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Walk Your Talk

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I don't have much to add to the ongoing teeth-gnashing among Democrats about how to fix and frame the party's message or communications strategy.

I see two more fundamental problems that have to be solved before we get to fixing our message. Those are that Democrats are addicted to money and addicted to failed incumbents.

Like many engaged Democrats, I have tried to support the party financially and with ideas and energy to the best of my ability. More importantly, I've also tried to give them advice about how to use the Internet to better communicate, organize and raise money, especially through small donations. I even started an online magazine and conference about politics and technology so party officials and their staffs could learn about the Internet's potential to reinvigorate democracy and civic life, the Personal Democracy Forum. But after watching everyone - from major Senate and Congressional party leaders all the way down to local council members - smile, act as if they're listening but then fail to act on ANY of the advice or change their behavior, only follow up by asking for a check with at least three zeros on it, I've decided to stop aiding the ongoing dysfunction of the Democratic party.

A few weeks ago, I attended a state Democratic Party dinner, and was appalled to watch DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe honored for - guess what? For raising millions from high donors for the national party. Why is this the benchmark for being honored? What about winning the Presidency or winning - NOT losing - Senate and Congressional seats, which is what happened on our Chairman's most recent watch?

Instead of running around chasing big donations and the compromising strings that too often come attached to them, Democrats should focus on promoting new ideas to solve pressing problems, bring new voters into the process, and build the broad trust and support we need to become a majority party again. By focusing on small donors and making sure they are part of the process, that their voices are heard and they are part of a community of grassroots Democrats, their money will follow. Remember the Dean For America campaign? So far the Democrats have it backward. That's step one.

Step two: We have to end our knee-jerk embrace of failed Democratic incumbents.

I understand why Democrats bristle when someone suggests challenging an incumbent for fear that they will just be weakened and open the path to a Republican.

All over the country, there are longtime Democratic office-holders keeping their chairs warm (and spending a lot of time raising money, especially from rich donors). Many of them have ultra-safe seats, but they're not innovating or spending time reaching out to ALL constituents. The party desperately needs to invite new people with new ideas into the process. And one of the best ways for that to happen is through vigorous primary challenges.

We have to break these dysfunctional habits. Before Democrats can get on with the business of fixing the country, they have to fix themselves.

I'm trying to do my part by running as a Democrat for Public Advocate of New York City, challenging an incumbent Democrat named Betsy Gotbaum, in a race that does not, and most likely will not, include any Republicans. And I'm voluntarily limiting myself to no more than $100 per contributor.

Anyone else want to join me in walking the talk?