Friday, January 28, 2005

DNC race - trouble ahead, whoever wins

heart doctor

As the race for DNC chair moves into its final phase, the ‘liberal blogosphere’ has decided: it’s anybody but Dean or any of the other guys. Dean is said to carry all the heavy negatives with swing voters and conservative Democrats, Rosenberg has not addressed his tactical blunders regarding the Iraq war, Frost is too ‘Bush-lite’, and nobody seems to like poor Donnie Fowler. It looks as if the winning candidate will have fences to repair, whoever he is. If the rumors are true and the Clintons don’t want Dean, Rosenberg may be in a good position to replace Frost as the best alternative. It could be a Pyrrhic victory for both Rosenberg and the Democrats, however, if he can’t explain his defense of the Iraq war – a defense that, in both tone and content, will create problems for both him and the Democrats down the road should he prevail. Bloggers supporting several candidates have characterized the race as one between “heart” (represented by Dean) and “brain” (represented by Rosenberg), but neither organ is winning the netroots decisively.

Many people I respect highly support Rosenberg, and I would like nothing better to join them. Unfortunately, he has been unable or unwilling to defend comments like the one he made on Fox News on Sept. 9, 2004: “I think the debate that is not happening is whether or not the war was a good idea. The war was a good idea. I think the American people were behind the President.” I consider this statemen a blunder at best, for a number of reasons. First,you are alienating the Democratic base on an important policy issue(and are flat wrong, in my opinion) when you say that “the war was a good idea.” The “people were behind the President” remark disregards both the large numbers of protesters and the polls showing majority opposition to the war until it started – a point where public opinion typically coalesces around supporting the troops. These remarks have left committed Democrats who opposed the war feeling slighted, and believing that Rosenberg was on the wrong side of a moral issue. Those feelings can be repaired, but Rosenberg has not said how he would go about doing that.

Second, events had shown long before September that the Democrats resonated far more with voters when they had a clear anti-war message than they did with the overly nuanced-seeming “it was a good idea but we manage it better” spin Kerry tried for a while. Nobody bought it. In that regard, Rosenberg’s comment displayed a tin ear for the music of the 2004 campaign. Lastly, comments like these will be used against the Democrats in future campaigns, as others have pointed out. While the DNC chair does not set policy, as others have pointed out, he or she must not make statements about policy that work against the interests of the party.

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I would like to support Rosenberg, given his organizational talents. I contacted his campaign in the hope that he has a a plan to address these problems: why these statements were made, what he has learned, what he would do in the future to repair the breach. They did not respond, maybe because they’ve read Night Light’s sitemeter numbers. (In fairness, this is crunch time for the DNC candidates, so I don't take it personally. I do think it's incumbent on them, however, to respond to this concern in some forum.)

Rosenberg benefits from broad support among more influential bloggers, however, as reflected in Josh Marshall’s words:

“First, I think Simon is one of the relatively few people in the Democratic party today who combine two things: a) a deep and considered understanding of why we must and how we can rebuild the infrastructure of the Democratic party and -- and it's a huge 'and' -- b) the organizational abilities and skills to be part of making it happen.”

Stirling Newberry of BOPNews echoes these points, and adds that “I come from that school that says first one must dominate the line of scrimmage,” which is his term for “defining the terms of the debate.” Dominating the line of scrimmage does not help, however, if you’re calling the wrong plays. That’s the issue Rosenberg has yet to address. I don’t doubt that he’s organizationally brilliant, based on his track record. It also appears that he is personally very charismatic and persuasive, since many of his blog endorsers had personal interactions with him which they cite in their endorsements. But that’s not enough. I hope Rosenberg can address his remaining major negative promptly enough to a) boost his candidacy’s chances, especially if Dean should stumble, and b) ensure that he does not take office with too much working against him.

“Ya gotta have heart,” says the old song (ironically for Vermonter Dean, it's from the musical “Damn Yankees.”) I must admit I have warm feelings for Howard Dean. Those very excesses that might work against him as DNC chair are qualities that inspire affection in me, but we all need to be realistic. While not a big fan of sports metaphors, I’ll follow Newberry’s lead here and say that the DNC chair should be a coach. A good coach must be part businessman, part motivator, part chooser and builder of talent, and part tactician. A good coach needs a brain and a heart, and must speak to the brains and hearts of his team.

If forced to choose I’ll pick the heart anytime, but a choice like that should not be necessary. If someone can address the barrier Rosenberg has built for himself, I will probably endorse him. Otherwise, I can’t. My heart wouldn’t be in it.