Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Obama's Party

Interesting article in the American Prospect by Dana Goldstein and Ezra Klein on Obama's efforts to remake the Democractic party. The gist of the article is that Obama differs from Bill Clinton is his emphasis on grass-roots party building over shifting the party's ideology to the center. Here is the key quote from the article:

If Bill Clinton's project for the Democratic Party was mostly ideological, Obama's is mostly organizational. Clinton sought to change the party's ideas; Obama is more interested in building its infrastructure. But for what?
The "what," Goldstein and Klein suggest, is to build a party that can more effectively govern down the line. They cite a number of examples of Obama's embrace of a "50 state strategy." Here's an interesting one from Texas:

The Obama campaign had decided, Axelrod announced to a crowd of 250 at the downtown Wortham Center, to send 15 paid staffers to the state and organize thousands of volunteers to get out the vote, an unprecedented commitment of resources to the Lone Star State from a Democratic presidential campaign. The goal isn't for Obama to win Texas' 34 electoral votes. Rather, by registering Democrats, Obama hopes to help the Texas Democratic Party regain control of its state legislature, which would allow Democrats to redistrict the state's congressional delegation for 2010, potentially winning House seats in the process. That's not simply down-ballot organizing--it's way down-ballot organizing, reaching into state legislatures to influence coming congressional reapportionments in order to create large national majorities years down the line.
This grand strategy of course may explode in the Obama campaign's face, but the upside has the potential to be transformational. In a year where the Republican brand is in disarray, an Obama who just gets past the finish line might not have a personal mandate, but he may have close to veto proof majorities. The suggestion in the article is that Obama's empahsis on party building is an effort to create an entity that can deliver legislatively.
At the time, observers focused on Obama's promised outreach to independents and Republicans. His rhetoric has often signaled an appetite for compromise that has left some wondering about what, exactly, Obama's core policy commitments would be in office. But less attention was given to what Obama seemed to think would attract folks from across the aisle: real policy-making, which Obama's campaign believes requires a Democratic Party infrastructure strong enough to pass the president's priorities.

It's a "grow your tribe" approach that served the Republicans well since the 1980's. The article highlights for me the potential for a massive realignment in party politics the likes of which we haven't seen since the early 1970's. The question is whether it can produce the desired results in 80 days it needs to sustain itself. If Obama loses this election, the 50 state strategy might go with him. On the other hand, if he wins, will be be able to bring along enough congressional seats to have success governing. If he can't then those Red state electoral seedlings will be choked off.

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