Home Virginia Politics Is Reform of DPVA Possible—- & What Reforms?

Is Reform of DPVA Possible—- & What Reforms?


On this blog there have been some interesting articles on what the grassroots want to see changed in the Democratic Party of Virginia (see Let’s Improve DPVA – Tech Edition and A Few Suggestions for Reforming DPVA NonTech Edition). The long thread of comments provides proof that there is a strong, deep current of dissatisfaction, which is not, be it noted, simply whining, since it includes several well-thought-out recommendations.

This is not the first time on Blue Virginia that we’ve seen such calls for reform and even lists of suggestions (see the recently re-published Executive Summary of Hard Lessons).  There is, in other words, a body of literature already out there that never got much beyond the readership of this blog, which naturally raises the question: is this time going to be any different?  The Petition on Change.org has sparked interest from some members of the Steering Committee and others, so that’s a hopeful sign, and I do remember that about 50 years ago the national Democratic Party did re-organize itself in response to massive complaints, so it really is possible DPVA can reform itself. After all, DPVA’s increasing ineffectiveness at winning elections, and the way Organizing for America and even some candidates simply bypass the Party and run their own campaigns, must give even the most die-hard and barnacle-encrusted members of the Old Guard food for thought.

Just nibbling around the edges in order to stave off a serious shake-up is not going to be acceptable to the hard-working grassroots. Therefore, what reforms and changes are on the “A” List, which I believe we have to have, and no dawdling, please?

What a lot of us really want is for DPVA to adopt a more progressive Democratic philosophy, getting rid of the damnable Republican Lite that seems to animate the Party Establishment in Virginia —- they crouch in their foxholes, trying to win elections with me-too-ism, afraid to be even a little bit populist because they are convinced Virginia is “conservative” and “centrist” (a la Mark Warner, say) despite contrary evidence. What contrary evidence? Well, when the new Obama voters went to the polls in 2008, Virginia turned out to be center left, not center right. Then there was that barn-burner of a speech by Dr. Drew Westen at the DPVA Summit last summer, “The inauguration speech I wish Obama had made”—- it brought down the house with its fighting populism, proving that the audience, composed of local party activists, was much more populist and progressive than the party leadership.

When we have a strong populist message and a candidate who does not spout Republican Lite but instead is unafraid to take a stand for Democratic values and the social contract, the base is energized, and those new Obama voters will come out and vote. When the same ol’ same ol’ Maginot Line, Wall Street-lackey policies are the message, the base is dispirited and neither works nor votes; a different universe of voters goes to the polls and Republicans win. Change to a positive populist Democratic philosophy and all else will flow from that, including not just that sacred cow of improved “messaging,” but administrative reforms and modernization of the Party, not to mention actually starting to win elections.

When there is no chain of command there can be no accountability. If the mission of the Democratic Party is to win elections in order to implement the social contract philosophy of government, and it does not accomplish that mission, it has failed. When it continues to fail, who is accountable? When it comes to this pass, I am in agreement with General Curtis LeMay, who was boss of the Strategic Air Command (our nuclear response bombers during the cold war), when he said “I am unable to distinguish between bad luck and incompetence.” In other words, there can be no alibis, no rationalizations to excuse a lousy job. We must replace the current leadership and also conduct a structural audit of the DPVA’s organization.

Personally, I believe that employing an independent management consultant to diagnose the ills of DPVA would be helpful, just as an unwieldy business does when it needs to improve its bottom line, but if that is too much, then consider grassroots recommendations to loosen the grip of insiders (and of selected outsiders) who are really running things—- “the fix is in” sort of cabal that makes the major decisions, which are then generally rubber-stamped by the Central Committee. None of this actual chain of command shows up anywhere in the table of organization; it is cronyism at its worst, and it extends right down to the local level as well in some areas, leading to what I call Intra-Party Malice, or IPM. The result is that a candidate who is not anointed by the clique is not supported by his or her own local committee, which seems willing to let a Republican win in order to teach the upstart a lesson. This turf-defending warfare is counter-productive, not to say fatally foolish. Further up the food chain, the existence of an extra-curricular cabal of decision-makers deprives the Central Committee of its purpose, turning it into mere kabuki theatre. This is a fatal flaw in administration, and it requires an organizational change at the very top to restore a clear, direct chain of command responsible to the chosen grassroots representatives of the Party membership.

Strong local committees are the way to win elections. The sad fact is, most Democrats are generally indifferent to politics (until something awfully bad or awfully good happens); they can’t be bothered with boring meetings and have their own lives to lead. That means that committee work and maintenance is always left in the hands of the same few volunteers, often retired older people because they have the time, and they become entrenched and hide-bound, sometimes without realizing it. Republicans, however, are in permanent campaign mode, and have the funds to hire lots of professional operatives. Creating an ongoing local party structure that is continuously active, recruiting a bench of candidates, training precinct captains, raising the Democratic profile in their area, and broadening its diversity of membership is absolutely essential. This is asking a lot of volunteers; clearly, they need a professional support system. Restore the paid regional co-ordinators instituted by Howard Dean when he was Chair of DNC; integrate a formal but flexible modern media program, including a beefed-up technical section at headquarters; create an endowment fund or super-PAC that is not used for campaigns, but can provide education, training, and research in support of local committees; institute term limits for membership in Central Committee and Steering Committee as part of the re-organization of Party administration.

