The buzz on a number of lefty blogs is all about 'reform' these days. To read some of what's out there, you'd think 'reform' was a brand new idea rather than the commonplace recriminations that overtake the Democratic Party after every Presidential defeat.
A piece by Glenn Smith
at BOPnews is typical in that it betrays seeming confusion about who the Democratic Party is, and how it's organized. Smith appears to conflate "Democratic Party leaders..." with "Top Democratic consultants...", and complains that
...we shouldn't expect reform from those who stand to lose from the reforms. The Democratic establishment has absolutely no motivation to do things differently. It doesn't really matter to them who is in office. (It does matter to them who wins primaries, however, because if they lose their Dem consultant competitor wins, gets a larger market share, and that is bad for business.)
First of all, I've done business with a lot of Democratic consultants over the years, and have, on a modest scale, been one myself, and my experience is that people tend to become Democratic consultants precisely because it does matter to them who is in office. Those whose instincts are purely mercenary (and there are some) tend to blur their partisan linkage, because frankly, most years, in most races, there's more money to be made on the other side.
But the Democratic consultants aren't, for the most part, the Democratic leaders. They may, depending on their skill and interests, become Democratic media stars, but by definition, leaders are people with followers, and consultants don't have followers, they have clients.
No, the Party leadership consists of local and state Party Chairs and county, state and national Committee Members. Even the DNC Chair is overrated as a Party "leader." He's a hired hand who gets his policy direction from the Committee and the Convention and is taksed primarily as a fundraiser and manager. Most all of the true members of leadership hold their postitions because of a following they've gained among the Party grassroots who elect them to their positions. Of course, a lot of the newly minted 'netroots' folks assume they're part of the Party grassroots by virtue of their interest, but they're too often not interested in doing actual Party work. As I've said before, maintaining the grassroots Party is a pretty unglamorous affair. It falls to the folks who show up, who become precinct officers, who walk those precincts in the off years when there's nothing but a sewer commissioner and a school levy on the ballot, who do the paperwork, keep the rosters, and who, in return, get to elect the real Party leaders.
Some of the ignorance of the actual Party structure is revealed in the lists of DNC members that are in circulation by those who are lobbying the net for one candidate or another for DNC Chair. The list commonly offered for Washington state, for instance, includes our Democratic Governor, who will lose his seat since he's retiring from office in January, before the DNC reorganization at the winter meeting in February. It includes our State Chair, who is facing at least two challengers at our state reorganization in January and may or may not retain his position. Likewise, all of our elected DNC members are subject to election in January, and while I haven't heard about organized challenges, they wouldn't be all that surprising, either.
A similar reorganization is taking place in virtually every state Party. In other words, whatever you think you know about the makeup of the DNC, by February, everything you know may be wrong.
And the people who will make those decisions? They're not the people who've written the most blog posts this year, or attended the most Meet Ups, or even written the biggest checks. They're the people who've been showing up, month after month, year after year, almost unnoticed by the people who now want to reform a Party whose structure they're largely oblivious to.
There's also a widespread disconnect with Party history among some of the reformers, as reflected in Smith's observation that...
...conservative Democrats used the failed McGovern candidacy in 1972 to discourage the reformers. Nixon resigned, the Vietnam War ended, and some of the steam was lost from the movement -- because of its successes, not its failures.
...when in fact, McGovern Democrats used the failure of that campaign as the pretext to sieze control of the Party and institute a wide ranging set of reforms that were aimed at upsetting the old machine system and increasing the influence of the grassroots by emphasizing the role of the various state caucuses and primaries. That's right, the Iowa caucuses that are the targets of such widespread disdain among today's reformers owe much of their prominence in the nomination process to the reforms of the 1970s. Sometimes you need to be careful what you ask for...
Smith admits that the differences are largely about process, not policy, and his own list of policy interests (his original post is worth checking out for that alone) is, for the most part, a recapitualtion of the John Kerry campaign agenda. No, he's drawing his line between "insiders" and "outsiders" on
"...the point that we, the insurgents, want to win because our futures depend upon it. You, the insiders, no longer seem to care."
But I think he's confused about who the "you" he's talking to might be. In fact, the Democratic consultants and media stars aren't really the "insiders," though they may play them on TV. The real insiders, the grassroots, are people just like me, a grassroots Party regular for over 30 years, and we, in fact, care very much.
So much that we are inside - inside those church basements and Legion halls building a Party for the outsiders to bitch about.
But the door's wide open. Want to reform the Democratic Party?
Come on in.