Arianna thinks all the Democrats have to do is keep things simple and focus on the war and everything else will fall into place.
I wish I agreed with her.
First, we have to do a little housekeeping. Here's why.
Last week, I was hoping to head down to San Diego to help Francine Busby (this morning it looks like she could have used a couple more of us) smoke out the Republicans who were turning away from the stench of Cunningham and the war. I knew it wouldn't be the same as my last ground gig in November '04 when I spent ten days slogging through New Hampshire armed with my registration lists from Americans Coming Together, knocking on doors that nobody answered, stuffing leaflets on top of dozens of unread others, generally a good hour behind the decidedly swifter, better organized Republicans, or sadly, one of two other Democratic organizations that were working off the same, pathetic, outdated voter rolls. Still, we had taken back New Hampshire (and it turned out ONLY New Hampshire) from the clutches of the Red Devil and I was eager to update my thirty-second "vote Dem" rap (which I had improvised on the outskirts of Hanover) with a SoCal twist.
Prior to the election of '04, I had done my swing state homework. Friends were mostly going to Florida and Nevada. Not too many southern Californians had asked to be assigned to New Hampshire but I had an ulterior motive: my son attends college up there and in between the door-to-door canvassing, I could grab a burger with him.
I had heard Ellen Malcolm flog ACT at a lunch for donors in Beverly Hills(where I tagged along with a wealthy friend),and asked her quite pointedly about the duplication of effort and she had reassured me that everybody was talking to everybody else (Move On, the Kerry campaign etc.) and had their specific tasks cut out for them. I admired Ellen's accomplished and effective Emily's List and so I signed on with ACT in New Hampshire.
After the election went south, I had felt a sickening, stomach-churning, malaise when everyone on our side pointed fingers at everyone else. I fired off two or three tell-it-like-it-was emails to ACT which got no personal response but I did receive at least a dozen "wasn't-it-a-great-effort-we-almost-did-it" mass emails and endless surveys on how can we could make improvements for next time. I dutifully and crankily responded to everything I was sent; then... silence. A few months later, I heard that ACT was being disbanded. I wasn't entirely sorry because I thought, ok, this is attrition, only the strong survive, NEVER AGAIN will we be fractured, disunity will not be tolerated: this next time, we're going to get our act together and speak with ONE VOICE.
In response to my query to one of the party's leading fundraisers about where I could go work over the weekend, however, I was instead invited to two of the many events hosted by good Dems here in Los Angeles where I was kindly invited to make a donation. (Never ask a guy in charge of fundraising from the hoi polloi where to go work in the precinct.)
By way of background: I had just had dinner with some Howard Dean (DNC) supporters in NY who had explained why Dean's mission to build the party in every state of the Union and not just the purple states was the right way to go. These are Yale people: like Dean, they and their children are part of a particular eastern sensibility. They get out of NY a lot, but not in the US. I know, I used to be one of them.
They shared with me their fears about "what Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel were doing to divide the party" at this important fund raising juncture and the wife had apparently already personally given Schumer a piece of her mind at a charity dinner last month.
But I decided now was as good a time as any to stick my head up after the bruising events of '04 and I was eager to hear what the insiders had to say to Blue peons like me. Ok, it's true, everybody comes to LA for a bit of celeb rubbing and fun raising whenever they can: the houses are dreamy, the nibbles top drawer. But I also know that this is our MOMENT to begin to make a difference.
So I took off the flip flops and yoga pants, dusted off the patent leather heels and a black skirt and went to what I considered my first event of the '06 political season, an opportunity for three democrats running for their party's Senate seats in Minnesota, (Amy Klobuchar), Tennessee (Harold Ford) and Missouri (Claire McKaskill) to shimmy shimmy coco pop for the Hollywood crowd. Chuck Schumer and the DSCC have targeted these states as critical to their efforts in November; these three had banded together to do a little more personal pressing of the California flesh. They are all facing tight races despite positive poll numbers back home. They are impressive candidates and my spirits were indeed lifted by the hope that change could be on the horizon.
The second event, a chance to hear Rahm Emanuel who is charged with raising money for the House races (DCCC), speak at his infamous agent-brother Ari's house (I want to talk with their mother about what she put in the apple juice) turned out to be more complicated. I was most eager to hear directly from him what his plan for taking back the House was and why he and Howard Dean had already had a playground dust up which had been widely reported. (Rahm apparently stormed out of a meeting ...)
I arrived on the early side and so I had a minute on the beautiful porch overlooking the garden with Rahm by myself.
This was not the cozy tete a tete you are imagining.
I asked him right off the bat about what I'd been hearing re Dean and expressed my concerns about party unification at a time when Bush's poll numbers are at their very lowest. And Rahm raised his voice and pointed his finger at me and began lecturing me about Dean "burning through" the important DNC war chest. I backed away immediately (I learned this in New Hampshire too: they told us if anyone "goes off" on you, you are to smile politely and get the hell out of there.)
In spite of his raised temperature, a few minutes later, Rahm was well-spoken and thoughtful (he reminded me of the guys who used to run our high school student government) with just a touch of the bristle still showing. But the assembled group, which included many agents and Hollywood types (full disclosure: I used to be one of those, too) asked essentially the same question I had asked him at least three different ways. How are we fixing to win this one? What is our message? And how are we dealing with the various party factions as we try to build momentum?
Rahm is probably doing an outstanding job with limited resources and I commend his passionate, partisan heart. My friend the big wig says "the good news is Rahm is a take no prisoner's organizer who is keeping everyone busting their ass to get their jobs done".
But so far, he does not appear to be a uniter. I guess the smart student government guys and the Elis are not going to be the ones that help us march forward in lockstep this time which is exactly what we need to do to take back our country from the war gang which is breaking our moral, social, and economic backs.
We have to tame the four headed monster (Schumer, Dean, Emanuel, Pelosi) that is the current state of the party. We can't afford the duplication of effort that wasted so many of our resources during the last election.
My idea: They have to get these (mostly) guys to take a time out in the principal's office and then come back in the room for a little good ole' fashioned conflict resolution.
I nominate Bill Clinton as Principal-For-A-Day. Bill, you've been wondering what to do with the rest of your life. Here is where are your famous people skills are so desperately needed. You have to get our side to simmer down and talk to each other. Ok, it can be over a big, giant dinner of baby-back ribs.
But it's not a joke. The peril is very, very great. The other side is supremely well organized; even though they are down in the polls now, they've faced this kind of downdraft before. This time out the Swift Boats will be an Armada of Tall Ships that will sink our team wherever we are most vulnerable.
Follow Patricia Zohn on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CultureZohn