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Blame Memes Don’t Fly; Dems Can Only Work on the Possible. Let’s Fix Our Own House.


Let me be clear, I blame no one but Trump voters for Trump winning the Electoral College. The battery of blame shifting which deluged the media this past week is downright absurd and abusive, like blaming the victim of a bully. It’s disgusting.

Pols, talking heads and social scientists will argue for a century what caused a plurality of Trump voters in the right-wing states to make him the apparent winner of the electoral college. They still haven’t finished counting votes, but no matter (to most Americans).

Whatever explains it, it is clear than a man got away with saying unforgivable things and a majority of the electors of the electoral college will anoint him because too many people gave this man a pass for every wrong, even evil, thing he has ever done. No it isn’t economics, at least on average (more on this later). It is impoverishment of the real values of respect for others; real right to life for already born humans (not just hypothetical humans); and a government working of, for, and by the people, not for the corporations and the rich. You only had to look at Trump’s record and campaign staff to understand he would do nothing to improve the lives of Americans other than the 1%. But carry on, America, with BS memes. By all means never admit what really happened. But enough of us know. And we will never forgive or forget.

Hillary did not cause this. Democrats did not cause this. Bernie Sanders did not cause this. Even so, though, if we are to move forward, all we have is what we can control. So we Democrats must reflect on what we could have done better and where we go from here. I will focus on the former for today. The latter requires a separate diary. Suffice it to say for now, going along with every treacherous idea of The Donald is not the way to proceed. Given the direction he is headed, standing up in opposition will be required of us. More on that another day. What we can do is get our own house in order for the next round. And this diary, from here down addresses specific things we can address or change.

Our Own House
Some blame Bernie for everything from “not working hard enough for Hillary,” to running a primary race at all. There is nothing more destructive than the pretense of inevitability and entitlement. But even that did not cause this.

Despite not voting for her in the primary, I know Hillary was the only general election candidate who was qualified, experienced, prepared, and (yes) presidential. The overwhelming majority of Bernie supporters know that too. And they voted for Hillary.

Every election has the insufferable third party voters who cannot see clearly that their third party choice might make a destructive difference. And they do not care. They are the promoters of false equivalence; the me, not us, voters who don’t give a shit about consequences. They are as bad as the wrecking-ball Trump voters, but think they are more pure somehow. Still, I will not blame them. Trump voters did this.

Trump voters did this with substantial help from the Electoral College. Even so, we are fools if we waste our time on an absurd attempt at eliminating the Electoral college when we have few state houses and have lost the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Focus on what we can do, especially those moral imperatives of civil rights, voting rights, human rights. We can work to advance food security. We can try to save health care for all Americans, Medicare and Social Security. We can work toward peaceful solutions to international problems. There are a host of issue-specific actions we can and should take. But eliminating the EC is a profound waste of our time right now. The GOP would probably be delighted if we distracted ourselves with such actions.

I also believe that the media, with the help of James Comey and a House abusing power with its more than a dozen political investigations into Hillary, caused this. These were nothing more than efforts to smear Hillary Clinton with false charges of wrongdoing. When all was said and done, it worked. Certainly, the media need more watchdog groups and more fact checking groups to hold them accountable.

Structural Change
The DNC was not the best actor in a primary in which it was supposed to stay neutral. Insider Democrats have never been more unified or (in some cases) more clueless about the bitterness caused by the arrogance, ignorance and insularity of too many insiders.

It is vitally important than leadership change up and down the DNC. A change at the top of the DNC cannot come soon enough. Debbie Wasserman Shultz should never again head up the DNC. She was too conservative, too beholden to the payday loan industry, too tight with Hillary Clinton, and too inclined to use her power to influence the primaries. The DNC chair is supposed to be neutral. And she did influence it in ways both subtle and not. I do not argue about the balloting itself, but rather the party’s process.

The DNC moved swiftly to lock down the entire process to Hillary. As I said above, there is nothing that can sink a candidacy more than institutional “inevitability.” The merging of state party and Hillary Clinton fundraising was unprecedented. And it occurred over a year before the general election and about six months before the primary.

The DNC needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. It does not exist to anoint insiders to public office. It exists to elect the choices the people choose. Long before Citizens United, the DNC forgot this.The DNC should be a bottom up organization, not a top down one. More on this is a moment.

