Tonight in Iowa Democratic volunteers spent their evenings with the quiet thankless tasks of organizing. They called hundreds of caucus goers, they watched an online presentation to prepare for caucus night, they stuffed nomination papers for legislators and courthouse officials into packets.
Yet the headlines focused on eight protesters arrested at Democratic HQ in Des Moines including one person described in an earlier draft of the Register story as "a transient from Baton Rouge, Louisiana" (the word "transient" is now off the site).
Let's be frank. A lot of this is about a few people's personal, emotional commitment to the political theater of confrontation. We've seen them do it on the Republican side, bragging in self righteousness that "sometimes free speech isn't civil."
And they do it because it gets attention. For their issues, sure, but for themselves as well. I can't analyze the psychological needs, but I do have to admit that the media is more likely to focus on someone pitching a political tantrum than on a well reasoned position paper. And we in the media reinforce the tantrums by giving in and buying them the candy bar.
Despite bragging Saturday about "shutting down" Obama HQ in Des Moines and planning a "permanent occupation, the Occupiers -- or, rather, the Catholic Worker/CCI axis that has co-opted Occupy Des Moines -- literally couldn't get themselves arrested. So they went somewhere where they could.
The sentences grip with the grammar of forced communication: "We decided to make them listen to us." “We told him we are starting an occupation." So a committed party staffer with years of experience doing real work for change, a young man with a strong union labor background, had to be the bad guy and call the cops. Nice victory there.
It's frustrating because despite my stance as a defender of the good against the perfect, I still see myself as an idealist. I'd like to see a radical restructuring of the federal budget and the economy that would net a 50 percent military cut and single payer health care, too. And I also wish Obama would flat out support marriage equality. Dennis Kucinich ran twice on a similar platform. He got a tiny handful of votes.
It's going to take more than one term or one presidency to change things that much. and it's going to take a Congress willing to work for something more than the destruction of an economy and a presidency. Yes, that means more and better Democrats. (We had the More in 2009 but we needed the Better.)
I've got more respect for another approach to dissent, the uncommitted group based here in Iowa City, They're participating in a democratic process by the rules, and they accept that they're in a minority. Still, I'm frustrated by their hostility to Obama, particularly to today's announcement that he'll address the caucuses directly.
We have a president who may not be moving the ball fast enough, but is moving in the right direction. In case you've forgotten, Obama has accomplished a lot, and has earned the privilege of speaking to the caucuses.
A challenger emerged to Jimmy Carter. Challenges within the party drove Lyndon Johnson from office. But the overwhelming majority of Democrats are, while maybe not 100% happy with Obama, confident enough in his abilities given the limitations of the economic and political realities. So all we have in opposition is a couple dozen dissidents in Iowa City (at the meeting I spoke to half were crossing over for Ron Paul) and a transient from Baton Rouge. But tantrums get better headlines than phone banking.
This past weekend Republican politicos were mourning the loss of Wendy Jensen, a super-volunteer first for Tim Pawlenty then for Rick Santorum. I didn't know her, had never even heard of her till the tributes started coming in. But I know people like her on my team who quietly do the grunt work. We lost one of our own too last week: our longtime county party secretary, Carl Fongheiser, who made it to every meeting and convention and barbecue that he could as he battled cancer for years.
It's for people like Carl that President Obama fought for the best health care plan that could get the votes. and it's people like Wendy and Carl, not self-serving attention seekers, who are the real heroes of change.