Saturday, February 12, 2005

A new day
Howard Dean takes charge at the DNC

WASHINGTON HILTON--Today your blogstress forgoes her usual Saturday brunch with her D.C. famiglia--an assembly of brilliant and charming gay men and one apparently straight child --in order to watch history made at the annual meeting of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). You’ll recall that during the presidential primary, your Webwench pretty much drank Howard Dean’s Kool Aide, and found herself enraged when the regular party tore down the only candidate (that would be Dr. Dean) who seemed to understand that the old ways of doing Democratic politics needed to be banished from the 21st Century.

What a difference a year makes. Just about this time in 2004, Howard Dean found himself vanquished in the Iowa caucuses--and written off by the broadcast media (at the bidding of the party establishment) as a serious player in party politics when the doctor’s irrational exuberance on caucus night was cast as evidence of emotional instability. The party establishment went on to prove its already well-documented ineptitude, not only in the presidential election, but especially in the rout of Dems in Congress. So, enter the doctor to offer a cure.

While nobody was paying attention, Howard Dean began his campaign to chair the Democratic party. At a Democratic Party fundraiser last March, Dean was shunted from the main stage to a side stage with the rest of the also-rans in the presidential primary. There he used his 10 minutes to urge the Democrats to take a lesson form Ralph Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition. The Dems needed to look at Reed’s organizational model, he said, and make a point of getting Democrats elected to school boards, county offices and state legislatures throughout the country.

In the service of the Washington Blade, your cybertrix nailed the former Vermont governor on his way out of the hall:

Before Reed’s side took over the country, we reminded the governor, the technique he was articulating was the means by which Reed’s evangelicals took over the Republican Party. We noted that earlier this month, Dean used the foundation laid by his presidential campaign to form a new grass-roots organization, Democracy for America. Did the governor, we wanted to know, wish to take over the Democratic Party?

“Well, I want to take over the country,” he replied, “not for me, but for ordinary people.”

It’s about the structure, stupid

In today’s nominating session, the dominant theme to emerge was a promise to devolve the national party’s power to the state level. “Strength does not come from the consultants down; it comes from the grassroots up...,” Dean said in his acceptance speech. “The path to power is to entrust others with it,” he continued, after a disclaimer about “not being much of a Zen person.”

Your Ă©crivaine agrees that this is indeed the way for the Dems to move ahead, and to create a party structure elastic enough to prevail on the new political landscape. But how will the consultants feel about being so disempowered? They know where to find the levers of power in the Washington establishment, to which Dean is a stranger. Will they move those levers against him?

On a parallel path of sorts, Andy Stern, national president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), has proposed a restructuring of the labor movement in ways that would put out of business the national officers of some 40 member unions of the AFL-CIO. Though Stern’s solution calls for a consolidation of power through the condensing of some 60 unions down to 20, his proposal echoes Dean’s in this manner: it’s about the structure, stupid.

Your net-tĂȘte, in the guise of her less madcap persona (the journalist, Adele M. Stan), has long posited that both the Dems and big labor still talk in the parameters of the old economy, as if a growing economy was good for everybody, as if economic sovereignty existed in the realm of possibilities. The new shape of our national economy and that of the world has been ignored in assessments of how best to serve working people.

With Howard Dean now at the helm of the Democratic National Committee, and Andy Stern poised to smelt and remold the AFL-CIO, a new day is truly upon us. Should these guys do nothing more than smash up the old structures of their respective institutions, they’ll have done their nation a great favor.

Howard Dean is right: the new political structures must be built a new from the ground up if they are to succeed. The only way to get to the ground is to raze the behemoth that now stands upon it. No tinkering with the existing models, whether in big labor or the Democratic Party, will breed success. Best to just get them out of the way to remove that temptation.

Loving the L word

The secondary theme from today’s Demfest is the return of the “L” word. Throughout the gathering, people were declaring themselves as liberal, saying they were proud to be so. The emergence of Howard Dean has liberated the liberals, removing the taint from the beliefs that once defined the Democratic Party. In her nominating speech in support of Dean (who won the chairmanship by acclimation), Alexandra Gallardo-Rooker, vice chair of the California Democratic Committee, asserted, “I’m sick and tired of hearing the so-called experts saying that there’s something wrong with the Democrats, and that we need to move to the right to fix it. We have nothing to apologize for, and we’re not moving.”

How ‘bout them apples?

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