There should be no more insider delegate slates, which suddenly and magically appear at county and state conventions, and get voted in a process that happens in the blink of an eye. There should not be slates at all.

The DNC needs a 50-state strategy without Howard Dean at the Helm. I was there when he announced for DNC Chair in 2005 and was proud to endorse him. I think he did a great job. But he is yesterday. We need a DNC leader for tomorrow. We need a leader who understands what actually went wrong within the Democratic Party. And there was a lot wrong. But it did not happen just in 2016. It was a long time coming.

Democrats should be organized by block, by subdivision, by precinct, by district, town or city, by state and nationally. There is no reason we do not do this. Organizers from Fairfax, VA know this. They have shared this elsewhere in the state of Virginia. We need to do this everywhere NOW. This is how we organize in a way that matters to people. This is how we understand people’s concerns hopes and fears. This is how feedback can be relayed anonymously up the chain so leaders understand what their members needs are. Not all candidates care about feedback from the trenches. Those who get it do.This is how we build an organization for real people, not corporations.

Fire Many of the Consultants
I know and respect political consultants. Many of them are very good at what they do. But far too many political consultants engage in superstitious behavior. They do things because they have always been done that way (phone banking, which is as useless an effort as one could concoct). GOTV relying on phone banking is dead. Put a fork in it. I wish I had the data for how many hours were wasted calling people from other states. Well meaning phone bankers felt good about themselves. But NO ONE, no one wants to be called on either their home or cell phones. Millions of us, including Democratic stalwarts, have to stop answering their own phones for months. End this abuse now. Additionally, polls relying on phone calls are worthless. Usually polls leave out young people with cell phones who skew Democratic.It is often safe to assume there are more Democratic untapped votes out there than some polls recognize. Not this year.

With all of our purported sophistication, we should be able to produce better lists. They are always so errorful it is shocking. GOTV cannot happen with bad lists. I have personally never received good phone or canvas lists from any campaign, including Obama’s very successful campaign.

There should never again be a presidential candidate, however supposedly known, who doesn’t spend most of the year before the conventions introducing herself to America and putting forth her plan for America. Define herself well before the other side does. Then rebut the hell about of the false charges. Make sure you clarify for voters that Hillary did not break any laws about emails no matter how hard the liars in the GOP tried to deceive them. (And, damn it, Democrats stop pretending she did anything wrong. Where were they when Colin Powell did the same thing?) Do not ignore GOP charges as the Democratic ad writers did. Use fact check ads. They are not negative. Do not let the other side pretend they are. And, for God sake, for once pay attention to framing.

I believe the campaign had to air anti-Trump ads in his own voice. They are not negative but necessary. But the ad people never moved back to emphasizing Hillary’s experience and proposals for America in sufficient proportion.

The Hillary campaign used some 21st Century tactics (an app which in background followed the user around the internet and cookies which do the same). Let me tell the shitheads who do this stuff, if you text a voter and reveal you are tracking them (“Stop looking at fivethirtyeight.com and do —– instead”), you won’t get what you want. Not even close. And never tell me what I should be doing in a given moment. Ever.

Nor will campaigns do well by shaming voters. In 2012 and 2014, based upon little research some state organizations encouraged shaming voters whom they claimed hadn’t voted. Shaming and coercion are not good ideas. Fire the fools promoting this stuff. (Ironically, in NC they promoted to state chair the person who doubled-down on this approach to state chair.) Here is a factoid: Never base future actions of any kind on a single study or even two or three studies. You might be setting your own rear end on fire.

Again, I have known excellent and honorable fundraisers and I have experienced very abusive ones. In 2009 in the heat of the battle for the ACA, I received a call from the DNC. Yes, it was a contractor. I do not know who had the contract, but it was a terrible contractor which should never work again. The caller wanted money and he was not taking no for an answer. I said no. “You must support your president,” he said (loudly). Two more times he demanded that I support our president with a donation. I was for single payer and not happy at the time about how the ACA was progressing. I finally yelled back at him and said, “How dare you! I support our president, but I will NOT donate. Don’t you ever call this house again. I will never give money to the DNC again!” And I haven’t. I donate to candidates, not to the DNC; not to the half-crazed DCCC fundraisers with it “All is lost” subject lines in 2012; not to the horrendous candidate for the Illinois statehouse in 2016 demanding to know why I (in NC) haven’t sent her money when she has written me five times!

