Saturday, January 15, 2005

Opinion: A guide for picking through the trash can that is Nagourney's writing in this morning's New York Times

As a reporter, Adam Nagourney is pretty much useless this morning with his random musings entitled "Ideology, Sure, but the Democrats Want a Winner, Too."

If that seems harsh, we don't applaud bad reporting here.

Nagourney repeatedly undercuts Howard Dean in recent articles (no surprise there considering his past writing). That a "senior" poltical correspondent for the Times repeatedly fails to grasp Dean's record is embarrassing. (In fairness, Nagourney may feel Dean's changed so much in the last two years that his public record, while in office, no longer is an accurate reflection.)

Dean's not a flaming liberal. (If he were, that wouldn't be a bad thing.) I've offered my opinion that he came alive and internalized the speeches he gave during his primary campaign. The supporters (and their feedback) made him a better candidate and Dean was transformed. I compared it to an actor who internalizes the role and becomes the character. That's not intended as an insult or to imply that Dean is "acting." Many great actors have internalized a role and carried characteristics and attributes of the role into their lives. Another way to word it would be to say Dean had an awakening.

When Sam Seder offered a critique of Dean on The Majority Report, a number of you felt he got it wrong. He didn't. It was his opinion based upon Dean's record in office. You can disagree with his opinion (as many of you did) but Seder was informed re: Dean's record. Nagourney shows no indication of knowing anything other than "water cooler talk."

Other journalists might be embarrassed by their lack of knowledge, Nagourney sports it like a merit badge today.

At one point, Nagourney writes:

Even Dr. Dean is spending his time on the bread-and-butter issues, promising that the Democratic National Committee will pick up the salaries of executive directors of state parties and, for the most part, steering clear of ideology.

"Even?" You have to be pretty lazy (and pretty uniformed) to think this is something new for Howard Dean.

But you can pull useful information from Nagourney's article. Understand that, intentionally or not, Nagourney's advocating a rightward-move. Whether he cares one way or another where the Democratic party goes is debatable; however, he's clearly interested in maintaining his network of sources and, judging by their quotes, they are advocating a move to the right.

He writes about Martin Frost with no understanding of Frost. Frost is credited, without question by Nagourney, with "his success electing Democrats when he headed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee." I don't know that "success" there has anything to do with Frost. (That's like saying Democrats were successful in electing Congressional members in 1992 due to their own efforts when the gender quake at play clearly had a lot to do with the treatment of Anita Hill.)

Frost's failures have been outlined at this site by Common Ill members from his district. He wouldn't declare himself a Democrat in his advertising for his 2004 race (a race he lost, by the way); in a televised debate with Pete Sessions (who won), Frost attempted to come off as closer to Bush than Sessions; etc.

But let's cut to the basics. Will his whiney tone of voice fly? No. And he's got none of the regional quality of Jim Hightower or Molly Ivins. By that I mean, he's got no amusing way to tell an anecdote. So you've got his monotone and his lack of getting points across. This is someone who should be on TV speaking as DNC chair?

Let's also note his obvious physical flaw -- he's Phil Gramm before his hair turned grey. When Frost speaks, it's snooze-fest time. (Even when he briefly had his spat with Nancy Pelosi, Frost came off more like someone irritated by the wait in line at the grocery store than someone with passion.)

When Frost speaks of expanding the base, those Common Ill members from his district feel that he means "pulling from the fundamentalists in the right wing" (to use Billie's term).

If you're not Howard Dean, you apparently can say whatever and that's fine because you're not a big enough name to have hit the "water cooler" set; therefore, Nagourney's not interested in weighing in on you.

A Winding Road has dealt with Tim Roemer:

Someone, perhaps, like the newest candidate, former Congressman Tim Roemer, who like Reid is Anti-Choice. No doubt he's right up Reid's alley when it comes to someone who doesn't 'just' appeal to the Progressive wing of the party.Since when were Progressives a 'wing' of the Democratic party? That's the problem right there, actually. Democrat and Progressive should go hand in hand, but the party has been hijacked since the Clinton era by people who just do not get it. People who rush to jump into bed with Corporate American and pay what is increasingly just lip service to Working Class America.And now, in the year 2005, there is actually a real debate about whether the Democratic party should support Abortion Rights in its platform!

A head's up to Monday's Unfiltered on Air America Radio. Lizz Winstead and Rachel Maddow will have Kate Michelman ( on to address the push by some Democrats to move the party away from reproductive rights. I'd encourage everyone who's able to listen, to do so. You can listen online at

But let's break it down for those wobbly Dems who feel we're either rushing to an abortion at every lunch break or else rushing someone to one. Many people who support reproductive rights do so for a number of reasons. Some do so because they feel it's not the government's business. The Court's decision in Roe v. Wade was based on privacy rights. So to those who want to curry favor with the anti-choice crowd, they might consider (and the anti-choice crowd should consider this as well) that once reproductive rights is not a privacy matter but one the government has a say in, it always has a say in it. What does that mean? Ask China about family planning. Once you surrender a privacy right, the government can make whatever decision they choose to. That might mean, at some point, the government making a decision re: overpopulation that we need to start imposing a one child rule. There are people who are personally opposed to abortion but support reproductive choice and if the Dems want to go "big tent" they might try acknowledging those people instead of attempting to water down their support for a privacy right that repeatedly demonstrates (in polls) continued strong support in this country.

