Welcome Daniel Galvin and Host Ari Berman, website: Herding Donkeys

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

Presidential Party Building: Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush

During the summer of 2006, when Rahm Emanuel and Howard Dean were engaged in a strenuous fight over the future direction of the Democratic Party, I stumbled upon a very astute op-ed in the New York Times by an emerging politician scientist, Daniel Galvin, entitled “How to Grow a Democratic Majority.”

Galvin argued that “since the New Deal, Democrats have given party building short shrift.” Republicans, on the other hand, had assiduously built up their party election after election, a critical reason for their continued and long-term success. It was that very imbalance that Dean wanted to correct when he became chair of the Democratic National Committee in 2005 and instituted a far-reaching fifty-state strategy. “As the Republicans have shown, creating a durable electoral majority requires a firm organizational funding, something the Democrats don’t have. But if Mr. Dean can hold fast to his plan, they just might be on the way to getting one.”

Those words were prescient, and Dean was wise to stick to his guns, as the Democratic wave in 2006 and 2008 showed. Galvin’s doctoral research at Yale formed the basis of his impressive first book, “Presidential Party Building: Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush.”

I interviewed Galvin for my book, Herding Donkeys, and he told me how Republican presidents historically have sought to strengthen their parties, while Democratic presidents tend to neglect them. Galvin thought that President Obama would reverse that trend but, by and large, he has yet to. The president, Galvin argued, neglects his party at his own peril—witness the “shellacking” of 2010.

This FDL Book Salon comes at the perfect moment, when both parties are searching for their identity. The Tea Party has added new blood and members to the GOP, but still blends uneasily with the traditional Republican establishment. Inside the RNC, Republicans are debating whether to give Michael Steele another term or look for new blood. And outside groups like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and the Chamber of Commerce are currently adopting many of the roles and tactics performed by a traditional party while shrouded in secrecy.

Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to rebuild their party after a disastrous midterm election and are searching for leadership from President Obama. Galvin’s book and research raises a number of interesting and timely questions that I’m eager to discuss. What do political parties stand for today? How are they most important? What can Democrats and President Obama do to strengthen their party now? How can progressives influence the party from the inside or outside?

I look forward to a spirited and engaging discussion with Dan and the FDL community.

96 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Daniel J. Galvin, Presidential Party Building: Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush”

BevW December 19th, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Daniel, Ari, Welcome back to the Lake.

Ari, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Bev, thanks for putting this together, and Ari, thanks for hosting.

egregious December 19th, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Welcome to Firedoglake!

Ari Berman December 19th, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Thanks Bev. Congrats on the book Dan. Tell us how you got interested in the subject matter of political parties and how you decided to write this book?

dakine01 December 19th, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Good afternoon Daniel and Ari and welcome to FDL this afternoon

Daniel, I have not had an opportunity to read your book so forgive me if you address this in it but do you feel that the Dems are still running scared as a party from George McGovern in ’72, Walter Mondale in ’84, and Dukakis in ’88?

As a life long political observer, it does seem that the losses have had a significant impact on the D party’s willingness to sustain party growth and unity.

Or I might be an idiot.

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Ari, as you noted in your kind introductory post, this book started as a doctoral dissertation. I was interested in the fraught relationship between presidents and their parties. Conventional wisdom holds that presidents don’t care for their parties, and are more interested in their own goals than in advancing the goals of the collectivity. But as I began to dig through the archives — Eisenhower’s White House papers, Nixon’s (FBI-seized) papers, those of JFK, LBJ, etc. — a pattern began to emerge.

Republican presidents adopted a much more constructive relationship toward their party than Democrats. They were certainly self-interested, but they managed to make important investments in their party organization even as they pursued their own purposes. Democratic presidents either neglected, exploited, or undercut their parties.

Turns out this was a pretty strong pattern that lasted for decades. The parties’ competitive standings, I argue, explain the difference. Republicans had strong incentives to build a new majority (in their image, they hoped); Democrats, as leaders of the already-strong majority Democratic Party, had no such incentive. There’s more, but that was the most interesting thing I found when I started out.

Ari Berman December 19th, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Dan, can you elaborate a little more on why the parties took different approaches–GOP presidents strengthening their party while Dem presidents neglecting them? I think that’s a really interesting finding that not enough people understand.

dakine01 December 19th, 2010 at 2:11 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 6

As a technical note, there is a “Reply” button in the lower right hand of each comment. By pressing the “Reply” the system prefills the commenter name and comment number being replied to and makes it easier for folks to follow the “conversation”

Note: some browsers don’t like to let the Reply work correctly if it is pressed before a page completes loading after it has been refreshed

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 2:14 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 5

dakine, That’s a great question. Bruce Miroff has written a terrific book on precisely this question, which you can find here.

I think that a number of important legacies followed from these elections (perhaps most significantly from ’72). One was that Dems should broaden their appeal and rethink core liberal commitments (enter the DLC), and that pressure still exists within the party. Another, perhaps more important legacy, is that the party has to figure out how to better balance its various factions without enervating any one of them. It’s a tough balancing act in the heterogeneous Dem coalition, and I don’t think they’ve figured out exactly how to do that yet.

