Friday, August 14, 2015

Bernie's Big Strategy

Off to Wing Ding tonight but first, three interesting takes on Bernie Sanders and his strategy of big, Big, BIG rallies.

Andrew Romano notes the past roots of Big Rally as strategy, with a few self-deprecating digs at the hipsters:
I attended my first political rally when I was a freshman in college — a concert for Ralph Nader at Madison Square Garden. (A cute girl with an extra ticket invited me at the last minute.) 
This same factor also got me to very nearly dump Tom Harkin for Bob Kerrey in the fall of 1991. Effort failed. (Both Kerry's campaign and my effort with said girl.) Back to Romano: 
I remember a man who was vowing to fast until Nader, then a Green Party candidate, was allowed to debate George W. Bush and Al Gore. I remember stoned undergrads in “Bush and Gore Make Me Wanna Ralph” T-shirts.
No. Al Gore is not going to run. Neither is Biden.
I remember dyed green hair. I remember multiple piercings. And I remember a lot of older people — baby boomers who might have once been accused of smelling like patchouli but who now looked just like the conservative churchgoers you’d meet at Republican events.
He could have taken the history further back: the Big Rally was a big part of Henry Wallace's campaign, too. One difference:

Wallace and Nader both used modest ticket prices to raise small dollar donation. In the Internet era, that may be obsolete. But Romano notes the other Internet era impact of the Big Rally:
Instagram didn’t exist when Obama launched his presidential campaign in 2007. The iPhone had yet to be released. Twitter still hadn’t taken off. Facebook was a way to connect with your real-life friends — not a global hub for news, marketing and politics.

Since then, social media has permeated every aspect of our lives. It’s become our constant mobile companion. It basically is the media at this point — the main way we absorb information about what’s happening in the world. And that, in turn, has amplified the long-tail effect on presidential politics. When every candidate is in your pocket all the time, it’s easier to find the one who seems to speak for you; when your feed is full of friends echoing your political passions, it’s easier to feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself — a “political revolution,” as Sanders put in Los Angeles.
Also helps explain why there are 17 Republican candidates.
That’s a big part of the reason why more than 27,000 people showed up to see Sanders speak in Los Angeles: because everyone seemed to be going. 
 The old Yogi Berra-ism: "Nobody goes there, it's too crowded."

The fun part of the caucuses is not caucus NIGHT. It's the year before when the candidates are everywhere. The question is, and it's been raised regarding Donald Trump as well: will the thousands who show up at an exciting campaign rally sit through a dull evening in a school gym? Evan McMorris-Santoro:
The huge crowds in Portland fuel the huge online army which in turn bolsters the traditional campaign D’Alessandro is running in Iowa. Maybe. But in the end, he said, the size of the crowd doesn’t matter.

“I know why you guys think it’s cool when 2,500 people show up in Council Bluffs, Iowa,” he said. “That’s a story in itself. But all we care about is how many can we get to commit to caucus.”

Enviable online presence, jaw-droppingly huge crowds, millions of dollars raised without a billionaire donor. These are already Sanders success stories. But they’re not victory.

“The only thing we’re going to be judged on is how many people can you get to caucus,” D’Alessandro said.
One of the spins I'm hearing from other campaigns: what would Bernie Sanders, as a hypothetical nominee, do to help elect other Democrats - oops, I mean DEMOCRATS since Sanders still does not call himself one and has been very critical of the party in the not very distant past. Does Sanders as nominee, and a Sanders campaign crew, help a Mary Jo Wilhelm or a Brian Schoenjahn, or a rural moderate challenger? How "coordinated" is the campaign in that scenario? Not an issue that matters to rookie caucus goers, but of critical importance to the undecided core activists who are seriously focused on a decision this far out.

The weirdest thing about the whole Big Rally things is the way Sanders, the most serious real left candidate since Henry Wallace, seems to be singled out for extra tough attacks by #BlackLivesMatter hecklers. My record against heckling as campaign strategy is long-standing, and I'm especially reminded of it during Soap Box week at the state fair. (Notable that Clinton and Trump are the two to eschew the box.)

Bill Scher:
For Sanders, all issues come back to economic inequality. For Black Lives Matter, that approach fails to fully confront the centuries-old scourge of institutional racism. For Lessig, only by prioritizing election reform can anything else be solved.

(Sanders) regularly fingers the Citizens United ruling for corrupting democracy and pledges to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn it. That wasn’t enough for Lessig, who complained Sanders dilutes his message by having the gall to campaign on other issues.
The one and only time I'm mentioning Lawrence Lessig in this blog. 
While a traditional candidate succeeds by knowing when to cater to a party’s political base and when to keep it at arm’s length, a movement candidate doesn’t have that luxury. All that complicates the progressive objective of influencing the party Establishment.
In effect, Bernie isn’t running for President of the United States of America. He’s running to be President of Progressive America. And when you are running to be an ideological standard-bearer, your ideological fellow travellers all demand you adhere to their own standard. That involves not just checking every box on the liberal to-do list, but giving maximum rhetorical emphasis to everyone’s top priority. Which is impossible. It’s a game that can’t be won.
I'm old enough to remember the argument that Jesse Jackson was running to be "the president of Black America" and not president of America. It was condescending then and is now, but also contains a grain of truth. And for the moment, Sanders seems to the front runner in that race, if only because Elizabeth Warren opted out of the presidential race.

I'll take it further. By taking gender out of the mix, Warren would have been far more competitive against Hillary Clinton than Sanders is now. Near-left Democrats wavering between Woman President and Move The Party Left would have had an easier choice. I think Elizabeth Warren literally decided not to be president.

1 comment:

Rod Sullivan said...

Full disclosure: I am a Bernie supporter. That out of the way, I think this is a fair post. One point I'd like to make, though - several "mainstream" Democrats were not particularly good about building the party apparatus. Clinton (Bill) folks never cared about the larger party, and it showed. He hung countless members of Congress out to dry. Kerry chose that approach almost certainly to snub Dean, and it was a bad choice. Obama poured millions into local offices (a first), but kept all the data.

Party building is big deal. Dean understood that. Obama understood that. Is there any reason to believe Sanders would be better or worse than HRC in this area? Hard to know. We can look to Vermont, where the Democratic Party is strong.

Every Presidential candidate should pay more attention to this. Just not certain there is any reason to believe Sanders will somehow be worse than anyone else.