Thursday, December 09, 2004

Why don't the Washington Insiders just come to Meetup?

Maybe it's just a matter of where you are watching the battle from, but I come to an assessment that is completely opposite of Nick Confessore's with respect to the coming battle for the DNC chair (link):

The problem for Dean is that, while he is generally on the reform side, and is himself a New Democrat in all but name, his grassroots political constituency consists largely of antiwar liberals who are full of inchoate fury at Democratic leaders for being a bad opposition party and not blocking the Iraq invasion (fury that is not entirely misplaced). So to get elected DNC chair, Dean has to convince them that the bad guys, the rump establishment, are the DLC and the ex-Clintonites. The DLC makes this a little too easy for Dean because, although they acknowledge that his policies aren't liberal, the tacticians there see his anti-war vibe and Northeastern roots as sending exactly the wrong message to the rest of the country. They don't want him running the party. So the DLC used to pretend Dean was a liberal when really he's not. They've more or less given that up, to their credit, but once the DNC chair fight commenced, Dean had a renewed interest in stoking the food fight. Thus many of the outside-the-Beltway supporters of party reform have come to view it as a battle between Washington centrists and grassroots liberals -- even though it isn't.

I am a founding member of that "grassroots constituency" that Nick speaks of (I started going to Dean meetups in March of 2003). I have seen the Dean movement from its beginnings, at its highest and at its lowest, and I can say without a moments hesitation that Dean's constituency DOES NOT "consist largely of antiwar liberals". Yes, the anti-war crowd gravitated to Dean during the election, but anti-war has never been the defining issue of the Dean movement. The defining issue, at least as I see it, is that Democrats have been allowing themselves to get rolled repeatedly by the Republicans and we are SICK AND TIRED OF IT!

Dean demonstrated that the Democrats could act like an opposition candidate and actually achieve some measure of success. Dean may not have won the nomination, but he went from being a vanity candidate to a real "threat" to win the nomination, shattered previous Democratic fundraising and volunteer records, and managed to come the closest to defining a viable alternative course for the Democratic project. By nearly any measure I consider the Dean campaign to have been a success. John Kerry, bless his soul, ran as much on Dean's message as his own (of course, that may have just contributed to the confusion about just what Kerry stood for).

But my disagreement with Nick goes even beyond this, because Nick sees it as the outsiders who have come to view it as a battle between centrists and liberals. Yet didn't he just label Deanies as primarily "antiwar liberals"? It is the insiders, like Nick, Peter Beinert and the TNR crew who continue to portray the Dean movement as nothing but warmed over McGovernite liberalism.

I actually agree with much of what is in Nick's post. But this paragraph proves that he still "doesn't get it" about the Dean movement.

My question for the insiders is a simple one: how many Dean meetups have you been to? How man Deanies have you really talked to? And I don't mean just the most fringe elements of the group (every group has fringe elements). I'm talking about the large group of meetup attendees who don't follow the works of Noam Chomsky or listen to Air America religiously. I'm talking about the large group of meetup attendees who are coming to the meetings because they "want to do something" but the Democratic party isn't offering them an outlet for their frustrations. These people are the core of the Dean movement. They are the ones who have made him as big as he is.

They aren't scary do-good peaceniks. They are nice people who love their country and are worried about where it is going. Maybe you should come out of your Washington, D.C. salons some time and meet them. You're more than welcome to attend any time. Just click here and find the nearest meetup in your area (next one is on Jan. 5th).

(You know, I think I'm beginning to understand the "heartland" church-going crowd and their complaints about elitist liberals looking down their nose at them.)

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