Take, for example, Dean’s 50-state strategy, whose premise was essentially that the party should recruit and support Democrats of any stripe, so long as they fit with their communities and could win. Early boosters of that strategy — including Ari Berman — now question that strategy, and suggest that a smaller, more cohesive majority might be preferable. See Ari’s thoughtful and provocative NYTimes op/ed here.

Ari Berman December 19th, 2010 at 2:16 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 9

Dan, has President Obama strengthened or weakened the Democratic Party since taking office? What approach has he taken?

dakine01 December 19th, 2010 at 2:19 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 9

whose premise was essentially that the party should recruit and support Democrats of any stripe, so long as they fit with their communities and could win.

The problem I see with that portion of the strategy is Dems wind up with a lot of people like Heath Shuler, Bobby Bright, Ben Nelson, Manchin, and others who are nominally Dems but wind up voting with the Rs more than they do Dems and leave people wondering if there is anything that can be called a “Democratic Party Platform” any more since so many of the elected officials seem to be working consistently against what used to be considered Democratic Party positions.

Teddy Partridge December 19th, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Hello Dan, thanks Ari!

Dan, do other Democratic presidents act like Obama did, in moving his OFA into the party structure, supplanting and replacing it? Is this something GOP presidents do, too? Or do they invest in the existing party structure?

I recall CREEP being relatively independent in 1972, but it ran afoul of its own success in money-raising. Do you think, for instance, that a GOP president would fold Karl Rove’s independent Crossroads organizations into the GOP party after his/her election?

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 2:27 pm
In response to Ari Berman @ 10

Ari, I think this ties into your first question. Presidents have an incentive to build their party organization when they think their party is in trouble. Investing in its organizational capacities is a way to help it win more elections. Why do this at all? Because all presidents want to leave behind a legacy, and without a party to perpetuate their policy purposes after they leave office, they think they are at risk of having little durable impact. This is a tricky business, of course, because they also want to remake their party in their image. They want to be the founders of a new majority party that bears their stamp. This almost never happens! Party building, it turns out, rarely produces the result the president seeks. Oftentimes their efforts have unintended consequences that they dislike. I can elaborate on this later if you like.

Has Obama tried to build the party? I think he was perfectly positioned to do so — by integrating OFA into the party apparatus and revitalizing the party with his enormous support from ’08. He hasn’t successfully done this so far. It doesn’t appear that he tried very hard.

I think the best explanation for this is simply that he didn’t have strong incentives to try to build his party. Dems had such big majorities in Congress, his primary goal was to exploit those majorities NOW and get big-ticket items done. Party-building and organizational strength were second-order priorities. Governing — racking up policy accomplishments — was top priority.

Jane Hamsher December 19th, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Welcome Daniel, and thanks for hosting Ari.

Ari, I’m afraid we owe you an apology for the email we sent out that listed your book as “herding monkeys.”

I think it must’ve been a Freudian slip or something, because that’s sort of how a lot of people feel about the Democrats right now.

I’ll second Ari’s question, Daniel — do you think what’s happening now, particularly with the tax cuts and the budget capitulation, is helping or hurting the Democratic party?

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 2:29 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 11

This was Ari’s point, exactly in his op-ed. I’ll let him respond, as I’m sure he has some interesting thoughts on this point…

dakine01 December 19th, 2010 at 2:32 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 15

I guess it helps if I actually take the time to read the links doesn’t it?


Ari Berman December 19th, 2010 at 2:34 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 16

yeah, check out the op-ed for more on that specific point

Jane Hamsher December 19th, 2010 at 2:35 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 13

I agree, though I think there may have been another factor in OFA.

The objectives that the President has had in office were not always the things that an email list is going to get excited about. Telling people who worked like dogs in 2008 to bring about change that they now have to go phone bank for Arlen Specter is just about the best way I can think of to boost your “unsubscribe” numbers.

I imagine the folks trying to manage the email list were sitting there going “tax cuts for the rich? Really? I don’t think they’re going to find the word ‘temporary’ all that meaningful, Mr. President.”

I mean, who wants to press “send” on that one?

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Teddy, really great questions.

JFK, LBJ, Carter, and Clinton all took over the DNC, exploited its capacities, and gave virtually nothing back, in a constructive manner, to strengthen the party. If they didn’t completely disband their campaign apparatuses, they tended to keep them separate, “on hold” for the next election.

Jimmy Carter, for example, had his “Carter Network” of 150,000 or so supporters. He sent them numerous mailings, held a convention, had superactivists to the White House, etc. But he never encouraged them to join the Democratic Party or work for its candidates or causes.

Obama has done something different. By folding OFA into the DNC, he at least opens the possibility that his campaign apparatus could be used for constructive party-building purposes. As I noted above, I don’t think he did that during his first two years. But as electoral conditions have changed, he may perceive a stronger incentive to invest in his party organization. Unlike his Democratic predecessors, OFA is already IN the DNC. So he has the tools to do something more constructive, if he chooses. At least, that’s what it looks like from the outside. Ari Melber’s instructive report, which we did a book salon on FDL a while back, shows that there’s a pretty thick veil of secrecy over the entire operation.