There is a lot more that comes to mind, such things as showing documentaries and videos to bring in new members or enliven meetings, sponsoring public action or charity events, creating a physical office for local committees… once you open up the process to new blood, you’ll be amazed at how creative people can be.

All of these suggestions are doable, with a bit of elbow grease and political will. If we just continue the way we have been, we will continue to get the results we got, results we all agree are not acceptable.  

  • Tom

    Just one question for you: Will you attend the quarterly meetings next weekend ? You do command the respect of many of the DPVA leaders (and there are some who are real leaders) and they will listen to you.

    I greatly appreciate the fact that you placed “Restore the paid regional co-ordinators” at the beginning of your summary of things the DPVA should (and can) do.


  • Teddy Goodson

    We all know that the demographics of American citizenship are rapidly changing (one reason we have the toxic Tea Party, with its many angry white men who see their days of dominance threatened). The response of the Republican Party has been to fight the changes by representing the dwindling percentage of white privilege while grovelling for funding from the rising elites of corporate feudalism, which has led them to adopt a curious mix of classic religiosity with what amounts to the secular religion of a specialized version of market capitalism.

    This Republican choice inexorably condemns the GOP to minority status as their base diminishes. They have a window of about two, possibly three, more national election cycles to entrench themselves before the sheer weight of the demographic changes overwhelms them. They know it, and are ruthlessly doing two things:

    1) seeking to reduce the electorate and/or supress voting by likely Democratic voters, thus offsetting the statistical decline of their base, and

    2) changing the nature of the government itself so as to facilitate the rule of their corporate masters, i.e., turning America into a country ruled by the plutarchs or oligarchs of corporate feudalism, however it may be disguised to make it palatable.

    Success in these two policies will preserve the Republican Party while turning the Democratic Party into an irrelvant appendiz in the body politic.

    The Democrats must therefore respond ferociously to this Republican challenge. Offering itself as Republican Lite, (by which I mean the old policy of me-tooism and fake centrism) is a march to oblivion. The only intelligent response is to embrace the changes, especially by:

    1) accepting the new demographics into the Party,

    2) frankly and aggressively offering an alternative view of the uses and purpose of government, and

    3) running a permanent campaign of its own with the tools of the 21st century

    DPVA has been almost fatally late in recognizing that we are in a fight for, not just the continued existence of the Party, but for the very idea of American representative self-government. The window of opportunity is closing, there is no time to waste. This next election cycle is It.  

  • kindler

    …Peter Rousselot’s post-election report is as good a job as any expensive consultant can do. An audit and report could build support and generate new ideas, but could also be used as an opportunity to delay and just rubber stamp current practices with a few small changes.  It depends who’s put in charge of it and how much leeway they’re given.

    My preference is to start opening up the process to new people and ideas now, not wait for any report.  

  • listlady

    The only intelligent response is to embrace the changes, especially by:

    1) accepting the new demographics into the Party,

    2) frankly and aggressively offering an alternative view of the uses and purpose of government, and

    3) running a permanent campaign of its own with the tools of the 21st century

    The challenge is that those “new” elements of the electorate — younger voters, minorities, new citizens — are also the most transient, frequently least engaged, and often hardest to reach. In Arlington, which produced a 49,000-vote margin for Obama in 2008, over one quarter of those Obama voters are no longer in town. The three-quarters still here are no less Democratic; they’re just not as many as we need to help carry the state. The picture is probably similar in every more-or-less urban part of the commonwealth.

    To its credit, OFA has already started canvassing to sign up new voters, get others to update their addresses, and identify supporters and volunteers. DPVA and the Kaine campaign need to forge as many links with OFA as possible, as Arlington Democrats are doing, including sharing of field resources and data. But a 2012-focused effort is not enough. As several have noted, campaigns sweep through like giant vacuums, hoovering up money, people and time until election day; then they get unplugged and put away.

    In contrast, DPVA and allied groups have to focus on the permanent campaign you emphasized, and build capacities, communications and candidates for the long run we’re facing here. Good first steps include beefing up DPVA field staff; treating caucuses as resources rather than pigeonholes for specific groups; helping to strengthen local committees; and simply inviting ideas and actually considering them.

  • We need a message.  A consistent, compact, hard-hitting message.  A message that every Democrat has memorized and repeats over and over and over.  A message that we spread all day every day — not just for 30 days before an election.

    All the organization in the world won’t do any good without a consistent message that can be stated briefly, that grabs attention, and that makes people want to jump up, run out the door, and beat the shit out of a Republican.