Friday, August 10, 2007

Better Late than Never

Although this might be too late to even matter, given our obsession with only covering the news that happened in the last thirty seconds, but I thought I would take a tiny bit of time to write my postmortem on the debate Tuesday night. I know, there was already another one last night; but, all told, I think that it might help me as much as inform you on what I think about the election and the state of politics in this country.

Let me start -- since this appears to be the custom -- by declaring the "winner" to be Dennis Kucinich. I put "winner" in quotes because I think that this is the thing that disturbs me the most about the political class in this country. Politics among the main-stream media is a game. And, for all of their chatter and objections to the MSM, many of the larger blogs are, in fact, guilty of the same thing. There are notable exceptions in both the main-stream media and the blogosphere, but, by-and-large this is still the modus operandi of the political class.

I know that this is not the first political discussion where this has been the case - in fact I wrote an angry letter to Wolf Blitzer after Al Sharpton's Democratic Convention speech in 2004 about the fact that the only thing that Blitzer saw fit to discuss was how far over time Sharpton went and whether this would be an embarrassment to the Democratic Party (which, of course, was not only morally and professionally corrupt, but idiotic. The DLC crowd, already too frightened of Sharpton to begin with, already banished Sharpton to the 4:00pm time slot meaning that Sharpton going over by ten minutes didn't matter. Yet, this was too nuanced of a point for Blitzer and he proved too stupid to pick up on). But, I guess this seemingly laborious tangent gets at my larger point which is this:

No Politics (capital "P") is ever going to create the change that we need without the politics (little "p") to support it.

In other words, candidates pander to this kind of media attention horse-race Politics as if it were the run up to the World Series because rich and/or powerful people see this as a giant game in which, if they are players, they will look brilliant (and, as no small benefit, gain power and/or money themselves). I know, this is not a big shock and seemingly nothing that hasn't been said before. Wow, so powerful people corrupt politics against the interest of most of the population. Call the newswires!

It is not, for me, that this is a point that hasn't been made; but, for me this debate actually showed the potential of another kind of politics that sits outside of media punditocracy. Candidates were forced to interact with (gasp!) a crowd. And, yes, it was raucous. Why was it raucous and why did they not heed Olbermann's pleas to be quiet? Because every single one of the members of that crowd was there to help them make an excruciatingly important choice: Who do I want to be my next President? Who am I going to support by going and knocking on doors (because, let's face it, that is what all of the candidates want, even though, to quote Bill Richardson, all will "continue to take labor's money")? People should be engaged for that decision - it is more scary how passionate most people are.

Olbermann realized this and stopped trying to get them to be quiet. Kucinich realized this and played to the crowd. Clinton tried as best as she could to get into it, but was obviously uncomfortable. Obama has gotten too used to talks in punditry and has lost his community organizing sense. The DLC attack dogs (a.k.a. Dodd and Biden) were too busy attacking Obama and Edwards so that Clinton could look above the fray. And, despite what my esteemed colleague thinks, Richardson didn't make any sense to me (though, apparently, he did much worse last night). And Edwards...John, John, John... No one is there to listen to how you walked the picket line 200 times or have hob-nobbed with labor federation presidents. First, if anyone in that stadium has walked off the job, they have probably walked their own picket line over 200 times. You don't earn credit by walking picket lines X number of times - because you are in a stadium full of people who have done it more. And, second, while you are pandering to the correct people who actually make the endorsements, I would guess that a significant majority of rank-and-file members have a profound distrust for their leadership (and, speaking as a former local president, it is good to have mistrust in one's leaders - they should have to earn it).

So, my horse-race odds casting, though I hate it is as follows. Clinton got out of there unscathed (helped by the fact that there was mysteriously no question about her union-busting lead advisor), Obama looked good, but didn't win much particularly since he was in his home state. Kucinich was the man and Edwards lost, I think, all hope of breaking into the top two. There, I did it.

But, the bigger point that I think that the Democrats can learn from this is the potential power of the crowd. That debate was fun - people cheered, they booed, they waved behind the camera. That is America. Those are the people who give the President their job. I thought that the Democrats lost a huge opportunity during the 2006 State of the Union address. Tim Kaine had just gotten elected governor in a reddish state, the feeling was jubilant, the base was mobilized and people were beginning to realize that the President was out of touch. Bush hardly mentioned New Orleans only four months after the Hurricane and saw fit to talk more about human-animal hybrids. Tim Kaine could have delivered an address "in front of the American people" by giving a public speech to his new constituents in Virginia. And, the symbolism is so stark that even the punditocracy wouldn't miss it - there would be President Bush giving his speech to Congress the ultimate "insider's" venue while the Democratic rebuttal was given to a slice of the American people. The applause wouldn't be staged; no endless sitting and standing, this side clapping, that side sitting on their hands all following the lead of the Majority and Minority Leaders. No, real live people deciding when they would applaud and boo.

But, as long as Clinton and Obama look to get out unscathed, quite literally afraid of the unwashed masses, then progressive politics really have no chance. Despite what the DLC Democrats think, we aren't going to out fundraise or outspend Republicans, but we can, if we find leaders who can, connect with people. It is scary that a single candidate knew how to work that stage in the Democratic primary. And for it, he might have won my vote. Democrats should strategize that.


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