And I sat through a day of it so you didn’t have to. The purpose was to rally the troops and showcase candidates for Democratic National Committee leadership positions, especially the high-profile battle for the chairman position. The main contenders are Rep. Keith Ellison from Minnesota and Obama’s Secretary of Labor Tom Perez of Maryland. Ellison was a leading supporter of Bernie Sanders, while Perez endorsed Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination.
It was the first time I had ever been to one of these things. I may not be cut out for retail politics. The tedium and banality were daunting at times, but there were some good parts too. It was very well attended, and the audience was turned on.
The chairman candidates did a question and answer session. Both Perez and Ellison stuck to stump speeches. Perez made me think of someone coming from the somewhat genteel political setting of the Peoples Republic of Montgomery County, MD, where I lived for most of 36 years, trying to be earthy, and coming off as a little manic. Ellison is more of a natural politician. There wasn’t much content from either. Ellison had more of a Bernie echo about him, making frequent references to working people. Both brought big followings; Ellison’s looked bigger. There was a passel of other candidates, about whom more in a bit.
Of all of them, Perez is the only one who has run a big organization. Administrative capability for the others is more of a mystery. I suspect that, as for other elections, a person’s speech-making ability is over-weighted in voters’ decision-making. Running the DNC requires more than the ability to give a rousing speech. At the same time, since the next presidential primaries are years away, the DNC chair will get quite a bit of face-time in the media and has to be able to deliver the Democrats’ messages well. Being able to talk is important.
Perez is about as liberal as you can get and still have decided to endorse Clinton over Sanders. Now he can say all the right things, though during the primaries he talked a lot of rot about the futility of progressives’ demanding free stuff.
The campaign for Perez was an obnoxious echo of the Clintons’ evil gossip tactics in the primaries. Perez supporters ventilated rumors that Ellison was an anti-semite (he is a Muslim). We might have heard that about Sanders if not for, you know . . . Even Ellison’s ancient traffic tickets were brought into the mix.
A few of the other candidates were impressive. My favorite was the mayor of South Bend, IN, one Pete Buttigieg. He happens to have been a Clinton supporter. His line was to reject ‘factions,’ which makes sense for this DNC competition but would jolt the bullshit meter for anyone on the left. My spies tell me he hopes to be a compromise candidate if Perez and Ellison are deadlocked. Problem is nobody knows who the hell he is.
The other interesting guy was Ray Buckley from New Hampshire. He was non-partisan in the Bernie v. Hillary sense but seemed to have more of a grip on the organizational issues facing the DNC and more political experience. I liked it when he blasted people for thinking voters would reject Trump for his vulgarity when their own precarious economic situations are paramount among their concerns.
Jaime Harrison from SC sounded pretty sharp and competent. He and Buttigieg are relatively young. My opinion is that Buttigieg, Buckley, or Harrison would all do good jobs. The others were forgettable. In any case, the ideological struggle — Perez and Ellison as proxies for Clinton and Sanders — is still paramount.
One consensus among all the candidates that ought to interest uncritical Obama supporters was that Barack Obama screwed up, big time, in his handling of Obama For America (later ‘Organizing for America’). This was a debacle for the party and as it has turned out, for the country. The story is told in The New Republic by Micah Sifry. As we all remember, Obama put together an awesome ground game to win in 2008 and 2012. Then he just left it to disintegrate in the mistaken belief that such grassroots mobilization had no place in his vision of bipartisan political harmony. The Republicans responded to his olive branch by trying to rip his throat out.
Another consensus was that the party needed to integrate with all the protests going on, though exactly how was not clear. Everybody was for strengthening state parties, nourishing the grass roots, making the DNC and its workings more transparent. In this latter regard, my colleague Bob Dreyfuss tells me the only way to find out who is on the DNC is by writing a letter to one of the officers. It is not posted anywhere on the web. Buckley had been on the DNC but said he never could find out what the H was going on.
Another point of agreement was that the Clinton campaign dwelled on Trump’s undeniable perversities, rather than the merits of DP policies. You could also read this as a criticism of the Clintons’ decision to pretend that Trump was uniquely awful among Republicans. As we are seeing from day to day, most of them are no less awful. Hell, they gave him money, voted for him, and ignored his thieving ways. A broader critique of the Republicans’ depraved agenda might have lead to a better result. It’s hard to see how it could have gone any worse.