible for our victories in 2006 and 2008: with due respect to you (and the Chairman), I think that the credit has as much to do with the strength of our candidates and public opinion shifting against the war as it does with the success of the 50-state strategy. It is the combined efforts of Chairmen McAuliffe and Dean, Congressmen Emanuel and Van Hollen, and Senators Schumer, Kerry, Edwards, Clinton, and Obama - and the continued disgrace that is President Bush - have brought us to this point. Kudos to Senator Obama and Chairman Dean for taking full advantage of the opportunity that has now presented itself.