Mind the Base

New Orleans   Something smells fishy to me. When George W. Bush’s former strategist, Karl Rove, as well an author on “Truthout” are both saying that the Democrats are wasting time and money in Georgia, I get suspicious. Rove’s advice is go Big Sky, spend your time and money in a statewide Congressional race in Montana, because in his words, “they vote for Democrats there.” Meanwhile despite a better than 48% showing in the first primary for the Democratic candidate, Ossoff, in Georgia, pundits are arguing this is just a hole where you pour money and Democrats have no chance to win, no matter how much they spend. What’s the skinny here?

Reading between the lines, sure, Georgia is an uphill fight. Democrats haven’t won in 40 years since the time of Jimmy Carter. The leading Republican candidate is a former Georgia Secretary of State who hardly polled 20% in the first round. Rove and the traditional bettors are believing, with good cause I’m sure, that at the end of the day the losing Republican candidates will coalesce around her despite her record as a poor fundraiser and someone who has lost one race after another recently.

On the other hand, the Democratic base in reaction to the Trump presidency sees every election as a plebiscite on Trump and his poor performance and reportedly is demanding that all races be contested and that the party once again put on its big boy pants and contend nationally rather than just in the blues. If you are going to build a party, how can you ignore the base, win, lose or draw? Isn’t that a lesson that Hillary Clinton just taught us all in a way we should never forget? We have to always privilege the base!

Furthermore, the notion of a money drain being advanced by Rove seems gratuitous and self-serving. Talking to a newly minted party activist several weeks ago, he described a growing coalition that was mobilizing in Georgia which had not been fighting in the lists previously. He described the amalgamation as having 100 million Twitter followers from Hollywood to Silicon Valley and back to the East Coast. His argument was that this was new money. It was money being activated to respond to the challenge of the moment.

The same activist would argue that the race in Montana is also important. He and some of his co-conspirators believed that the lightly populated Western states from Alaska to Wyoming should be front and center on any plan to turn the country around. He stood up straight when he realized I was born in Wyoming and detailed a plan a multi-year plan to repopulate the state. He felt that if 20,000 or so people, young and more progressive, could be convinced to move to Wyoming it would fall into the blue state column like Humpty-Dumpty coming off the wall.

Ok, maybe that seems a bit like taking people to live on Mars or the moon, but when the base has gone active and wants to fight, organizers need to run as fast as they can to catch up and feed the fire. New money and new support comes in and as even Rove argues, no one has a clue in either party yet about what it might take to win in the midterms in 2018. These early skirmishes might just provide the battle plan for those contests, but only if we mind the base.

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Karl Rove, the IAF, and Protest Advice Everywhere We Turn

Little Rock   When Karl Rove, the George W. Bush hardcore Republican consigliere and now Fox News favorite and Wall Street Journal op-ed pundit approvingly quotes Michael Gecan, veteran community organizer and co-director of the Industrial Areas Foundation, the Saul Alinsky legacy community organizing training and support outfit, it is hard to prevent a momentary shutter surging through your body. It’s like walking into your house and noticing things aren’t where they belong, and there’s been a burglar loose. Rove stealing lines from the IAF, are you kidding me?!?

Certainly it isn’t news that the IAF, back to the days of Alinsky, has had an uncomfortable relationship with mass social movements and their marches and protests. In Alinsky’s day, they employed the tactics of protest, perhaps threatening as much as delivering, but movement was not their model then as they advocated for the building of peoples’ organizations, community-wide representative of assemblages built on the framework of the labor federations. In his memoir, Nick Von Hoffman, Alinsky’s chief lieutenant in those early days, discounts their antipathy towards movements, but it is hard to take all of the many words out of Alinsky’s mouth. Arguably, it is even less their organizing model now, as they advocate a careful process of deep organization building which specializes in large assembly accountability sessions and developing almost symbiotic relationships to mayors and governors to deliver programs and results. One of the more troubling stories in Gecan’s own book about his experiences recounts a behind the scenes IAF transactional outreach to then Mayor Rudy Giuliani to offer him an alternative path while protests of vicious police brutality were in the streets, so it is not that the IAF don’t use protests at some level to leverage power.

