Curse of the control freaks

by: Mike Lux

Wed Sep 22, 2010 at 18:00


Politico's article today is the latest in a string of articles about the massive edge in money pro-Republican outside groups have over pro-Democratic groups. The article cites a $23 million to $4 million dollar ratio in advertising so far. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that outside groups tend to be trusted more than political party advertising.

The article makes pretty clear that some Democrats on the Hill want to blame the outside groups on our side for not doing enough, and we will see more of that kind of blame game in the coming weeks. It is certainly understandable that individual members who take tough votes are frustrated when big corporate interests dump money on their districts for ads that in many cases are just blatant lies, and no one comes to their defense. I know the party committees are pulling their hair out with the barrage of corporate money being thrown into targeted races everywhere. But here's the deal: congressional leaders need only look down the street, Pennsylvania Avenue to be precise, to find the answers as to why there isn't more money going into independent expenditure efforts on the Democratic side.

This is in part a historical problem, a pattern in the party leadership that I sometimes refer to as the curse of the control freaks. Republicans for many years have understood far better than Democrats that outside issue and ideological groups ought to be empowered, not discouraged. Haley Barbour, Karl Rove, and other top Republicans have for years happily worked hand in hand with Grover Norquist, the NRA, the Christian Coalition, the Chamber of Commerce, the Koch Industries front groups, and the entire right-wing infrastructure. Republicans came to their strategy meetings, attended their fundraising dinners, signed their direct mail pieces and emails and Tweets and text messages. Republican operatives have for decades understood that conservative organizations with well-known brands had more credibility with key blocs of voters than either political party and most candidates.

The same is true with progressive groups and key voting blocs as well, but the Democratic Party has never paid these groups much attention. Polling shows quite clearly that many swing suburban voters find ads or mailings from Planned Parenthood, the League of Conservation Voters, and groups like them far more credible than ads from the Democratic Party. Union members are far more likely to read and respect a mailing from their union than a partisan mail piece.

These trends are even bigger in an election cycle like 2010, when both parties' brands are in the mud. Independent group messages have far more credibility and clout than those from party and candidate committees- even groups with generic-sounding names no one has heard of. Republican strategists like Rove got this early, and went about methodically organizing a network of corporate money to get involved in independent expenditure ads in swing races all over the country. But the Obama White House, sure of its fundraising ability and organizing genius, has consistently sent the signal to Democratic donors to not support outside efforts. They did it after they won the primary in 2008; they did it when they set up OFA to operate solely inside the DNC in 2009; they did it during the health care fight when they felt HCAN was being a little too independent in pushing for a public option, sending a clear signal to donors not to give to them at crucial times during the fight; they did it when ACORN had some bad publicity, very quickly making the decision to distance themselves and let them die even though no group has registered more voters or turned out more people in the last 10 years than ACORN.

I have been fighting this battle inside Democratic strategy circles for 15 years now, but the problem is worse with the current team at the White House. The folks running the Obama political operation have always believed they could control the message and the resources of the party better than anyone else, and that they didn't need or want to empower outside progressive groups. Now embattled House and Senate candidates are paying the price, and it is a bitter price to have to pay. The groups that do have resources that are pro-Democratic- labor, MoveOn, Emily's List, the trial lawyers- are doing their best to stem the tide. But corporate money in the post-Citizens United era is swamping us, and unlike in some cycles in the past (2004, 2006), wealthy progressive donors were sent signals not to engage, or just not cultivated at all, and the result is that we are being badly outspent.

One final note on all this: the irony of outside progressive groups being blamed for not doing enough to help the Democrats when the White House has been complaining about the "left of the left" and the "professional left" for many months- and de-motivating donors the whole time- should not be lost on anyone. You can't attack progressives for being too strident and then wonder why they aren't doing more and still have much credibility.

As I have written in recent days, I still have hopes that Democrats can do better this cycle than the conventional wisdom suggests, especially if the Democrats use a pro-reform populist message that is actually effective. But the curse of the control freaks is not helping anything.

Mike Lux :: Curse of the control freaks

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you have truly... (4.00 / 3)
...hit a nail on a head here--and it's funny that dems have to undego these insurgencies from time to time to work this stuff out...but all the while, voters and allies become more and more disenchanted with "professional" democratic politics.

I am pro active, pro democracy, and pro insurgency (4.00 / 1)
lets make the government we want, lets not let anyone keep us from our responsibility to keep the batshit crazy hated filled greedopaths out of office.

And yes, its a responsibility.

--

The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky


[ Parent ]
okay, (4.00 / 9)
But the Obama White House, sure of its fundraising ability and organizing genius, has consistently sent the signal to Democratic donors to not support outside efforts.

