Democratic Party as a Social Institution

>> Monday, September 1, 2008

Diary titled 5th of November was rescued on Daily Kos last night. The diary makes an interesting suggestion about what could be done with the Democratic Party to increase not only electoral effectiveness but make it a more cohesive and unified organization. The author makes five suggestions about what could be done.

First: We must make every Democrat know that they are full members of the Democratic Party.

Second: We must police ourselves. It should be a privilege to run as a Democrat.

Third: The party itself needs to be more responsive to local issues.

Forth: we need to work on more projects with Republicans.

Finally, how do we pay for the outreach and larger permanent organization? I think it could be done in a couple of ways. One, we could allow people to contribute money to pay for some of it

These suggestions generated a positive response (from myself included) and caused me to think about them more deeply. After some thought i believe that there are some good ideas here and some problematic ones. I will address each suggestion one at a time.

First: We must make every Democrat know that they are full members of the Democratic Party. We need to act more like a club - why aren't new members of the Democratic party contacted and invited to join activities? Why aren't we asked to come to meetings? Why aren't we asked our opinions (where and when to have meetings, etc.). Even things that seem silly, like calenders and newsletters for members, helps to make people feel that they are part of a organization that exists and wants their participation even when there isn't an election.

This is actually my favorite of the group. People may not realize but socialization is a very important part of determining how people vote. Many people are socialized into a particular party and take on the ideology and thought process of that party only after joining. The are introduced to political parties by their parents and their friends. It is these groups that help people determine where they stand in the political world.

Building a party infrastructure that is active all the time and not at peak times during elections would help to cement the socialization of voters. People are less likely to drift away from a party when they are constantly exposed to the party and other people they relate to in the party. Regular meetings and newsletters and such are a good way of helping build a democratic community. It creates party cohesion and unity. It will also help in getting more people to volunteer and get involved. Having people you already know around when starting an activity for the first time makes that activity much easier. Simply involving people making them feel included is important. This first idea is one that should be implemented as soon as possible.

One good thing about this is that Obama has already done a great deal of the work for us. He has built a huge database of email lists and his site is designed to help organize and to get dems in touch with each other. Obama has made the first steps toward a real and sustained dem community.

Second: We must police ourselves. It should be a privilege to run as a Democrat. It would be wonderful if the next story of a politician gone bad started out with: The Democratic party announced today that congressman "fill-in-the-blank" is being kicked out of the party and that documents obtained through an internal investigation are being turned over to the Justice Department blah blah blah....

If people knew that we didn't let people who were unpatriotic, criminals or morally bankrupt run as Democrats, we wouldn't have to defend our candidates when the Republicans attack them. We could spend our money on presenting the issues and building the party.

This one is a little bit problematic. I understand why the diarist wants this. I just see real problems with implementation. What are the criteria to judge who is allowed to run? Could John Edwards run? How about Lieberman? What are the lines we draw that prevent one person from running versus another because if we get into a situation where we stop some one from running because they dont fit a certain ideological purity that is a real problem. It is also something that i could see happening especially if the decisions are made higher up.

Imagine a scenario where there is an insurgent candidate and an establishment candidate. If we have a solidified party that cares about party dictates the establishment could kill off candidacies it did not like. Many would be forbidden the chance to run because they have not earned the privilege. We should definitely make sure that any criminal who tries to run with a D next to their name is labeled a criminal and a DINO in the eyes of the public. In addition there are 1st amendment issues in play when dealing with elections, nominations, and political parties.

There is actually a good deal of Law dealing with the situation where a candidate is representing themselves as a party but the party is actually opposed to them. The controlling case law holds that,

The First Amendment does not give political parties a right to have their nominees designated as such on the ballot. See Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party, 520 U. S. 351, 362–363 (1997) (“We are unpersuaded, however, by the party’s contention that it has a right to use the ballot itself to send a particularized message, to its candidate and to the voters, about the nature of its support for the candidate”). Parties do not gain such a right simply because the State affords candidates the opportunity to indicate their party preference on the ballot. “Ballots serve primarily to elect candidates, not as forums for political expression.”

This means that you are allowed to self identify as a dem, run and win in the primary and keep a d next to your name and the party cannot do anything about it.

Third: The party itself needs to be more responsive to local issues. Ex: An elderly person has a problem with their social security. They should be able to call a local member of the Democratic party (a volunteer) who will help them make the phone calls to social security or get them a volunteer who can help them through the bureaucracy. Another ex: neighborhood and homeowners association meetings should have someone at their meetings who represents the Democratic party -- this could be someone who lives in the neighborhood who has volunteered to take on the responsibility of being a liaison between the neighborhood and their elected officials.)-- Sort of like Tammany Hall without the corruption.

This is an idea i think we could get to work with a few conditions. The first of these is that the services need to be open to everyone regardless of political affiliation. We cannot have a situation where we compel people to join because Dems have started to control basic services. We are not Hezbollah and should not look to be the shadow government of the neighborhoods. There is always a danger in these types of situations for a quid pro quo to develop. We cannot be seen to barter services for votes or donations. Constituent service operations as an arm of the dem party could be very useful in dealing with the elected officials of both parties so long as they are free to everyone. You can see the potential problems here if we start privileging these services?

It is not that i am opposed to the dems becoming more involved in community issues but i do not want to see the rise of local bosses. It is also likely that the republicans would develop rival set ups to ours and if it is not handled right we could see a hyper partisan system where dems help dems and reps help reps. There is always the danger that party's become too powerful as institutions and start to lock out those with the smaller voice. The more solidified we make the Dem party the more likely this becomes.

Forth: I know that this is going to get some folks going - we need to work on more projects with Republicans. We could work on a park project together or school projects - as Democrats and Republicans, but together. I think this is a way of implementing Obama's call to find common ground. It would be a way to reduce some of the "politics as usual" - less demonizing, less negative advertising and more dialogue that can help to get us to a deeper and more productive working relationship.

One of the reasons that i was concerned about this idea is that i think instead of doing what it is intended, bring us all together on common ground, it is creating division. I may be wrong but i get the feeling that this would solidify the identities of the two groups. The more people hang out with the one group, like the theorized dem party, the less likely they are to have friends from the opposite spectrum. I think that the best way to carry out the Obama message of less partisan gridlock is through everyday interactions. Meeting as solid blocks seems less effective to me than interacting in other, non politically tinged, settings. By adding a political focus to all of these events i think it would be hard to avoid and increase in partisanship.

Finally, how do we pay for the outreach and larger permanent organization? I think it could be done in a couple of ways. One, we could allow people to contribute money to pay for some of it (it's not like we don't ask them to donate money every couple of years to pay for massive amounts of advertising - advertising that would be less necessary if we had a stronger grassroots organization). Also, much of the work can be done by volunteers - many of us volunteer our time now - why wouldn't we volunteer on a regular basis if it meant that things we cared about like better schools and the environment were improved?

I am fine with this. Donations must be totally optional though. They cannot become dues that must be paid to belong.

One thing to consider is that not everyone is going to want to be interested in joining. There are always people who are not interested in politics. We should not pressure these people into joining. Can you imagine our country where the Dems and the Republicans are competing at every level for everything? There is something to be said for a more abstract party system where the structure is not so rigid. Moving too far down the path of a club risks alienating the non members, whose votes we need.


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