On Being Taken For Granted

by: Chris Bowers

Wed Feb 20, 2008 at 14:45

In addition to envelope stuffers growing tired of being told what to do by higher-ups who always seem to lose (read my earlier article on that point here), there is another aspect of the Democratic activist class war that is emerging over the nomination campaign. The activist class war also breaks along the lines of those who feel they have been taken for granted by higher-ups in the Democratic Party, specifically grassroots progressives and deep-red state Democrats, and those who do not. Consider machinist union President Thomas Buffenbarger blasting progressive creative class activists yesterday (more in the extended entry):
Chris Bowers :: On Being Taken For Granted
But it was Obama supporters for whom Buffenbarger saved his most vitriolic contempt, and he proved that the Democratic Party's coalition is nothing if not fragile. Channeling Howard Beale from the movie "Network," he yelled into the microphone, "Give me a break! I've got news for all the latte-drinking, Prius- driving, Birkenstock-wearing, trust fund babies crowding in to hear him speak! This guy won't last a round against the Republican attack machine. He's a poet, not a fighter."

That might be a bit offensive if it wasn't so hysterically overwrought with pathetic conservative stereotypes. The message is also clear: the idea and hopes of progressive creative class activists are those of a fringe elite, not those of the national majority. As such, creative class progressive activists should stop their complaining, fall in line, and funnel their resources to those who represent the national majority. The exasperation Buffenbarger shows toward those activists for not just falling and line and doing what they are told, as per usual, is palpable. It is also reminiscent of what he thinks of Andy Stern:

Buffenbarger said that Andy Stern is wrong in his central point about the labor movement: in fact, unions have as much power as ever. The problem, as  Buffenbarger sees it, is one of public relations and messaging. All the  unions need to do to reverse their fortunes, Buffenbarger said, is to speak  up louder. To that end, Buffenbarger has proposed that the A.F.L.-C.I.O.  spend $188 million to create, among other things, a Labor News Network on  cable TV. ''There is no bigger organization than the collective labor  movement,'' he told me. ''Even the N.R.A. doesn't have 13 million members.  But they act like they do, and I think that's where we fall down. We need to act like we do.''

In a speech earlier that morning, Buffenbarger took on Stern, portraying him  as an arrogant usurper and comparing him to ''a rather small peacock.''

Where does Andy Stern / progressive creative class activists get off questioning the almighty leadership of labor / the Democratic Party? And more the same can be said for deep red state Democrats:

A co-chairman of Hillary's Michigan campaign and  has a line that's sure to drive a whole bunch of red state governor's up the wall:

"Superdelegates are not second-class delegates," says Joel Ferguson, who will be a superdelegate if Michigan is seated. "The real second-class delegates are the delegates that are picked in red-state caucuses that are never going to vote Democratic."

Again, the message is clear: red state Democrats should give up on winning where they live, fall in line, and support Democrats in other, winnable places. We can't win in red states, so we don't care what red state Democrats think. That sentiment is virtually identical to the notion that grassroots progressive have nowhere to go other than Democrats, so what they think is also inconsequential. And the result has been the creation of an Alliance of the Ignored between grassroots activists and red state Democrats that is now successfully rebelling from the Democratic status quo on all fronts:

When this alliance runs afoul of the Carville's and Begala's of the world, once again it does so primarily because of strategic differences, not because of ideology. Carville and Begala generally represent an older tactical vision for the Democratic Party. This was a vision that was dominant from 1988-2004, when Democrats heavily employed triangulation, focused almost entirely on the narrow targeting of a few "swing" districts and demographics, and when television advertisements and repetitious talking points aimed at mushy-middle, low information voters were the primary tools utilized in all national Democratic campaigns. Wealthy donors and high-level consultants liked that strategy because it kept money flowing to the latter in the form of hefty commissions, and because it kept Democratic policy where the former would like it to be. Most state parties and progressive activists hated that strategy because it basically dictacted that their electoral concerns were either not important, or something from which the Democratic Party needed to actively distance itself.