...but is that true?  Has the Obama-Machine actually demonstrated its fundraising and organizing genius, or was the structure for that - even if rudimentary - in place well before Obama became the candidate?  I'd argue that the Obama-Machine ingested that infrastructure, co-opted its players, and then treated them all to the mother of all cases of benign neglect.

I know I made someone calling on behalf of the DNC mighty unhappy the other day.  They'd barely been able to get the words DNC and your previous contributions out of their mouths when I launched.  I figure that's the only time those people are the least bit interested in anything I have to say.  And, that call comes after I read that the Democratic Party's "triage" might seek to withdraw financial support from the Democrat in my House district.  The bloody nerve of these people!

With the midterm campaign entering its final two months, Democrats acknowledged that several races could quickly move out of their reach, including re-election bids by Representatives Betsy Markey of Colorado...

I had zero trouble telling this poor soul that (a) I would not be donating to the DNC, (b) that all my donation contributions were done online, and (c) through ActBlue.

There is no greater failing than reading and believing ones' own press.  The hubris of the "Obama-Machine" is genuinely something to behold.


I used to feel guilty when the Democrats called (4.00 / 6)
I didn't want to give more to the DNC but couldn't (or didn't) put it into words.  Now I just tell them I have no interest in having my money be funneled to Blue Dogs; I'll donate to the candidates of my own choosing, thank you very much.

Every other excuse I've ever used always had some pre-scripted reply.  Not that.  They just hang up.


[ Parent ]
I said the same thing to a nice man (4.00 / 5)
calling from the DCCC.  He listened and then quietly told me he agreed with me and understood exactly how I felt.  

Educate, Agitate, Organize, Mobilize, Act!


[ Parent ]
The Obama machine evidently pushed things towards more centralisation. (4.00 / 1)
Sry, bystander, but if you didn't notice that, you haven't really paid attention during the campaign. That point was discussed in good detail, with evidence, in the news. It started at the Dem convention, of course.

[ Parent ]
It's called ARROGANCE, (4.00 / 1)
and it is a symptom of pathological NARCISSISM.

[ Parent ]
This is exactly right (0.00 / 0)
The ground machine for the Democrats' success in 2006 and 2008 was set up and empowered by Howard Dean while he was DNC chairman, not by the Obama campaign.  Two years ago, I knew we were in for disaster this cycle when I saw the administration dismantle and discourage the bottom-up organization that had been created.  They are reaping today what they sowed then.

[ Parent ]
So do we go back to the days of the "issue silos?" (4.00 / 4)
This is a great post and a very revealing look at what's wrong with the current Democratic party machine. Like many others on this thread, I find myself explaining to callers from DCCC and DSCC that I'm giving to individual candidates and issue-related organizations instead of the Dem party apparatus. But if the way forward is to empower outside issue groups, doesn't that take the Dem party back to the days of disaggregated communication silos that present conflicting messages to the voters? Republicans don't suffer from that so much because they have such a unified front of smaller government, pro big business, tax relief, more guns and no gays, etc. That said, I'm totally convinced that the problem with lackluster polling and donation metrics for Congressional elections is down the street at Pennsylvania Avenue. But the people at the White House are probably convinced that being "control freaks" got them to where they are. What would it take to change their minds?

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

Freaks (4.00 / 4)
Probably nothing can change their minds.  I'm sure they care more about doing things their way than about getting results.  See:  well, pretty much everything Obama has done.  Crappy stimulus, crappy health care reform, crappy Don't Ask, Don't Tell effort, etc.  But at least it was "bipartisan" and "gradualist" and "responsible".

Long story short:  it's a good idea not to send money to these people.


[ Parent ]
Yup. And it's the core Obama campign team that's behind that. (0.00 / 0)
Axelrod, of course, but also a very few others whose names I can't even remember because they stay behind the scenes and hardly ever get mentioned in the news (especially that clueless woman, whatshername). They create a cozy little bubble for the president with their own virtual reality. No doubt they think (and tell him) he's been tremendously successful so far. They only count the "achievements" and never draw a balance that takes the outcomes into consideration. Clueless idiots.

[ Parent ]
Here's a good article about the inner core of team Obama (0.00 / 0)
Surprisingly, at the Financial Times:
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/b6b4...

And the name I was searching for is Valerie Jarrett, of course. She probably plays a very important role in Obama's decision making, but is hardly ever mentioned in the news. Why?


[ Parent ]
Sestak could really use help (4.00 / 2)
Or is he a has been after progressives helped him beat the establishments candidate?  Was defeating Specter only important in that it left Obama with a black eye?

Hey how about a we need Joe contribution. (4.00 / 1)
http://www.actblue.com/entity/...

Lets go.

