Moulitsas: What we need in a new DNC chair

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One of a president’s prerogatives is to run his party, making it an extension of his political operation. But now that the Democratic Party is out of the White House, having lost the election despite the votes of millions more Americans than the president-elect, the top job is up for grabs. And unfortunately, not one of the candidates vying for the position appears to be the kind of reformers the party desperately needs.

The presidential nomination process laid bare a litany of problems with the current system — from a primary calendar that unfairly advantaged two non-representative rural states, to a punitive system that restricted the number of debates, to exclusionary caucuses, to an undemocratic superdelegate system that bred anger and resentment.

{mosads}The general election process exposed yet more faults, from weak state parties, to ineffective, parasitical consultants, to inadequate technology. Meanwhile, the party needs to strongly engage in the fight against a system rigged against basic norms of democracy. Remember, the White House winner didn’t actually win a majority, members of the Senate Republican majority have received an absurd 23 million fewer votes than the Democratic minority, the House is gerrymandered to explicitly lock in minority control and — on top of all that — Republicans are working to make it harder for Americans to vote.

The new chair must have concrete ideas on revitalizing state parties at a time when money is scarce. She or he must communicate a cohesive message and launch a campaign to restore democracy to our nation. The primary process must be fixed. Technology must be updated. And the grassroots must be engaged.

Republicans currently enjoy complete control in 32 state legislatures. No metric is more important than this. The incoming DNC chair should be solely judged by how many of those legislatures Democrats retake. If Democrats win locally, it means their messaging is resonating, they are building a bench, they can beat back right-wing disenfranchisement efforts, and they have the best electoral infrastructure.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) is widely seen as the front-runner, a darling of the Bernie Sanders wing of the party and a passionate advocate for liberalism and his party. Yet his tenure as head of the ineffective Congressional Progressive Caucus inspires little confidence, and his platform essentially promises nothing more than bromides and an endorsement of the structural status quo.

His chief opponent, outgoing Labor Secretary Tom Perez, practically photocopied Ellison’s platform — yet another virtual endorsement of the status quo. Both do speak vaguely of empowering state parties, of upgrading infrastructure and connecting with the grassroots, but with scant specifics and no plan for fundamental party reform. So we have two front-runners, both who have been in D.C. for years, seemingly uninterested in upsetting the cart — no matter how desperately that cart needs to be upset.

Unlike 2005, when Howard Dean presented himself as the outsider reform candidate, there is no clear alternative. We have state party chairs of Idaho, New Hampshire and South Carolina all running — but none promising any meaningful reforms. We have the mayor of South Bend, Ind., making a bid, yet he can’t even be bothered to post an agenda on his website.

But the process is just beginning. The candidates will now embark on a nationwide tour, offering an opportunity to lay out their vision for the party’s future. Democrats should demand a more aggressive reform agenda than the milquetoast bromides we’ve been treated to so far.


Moulitsas is the founder and publisher of Daily Kos.

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