I’ll get to CREEP in a minute…

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 2:39 pm

The fascinating thing for me about CREEP is that even though Nixon kept his ’72 campaign entirely separate from the Republican Party, and was willing to mobilize Democratic voters and even help Democratic candidates if it helped him win reelection, this anti-party behavior was more the exception than the rule.

In fact, after the dust settled from the ’72 campaign, Nixon tried to fold the remnants of CREEP into the RNC. Voter lists, donor lists, and left over money — some $3 million — were to be sent over to the RNC to help then-RNC chair George Bush build the GOP into the “New Majority” party in America. Of course the CREEP funds became tainted and were never sent over. But the voter files were, most of the donor lists were, and this data was used constructively by state party chairmen to build their local parties. An interesting story that hasn’t really gotten out there. (But it’s in the book!)

Ari Berman December 19th, 2010 at 2:40 pm
In response to Jane Hamsher @ 18

Dan, Jane makes a good point. Now that OFA is inside the DNC, how can Obama activists or Democrats successfully pressure Obama to pursue the policies they want him to?

Teddy Partridge December 19th, 2010 at 2:44 pm
In response to Jane Hamsher @ 18

Sending an email to the OFA list asking people to thank the president for instituting a wage freeze on federal employees amounts to political malpractice, though. Who at the DNC is there to say no to these ideas, after almost two years of party-infiltrating by OFA folks?

How many OFA email list members are directly affected, or have a family member affected, by this federal pay freeze? How many others are other-sector public employees who see this as an attack on themselves?

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 2:45 pm
In response to Jane Hamsher @ 18

Jane, it’s an honor to have you here for this. Thanks for your questions.

I think that party-building becomes much easier when the goal is electoral, rather than policy-related.

During his first two years, Obama used OFA exclusively to generate publicity and support for his policy agenda. This was always a losing proposition, I think, because as you note, it’s hard to keep everyone on board when the main activity involves selling policies that reasonable people disagree about. Elections are far easier — candidate X vs. candidate Y — whoever is closer to your position on issues, you may go work for so that the opposition doesn’t win.

Nevertheless, we don’t get the impression that Obama has tried very hard to keep the party’s activist base engaged and it’s not clear what kinds of new investments his team has made in the party’s infrastructure, operations, etc. So it hasn’t been a first two years filled with the kind of organizational party-building activities that we saw during earlier Republican presidencies.

Teddy Partridge December 19th, 2010 at 2:45 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 20

So that would be the state party-building that got Ronnie Reagan elected in 1980, then, right? No wonder GHWB thought he was entitled to that nomination, if he’d done the party-building!

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 2:50 pm
In response to Ari Berman @ 21

Ari, I read Sam Graham-Felsen’s op/ed in the WashPost (here), where he argues that folks on the ’08 list needed to be consulted more in policymaking.

My response is this: wasn’t the lesson of ’08 that change comes from the outside-in? Maybe those seeking more progressive policy change shouldn’t have ever expected the new president to come asking for their advice. Once he was inaugurated, he became the president, and had to deal with all kinds of constraints and inside-Washington pressures.

Isn’t the lesson that progressive change is ALWAYS dependent upon pressure coming from the outside? Can’t lose sight of that, even once a slightly more progressive president gets into office.

Jon Walker December 19th, 2010 at 2:52 pm

If you want to think of a failure of party building look no farther than not pushing for DC statehood last year when Democrats had 60 votes in the Senate. Sure it would have angered people but almost any blowback would be strategically worth it to enfranchise roughly half a million of mainly strong Democratic African Americans.

Ari Berman December 19th, 2010 at 2:54 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 25

Good point. Speaking of political pressure, how do you think Tea Party activists will now blend into the Republican Party? Is it the Tea Party a “party” in any meaningful sense of the word?

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Hah! Well right, I think GHWB thought he could cash in more than he was able to, in ’80.

Obviously there were many more factors that went into RR ’80 than the party building that happened in the early ’70s. But the organization-building that the Republicans were doing as early as the 1950s(!) had cumulative effects, making it easier for successors to build on earlier efforts. For example, Gerald Ford was an important party-building president, but his efforts have gone entirely unappreciated. Bill Brock gets most of the glory (RNC chairman during Carter’s presidency) because his term ended in RR’s victory. But it’s all about incremental, cumulative organizational development.

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 2:59 pm
In response to Jon Walker @ 26

I don’t think Obama has realized the important political byproducts of fighting for something — even if he isn’t likely to get it. GWBush got this when he pushed for constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Was never going to happen, but it mobilized the troops. Had Obama really pushed for something like DC statehood — or the public option — or ending the Bush millionaire tax cuts — he might not have gotten them, but an authentic push for these progressive priorities might have paid dividends in terms of building activist enthusiasm. (But you guys don’t need me to tell you that!)

