The title of this post cuts to the chase, but I might surprise some readers by saying this isn’t about the Democratic presidential debates. I have an issue with how DNC (Democratic National Committee) Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz made the decision, about which more later, but I’m not all that bothered about the number or timing of the debates. I don’t know the right number or best times, and I’m skeptical about the utility of presidential debates anyway. So that’s not my issue. Actually, “issues” plural.
Since I’m taking a position aligned with many supporters of Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley (and I suspect the position of the candidates themselves though they haven’t said this), I just want to reiterate that I’m not picking a candidate. I’m the chair of the DFL of my senate district, which means that I’m running the precinct caucuses and the convention where we pick delegates to the state convention, and I don’t want any doubts about my impartiality. I also want to be clear that though my chair position is why I won’t pick a candidate, I don’t in any way speak for the party in this post. This is purely my own opinion, and no one else should be held responsible for anything I say here.
So why does the national chair need to go?
First, as alluded to above, Wasserman Schultz made the debate decision unilaterally. I’m well aware of the massive difference between a national and local chair, but nonetheless Chair 101 is that you need to consult on big decisions, even when empowered to act alone. At a minimum, anyone who disagrees can’t say you didn’t ask first. You get ideas you maybe hadn’t considered, and more buy-in to whatever the decision was (and now any members of my central committee reading this know why I bring up stuff I could just do myself). The DNC’s vice chairs felt compelled to complain publicly about not being included in decision making and while I’m skeptical when someone decides to air the proverbial dirty laundry, they seem to have seen the debate decision as a last straw. I’m not going to speculate on any bias she might have, because it’s the actions that matter rather than the motive.
Second, a large part of the national chair’s job is being the party spokesman, the chief spinmaster, and she’s bad at it. It’s admittedly unfair that I can’t point to a recent specific example, so take this just as opinion. Well, it’s all opinion, but the basis for this opinion is the multiple times I’ve seen her interviewed where she was unable to move off her talking points, even when they didn’t fit where the interview was going. It felt like she had some practiced lines and that’s all she could say. This was my impression before she was become DNC chair, so I was mildly surprised and quite annoyed when she got the job. As chair, she seems deaf to the feedback she’s getting while speaking. It makes her speeches painful to listen to.
Third, there was no apparent national campaign during last year’s lousy midterms. She made the same mistakes her predecessor, Tim Kaine, made in 2010, from which one of my most distinct recollections is the moment in October when I realized that the national campaign I kept waiting for national Democratic leaders to start wasn’t going to happen. That lack of strategy was the strategy. The idea was to have each candidate localize the campaign by avoiding national issues, attacking opponents on stupid character stuff, and avoiding their own party’s president. Both parties do this when on the wrong end of a wave. It never works. For either party. If this should have been apparent in 2010, how much more so in 2014 with the lesson so recent? This isn’t all on Wasserman Schulz, since I blame congressional leaders too, but she was part of the problem.
Fourth, she isn’t a full time chair. She’s still in the US House, which is a full time job by itself, and she’s supposed to run the DNC when, on her lunch break? I was likewise critical of Kaine, who was an incumbent governor when he became chair. Governor, representative, and chair are each full time jobs. Kaine’s predecessor, Howard Dean, was chair full time. I suspect part of why the 50-state strategy worked, besides the obvious necessity of being a good idea, is that Dean was there day after day to implement it. He had an ambition of building state and local parties to the point where Democrats would contest every election. Last year, several Republican congressmen had no Democratic opponent, and a large minority of state legislative seats go unchallenged. Again, not all of that is on the national chair, but this should be regarded as a crisis and I see few signs that it is.
Could Wasserman Schultz resign her congressional seat and focus full time on being chair? Yes, and in fact, if she did that, I would retract my call for her to resign as chair. That’s how big a deal it is for the chair to be full time. Pick a job, either one … but just one.
I’m not concerned about my policy differences with her. Chairs don’t affect policy directly like an elected official. A chair’s effect on public policy comes from effectiveness at making the party more functional and getting more Democrats elected. In those terms, how are we doing? Outside of the presidency, we’re losing badly. Yes I know, the DFL holds about everything except the state house, and we have a decent chance to take it back next year, but Minnesota is an exception. It’s the exception where I live and devote my efforts, but I can still be painfully aware of the situation elsewhere.
I haven’t brought up the suspension of the Bernie campaign’s voter database access because that was actually a correct decision. Losing access for a day while the data breach was investigated seemed fair, and I’m critical of how the Bernie campaign chose that moment to claim they’d been treated unfairly; terrible timing, right after getting caught doing something they very much shouldn’t have done. They should have had the sense to be quiet for a while after the correct move of firing the supervisor who had staff poke around in Hillary data. So I guess the leading campaigns are equal in that respect, that they failed to handle the first crisis to hit their campaigns. Yes, I was just as critical of the Hillary campaign over their handling of the email story. So the upshot is I don’t hold that particular grievance with Wasserman Schultz.
But I don’t need it either. She shouldn’t have been picked due to being lousy on TV and having another full time job, and she should have left after the debacle of 2014. That she has trouble working with other DNC officials is deeply concerning for next year’s election, and the perception of bias towards one presidential candidate has undermined her credibility. Time for a fresh start with a full time chair.
From Mac Hall: Gotta agree with ya … the parties do better with a full-time chair that does not have elective responsibilities elsewhere … combine that with the fundraising aspect which leaves her open for more criticism.
Your plea does not seem to be alone … as this petition has exceed 50,000 signatures.
My suggestion would be to have Democratic National Committee vice chair R.T. Rybak replace her.
From Invenium Viam: An eminently fair, rational and well-reasoned indictment. It’s now no longer a question of bias on DWS’s part: it has become a question of competence and whether her chairmanship is an asset or a deficit to the national party. I’ve moved to the deficit side …
From Jude: Please remember this was Obama’s pick.