Do not demand another $200 right after I have donated to Hillary. Do not tell me I must donate a third $200 to be on her “wall” of supporters. Do not (as a candidate in my state did) put me on monthly donations for a candidate against my will. Stop the shakedown. Enlarge the donor pool instead. Democrats must wake up to the abuse in their fundraising. The emails come too often, are ridiculous, rude and abusive. They are lucky to get any donations. I know people who have been forever turned off.

Yep. There are many things about our party we can change for the better. We have nothing to lose by reexamining how it is we attempt to win elections. Again, however, I am not saying these things cost us the election. Rather they are concrete things we can do to improve our side. More on my electoral post-mortem later.

  • Kindler

    Thank you for launching this essential discussion, Kathy. I think people have been in a bit too much pain until now to ask these questions and seek new solutions, but this is precisely the time to move forward. And we must do so on the basis NOT of further dividing into factions and defending one side or the other, but of a clear eyed assessment of where all — Hillary, Bernie, Obama, the DNC, all of us individually — fell short and bear some responsibility, both for Nov. 8 and moving forward.

    As you say, Trump voters bear the blame for voting for him. There are millions of mainstream, normal-seeming Republicans — neighbors, co-workers, relatives — who made a shocking moral choice, voting to give the most powerful job in the world to a man they KNOW to be unqualified, corrupt and frankly despicable. Hillary’s campaign gambled that they could appeal to more Republicans’ conscience. But too many GOPers chose power to carry our their goals over conscience. And all Trump had to do was make HIllary look more or at least as corrupt as he actually is, for Republicans to rationalize their appalling choice. (And yes, the FBI, Russian intelligence and media sure helped, in ways disastrous for American democracy.)

    The most important lesson for Dems is that when we stick together, we win, and when we don’t, we lose. Yes, most Bernie supporters are loyal Dems who voted for Hillary in the end, but we lost way too many milllenials whose minds had been poisoned against her, a ridiculous number of whom voted third-party. Bernie’s campaign was a bit too nasty against her personally, while Hillary’s campaign did not try hard enough to appeal to and inspire these young folks. But the voters themselves are responsible for their votes, and I suspect many of them learned a terrible lesson — the same lesson of 2000 that should’ve been drummed into their heads way more powerfully before the election.

    You are absolutely correct that the Democratic party needs to be rebuilt from the ground up – again, not on the basis of faction, but on the basis of choosing leaders who are the most visionary, hard working, progressive and pragmatic. Much of your critique basically boils down to the need for on-the-ground organizing as opposed to all those stupid impersonal emails and phone calls. I cannot agree more. I am currently reading Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals”, precisely on that topic, and plan to post a diary on why all Dems should be reading the same right now.

    Fundamentally, Republicans understand a few things about human nature and communications that we, in our beautiful idealism, too often don’t get. We didn’t take Trump seriously because we didn’t understand that while he is a complete idiot and jerk on so many things, he is a genius on one topic — marketing. We need to learn how to compete better against the marketing juggernaut that is the GOP. And yes, that requires going deeper into people’s communities, talking with, listening to, and engaging with them — and regaining their trust.

  • Elaine Owens

    Kathy, you are so very right about the futility of phone banks. In fact, I’m of the opinion that in the few instances where a person actually answers the phone, they are likely to simply feel anger at being bothered by a political campaign. Polling by phone has flaws, too, as you pointed out. I’m quite sure that the polls were off so much in this election because people lied about their voting preference, maybe because they didn’t want to admit they were going to vote for a narcissistic admitted sexual predator. Precinct organizers who live in a precinct are the most effective door-to-door volunteers, too. We Democrats need several things desperately: 1. Relearn the basics of successful organizing. 2. Have a coherent, easily explained message of our core beliefs and goals. 3. Forget about trying to be Republican-lite. Learn where the American people are politically and market our party to them as the one the can best help them.

  • Quizzical

    I have to say this, although it is uncomfortable because the implications are frightening. Much of the reason why Clinton lost and Trump won was due to sustained and successful cyberwarfare and propaganda campaigns waged by Republicans, the Trump campaign, and foreign intelligence services who chose to help Trump for reasons of their own. Just this week, James Clapper, the head of the NSA, was reiterating that the conclusion that a foreign intelligence service had intervened in our election was a reliable one.