On this subject: How much credit do you guys give Obama for repealing DADT? Or …was it more Liberman’s (and other senators’) doing?? I wonder if this great news will actually go down as a missed opportunity for Obama to show the “base” that he was willing to fight for their priorities.

RevBev December 19th, 2010 at 3:04 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 29

What in your view has Obama really fought for? I thought he was very effective in the health care forum he moderated, but then his follow through was unclear.

Jon Walker December 19th, 2010 at 3:04 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 29

While I’m very happy it got done and Obama did support it I don’t think he deserves much credit given that even a few days ago Gibbs was saying “if there is time” http://gay.americablog.com/2010/12/gibbs-on-dadt-theres-effort-to-get-his.html

Teddy Partridge December 19th, 2010 at 3:07 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 29

Letting DADT wait until the very end of the legislative session — which his stupid survey and report with its 12/1 deadline made necessary — meant there was no time in this Congress to deal with DOMA repeal, UAFA, and iENDA, all critical to the LGBT community and all impossible in the next Congress(es).

Because legislative sequencing requires that one interest group only have one thing pending at a time (per Pelosi and Frank) they never had to deal with these other, arguably larger, issues for their LGBT supporters.

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 3:08 pm
In response to Ari Berman @ 27

Ari, I’d be equally interested in your thoughts on this question.

To my mind, tea party activists are generally latent Republicans who now define themselves as something other than Republicans. They’re never going to vote for Democrats, though, which is why they are de facto Republicans.

They’re not a party, per se: they fit much better into the category of “social movement,” but in some ways they’re more organized than that (in terms of $ and organizational structure), in some ways less so (hard to know what the core unifying purposes and incentives are across the group).

I think that a number of folks in that “movement” (as it were) have discovered the power of the outside-in strategy. They’re not going to “blend” into the Republican Party — why would they? Their power comes from being on the outside looking in. This is a conflicted posture, of course, as more self-identified tea partiers win elective office, caucus with the party, etc. etc.

But progressives could take a page from the tea party playbook, to be sure.

The problem is that liberals have been establishing “outside” groups for decades, applying pressure from the outside, etc., and so that strategy may have lost some of its bite on the left.

In addition, what has differentiated the tea party activists is that they’re willing to march in the street saying crazy things. Not sure progressives will do the same thing, at least not so long as Obama throws a bone their way every once in a while. That’s harsh, but I think you know what I mean.

Teddy Partridge December 19th, 2010 at 3:08 pm

So, no I don’t give Obama much credit, in fact I blame him for not pushing for the others while his precious Pentagon report was underway.

Teddy Partridge December 19th, 2010 at 3:10 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 33

Another problem is that the money flowing to teabaggers came from very rich people, while progressives’ rich funders were cut off by the Obama White House at the very same time.

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 3:10 pm
In response to Jon Walker @ 31

So you (and Teddy) agree that this was a missed opportunity for Obama to show his progressive creds? And ultimately more of a disappointment than a victory (no repeal of DOMA, etc.)?

Ari Berman December 19th, 2010 at 3:11 pm
In response to Jon Walker @ 31

Jon, I do think DADT repeal was an example of progressives consistently pushing for a policy and eventually persuading Dems to do it–that the cost of not acting was simply unacceptable. The same thing happened with Elizabeth Warren. There haven’t been a ton of instances like that in Obama’s first two years, but nonetheless it’s important to study the few examples of success and try to build on them.

OFA also did a lot of work pushing for DADT repeal and the DREAM ACT. I think the organization can be successful when it has a clear mandate, goal and is empowered to fight for something that Obama supporters broadly agree on. It’s less effective in actually having a say in what the policy should be or persuaded Obama to fight for it–as we saw in the healthcare and tax cut debates.

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 3:13 pm
In response to RevBev @ 30

RevBev, My point was that I think he could have waded into more symbolic fights, if only to mobilize his supporters. Not doing so was a strategic error, I think. Plus, you never know if you can succeed until you try, right?!?! And DADT would seem to be a good example of this. Had Obama pushed for it harder, not only would the repeal have passed, but he would have gotten a lot more credit for doing so.

RevBev December 19th, 2010 at 3:17 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 38

Thank you. And I may be forgetting alot…I just do not seem to recall his really fighting on any issue…certainly not FISA, torture,or the trials in NYC; yet, I recall alot of his time spent on war meetings. I am not disagreeing with you…but trying to link him to some sort of energetic push, symbolic or otherwise.

Jon Walker December 19th, 2010 at 3:18 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 36

Yes there were a lot of ways big and small he could have added more weight to the push. Saying “that this is an important issue and I plan it get it done. It is unfortunate Republicans are trying to waste the people’s time on silliness but me and Joe Biden are prepare to work with the Senate even if it means working sundays, working christmas eve or even christmas.”

A threat of a stop loss order would have been big really big stick something almost everything Obama has pushed for has lacked.

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Though Obama doesn’t appear to have fought for very many progressive priorities, I’m not sure he gets enough credit from the left for the pretty impressive list of important things he has accomplished (and can credibly claim as personal accomplishments, where he put a lot of energy into getting them done). Compared to other presidents, he’s been very good at getting legislation passed that reflect his priorities — if not perfectly, then pretty darn close…

Do you guys disagree?

