The Alliance of the Ignored: Power Perceived Versus Power Achieved
by Chris Bowers, Mon Nov 20, 2006 at 12:13:54 PM EST
Insiders from the Clinton camp winced at Carville's untimely remarks last week calling for Dean's ouster in favor of unsuccessful Senate candidate Harold Ford of Tennessee.
"It was not coming from [Sen. Hillary Clinton] and they made a real effort to distance themselves from James' comments," said a source close to the Clintons.
The Clintonistas don't want an undeserved backlash from the activist wing of the party that overwhelmingly supports Dean, especially because some anti-Clinton Democrats have blamed Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) for the attack by Carville, a longtime Clinton insider. Those forces claimed Carville's motive was to topple Dean in favor of a chairman more favorable to Sen. Clinton's bid for President. The remarks form Clinton's camp come after Charles Schumer and Donnie Fowler backed Howard Dean and the fifty-state strategy, the Association of State Democratic Chairs did the same, and after Dean scored a 96% approval rating on the latest Dailykos leadership poll. The latter two are particularly key, because over the past two years, Howard Dean's base of support in the party has come primarily from two sources: state parties and the progressive movement. Although lacking in nuance, it would not be inaccurate to characterize the current modus operandi of the DNC as follows: small donations from progressive movement activists flow to the DNC in record amounts, and most of those donations end up being spent on direct grants to state parties and in the form of state-level field organizers. This is a novel path for Democratic money to take, especially since it generally bypasses both Washington, D.C. based consultants and wealthy donors. It is also exactly why Carville's base of supporters hate Dean so much.
Although this is obviously lost on most pundits and journalists, it is interesting how this seemingly odd alliance between state parties and the progressive movement is based not upon ideology. Rather, it is based upon both a shared strategic principle, the fifty-state strategy, and a shared chip on the shoulder: the sense that both have been long ignored by the party leadership. It is a sort of Alliance of the Ignored. When this alliance runs afoul of the Carville's and Begala's of the world, once again it does so primarily because of strategic differences, not because of ideology. Carville and Begala generally represent an older tactical vision for the Democratic Party. This was a vision that was dominant from 1988-2004, when Democrats heavily employed triangulation, focused almost entirely on the narrow targeting of a few "swing" districts and demographics, and when television advertisements and repetitious talking points aimed mushy-middle, low information voters where the primary tools utilized in all national Democratic campaigns. Wealthy donors and high-level consultants liked that strategy because it kept money flowing to the latter in the form of hefty commissions, and because it kept Democratic policy where the former would like it to be. Most state parties and progressive activists hated that strategy because it basically dictacted that their electoral concerns were either not important, or something from which the Democratic Party needed to actively distance itself. Whatever ideological differences there may or may not be between the two feuding camps, ultimately their dispute is grounded in a difference in tactical vision: narrow targeting versus the fifty-state strategy.
Right now, the fifty-state strategy is ascendant, and so are state parties and the progressive movement. Fifty-state strategy candidates appear to have the votes to win the DNC Chair for the foreseeable future. Long-ignored state parties will probably keep voting for it, and the long-ignored activists in the progressive movement will probably keep funding it. It is in this way that state parties and the Democratic activist working class have bandied together to form an Alliance of the Ignored to which even the Clinton camp must now pay respect. Best of all, even when Dean's tenure is up in two years, the progressive movement can maintain our power and the Alliance of the Ignored with the state parties through another DNC chair who would be willing to continue the fifty-state strategy. In all likelihood, every once and a while some wealthy donors and high-level consultants will back another pundit like Carville in an attempt to replace a fifty-state strategy chair with a narrow targeting, triangulation, low-information voters chair. However, as long as we make certain the fifty-state strategy is healthy and functioning, these donors and consultants will continue to fail. The old Washington, D.C. based CW clearly does not have the votes to overcome the new fifty-state strategy coalition in the Democratic Party.
In this environment, Clinton's camp understandably wants to distance itself from Carville's remarks. The consensus in the Democratic Party is clearly against him on this one. Carville may have perceived power as a long-time insider, strategist and pundit for the party, but the Alliance of the Ignored between state parties and progressive movement activists have achieved power through the fifty-state strategy. Most higher-ups in the Democratic Party like Clinton and Schumer know this, and that is one of the main reasons why they pay respect to the fifty-state strategy and The Alliance of the Ignored (that, and the fifty-state strategy seems to be working). Because of this alliance, it is no longer possible for people who want to lead the party to dismiss either state parties or the working class of the Democratic activist universe. As power as flowed away from the disgruntled, narrow-targeting clique that has been backing Carville these past ten days, it has flowed to the members of the new alliance. Given this, I wouldn't want to anger us now, either. Power achieved. Narrow targeting strategy crushed for another two years. Now, in order to maintain this power, we must make certain that the fifty-state strategy continues to work.