Purity, Outrage, and Lessons

I wonder if Bill Freeman ever thought that such a storm would be stirred with his name in the headline? Probably not.

Truth of the matter is, this thing has a lot of moving parts, and as I demonstrated last night, it’s easy to get caught up in all of them, with perhaps, not all the information you might like to have, and not be completely clear about how this situation lands in your particular worldview. So, I’m going to try again, from a different angle, and see where it takes me.


As LWC points out there are a lot of people who have worked against the Democratic Party, and Democratic ideals that have had an epiphany of sorts. It is this epiphany that helped us win the Presidency, and hefty majorities in the US Congress.

While the progressive blogosphere has been focused on “more and better Democrats”, some have put the bulk of their efforts into “more”, and others have focused on “better”. Both are important to achieve Progressive goals.

The truth of the matter is, in order to gain an immediate “more” you may have to temporarily sacrifice “better”. This doesn’t mean that you don’t call the “more” out when they stumble. I’ve been one of the loudest hollerer’s at these folks. However, I believe it is true that any Democrat, even old Gene Taylor of Mississippi, perhaps the MOST conservative Democrat in the House of Representatives, is better for the progressive cause than ANY Republican. This is largely borne out in Progressive Punch Scores.

The difference is, these are not people who left the flock. These are people who stayed in. So how do we handle these “Reagan Democrat” types that are coming back? Do we institute a litmus test? What truly is the measure of a Democrat?

We need to think about this going forward. Not just because of the Bill Freeman thing, but because we have to make a decision about how open or closed we are going to be as a party. How big are we willing to let our tent get?


In the wake of the Freeman selection, the outrage has ranged from mild to snarky to extreme. My first reaction was, “you’ve got to be kidding me”, but aside from that I’ve had a weird sense of detachment. Even while writing my email to Forrester I felt detached.

I haven’t had time to really think about the whole thing. Part of me wonders if this was some misguided attempt at pragmatism, balancing a perceived liberal chair with a treasurer that is certainly to his right. The back-story about Freeman’s past dealings with Bredesen shed some light on his giving pattern, but if someone is so distasteful, would you support the Republican out of spite? I just don’t get it.

Honestly, the whole scene is hard to process. I have a hard time with conservative Democrats, but most of these Republicans are so far outside my values that I just can’t even fathom supporting them. Maybe it’s easier for people to the right or me. The question has to be asked, if a church wouldn’t make an agnostic a deacon, should a party make a recent convert with a checkered past treasurer?


Finally, there’s the Bush tickets. I think this is the thing that gets people’s goats more than anything else. The sum total of all my giving to candidates over the past three cycles doesn’t amount to $10k!

$10k for an hour or so with a President that most Democrats revile as the single most destructive “leader” of our time is just too hard for long time Democrats to stomach. $10k is more money than I paid last year on interest, on a house that I bought two and half years ago.

That’s some serious bread to drop on meeting a President. I’ve had the honor of meeting 3 Presidents, and it never cost me a dime. Two of those Presidents I never would have ever voted for, much less given money to, but that doesn’t make it any less an honor. They’re ex-Presidents for Christ’s sake!

So yeah, I don’t know how old Freeman’s kid is, but I get the idea of wanting a child to meet a President. I’m just wondering, what message did purchasing access send? How much public good could that money have done going to a charity? How could that money have been invested in the community to do something other than look like a big-shot?

Yeah, I’m busting your balls, because you’re talking about a sum of money that is more than 15% of my yearly income. That’s a lot of money for an afternoon. You could have gone to Disney World for a week, come back and helped build a house for Habitat for Humanity or something.

Do my feelings change if you replace “Bush” with “Obama”? Sure they do, I’m not gonna lie. But decisions have consequences, and that consequence may mean that you need to spend another cycle or two, reassuring the faithful that you’re one of us.

That said, Mr. Freeman, I applaud you for what you did for the Obama campaign. And the prospect of doing something like that here in the TNDP is really intriguing. Fact of the matter is, that money came from big donors, who are really important to the fiscal security of the party, but we were told that a more balanced approach was in the cards, and that’s another part of the rub.

How do you get small dollar donors, who are more likely to be motivated by far different things than large donors, to give to a party that has in it’s leadership, a guy that just re-found the straight and narrow? Small dollar donors give because they believe, not necessarily because they believe we can win.

You see where I’m going with this. It’s a bigger problem than it looks.

