Friday, March 14, 2008

Senator Clinton And The Democratic Party, Where Now?

Before the Texas and Ohio Primaries I stated that without a convincing win in one or both states Hillary should quit. She got that type of win in Ohio, ugly, but she got it. I stated afterwards that she should stay in because there is real value in a contested primary, the voters get a chance to measure judgment and character as well as policies; all the while allowing candidates to grow. A certain nasty undertone had followed the Clinton campaign since South Carolina, it flowered before Texas and Ohio and is now in full bloom. It is the ugliness of political opportunism. I suppose you're ready to read a call for a Clinton withdrawal.

You won't get that. I am sincerely disturbed and angered by the recent tacks taken by Hillary. They are an aspect of politics I'd much rather left to the Republicans, who have worked hard for and earned the disrespect of a large segment of society. They have the potential in this year, of all years, to splinter the Democratic Party and blow away gains in a large non-participatory piece of our electorate. There is a very real chance of serious damage to the DNC and the Dean vision of how to expand the Party's numbers and strength. Democratic dialogue has coarsened and lies and misrepresentations have been validated as strategy. This climate of opportunism run rampant occurs in a year where a campaign of principles and cool judgment and behavior could result in the gutting of the Republican machine. All these negatives outcomes and I'm not calling for a withdrawal or cease-fire?

It is absolutely necessary that this contest goes all the way to the Convention floor and the super delegates hands, with the States of Florida and Michigan right in the mix, however resolved or unresolved. The entire sack of dynamite goes to Denver, with the fuse lit. This is not a horrid foretelling, it is absolutely required by the state of the Democratic Party. We are going to have this out. We are going to use the process for what it was intended, to determine who and what the Democratic Party is. The process of proportional delegate apportionment is going to finally come into its own. The smaller pieces of State Parties are going have a say, the ability of underdog campaigns to flourish in that environment is going to come to pass, we are going to find some things out. We are going to find out where the Party officials and the elected Democrats want to go. We are going to find out what works and does not work in Democratic Party politics. The Howard Dean and the Terry McAuliff visions of the DNC are going to collide. This is going to be a brawl and it will go to the final round and end in a knock out. Sending the doctor into the ring will be pointless, because one is not going to get back up, ever.

That is exactly right. This time the fight is to the end. Some version of the Democratic Party is dead and done in Denver. November has ceased to be more than a coda in this work. The conductor has been chased from the podium by the percussion section and this song is driving hard and fast to the final crescendo. We are going to learn how the notes are strung and the result may be the end of the Democratic Party as we know it. This is the process, this is what all these years of political wilderness and dramatic and slight return of 2006 have been about. The fates of downstream candidates are going to be determined in Denver and the public perception of this latest Congress is going to play larger than anyone may have thought. The dynamics of an explosive confrontation have been building since the Clinton administration.

The elements are nearly worthy of a work of fiction. The victim hood of Hillary, the Bush destruction of what good came of Clintonism, the electoral career of Hillary, the ouster of the McAuliff faction at DNC and the Dean vision engaged. Swirling around these characters was the atmosphere set by an out of control Republican Congress rubber stamping an out of control President who bulldozed a Democratic Congress and there was fear. Fear and naked blatant fear mongering. Narration was provided by the Machiavellian Rove and the politicization of government to its bowels. And there was a new and charismatic black Senator. The mood is set, the characters in place, and the conflict defined.

There are four main actors in two separate and yet linked conflicts. The Dean version of grass roots small money all states bottom up responsibility against the McAuliff autocratic big money 50%+1 wins and consultant driven corporatism is the underlying conflict. The really visible actors are Hillary and Obama, two different visions of political practice. Both are politicians, no mistake, but Hillary offers up a school of political thinking that sees the vote margin gained now, through whatever opportunism, as the end political capital, one vote margin, however gotten, allows the political agenda to go forward with its ends justifying its manner of achievement. Disaffected voters for the opponent are dispensable, the purpose is the win. The Obama campaign predicates its win as based on the enlargement of the electorate and its activation as a political force, and not only its win, but its hopes of governing. It is the philosophy of inclusion to the extent of creating a public force for its agenda surpassing that of the opponent in the General Election. Such a campaign is restricted in scope in a Democratic Primary, it must by definition not be perceived as divisive or opportunistic and it must project an aura of reasonableness and concern for the opposition.

