Saturday, November 27, 2004

"Red" States Part III

If you heard Ring of Fire tonight on Air America, you have a pretty good idea of some of the other points in this series. During a discussion with Thomas Frank (author of What's the Matter With Kansas?) many points came up. If you weren't able to hear tonight's episode, it will be rebroadcast tomorrow (Sunday).

Online listeners can go to for information on when it will air. (Six p.m. eastern standard time, if that helps.) Should you be unable to listen then and still want to hear it, you can check which archives broadcasts of each show. (Saturday's Ring of Fire is not yet in their archives.)

Did the "red" states "go" to Bush? Yes, they did. Which is an electoral college issue. I'm not going to dwell on this too much because I think we all got an education in the electoral college during November & December of 2000 (like Randi Rhodes, I won't call that period a recount). But the point is we do not directly elect a president in this country.

As a result, "effective" campaigning focuses on swing states that are considered up for grabs. This should worry every voter regardless of whether someone grabbing the crayons is planning on coloring you blue, red or whatever. On the ground reporting via e-mails of election 2004 consistently speak of problems that go beyond whether or not Kerry visited a state or advertised there.

This is what "Red" States Part I's e-mail was referring to regarding party structure. The e-mailer visited various states while working for a 527 and time and again a decaying infrastructure was found. E-mails from "blue" states and "red" states echo this. If you were fortunate enough to live in a swing state, monies were being spent on your local Democratic headquarters. For the rest of the states that weren't considered to be in play, e-mailers consistently complain about either no headquarters in their area, or understaffed headquarters, or headquarters with inadequate campaign materials.

"Effective" campaigning may help with one election but when it's done repeatedly, when "bean counters" are utilizing the party infrastructure work laid down in the past but not putting time into maintaining the infrastructure (or increasing it), it's hurting the party and this needs to be addressed.

Let's say there's Highway X and Highway Z. Highway X is a competative state so each time Congress funds monies for highway repairs, Highway X gets redone. That's great for Highway X and everyone using Highway X but in the meantime Highway Z is falling apart if this pattern continues.

And from the e-mails it appears that non-swing states, "red" or "blue," are turning into Highway Z.

Falling into the "red" states myth lets the DNC skirt this issue. But this is a serious issue the party needs to address.

In the past, we've heard the argument that there wasn't enough money. That the Democratic party didn't have the money to compete with the Republican party. That argument's been used to death for everything from headquarters to the underfunding of College Democrats (College Republicans are invested in by their party).

The issue of college organizations came up mainly with Gen X-ers who e-mailed their recollections of campus days when they were lucky to have the money, for instance, for coffee and sodas at their meetings but College Republicans were doing movies or having speakers address them. (The organizational skill and push behind College Republicans beginning in the eighties is a topic Janeane Garofalo has addressed on The Majority Report. I'd encourage people interested in this topic to ask that the show devote a segment to it. Garofalo's enthusiasm on the subject indicates to me that she'd be receptive to the idea if the listeners were interested in. You can also read David Brock's Blinded by the Right for his own experience on campus as well as his latest book The Republican Noise Machine: Right-Wing Media and How It Corrupts Democracy.)

Today's college students who e-mailed were asked about this issue and apparently if you're at a big enough school you usually have a fairly well funded organization. But regardless of big (or "important") campus or small campus, time and again the e-mailers stated it was the 527s who were doing the most work with them.

If it's a money issue, then it's one the DNC needs to be addressing with members of the Democratic party. Not making decisions on their own that are never discussed or commented on with us "average folks." (Also known as voters, contributers and the life-blood of the Democratic party.)

As for the local headquarters, from "red" states I heard repeatedly that the county headquarters were a gathering place where people (especially people over the age of fifty) would drop in for coffee. They'd grab up fact sheets and study them, talk about them. "I felt armed with information," wrote seventy-one-year-old Eli. "I could talk to my grandchildren about these things and say, 'Look, here's what's being proposed.'" This election cycle, Eli had to get online to find out what the Kerry campaign was proposing ("Peter Jennings and Terry Moran didn't seem to want me to know") and whereas before he could sharpen his points by discussing them with others at his local headquarters, this election "I felt like I was just saying, 'Yes, it is!' to their 'No, it isn't!' I wasn't prepared because I didn't have anyone to bounce it off of ahead of time."