Not only is Obama favored by a 2-1 margin among grassroots progressive activists, as I discussed earlier today, but he has shown particular strength within deep red states. So far, Obama has won all but one state that Bush won by double-digits in both 2000 and 2004: Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, and Utah. In fact, Obama has won all of these states by 14% or more, and collectively they account for more than half of his pledged delegate advantage. Oklahoma is the only state that twice went for Bush by double digits that Clinton has won so far. With eight of the remaining thirteen states falling into this category, the calendar continues to look favorable for Obama.

So, the activist class war is not just about envelope stuffers growing tired of their efforts being wasted by an ineffective leadership. It is also an expression of frustration by both red state Democrats and grassroots progressives at being taken for granted by that ineffective leadership. Howard Dean used this alliance to secure the party chairmanship and now, three years later, Barack Obama appears set to use it to secure the presidential nomination. A powerful alliance has been formed in the Democratic Party between activist groups that share a palpable sense of being taken for granted by a failed party leadership. It is only in the context of this alliance that the seemingly vacuous Obama campaign slogans of "Yes, We Can," and "Change You Can Believe In," begin to fill up with real meaning. More than any ideological or policy difference, I believe it is also what ultimately underlies Obama's coalition.  

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spot on (0.00 / 0)
and this goes to my point about this being also about a revolt against older entrenched interest groups in the Dem party. Tho it looks like SEIU and the Teamsters are catching on that influence within the party is now in play.

Michael Bloomberg, prince of corporate welfare

Clinton's campaign couldn't break out of this (4.00 / 2)
Seems to me that Hillary has run this campaign exactly like she was going after electoral college votes.  Obama seemed to understand how the delegate system works better.  Obama has won many more delegates from the states Clinton won than vice-versa.  

The safe campaign (0.00 / 0)
I think it's more like Clinton ran with the conventional wisdom. Build the impression of inevitably (through establishment endorsements, big-money donors, etc.); take big wins in the early states; focus on the states with big delegate counts thereafter, and let the little states ride along.

Obama, instead, focused on building an activist base (not that Clinton doesn't have an activist base, but it seems more like an afterthought for her); lots of small-dollar donors; taking the early states (well, everybody wants these); and keeping it close in the states with big delegate counts (recognizing it's not winner-take-all) while sweeping up all the little ones.

If any candidate had taken both IA and NH, that might have been the 1-2 punch that knocked the wind out of everyone else. Instead, two candidates split it, and it looks like Obama's campaign made more sense as a long-haul strategy. Of course, I can't help but wonder how it would have been if the fundraising numbers were reversed; I think it would have undermined Obama's credibility (in a way it doesn't hurt Clinton as much) and made him look like a fringe candidate. But it's hard to look too crazy when you're approaching half a million donors.

No, I do not weep at the world — I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.
    Zora Neale Hurston

[ Parent ]
I agree (0.00 / 0)
I agree with you basically - but I don't think it is an either or.

Just last week the Clintons were talking about "important states" and "not important states

According to many reports Clintons didn't know until last week how Texas's complicated delegate rules work.  

Plus it was obvious very early on that Clinton was not going to win Iowa.  

[ Parent ]
will dem remain a blue collar political party? (0.00 / 0)
Tracking the Hillary vs. Barack supporters has helped me see the historical power of those making under $50K in setting dem party priorities.  

I agree (4.00 / 3)
So far today, I have agreed with your posts on the divisions within the Democratic activists community. Looked at through this prism, you can sum up what this primary election is about in one word: efficacy.

that sounds right, at least for activists (4.00 / 2)
Among activists, that appears to be the key. Among all voters, identity politics appears to be dominant.  

[ Parent ]
Muhammid Ali was a poet... (0.00 / 0)
and Sun-Tzu was a passable wordsmith.

On being taken for granted (4.00 / 3)
What Buffenbarger seems to forget is that old line dem party hacks used to always tell us in the labor movement to quit complaining, you got no place else to go. Dems owned all 3 branches of government at various time in the 70s and 90s, and still screwed us over on labor bills, always doing it full in the "knowledge" that we had no place else to go. Interesting, isn't it, that the only unions that are growing are SEIU and the other Change to Win partners.

