The 4 Ms And The DNC Chair
by Democratic Dad, Mon Jan 17, 2005 at 03:31:19 PM EST
While our Republican friends will undoubtedly continue to twist, misquote, and selectively cite what any Democrat says, let me try to give a calm, thoughtful analysis of what I believe is important in a DNC Chair.
Like political campaigns, running a modern political party is about four general categories: Message, Money, Mechanics, and Management. In a given time or place one may be more important than the other, but at sometime and in some place, they are all important to our Party. What is most important in each of these four areas that I will discuss is another "M" word: Modernize. We must continue to modernize, to reform, to change how we handle message, money, mechanics, and management.
Each party chair stands on the shoulders of his predecessors and our next Chair must continue the efforts to modernize our Party that Terry McAuliffe has nurtured so well. Too often, the RNC has been the modernizer and we have played catch-up. Now we must be the party that uses new technology to do the old-fashioned things -- to communicate, to organize, to fundraise, to manage, but most important of all, to include while the Republicans exclude.
Most of the Media focuses solely on the Chair's role in communicating our party's message because that is all they ever see. The Media does not see the mechanics of motivating and organizing to turnout the vote. The Media does not see the organization and motivation it takes to raise the money that is necessary to run the Party. The Media does not see the management skills necessary to run an organization as large and as complicated as the DNC. Therefore, most reporters and political pundits assume that delivering the message is the most important thing a Chair does.
While defining and delivering the Democratic message is an important skill for a Chair to have, as it is for the leader of any organization, it is important to point out two limiting facts. First, it is a job that is shared by many people; and second, there is no historical basis for believing that the Chair's message is the winning message.
Defining and delivering the message of our Party will be done by many people. The simple fact is that there will be dozens of Senators, Governors, and Members of Congress on the Sunday morning talk shows much more often than the DNC Chair, no matter how "good a talker" our Chair happens to be. Without an incumbent President, Senator Harry Reid, Leader Nancy Pelosi, Governor Bill Richardson, and dozens of other elected officials will all define and deliver our message until we have Presidential candidates in 2007 and a Presidential nominee in 2008. The DNC Chair will participate in this process, but will not do it alone, particularly in comparison to the more solitary obligations of mechanics and management.
Second, history shows us to not put too much stock in the importance of a Chair's ability to define and deliver a winning message. As a former National Chair, let me tell you, when it comes to message, we are not that important.
Let me also give you a simple example. One of my heroes is our late great Chair Ron Brown. Ron Brown was a superb National Chair, but most people would agree there were differences between how he defined and delivered our Party's message in 1991 and then how our Presidential nominee, another one of my heroes, Bill Clinton, defined and delivered our Party's message in 1992. But these differences didn't matter. What mattered was what they shared -- they both won.
Many of you have been kind enough over the years to tell me that I give a pretty good speech and that I'm not bad at ripping apart the Republicans flawed arguments on TV. I appreciate the compliment, but that is the easy part. The hard part is the modernization of our message delivery system. The hard part is how we improve our message research, our opposition research, and share it with more and more people who call the Democratic Party their party. The hard part is that our National Chair's role is to not just help deliver the message, but also help build the message delivery system for all Democrats.
To reform our party, our next Chair must understand and appreciate the power of the Blogs. He or she must understand and appreciate the new marketplace of ideas that exists in the cyber world and its ability to help transform our entire world. Democrats thrive on truth, on information, on cutting though the clutter to get the real story. We will win if we are able to combat the mistruths and half-truths promulgated daily by the Bush Administration; and the internet is our most effective weapon in that battle. People believe in the myths that George Bush has created, not the reality.
The hard work is not being good on TV; it is being good at finding ways for the millions who volunteered in the 2004 Presidential Campaign to all be good at defining and delivering the Democratic message to their friends and neighbors. We must reform by de-centralizing the message and empowering millions to speak with clarity, accuracy, and authenticity. The best messenger is not the National Chair; it is your next door neighbor sending you an email or your friend knocking on your door. To empower, to include, that is how we reform our Party's message delivery system.
State Chairs, County Chairs, Campaign managers, and the next DNC Chair will still spend more of their own personal time raising money than any other activity. But the nature of that time is changing. Because of the McCain-Feingold Campaign finance laws and the boom in small donor interest, the principal skill that a DNC Chair must have has changed from charming individuals to motivating masses. The next DNC Chair must be a good salesman and be good at leading the effort to organize systems and messages that motivate millions to give.
Modernizing our Party's fundraising operations means continuing to make the investments that Terry has made to build a permanent investor class of Democrats; who will, $100 at a time, build the foundation of our Party. Modern fundraising is as much about management as it is about money.
However, there is also an important role for those individuals and organizations, particularly organized labor, that have been so supportive of our Party for so long. These investors cannot be ignored and it certainly helps to know them well, and to have positive relationships even if you disagree on some issues. Terry McAuliffe's, Steve Grossman's, Don Fowler's, David Wilhelm's, and my personal positive relationships with these fundraising leaders has helped the Party though tough times and collectively built a foundation for our Party to build on. Today there is a new generation of individuals and organization leaders, and having credibility with them is crucial to continuing to build our Party. But in the end, modern fundraising is about management and motivation, not just who you know.
Organizing is the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. While our Democratic candidates often focus solely on money, media, and message, they have that luxury because they rely on the Party for the mechanics. Here, finding ways to use new technology to do the old-fashioned things like registering voters, personally contacting voters, and turning out the vote is crucial. While by itself it is not enough to win elections, it is the Party's, as opposed to the candidate's, principal responsibility, and therefore should be the focus of the DNC Chair.
