Sunday, July 22, 2007

Booman on Hillary: "she will abandon Dean and the 50-state strategy"

One of the worst kept secrets of the blogosphere is that bloggers communicate with each other privately and hash out narratives, swap good stories, argue about strategy, etc. Disagreements can sometimes get a little heated, especially on emotional issues like supplemental war funding or impeachment.
One topic that is controversial is the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. A simple poll of the Daily Kos audience will show that Clinton is much less popular among the denizens of the blogosphere than she is among the Democratic Party as a whole. This isn't surprising. The blogosphere has been railing against the occupation of Iraq since 2002. And for most of that time Sen. Clinton and her advisers and media team have been worse than unhelpful. They have actively disparaged our efforts and taken every opportunity to insult us.

The blogosphere was instrumental in getting Howard Dean assigned as head of the Democratic National Committee. And Dean embraced a 50-state strategy to rebuild the Democratic Party on the local and state level and to compete everywhere. This strategy has been vigorously opposed by Team Hillary. The best (or worst) example was told by scottforamerica back in January 2007.

"I hope you will support the 50-state strategy," I told him, expecting the shrug off or a "nice to meet you too," but that isn’t what Begala had in mind.

"That depends what you mean by 50 state strategy he said." I responded by telling him that I meant the plan for Democrats to compete everywhere and for every office in the country. That I don’t support he said, "we should start with principles and values." "Sure, we should compete everywhere" he muttered, "but that’s not the right strategy." He continued that after working for over 30 campaigns this cycle, not a single one of those campaigns was helped by the 50-state strategy. He challenged me to name examples where the 50-state strategy helped us win in 2006. I proceeded to cite wins in Kentucky and Indiana, along with progress in Nebraska and Kansas as evidence of the plan’s short term success.

"Look," he said, "When we started there were only about 15 competitive races, but Rahm made the field over 35 by the end and that had nothing to do with the 50-state strategy." I told him we never would have had so many competitive districts if not for the DNC investing staffers and resources into those states early on and expanding the playing field. "So you have people out there, what are they doing there though?" he questioned. "I told him they were building a long term infrastructure for the Democratic Party, and we had people all over America knocking on doors and spreading the Democratic message. "So what do they say when they knock on the doors then?" he asked me. I told him they had a succinct 6 point plan for a "new direction" that they were discussing, a cohesive message that we haven’t had in the past. "Anyway," Begala continued... "I don’t need some a**hole from Vermont telling me what to do."

The problem is that the 50-state strategy isn't just one person from Vermont. It's an integral part of what the blogosphere is and does. There has been an explosion of local and state blogs dedicated to taking the fight to the Republicans. And it's an enormously valuable tool for the Democratic Party. When Paul Begala calls Dean an a-hole, he is really calling all of us a-holes. And he certainly doesn't want any of us telling him what to do.

Carville is no different than Begala when it comes to hostility to the netroots. And the sense I get from this is that a Hillary Clinton presidency will quickly remove Dean from the DNC, abandon the 50-state strategy, and revert to the top-down hierarchy of the past. This should give everyone in the blogosphere cause for concern.

But, since the midterm elections, criticism of Sen. Clinton has become somewhat muted. Part of this is that she has slowly moved in our direction on the war. Part of it is that we are now in the majority. But the biggest part of it is concern that we'll weaken a candidate that currently leads in the polls. This is a mistake.

Here's why:

1) Clinton has worked very hard to shed her image as a feminist/far left/liberal. In doing so she has, of necessity, distanced herself from progressives. Getting booed at Take Back America two years in a row is not a misstep, it's part of an overall strategy to embrace the netroots but, at the same time, get headlines that distance her from the netroots (crazy left).

2) Some of her positions were strictly tactical, some strategic. But some are hard to forgive. And all of it has created a tremendous amount of ambiguity about where she really stands, and how she would govern.

Taking these two things together:

1) Taking flak from the likes of Daily Kos or Open Left does not hurt Clinton in the general election. It helps her beat back threadbare arguments that she is a radical or some kind of fringe leftist. She actually needs us to beat her with a stick from time to time.

2) Because her positions are finely tuned to correct for years of Republican abuse and distortion, the best way to figure out where she really stands is to see who she has advising her.

This is why I conclude that she will abandon Dean and the 50-state strategy and go back to a top down hierarchy. She'll govern much as her husband did, which was effective but also disastrous for the lower levels of the party.

In my opinion, if she wins, we lose. Yes, it will be much better than life under President Thompson. But I don't think we'll be embraced or that we'll continue to have allies for party building on the state and local level.

One last point. I don't advocate 'nuking' Hillary. I don't think anyone should use unfair or misleading attacks, and I think people should vigorously defend her when she is unfairly attacked.

But I do think that the netroots, the grassroots, and the activist left all have an institutional interest in her not being the nominee. And then there is policy. Will Hillary revert to Democratic Leadership Council policies (both foreign and domestic)? What assurances do we have that she won't?

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