Cross posted at Daily Kos
While Republicans discuss potential replacements for Michael Steele at the RNC, there has been surprisingly little commentary about what to do over at the DNC. Tim Kaine is a nice guy who did a good job beating the RNC on the fundraising side – though, with the flood of unregulated corporate money going to secretive front groups this election, that didn’t end up mattering very much.
But where Kaine and the DNC utterly failed is in getting out a clear, convincing Democratic message. Remarkably, Dems lost the votes of millions of people who agree with them on a broad range of issues. When you have voters believing that John Boehner will do a better job standing up to Wall Street than Barack Obama, it’s obvious that something this election season went very, very wrong. Democrats failed to motivate the Obama voters, including the young and minority groups, and proved unconvincing to working class constituencies who have the most to gain from Obama administration policies on health care, credit, student loans, etc.
Cleaning up these messes and rebuilding the Democratic base will require bringing in new faces with fresh perspectives. One who should be at the top of the list is a just-defeated Democratic Congressman who became a nationwide hero for not backing down from his progressive, pro-Obama positions in a tough, conservative district – Tom Perriello.
Yes, he fell short in his re-election bid, but Perriello’s loss by less than four points compares favorably with neighboring Blue Dog Dem Congressman Glenn Nye’s seven-point loss and the overall wipeout of Dems running as conservatives in rural districts. And in the process, he won some very depressed, working class areas of the 5th district of Virginia like Danville and Martinsville.
And the point is to win, not every battle, but the long range war. Republicans know this, which is why they praise Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign for president, which transformed their party into a conservative one based in the South and West – for which they were willing to see him get slaughtered by Lyndon Johnson in that particular election.
Perriello provides exactly the type of leadership the DNC needs across a variety of fronts:
Obama voters: I observed, at a low-dollar Perriello fundraiser that I attended (surrounded by, dare I say, kids), his immense skill at connecting with and appealing to young voters. He has called himself part of the “Americorps generation” that believes in voluntary community service and sees his political career as the logical extension of that service. His message, in other words, is not about some scary monster called “big government”, but about helping your fellow human beings and making America a better country in the process.
Perriello combines progressive idealism with economic realism in the same way that Obama has managed to do at his most effective moments. He is able to articulate a progressive vision about America becoming competitive again in the global economy by doing the right thing both morally and practically, like sticking it to Ahmedinajad and Chavez by increasing our energy efficiency and developing our renewable energy. He was relentlessly, and cheerfully, on message for the Obama administration at a time when so many other Democrats were turning tail and running. If the administration still cares about its message, why not hire such a terrific messenger to spread it – successfully this time – to every district in America?
The working class: Call them Tea Party Republicans, Reagan Democrats, whatever you prefer – Democrats decisively lost working class white voters this election, and need to find a formula to win them back. This is another group with which Tom Perriello knows how to communicate and to which he is not afraid to reach out. Many are Catholics, who favored Republicans this past election by 55%. The basis for Perriello’s progressivism is in fact his staunch Catholicism. Typical of his rhetoric was the line from his concession speech when he noted that “Judgment Day is more important than Election Day, and it’s more important to do what’s right than what’s easy.”
Relentless can-do attitude: Perriello’s tireless, committed, leave-no-voter-behind attitude impressed many, like The Post’s Chris Cillizza, who named him one of the best candidates of 2010. His campaigning and fundraising were relentless. This is the energy and spirit we Dems need desperately. Frankly, the whole Democratic establishment needs some serious nudging, so that its most sclerotic elements are put out to pasture and its most dynamic elements allowed to move up and take over.
We need a new 50 state strategy that goes after neglected parts of the country like the 5th District of Virginia and lets them know that Democrats care about them and are willing to fight to represent them. I am sure that this is what Tom Perriello would bring to the DNC.
Would he want the job? I don’t know. But I can’t think of a better candidate for it.