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Mon Aug 31, 2020, 03:45 PM


If we feel that the party has been casting about for a good transformative strategy, and permanently establishing trust, this review can save us reading time over the next 60 days.

O’Neill writes a fine summary of Hersh. He further gives timely, important advice to unify and permanently establish the Democratic Party as the natural basis of good governance and protector of equality and rule of law for Americans.

His review is also about how we win in 2020 and every election after.
(This is a paraphrased summary of his review. I've bolded what I believe are key points.)

Review of Joseph O’Neill in NY Review of Books

From Politics Is for Power: How to Move Beyond Political Hobbyism, Take Action and Make Real Change by Eitan Hersh (Scribner 2020)

"“Partisan” does not connote gratuitous animosity against one's political opponents. It refers to embracing a party, and a party identity, as the prime means to advancing a political agenda. It involves identifying the opposing party (rather than its supporters or even its leading figures) as your stated adversary, and waging a perpetual campaign of negative partisanship against that adversary.
(as when Margaret Thatcher/John Major retained power for almost 20 years by consistently characterizing the rival Labour Party as "unfit for power;" and as Republicans have explicitly bashed Dems for years with some success).

“Ideology," in this sense, isn’t exhausted by the concept of a policy agenda. But if Democrats want to win elections repeatedly, the must enact policies that are both effective and popular with Democrats.
It’s an insight that’s been mislaid by the left but not by the right: an American political party can’t consistently win elections, mid-term and state-level races in particular, without the sustained and vigorous grassroots participation of its base.
Which means swing voters, shrunk to small numbers lately will support you if the big outcome) — jobs + economy in particular — are favorable, and your branding strategy (positive and negative) is strong.
Base turnout won’t happen unless the grassroots identifies strongly with the party, is united by a common purpose, and is determined to win.

Dignity galvanizes a moral claim to power that’s fresh, clear and collectively shared by young progressives and the oldest moderates within the party. The politics of dignity (as opposed to the Republicans’ politics of spite) brings progressives and moderates together to close the deep social divides across the country.

It opens a new way to solidarity that requires the next big thing: reckoning with the urgency of overcoming the injuries of race and gender and also class. “Dignity” is defined in Article 1 of the Univ. Declaration of Human Rights. Even Democrats from Biden to Ocasio-Cortez to Sherrod regularly use the concept in their public remarks, though it’s only peripheral in liberal left discourse.
Dignity synthesizes issues of justice & recognition, tax & economic policy, statehood for DC. It links working class whites’ struggles with struggles of American minorities. “Dignity” can unify the Big Tent requirement of finding a generalizable, unsullied, instantly usable theme; “dignity” is as actionable and inspiring as any.

Charismatic political issues — those that involve violence, sex, or anti-social or hateful behavior — generate a lot of excitement, but the excitement is confined to those specific issues.

If your goal, as a Democrat, is to create a successful partisan movement, this habitual distributing of emotion and eyeballs is not ideal. You want millions of political hobbyists directing their power in support of the Democratic Party and against the Republican Party.

Hersh tells a highly instructive personal story. In 2016 he approached his local Democratic Party organization in Brookline, MA, and offered to do year-round community outreach on behalf of the party. He was met with a “hard no.”

The local Democratic committee focused exclusively on mobilizing voters shortly before state elections. Hersh persisted, offering to help raise turnout for municipal elections. Again, he drew a blank. Hersh writes:

'For the Democrats to get their vote out even when their candidates are weak but the stakes are high, such as in that 2010 special election [when Sen. Ted Kennedy’s seat was won by a Republican, denying Democrats a Senate supermajority], communities such as Brookline need robust, long-term party engagement. That’s what they lack in communities all around the state and country.’

… the difficulty Hersh ran into wasn’t political hobbyism. It was the inadequacy of the local Democratic Party — specifically, its refusal to confer agency on a volunteer itching to show ordinary constituents that the party cared about their concerns. This is a structural problem.

A flurry of studies have shown that this kind of grassroots neglect has been devastating to Democratic electoral performance. You see a lot of discussion, especially on the left, about the need to implement policies that effect structural change. What’s often overlooked is that the two American parties are themselves structures, with extraordinary power. Change them and you change a lot.

All that Democrats can do to change the GOP is to defeat it. Reduce it to electoral rubble and force it to rebuild itself as a party that is basically competent and doesn’t pose a threat to organic and democratic life on Earth.

But how do you change the Democratic Party into a partisan movement that is capable of inflicting such a defeat?

You can’t simply exhort ideology into existence. Democrats have to cohere around the principles of dignity and grassroots power. It requires action by three main stakeholders:
— the Democratic Party apparatus — the DNC in particular
— Democratic elected officials
— potential and actual supporters of the party, ordinary civilians across regions

Of these stakeholders, the institutional ones have the most immediate agency — the power to generate partisan coherence by action. What they must do: gain the trust and loyalty of the younger, more progressive cohort; keep the trust of the more centrist party failthful, make swing voters trust Democrats more than they distrust Republicans.

To do that, they must take these seven steps:

1. Embrace the principle of dignity a a central partisan theme. This theme will not only help unify and enrgize the party through this campaign, but provide a powerful and protective narrative for future partisan action.

