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Wednesday, December 8

Al From, Caricature  

In today's WSJ, Al From pens a piece that screams, "follow me, I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about!"  From has been beating the exact same drum for a very long time (these are just the most recent examples), and his advice would be very good were it not for one small detail.  National Dems have taken his advice for more than a decade and in that time have gone from controlling all three legislative bodies to controlling none and losing more ground with each cycle.  From has done great damage to our party with his (now yearlong) trench warfare against Dean, so I'm going to jump in a foxhole here and fire some shots back. One quick note.  From lost his way when Clinton actually won the presidency.  Since '92 From's sole ambition has been to hold on to his leadership position in the party.  Were Dean to approach From and ask him to be his chief advisor, From would immediately become Dean's lapdog.  Dean shouldn't do this, my point is only that From's only desire is power.  Dean's threat to him is that he, Dean, knows From is full of shit and won't give him the time of day.  On to the From op-ed.
The blood-red electoral map Democrats have been staring at since election night makes one thing clear: If we want to be a majority party again, the only road back runs through the heartland. In the blue states, 2004 was a close contest. In the red states, it was a bloodbath. Down the stretch, Democrats didn't even contest 23 of the 31 states Bush won. As a result, he won 202 electoral votes without lifting a finger. Republicans now hold 39 of 46 Senate seats in those uncontested states. [emphasis added]
Leading off From tells us that, shocker, in order to win back the presidency, Democrats need to win the heartland.  BRILLIANT!  What are those states?  Iowa, Ohio, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana.  Hey, aren't those the swing states?  So From is telling us we need to run our hardest in the swing states.  BRILLIANT!  Honestly does it get any more idiotic than this.  The location where this election was most hotly contested is the location that is crucial to winning back the presidency.  Genius.
Let Republicans be the party of Washington. Now that Republicans control the government, we're the outsiders, and we should take up the reform mantle that elected Bill Clinton in the '90s. We need to be the party of change, protecting our principles, not our programs.
Now that Republicans control the government?  Now?  NOW?  This is perhaps the clearest indication that From simply cuts and pastes his little memos, and has done so for a very long time.  Does anyone here not know who has controlled both houses of Congress for a decade (let's not kid ourselves about the Jeffords interregnum)?  Hands up.  And all of government for 4 years?  And did Kerry not pick up the 'reform mantle' in exactly the New Democrat way throughout the election?  Indeed haven't the last 4 Democratic tickets been staffed by two New Democrats?  Clinton, chair DLC.  Gore, founding member DLC.  Lieberman, chair DLC.  Edwards, DLC wunderkind, Senate New Democrat Coalition.  Kerry, DLC, Senate New Democrat Coalition.  The most amusing aspect of the entire piece is the presumption that New Democrats (and the DLC ideas) are new at all.  But, as I said, this is about power, not new ideas.
Put the same muscle into persuasion that we put into turnout. In Ohio, despite the best Democratic ground game in history, exit polls showed Republicans outnumbering Democrats by five points. We simply can't win a turnout war in red states, because the GOP has a bigger base there than we do. We should keep up our turnout efforts, but next time we also have to pour our energy, resources and best thinking into opening up a new front: changing voters' minds.
So we should make sure that our candidate gets out his message in states like Ohio.  BRILLIANT!  Of course, Kerry went to Ohio 36  times during the general election.  Add to that the huge efforts by 527s and it's difficult to say that Dems weren't out there trying to persuade voters.
Some Democrats want to write off the red states, or pretend that the same old formula will make them turn blue. Joe Trippi wrote recently on this page that Democrats' top priority should be to play to our base because only the grass roots can save the Democratic Party. To be a grass-roots national party again, we have to realize that grass won't grow in the desert.
Doesn't that passage remind you of all the framing BushCo. did with Iraq-Al Qaeda in the runup to the invasion.  Who wants to write off the red states?  Certainly not Joe Trippi.
A party that ignores the needs of state and local parties is doomed. We must begin to invest aggressively in states we continually write off in national elections. If we don't, the decline of the party in these states will continue until we're non-existent. Look at the south.
Indeed, what Trippi gets and From misses is that the grassroots do indeed exist in the desert.  And the Democrats in Arizona know a hell of a lot better than Al From on Pennsylvania Ave. does what Arizona voters want.  That's the power of grassroots.  What it isn't, most definitely, is the power of Al From's consulting job.  Back to the caricature:
We believe the heartland is a prime target for Democrats, if we put our heart into it. Let's not forget: For all the talk these past four years of a nation hopelessly divided over guns, gay rights and abortion, Bill Clinton was able to carry a dozen red states in 1992 and 1996, with the same positions as Democrats today. The Democratic Leadership Council is teeming with red-state governors and other rising stars who likewise have figured out how to champion Democratic principles in hostile territory.
Once again Al tells us that we need to focus on swing states in order to win.  Then he pulls something right out of his ass that I'd like to rub in his face.  According to the DLC website, there are 15 New Dem governors.  (To get the list enter 'governor' as position and hit search.)  Throw out  McGreevey and Musgrove since one has resigned and the other lost to bogeyman Haley Barbour.  Of the 13, I'll give Al 6 that are in red states.  Easley, NC; Holden, MO; Kernan, IN; Napolitano, AZ; Sebelius, KS; Warner, VA.  I'm being curteous by ceding AZ to the red column.  Six governors listed on their site does not a teeming bunch make.  Indeed, most damning to me is that the list does not include Brian Schweitzer the Dem who just won the governor's mansion in Montana.  A Dem that can win in MT?  Now that's a new kind of Dem.  Dare I say, a grassroots Dem, of the kind that can speak to voters in his state better than Al From.  To return to the DLC's teeming horde of governors, I have another question.  If these governors can champion democratic values in hostile territory, why couldn't governors Richardson, Holden & Vilsack deliver a victory for New Dems Kerry & Edwards on election day?  If only those 3 New Dems had been able to effectively communicate the New Dem message of the New Dem ticket, we might have had a New Dem in the White House.  Do people get more preposterous than Al From?  As a former card carrying, literally, DLC member I am ashamed that my donations helped support what is now a very stale institution.  I understand that Al is in a desperate fight to save his own power-brokering hide but he's going to have to come out with some better ammo than this drivel.  Indeed, the DLC's inability to come to grips with the post-1992 world is what makes this fight for the DNC chair so important.


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