DNC needs to be turned upside down
Party has become what it stood against -- the status quo
IT HAS BEEN OVER A MONTH since the 2016 presidential election. For Democrats, the collective empty feeling and sleepless nights are still present. Why did the Democrats lose? Simply, it is because the party nominated an unelectable candidate, who ran a terrible campaign, who lost to another unelectable candidate, who also ran a terrible campaign. Each could only have beaten the other.
The competition was a race to the bottom, and they both arrived at the same time. Sadly for America and the world, one of them had to win. But the Democrats did not lose the election on November 8; they lost it two years before, when the powers at the Democratic National Committee pre-ordained Hillary Clinton as the party’s nominee for 2016. The reality is that campaigns revolve around, and are defined by, the candidate. The personality, appearance, likeability, and trustworthiness of the candidate determine the support and enthusiasm of the people. To turn a phrase, “It’s the candidate, stupid,” followed by every other important issue.
The bottom line is that a party driven from the top down, by an isolated elite, does not resonate with the people.
Ironically, the Democratic Party was founded and regarded as the “Party of the People.” It was counted on by everyday Americans to speak on their family’s behalf. Unfortunately, it has lost this mantle. The party has become what it always stood against; the stagnant status quo, led by a group of out-of-touch professional spin-masters, special interests, political consultants, and lobbyists. The party has become the “Democratic Party Inc.,” a cash watering hole for professional political operatives. In an election year, when the Democrats should have retained the White House, won back the Senate, and made dramatic gains in the House, the DNC gave the Democrats and their potential supporters a candidate who was never electable. Instead of electoral coattails, the nominee dragged down Democratic aspirants throughout the country.
Tragically, the stakes could not have been higher. The Democratic Party’s corrupted nominating process, which resulted in Donald Trump’s election, has put America and the free world at risk. Each day we are told that the new catch phase is “the United States is entering uncharted waters” with Trump as president. The leaders of the Democratic Party did not have the right, or authority under the party’s charter, to establish a biased process and institutional governance to favor one candidate over all others. They did not have the right or authority to limit the number of formal debates, thereby depriving the voters of an opportunity to view the candidates and hear their positions on the issues. They did not have the right or authority to winnow the field before it even developed.
If the DNC leaders had been even-handed in their approach, there is no doubt that numerous candidates would have emerged in 2014 and 2015. Multiple candidates would have contributed to a lively debate of the issues that face our country. Multiple candidates would have made the party stronger. The integrity of the delegate selection rules and their implementation are paramount to nominating a candidate who can energize and unify the party. The process engineered for one candidate, by party leaders, resulted in an uninspired and fractured party, which led to the 2016 loss, which has put America and the free world in these dangerous “uncharted waters.” Every day we are witnessing the consequence of a detached Democratic Party.
Forget the notion that the party is in relatively good shape (“Clinton won the popular vote, and the party won seats in the House and Senate”). Good shape relative to what? The party is now at a low ebb in the number of Democratic office holders at the local, state, and national levels. The party has a tremendous amount of work to do before it can reclaim its status as the “Party of the People.” To win elections, the Democrats need to get back to representing the interests of working families, and, in turn, must run a nominating process that will offer a leader who can be elected on his or her qualifications and message. The party’s nominating process is integral to a healthy democracy and a stable world politic. The manipulation of the nominating process by the DNC hierarchy can never be allowed to happen again, nor must the DNC ever fail the people of the United States again.
The path to nomination
The Democratic Party’s 2016 nominating process was a facade, and the 2016 defeat requires a complete analysis, and serious reforms. It is useful to look back at the party reforms of the late 1960s and 1970s to see a pathway to re-reform the process. The reports of the McGovern-Fraser, O’Hara, and Sanford commissions all concluded that the DNC must build an open, inclusive party, representing the interests and concerns of the working families of America. Active participation was the bedrock of the reform movement. The party charter and delegate selection rules required that all Democrats have a “full, meaningful, and timely opportunity to participate in all party affairs.”
