Sunday, November 14, 2004

Who Should Steer the Ship?

Funny how things repeat themselves. Back in the days of Iowa, I remember all the Democratic status quo candidates, the ones inspiring little excitement or following outside their traditional constituencies, banding together to point out what a flaming Volvo driving liberal Dean was and going to great lengths to inform us all that he wasn't "electable." What was especially annoying about this invective laced line of attack was its stench of the staple of GOP attacks: fear. Dean is unstable. Dean has a temper. Dean can't win. Dean will take the party down. Dean is another McGovern. It was all fear and no substance. The Internet is a fad. Young cyber voters won't show. Dean's record? Dean's proposals? Hell, Dean's whole quote? Naaa. Fear and doubt and fear. The Republicans couldn't have done a better job.

Now nearly a year later we have the same battle going on again for who is going to steer the USS Democrat. The status quo Democrats are all posturing to keep Dean from being the DNC chair and ensuring that Iowa - that overly white rural wide cross section of America that it isn't - stays as the first place we as a party will decide who to steer our ship and dominates the Democratic message for months.

Iowa's dominance of the nomination process hasn't served us well and Dean hasn't even publicly announced if he wants to be captain of the ship yet. Yet the status quo is already posturing to toss Dean overboard and aim straight for that Iowa iceberg. But a status quo, with more losses than victories under it's belt, continues to insist that its vantage point from the bridge is better than that of our's on the lower decks, and especially better than that of the modern day steerage, the blogosphere. To see the folly of this, all one has to do is look back to the race now only a few days old.

The party leadership rolled over and gave Bush nearly everything he wanted in his first term, effectively forgetting what an "opposition" party was and killing Kerry's campaign in one fell swoop. It's terribly hard to argue against an administration when one votes with it on nearly every major policy. Then the status quo candidates all espoused a GOP-lite approach to beating Bush - until Howard Dean showed that many Americans, not just the Democratic Base, wanted a change and were fed up and didn't trust a Bush-lite Democratic approach anymore. Finally, much has been made about Kerry's use of the Internet. But where he and everyone else got that idea is widely known, and even then Kerry's Internet use lacked the vision of the Dean campaign, reducing the Internet outreach to little more than fundraising. Even the Bush campaign understood the Internet and Netroots were more than a fundraising source. Yet while Bush was giving his base and the Fundies hordes direct answers on policy questions, talking points and marching orders via it's email list and web sites, Kerry was still primarily using his list to ask for money.

No my fellow steerage passengers, this is a failure of leadership. Maintaining the status quo cost us the election in 2000, 2002, and 2004. Maintaining the business as usual in the Party has cost us the Executive, the Legislative and if not completely, soon the Judicial branch of government. A party leadership that patches together a meal plan of loose proposals that they hope appeal to a variety of constituencies in lieu of a well framed easily understood vision that resonates with the majority of America has cost us the south as a whole and large portions of America in general. Steering the ship as it has, the Democratic leadership has seen its titanic mistakes, and yet chose to take the same course in its quest to find the next iceberg time and time again.

With the election results from 2004 still warm, and in some places not yet completely counted, the first question of where this ship is headed is soon to be decided. The lines of battle are quickly being drawn and the gates to the upper decks quickly being locked. Kerry has a great amount of money left over from his campaign, and that buys a lot of keys to those gates. Will they lock us out and buy a captain like Governor Vilsackof Iowa, a status quo Democrat who would fight to maintain an Iowa first in the nation caucus and misplaced dominance of the Democratic message. Or will it be a captain who will steer the ship into new waters - new waters filled with their own dangers certainly - but potentially free of the icebergs the ship has repeatedly hit. Will the blogosphere be relegated to steerage again as only another source of funding, or used to its potential to provide a fast acting decentralized organizational structure? Will we see the party again run to the middle, which in today's climate is actually running to the right, in an attempt to compete for the red states on a map, while abandoning their base again in attempts to be GOP-lite? Will we abandon our values and traditions for a middle of the road set of vanilla "morals" that offend none and pander to the other side's base?

I don't claim to know what direction the ship will take, but the familiar rising water, cold around my feet, reminds me and many others in steerage of how we've grown tired of being locked below decks only to go down with the ship.