Edi­tor’s Note: This post reflects my own per­spec­tive as a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty offi­cial. As an insti­tu­tion orga­nized to fur­ther the com­mon good, NPI does not take posi­tions in Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty lead­er­ship elec­tions or hold a posi­tion on how the par­ty should be run.

Ear­li­er today, for­mer Vir­ginia Gov­er­nor Tim Kaine announced that he resign­ing as Chair­man of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee (which he should have done months ago fol­low­ing the par­ty’s appalling per­for­mance in the 2010 midterms) to run for U.S. Sen­ate. (Incum­bent Sen­a­tor Jim Webb, who is a fresh­man, revealed a few weeks ago that he does not intend to seek a sec­ond term).

Kaine’s depar­ture from the DNC has cre­at­ed a vacan­cy which Pres­i­dent Oba­ma and his cir­cle of advi­sors are anx­ious to see filled. So anx­ious, in fact, they’ve already got some­body lined up to take his place, as if the posi­tion was to be filled by appoint­ment, even though that’s not how it’s sup­posed to work.

I belong to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty because I want to do my part to make sure that it is, in fact, a demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty. My loy­al­ty as a Demo­c­rat is to the val­ues our par­ty rep­re­sents, and to the thou­sands upon thou­sands of oth­er activists who call them­selves Democ­rats. I believe in a par­ty that serves and empow­ers them, and is not mere­ly an aux­il­iary corps for the cur­rent occu­pant of the White House.

But Barack Oba­ma and his entourage seem to think that they’re enti­tled to pick the next DNC chair, sim­ply because in the past, the pres­i­dent has been allowed to hire and/or fire the chair of his or her respec­tive party.

That “tra­di­tion” needs to end. And not just because it goes against how the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty should be run as a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple. There’s a more prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tion: Par­ty lead­er­ship elec­tions help increase the like­li­hood that the next chair will actu­al­ly be qual­i­fied for the job, and will enjoy the con­fi­dence of the peo­ple he or she is sup­posed to be account­able to. 

It does­n’t make sense that the only time the posi­tion of Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee chair should ever be con­test­ed is right after we’ve lost the White House. We can’t even afford to be in that kind of a posi­tion again, giv­en how far back­wards this coun­try has slid. That means who­ev­er is serv­ing as chair needs to be com­pe­tent, trust­wor­thy, and respon­sive to the needs of local par­ty organizations.

Under Tim Kaine, we lost our hold on the major­i­ty of gov­er­nor­ships and state leg­is­la­tures. We lost con­trol of the U.S. House, with all the gains we made in 2006 and 2008 wiped out. And we lost sev­er­al seats in the U.S. Sen­ate, dimin­ish­ing our major­i­ty and leav­ing us in a poor posi­tion for 2012. All of those loss­es were the result of the par­ty’s inabil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate what Democ­rats stood for and had accom­plished, and the par­ty’s fail­ure to turn out key constituencies.

The respon­si­bil­i­ty for those fail­ures rests with Tim Kaine. He inher­it­ed what Howard Dean had built, at Barack Oba­ma’s insis­tence. But in a tough cycle, he did not do what was need­ed to pro­tect Demo­c­ra­t­ic majori­ties, and he did not even man­age to sub­stan­tial­ly mit­i­gate Demo­c­ra­t­ic loss­es. He failed.

Now Barack Oba­ma and his entourage want anoth­er Belt­way insid­er run­ning the DNC: Deb­bie Wasser­man-Schultz, who they some­how think will have time for the job despite the fact that she’s a mem­ber of Congress:

In select­ing Deb­bie to lead our par­ty, Pres­i­dent Oba­ma not­ed her tenac­i­ty, her strength, her fight­ing spir­it, and her abil­i­ty to over­come adver­si­ty. Pres­i­dent Oba­ma expressed great admi­ra­tion for her as a leader, and he was hon­ored that she accept­ed this impor­tant chal­lenge on behalf of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party.

No one should have any doubt that Deb­bie will work hard to strength­en our par­ty and our coun­try. I hope you will wel­come her as Pres­i­dent Obama’s choice for the next Chair of the DNC.

- Excerpt from a ghost­writ­ten email signed with Joe Biden’s name

Nice plat­i­tudes, huh? Notice the absence of any actu­al cre­den­tials. This mes­sage does­n’t both­er to explain what makes Wasser­man-Schultz qual­i­fied for the posi­tion, address the ques­tion of how she can be effec­tive while hold­ing anoth­er job, or dis­cuss who else might have been con­sid­ered. It’s pre­sump­tive­ly writ­ten in a way that sug­gests it’s already a done deal.

I have seen no evi­dence to date that would lead me to believe that Deb­bie Wasser­man-Schultz would make a good Demo­c­ra­t­ic Chair. Maybe she could be. But she has­n’t had to cam­paign for the job, so it’s hard to know.

I believe the job to be a demand­ing and impor­tant one, and I’d like it to be held by some­body who believes in build­ing the par­ty from the bot­tom-up. Howard Dean was such a per­son, and look at the job he did. He rein­vig­o­rat­ed and revi­tal­ized the par­ty at a cru­cial time. We are not in such dire straits as we were fol­low­ing the 2004 elec­tions, but we are in dan­ger of in an unthink­able posi­tion two years from now. 

That’s why it’s imper­a­tive that we have a DNC chair from out­side of the estab­lish­ment who is com­mit­ted to peo­ple-pow­ered pol­i­tics. The health of our par­ty depends on strong lead­er­ship that lis­tens — not to the White House, but to state par­ties, and to coun­ty par­ties, and to dis­trict par­ty organizations.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, if his­to­ry is any indi­ca­tion, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee will defer to Barack Oba­ma and his entourage rather than assert­ing their right to select the next chair themselves. 

I wish they’d take a stand for a more demo­c­ra­t­ic Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty and tell the White House they want to have an actu­al par­ty lead­er­ship elec­tion to fill the post.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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2 replies on “Democratic Party’s new chair should be chosen democratically, not by executive order”

  1. I agree com­plete­ly. The DNC Chair should be cho­sen by the 447 mem­bers, not the sit­ting Pres­i­dent. When Howard Dean ran for the posi­tion he had 7 oppo­nents. He won by the promis­es he made to include every­one and to run a 50 state strat­e­gy. He ful­filled every cam­paign promise he made and the suc­cess of the 2006–2008 elec­tions are proof. Then the first thing Oba­ma did after fol­low­ing Dean’s strat­e­gy for his own cam­paign, was to dis­man­tle entire­ly the 50 state strat­e­gy and pro­mot­ing only his own agen­da, not the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty and with Tim kaine we lost big time.

  2. The “nom­i­na­tion” of Rep. Deb­bie Wasser­man-Schultz for Chair of the DNC tells me that Oba­ma final­ly gets it that he’s in trou­ble with women and the pro­gres­sive base that was so active in his 2008 campaign.

    If this is cor­rect, it’s time for them to do some bar­gain­ing with Oba­ma. He’s already shown that he’s will­ing to bar­gain with Repub­li­cans — why not with Democrats?

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