Ari Berman December 19th, 2010 at 3:21 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 33

I always thought it was pretty ridiculous to think of the Tea Party as a “party” distinct from the GOP–basically, it seemed to me like conservative activists re-branded themselves and used some new tactics and people to break through with the broader electorate. A number of the groups and donors that fueled the Tea Party, like Freedomworks and the Koch brothers, had also been around for a long time. So I think it’s possible for progressive groups and donors to replicate the in-your-face insurgent politics of the Tea Party, but that would mean sharpening their focus and message and really being willing to run against the Democratic establishment in DC. Not sure how much appetite there is for that (outside of FDL, of course)

dakine01 December 19th, 2010 at 3:21 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 41

Do you guys disagree?


Case in point – the “Health Insurance Reform” where he gave away the store while still claiming to support things like the Public Option months after having given it away. And still wound up punk’d by BigPhRMA and Bid Insurance

OldFatGuy December 19th, 2010 at 3:21 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 41

he’s been very good at getting legislation passed that reflect his priorities — if not perfectly, then pretty darn close…

Do you guys disagree?

I can answer that question for myself with a resounding YES!

Completely disagree.

Jon Walker December 19th, 2010 at 3:22 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 41

What are you referring to? Because even his big achievements like health care reform involved him preemptively breaking many huge Democratic party promises. I remember promise to fix Medicare part D was a huge campaign issue in 2006 yet Obama promised Phrma he would kill all those fixes.

He also made not taxing health care the most common campaign ad against McCain yet he fought like a dog to tax employer provided health care

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 3:22 pm

On the issue of “party building” and whether Obama is up to the task, I’d like to point out that although Republican presidents tended to do it in a certain way — very top-down, national committee providing resources and services to state parties, etc. — there’s not only one way to do it.

Party building isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” proposition: given the makeup of the Democratic Party, Obama might very well pursue party-building strategies in the coming years that are unlike what we’ve seen in the past.

Decentralizing operations seems (to me, at least) to be the way to go. He should accept that he’s lost the love of many previously-energized activists, and embrace it. Use the resources and capacities of the national party machinery to empower the grassroots, help local and state-wide candidates, let the party do (and say) different things in different areas. If certain activists want to work for local candidates but not for Obama in ’12, let them — help them, empower them, equip them with the tools to do it. (If only because their efforts to bring out more Democratic voters will help Obama at the aggregate level anyway!)

Dearie December 19th, 2010 at 3:24 pm

I think Obama has harmed the Democratic Party. He abhors the progressives and isn’t ashamed to spit at us. He does not fight for Democratic ideas and ideals. I think the next election will be worse for Democrats than this past one was. Dan, @41, says there are many Obama accomplishments. I don’t “feel’ the glow.

solerso December 19th, 2010 at 3:24 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 41

whole heartedly

OldFatGuy December 19th, 2010 at 3:24 pm
In response to OldFatGuy @ 44

Well, I should qualify that disagreement.

If his priorities were right wing in nature, which I have now come to believe, then yeah, I guess he was good at getting his priorities done.

His priorities and my priorities are apparently at exact opposites.

So maybe you’re right, and I shouldn’t have disagreed so quickly.

Jon Walker December 19th, 2010 at 3:26 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 41

Obama’s behavior is downright creepy. He doesn’t just get force into place that he needs to break campaign promise he goes out of his way and burns huge amounts of his political capital fighting to break them.

Obama wasted a huge amount of his political capital in the health care fight demanding the excise tax and the individual mandate. He actually risked the passage of the bill in his determination to break these promises. It is really inexcusable because he can’t even pretend to break his promise to gain GOP support.

December 19th, 2010 at 3:26 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 41

Surely you are joking.

MayDaze December 19th, 2010 at 3:28 pm
In response to OldFatGuy @ 49

after reading your first comment I logged in to make the same point – Obama’s priorities are not progressive.

DWBartoo December 19th, 2010 at 3:28 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 41

Obama has certainly achieved HIS goals.

We disagree on who those “goals” benefit and that those “goals” are, by ANY measure, or “stretch”, “progressive”.

Do you feel that Obama has dealt with the Bush torture policies appropriately?

Do you imagine that Obama will protect Social Security?

That he will “bail out” the unemployed, “astute” or otherwise, or the homeless, or those about to lose their homes … as Practical matters, rather than “Pragmatic” concessions to the Republicans?

I guess we simply see “different” results and consequences in the world.


OldFatGuy December 19th, 2010 at 3:29 pm
In response to Jon Walker @ 50

Exactly. The health care debacle where he worked HARD to actually break his promises can in no way, shape, or form, be blamed on pragmatism at getting Republican votes. There were no Republican votes.

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 3:30 pm
In response to Jon Walker @ 45

I don’t disagree that these bills don’t represent real challenges to existing power structures. HCR, financial, etc. — these laws take existing authorities as a given and don’t challenge them or try to undermine them in any significant way.

