The primary functions of the DNC, DCCC and DSCC are to raise money and ship it off to incumbent members of Congress to keep them employed in perpetuity. Ineffective Progressive Caucus member or tepid Blue Dog Dem (or, more accurately, "Republicrat"), it makes no difference -- if you're "in the club," they'll protect you (even if you're an unprincipled ex-Republican and soon-to-be ex-Senator named Arlen Specter in PA).
This practice of protecting the status quo is a major reason why Democrats are in so much trouble this cycle. The word "incumbent" is a four-letter word to most voters today, regardless of party, yet Democrats are still fighting to keep the same tired old names in jobs at which they have repeatedly proven to be pretty lousy. The DNC, et al must revise their approaches to identify the bums in their ranks and recruit, train and support the next generation of Democratic leaders to replace them.
Our political system has rarely created Statesmen or Stateswomen. True and bold leadership has usually come only when politicians have bucked their own party, and just as often those leaders have paid for it in the next election, losing due in part to a sudden lack of financial and logistical support from their party apparatus. The DNC, DCCC and DSCC must support and encourage leadership in their ranks, in part, by collaborating with each other to:
1. Create a cohesive campaigning system that can coordinate messaging, develop winning strategy, hire the best staff and consultants and produce effective communication - for candidates and campaigns - of values and policy proposals that support a dynamic Democratic and progressive brand.
2. Develop a mechanism for identifying, vetting and recruiting serious candidates for Congress that possess CORE Democratic and progressive values.
3. Place these candidates in a Camp Wellstone-style boot camp (http://www.wellstone.org/, named after the brilliant progressive Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone) to teach them how to run winning campaigns and introduce them to the fundraisers, donors and progressive activist organizations that can help them win.
4. Provide each candidate with a team of mentors, including a current member of Congress, to advise them on policy and DC politics; policy experts from the political and academic worlds to help craft their platforms; and experts on media, branding and messaging to make a plan to get the word out.
5. Fund each candidate with jump-start contributions of $50-75K and provide steady financial support throughout the campaigns.
One potential pitfall with such a plan, however, is that these Dem orgs, as they stand right now, are kept on a tight leash to promote the agendas of the Congressional "leadership" and the President. More independence is needed before they can make any real changes. After all, they need the PEOPLE to support and vote for them, so they must make it clear that they represent the PEOPLE, not just their party.
The Democratic party must also return to its progressive roots and support real progressives for office. Note what happened when Republicrats supported by Rahm Emmanuel were placed on key committees in the House and Senate. Health care reform was gridlocked for a year, only to have these same Republicrats produce a weak and watered-down bill that brought no real reform to the current dysfunctional system.
Great, progressive candidates exist right now who would serve the people well, yet they receive no support from the party, and since it is all about "da money," they fail. I can think of one such candidate who, despite his previous experience running for office and unwavering commitment and passion to serve his community - huge positives, one would think - appears to have been deemed "untouchable" by the Dems. He is an ER doctor and a father of six who is running against incumbent Republican Tim Johnson. This man knows well what it is like to support and raise a family while holding a job in one of the most challenging branches of medicine. Every day he goes to work and campaigns for office, all with limited funding. His name is Dr. David Gill (http://www.gillforcongress.com/) and he is running in the 15th Congressional District in our President's home state of Illinois. He deserves the full support of the Democratic party.
Aside from the failures of the national party, there are some institutional problems facing Dems at all levels, which can be addressed as follows:
1. Democratic political clubs and state party organizations must identify and nurture talented public servants in town/city halls and county legislatures, then support them when they seek higher office in state houses and Congress. Republicans are masters of this, but Dems still don't get it.
2. Dems must pass the Fair Elections Now Act (S.752, H.R.1826; find out more at http://www.fairelectionsnow.org/), which would help level the playing field for new candidates, providing public funding with 4-1 matching funds and no contribution larger than $100 from any individual, eliminating special interest influence in elections.
3. Gerrymandering of congressional districts to further support incumbents' reelection must also be addressed in advance of redistricting in 2012. A documentary entitled "Gerrymandering" by Jeff Reichert (http://www.gerrymanderingmovie.com/) is an excellent resource for information on this issue.
4. Of course, we can't let the voting public off the hook. Registered Democrats must pay closer attention to the candidates for whom they are voting and to where their dollars are going when they donate to the Democratic party; and above all they must VOTE! How many districts/states with Democratic majorities in voter registration are represented by Republicans?
5. The Democratic party must also come clean about how much money it is supplying to each candidate and from where that money is coming. Bad money that only serves to elect lackeys for the rich and powerful should have no place in the Democratic party's coffers (yes, a pipe dream, but rules can be put in place by the party to at least show that Dems are trying to clean up their act!). There should be clear, up-to-date and easily accessible information on the websites of the DNC, DCCC and DSCC showing who is getting how much and why.
The good news in all of this is that the left is rapidly growing strong and committed organizations like Progressive Democrats of America (http://www.pdamerica.org/) - with chapters in 45 states, impressive national issue campaigns such as Healthcare Not Warfare and Improved Medicare For All on the national and state levels, as well as providing significant support to progressive candidates - and Bold Progressives (http://boldprogressives.org/), who in a little over one year of existence already has a membership of over 400,000 and who partnered with Act Blue (http://www.actblue.com/), Move On and Democracy For America to raise funds in support of Arkansas Lt. Governor Bill Halter in his primary against Republicrat Senator Blanche Lincoln. And let us not forget organized labor, who pumped $7 million into advertising against Lincoln. We look forward to them finishing the job for Bill Halter in Arkansas in the runoff!
Together, this emerging coalition of new and traditional progressive power is placing the "old guard" in the Democratic establishment on notice that the status quo is no longer acceptable, and they had best adapt or face the consequences.
Additional content by Jon Stone
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