Saturday, October 14, 2006

DPW Chair Joe Wineke at the Dane Dems

Last Wednesday Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairperson Joe Wineke spoke about the upcoming elections at the Democratic Party of Dane County's monthly meeting. I recorded his speech, and the Q&A session afterwards, and I've posted the mp3 files on the Democracy for Wisconsin server for your listening pleasure.

Each segment is about fifteen minutes long. The recordings are quite good, although it's a little hard to hear the questions during the Q&A because I didn't have a microphone for the audience.


Joe always gives a good speech, and certainly did so on Wednesday. I'm not going to review the majority of what he said because I agreed with most of it, and you can listen for yourself. My comments are on the things I take issue with. Although they may come across as a bit negative, overall I both enjoyed and appreciated Joe's visit.

I have some concerns about Joe's analysis of the Senate and Assembly races. He really emphasized the national Democratic generic ballot advantage while downplaying head-to-head polling numbers. This starts at about 4:35 in the speech. I understand that he's trying to pump up the troops, but this particular audience is probably the most informed and active in the state, and Joe just came across as rather pollyannaish. We're going to have a very good election year, and Joe certainly deserves to pat himself on the back for that, but I worry that in doing so he may be giving the impression that we can afford to sit back and relax between now and the election. That would be a huge mistake.

Unfortunately Joe also turned a good chance to unify the audience behind Doyle and Falk into a slightly mean-spirited lecture. This starts at about 13:50 in his speech. Joe's "suck it up" comment was probably not a wise choice of words for a group that overwhelmingly supported Peg Lautenschlager, and knows far more than they should about Doyle's peccadilloes. Quite a few people were pissed about that, and Joe's comments certainly didn't help either Doyle or Falk.

But my biggest concern is what Joe had to say when he was asked how we can preserve the grassroots ground infrastructure that we're building for this election so that it doesn't have to be completely rebuilt in two years. You can hear it on the Q&A tape starting at about 5:45, with the questioner restating it at 8:10 because Joe didn't really answer it the first time.

After being asked the second time, Joe implied that ground infrastructure should be built by candidates, not the Party, and then said it isn't the Party's job to maintain the infrastructure, and that individual Party members should do it by themselves. "Why is it the Party's responsibility, why isn't it the people's responsibility to do some of these things?"

This is one of my biggest frustrations with the Party. I did a huge amount of ground organizing for the '04 presidential campaign, first for Dean and then for Kerry, and I watched it all fall apart the day after the election. The volunteer lists and the data we needed for running the ward organizations just disappeared. What little we were able to preserve or recover, some of it from raiding campaign office trash cans when they packed up and left, wasn't enough to use effectively.

To be fair, this isn't just an issue with the Party. In '04 I also worked with the League of Conservation Voters and MoveOn, and the same things happened with them. National organizations, whether it's a campaign or an interest group, just don't give a damn about your grassroots ground organization once it's served their purpose. And, at least around here, candidates usually have little interest in using their hard-earned infrastructure to help other candidates or the Democratic Party as a whole.

My final comment is about the future direction of the Party. To me the most profound thing Joe said was "I used to be part of a big [Democratic] majority, and we lost it because we forgot about values and issues." This couldn't be more true. So what are we doing about it?

I believe that the reason we are not a party of values and issues is because we're a party of elected officials.

Think about that for a minute.

Who controls the Democratic Party?

More often than not, it's elected officials. Often through proxies, as with Joe, but elected officials nonetheless. And the last thing a Democratic elected official wants is to have the Party publicly disagreeing with him. If they can't control what the Party says, they would rather it says nothing at all. No values, no issues, no nothing. As a county party official, I can tell you that the pressure from electeds on the Party to avoid taking public stands is nearly constant.

We can either be a party of values working for the good of all Democrats, or a party of individuals working for their own good, but not both. This is our most fundamental problem, and until we deal with it we can never build a truly strong and successful Democratic Party.

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