What the hell are democratic clubs good for, anyway? I received an email recently from the one in my area, imploring me, as a member, to help get out the vote for “our candidates.” Then came the list of candidates I’m supposed to work for. Five dandy, local candidates, from state representative and state senator to county tax assessor. But there was one glaring omission: the Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress. They must have made a mistake, right?
So, I called the president of the democratic township club, noting that the Congressional candidate’s name had been omitted. The answer I got spoke volumes about what’s wrong with our local democratic party organization—and maybe yours, too.:
“We talked about him and decided not to include him, because he’s not a serious candidate. He can’t win, and he probably won’t even get 20 percent of the vote,” he said. “He’s not raising money. He’s in a district completely gerrymandered for the Republican. I don’t know why he’s even running: The only reason to file for office in this district is to draw resources away from your opponent—to make her spend time and money opposing you. He hasn’t accomplished that. Also, we never heard from him: He didn’t contact us to make an appearance at our meetings.”
Whoa. Let’s take those “reasons” one by one:
“He’s not a serious candidate.”
By “serious,” of course, he means amassing large sums of money from fat cat donors, lobbying groups, corporate contributors and PACS—the kind of “serious” that has wrecked our political system; the kind of “serious” that makes lawmakers employees of their donors, not their constituents; the kind of “serious” that undermines the democratic principles that the Democratic party supposedly stands for.
And, by the way, he received the endorsement of our not-insignificant metropolitan newspaper this morning. I think one might call that “serious.”
“He’s not raising enough money.”
See above. But be aware that this particular candidate is running a low-dollar, limited contribution campaign by design. He’s trying to make a point, people. His per-person donation limit is $10.10—a number that is symbolic of the proposed Federal Minimum Wage, which he supports. If the democratic committee people had read any of the candidate’s literature, they would have understood that he is running on principle—a principle that you’d think the democratic party would applaud.
“I don’t even know why he’s running…”
So, according to this small-time, narrow-thinking political hack, the only reason to run for office in a gerrymandered district is to make mischief for your opponent? Would the democratic party in my state prefer that a Republican run unopposed, simply because she has the advantage of representing a district drawn to favor her party? What about the notion that opposing views need to be aired—you know, that democracy thing. The Congressional district is NOT 100 percent Republican: Democrats deserve the opportunity to vote for someone who represents their views—even if they are in the minority.
But, if you insist on looking at it strictly from the narrowest, lowest political viewpoint, what if the Republican candidate pulls an Akin or does something idiotic to make her candidacy implode—and what if there’s no democratic candidate in place. How would that feel? I am exasperated by the decades-long defeatist attitude of our state democratic party regarding this Congressional district: Should we roll over and automatically cede it to whichever Republican comes along, and not even bother to field a candidate?
“He can’t win. He won’t even get 20 percent of the vote.”
Okay, he probably won’t win. I’ll concede that. But it’s not reasonable to predict that he’ll get less than 20 percent of the vote, because he got 29 percent of the vote when he ran in 2010, and the district, as redrawn after the 2010 census, includes more democratic-leaning areas than before. Our esteemed democratic-club president didn’t know that, of course, and countered that point with “Well, even 40 percent would be a wipeout.” So, even if a Democrat could get 40 percent of the vote, it would be a waste of time?
And please note, sir, that the Republican candidate is so sure that she is going to win in a landslide that she is not even campaigning in her own district. She’s spending her time, and her money, campaigning for candidates in other states. Two words: Eric Cantor.
At the end of this exasperating conversation, as a way of trying to be a problem-solver, rather than just a complainer, I suggested that the club send out a correction to its letter, simply saying that the Congressional candidate’s name had been “inadvertently omitted” from the GOTV list. “Well, I didn’t make the decision,” said the president. “I’ll have to confer with the board about this. But sending out another email is a real pain, because my email server only allows me to send out 50 at a time, and I’ll have to divide the list up again, and that’s a lot of work.” Really: Boo hoo.
So, that’s how the conversation went, and that’s why my blood pressure spiked. The committee supposedly representing and working for Democrats dismissed a highly principled candidate because they decided that he isn’t “viable.” I might accept a democratic club ignoring a candidate who sounds like a lunatic, with way-out-there fringe-y ideas. But this guy is not like that—not by a long shot. But the issues didn’t even factor in. The fact is that the committee intentionally left him out, making it clear that this was a decision, not an accident—solely based on their perception that he couldn’t win.
I think it’s reasonable to expect the democratic club to be pro-active on behalf of a candidate who has taken the initiative—and the risk—to put his name on the ballot on behalf of the Democratic party—when the party itself has made no effort to recruit anyone.It’s simply unconscionable. Isnt’ it bad enough that Republicans have a powerful propaganda network [Fox News], the Koch Brothers and Citizens United working on their behalf? For democratic organizations to behave as this one did–and be complicit in our own demise as a politial force–is shameful and unconscionable.
Is this how other local democratic organizations operate?I hope not.
Update: After I spoke with the group’s president, and after I convinced a political friend of mine to call the committee-man, the club sent out another email with the corrected roster of GOTV candidates. In the end, they did the right thing, but only after we backed them into it. Sigh.