But this congress has been one of the most productive in recent history, and Obama has to be given some credit for that, no? During the campaign, Clinton supporters argued that without significant experience in government, he’d fail to get anything done, he’d get lost in the labyrinthine system of government.

And while differently tailored policies might have been more desirable, the alternative was never those policies — it was McCain-crafted policies or nothing (the status quo). I don’t think you guys will agree with me, but my point is simply that what has gotten done has been (a) historically impressive, in terms of productivity, and (b) probably better than any realistic alternative

RevBev December 19th, 2010 at 3:33 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 55

I think the discussion is did he make any effort to pursue an “alternative.” Not to say it would have been easy or succeeded. It is the lack of apparent effort that is behind so much disillusionment, as I understand the current view.

Ari Berman December 19th, 2010 at 3:33 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 55

I’m conflicted on this point. He has gotten a lot done and he has also been a disappointment to his supporters on many fronts. It’s not either/or

Jon Walker December 19th, 2010 at 3:34 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 55

I think it is unfair to note grade on a curve. Due to the failure of Bush Obama entered office with the largest Dem majorities in both chambers in like decades. Of course they should have passed a lot of laws. Any Democratic president face with that reality should have racked up a lot of wins. I think though he could have been far more effective and not lost 63 seats in the House.

OldFatGuy December 19th, 2010 at 3:34 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 55

I will disagree with respect to healthcare.

The status quo would’ve been preferable to what did pass.

What did pass, with it’s mandate to be customers of the for-profit, private health insurance industry ensures that any and all future attempts at reform will now have to go through an even bigger and more powerful health insurance industry.

There will never be true health care reform until that completely unnecessary middleman is removed, and the HCR that passed makes that less likely in the future, IMO.

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Ok…realizing that I stepped into dangerous territory here, I wonder if I could ask for your constructive response to the party-building issue:

Is there any way for Obama to recapture the support of progressives who supported him in ’08?

Is the Democratic Party salvageable? Or is a tea-party like movement the best way forward for progressives?

i.e., what should the party-building strategy be, going forward?

solerso December 19th, 2010 at 3:35 pm
In response to OldFatGuy @ 49

thats a great rsponse. when Obama chastises the base, who are not really listening to him now anyway, he likes to go down this list and check off, this, this, this, and most of the items on Obamas list look like failures to most people (i mean that literally,outside Washington) In 2008 the very idea that he would be bragging about an extension of the Bush tax cuts, wih an Obama cut in the capital gains tax thrown in, and a cut in the payroll tax which funds social security, i would have said thats got to be insane. The catfood commision, his “deficit hawk” metamorphosis. the list goes on, and on and on. And he seems upset that many who supported him arent “onbaord” for all these “wins”. I just have to think that he was a crypto right winger, and millions of people missed it. I think its more likely he didnt want millions of people to see what he was planning. I remember a pasty faced Obama coming out of a meeting with Gordon Brown during the campaign, anyone remember that? He came out of a meeting with brown and one of the things he said immediately after was, “we cant be liked by everyone”.. maybe he thought, as the First Black Potus, that most all white voters were on board with this constant drift rightward. If he Did, he has completely missed the whole point of the Obama landslide in 2008 and how can that be?!

Dearie December 19th, 2010 at 3:36 pm

David Galvin @ 55……….huh???? How have average citizens been helped by anything Obama has done? We don’t, for example, really know what his divine health care advances will cost average people……great to be able to ‘get’ coverage if you have a pre-existing condition; not so great if it is expensive that you could never afford it anyway. Nice to be able to keep the kids on your insurance, but at $500/mo, who can afford it? It’s all just empty talk………show me the goods. DADT is more a credit to Dan Choi than to Mr. Obama. And, on and on.

Jon Walker December 19th, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Over a full year spend on health care with the delay due in part to Obama fight really hard for policies he campaigned against and a clearly fruitless months wasted on bipartisanship. Combined with no immediate help for anyone despite the rapid rise in uninsured and make it extremely unpopular.

I hope you think about it in retrospect you see how mindboggling poorly it was executed by Obama.

DWBartoo December 19th, 2010 at 3:40 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 55

This Congress has ignored, deliberately, their resposibility of oversight, they have NEVER stood for slowing the rapacious greed or role of money in politics …

They did NOT stand against torture and continue to “play” with words … to their own benefit.

Incidentally, I saw ther median incomes of menbers of the House and Senate today …$986,000.00 for Reps, $@.5 million for Senators.

Any thoughts on THAT?


RevBev December 19th, 2010 at 3:41 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 60

Part of his lost is in his credibility. I am not sure how one regains that…Are there things he could offer and follow through on in the short term, esp. jobs? Use the power of his verbal skills to teach and inform and perform in accordance with his words. Would that be a start?

OldFatGuy December 19th, 2010 at 3:41 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 60

I don’t think Obama can recapture the progressives. Not possible.

The question about the Democratic Party is one that is being widely discussed at the moment around here. I’m not sure there is a consensus on that, even here.

