And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you're going to fall,
Tell 'em a hookah-smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call ...
Go ask Alice, I think she'll know...
White Rabbit, Jefferson Airplane
In 2010, DFL losses to the GOP in the Tea Party wave at the polls that year were laid at the doorstep of then-Chair Brian Melendez and Vice (Associate) Chair Donna Cassutt.
I said at the time in a letter to the DFL-SCC that blaming the leadership for those losses was unfair, since no one predicted they were likely, or even possible, until just a few days before the election and because elections are not won or lost due to any single element: Be it party leadership at the time, how money is spent; how energized volunteers, candidates and the electorate are, etc. The outcome of an election is based on a collective of actions, events, influences and — perhaps the greatest unknown of all — the mood of the electorate. So I supported the re-election of Melendez and Cassutt. Members of the SCC felt differently, however. I respected their choice then and I respect it now.
Today, I feel the same way about the leadership of DFL Chair Ken Martin and Vice Chair Marge Hoffa. The DFL sustained losses in 2014 and 2016, to be sure, but Democrats across the country sustained losses. Pollsters, pundits, thought leaders and political leaders all misread the mood of the electorate. Subsequently, there was not a concerted effort of any kind by the vast majority of the political leadership to heal the divisions after the bitter endorsement contest between Clinton and Sanders. The feeling that Clinton was a sure winner obviated the need for fence-mending. Nor was there a studied read by the leadership on the left as to the reasons voters were supporting Trump, a phenomenon as much economic as cultural in origin. Instead, Trump’s base was generally dismissed by all the smart people with advanced degrees as “deplorables,” racists, misogynists, alt-right reactionaries, and the like. Undoubtedly, some of them were one or even all those things — but that doesn’t mean their economic and cultural anxieties don’t matter and that their votes don’t count. Except perhaps in the minds of those Moral Highgrounders among us who feel they can impose their personal litmus test of ideological purity on everyone around them, including other Democrats.
It’s human nature to look for causes outside of ourselves for our failings and upsets. It’s human nature to seek support from others in our fault-finding efforts. And it’s human nature to seek revenge on others for perceived slights and insults, some of which may even fester for many years. But regardless of whether these things are human nature, that doesn’t make them right. It takes a certain amount of maturity and character to strike the log from our own eye before pointing out the mote in our neighbor’s.
That’s my fundamental problem with the current race for DFL State Party Chair. I don’t find any real equanimity in judgment on either the broad spectrum of causes for our party’s losses — including the mood of the electorate — or why the current leadership should be exclusively held to blame for those losses. I also don’t find any real equanimity of judgment with regard to assessing the current leadership’s qualities of leadership: managerial effectiveness, record of achievement, fiduciary oversight, work ethic, etc. The message from the honorable opposition seems to be that we lost the Senate, lost more seats in the House, and lost most of those seats in the rural districts of Minnesota (which perennially feels neglected), and those losses embody an obvious indictment of the current leadership for incompetence or worse.
Well, I don’t buy it. I didn’t buy that argument in 2010 and I’m not buying it now. Besides, I’m not interested in looking to the past to deconstruct and litigate what went wrong, how it went wrong, and who’s to blame. My advice to fellow DFL’ers who are inclined to think someone has to pay for our losses — and that it ought to be Martin and Hoffa — is to chill with the whole whiney-butt sulking self-indulgence thing. I can make just as cogent an argument that those losses were due to millennials failing to show up at the polls in those elections. Why not blame them? How about this: Put your game face on and get back on the field. Or go sit on the bench. Or leave. Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way — it’s your choice. But choose, please, and soon.
Is that “bullying” to say these things so bluntly? Well, forgive me. I didn’t go to Montessori School, I didn’t get a trophy for ‘participating’ in soccer, and no one — not even my sainted mother — cared a jot if my precious self-esteem might be injured by a critical remark. My soccer games as a kid were composed of as many as 20 bruisers on a side, with husky German and Polish farm boys facing tough Irish and Slavic sons of railroaders, meat-packers and miners. Our games were brutal, mostly without rules, and it was rare that a match ended without a split lip, a bloody nose, or a black eye — or even all three. No one complained and no one ever took thought of revenge for an insult or injury, or of finding a scapegoat to feed to the lions. We all knew instinctively that life was hard, adult life was harder still, and some of us were destined to fall on that long road to our Final Judgment in ways tragic and sad, in ways that taught us beyond any testament of faith that human beings were the subjects and creations of a hard and implacable God. Sorry if that offends your delicate sensibilities in upholding an ethos of genderlessness in our political discourse (itself a useful fiction for some), but I’m merely being honest about where I come from and who I am — and who I am not.
We have before us a golden opportunity to re-group, re-trench and counter-attack in this our endless struggle for peace, prosperity and justice for all. That’s what we should be doing instead of playing another round of these silly blame games. The Women’s March, the Indivisible Movement, the Immigrant’s Boycott, Black Lives Matter — all these signs and wonders indicate that there is a new spirit of activism among the shocked and confused voters across the political spectrum, which portends a new opportunity to engage the electorate in powerful and effective new ways. The salient questions for me, then, are these:
1. Who is best equipped — by temperament, by experience, by sound judgment, by effective action, by managerial strength — to lead this party to tap into those new energies and best exploit that new opportunity before us to recover from our losses and recapture the institutions of power?
2. Who is best able to heal the divides that currently exist within the party, as opposed to exploit them and aggravate them?
3. With a gubernatorial race now in the works — with many qualified and capable candidates having declared and still more likely to do so — who is best equipped by temperament, experience and judgment to manage an endorsement race with equanimity both in official conduct and in personal demeanor, a race that itself could become divisive and embittered and thereby affect the outcomes of other statewide and local races?
In my view, the clear choice is Ken Martin and Marge Hoffa. That’s how I’ll be voting on March 4. If my arguments have merit with you, I hope you’ll join me.