Roemer's hardly setting the country on fire (despite 'support' from Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi -- 'support' defined as their urging him to run). And he won't. To his anti-choice stance add in the weight of the 9-11 commission (which Roemer served on) and the problems with that commission. (Letting the Bully Boy practice same-sex testimony because he refused to speak to the commission without Cheney at his side, refusing to raise the issues Sibel Edmonds brought to the commission's attention; apparent conflicts of interest; etc.).

When you add together his anti-choice stance, the 9-11 Committee and his work as "a key spokesperson for Mercatus Center's Capitol Hill outreach and education program" ( -- an organization that's worked toward deregulation on various guidelines -- including environmental ones -- you've got someone who's not going to please the base. The usual e-mail to this site on Roemer can be summed up as "Spineless, anti-choice and enemy of the environement."

Somehow Nagourney misses all of that. (It's not "water cooler talk" if no one's talking about it in print or on TV apparently.) Simon Rosenberg is "water cool talk" (not informed talk, his record remains an unknown to many).


So it is that one candidate, Simon Rosenberg, the head of the moderate New Democratic Network, has been collecting endorsements by pointing to his experience running his own organization. "I think right now, the pragmatic people of the D.N.C. really know they need someone who can run the party," Mr. Rosenberg said.

Pragmatic people (love the alliteration, Rosenberg) might want to examine NDN's success or lack of it. There's a reason Rosenberg was first out of the gate attacking John Kerry after the election, Rosenberg apparently hadn't delivered the Latino vote if the polls were accurate. They weren't. But he's yet to pull the knife out of Kerry's back.

As we noted on December 9, 2004:

Mr. Rosenberg, you said, "John Kerry did not compete adequately for Hispanic votes, period." Do you feel the need to retract or modify any of the statements you made on this topic back when you believed Bush had 44% of the Hispanic vote? Would you consider retracting the "period?"

Self-serving doesn't translate as "serves the party." Rosenberg lacks vision and experience. As noted in a prior post, not having one quality might be something Rosenberg could overcome, lacking both he's not up to the job.

Joe Trippi has endorsed him and possibly Trippi's using some of the "web techniques" he used in Dean's primary campaign. (That could explain the preponderance of astroturf floating around the web under various "names" 'informing' us why Rosenberg is so qualifed to be the DNC chair. None of which accurately represents Rosenberg's record but it's good to know so many have mastered copying and pasting.)

Interesting Times weighed in with speculation on why Trippi was endorsing Rosenberg:

Similarly, Trippi's endorsement of Rosenberg could sour a lot of reform Democrats on Rosenberg's candidacy precisely at the moment he most needed to be rising up. Why? Because the endorsement was similarly ham-handed (bad timing, implicit dissing of Dean by Trippi's silence about his former boss, etc.)Just a quick thought.(

It's a valid theory. Having read Trippi's book, I'd offer another one, Trippi's trapped in his moment of glory. (One he does deserve. But time does move on. Within you, without you -- to steal from George Harrison.) His utopian web world was under threat when he came along, it's only become more so. That Trippi doesn't seriously address that fact in his book may inspire some readers to join with Mama Cass in singing "New World Coming" but it hardly instills faith in his ability to read the tea leaves.


If history is any guide, the decisions about what the party should say and where it will go will be driven by leaders in Congress over the next two years and presumably by the candidates running for president immediately after that. "Let Hillary Clinton and Evan Bayh and Howard Dean and John Kerry fight over what the message is going to be," said Joe Trippi, who managed Dr. Dean's presidential bid but is supporting Mr. Rosenberg for chairman.

When Trippi feeds that quote to Nagourney (who swallows happily), one is reminded of how out of touch Trippi (the utopian come-on-boys-and-girls-we-can-put-a-show-on-in-the-barn-like-Judy-and-Mickey-only-we'll-change-the-world!) has become in so short a time. The message will be fought over by the grass roots. That Trippi, of all people, can't see that this is already happening speaks to his inability to read the realities on the ground -- something he might want to worry about unless he's attempting to become the Miss Havisham of the 21st century.

In previous times, the DNC chair was whomever the party powers wanted and installed with little objection. Any infighting that went down, took place beyond the reach and impact of the grass roots. The mobilization of 2004 didn't fade away after the election. And what we're seeing is a grass roots that's not going to just say, "Whatever you think is best!" (Grass roots have always been vocal. The thing that's different now is our vast number. Groups such as deserve tremendous credit for keeping the base active.)

There truly is surprise on the part of the party structure over the amount of input on this subject coming from the grass roots. That Trippi, of all people, doesn't note that (perhaps Nagourney got his quote wrong, wouldn't surprise me) suggests Trippi's spent far too much time pouring over his scrapbooks and way too little time noting what is going on.

