Friday, November 05, 2010You'd think after the shellacking the Democrats took on Tuesday, I'd be depressed. Strangely enough, like Susie Madrak, I'm pretty excited. I expected to be down in the dumps for weeks, like I was after the 2004 elections, but instead my brain is bubbling with ideas about what to do next and I'm ready to go. I feel liberated. Most of all, I feel ready to go to war.
In the past few years I've held back a little from politics. I've certainly been involved, but only in a fairly low-key way. I helped candidates when I could, I gave advice to the ones that won, but I stayed very much behind the scenes in local politics. Part of that was because of my job, I suppose, and part of it was because I didn't know how long I'd be in town, but I think the most important element was simply my timidity. I just didn't have the appetite for it that I'd had in New York. You wouldn't think that a crushing electoral defeat would make me hungry for politics again, but as many intimates over the years have told me, I'm just not like other people.
Let me tell you what I'm NOT going to do. I'm not going to spend a great deal of time obsessing over what Barack Obama is going to do. I don't have any control over what he does. His decisions are going to have an effect on what happens to me, but I have no leverage over the White House and even less trust that he'll make the right decisions. I think there's more than a little reason to suspect that Obama simply has extremely poor political instincts. He's the President I have and I'll live with him, but basically I've written him off.
What I AM going to do is get organized. I think that the biggest failures that liberals (or "progressives" if you prefer) have made over the last few years is reacting to political events in scattershot way. After the 2008 election we had tremendous momentum, but we left it up to elected officials to carry the load. Predictably, without external pressure they failed to deliver. That's not how politics works. I'm going to organize within the party, sure - it's the only useful vehicle for reform - but I'm not going to focus simple-mindedly on electing more Democrats to office. I'm not just going to volunteer to help one person get elected or do GOTV for the national party. I'm going to stay involved.
So I have two plans. First, I'm going to get myself elected a precinct captain and build a political organization the old fashioned way: personal contacts. For some reason nobody does this anymore - it's all kids doing lit drops on election day. That's crap. We need people who make contact with the Democrats and swing voters in their district every year, building the personal rapport that will make GOTV and voter persuasion ever so much easier. You can't wait until three months before the election. The only way to build trust is to make it a continuing effort. There's all sorts of ways to do this - do a precinct voter registration drive, circulate a petition, whatever. The point is get to know your voters. I'm going to take this responsibility on in my own precinct, and I'm going to push to get activists in other precincts to do the same.
Second, I'm going to try to get the local party to get more aggressive about message. Typically the county party leadership just focuses on the nuts and bolts of preparing for campaigns - they don't ask people to get and stay involved (refer to plan #1) and they don't have much media presence. This is a huge mistake. Liberals need to aggressively push their issues using the party structure as a vehicle. Beyond this, liberals should identify political issues relevant to their community and have the party take a stand. I don't mean some silly resolution. I mean actually going out and lobbying, writing letters, holding press conferences, writing press releases, and talking to voters about the issues of the day. Not only with this put pressure on elected officials to do the right thing, but it also serves a tactical purpose. They can deliver the red meat to their base and attack conservatives, letting the elected stay above the fray.
Let me say a word or two about holding candidates accountable. One of our biggest problems is that we're not specific enough. If liberals identified 2 or 3 issues they were going to use as litmus tests in every contest, they would find it much easier to get elected officials to follow through. Laundry lists make us seem like dilettantes. Heck, there's no reason we can't have elected official sign a pledge and then go to the press with it.
Those are just the outlines of what I have in mind. Now I fully expect that the Democrats are going to have a tough year in 2012, because I don't think the economy is going to recover. But we're going to be MUCH better off if we get started now - because 2013-2014 could very well be the high water mark for the Republicans that 2009-2010 was for us. And I would dearly love to repay the favor.