Rebuilding the Democratic Party

Bush’s Brain, Karl Rove, outsmarted himself and lost a chance to keep control of the Senate in Republican hands. It started and ended in the Connecticut Senate race with Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman as his “fatal attraction.”

When “pendulum” Joe Lieberman lost the Connecticut Democratic primary in August to upstart multimillionaire Ned Lamont, Rove phoned Lieberman expressing his support for Lieberman’s Independent run, post primary. Lieberman is widely described as George W. Bush’s favorite Democratic Senator. This is true, not just due to his support for Bush’s Iraq war and other policies, but because Lieberman’s zig-zag reputation undermines the Democrats solidarity in the Senate.

When Rove signaled support, the business lobbies poured even more money in to Lieberman’s $17 million campaign. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed Lieberman (one of only two Democratic Senators receiving its taint), and put about $160,000 into his campaign and caused other similarly anti-worker, anti-consumer and anti-environmental business lobbies to send him checks.

Earlier, Rove laid his own trap inadvertently when, believing that Lieberman was going to sail through his nomination fight and the November election, prevailed upon the state Republican Party not to seek a strong nominee and signaled that they should not expect any financial help for their nominal nominee from the many Republican political coffers in Washington, D.C.

Compliantly, the state Republicans tossed the nomination to a former mayor of Derby, Connecticut, Alan Schlesinger—truly a nominal candidate—and let him know that he was on his own—no money, no staff. After reports about his gambling debts and continuing gambling addiction, Schlesinger promptly measured 3% in the polls (He ended up with only 10% on Election Day).

Suddenly Lieberman, having lost the primary, is in political trouble. Does Rove give himself another chance for a three way race and press the Connecticut Republicans to find Mr. Schlesinger a nice new career and replace him with some distinguished candidate who could possibly win a three way race against two Democrats? No, he does not. Instead he sticks with Lieberman, who wins the election, and gives the Democrats their 51st seat and control of the Senate and Karl Rove’s judicial nominations.

A 50-50 split between the Republicans and the Democrats would have been a tie broken by Vice President Dick Cheney and the Republicans would have continued to control the Senate.

It is remarkable how absent was this commentary on Rove’s very serious blunder in the Washington press corps’ post-election commentary. Rove jauntily went to his White House job telling reporters the election wasn’t that big of a win for the Democrats. Mr. Rove, they only took control of the House and Senate.

On the Democrats’ side, the recriminations against Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman, Howard Dean, have begun from the proxies for Hillary and Bill Clinton—namely, James Carville and Congressman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL). Their ostensible hostility flows from Dean’s determination to run viable Democratic Party races in all fifty states, reversing the policy of ruling out most of the so-called more conservative Red States.

Hardly had the ink dried on the Democrats’ election victory tallies, when Carville called for Dean’s resignation and Emanuel grumbled, as he has throughout, about Dean spreading the money into what he called hopeless races. This has been the kind of short-term thinking that has brought losses and a shrinking geographical base for the Democrats year after year, at both federal and state levels.

Both Carville and Emanuel claimed Dean could have brought victory to more House seats had he not spread the money out so much.

It seems that Dean has the better of this argument by far. First, the DNC can claim some red state victories—three House seats in rock-ribbed Republican Indiana were taken from Karl Rove’s Party. One in Georgia. A Senate seat in Virginia with Senator Chuck Schumer’s help, and Montana. All very close red state races.

Over the longer run, Dean also wins the strategy race. When Democrats abandoned the South, the Rocky Mountain states, Nebraska, the Dakotas and Alaska in their Presidential races, the Democratic Party suffered all the way down the ballot line to the towns and cities. The Party shriveled up. Party offices closed. Few field organizers remained.

The Republicans were automatically elected in larger numbers, setting up their control of the redistricting process to further entrench their electoral numbers. A vicious circle that Dean wants to challenge even if it takes a few years.

What Dean started was a rebuilding process to make his Democrats a factor, to make a contest out of these elections, instead of what they have become for the Republicans—coronations. This approach spreads out the Republican’s resources and puts them on the defensive for a change.

Dean’s job is secure. He has the support of the state Democratic Parties who welcome his fair distribution of attention and resources. He is gaining credibility outside the Beltway. But the Clintonistas in his Party do not like his independence. And Karl Rove does not like Dean’s victories.

Now what Dean needs is a broad-gauged, present and future sensitive political agenda, which seeks secure peace abroad and the supremacy of the people over corporations at home.

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