In 2016, these principles were trampled on by the DNC. The DNC officers and staff manipulated the process, and the delegate selection process had many fundamental flaws. Elected officials and party officials were given “uncommitted” automatic delegate status. These so-called “uncommitted super delegates” made up 15 percent of the vote at the convention. Any trust in the system was destroyed when “uncommitted” ex officio delegates began pledging their support to presidential candidates two to three years prior to the calendar year of the presidential election. These delegates formed a block supporting Clinton. This created the appearance, and then the reality, of the coronation of Hillary Clinton. This prevented the development of a healthy field of candidates. It prevented candidates from raising support and money to launch a campaign. The media, well before the process began, covered the race for the nomination as if the winner were a foregone conclusion. When Bernie Sanders ran strongly, the media discounted his challenge and popular support, primarily because the great majority of “super delegates” had already committed to Secretary Clinton.
Unfortunately, however, the voters had not and would not commit to her candidacy.
Path to the future
The party now must take steps to ensure a positive, successful future. The election of a new chairperson is crucial to rebuilding. This important position cannot be treated as a “spoil,” automatically awarded to an unsuccessful campaign as reparations for the DNC’s inappropriate actions. The new chair must be elected through an organic process that starts with the local and state parties and stakeholders. There should be a number of candidates who seek to rebuild our party from the ground up, and they should be given a chance to present their case. It is too early to support a candidate because elected officials or party officials give the nod. The party should use the next few months to consider all of its leadership opportunities. Regional meetings should be held to showcase the candidates for DNC chairperson. All candidates must understand the requirements and demands of the position of DNC Chair.
The party charter in Article 5 requires the DNC chair to “serve full time.” Democrats throughout our nation deserve the election of a full-time DNC chairperson, beyond reproach, whose only goal is rebuilding an inclusive Democratic Party. The charter also requires that the chairperson “exercise impartiality and evenhandedness” regarding candidates and campaigns. The charter further requires that the chairperson ensure that “all national officers and staff maintain impartiality and evenhandedness during the Democratic Party’s presidential nominating process.” All candidates who run for chairperson must meet these requirements, no exceptions. It is clear that trust in the DNC will not be restored unless the Charter’s tenets are honored.
Once the chair is elected, his or her first order of business should be to issue a call for a 2018 Mid-Term Party Conference under Article 6 of the Charter. Delegates and alternates to the conference should be elected in the spring of 2018. The purpose of the conference will be to adopt a party platform and agenda for winning the mid-term elections, with an emphasis on all congressional, state and local contests.
Second, the chairperson should reconstitute the National Federation and Training Council under the original Article 9 of the 1974 Charter. The Training Council will engage Democrats on the local level to recruit candidates and conduct campaign training schools. The Training Council services should be available to every state party organization. The DNC must create a program to utilize all avenues of social media to define its message and introduce its future leaders.
Third, the chairperson must appoint a Presidential Nominating Commission to conduct hearings throughout the nation and adopt appropriate rules to balance grass-roots participation and the representation of elected and party officials in the Delegation Selection Process. The party must return to, and embrace, the concept of a “full, meaningful and timely opportunity to participate” in all party activities.
Fourth, the chair should establish and coordinate a Public Policy Committee consisting of party officials and activists whose responsibility will be to present Democratic Party policy options in contrast to the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress’ agenda. This committee will be crucial in combating inaccurate narratives and wrongheaded policies presented by the Republican administration and Congress.
The chair must rebuild the party apparatus from the precinct level up. The party must turn away from being the “Democratic Party Inc.” and become the “Party of the People.” It’s hard to rail against “Citizens United” when you are focused on raising hundreds of millions from the “Citizens United” class. Fundraising must concentrate on a small donor base. The DNC must encourage a philosophy of Democratic families investing in the Democratic Party as shareholders, and move away from its concentration on big donor, special interest money.In sum, going forward, the DNC must rejuvenate the party around common denominator, 21st century issues that face all Americans. The party has previously forged alliances with citizens throughout the country regarding kitchen table, bread and butter issues such as jobs and economic opportunities, education, housing, public safety and health care. Now is the time for the DNC to return to these core issues and to build a functioning organization and voter base that understands and believes in the principles of our party. In order to cure what ails the 2016 version of the “Party of the People,” we must have a transparent party, which is built upon trust and integrity, grass-roots organizing, the development of a powerful small donor base, and commitment to working together to solve America’s problems. Time is short; Democrats throughout the country must mobilize for the future of America and demand no less from their Party.
Attorney Scott Lang is a former mayor of New Bedford, where he lives today. He has worked with the Democratic National Committee in many capacities over a long period, starting in 1972 as a youth coordinator, serving as an assistant to the chairman, and as a member of the DNC’s Judicial Council, among other roles. This article first appeared in the Standard-Times.