Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (FL-20), one of the few remaining in the House of that endangered species known as "Blue Dog" Democrats, has been anointed Chair of the Democratic National Committee. Representing yet another crack in that infamous glass ceiling of DC political leadership, Rep. Wasserman-Schultz is the first woman to be elected by the full body of this formerly male-dominated bastion.
The President appears to have chosen her for her political smarts and ability to raise large sums of money, as well as for their shared political views. So how independent will she be? There is talk that this presidential campaign will cost $1 billion dollars - a new high, or new low, depending on how you look at it. It is truly shameful that "da money" remains the dominant theme of our political discourse, instead of finding and championing real solutions to the issues that we face. Instead, it appears that the DNC's sole function will continue to be to raise scads of money that will help propel our President to a second term.
But is that enough? In these very difficult times, the DNC should also be focusing on expressing a vision for America that captures the heart and imagination of the voting public. The people are hurting and will be far more cynical about this president and whatever theme(s) his advisers come up with to replace "hope and change" this time around. Frankly, considering how much the populist campaigner of 2008 didn't deliver on his promises, Obama's campaign advisers will have their hands full just convincing voters that "hope and change" wasn't really "bait and switch."
So, Mr. President, you are going to have your work cut out for you this time. Talking the talk won't be enough, especially after you spent the first couple of years of your administration selling out to every corporate special interest imaginable. And, frankly, killing bin Laden won't be enough to win you re-election, either, as stunning an achievement as that is. We're going to need more, and this time you're going to need to deliver.
Obama for America, Obama's army of grassroots volunteers and paid operatives, will hit the streets and man those phone banks up through election day handling GOTV. What will they get in return this go around, since this is, after all, a quid pro quo business? This can be a new beginning for our President, but only if he rises to the occasion with bold action that serves the needs of all Americans, instead of the privileged few.
As the 2012 campaign moves into high gear, the phone calls, e-mails and letters from the DNC have already begun, asking for more and more dollars, for us to give until it hurts. Ms. Wasserman-Schultz and her fundraisers need to remember that the money they are seeking will come at the expense of our own personal or family needs, money handed over from us, hard-working Americans otherwise known as the "ordinary people," to them, the "elites" who run the machine of DC politics.
The DCCC and DSCC will also be searching high and low for donations. Why can't they be folded into the DNC, with an overarching, singular message? The Democratic Party brand has been deeply tarnished for sometime, lacking a coherent message or philosophy, which makes them difficult to separate from that "other" party, since both look to be squarely in the pockets of corporate interests. Obama ran on changing the way Washington does business, yet he has never embraced public funding for campaigns or pushing for the Fair Elections Now Act or, more importantly, the need to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, another tainted decision by the right-wing activist "justices" on this Supreme Court that handed our government over wholesale to corporate special interests. You must run as the leader of the people's party and not the corporate party, Mr. President. Recapture the Democratic party's illustrious history and core democratic values, which are also embraced by over 130 member nations of the U.N. who support The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, introduced in December 1948. There alone is a blueprint for those democratic core principles you and your party seem to have forgotten.
Another challenge is that right now the DNC is still perceived as the "establishment" that Obama's supporters rebelled against in 2008 in working so hard for him against the party's "chosen one," Hillary Clinton. Tired of being given little more than lip service by the likes of Bill Clinton, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, these people got behind the man who proclaimed unabashedly that he was different, from his name to his ethnicity to his upbringing. He connected with the people because he declared himself to be one of them (with a back story to support that claim), and not one of those elites who attend all the right schools and come from all the right families that had dictated every misstep Democrats had made over the past decades.
For the DNC to become relevant again, it needs to truly embrace that spirit of "change" from 2008 and support some real progressives for Congress in 2012. PDA, CPC, DFA, Bold Progressives, Progressives United (the organization recently set up by Russ Feingold), Labor with its AFL/CIO in the lead and other such organizations should publicly identify and support a slate of Progressive candidates that represents an American Progressive agenda for Main Street. No more pussyfooting around, to borrow from Sarah Palin. The Democratic Party must identify, train and mentor a new crop of progressives to run for office, under the DNC banner and in cooperation with the DCCC and DSCC. And when these newcomers are on the campaign trail, they should have a high-profile Progressive member of the House mentoring and appearing with them, aiding them in raising their profile and promoting their message publicly, as well as assisting them in raising funds. And the Democratic Party should certainly be ready to supply some needed kickoff funding to launch their campaigns at the beginning. Put a stop to supporting tepid, backboneless Democrats, keeping them in office into perpetuity. They do little to advance a better way of life for working Americans, and are little more than a hindrance to the Party's efforts to connect with new generations of progressives that will be needed to keep the Democratic party moving into the future. Just a few days ago, Richard Trumka, President of the AFL/CIO, was pretty clear in issuing a warning to Democrats that it is not a given they will be supported by labor simply because they are Democrats. They have been placed on notice.
Conservatives and members of the Tea Party are proud of who they are, and so too must progressives come out from the shadows and declare who they are and what they believe in. Progressives - and I hesitate to use that word because it is really all about core democratic principles, not just "progressive" - must proclaim their willingness to fight for their vision for this country and their solutions to the problems of everyday Americans. Let's go on the offensive. Taking on the Ryan Budget as the CPC did when they introduced the People's Budget is a good beginning that must be joined by a loud chorus of engaged Americans from across the country. It is time to not only respond strongly to every nonsensical "idea" presented by the right wing, but to produce our own intelligent, practical counter-proposals, and then galvanize and raise public support for them. We must prod our moribund and lifeless Democratic party to develop a party message and plan to get it to the people. As proud as we were of Obama's '08 messages of "hope and change," we must now stand up and shout that progressive solutions are the only way to bring America back onto the right path.
Let's remember that the core of Obama's support in 2008 was first-time/young voters, Latinos, African Americans, Labor and the consistent large block of senior voters who come out every election. All were responsible for moving the Obamas into the White House. Will they turn out again since their needs have been ignored by this President since he was elected? Recently, President Obama addressed Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network conference in New York City, an important organization to get behind him. The Reverend and the President are now buds. Now the President and his newly minted DNC chair must put all that money they're about to raise where their mouths are and come up with a message that has resonance with all 310 million Americans, with special emphasis on those of us he has so far left behind. And he will need to assure us that this time he will deliver on the promises he makes.
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