Posts Tagged ‘Howard Dean’

Strategies Change Based on Circumstance

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

I’ve been fairly critical of the certain segment of progressive activists who generally assume that everything good that happens is the result of the “50 State Strategy” Howard Dean came up with as DNC chair, and consequently attribute anything bad that happens to the decision to end it in 2009. Indeed, I’ve been fairly critical of the strategy itself. Dean basically devised it in an overreaction to his crushing defeat in the Iowa caucuses when, after busing in volunteers from outside the state and ignoring precinct captains and prominent local activists, he was trounced by Kerry and Edwards, whose campaigns had courted these local fixtures who could actually deliver votes in the caucuses. Dean’s response was basically to overestimate the effect local effects have on elections, or at least national elections. Congressional general elections are not the Iowa caucuses, after all. And so, Dean took DNC money and paid for state parties to hire additional field staff, which left less money to spend directly to Congressional candidates. But hey, Democrats won big in 2006 and 2008, so it’s not really a big deal now, nor would I necessarily say it was a failure, even though the 2006 elections pretty clearly showed that Dean was overreacting to 2004. But all’s well that ends well.

By contrast, 2010 simply isn’t 2006, or even 2008. Whereas the Democrats were an opposition party in 2008, and especially in 2006, now they control every lever of the legislative process, especially the White House. And the sort of strategy that works for an opposition party simply doesn’t work for a governing party. The criticism that the DNC is too heavily geared towards advocacy for the Obama administration is just stupid; how voters feel about Obama’s Presidency will be (along with employment) the primary factor in how Democrats do in national elections, and to a lesser extent state elections. That’s just the place our national elections have evolved to; we have a parliamentary political system without having a parliamentary governing system. People view the President as the leader of government, assign outsized blame/credit to him for what the government does, and then votes accordingly. If unemployment stays around 10% and Obama’s approval ratings slip to the low-to-mid-40’s, it won’t make a bit of difference how many field organizers the Democratic Party has on payroll. This is something Republicans did a good job of recognizing, and getting their members of Congress on board for, for the most part, and something Democrats really need to figure out. Everyone staking out their own positions and haggling against one another isn’t really effective at managing public opinion, signing on the White House’s agenda and working to get it through Congress quickly would provide a much better political strategy, especially given that the President is much more popular than any Congressional actor, and certainly more popular than Congress as a whole. Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman posturing against the President is one thing, but the Democratic caucus as a whole would do well to look out for the political fortunes of their President, because they’re inextricably wedded to him electorally.

On a more personal note, I’d add that one problem with the SPP worship is that the field organizers it paid for weren’t necessarily that good at what they were doing. Speaking from personal observation, Ohio Republicans ran strategic and tactical circles around their Democratic opponents in 2006. In fact, it wasn’t even close; it was sort of like watching the #1 team in the country play an FCS division school. But Republicans were so unpopular, nationally and at the state level, that it simply didn’t matter how good their campaigns and staff were; people didn’t want them in charge of government anymore. And so even though the Democrats were operationally overwhelmed, they won 4 of 5 state executive offices, got more votes for their House candidates, and even got Sherrod Brown elected to the Senate. All this, of course, because George Bush and Bob Taft were incredibly unpopular.

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The Myopia of the Public Option

Friday, August 14th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

There’s much to appreciate in Howard Dean’s comments on healthcare reform at Netroots Nation, both on the policy and politics fronts, but at the same time, I keep coming away with this nagging feeling about the continued obsession progressive activists and activist styled bloggers have with the public option. It’s not that the public option isn’t important or worthwhile, it very much is, it’s just that it’s not the center of the bill, by any stretch. And it’s not that Dean’s 2004 plan didn’t contain any sort of public insurance plan, (or many of the other meaningful regulations the current proposal seeks to implement), it’s that I can’t shake this fear that while progressives focus on the public option, reform opponents will go after the more central regulations like community rating. And I do have to wonder whether or not the fact that the public option is easy to understand while the other things are a bit more complex, and numerous, doesn’t play into this as well.

But as far as advocacy goes more generally, I think the public option is one of the places its needed least. The White House has already thrown down a marker on it, before there was even a House bill drafted I believe, and most of the Congressional Democrats have already come to something of a compromise; progressives will get some form of public insurance option, while conservative Dems will get concessions weakening it in the market place, from limiting who is eligible to purchase it to prohibiting it from using Medicare style rate bargaining. Which is sub-optimal, but nothing that can’t be changed later. And putting something in place is much more important than making sure it’s absolutely perfect, over even “good enough.” It’s much, much easier to expand a popular program than it is to construct and implement that program in the first place. See Social Security.

But that said, it does seem like the debate over the public option is pretty much over with, and that there’s going to be some sort of public insurance program. Progressive activists would do better to keep their guns trained on the central aspects of the bill reforming the health insurance industry. That’s where most people are going to be affected at, and that’s where the bill is going to do the most immediate good. It’s also what the insurance industry has the most incentive to try to derail.

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