Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Howard Dean does the footwork

I have heard that Howard Dean is using the personal approach in his nominal run for the DNC chair. He is personally calling each and every member of the DNC to talk with them about where the party should go. Here's a report from one DNC member who received one of those calls (reported on Salon's Table Talk):

I had a call from Howard Dean this morning. Not too surprising since I am one of the folks who will vote for the new DNC chair this coming February. Still, I couldn't help feeling both honored and elated. Instead of the dull, helpless feeling of the long mourning that began last November 2, I felt a spark of new energy. But, hey, that's Howard. I've never known anyone better at communicating "Let's get going, there is so much to do!"

Howard jumped started the conversation by talking about how important Democrats Abroad have become and our potential for swinging elections. But he didn't stop with flattery. Almost the first thing out of his mouth was the statement that Democrats Abroad need to be treated like every other state delegation and, in particular, that we will be included in a proposal for the DNC to fund the salaries of state party executive directors. (I recalled as I heard him speak how often I had heard complaints at state chairs meetings about the DNC's ignoring the needs of all but the battleground states and noted how important this step would be, particularly for smaller Red state committees that fight their uphill battles with limited resources. It is hard to imagine a better first step toward genuine fifty-state, "We all live in purple states" politics.)

After we chatted a bit about the current state of Democrats Abroad and the challenges we face, I asked if we could talk about some broader, philosophical issues.

First, I described why I had been so enthusiastic about his campaign for President. I recalled how excited I was at the DNC meeting where I first saw him introduce himself using Paul Wellstone's memorable words, "I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party." I noted, however, that what closed the deal for me was the end of the South Carolina debate, when I first heard him say, "You have the power." I talked about how energizing it was to work for a campaign that asked for my initiative?not just "Stay on message"?and made me feel that I was truly part of something historic?real democracy. Before I had time to ask my question, "Is he still committed to these values? " Howard leaped in with, "That is exactly what I want to do with the DNC. We have to empower people."

Next, I turned the phone over to my wife and partner (former DNC member and currently Regional Vice Chair, Asia-Pacific for Democrats Abroad). Ruth talked about the need for the Democratic Party to have a coherent policy presence and suggested the formation of a Democratic "shadow cabinet" along British parliamentary lines. Howard replied that this is exactly what he has been thinking and went on to explain that by focusing on fewer issues shared by all Democrats we can simplify our message and make it more comprehensible to the voters.

Ruth then handed the phone back to me. I said that I had been thinking about bestoftheblogs' Jerry Bowles' comment that what the Dean campaign had proved was that the blogosphere?the on-line activists are still no more than 13% of the voters and asking myself how to reach other voters. It seems to me, I said, that we have to convince ordinary people of three key points.

1.Vengeance is NOT security,

2.Profit is NOT prosperity, and

3.What Thomas Jefferson called, "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind" is NOT a weakness.?It's strength.

Howard then mentioned that, should he be elected DNC chair, one of his first acts would be to hold a meeting of representatives from all fifty states to hammer out what our Democratic Party's core message should be. When he said that he hoped I'd be able to attend, I was, of course, deeply flattered.

Reflecting on this call, I see a skillful politician at work. But I also see more, a leader who is willing not only to reach out directly and solicit my vote but is also both willing and able to listen and to participate openly and frankly in a conversation with real give and take. I felt energized and empowered in a way that I haven?ft for months. This is the kind of leadership we need. Howard has my vote.

Color me impressed. If this is the kind of talk Dean is having with other DNC members than I think the position is his for the taking. I especially like his idea of the national party funding the salaries of the executive directors. It would be the clearest signal yet to non-swing state leaders that their work is valued by the national party. Money and attention are the two simplest ways to make people feel important. Dean's phone calls and his idea of a national conference would take care of the latter.


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