Regardless of Rove’s appropriation, Gecan’s piece in the New York Daily News titled “How Democrats Are Getting Played” is mainly meant as a slap down of the Democrats, much of which is spot on, including their inability to stick to a persistent, long term strategy and listen to much of anything or anyone that doesn’t represent huge donations whether the rich or special interests. Unfortunately, the story he chose to tell is a pile-on about the union defeat in Wisconsin at the hands of Governor Scott Walker. He tells it by slamming the protests and protestors, which many in Wisconsin still feel were essential in the fight and created long term benefits, rather than simply firing his guns at the recall, which almost everyone agrees was a desperate move and a hopelessly futile tactical defeat.

The mass protests and protestors are not party-centric or Democratic Party organizing events. Everyone can rightly join in, as Gecan does, in criticizing the Democrats and their clueless strategy and tactics on an ongoing basis. But, in the same way Gecan correctly argues that people need to organize and engage the Trump-base in order to find the way forward, he misses the fact that we also have to organize and engage the people and deep-seated energy and anger behind these protests.

In the end Gecan was misused by Rove, even though he left the door open for such a theft, because he beats the same drum that we’ve been beating endlessly, that we have to “have an offense” and can’t win just through resistance and a defense. The problem is not the protests. They are invaluable, and let feet on the street never be stopped. The problem is the plan, and the absence of one. In the meantime with all of the freelance critics of protestors and, hopefully, a burgeoning movement for change, we need to keep our house unified and undivided, while we put the pieces together.

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The Voting Numbers Say We Must Organize our Communities Now!

latinovotersNew Orleans   The post-mortem on the US election continues but as more data and information becomes available some of the early guesstimates are not as compelling as they were the morning after. It’s not that they were completely wrong, but they are not right enough to point the directions forward. Over and over again it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Clinton loss does not just fall heavily on her shoulders because she was such a flawed candidate, especially since Trump was even more flawed, but points to a massive failure of organization, and not just hers, but all of ours.

Karl Rove, the political mastermind behind George W. Bush, is not a go-to nonpartisan, objective analyst on this or any election, but as a columnist for The Wall Street Journal he’s always worth a read to understand not only what Republicans are thinking, but also as a reality check that we are not drinking our own Kool-Aid. A couple of days ago he made several interesting points based on a pretty deep review of exit polls, admittedly from Fox News, but whatever.

Among them were the following:

 

· “Both candidates this year won fewer white votes – Mr. Trump 1.6 million and Mrs. Clinton 2.3 million – than four years ago.”
· “…Trump didn’t win because he greatly expanded the GOP….”
· “…Clinton lost a significant chunk of the Obama Coalition. Compared with 2012 she dropped 1.8 million African-Americans, one-million voters age 18-29, 1.8 million voters aged 30-44, 2.6 million Catholics, and nearly 4.5 million voters with family incomes of $30,000 or less.”
· “…Clinton received nearly 9.4 million Latino votes, up 180,000 from Mr. Obama’s total in 2012. But because Mr. Trump won 29% of Hispanics, up from Mr. Romney’s 27%, the president-elect won 4.2 million Latino votes, roughly 690,000 more than Mr. Romney.”
· “Only 18% of voters had a high school education or less, down from 24% last time….Trump received 12 million votes from them, 2.2 million fewer than Mr. Romney, Mrs. Clinton got 10.6 million votes, 5.8 million fewer than Mr. Obama.”
· “…Trump’s advantage among voters with some college outweighed Mrs. Clinton’s among people with four-year degrees.”

 

You get the picture. This election was won and lost among low-and-moderate income families. These are our families and the heart of base. This election was also lost by our inability to convert Trump’s blatantly racist and anti-Latino campaign into actual voter turnout in our communities. Before the election I thought that if Clinton won she owed her victory to black and brown voters. In the same way she may owe her defeat to her inability to inspire these votes and our collective failure to build effective organization.

