Natasha's post last night on the DNC/OFA throwing pro-choice advocates and women everywhere under the bus got me thinking about the role of those organizations in general, and the Administration's choices of late.
There is a general belief, both in the Village and even among some people I know in progressive politics, that the DNC's role is to expand Democratic majorities and that's it. For all my criticism of OFA's role in Maine, I've had a few people say to me they shouldn't get involved in ballot fights. It's a D vs. R apparatus and that's that.
But here's OFA director Mitch Stewart this week:
Our number one mission is to support the president's agenda.
And DNC spokesperson Hari Sevugan:
OFA's primary focus is to advance the president's agenda. If you advance the president's agenda that's going to translate politically and help Democrats throughout the country. And frankly keeping people engaged on the issues in an off year is going to translate in a mid-term year. They are going to continue to be engaged.
So that expands the definition. What does that mean in terms of OFA's actions of late? Well, they didn't lift a finger to help in Maine- even to the point of diverting resources to New Jersey. They knew about the Stupak amendment for quite awhile and didn't lift a finger. But Obama (if tepidly) came out against Question 1 in Maine and against the Stupak amendment, even pledging to work to remove it in conference. This is the President's agenda. And Sevugan said winning these fights helps Democrats around the country. And that keeping people engaged on the issues- and certainly, choice is an "issue"- helps.
So my question is, why isn't OFA doing its job? I realize OFA is an arm of the DNC. But should it exist to re-elect Democrats, or to actually carry out what Stewart and Sevugan say it should?
There are a number of arguments I've heard against OFA getting involved. One is that OFA should only work on issues that "everyone" agrees on. Another is that pressuring members violates the DNC's core mission of electing Democrats, because having a bunch of people call their members' office and ask the intern to tell the member to vote a certain way will somehow cause them to lose their re-election. Another is that if you "make aware" Obama supporters (also known as citizen engagement) in, say, John Tanner's district that he might suck on women's reproductive health, you'll rile them up and Tanner might lose Democratic votes for re-election, which violates the core mission of the DNC. None of these arguments are very persuasive. OFA could have even done a bland, list-wide "call your member and ask him/her to x". That way you don't name someone specifically, and you can reason that you're targeting all members of Congress because it's such a critical issue, not just Democrats.
The strongest argument I've heard is that OFA pressuring Democrats will cause congressional Democrats to pick up the phone and scream at Obama and screw him, and us, on other legislation. Relationships matter. Okay. But Obama is involved in party primaries, supporting Sens. Bennet, Gillibrand (should she have one), and Specter. His administration is pushing Gov. Paterson to bow out of a re-election bid. George W. Bush got involved in supporting Specter in 2004 and Chafee in 2006 in their respective primaries. Rahm himself got involved in congressional primaries in 2006, and has a reputation for working members hard for votes, engaging allies to pressure them, and so forth. So what's the difference between these actions and asking activists to make phone calls to advance your agenda? Both can damage relationships, both have rewards. If Obama's picks lose, those people can screw him. In this case, the reward is protecting women's reproductive freedom and advancing health care reform. So how come Obama takes a risk by siding with Senate and gubernatorial candidates, but remains silent on core issues of the Party?
In politics, relationships do matter, and I consider that in my own work. But the argument in terms of that here just doesn't hold water. Moreover, we only have a short window in which to enact real progressive change, and I think, within reason and wherever possible, the President should use all available tools to obtain that change and be our "fierce advocate". Please, Mr. President, include OFA among those tools.