Movements and Moonshots

Failing Forward
Failing Forward
As I noted in my last post the blamestorm made it to Category 5 in record time this year.

I think its fair to say that this will continue for a while.

That’s not what this post is.

See, I’ve written my fair share of denunciations of Democratic Party establishments, from the now defunct SCDP to the state and federal levels.

I’ll tell you a secret. They always fall on deaf ears.

There are excuses, and rationales and all manner of reasons why blah, blah, blah. And unfortunately, what ends up happening is a hardening of the attitudes rather than any kind of action.

So I’m not going to beat anyone up this time around. I know that a lot of people here in Tennessee worked hard and a lot of people sat on the sidelines. I know I feel guilty for not doing more and that guilt is really meaningless unless I act on it.

Part of acting is knowing where to focus your attention. There’s been a lot of noise in the week since the election…lots of “postmortems” that hit on common themes after a losing cycle. Folks want to dismantle the Electoral College. We’re talking about a new DNC Chair, and here in Tennessee there’s the state party chair race. We look at what went wrong this time and how to fix it in the future. Part of that is looking at our efforts in rural America.

All of these things are important to look at. Some more than others. The question is where do we put the majority of our focus?

As I said last time, I’ve seen more losing cycles than winning in my 44 years on this earth, so I’ve read a ton of stuff about what needs to be done to build something back up. But the first thing may be not dismantling it in the first place.

Keep the Band Together

Atrios raises a good question about the durability of organization after an election. It happens every time. We get a good team together (or just a team that could be built up) and that team falls apart the day after the election…which means we’re basically starting over every 12 months or so. That’s not a way to grow.

He brings up several points, but I think he’s right that many elected officials worry about a group that’s sustainable outside their control. You don’t get elected by not being a bit of a control freak.

If you’re on the winning side, its easy to think the war is won rather than just another series of infinite battles. That’s what happened between 2008 and 2010 if you forgot. The winner always overestimates the durability of their win…the losers are always mad as hell and looking for revenge.

Keeping a group going when its organized around a short term goal (the election) is hard. There are varying interests, and other, more pressing issues (like life) pop up that scatter the team to the winds. It also takes resources, which means someone has to go raise funds to keep the team together, and the principals (the folks who actually, you know, do the boring day to day work) paid for their efforts. Republicans have a ton of well funded groups scattered around the country to do this…give folks a gig until the next cycle. We don’t.

I’m not saying we need to build a more robust “professional class” of campaign operatives…we have that, they’re just concentrated in DC and state capitols. What I am saying is that we’ve got to keep the volunteers engaged beyond asking them for $3 every couple of days. We’ve got to give them things to do. We’ve got to keep them talking to their neighbors and arm them with information to perhaps sway those neighbors. We’ve got to have a means for them to feed us information about what’s happening there on the ground so we can speak directly to the issues that are important to folks right there.

That takes paid staff, and unfortunately, I don’t think our county parties in Tennessee are active enough to keep the paid staff during the down times. I’m not sure that they ever were. That’s unfortunate, because we need those County parties now, more than ever.

County Parties are Key

County parties (or collections of County parties in more rural areas) ought to be the glue that keeps the information flow and messaging going. Unfortunately, after 8 years of talk about strengthening County Parties in Tennessee, I haven’t seen that its happened.

I don’t think you can blame the current or most recent past Chairs for this. The State party (and caucuses) can’t do it alone. The problem started way before them. Every stakeholder, from activists to top of the ticket candidates need strong County Parties to support their efforts. They need a team of dedicated volunteers to help them win. They need an open dialogue to keep them focused so they don’t drift off into the abyss.

But it can’t be a top down approach. We need the top to be there for County Parties, and help keep them focused. But we also need them to be independent enough to reach out beyond the sphere of influence that candidates and the activists who make up the party organizations.

That’s how we grow. We have to constantly be questioned with things we can’t immediately answer, so we can truly answer those questions and come up with solutions that people can rally behind.

