The other day, I posted a tidbit called "The Donut Hole Endorsement" on the endorsement of Senator Chris Dodd by the International Association of Fire Fighters.
I'm a big fan of Chris Dodd. I think he's an adult when it comes to thinking through what a serious foreign policy for America's future would look like. He has set the gold standard -- far beyond Hillary Clinton and a bit beyond Barack Obama -- in comments on transforming US-Cuba relations. The common sense vision he brings to the Cuba subject is consistent with his thinking on problems in the Middle East, Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and the like.
But I was intrigued with the fact that a major union was sidestepping Edwards, Obama, and Clinton to endorse Dodd -- which I'm sure he deserved but still. . . It was big.
I read a comment by an occasional writer/thinker who works in union politics and who is a sharp analyst on a private listserv about the Dodd endorsement. And he wrote about a donut theory endorsement in which a group endorses someone good -- but someone who doesn't alienate any of the frontrunners in the race. Then if their endorsee finally drops out, they have time for another endorsement of the eventual frontrunner.
Whether the comment was true or not made no difference to me -- it was frankly just an intriguing, intellectual comment on a political choice puzzle. I contacted the guy and got permission to post it under his name -- which I have subsequently taken down (the name is down, the post is up) -- as the person got some heat for being identified.
Nonetheless, it was interesting.
A former Fire Fighter union official, Michael Hartman, subsequently contacted me with a well-articulated counterpoint to my post. It's a passionate statement that challenges my post. But whereas Hartman thinks he is arguing with me, he is actually arguing with the person who provided the analysis of the union endorsement.
But I wanted to share this former FF union official's comment, which I do with permission. This from Michael Hartman:
I appreciate Mr. Clemons' take on the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) endorsement of Senator Chris Dodd, but I hate to say I think he has it flat out wrong.
The IAFF, even though they have been playing around in politics and become more influential in that field, they are still fire fighters and as such are a different breed. Imagine if you would, running a national union of people who are vocal, opinionated, and have no time for political BS. One fire fighter I talked to about the endorsement was concerned that he wanted tot know the candidate prior to the 'surprise announcement because he didn't want to be in a camera shot where he could be seen mouthing "what the ----" if the candidate was not one he expected.
When I look at my fire department I see more Republicans than Democrats, but they are all union. They do not support candidates solely based on party, and they did not support Kerry because he was a Democrat.
The IAFF is very sincere in what they say regarding who they endorse. The IAFF looks at fire fighter issues. Period. End of story. They attacked Giuliani not because of his political background, they did it because he took credit for things beyond what he did on 9/11. Rudy also is paying for his attempts to end the 9/11 dig before it was time.
If you don't believe me look at the records.
In 2004 -- Kerry had a record of (I think) always voting for FF issues. That endorsement was not to 'buy time' to see how everyone else fared, the fire fighters were repaying a debt to a legislator who supported them.
Look what that endorsement did for that also ran! I have been expecting a Dodd endorsement for the same reason. Take a look at the political activity of Dodd in regards to FF issues. There is a group that works to support fire fighter issues on the Hill. Dodd has been a core member of that group from the get-go. Look at his support for the FIRE act -- this provides grants for departments.
Dodd has always fought for it, been a primary signatory on these bills, and every year has fought to increase funding to meet the fire fighter's needs. Without extensive research I will state that none of the other candidates have been even close to providing the support Dodd has.
Hillary may have been a union supporter, but I have not heard her name near as often as Dodd's. Obama? Please -- he has not been in national politics enough to do much of anything. Edwards does not have the record of Dodd. No one does - the endorsement was easy.
Fire fighters will not support someone who has not supported them. I don't care who the front runners are, and other fire fighters don't either. When it comes down to an endorsement like this we have no time for political BS. The IAFF looks at this as a repayment for past support, and as such an investment for future support from other legislators.
Professional fire fighters are an interesting lot, to say the least. However, we are similar in many ways and for the lack of a better word -- blunt in many situations. We are not there to play political games -- the endorsement is solely based on prior support. Besides, with the diverse and 'blunt' membership the IAFF would have lost members if they were to endorse someone based on politics. Hillary very well could have lost the IAFF a quarter of their members!
So, with all due respect for political insiders, including Mr. Clemons, to say the IAFF is waiting for others to make the choice for the IAFF is totally incorrect.
Fire fighters are not little Karl Roves, we do not plan our lives based on politics. To simplify the endorsement in such a way (and to infer that fire fighters are not smart or brave enough to endorse one front runner because another might win the nomination) would be viewed as an insult to many (most?) fire fighters. I would take it as such.
Sorry I went on (and on). As you can see I have some strong feelings on this. To recap -- the IAFF does not endorse in order to play politics. They do so to support those who support fire fighter issues.
If they played politics much of the union would quit, in much the same way we have a brotherhood, we also have deep seated strength of character and a loathing for political games (also called political B.S. by most fire fighters).
Even those who work within the beltway do not think as political insiders do -- there is a certain strength of character that goes above Rove-esque positioning. We are simple to read if you know us -- like I said before I figured the endorsement would be Dodd months ago based solely on his support of us.
Kudos to Senator Dodd in any case on the endorsement.
But when it comes to my own fascination with political choice and game theory, thanks to the original union official who educated me about "Althusserian absent centers" (i.e., donut holes) -- and as well to Michael Hartman for telling us that both Republican and Democratic firefighters disdain Rove-esque positioning in politics -- and that the fire fighters really, really, really like presidential candidate Chris Dodd.
-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note