I grew up in a family where my father was a union organizer, so I was surrouned by Democrats my whole life. I sincerely hope the party is salvageable, but this past week makes me feel like it isn’t anymore.

I just wonder if some big money, progressive, 3rd party candidate could maybe win the Presidency one time, and from there build a party up. I know that sounds backwards in a way, but I wonder if that may work.

DWBartoo December 19th, 2010 at 3:41 pm
In response to Jon Walker @ 58

Grading Democracy on a curve?

Barack’s self-awarded B plus?


dakine01 December 19th, 2010 at 3:42 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 60

I grew up in the Dem party, campaigning for Kennedy when I was a kid and was a McGovern delegate at the County caucus in ’72 in my hometown.

Right now, today, I’m not sure the Dem party is at all salvageable. Too many of the folks who would have been “liberal Republicans” thirty years ago are in the party today.

The give aways to Wall St and the total tone deafness across the board from Obama on down has me shaking my head and considering third parties which I once would have found anathema

RevBev December 19th, 2010 at 3:42 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 64

Not to mention a lovely lifetime retirement $$. Shocking.

Jon Walker December 19th, 2010 at 3:43 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 60

He can trying but it will be tough. Going out of his way to break promises and kick supporters (thinking federal employee pay freeze) makes it really hard to trust anything he does going forward.

The best way to win base will be to do a lot of veto threats with the GOP and demand anything they want comes with very real concessions to progressive or else a veto.

He needs to create a real contrast with a party that has Peter King going on a muslim witch hunt. Sadly the signal has been he will do the exact opposite.

DWBartoo December 19th, 2010 at 3:45 pm
In response to RevBev @ 69

Typos … that should be 2.5 Million for Senators.

Heading out for a concert, RevBev, I leave “it” in capable hands.


Dearie December 19th, 2010 at 3:46 pm

I think the Democratic Party is toast. When Obama campaigned for Blanche Lincoln he pretty much told real Democrats to shove it. Yep, if some other group comes along, I’ll listen. The Democrats who could not contain/guide their own President are toast, too. Obama sold them out and 2012 may very well be the debacle the Republicans are salivating over.

RevBev December 19th, 2010 at 3:47 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 71

Thanks….more shocking, huh?

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 3:47 pm
In response to RevBev @ 65

Thanks RevBev. I think that a lot of this, honestly, comes down to context. Facing a Republican-controlled House, Obama is going to have to draw sharper distinctions and use the bully pulpit to communicate his (not our) priorities better. With large Dem majorities, the incentive was to pursue an insider strategy of negotiating with the powers that be to get legislation done. In the next two years, especially with the reelection campaign upon him, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Obama uses his rhetorical skills more effectively. The more he clarifies his positions, the better off we’ll be. Part of the disappointment, as you say, has come from the ambiguity of his positions. He has floated way too much stuff out there (public option only the most conspicuous example). That’s the way you negotiate and legislate, but it’s not the way you lead. So perhaps under new competitive conditions, his positions will be clearer, and even if folks don’t agree with him, at least they’ll know where he stands (as Bush used to say!).

solerso December 19th, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Why should working people care if the Democratic party is “rebuilt”? the Democratic party is no longer concerned with working people. Working people who are paying attention should be concerned with rebuilding Unions, thier communities,an effective Left Movement, local economies, etc., The Democratic party will “rebuild” itself by soliciting money from large corporate donors and passing tax cuts.

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 3:49 pm
In response to Jon Walker @ 70

Jon, yes, you said it better than I did, but that’s the point I was just trying to make @74

OldFatGuy December 19th, 2010 at 3:50 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 64

This Congress has ignored, deliberately, their resposibility of oversight,

This is another excellent point, and further erodes any hopes that the D party is salvageable.

IMO ending habeas corpus with the stroke of pen and assassinating American citizens on foreign soil are so clearly unconstitutional that the Democrats in Congress CHOOSING not to do anything about it (just like the R’s in Congress CHOOSING not to do anything about W’s constitutional transgressions) is a clear indicator that it’s not just Obama, it’s a Democratic Party problem.

As more and more evidence comes in, and we have time to reflect on some of the old evidence, it becomes increasinly clear, IMO, that the Democratic Party is probably unsalvageable.

dakine01 December 19th, 2010 at 3:50 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 74

The problem with Obama’s rhetorical skills though is folks have already discovered the actions don’t match the words. He talked a great game in the campaign and even in his speeches since coming into office then goes out and his actions undercut and put the lie to the soaring rhetoric

solerso December 19th, 2010 at 3:53 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 74

“So perhaps under new competitive conditions, his positions will be clearer, and even if folks don’t agree with him, at least they’ll know where he stands (as Bush used to say!).”

I think the Bush presidency is a great comparison for president Obama. With 900 billion in tax cuts, 2 wars and rule of law deteriorating from the top down, they could almost be twins.

mzchief December 19th, 2010 at 3:54 pm

{ Thank you for coming to chat with us, Daniel, Ari Berman and “Herding Donkeys” }

Obama and the Congress could have changed very core things with the stroke of a pen and well under 100 days which I thought was a very generous suggested “expiration date.” They still can. Here’s the list (link: http://ccrjustice.org/files/CCR_100Days_Brochure.pdf ).

