Things that don’t matter except when they do


I have to be completely honest: I don’t care very much who winds up as DNC chair. What I mean by that is that I would like to see Keith Ellison get the job, and I would not like to see Tom Perez get it, but if Perez does get it I’m not going to be that mad about it.

At least, not yet.

I don’t know much about Perez’s politics. Erik Loomis (who supports Ellison) says he was a very good Labor Secretary, and Loomis knows Labor issues quite well whereas I care about those issues but am not very well-informed about them because, well, there are only so many hours in the day. So I’ll stipulate that he was a good Labor Secretary in part because I don’t think it matters when evaluating his candidacy to run the DNC. His Israel-Palestine politics are shitty, but he’s running for DNC chair, not Secretary of State, and moving forward it’s going to be harder and harder for the Democratic Party to remain as anti-Palestinian as it currently is, regardless of who the DNC chair may be.

I know Ellison’s politics better, and I like them, but even if you like his politics you have to bear in mind that he’s running for a job where personal politics aren’t supposed to, and usually don’t, matter. I don’t think Reince Priebus, for example, had much effect on moving the Republican Party toward the nativist hard right, and in fact it seems pretty clear that he was along for the ride. What should matter in a party chair is how they manage the party apparatus.

Where I disagree with Loomis is in the notion that it doesn’t matter who’s running the party or that Debbie Wasserman Schultz didn’t do a fair amount of damage over her ~5 year tenure. The evidence of her apparently willful decimation of state parties is splayed all over any 2016 electoral map you can find and written in any piece you read about the number of legislative seats in this country that simply go uncontested in any given election cycle (yes, the Republicans choose not to contest seats too, but they’re not the minority party). It’s clear when every other tweet out of the DNC’s Twitter account is a GIF of Leslie Knope rolling her eyes that something in DWS’s Democratic Party was broken, and I’m not sure how you can argue that it didn’t matter come election time.

So given that, what worries me most about Perez is that some of the same people who left DWS in charge of the party even as it was clear she was running it into a ditch are the ones pushing Perez’s candidacy. If Perez gets the job and revitalizes state parties, recruits candidates all over the map, and fixes the national party’s messaging operation while staying out of the way on policy, then he’ll probably be OK. On the other hand, if he gets the job and keeps weakening state parties, keeps restricting the party’s messaging, and/or tries to use his perch to drag the party to the right, that will be shitty. I feel pretty confident that Ellison knows what’s wrong with the DNC and has a plan to fix it. That, much more than their relative political viewpoints, is why I would like to see Ellison get the gig. I really have no idea if the same is true of Perez, but I also don’t know that it’s not true, so I guess if he gets the job I’ll take a wait and see position.

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4 thoughts on “Things that don’t matter except when they do

  1. “but even if you like his politics you have to bear in mind that he’s running for a job where personal politics aren’t supposed to, and usually don’t, matter”

    Sounds about right for the year 2015. Hillary’s candidacy was destroyed in part by the poor behavior of the DNC chair. Whatever lovely accomplishments the DNC boasted up to that point are down the toilet for that simple reason. I think we now have pretty good reason to believe it is a position that matters. It’s also as good a weathervane of the national Democratic party as we have at the moment, and one that will likely determine if the future efforts of progressives and left-leaning independents like myself are channeled inside or outside of the D party.

    1. 1. DWS was the person Clinton wanted in that job. To the extent the DNC helped torpedo Clinton’s campaign, that’s on Clinton.
      2. “Whatever lovely accomplishments…”? The Democratic Party has been losing all over the place since the mid-90s, with the singular exceptions of 2006 and 2008 that were entirely thanks to the Bush administration. They haven’t had any accomplishments.
      3. I didn’t say the position doesn’t matter, and in fact the whole point of that post was that it does matter. But the chair’s political views are supposed to be secondary to his or her management of the party.

      1. Re #3: You could say that for a manager of any organization, except a political party. It’s like saying that the views of, say, the CEO of an automaker on the subject of labor relations don’t matter, or the views of a dot-com CEO on the subject of, say, digital privacy, etc.

      2. Analogizing the chair of the DNC to the CEO of a corporation is a stretch. Democratic Party policy is going to be set by Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and other high-profile elected leaders regardless of who’s running the party.

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