OK, so my post-election bounce isn't quite happening yet. I'm not feeling it much anyway. Burn-out is more like it. There's only so much outrage one can take before the bile and bitterness and "can-you-believe-that's" become so entrenched as to be a real turn off, both to self and to others.
So here I'm going to do my best to outline my take on the blue vs. red without losing my cool.
Short story: It's crap.
OK, not really.
I've had more than one person refer me to Fuck The South,
telling me what a larf that it is. While trying to be as PC as I can be, I'll allow that catharsis has its place. As vented spleen, that piece works OK, I guess. If whomever wrote it feels better, great; besides that, a few people got a good chuckle out of it. That's all good.
(portions of this letter excerpted from an email I sent earlier today)
The problem I have is that the people guiding the strategy of the Democratic Party -- the Ickes'es, the McAuliffes, the Froms, the Shrums, the Braziles -- have been pushing this idea that you can't win by displaying a backbone. It's this desire to capture the mushy middle that's exacerbating the problem. What's worse, they're trying to "Clintonize" the election, conveniently forgetting one crucial component: Bill Clinton's not running. (Al From was no more a kingmaker than my cat; he happened to be in the right place at the right time.) While they might have had other parts of the formula roughly correct, I contend that you can't separate Clinton's campaign strategy from Clinton the persona.
So let me come around to the "fuck the south" meme.
As a more deeply interested observer in Southern politics this time around, I gotta call some shit into question here which might be lost on our northern counterpart. We have a popular Democratic governor (60%+ approval rating) -- Phil Bredesen -- who basically sat out the whole election. If that wasn't bad enough, here's another kick in the teeth: the state party is a captive interest of the governor's office. After Bredesen's *successful* election in 2002, he liquidated the state party office and had it peopled with his folks. One might ask why that matters. I wondered that myself, even if unconsciously so. I did think it weird that a politician would refuse to dance with those what brung him, but as victor, the spoils, yadda yadda.
The state party did absolutely zero to promote Kerry statewide. It was so bad... SO BAD... that they wouldn't even put up Kerry/Edwards signs in the windows of their office. No shit. This is the state party
, y'all. That seems a trifle, but I'm just getting started. What's worse, they took pains to go on the record as saying that Tennessee, the state that had elected Al Gore to the senate twice and put the Democrat Phil Bredesen into office, was BUSH COUNTRY. Here it is, Democratic home turf, Democratic incumbency. You'd think that was leverage, but all the same, they're conceding the election to Bush weeks ahead of November 2.
Well, they had a strategy. They would hope and wish that TN somehow fell into Kerry's lap. That's about the size of it.
Seriously, though: their strategy was to attempt to promote a few local races in a failed attempt to preserve the Democratic majority in the state senate, which might seem sensible enough on its face. Recent history shows, though, that they wound up spending all of their money in that losing
strategy while they could have chosen to spend that money on leveraging a statewide party infrastructure for GOTV for all Democratic candidates, not just a few targeted races. Helluva tutorial in opportunity cost there, huh? But I guess you can expect that out of a state political organization whose sole purpose is to support Phil Bredesen, even if it does bear the legacy of being the statewide Democratic leadership vessel.
I understand that they're trying their best to keep their powder dry for the 2006 gubernatorial cycle, but the Republicans are hell-bent on taking that office back from Bredesen. If he thinks that his failure to show up for Kerry is going to win him points going into '06 with the GOP-leaning swing voter, I gotta call bullshit. He doesn't understand what he's up against. And pushing policies that alienate the unions (workers comp limitations favoring business) and the less fortunate (eliminating the state-sponsored TennCare system, leaving 400,000 people without health coverage) are going to wind up blowing up in his face. I don't know what he expects come 2006 in terms of national financial support from the DNC, but if I were [insert DLC-approved successor to McAuliffe here], I'd think twice before helping out.
I can't speak to the rest of the "southern" state parties (which by some bizarre fit of geographical spleen now includes Idaho and North Dakota), but here, they were not visible. The county parties were left to do the footwork without coherent state leadership, and with Phil Bredesen's self-loathing state party dismissing the 2004 campaign as hopeless, the result was pretty well predictable.
What's left, then? The national? Oh, well, they said "fuck the south" the loudest. "We can win without the south," says John Kerry. True to form, the national campaign spent little time and few dollars here. We need help, we need staff, we need money to help put out yard signs & make buttons & bumper stickers, we need advertising on the air, but we're left to fend for ourselves. It's pretty hard to win state-wide if the state doesn't believe in you, but when the national has you written off as well? It's called "self-fulfilling prophecy."
We are not hopelessly Republican down here. Even at the height of Jim Crow, this was the state that elected not only Al Gore, Sr. but also Estes Kefauver. While it might be fashionable and cathartic to place blame on the south for losing this election, we need vision from our brethren, not vitriol. We worked our asses off down here, and it's really hard to see people make a joke out of the sort of work that we put into winning this thing. Yeah, we have our issues -- but I know just as many Bible-thumping morons from Central Illinois as I do from Middle Tennessee. We just don't have the benefit of a Chicago metro area to swing the entire state our direction.
So, yeah, go ahead and have a giggle at the South's expense. But just remember how hard some people fought here in a uphill battle. Tennessee may have gone down, but it certainly was more of an effort than the election day coverage might have you believe. And we're smarting just as much as the rest of you are, only we live among the Bible-thumping, gun-toting, whiskey-drinking, dangerously undereducated cousin-fuckers that you so viciously rebuke and dismiss. You call them idiots, we call them our neighbors.
(Yes, I am fully aware of the trade-off. Having lived in Chicago, Denver, and Kansas City, and having seen enough of New York City and DC to know better, y'all can have at it. I'll trade my 20 minute commute and 1.3 acres for your 3 hours and postage stamp efficiencies any day of the week. Keep in mind, though, that I live in true blue Davidson County. Southern charm does have to meet certain minimum requirements for me. Nevertheless, that's a much broader discussion.)
Short story made long: Party politics are a collective effort. We won't ever win if the state and national leadership continues to say "fuck the south." It's a dangerous game of brinksmanship. Maybe instead of investing millions of dollars to keep Nader off the ballot next time, the DP can spend a few hundred thousand on party building in independent Southern states like Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee.