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.