In rural counties especially, the county headquarter acted as a public common where Democrats could meet. One woman who was sixty-eight e-mailed that when their headquarters didn't open this election year it "felt like a slap in the face." As a widow of many years with children living in other states, she wrote that she had come to count on that interaction a great deal. "Did they lose my vote?" she asked. "No, but who knows how many walk ins they lost out on? Old, young, we all gathered there, some with minds decided, others looking for reasons to even vote, not just vote for a specific candidate."

These were places to connect and to provide information and the e-mails lamenting the demise of the ones in their area is seventy-five.

This may seem like a small issue but think about how, in many towns and cities, when a factory closes down the people are left out of work. They may not want to go to work for Wal-Mart but that might be the only thing the town has to offer. In terms of social interaction, the Democratic party closed down the factories in many areas. Lifelong Democrats like the woman above and Eli aren't going to sign up with their local Republican chapter but both wondered whether younger people might just for the interaction that's no longer present in their areas?

"Foreman says these jobs are going boys, and they ain't coming back," as Bruce Springsteen sang/wrote in "My Hometown."

What is our party doing?

Maybe they're doing the right thing, maybe they are not. But that's an issue and, when we're lost in talk of "Jesus Land," that's an issue that's not being addressed or even acknowledged. Decisions were made, right or wrong, and we're now in the autoposy stage and these decisions aren't being noted, let alone questioned.

Here's another issue that's not being addressed, the funding of candidates for races, candidates who act as though it's embarrassing to be a Democrat and as such will not admit in advertising that they are a member of the Democratic party.

I had fourteen e-mails complaining about Texan Martin Frost who was running for the U.S. House this year and lost. Due to redistricting, incumbent Congressman Frost found himself competing against Republican incumbent Pete Sessions. This race may have been so well funded because it was two incumbents duking it out.

But the questions the fourteen e-mails asked were questions that deserve answers. If Frost will not use the term "Democrat" in his advertising, if he will not put that term or "Democratic Party" on his yard signs, and if he's running commericals to demonstrate how much closer he is to George W. Bush, why is all that money being poured into his race?

Does the party exist to further one person, or does it exist for the party? Even had Frost won, the questions here would still be valid. As the fourteen noted, when adults in that Congressional district went to vote, the ballot clearly told them which candidate was of which party. So what's the message a campaign like Frost's sends out? That you need to hide in the partisan closet if you're a Democrat? That being a member of the Democratic party is a liability?

Is the goal just to get Frost elected? If so, that short term goal is harmful to the party if the underlying message is "we can't compete if people know we're Democrats." Frost wasn't the only example I received e-mails on. He was, however, the candidate that I received the most e-mails about.

In 1992, I can remember hearing that some candidates for Congress and state wide office were not "comfortable" being linked to the presidential nominee Bill Clinton. And the "solution" utilized was to let them run on their own: Don't make them be linked to Clinton because it could hurt them. I didn't agree with that policy in 1992. But now we're entering an even worse stage -- where some candidates are happy to take the monies but apparently being linked to the party that provides the monies is not something they're willing to do.

If that's the case, I'd argue those candidates need to find a new party. I don't care if it was Ted Kennedy saying, "I can't run as an acknowledged Democrat" (which, granted, Senator Kennedy would never say); if that's the way they're going to run their campaign then they need to collect their own funds for their campaigns from individuals. They do not need Democratic Congressional Committee funds, or DNC funds or anything coming from the Democratic party.

This seems very basic to me. For instance, if you're low on cash and you need me to cover you for lunch, don't then pass me in the hall and act as though you don't me. If your car won't start and you come to me for a jump, don't then walk past my place without nodding to me.

In a campaign politics class many years ago, the professor told a story about a candidate she was a consultant for. He had recevied a large chunk of change from a local group. The head of the group (it was a GBLT group) showed up one day to have her photo taken with the candidate, something the candidate had offered to do. The professor explained, with great drama, how she couldn't allow that to happen and how hard she had to work to prevent a photo being taken of the candidate with "that kind of woman."

The class was outraged and the professor couldn't understand why. Put it off to a generational gap if not homophobia. But we're now at a point where we have candidates who want to run as a Democrat but not "a Democrat like John Kerry" or to run with Democratic money but not to advertise the fact that they are Democrats.

Not opening headquarters in local areas and funding candidates who run for election for themselves but not for the party sends a message.

"Red" States Part III was going to discuss the message in different terms (as indicated in the closing of Part II) but I've been going through the print outs of the e-mails for most of the day and the issues above were important ones that people who e-mailed were very passionate about.