Democrats Need Corporate-style Shake-up

Dear Friends,

In an unfortunate holdover from primitive times, instinct often inclines humans to believe serious problems aren’t that bad. “That smoking volcano will never blow its top and bury our village,” finds its modern equivalent in, “Melting Arctic ice can’t possibly affect us here in Iowa.”

As much as I’d like to light a fire under you about climate change, today I’ll focus on another burning topic: the Iowa Democratic Party.

Curmudgeon. Gadfly. Self-serving phony. Debbie Downer. And my favorite: Doddering old socialist wind bag.

These are just a few of the compliments my fan club lavished upon me after my recent critique of the IDP Fall Gala. Just as the guy warning that Mt. Vesuvius would erupt proved an easy target for pummeling by the pampered people of Pompeii, we modern messengers of political reform are popular targets for defenders of the status quo.

Some of these defenders had great fun dissecting the critique point by point. Iowa Starting Line’s Pat Rynard even labeled it “ridiculous garbage.” (Read Rynard’s column and my rebuttal.)

But not a single critic confronted my core message: the IDP is out of touch, and not just with rural voters but with low- and middle-income working people, too.

With its ever-shrinking base, the IDP is headed toward permanent minority-party status. One only has to examine a few hard numbers to verify this diagnosis:

  • In December 2006, there were 19,110 more active Democrats than Republicans.
  • Today, there are 48,539 more active Republicans than Democrats — a shift of 67,649 voters!
  • In 2006, Democrats controlled the Iowa House, the Iowa Senate, the Governor’s office, three of five congressional seats, and one US Senate seat.
  • Today, Republicans control the Iowa House, the Iowa Senate, the Governor’s office, three of four congressional seats, and both US Senate seats.

The old guard wants you to believe the IDP will rise from the ashes if everyone in the Party simply learns to get along.

Don’t be fooled! “Get along” is code for “retain the status quo.”

What the Party needs is a complete shake-up, a head-to-toe makeover. It needs new blood and a radically different strategy. I’m encouraged that a fresh wave of energetic, progressive leaders now holds influential positions within the Party. But the old guard won’t give up without a struggle. They’re persuasive. They have money. They’re mostly nice people. And they’ll fight like mad if you try to take away their power.

But that’s exactly what needs to happen. We need to politely but firmly tell the old guard, “Thank you for your service. Here’s a beautifully framed certificate for your wall, but sorry, you need to step aside.”

Perhaps a comparison to the private sector would be helpful. A corporation fails badly. The board hands the CEO his head on a golden platter. The new CEO apologizes and changes the company’s logo. Public and shareholder confidence is restored. The corporation again becomes viable and profitable.

The same kind of purge needs to happen within the IDP. Campaigning on the issues people care about is meaningless if politicians don’t deliver on them. Voters aren’t fooled by that, and they’ve seen a lot of it from Democrats over the years. (For example, review the 2007-2010 Iowa Democratic trifecta and lack of any action on campaign finance, corporate hog confinements, workers rights, and other key priorities important to Democrats and most Iowans.)

Words and symbols are at least as important as issues. A “gala” doesn’t resonate with the shrinking middle class. Neither does a coastal comedian making fun of the guy most Iowans voted for for President. And few of us are going to pay $50 to eat dinner, let alone pay $50 to watch other people eat dinner.

I’m hardly the only one presenting this analysis of the IDP. Constructive criticism abounds. Consider this comment from Justin Yourison, one of many I received in response to my blog:

“I don’t understand this push by the left to rename everything, rewrite history, and shame people for being straight and white…then parade around Alec Baldwin because he makes fun of Trump in front of all the ivory tower Dems and wonder why you lose elections.”

More “ridiculous garbage?” If you think so, well then, we can just move on from this conversation. But if Democrats are serious about regaining relevancy, they’d better start taking the clamor for reform seriously.

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Gala doesn’t connect with most Iowans

Dear Friends,

Maybe the Iowa Democratic Party’s (IDP) big annual event was a success in terms of generating funds for the Party and enthusiasm for its candidates. But in several signifiant ways, it was a colossal failure.

1. The sound system performed horribly, with much of the speakers’ messages lost in an echo chamber of garbled sound waves.

A typical gala. Whew! No poor people!

2. Not allowing the Events Center’s wait staff to stay and hear Alec Baldwin reeked of elitism. The decision was made by the facility’s management, but the IDP should have objected. Heck, the wait staff should have been paraded up to the stage and thanked with a standing ovation.

3. The Gala was clearly a pay-to-play deal and the IDP milked candidates with the most money, notably Fred Hubbell and Nate Boulton. From what I could tell, these two purchased hundreds of tickets and spent possibly tens of thousands of dollars. Kinda reminds one of the much-maligned Republican Party of Iowa’s Ames Straw Poll, which Democrats have never been hesitant to slam.

4. Beyond the cost of admission ($50 just to sit in the bleachers and watch the higher-paying attendees eat), scheduling the Gala on a Monday excluded many rank-and-file voters, especially those far from Des Moines. As Paul Deaton of Johnson County tweeted, “#IDPFallGala schedule (Monday evening) not viable for working Ds outside Des Moines. Maybe that’s the point.”

5. Finally, the IDP’s decision to change the name of the event from Jefferson-Jackson Dinner to Fall Gala shows that the Party is pathologically out of touch with big chunks of Iowa’s electorate. A gala — defined as “lavish entertainment or celebration” — is not what the vast majority of struggling Iowans want or need right now. For further details, see Kevin Hardy’s excellent story in The Des Moines Register detailing the ravaging of most Americans’ incomes to benefit a thin upper crust.

From what I was able to catch of the candidates’ speeches, they all performed reasonably well — with the glaring absence of any discussion about the urgency of climate change. So far, Cathy Glasson has been the only gubernatorial candidate to speak out against the Gala’s pandering to money and privilege, saying, “People in our movement holding down two or three jobs and still struggling to make ends meet don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend for a fancy dinner.”

That’s not an endorsement of Glasson, but I appreciate her willingness to challenge the IDP.

Democrats are giddy with enthusiasm at their electoral prospects next fall. But the fact that many promising young progressives won nonpartisan city council seats this month means little if the IDP can’t connect with those who feel abandoned by both major parties. For now, the smart money remains on continued Republican dominance of the Iowa Legislature, statewide offices, and Iowa’s congressional delegation.

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