Friday, January 28, 2005

Dean vs. Rosenberg

Josh Marshall has endorsed Simon Rosenberg for DNC chair.

Josh makes a compelling case (please read it before continuing with my post), I'm just not convinced that it is a compelling case for Rosenberg.

I absolutely agree with Josh's assessment of the two things that the Democrats need to do: organize and unite. We need to build, from the ground up, a new organizational structure to match the impressive Republican machine. Every candidate for the position has this as a major talking point (so much so that "50 state organization" has almost become a cliché). We also need to present a united front and not give the Republicans any cover in advancing their agenda. Bush and Co. would never have gotten as far as they had were it not for the breathing room they needed.

The question for me is which of the two candidates, Dean or Rosenberg, has the best chance to achieve both of these goals (I'm not going to deal with Frost because I just don't think he has a chance of achieving either of Josh's goals.)

Organization

When it comes to organization, both Dean and Rosenberg have compelling resumes. Rosenberg has a longer record at national organization (The New Democrat Network is older than Democracy For America). But DFA has been remarkably effective in its short time in existence, turning the legions of his supporters into a grassroots army for new (small-n) Democrats. Furthermore, Dean, was a proven organizer as head of the Democratic Governors organization. 

Finally, organization requires motivation and Dean is a proven motivator while Rosenberg has virtually no record in that regard.

Unity

When it comes to unity, on the surface, at least, Dean is the more divisive figure than Rosenberg. Rosenberg is well liked in some Dean circles if for no other reason that he rejected the From/Reed line on Dean. Rosenberg recognized the organizational power of Dean's campaign before most other establishment Dems did. It is within the latter circle that Dean has the most ingrained opposition and thus, arguably, has less chance of leading the establishment into the required unity. But there is a significant ingrained opposition to Rosenberg as well within the reform ranks because of his past history with the DLC. Even his break with From and Reed over Dean does not alleviate that history for many people.

Trust me on this, there are a lot of Deaners out there that are as suspicious of Rosenberg as there are establishment Dems who are suspicious of Dean.

In Dean's favor is his proven record of bringing people together who might otherwise be divided. Consider his work getting a united endorsement from AFSCME and SEIU, two service unions that have traditionally been at loggerheads. Dean, if nothing else, is a great negotiator. During his time as governor of Vermont there were a lot of people who disagreed with him, but nearly all of them respected his leadership abilities because they felt like he actually listened to what they had to say. Dean has a long and positive record when it comes to uniting people who have real divisions. Has Rosenberg ever proven himself similarly?

The public image of Dean as a divider is well known, but how much of that image is media created? How much of it comes from the fact that those who dislike him the most also hold considerable power in framing the public message? How much of it comes from the very people who are most opposed to reforming the party? It's all well and good to say that Dean has enemies. He most certainly does, but he has the right enemies.

Dean gets this image of being a divisive figure partially because he is at the head of an army of rabble-rousers. Yet Dean has a proven ability to keep those rabble-rousers in check when it is needed. For example, he told his supporters not to overwhelm DNC members in their support for his run. The reports I hear are that they have done just that. Dean can control the torch and pitchfork crowd. Can Rosenberg?

The party needs that army. Dean has the respect within that army to wield its power effectively. Does Rosenberg? Most of the people in that army know nothing about Rosenberg other than his work in the DLC. Within that group that is a serious handicap.

I respect Josh's endorsement. I just disagree with the assumption that Rosenberg will be more capable of bringing about the necessary unity that the party needs. I don't think it will be easy for either man. But consider this: Dean will only have to ease the minds of a few hundred party insiders. Rosenberg will have to ease the minds of a million grassroots supporters.

I know who I think has the better chance in that fight.

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