Friday, February 20, 2015

Wasserman Schultz Needs A Different Role

Dual-role Debbie Wasserman Schultz, both a Florida congresswoman and chair of the Democratic National Committee, is reportedly looking at a US Senate run in 2016, when Marco Rubio is either running for re-election or for president.

It's a prospect I kinda sorta like - but not for the reasons I think. I like it because a Wasserman Schultz Senate bid would get her out as DNC chair.

Wasserman Schultz's chair-ship has bugged me for a long time but I've been reluctant to bring it up. Criticize a female leader, a relatively young one at that, you're slapped as sexist. Criticize a Jewish leader, you get even worse.

(Tangent: In a Democratic primary between a white woman and a south Asian young man, both of whom have money, who's the diverse pick?)

And I've met Debbie, here in town, and found her personally likable and a strong enthusiastic speaker on behalf of her colleague Dave Loebsack.

But a couple brief tweets drew enough positive reaction that I'm expanding the thought.

The latest criticism of Wasserman Schultz come from in-state.  She's under attack for opposing a Florida medical marijuana initiative last year.  It rolled up a strong 57.6% vote... but needed 60 to win.  (My local friends feel that pain.)

I first got familiar with Wasserman Schultz through the endless 2008 caucus cycle. She was a bitter ender for Hillary Clinton, which in itself was fine, lots of people were.

But Wasserman Schultz was also the strongest defender of Florida's rule-breaking presidential primary, held on January 31.  Party rules had stipulated later dates except for the four designated early states, led by Iowa as God intended.  Because Florida (and Michigan) broke the rules, Iowa was pushed all the way back to the insanely early date of January 3, smack in the middle of Christmas break and disenfranchising thousands of students in my county.

And Wasserman Schultz continued to defend Florida's calendar cheating all the way to the convention, arguing that Florida's rogue (and pro-Clinton) delegation should get full seating and no penalties. In the end, in the name of "unity," she got what she wanted, and Florida's only punishment was bad hotels.

This year, SO FAR, the calender cheating seems to have calmed down.  But our caucuses have enough worries, and Wasserman Schultz is clearly not a fan.

So  was disappointed in Obama's choice of Wasserman Schultz to head the DNC. (Don't waste my time saying "the committee elected her." Incumbent presidents give the marching orders for their parties.) Howard Dean was a great chair. The 50 state strategy briefly gave us a 3 to 1 lead in the MISSISSIPPI House delegation. We gained seats in LOUISIANA and IDAHO.

But Dean was on the bad side of Rahm Emanuel, and Wasserman Schultz was an olive branch to Team Hillary.

Party chair is less important when you control the White House, as the President is the real party leader.  But a president always needs lots of surrogates and Wasserman Schultz has done a decent job of representing the president and the party.

With the exception of a critical chunk of foreign policy.

Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz offered a series of candid remarks at a recent event in Florida, slamming MSNBC over what she claims is its anti-Israel bias, breaking with the Obama administration by identifying recent terrorists as Islamic, and questioning intermarriage and assimilation for Jewish people.

I'm not comfortable saying what I really think of those remarks.  It's still too big a taboo to discuss Israel openly and honestly, though as you may have noticed I'm testing the waters.  I will note that similarly ethnocentric remarks from members of other groups would be rightly denounced.

Wasserman Schultz's unfailing support of the Israeli government line are in large part explained by the demographics of her district. And naturally she'll stick up for her state in the calendar fight.  She's also not the only politician who's made or is making the mistake of lagging behind the public on drug law reform.

But those issues underscore the problem.

Notice that the article doesn't begin saying "Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz."  It says "Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz." In her dual role, the party leadership is considered more prominent.  And when she thinks she's speaking for her district and to her district, she's also speaking for the whole Democratic Party and to the whole nation.

As a Democrat, she's not speaking for me, at least not on these three issues.

 I think Debbie Wasserman Schultz would be a fine Senator for the state of Florida.  It's a risky move in a state that's narrowly divided and politically volatile, as is any place where most people were born somewhere else. This race, with incumbent Rubio still deciding, will be especially volatile.

But as Senator from Florida, she'd only have to represent FLORIDA, not Democrats in Iowa.  So maybe that role is a better fit for her.

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