In the final analysis, I’m not ready or willing to make a call on this. I’m also not going to say I’m not irritated about it, because I am. What will be, will be. However, should Freeman choose to stay in the post, he should understand that the bar is going to be a little bit higher for him than someone with unblemished credentials. That’s just reality.

As for the direction and administration of the party, Mr. Forrester, I’m not going to tell you what to do right now. I’m not going to call for anyone’s resignation or anything like that. I am going to be straight with you and say, this very well may be a defining decision.

There are some fences to be mended here. I’m not particularly upset, but other people are, and they have influence over a larger sphere of people and just like giving can go viral, so can “not giving”. I hope in the future the party will give more consideration to the rational and emotional sides of their decision-making. This means being a little bit more savvy and looking outside the Exec Com for input.

No one said this would be easy, or that everyone would come willingly, but if we want to win, we have to do everything we can to keep our people happy and keep the invitation open for as many people as possible. The idea is white, clean, and neat. The execution is sausage making. The trick is to not expand your sphere to spite your base.

4 Replies to “Purity, Outrage, and Lessons”

  1. Bill Freeman funded racism. Period. No amount of money that he raises for the Democratic Party can erase that. He maxed out to Jim Bryson in 2006. Bryson ran TV ads arguing that all Hispanics are drunk drivers that kill white people on our roads. In the first week of October 2006, Freeman gave $10,000 to the TNGOP. That very week, the TNGOP sent out a racist mailer against Harold Ford, Jr.

    Chip Forrester said he would call out GOP racism when he saw – except, of course, when it’s funded by his treasuer. This is politics as usual.

    Even Air America called out the racism in the GOP mailer that Freeman funded:

    The comment at the end of the article is from Air America.


    Baptist leader questions GOP’s Ford photo

    By TOM HUMPHREY, Tomhumphrey3@aol.com
    October 11, 2006

    NASHVILLE — The use of a “dark, distorted picture” of Harold Ford Jr. in a Republican fundraising appeal had racial overtones even if it was not intentionally altered, according to a Baptist ethics leader.

    An editorial criticizing the mailer was posted today by Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics in Nashville, on the center’s Web site, http://www.ethicsdaily.com.

    Parham said he discussed the issue with both Republican and Democratic party officials after seeing a News Sentinel story last week on the questioned photo and fundraising letter.

    Those discussions, he said, left some ambiguity about alterations.

    Democratic officials, including state Chairman Bob Tuke, say the picture was obviously altered to darken Ford’s complexion and the letter included racial “code words.”

    Tuke said Tuesday that Republicans in the mailing are “appealing to the basest insticts among some of their constituencies” in soliciting funds.

    Chris Devaney, executive director of the state Republican party, renewed his defense of the fundraising appeal and said it was “irresponsible, baseless and reckless” for Democrats to try making an issue of the it.

    Ford himself, in response to a question about the fundraising appeal, said he did not want to “dignify it with a response.” But Ford said he expects Republicans “to get deeper and deeper into the gutter” because GOP U.S. Senate nominee Bob Corker is “a confused candidate.”

    “Normally, when you’re confused, you do things you regret,” said Ford.

    Corker spokesman Todd Womack said the campaign had nothing to do with the letter.

    Devaney said the original picture came from a Ford Web site, where it appears in color, and was printed in black and white simply to save costs on printing of the fundraising appeal. Printing in color is considerably more expensive, he said.

    “I know that nothing was ever intentionally altered or doctored. That is just something we would never engage in,” Devaney said.

    Parham, in the editorial, says that without regard to alteration, there is still the question of “what would prompt Republican leaders to run such a dark, distorted picture of Ford in their fund-raising letter in the first place.

    “Even if Republicans didn’t alter the picture, the picture looked far darker than the one they said they took from Ford’s Web site. The only plausible reason to use such a picture is to play the race card — in an effort to frighten and fire up white voters in a key senatorial race,” the editorial says.

    “In the black-and-white world of right and wrong, Republican leaders have flatly done wrong,” the editorial says.

    “Whether they acted with malice or moral callousness doesn’t really matter. The end result is race as a wedge issue,” it says.

    The editorial says that the matter provides a chance for pastors and other church leaders to go beyond condemning racism and promoting racial harmony “in the abstract.” It continues:

    “The Ford photograph affords a concrete opportunity for Tennessee’s moral leaders to offer a swift rebuke of racism or the appearance of racism in a fund-raising letter. Racism anywhere is a threat to race relations everywhere. Racial reconciliation anywhere advances race relations everywhere.”

    Wow! RACISTS in the Republican Party! GASP!

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