Monday, December 27, 2004

Defining victory

Markos Zuniga gives Salon and its readers a crash course in the philosophy behind the new politics:

Editor's note: In an item assessing the rise and fall of political blogs in 2004, Salon's cover story on Monday included the following quote: "Readers of Daily Kos funneled half a million dollars to a 'Kos dozen' of congressional candidates, and every single one of those lost at the polls." Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the man behind Daily Kos, argues that Salon has missed the point.

The point, as I wrote repeatedly on the site, was not to win those contests. It was to contest as many seats as possible that the party was ignoring. I personally helped Stan Matsunaka get in the race against Marylin Musgrave, and Daily Kos readers pumped in nearly $60K into the race. For that investment, Musgrave had to spend $3 million of her own money, and the NRCC had to spend another $2 million, in order to eke out a 51 percent victory.

That district went from being uncontested four months before the election, to costing the GOP $5 million to defend. That's $5 million that couldn't be used in more at-risk seats.

This is a point I've been trying to make since the "failed" Dean campaign. Victory in politics is not simply a matter of who wins or loses a particular race. The victor is the one who controls the political dialog and can direct the policy direction of the political community for the near term. The latter certainly requires electoral victory because without it you simply don't have the power of the state to back up your policy proposals. But the former is a more amorphous goal that can be achieved without necessarily winning more votes than the other guy. If you can dictate the pace of the campaign and the message of the campaign then you are controlling the political dialog. Dean succeeded at this by forcing the Democratic party to start paying attention to whole swaths of its constituency that it had come to ignore. And, as Markos points out, many Democrats forced Republicans to change their political calculations in the face of unexpected threats.

Yes, this did not ultimately translate to electoral victory. But would not having run these campaigns have done any better? Indeed, would allowing the Republicans to get away unchallenged have allowed them to achieve even greater electoral success? Winning also means not losing and Democrats didn't lose all that many elections this cycle. It could have been considerably worse. Indeed, I am convinced that a non-Dean goaded Kerry probably would have lost by a considerable margin in 2004.

A central message of 2004 is that we must not be dismissive of success just because it isn't as successful as we would like. I have been saying for some time now that reversing the trends of the last 30 years could take an equal 30 years of effort. That we came as close as we did to unseating a war-time President as we did speaks volumes. It is a hint that it may not take us the 30 years I previously thought it would take.

I remain optimistic about the future.


Post a Comment

<< Home