Hackett, Controll, Risk-taking and the Democratic Party
by bruh21, Tue Feb 14, 2006 at 04:28:55 PM EST
I was one of those people who supported Paul Hackett's run for Senate in Ohio. I am not from the state. Therefore, this may seem odd that I would even care to have a horse in the race. However, let's start off by dispelling some myths. I didn't support Hackett because I thought he was or was not progressive. I didn't support him because of his policies. I didn't even support him because he was an Iraqi vet. I supported him because he was a new idea. One, which as an outsider to politics, I think the Democratic Party needs desperately to find. When I came to this blog (and D Kos) in late 2004, what interested me was that Kos stated what I felt privately: The Democratic Party had lost its way. It's not about triangulation, being on the left, left of center or moderate. Indeed, I have repeatedly said openly that I am in fact a moderate. But, this isn't for me about moderation, conservativism, or being liberal. It's about having two strong political parties because one powerful party controlling everything always leads to disaster.
More below about my thoughts (for what they are worth)
First, let me say that I am a moderate. If you want to do the issues approach, I am probably a follower of the Powell Doctrine in foreign policy mixed in with some Clinton's belief on foreign policy. We can't do everything, we should do something, but when we do it, we should do it with such overwhelming force that we could fight two wars. My opposition of Iraq flowed from this moderate stance. Similarly, if you were to ask my opinion of such divergent issues as abortion, civil rights, gay rights, in all case, I believe there is a middle ground toward incremental change and protection of rights. This may not make me the most liberal guy here, but where I share connections to the left is that I know which values butter my bread.
In the last few years, I have watched as what I thought were moderate values shift under the quicksilver of meaningless word shifts between what is considered liberal or conservative. The truth is there are no more liberals and conservatives in this country. Just a hodgepodge of issues and teams. The team I am on- is the Democractic Party. Yet, for a long while I have realized something is wrong with my party. It's not a wrongness of ideas. Most, if pressed, can give you great ideas. It's a wrongness of execution, resolve, and yes, character.
Where, I thought Hackett appealed was that, whatever you thought of his opinion, you respected it. You could call him hothead, but that to me was better than being bland and not capable of generating buzz. We live in a pop culture society- the more the politicos ignore this fact, the more I feel we will lose. This is the new idea that Hackett brought to the table. He reminded us that Clinton didn't win due to issues- he won due to personality.
I read a great post on another blog- about how George Bush has a cult of personality. And this is true. But, personality, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. For some Democrats, I think they see any charismatic appeal as a sign that someone is not legitimate, and has not proven their bona fides. I think we need to understand there are differing approaches that appeal to voters in different ways. What Hackett would have been an opportunity to show - was what exactly that means.
We need to experiment. And, yet, we have a leadership, both off and online that seems only capable of believing in experimentation in only the most rhectorical sense.
I do applaud the support of a challenge to Lieberman. The reason being that I support this challenge as a means toward seeing how the party can exert party discipline on wayward leaders- another of many issues including rebuilding the local parties, better branding, etc that the party faces. But, on other areas, the party needs to also experiment. To take risks. In poker, one learns that if one is too predictable (as the Democrats often are) then your opponents (in this case the Republicans) can use your own psychology against you. That's why the bluff is crucial in Texas Hold'em No Limit. The point here is not to take all risks, but to take some risks. And, time and again, whether it was coming out against Alito when it mattered (which was after his nomination, and not at the hearings or duing the vote) or it was on a myriad of other issues the leadership has been afraid of risk. Nothing can be gained at this point with being afraid of risk. We are in the minority status- we have more to gain by risking, than by not. We have more to lose as well- but what does it matter when you already below a point of being able to effect anything substantively except at the edges.
I thik the party smells blood in the water with Republican scandals. They believe that a combo of policy wonkery and the scandals will be enough to carry the tide. I hope they are right- so that our long national nightmare can be at an end. But, counting on this, and not realizing your opponent will becoming up with strategies of their own, immigration, gay rights, terrorism, our team versus their team are just a few that they will conjure and use. I think to really gain big in the fall, we need to keep the other side off kilter. To have them never see it coming. To leave them guessing. Our predictability, the inability to risk a bluff, to experiment, the inability to let go of the control that we have been used to having as a national party is what is killing us. To suceed we need to not only rebuild the local party, I think we need to become a lab for experimentation. If nothing else, we need to learn this from the enemy- change can be your friend. The Republicans have both been consistent, and not so consistent. Modern conservatives have changed with the times. Democrats, strategically, have not.
So, when Kos (over at D Kos) argues that we needed to fear a primary challenge in Ohio. I am thinking of our fear of risk. What does this say about whether we have a strategy to suceed outside of our enemy's failures? Is that our strategy?
I don't have any easy answers. I just find all the easy answers given thus far problematic. What are accepted risks that you are willing to take? Define them for me and others, and we would be less likely to question your sincerity about change. I know you don't give a shit what I think- but I do know something else. I have been asking everyone I can think of. Some of them unsavory, some of them cool, from the left and right what they think of our party. Some of you will reduce this to what the media presents of us, but I think you do this as your peril. Sometimes you have to look in the mirror to figure out how to win. What they have been saying to me is that we are chickenshits- that if we can't fight the Republicans, how can we fight terrorists? More importantly I think is the question of how do we change this perception. The Hackett experiment was one viable idea. But, the party fears a lose of control. The things that got them into office are not necessarily the things that are needed to regain control of Congress. This is an important point that needs to be re-emphasized: winning one election where you in the process you have lost control of Congress is winning a battle at the expense of the war. I see Hackett- not as threat as Kos has put it to our chances in the fall against DeWine, but a threat the the leaderships need to control the process. I can understand that need, but as a result, new ideas are stiffled. We will never know if Hackett could have caught on because all we are left with is wonkery about what-ifs. I suppose he could have stayed in- that was his choice to make. What bothers me, isn't him, or Brown, but the lost chance of finding a new way to think of ourselves as Democrats. And we, the the minority party, need all the new ideas we can muster.