Of course, none of that matters if County parties are not active, or just plain don’t know what to do. That’s where the State Party or local elected officials can help. Do they have a bill they want passed? Make a case for the bill then tell us how many letters we need and to which legislators. Give the Counties actionable goals and timeframes. Thats what it takes to build a sense of urgency and mobilize people.

From my experience with County Parties, there needs to be a robust retraining of folks to modern methods of communication and campaigning. There also needs to be some level of training on the “what it takes” to have a open party that brings people in, gets things done, and doesn’t fall into the “idle minds” problems that have bedeviled some organizations (the SCDP is and has been a case study in just how far that “idle minds” problem can go).

Fresh blood isn’t enough to turn a County Party around. You’ve got to have goals to hit, and the training and know-how to do it. You’ve got to have people who are willing to move past their personal fights for the good of the group. It’s a huge task, and a lot to manage regardless of the size of the County…but its what we need if we’re ever going to start making Tennessee (and other ruby red areas of the nation) a little more purple on their way to blue.

That’s building durability.

I’m not saying some of this hasn’t started, and I’m certainly not saying that leadership at the state level isn’t minding the store…I’m really just trying to add to what’s happening now.

When Ron Ramsey took the helm of the Senate, back when there was a blogosphere in Tennessee, we understood that rebuilding might be a 15 to 20 year process…that we were going to be in the woods for a long time. I don’t know that the timeline is any longer or shorter…and I wouldn’t believe anyone who said otherwise. We won’t know it until after if happens. But we’ve always got to be going there, and we’ve got to be going there with a little more transparency a lot more regularly about what’s happening from all quarters (the state party and their Execom members, as well as the Caucuses) to keep people from losing faith. My experience with folks who lose faith is that they don’t come back…and there aren’t enough of us to lose too many in Tennessee.


With Hillary Clinton’s popular vote lead growing, lots of people have suddenly become interested in the Electoral College.

I’ve written a little bit about the electoral college, though most of it predates the Obama years (yes I’ve been writing that long…longer even!). I did a whole research project after Al Gore “lost” in 2000 about ways the Electoral College could be made to be even more disastrous (there are lots).

In the 10 days since the election there have been all kinds of stories about it…from its roots in maintaining the political power of slave owning states to efforts to defeat it state by state.

The Electoral College ain’t going away. We’d need 38 states to approve a constitutional amendment that ain’t going to pass muster in Congress. So maybe the National Popular Vote Compact is a way to go.

But don’t pin your hopes on it.

These kinds of “moonshots” capture people’s imaginations, attention, and energy, but they’re not a substitute for organizing at the local level.

Sure, you could organize at the local and state level to pressure the state government to approve the compact, and if that works, great. But short of an amendment changing Article 2 Clause 3 of the Constitution (its been done before) the Electoral College will live on.

Further, short of every state signing this (which would mean we could pass a constitutional amendment) any state backing out at the last second would drastically change campaign strategy for Presidential candidates. I can see a scenario where someone calls a special session to drop the number just below 270 and effectively tanks all the hard work a candidate has done, using rules that changed in the middle of the game.

Sure, there might be protections against this kind of skullduggery, but would they stand up to SCOTUS scrutiny? That’s an open question and one that we should be very leery of banking on.

I’m just saying, if you want the Electoral College effectively gone, this is a good substitute for something that’s not likely to happen (a constitutional amendment). But until it has the force of law that a Constitutional Amendment would have, its still a slippery slope.

On Monday, President Obama talked to supporters in a DNC conference call. In that call he gave us time to mourn…two weeks to be exact before we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get back to work. Tuesday is two weeks.

The Trump Transition Swamp Party is already hard at work looking for ways to help burst the next economic bubble, and Congress has set its sights on privatizing Medicare and repealing and replacing Obamacare.

We can’t wait for January to start getting tooled up to fight this. We’ve got to get tooled up now.

The pity party ends Tuesday (or right this very second if you’re so inclined).

9 Replies to “Movements and Moonshots”

  1. You are so smart,Steve but we need to be guided and told just what to do!I do call and write just to let them know someone is watching and not happy with what they are doing!You are the best strategist in the party and let me know what I can do.The cabinet choices are making me crazy!!

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