Jan 07 2011

T-Minus 1 Day and Counting

Posted by Steve Ross in TNDP

The Race for Chair of TNDP is Nearly Over. Once it is, it’s time to work

This past week has been crazy. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think there’s ever been an election for Chair in recent history that’s generated this kind of buzz. Of course, we wouldn’t know because as Newscoma points out the history of the TNDP is largely unwritten.

I’ve been struggling to write something about this all week. For a whole host of reasons, including my work schedule, I just haven’t been able to commit words to blog. The volume of information and opinion has simply been too much too fast for me to process, along with all the other things I have going on. That said, I do have some pretty strong opinions about what’s what and who’s who in this whole thing.

First, it should be noted that all the problems with Democratic institutions in Tennessee don’t fall on the shoulders of one man, or one organization. The TNDP is a large cog in a machine of Democratic institutions that include the State Executive Committee, College Democrats, Young Democrats, County Parties, House and Senate Caucus Organizations, Candidates and more. From where I’m sitting, the historic losses we saw in November, and the loss of our majority in 2008, don’t rest on any one of these institutions. They all had a hand in failure. Singling one out is unfair.

I hope I made this clear back in November when I analyzed the list of accomplishments current Chair, Chip Forrester released in announcing his candidacy. As I noted in that post, I think there are some things Forrester has done well, and others that need improvement. The assertion by some that another Chair may have done better is neither constructive nor relevant. You play with the team you have and work for the best result.

Role Definition

The Chair of the TNDP is a political position not an ideological one. The chair cannot enforce ideological purity on the rest of the institutions in the chain. The negative reaction would be swift and politically deadly. It is the responsibility of all the institutions I listed above to be a reflection of and a support system for elected officials, who ultimately are the ones who will be helped or hurt at the ballot box by the image these institutions reflect. In Tennessee, the differences of what a Democrat looks like are as varied as the distance between Shelby and Sullivan County is long.

So while the role of Chair has a great deal of influence in the planning and execution of campaigns, from my perspective the job requirements are more of a technocrat, able to navigate the minefield of Democratic institutions and advocates rather than aspiring rock star. The Chair must speak for the party as a whole at the exclusion of themselves to ensure they don’t accidentally draw attention away from the very issue they seek to highlight. The Chair must have the trust of enough of all these institutions that he or she can and will provide the necessary tools for success. The Chair must be able to shepherd donors, volunteers and busybodies, like myself, in a way that puts them to good use for the ultimate good of the party.

Each of the candidates possess some of these qualities, but none have all of them. Honestly, I don’t think anyone does.

Taking this into account, I have no particular preference as to whom holds the seat over the next two years.

Waiting for a Saviour

We have to stop waiting for a savior. How much would we now know of Jesus were it not for his apostles? His works may have been lost in history had it not been for the work of these apostles to chronicle His life, as well as all the devotees who have followed since.

In order for the Tennessee Democratic Party to find its way out of the wilderness, we have to be those apostles. We have to work with the institutions in place to support them and sometimes guide them. Neither the institutions, nor the individuals alone can be our saviour. Nor should we want them to be. The analogy breaks down at this point because no one in our party is “ordained by God” to lead or follow. It is all our responsibility to do both, in the roles we find ourselves.

None of the candidates for Chair can “save” the party alone, but we can all save it together.

Grease the Wheels

In the end, there are 72 people who have the final say. 66 of them are elected by us, the people of the Tennessee Democratic Party. The other 6 represent people we, either through the ballot box or through associated institutions, have selected to ensure some kind of continuity in the machine. The rest of us are the oil, the fuel, and other necessary fluids that ensure the machine functions properly.

Once this process is over, if any of us, including the two candidates who will not be elected Chair, remove ourselves from the system, a part of that machine will break down. That breakdown is not the fault of the part, it is the fault of the support system for that part.

Right now, every warning light on our machine is on. Every system needs fluid. The parts are suffering from this lack of fluid. It is our responsibility to literally “grease the wheels” with our time, money and dedication to repair the damage brought by a litany of system failures too long to list.

The most important thing to remember is that, because of the way our machine is built, if one system rejects your fluid, or seems too broken to benefit, there are a whole host of others that can benefit from what you bring to the machine. Sometimes it’s hard to do this. Sometimes we feel discouraged. But in the end, removing ourselves from the process ultimately does more damage…like removing removing oil from a running car.

Fixing the Fractures

The past several years have exposed fractures in our party. These fractures have led to serious failures in our ability to elected and maintain Democratic officials and institutions. It didn’t happen overnight. It wasn’t done in an instant like a car wreck. This happened over years, and it will take years to repair.

The first step in repairing these fractures begins the moment a new Chair is elected. Whomever receives the trust of the majority of our representatives on the Executive Committee must receive the guidance and support of the party faithful and its institutions as a whole. The fastest road to unity rests not on the actions of one person seeking to create it, but on the attitude of the whole seeking to maintain it.

None of the candidates can bring us together alone. We have to strive to do it together.

That’s my wish, that we will strive to do this together, overcome the odds, and build something great throughout the entirety of the machine and all the parts that are “Tennessee Democrats”. Going forward, I hope we will. But it’s not up to the one person elected tomorrow to do it alone. Unity requires the dedication and balance of both sides of the equation. It is my hope that after tomorrow, the hard work required to balance that equation will begin again, for the good of the party, and the party faithful.