Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Chinks in Democratic Party Armor, or Constructive Criticism Leading to Better Leadership?

I wrote about my flirtation with the Democratic Party, and how the last election was the final nail in the flirtation coffin, here. However, with Obama's "Change" candidacy sweeping into the presidency, and Democrats increasing their hold over Congress, the Democratic Party was supposed to be marching to total domination. Republicans were told elections have consequences, and many long pent-up Democratic Party priorities were thought to have clear sailing in the coming months and years.

It was with that backdrop that I read with interest a recent article in The New Republic titled, Why the Democrats Can't Govern. It highlited areas of concern for President Obama - not from the opposing Republican Party, but from his own supposed party faithful in Congress. In that article, Jonathan Chait argues,
The last Democrat who held the White House, Bill Clinton, saw the core of his domestic agenda come to ruin, his political support collapse, and his failure spawn a massive Republican resurgence that made progressive reform impossible for a decade to come. The Democrat who last held the White House before that, Jimmy Carter, saw the exact same thing happen to him.

At this early date, nobody can know whether or not Barack Obama will escape this fate. But the contours of failure are now clearly visible. In Obama's case, as with his predecessors, the prospective culprit is the same: Democrats in Congress
It's a well written critique, but one that comes on the heals of a supposedly watershed election for the Democratic Party. An election that was all about change, about the public ditching the Republican Party and the political pendulum swinging inevitably in favor of the Democrats.

But apparently there are significant roadblocks to Democratic domination.

It was in the midst of reading and pondering that article on national Democratic Party internal politics that another internal struggle erupted. This time within the local party.

After apparently simmering for some time, the criticisms boiled over into a blog post by Bob Aagard, who expressed his frustration at state party leadership. It attracted a lot of attention in the form of comments and follow up posts, and seems to have inspired others who share the same frustrations to blog about them as well.

Basically, there is frustration at how the party is being led locally. Utah Dems see party gains in other Western states and lament the failure to capitalize here in Utah. This failure is being blamed on party leadership generally and State head Wayne Holland specifically. Rob Miller of the Utah Amicus blog, and the state vice chair, commented and gave a reasoned defense of the Party's activities. Rob's was one of the first blogs I found when I started this almost 3 years ago, and frankly was one of the reasons for my flirtation with his party. But he hasn't fared so well in these series of posts.

I'm left to wonder at the coincidental timing of these two controversies - one local, one national. The major difference is that the national story is about the struggle with success while the local version is dissatisfaction with failure, or at least less success than was desired. But the link in both stories is criticism of one's own party and party leadership. Does it reveal a hefty chink in the Democratic Party's new found armor, or does it show a party faithful not content to allow the failures of the past? I suppose only time will tell.


Jason The said...

Your reaching beyond the length of human possibility with this connection, Cameron, though I can appreciate the conversation you're hoping to start.

The frustrations on a local level you've gotten right, the frustrations on the national level, you're conflating. Disagreements in congress do not equate to a lack of public support for a president's agenda. In fact, that is one of the problems with congressional R and D's overall, they so often find reason to ignore public opinion in light of more immediate (re-election) interests.

I'd say approval rating-wise, Democrats still have a bright future nationally.

Locally, we have a lot to talk about. But having had this same "get the hell ONLINE" conversation with both local Democrats and Republicans, the Democrats still have the lead in actually listening.

Were it not for Ric Cantrell (my personal local hero), Sen. Pete Knudson (Box Elder), the Republicans are not doing much better when it comes to online presence to fight apathy. In fact, the Republican party in Utah depends on apathy, whereas the Democrats are being held down by it.

Don't take my comments wrong, I'm not attempting to shut you down. In fact, I wish more bloggers would take up a stick and challenge their party to adapt more quickly in using online resources to better engage the public.

But the way you attempt to frame it here takes the credibility out of the entire conversation.

Paul Price said...

Don't confuse a few bloggers as being the pulse of the party. Holland has done a great job Miller could easily win a third term if he had run. I rtead blogs and I enjoy their commentary, but the bloggers who are attacking Holland are the ones who don't get it.

Millers comments were right on.

I'm a Democrat in Salt Lake and you can thank Holland and Miller for finally bringing the leadership the party needed.

I like having adults leading our party.

Cameron said...

Paul, that's a good point about taking bloggers with a grain of salt. Parties are diverse organizations after all. I think Rob has been great for the party, and I too wish there were more grown ups like him involved.

And on that note...

Jason, the national party controversy was written about by that well known conservative shill magazine, The New Republic. It's not my argument, just an article I read that got me thinking. I like to share those things. It strikes me as prudent to learn from past mistakes (Carter and Clinton), and ensure that "contours of failure" that are "clearly visible" don't do to the current president what they did to the last two.

As for the local huff, I'm not sure why a conversation about Democrats always has to include a "well, Republicans are bad too" line of argument. Nothing in my post tried to compare the two or rate one higher than the other.

I think the two situations relate because in this new era of Democratic Party dominance, both the local and national versions are taking shots at themselves. I'm sure it could be written that that shows signs of weakness, but I wonder if it's actually something different. I wonder if publicly noting how Senate democrats ruined Carter and Clinton will help to prevent the same fate for Obama. I wonder if criticisms like yours and Bob's will have the squeaky wheel effect and help the local party make real gains.

Charles D said...

I can't speak for the Utah Democratic Party, but the reason why Democrats cannot govern at the national level is pretty clear.

The Republican senators and representatives are almost 100% loyal to the party line, whatever it happens to be. Democrats on the other hand are divided. A significant number of Democrats are conservative and they vote with Republicans on a number of issues.

Republicans are the party of business, particularly big business. Conservative policy positions generally favor big business so there's no dissonance between the positions a Republican is likely to take and those of his biggest donors. An ever larger number of Democrats are now receiving donations from big business interests but they can't support the Democratic Party base and expect those donations to continue, so they dodge and weave.

So we have a majority party that is divided so that on any given issue 10-40% of them will vote with the opposition and a minority party that is 98% loyal to their party line. That's why Democrats can't govern - they don't have the votes.

Cameron said...

DL, if Republicans always toed the party line then congressional republicans would have a higher approval rating. President Bush would have too for that matter.