    The hacking of the DNC computer network and the leak of confidential emails did incalculable damage. The hacking and leaks of the Podesta gmail account was even worse. Now I’m also just hearing about phony news reports that were generated in Macedonia and were repeated millions of times on Facebook, spreading outright lies against Clinton.

    Even the Clinton email server scandal was indirectly a part of that. The whole justification for that investigation was to find out what if any classified information had been sent through that server and whether it had been compromised as a result. Right?

    We have to assume that the information, means and methods that were exposed through Wikileaks during the campaign was just the tip of the iceberg.

    I realize that the post is all about focusing on what Democrats can do and control to do better in the future. Well, cyber security is something at least partly under the control of the Democartic Party. I realize that it is counter productive to discuss publicly what security measures have been put in place, but there needs to be a top flight investigation of exactly what happened and why, and how this is going to be avoided in the future.

    In the meantime, lets not have any more talk about how Hillary Clinton or the DNC or whoever was too arrogant. Because the king of the arrogant jerks was Donald J. Trump, and that didn’t stop the voters we are talking about from voting for him.

    • Quizzical

      As for the implications, here are some:
      Just because the Trump campaigns emails weren’t published on Wikileaks doesn’t mean that the Russians aren’t reading all of Trump’s and his staff’s emails.

      Is it even possible to run a political campaign staffed mostly by part time volunteers, while maintaining any sort of computer security?

      Are all important elections from now on going to be like this?

      Next time, if a foreign intelligence service offers help to the Democratic Party, will that be accepted?

      If the computer systems of political campaigns and political parties are hacked, that creates a security risk for all those who communicate with them.

  • Elaine Owens

    A young man whom I taught in high school, as thoughtful and kind person as I know (works as nurse manager at the nursing home where my husband spent the last seven months of his life), voted for Trump. When I asked him why he chose as he did, his response was, “Mrs. Owens, I voted for the lesser of two evils.” I didn’t argue, I just told him I strongly disagreed with his assessment. Across the street, neighbors I’ve known for 21 years had two Trump signs in their yard. I knew why they were supporting Trump. They are fundamentalist Christians and NRA members, and that tells all. If I could give my party one bit of advice, it would be this. Get back to the economic message that has been a winning strategy for decades…jobs, jobs, jobs. Confront the realities of the new post-industrial, global economy and work diligently on policies that will help mitigate the damage to parts of the working class (including middle class workers who have seen stagnant wages and loss of benefits). Look outside of Washington and the status quo for new leadership for the party on state and local levels. Then, read carefully two things: Kathy’s excellent analysis and a book with the title, Hillbilly Elegy. After reading, formulate a plan of action and get busy. Kathy’s right. Just sitting around and playing a blame game gets us nowhere.

  • Video: Bernie Sanders SLAMS the idiot media for asking frivolous questions, NOT asking about climate change, economic inequality, other real issues.


  • Snowfall

    FDR was elected by rural voters and fought against the bankers and industrialists of the northeastern cities such as New York. Today’s Democratic party has switched places, now an overwhelming number of rural voters and working poor self-identify as conservatives and vote Republican, and it is Democrats that have their base in the countries largest cities. The reason the party lost this election is simple math, the electoral college is about geography as much as population, and since the party has lost rural voters and has embraced urban culture and issues almost exclusively Democrats simply don’t hold sway over enough real estate to win back the House, lost governor’s mansions, state houses, and now the party has lost the Senate and the Presidency, and as a consequence the Supreme Court. U.S. political structure simply isn’t designed to allow the cities to rule over the rest of the country, so until the party mends fences with rural voters and starts trying to talk with them instead of at them, losses are likely to continue. Next election Democrats have a huge number of Congressional seats up for grabs in some very red states, and there’s nothing at the moment to indicate that the loses won’t continue, and that conservatives won’t grab even more of a majority than they already have

    People don’t like being talked down to, and this notion that everyone who lives outside the city limits is somehow a wife beating, misogynistic, homophobic, racist is completely delusional. These are the people who put FDR in office four times, and now they’ve elected Trump.

    I think it will take years, literally, to put the party on a better heading and to reach out to rural voters. It may take years just to convince the majority of the party to stop calling them racists, much less sit and actually listen to their concerns and try to create solutions that appeal to them

    • Rachael Batten

      Rural voters are a dwindling cohort, what value is there in a long-term outreach strategy for a population that is moving out or dying off?