Here is the challenge and the opportunity: While Democratic fundraising in 2004 was up at least 50% from 2000, volunteerism was estimated to be up 200 - 300%. People flocked to volunteer in the Presidential campaign-- and in all the Democratic campaigns of 2004. Many State Parties reported to me that they were over-run by people wanting to get involved, wanting to make a difference. Not since the late-sixties had young, old, and people of all backgrounds, come out in such numbers and volunteered to help Democrats get elected.
I believe the principal challenge facing the DNC from 2005 to 2008 is how to keep our people involved. How do we make our Party not just the party of the National Chair, or the Executive Committee, or the DNC members, but the party of the millions of people who everyday tune in, turn on, and click to find out their party's response to the next outrageous thing the Bush Administration does and says?
The next DNC Chair must lead not just a political party, but a political cause. We have to re-imagine and reinvent how we contact people, how we talk to them, how we motivate them in the midst of their busy lives to make a commitment to the Democrats.
This is the new vanguard of the politics of inclusion. This is where our big tent needs new architecture, new engineering, new materials, and a more elastic nature. Again, fundamentally, what differentiates Democrats from Republicans is that we include and they exclude. Therefore, our organizational tactics must be about inclusion.
Of course, we need a fifty state strategy, we need to win back the South, the West, the Midwest, rural voters, `values' voters, religious voters, etc.. We've been saying that for twenty-four years. Ever since Ronald Reagan won in 1980, we have been having the same conversation about who and where we have to win again. There is nothing new in that conversation and nothing new in all the pledges by candidates to focus on places where we have not been winning.
My entire adult life has been engaged in this same political and philosophical debate, and guess what, there is no silver bullet. No easy answer. No grand scheme. It is all about details. About the unsexy, virtually-unknown, world of political mechanics.
The debate whether we go `left', `right', or some mystical third way, always ends with everyone agreeing that we must go forward, not back. Well if going forward means anything, it means embracing new technology, new ideas, new communities, and new ways of doing things. What we have done before is not wrong; it is just that new times require new strategies. Going forward means modernizing our Party.
None of this is possible without good management. It is important to remember that the DNC is a big organization with many component parts. In order to accomplish its many goals it needs many talented, motivated people. The full-time staff of the DNC, past and present, should be praised for their extraordinary work under extraordinary circumstances. From the Party's Executive Director Josh Wachs, to the receptionist and those who run the mailroom, we are blessed with a group of dedicated professionals.
As a Party, we must not only to continue to modernize the DNC's management, but modernize the management of all Party organizations: our State and County Parties, our caucuses, and our campaigns. We must be serious about adopting best-practices, decentralizing, empowering, and applying contemporary professional management to our treasured organization.
But we must also have a leader who is willing to make the tough calls. Many running for Chair will pander to you, telling you what they think you want to hear. Allow me to remind us all that leadership is about making hard choices. In the waning days of the 2000 Presidential campaign, with Al Gore and George Bush tied in the polls, I don't regret not having a fifty state strategy. I regret not moving another million dollars into Florida. Would it have found another 600 votes for the Democrats? I will never know for sure, but I know it would not have hurt.
The life of the DNC Chair is constantly about making choices. No matter how much money you raise in the end, you rarely have it in the right place at the right time to do everything you need to do. Therefore we need a DNC Chair that is tough, fair-minded, and cares about winning. But our Chair also has to be a modernizer, a reformer, someone who is willing to bring in new ideas and new people. We need educated risk-takers who understand that we are behind and are willing to work hard to catch up. These are modern management skills that must be part of the equation when selecting our next Chair.
What does it all add up to?
I began this letter by noting that I consider every candidate for DNC Chair a friend and that I would be proud to have anyone of them as our Chair. The obvious question then is why endorse anyone if they are all acceptable?
The short answer is that it is too important to remain silent. Washington politics is full of people who express no opinion unless they are paid to do so and it seems to me that now is the time to stand up and be counted. Dozens of people have asked me to do the "safe thing" and refuse to make an endorsement. We cannot afford to play it safe now. In order to beat the Republicans we must modernize and re-imagine our Party. We must take educated risks as we modernize our message, our money, our mechanics, and our management.
That is why today I am endorsing Simon Rosenberg for National Chair of the Democratic National Committee. As the President and founder of the New Democrat Network, he runs an organization dedicated to modernizing the Party. He has successfully run an organization that is more like the DNC, and more like what the DNC ought to be, than any other candidate. He is a uniter, who brings together the left and the right of our Party and knows how to win. From the Clinton War Room, to the mastery of the internet, to the support for minority media, he has delivered the message, raised the money, organized the mechanics, and managed the result as well as anyone I have ever known.
Simon is warm, gracious, has a wonderful family, and is one of the smartest political strategists in America. He brings people of all backgrounds together like Bill Clinton did, and like our former President, Simon is willing to make the hard choices.
Simon Rosenberg is the one person Karl Rove does not want to as Chairman of the our Party. Simon scares the Republicans because of his strategic smarts, wicked wit, modern views, and his ability to bring people together to re-imagine our Party. I hope you will take the time to get to know Simon and listen closely to how he plans to reenergize our Party. http://www.simonforchair.org/
Thank you again for all that you do for our Party. For your hard work, your commitment, and your passion. Together we will continue to make our great Party strong, proud, and a beacon that lights the way to the American dream.
All my best,
DNC National Chair 1999-2001
Tags: (all tags)