If progressives want to win, we have to go on the offense on issues and actions. The numbers also say that even more importantly we have to go back to the neighborhoods and barrios of our communities and organize people at the grassroots in the kind of organizing that has been the hallmark of ACORN. To the degree that is not happening as broadly and deeply in the United States as it needs to in white, black, and brown communities, these families are grist for the conservative mill, and not only voting against their interest, but more powerfully not voting at all. 43% of the electorate didn’t vote in 2016 with their feet but with their butts, and just sat this one out.

Rove makes one more interesting point which is a warning to Trump and should be a wakeup call to all of us. The numbers say it wasn’t globalization and trade, but the economy, stupid, and the lack of distribution and trickle down to our base.

This is call to go into our communities and rebuild effective organization or this crisis won’t be about the next four years but an entire generation or as long as it takes for us to get back to the streets and do the work.

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Karl Rove Points the Way to the White House for Democrats

election2016New Orleans               You don’t expect Karl Rove to be the voice of reason for Republicans, given his role as the master political operative between the two Bush presidencies, but these days you have embrace whatever help you can find.  In this case,  Rove was writing a “sober up” memo to the Republican faithful and trying to pop a balloon floating around their ranks that they could win the White House by doing a better job at turning out more conservatives who they were claiming they were “stay-at-home” voters last time.  Rove marshals extensive evidence in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, that the dealers of this story are essentially smoking their own dope.

The point of Rove’s message is obviously an attempt to reign in the radicals including a handful of whom are running for President in the Republican primary, the likes of Senator Ted Cruz, Governor Bobby Jindal, Senator Rand Paul, and a gaggle of others.  He is clearly stepping up as a voice of the right-center “moderate” wing of the party, and given his closeness to the Bushes, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him fronting for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s campaign.

But saying all of that, there are two sides to this coin, and the other side points the directions for the Democrats as clearly as it scolds the Republicans.  Rove’s comments go right to the heart of voter turnout and why the field program is still going to be the secret sauce for a winner in 2016.  The voter turnout dropped from 131.5 million when Obama won in 2008 to 129.2 million when he won his second term.  Rove is crystal clear that while turnout may have sagged, the percentage of self-declared conservative voters in 2012 had never been higher, reaching 39%, which is pretty scary in itself.

Rove says that,

“Republicans concerned about voters who failed to show up should look elsewhere.  There were approximately 4.9 million fewer self-identified moderates, 1.7 million fewer white Catholics, and 1.2 million fewer women who voted in 2012 than in 2008.”

Among the Catholics who didn’t vote, Rove claims they appear to be middle-class and blue collar voters, who were turned off to Obama, but couldn’t stomach Romney, largely because of his elitism.   That’s an emerging, troubling issue for the Hillary-Democrats as well.

So, what are the tips for the Democrats?  In general, they are going to have to double down to pull the same number of African-Americans as Obama did in both elections.  Hillary Clinton may think she can do that, but it won’t be easy, and it won’t be Bill, it has to be Obama himself working that base, which would temper any criticism from any candidate. Young voters are not mentioned by Rove, because the Republicans know there’s not much chance there, though Rand Paul is betting he can take a slice, and Democrats will have the same problem, except with younger women if Hillary is the candidate.  There’s also little doubt that with Hillary as the candidate there will be a significant, and perhaps historic, increase in women voting, if the campaign keeps it together.  Hillary and any of the announced candidates are not going to be able to hold onto the Hispanic loyalty against Jeb Bush or Senator Marc Rubio, but once again Obama might be the difference here given all of his recent initiatives.

Here’s my takeaway.  We’re going to hear a lot from Hillary and the rest of them that we have to appeal to the moderates to win.  Maybe so, but if you study Rove’s remarks, it also looks like to win we need President Obama to see 2016 as his third presidential election with his legacy on the line in order to hold onto the key blocks that have to perform in order to win.

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