--

The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky


[ Parent ]
An older word for control freak (4.00 / 3)
Why is it that Stalinists never go out of style, even after Stalin himself has been consigned to a well-deserved oblivion? No doubt it has something to do with the seductiveness of bringing vast, unruly enterprises to heel, and large, mahogany desks with high-backed leather chairs to sit in while you're doing it. And all the cameras pointed at the chair -- that can't hurt either.

It also helps if you keep talking about democracy, and the safety of the republic, so that people forget what those words actually mean. Howard Dean, whatever he says in public, had been planning an insurrection, and was a trifle too obvious about it. That the counterrevolution would arrive right on schedule shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone familiar with history, recent history especially.

President Obama has lined up all the sharpened pencils, seen to the rectification of names, and settled into the leather chair. Our job is not to seem like ingrates.


William, pls pls pls, coming up with comparisons to Stalin... (4.00 / 1)
..only feeds the right wing smear campaign! We're really criticial of Obama here, but we don't have to sink to the  lows of hype and exaggerations, dontcha agree?

[ Parent ]
Sorry, Gray (4.00 / 3)
No, I don't agree. The comparison is to a mindset, and it's a valid one even in the absence of gulags or liquidated Kulaks, both of which seemed quite normal at the time to people enmeshed in the predominant system, and eager to escape the implications of collaborating with it.

Administrative convenience can be a terrible thing anywhere. Ask Hannah Arendt. Ask the Afghan villagers whose weddings were treated to Hellfire missiles how much hype and exaggeration they find in calling that what it is.


[ Parent ]
Because the killing of millions seemed normal to postczarist Russians... (0.00 / 0)
..it's ok to compare Obama to the mass murderer Stalin? D'oh.

I somewhat understand your point, on a rational level that totally disregards ethical values, but, sry, I can't support this way of fraudulently relativizing moral issues. That's not helpful in a political camapign, imho, and only makes you look like an extremist who has lost all connections to reality. And, sadly, at the same time it fuels teabagging talking points. No, really, I don't think we should go that far or sink so low.


[ Parent ]
I'm not sure why anyone should care about fueling (0.00 / 0)
Tea Bagger talking points, one way or the other.  I don't perceive it as productive to actively avoid fueling Tea Bagger talking points.  That avoidance effort does nothing to move progressive preferences forward.  It's reactive, not proactive.  It's defensive.  I want to go on offense.  Someone would need to demonstrate empirically for me where our criticisms of Obama have been of interest to the Tea Baggers, before I'd even think about caring.  Are most of the Tea Baggers are sufficiently engaged to even understand the points William is making?  Doubtful.  I'd be curious to know what Koch-funded tea bagger is even reading this thread.  And, if I'm wrong about the former and the latter, that individual might be sufficiently engaged to have their thinking reorganized.


[ Parent ]
"tink tink" is this thing on? (4.00 / 1)
lol holy crap mr timmerman, do you think the round ups are going to start soon? Should we hide the Kossacks under the bed, wait, no..


--

The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky


[ Parent ]
Actually, it's the pother way round! (0.00 / 0)
YOU should befriend Kossacks and beg for a place under their bed, because Obama will soon start political cleansing. And, of course, like Stalin he will see the opposition from his own side as being as dangerous, or even more criticial, than that from the conservatives! Better prepare for the day the Obamabots come searching for you, or you'll end up in a slave worker camp in Alaska!
:D

[ Parent ]
NOOOOOOOOOOO---OOOOOO!!!! Not Alaska! (0.00 / 0)
Actually kinda like the cold weather.


--

The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky


[ Parent ]
He who laughs.... (4.00 / 2)
Not knowing the difference between a Kossack and a Kulak isn't a crime in America. Not knowing shit from shinola isn't either, but it can still get you into trouble.

Metaphors are also tricky things, folks. You don't like stalinism as a metaphor for sacrificing ends to means, pick your own. Fare la bella figura is always good advice for political operatives, but citizens should be a little more critical.


[ Parent ]
I don't know the difference, either. (0.00 / 0)
I'm not Mr. Encyclopedia. I was referring to Kossacks, the DKos folks, not Cossacks.

And as for the metaphor - really, William, why should I come up with a better one? Do you need help for improving your point about "sacrificing ends to means"? Ok, how about the Roman Empire? It's rulers always had to decide between centralizing control, at the cost of being less flexibile in reacting to developments, and improving the response time by giving more power to the governors of the provinces!


[ Parent ]
Never mind, dear Gray -- if silence will do instead of repentance, then I'm your guy (0.00 / 0)
So was I. And you shouldn't. Definitely you shouldn't. Besides, the Road to Hell is looking a little scruffy these days. Someone should probably organize a crew to repaint the lines.