Fuck Barfenburger (0.00 / 0)
To think the Machinists were once led by William Wimpinsinger, a longstanding member of Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee and its later incarnation, Democratic Socialists of America.

On being taken for granted (0.00 / 0)
What Buffenbarger seems to forget is that old line dem party hacks used to always tell us in the labor movement to quit complaining, you got no place else to go. Dems owned all 3 branches of government at various time in the 70s and 90s, and still screwed us over on labor bills, always doing it full in the "knowledge" that we had no place else to go. Interesting, isn't it, that the only unions that are growing are SEIU and the other Change to Win partners.

This is good stuff, Chris (4.00 / 2)
    I sometimes get the feeling that there is more than a little squirming going on among certain members of the party leadership when Obama shows up at a Democratic dinner in some state or other and starts talking about the failures of the past and change. You really nail what is going on.  Maybe sometime you could do a post expanding your views on the ways internet fundraising and organizing have contributed to the sea change.

This post is hysterically overwrought (4.00 / 1)
How about viewing the entire video instead of quoting the selected excerpt that makes your case?

I did see the whole thing (0.00 / 0)
I must have missed the partywhere he praised progressive activists instead of trashing them. I did catch the part where he said the entire general election would be based in only three states--Iowa, Ohio and West Virginia--and that we had no chance to win any other states that Bush won. Which, once again, proves my point. I also noticed the point where the crowd started to boo him.  

[ Parent ]
Haha (0.00 / 0)
Exactly, Chris. Good job on this post, it is one of the best I've read in a long time. Captures the picture of the current liberal/Democratic Party movement PERFECTLY.

Former Edwards Supporter, Obama Supporter since January 30, 2008

[ Parent ]
THANK YOU from a Texas liberal n/t (0.00 / 0)

Stern not a saint (0.00 / 0)
Buffenbarger is an idiot.

But Stern isn't the perfect saintly leader his slick public relations department portrays either. For the
last 3 years, he has been undermining democracy in
the union, grabbing power for himself, making sweetheart
deals with business and Republicans like Schwarznegger,
backing away from real health care reform and creating a climate of fear and intimidation inside the union.

The leadership of SEIU's giant west coast health care
union UHW has now gone public with its criticisms of Stern
and is organizing a rank and file movement to restore
democracy in the union.

for details, go to

The Power of Insurgent Candidates (4.00 / 2)
It is stunning to see all the new energy coming into the Democratic Party. I had to manage my precinct caucus a few weeks ago with almost 200 people, agitating patiently for a chance to vote. Whatever Obama's actual policies, or November election possibilities, or even whether he is left or right, Obama has keyed into the concept of being an Insurgent Candidate. That, and a general hatred of the Bush-Cheney regime is pulling people out of the woodwork.

We saw something similar here in Colorado a few years back, when Mike Miles was up against Ken Salazar for Senator. Brilliant foreign service manager with inspirational appeal, against smart, moderate establishment attorney. Party base in the caucuses favored Miles, but the primary was won by Salazar, who went on to win statewide election.

The dynamic is similar with Obama. A bunch of new, excited, inspired people are coming into the Democratic Party at the base. 'm sure a lot of people don't vote because they don't believe they personally make a difference. Hope is one thing that mitigates that despair; anger may be another.

Now, I want to see the Obama inspiration translate into local campaigns. Let's see the youth, hispanic and black voting percentages go from 33% to 66%. I'll bet that turns some red states blue.

I have no illusions that Obama is not a politician. That means that the people need to lead him forward, as well as apply pressure to keep him going in the right direction. To do that, we'll need more and better democrats at the local, state and national levels.

And there is also that other very large taken for granted group: (0.00 / 0)

Jeff Wegerson

Kill the "Creative Class" (0.00 / 0)
I think this commentary is a good one, except for one thing: the self-adoption of the moniker "creative class" creates the perfect opening for these kind of attacks.

I mean really, who came up with this term? If it was a Republican I could understand it. It's a term tailor-made to paint people in the "creative class" as not being "real Americans".

If it was a Democrat than they should be taken out and shot.

Can we PLEASE stop using this term!


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