2. Appoint figures trusted from the left to senior positions in the Biden administration & party organization. The Progressives (younger) Wing is almost completely without representation in the congressional and DNC leaderships. It’s a scandal and must be fixed right away. The Biden-Sanders Unity Task Forces (producing joint policy recommendations in various areas) are a good step in that direction.

3. Biden’s administration & allies in congress must take the strongest legislative and executive actions possible to do what Dems, younger ones in particular, want them to do. A Green New Deal — w/ a jobs component, not some pro forma one — will be crucial. Taxing the rich a lot more will be essential. An historical leap forward in health care is essential. Doing stuff Democrats like will be powerful in creating partisan loyalty — more than saying stuff Democrats like.

4. Substantiate the narrative of Dignity by reforming police and ICE, fixing voter suppression, fast-tracking immigration reform. These actions are supported by the majority of Americans, and urgently are awaited by party loyalists of color. A narrative of acted upon Dignity — applied to the economically progressive measures outlined above — will enable a wide range of liberals to support these measures.

5. Enact reforms that correct dangerous electoral advantages enjoyed by the GOP. Statehood for DC, and restoring the Voting Rights Act are no-brainers. Scrap the Senate filibuster rule if need be. Criminalize voter disenfranchisement, intentional or accidental. Expand the Supreme Court, if necessary to give legal permanence to these changes.

6. Start thinking about 2022 midterms from day one. These are won by base turnout, and Democrats must rebrand the party as a party of grassroots organizers toward 2022. That means more than a PR campaign: it requires funding, empowering, privileging grassroots orgs, and putting the DNC apparatus at their disposal/ Primary challenges should NOT be discourage. Faction disputes must be viewed as good-faith differences of opinion — unless they undermine shared partisan purpose and mutual respect that the party ethos of Dignity requires.

7. Stoke negative partisanship. Americans must go to the 2022 and 2024 polls with a strong and valid fear of letting the GOP back into power. Always be negatively branding the GOP in the eyes of swing and persuadable voters. Approaches are arguable, but the master narrative is: The Republican Party can no longer be trusted with power. Repeat this endlessly, verify this narrative with public record misdeeds. Brand the Republican Party as the party of misdeeds, not just as current aberrant Trumpist corruption that defines their current platform.

Call the disastrous Republican economy that Biden will inherit “the disastrous Republican economy.”
Call the Republican pandemic crisis “the Republican pandemic crisis.”
Always trumpet the success of Democratic initiatives.
Always trumpet the danger of letting Republicans back into power.

Never repeat the mistakes of 2010, when Democrats apologized for the Affordable Care Act and took ownership of the Republican financial crisis.
Democrats must comport themselves as the natural party of government so that they will be perceived as such and win more future elections.

Joe Biden will be crucial in all this. Biden is broadly viewed as earning bipartisan political capital and personal honor over his 50 years of public service. He is responding to this moment of historic need and opportunity. There could be no more credible messenger against the GOP, no more reassuring leader in an era of transformative, partisan legislative action, than Joe Biden. "

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ancianita Aug 2020 OP
frazzled Aug 2020 #1
ancianita Aug 2020 #2

Response to ancianita (Original post)

Mon Aug 31, 2020, 04:15 PM

1. Maybe O'Neill or Hersh should run

and see how that goes.

I hate to be a Debby Downer (I'm feeling down today), but I keep reading all these armchair-quarterbacking "advice" to the Democrats articles and posts and tweets, and I'm thinking ... you must think you have it all figured out. It's just theorizing from the comfort of home.

He kind of lost me at the example of Brookline not wanting Hersh's help. Well, maybe they had their reasons. But to use any town in Boston-area Massachusetts is ridiculous: each one has a robust Democratic Town Committee, and they will drag you into their meetings, and committees, and electioneering efforts by the seat of your pants (I know, I lived in one such town, and know how it works there). Brookline is so solidly Democratic that in 2018 Elizabeth Warren won 21,086 to 3,316 against the Republican, and the Democratic gubernatorial candidate who lost the state won in Brookline. In the 2016 presidential primary, 14,999 Democrats voted, and only 2,871 Republicans (in what was a hotly contested Republican primary); in the presidential election that year, Clinton took 24,583 votes to Trump's 3,175. I figure Brookline Democrats felt they were pulling their weight just fine.

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Response to frazzled (Reply #1)

Mon Aug 31, 2020, 04:37 PM

2. I can agree that the local example might not prove the claim about broader structural problems,

but, even given your correction of how Brookline's party org is, can you see that structural problems still likely exist in local Democratic orgs throughout the rest of the country? I can.

Take the blue state of New Mexico, which I'd say is different from Massachusetts. My son, age 33, is the co-chair of the Grant County Democratic Party. What he experiences is that his attempts to include local primary candidates, sponsor local talks and activities are met with no's. That's my example that fits with Hersh's experience.

I'm pretty sure O'Neill uses Hersh's experience is in the spirit of pointing out how local work can fall short of building solidarity around local issues beyond party affiliation. Taking Hersh's intent in another way, because Brookline is solid blue, vote-wise, doesn't mean that it couldn't use an infusion of activism that might spread to other states.

It's the way I look at O'Neill's point about how local Democrats like Debbie Wasserman Schultz's DNC status has snuffed local attempts to lead locally such that primary leaders emerge. She's shown herself as a broker of exclusionary power in Florida Democratic primaries. She shows what I've noticed about Florida Democrats' jockeying for DNC status. It's not productive or unifying.

Thank you for your post.

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