These conflicts would be explosive taken singly, they are not separate but linked and more than that they are each catalysts for the other. The Obama campaign set out on a 50 state strategy, mimicking the Dean operation and built solid and successful organizations everywhere it went. Along with that strategy was the idea that every voter counted and the creation of new voters counted and the only way to get there was to bring them something new and different. Proportional awarding of delegates rewards that strategy, losses are minimized and gains maximized. There is no base, there is the creation of an entirely new base, but this base is deeply skeptical of the old order. They are brought to belief reluctantly and once activated relentless, the fire of converts. They are a dangerous force, almost as dangerous to their creator as the opponent; a single instance of opportunism by their champion laid bare and they're gone. They are fierce in their opposition to perceived opportunism in their opponent.

Hillary was schooled in the nastiness of politics, what lessons of selective ethics she had not already learned before the White House were driven home there. Her hate driven persecution by Republicans over small time ethical lapses and her recovery from it with an ardent base taught the lesson that gains taken through virtually any means are only meaningful if you win. The shady dealings not only resulted in profits but were wiped out by surviving an all out assault. The Republican failure to achieve criminal prosecution became a success, it all went away except with the people who hated her for it and they were just short of a majority. (I am neglecting, deliberately, the skeptics) The strategy of 50%+1 is validated, you need only barely win and everything works out - your husband is reelected, you are a hero with book deals, and afterwards a Senate run. The woman the nasty Republican men tried to crush is victorious. But care must be taken to stay safe and unassailed, the 50%+1 means you are always walking a political tightrope, 50%-1 will not work and you've been a part of a Democratic bloodbath, already. Here is Terry McAuliff, the architect of 50%+1 and big money and master of DNC's string of losses and the evaporation of that money. Congress is a touchy deal, normally incumbency is a safety mechanism, but it you've widely depended on narrow support and the public mood shifts a little, you will be wiped out. Neither Party has sufficient registered voters to count solely on them for a win. The 50%+1 strategy counts on getting your members out, picking up some Independents and suppressing the turn out of the other guy and his piece of Independents. The Republicans have run this one hard. It depends on an enthusiastic base, a partial appeal to the middle and the demonizing of the opposition. The lower the general turnout the larger the effect of your base. The Hillary campaign knows this and runs with near 50% negatives, additional voters are only a threat, unless they fear the demon.

Where this contest has gotten was predetermined as soon as Obama started winning. The McAuliff strategy came up short and the inevitable candidacy had turned into a bust as the 50 state every delegate strategy rolled. There was only one alternative and that was the kitchen sink, suppress turnout and demonize the opponent while scaring the base. The party regulars must be appeased so the opponent's successes must be minimized, despite alienating voters. Illegitimate contests are touted, no matter the damage to the Party machinery - it already isn't in line with the campaign's strategy.

One of these philosophies is going to succeed and the linkages between the conflicts means that one or the other is dead as a candidacy and as a party methodology. If the divisive opportunistic philosophy wins, the Party will explode. The Dean and McAuliff models cannot coexist and the scorched earth strategy will not keep the activist new comers and idealists and may drive out long time loyalists who were not in the Clinton base. With the DNC already unfairly stressed by the Michigan and Florida debacles it will only take a little of Terry McAuliff to set off a wholesale exit and loss of income following the loss of reputation. A blown apart Party will not win in November and the chances of putting the wreckage back together will be small, downstream candidates will have suffered and no one will trust the Democratic Party with their visions again for a very long time. The destruction wreaked by an unreformed Republican Party over the next 4-8 years with an ineffective Democratic opposition will be fearful. The numbers of disgruntled Obama supporters who will bail in November is steadily climbing from the initial low numbers and there will be scant arguments to be made to them.

Within the Democratic Party this is a fight to the finish and there are two endings, and one really stinks. The entire Party from voters to super delegates needs to look carefully at where it wants to go and to remember that there are two potential victims in this, the Party and the Nation. The lines are clearly drawn, now.


KISS said...

Questions arise such as: Will this be another '68 convention, sure glad it is not in Chicago? Will this be a backroom deal? Super delegates seem to be a way to counter proletariat involvement.
How much have the dimmos lost, in that the repugs were on the ropes? Could that phrase from Dennis Green fit? "They were who we knew they were and we left them off the hook".This just might be the phrase of 2012.
This is a good time for dimmos to go after Gordon Smith..he's bombing my e mail several times this week...might he be scared?

Chuck Butcher said...

68 with riots, I doubt that.

I don't know about back room, there certainly will be appeals from the floor for one position or the other. How the Supers will vote is their choice and the when of making it is theirs.

The sources of input are in the super's hands. I would say that their function in this sort of thing is to look at what is going on and try to make a judgment about it. Remember that a sizable portion of the supers are DNC people and that does not mean advovates of the status quo in politics. There may be some differences between DNC people and elected officials, but they are all elected, just a bit different bases. I don't pretend to know how this ends, that is one reason I wrote this article.