The past 2 national election cycles have been looked upon with dread by Democrats. Whether it was being scared of being called weak on national security (the 2002 midterm elections), being called weak on national security (the 2004 presidential and congressional elections), or being called liberal for any number of reasons (going back to before I was born), there has always been a sense of playing defense on our side. Since 2000, we had been guarding our own island without trying to reach out beyond those auspices deemed ‘safe’ by consultants with a noted record of losing, by the media, and by the right wing. What good has it done us? We lost control of the Senate in 2002, and we got whipped in the 2004 election. Clearly, something needed to be done.
Democrats needed to grow a spine. We needed cojones. But most of all, we needed to ditch the myopic vision of targeting only the districts we thought were in play, of being a party that existed where the polls said we did. When Howard Dean was elected chairman of the DNC, we thought it’d be at least a decade before we began seeing any results. If anyone had said 2006 would be a potentially historic election in January 2005, everyone – including ourselves – would’ve have called that person nuts.
And yet, we are poised to do just that. Why? Because we believed when no one else would. We were the ones who weren’t afraid of stepping through the looking glass, of finding out just how deep the rabbit hole went.
To recall a few of the more ‘outlandish’ things that have come out of the Democratic blogosphere, let’s recount two that stand out in particular. First, there’s Chris Bowers in July 2004 – even before our same old strategy got us defeated in the elections only months later:
This list does not include any districts from California, Indiana and Missouri, where I was unable to find a breakdown of the 2000 vote according to 2002 congressional districts. In those three states, there may be as many as ten more districts (all in California) where Bush failed to reach a majority but where a Republican currently holds the seat. Further, this list would more than double if it included districts where a Republican currently holds the seat but where Bush failed to reach 55% of the vote. Overall, there are more than 80 districts where the 2000 Bush vote was under 55% but where Republicans hold seats.
Considering this very substantial list of potential Democratic targets, why on Earth are we only talking about a maximum of fifteen pickups for Democrats in 2004? Granted, the DCCC is taking some of these districts very seriously. However, more than half of them are not being significantly contested. How many of them are PA-8’s in the making? In at least one of these districts, NY-25 where I grew up (the Syracuse area) there isn’t even a Democratic candidate running!
For anyone suggesting that the DCCC should consider finding a “better” candidate than Schrader, I hope that this list serves as a demonstration of just how many winnable districts are out there where only half-hearted attempts are being made to oust GOP incumbents. There will never be a Democratic 1994 unless the DCCC attacks simultaneously on all fronts. Recruiting for every single one of these districts needs to begin on November 3rd.
And in January 2006, someone let us know about a no-name who he said would beat Joe Lieberman – when none of us would dare to make such an audacious claim:
Do you want Joe Lieberman out of the Senate? Or maybe I should ask: how badly do you want Joe Lieberman out of the Senate? Hang on Kossacks, help is on the way in the form of Ned Lamont. He has not formally announced yet, but he is laying the groundwork to run against Lieberman in the Democratic primary. I know you’ve never heard of Ned Lamont; but you are going to hear a lot about him in the coming months. He is a businessman from Greenwich, Connecticut.; a progressive Democrat who is anti-war, pro-privacy and civil liberties; with the moxie and the money to go head to head with holy Joe for the Democratic nomination for Senate in Connecticut.
After spending an hour talking with Ned Lamont yesterday, I can assure you, he is the real thing. He has a tremendous intellect, but doesn’t condescend or talk like a patrician. I think of him as a Jon Corzine with charisma. He’s a big thinker who backs up his talk with action. In the coming weeks and months, Ned will lay out his plan to use the grass-roots and the net-roots to dethrone Lieberman and then proceed to Washington to take back the power in this country from the huge corporations, special interests, big-money lobbyists and their obedient minions in Congress.
Stay tuned. And remember – you heard it here first.
Every big thing that has happened in history has been the result of something simple. Alexander Graham Bell’s idea for the telephone came from the invention of something else entirely – a multiple telegraph, which he thought about by observing the electromechanical creation of vowel sounds. Everyone knows about Benjamin Franklin’s experiments about electricity using a kite and a key. Howard Dean is like these men: his candidacy for president tapped into the use of the Internet as a means to harness a latent political energy in the Democratic grassroots that had long been dormant. While he may have crashed and burned in Iowa, his legacy lives on not only in the work he continues to do as DNC chairman, but it lives on in each and every one of us.
How does it live on? The Dean candidacy inspired people who had not been as involved before to become rabid political activists. But more importantly, it spawned a group of dreamers who believed that the Democratic Party had to stop living within its own mental confines. In essence, we believed more in the party than even it believed in itself. And it shows in the results – our leaders in Congress have continued to abdicate responsbility on many issues, whether it be the bankrupcty bill, the nominations of Justices Roberts and Alito to the Supreme Court, the nomination of General Hayden to head the CIA, the torture bill, and in being unable to put forward a cohesive policy on Iraq. But we lived on. In the end, the strength of the blogosphere, in my opinion, will not be (at least in the near future) about affecting legislation. It’s about organizing for the thing that matters the most in politics: elections. People may have called us clueless, people may have thought we were nuts to challenge our own vice presidential nominee, but dreams can become a reality if you work hard enough.
After the 2004 elections, people were beginning to declare the Democratic Party a party that would permanently be relegated to the minority. Some of us probably felt the same way – if we couldn’t beat the worst president in our lifetimes, how could we hope to make any more progress? But instead of lying down and meekly accepting conventional wisdom, we came back stronger than ever. It would be easy to take the blue pill and simply go through the motions in the political process that were deemed fit. We wouldn’t have a prayer in Tennessee; George Allen would be preparing an exploratory committee for a 2008 presidential run; and Joe Lieberman would still be laughing it up with Sean Hannity every Sunday while thrusting that knife in our back a little deeper each time. Democrats wouldn’t bother taking a look at seats in places like Wyoming and Idaho. But when you defy the status quo – a status quo that has become stagnant at its rotten core – the impossible can happen. And in one week, we may very well see our tireless efforts come to fruition.
As Howard Dean said, “You have the power”. In less than 2 years, his 50-State Strategy is reaping dividends long before any of us thought possible. Let’s make sure that one week from now, our long, strange, exhilirating trip down the rabbit hole continues.