Nagourney writes:

For all the talk about abortion, gay marriage and national security, the 447 Democratic committee members who will choose the next chairman on Feb. 12 seem more concerned now over how Republicans outgunned them in November, despite the efforts of Terry McAuliffe, the departing chairman, which were widely applauded by Democrats.

That's the perfect example of Nagourney's journalism. Directly useful? Explaining the basic process of how the chair will be chosen. Useful via extraction? The fact that the concern is not what the grassroots wants (the power players are acting as though it's 1996 and people will blindly go along). Completely inane? That Terry McAuliffe's "efforts . . . were widely applauded by Democrats." That's the sort of statement (as fact, Nagourney doesn't attribute it to a source) that probably keeps his sources happy but it doesn't resemble reality. I'm sure there are people who are "widely" applauding Terry McAuliffe's efforts. A lot of Republicans among those applauders. But on the Democratic side, there's not a lot of applause.

Nagourney has wasted a lot of ink since the election trying to build the impression that McAuliffe is this widely admired person. Not as a Democratic chair. Not in most Democratic circles (grassroots or power circles). There is a move (in the power circles) to beef up McAuliffe's image a little out of what one person described to me as "a reluctance to kick someone when they're down on the ground bleeding profusely." But there's no admiration for McAuliffe's efforts. (Possibly masochists admire McAuliffe's efforts?) Nor should there be. His 2002 and 2004 strategies were among the worst in recent times. Even Martin Frost can boast of more applause than McAuliffe.

Nagourney writes:

For the most part, the dominant dynamic is one of the other candidates presenting themselves as the alternative to Dr. Dean. Mr. Frost, Mr. Rosenberg and Mr. Fowler were described as having made the most success on that front to date.

Let's realize that this is the sort of "strategy" that didn't result in the left being happy the day after the election. "I'm the alternative to George W. Bush!" John Kerry was so much more than that (and a better run campaign would have pointed that out repeatedly). Frost, Rosenberg and Donnie Fowler are wrong if they think that's a campaign: "I'm the alternative to Dean!"

What do you stand for? "I'm the alternative to Dean!" What does that mean? "I'm the alternative to Dean!" What are you for? "I'm the alternative to Dean!"

If this how they think you campaign for DNC chair, people should be worried as to what sort of "strategy" they'd embrace if they actually got the post. [This presumes that Nagourney is accurate in his opinion stated as fact. Frost and Rosenberg fall into that category. Fowler has actually offered up a few strategy elements. Nagourney -- or his sources -- may be unaware of that.]

Nagourney's last paragraph names "Wellington Webb, the former mayor of Denver, and David Leland, a former Ohio Democratic chairman" before quickly dismissing both (all in a single sentence) and moving on to cite Mike McCurry who's supporting Rosenberg. It's interesting that so many in Nagourney's story (and rolodex?) are supporting Rosenberg. That does, however, reflect the power players' opinions. (Including on the current prospects of either Webb or Leland winning the chair.)

The fact that Howard Dean's remained in play speaks to the power of the grass roots. Never underestimate the party structure's (power players) ability to ignore the grass roots. Translation, grass roots might want to remember the taste of defeat from November.

In a just world, Dean would win because he has vision and experience. He knows what needs to be done and, despite Nagourney's mistaken belief that this is something Dean's just now addressing, he's been speaking of the need to reinvest in the infrastructure for some time.

Some people feel it truly doesn't matter who is appointed DNC chair. Obviously, Democrats will have to work with whomever. (Third party members of our community, let me know if there are any events going on with your party's selection of chair.) However, to say that it doesn't matter overlooks the passion among the base. When "reporters" like Nagounrey reduce the issue solely to what the people in power want, it's hardly surprising. But I would hope that others would recognize that the base is far more important than the power players even if their opinions and desires rarely get any ink in the pages of the New York Times.

Disclosure: I've encountered the following: Donnie Fowler, Martin Frost, Tim Roemer and Joe Trippi. Fowler is someone that I found knowledgable. Trippi is someone I've defended and will continue to do so but when I feel he's wrong, I say so.
I do not believe that I've encountered Simon Rosenberg. A number of you have e-mailed wanting to know the story that my friend swears is true. Here is her version (which I question).
At a party, Rosenberg was annoying her (flirting technique based on self-boasts) and he was wearing a cheap suit that badly needing cleaning. (The odor was what she deems "Crackatoa" and, if you think about it, you should be able to deconstruct that term yourself.) According to her, I walked over to tell her something and in the middle of my speaking, Rosenberg interrupted with some inane remark and I glared at him and made a rude comment. (Right away, I say that draws her recollection into question because I'm far more prone to issue a non-stop string of rude comments.) At which point, I turned back to her and asked loudly, "What is that smell?"
Then, according to her, Rosenberg huffed off. I question pretty much every point in her story but I've been wrong before. (As has she. And her recollection fits no memory I have. I've tried to figure out who she could be confusing him with but I can't remember any such party.) (The behavior, except for a single rude remark, is perfectly in keeping with any story of me. But I honestly do not believe this incident took place with Rosenberg. Again, I could be wrong.)