[ Parent ]
I'm backing such infrastructure programs all the way! (4.00 / 1)
Yes, by all means, "someone should probably organize a crew to repaint the lines". And someone should pave that effing thing. And that someone should be the president! Even more evidence of his failure as a leader.
:D

[ Parent ]
How true how true - (0.00 / 0)
 3."Republicans for many years have understood far better than Democrats that outside issue and ideological groups ought to be empowered, not discouraged".

That's why they embrace everything - from TV nuts like Glenn Beck - Tea- baggers and Gun toting Harley riders up to your friendly neigborhood Non Masturbation Witch -

While the Left is often busy first to identify if 'The Help' is ideologically 'kosher'.

That brings us to point Nr. 2
"It is certainly understandable that individual members who take tough votes are frustrated when big corporate interests dump money on their districts for ads that in many cases are just blatant lies, and no one comes to their defense".

But 'The Help' is coming to their defense - (and even for free!) -
You might not have noticed but there is this march for sanity and if it succeds 'lies' will have a much harder time!

Which brings us to point Nr.1
...'outside groups tend to be trusted more than political party advertising'.

That's my favorite point - because NOBODY trusts political party advertising anymore - So please Mr.Lux - take your own advice and just pretend to talk for yourself -(and your basic 'citizen group') - and you will do much better.

(what's about: 'American patriot citizen for empathy' - Well you might have to loose 'the empathy' - but under that "restlabel" we good progressives would do much better!)


So Obama wants a tent big enough for one? (4.00 / 1)
Perhaps his thinking went a bit like this:

In 2012, Obama can run for exactly one office. For which he's going to need a billion or thereabouts.

Having been a law professor and US Senator, he must have known going in that his chances of doing significant legislative good were slim. So, perception-wise, he needed to decouple his Administration from the opprobium generated by the wagonload of monkeys down Penn Ave - given the likelihood of a bad mid-term for the Dems, juiced by disappointment among those who believed his spiel in 08 and voted for him as a result.

Beyond perception, he wants the maximum of Dems's contributions from now till Nov 12 concentrated on reelecting him, rather than spread across DC Dems' campaigns. Reasoning: if he gets a comeback win, the Dems will get back (bare) control of Congress on his coattails, with the chance of some minimal window-dressing legislative wins for him. If he loses in 2012 - then the 113th is someone else's problem.

If he had such a selfish view, he'd only be following in FDR's footsteps: he was notorious for choosing allies based on their abilities to deliver prez votes.

For example, convinced of the weakness of Tammany, he backed LaGuardia throughout his period as NYC mayor with Federal bucks (including WPA moolah, natch) because he could and would deliver NYC prez votes to him.


You Are Getting the Motivations Wrong (4.00 / 1)
This is not about people being control freaks.

I think that Obama, Rahm, Gibbs, etc.  looked at 2012, and mad a conscious decision to gut independent groups to forestall a primary challenge.


Well, there's two ways to deal with a possible primary challenge. (4.00 / 1)
And the more popular one, as well as being preferrable for the welfafre of the nation, is to achieve results that improve the situation for the people! It will be very difficult to useat a successful president.

And than there's the other way, to reduce the ability of possible challengers to to gain enough power to become a problem for the president's reelection. That's what control freaks would do. So, sry, but I don't see how this is a contradition.


[ Parent ]
It's the Difference Between Stupidity and Malice (4.00 / 1)
Crippling your supporters because you are a control freak: Stupid.

Crippling your supporters because it makes it easier for you to win the primary: Evil and selfish.


[ Parent ]
Stupidity and Malice (0.00 / 0)
Sounds like what the Dems did when they voted to allow Bush to invade Iraq:

Believed administration lies about WMDs despite evidence to the contrary: Stupid

Voted to invade because you didn't want to be seen as weak on defense and hurt your changes of running for president: Evil and selfish


[ Parent ]
huh! (4.00 / 2)
see, I've been hearing, over and over again, from some of the president's strongest supporters that OFA will take care of everything.

and now you're telling me... that might have been putting all the eggs in one basket?

gee, who coulda predicted?


whose agenda? (4.00 / 1)
it seems much more likely that the reason you see Republican Party leadership working closely with outside conservative groups, while Democratic Party leadership discouraging outside liberal groups, is that the agendas and interests of the Republicans and the conservatives are in alignment, while those of the Democrats and the liberals are not. rather than just happening to continually have the same personality flaws in individuals over and over again.

what do they do, not what they say.

also, ha:

You can't attack progressives for being too strident and then wonder why they aren't doing more and still have much credibility.

really? credibility with who? it does not and has not ever seemed to trouble anybody. even so-called reasonable liberalish bloggers (eg TPM, Balloon Juice, Kevin Drum, etc.) do this all the time. "stupid hippies shut up! give us your money! it's your fault!" works for them.

not everything worth doing is profitable. not everything profitable is worth doing.


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