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 3:56 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 78

Agreed. But don’t you think part of the problem was that soaring rhetoric itself? Personally, I thought he promised more than he (or anyone) could ever possibly deliver. So those who bought into the rhetoric may have been expecting Obama to be Lincoln + MLK + Gandhi + Jesus all rolled into one. How, then, could they not be disappointed? He is to blame for this, to be sure, for raising expectations to such heights. But a lot of people bought into it despite its pie-in-the-sky quality. The great disillusionment felt by so many today seems (to me, at least) like the other side of the “hope” coin. Wasn’t it inevitable?

RevBev December 19th, 2010 at 3:56 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 76

Before Ted Kennedy died, there was some coverage that he was already disappointed/not agreeing with some Obama positions (And I think Caroline has never spoken out again after her view that she could say he reminded her of her father.) Do you have any information about that Ted Kennedy backing away? I assume it would have been over health care. Just wondering if you have heard more.

BevW December 19th, 2010 at 3:58 pm

As we come to the end of this interesting Book Salon,

Daniel, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and discussing your new book and Presidential Party Building.

Ari, Thank you very much for Hosting this Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:
Daniel’s website, book

Ari’s website – http://herdingdonkeys.com/

Thanks all.
See you next year for the next Book Salon on Jan 8th.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!!

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 3:58 pm
In response to RevBev @ 82

I haven’t, sorry, but that’s fascinating. didn’t know that.

Dearie December 19th, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Daniel @ 81: Nonsense! It became quickly clear that Obama’s rhetoric as just fancy talk for lying. Every time he speaks now, many of us turn to volume off…….he continues to lie. He is a corporatist. That’s not a lie. He has not stood for his contiuents. Look at what he does. Stop listening to what he says. You’ll be clearer and smarter.

dakine01 December 19th, 2010 at 3:59 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 81

I don’t think the problem was so much the soaring rhetoric but learning that he actively worked against the things he was saying using that rhetoric.

I would not have minded at all if he’d actually stood up and fought for things like the public option and lost the battle. But he gave things away before even starting to negotiate then pretended otherwise and when called on it shrugged his shoulders and blamed others and claimed he was impotent.

He didn’t even try to lead

Sebastos December 19th, 2010 at 3:59 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 74

As you’re seeing here, many progressives have irreversibly written off both Obama and the entrenched Democratic Party leadership. Calls for primarying Obama are common on Firedoglake. The Democratic Party would have to be transformed beyond recognition in order for many progressives even to consider supporting it ever again.

Do you have any ideas as to how such a complete transformation of the Democratic Party could be accomplished? I’ve advocated an approach analogous to that of the Tea Party, donating funds and volunteer effort exclusively to a progressive organization pressuring the Democrats from outside, and never directly to the Democratic Party.

RevBev December 19th, 2010 at 3:59 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 81

You brought a very interesting discussion. You should come back to review the progress.

OldFatGuy December 19th, 2010 at 4:00 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 81

I disagree that it was inevitable.

Had he worked harder for a much bigger stimulus (as many economists pointed out was needed) and a better stimulus (not so many tax cuts, much more direct spending) AND passed a better health care bill (perhaps as simple as including the crappy public option to at least put SOME pressure on the industry) AND not caved on the Bush tax cuts (especially the estate tax provisions) he would’ve been in a much different place today.

Oh, and he definitely should’ve avoided making his own “deficit” commission too.

We wouldn’t be in utopia, but I’d bet his standing among the progressive community would be vastly different. I’d also bet the country as a whole would’ve been better off. And IMO, ALL of those things I listed were doable with the majorities he was given.

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Thanks again, Bev, for putting this together. And thanks to Ari for hosting.

But most of all, thanks to the FDL community for this spirited — and at times heated — chat. Just what I needed on this chilly Chicago evening…

Happy holidays, all. Thanks for having me.

(More info on my book can be found on my website, here.)

dakine01 December 19th, 2010 at 4:02 pm
In response to Daniel Galvin @ 90

and at times heated

Ah, Daniel! This wasn’t even close to being heated! :})

RevBev December 19th, 2010 at 4:03 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 91

Careful…we want him to come back..;)

Teddy Partridge December 19th, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Thanks, Ari — thanks, Daniel!

Great salon, Bev — perfect pairing of host and guest, as always.

Best wishes to you all for a wonderful holiday.

Daniel Galvin December 19th, 2010 at 4:04 pm
In response to Sebastos @ 87

I have to run, but one last quick thing: I think you’re on to something, re: emulating the tea party, but it has to create a credible threat in order to be taken seriously. I also think that organized labor — historically, a key component of the Dem party coalition — could use a shot of progressive energy as well. So rebuilding the labor movement wouldn’t be a bad place to start — org labor integrates economic and political concerns and is certainly a credible organizational force to be reckoned with.

Ari Berman December 19th, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Thanks for having us!

duncan December 19th, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Hmmm, that was awkward.

Sorry but the comments are closed on this post