Sunday, November 21, 2004

No Symmetry between the Left and the Right

Compare and contrast the Republican and Democratic Parties' GOTV efforts described by Matt Bai: "The Multilevel Marketing of the President" (New York Times, April 25, 2004) and "Who Lost Ohio?" (New York Times, November 21, 2004).

It looks to me that the Republican Party's model -- relatively speaking, within the limits of top-down organizing required by the parties of the ruling class -- was more partisan, more committed to the party's presidentially candidate, far better organized, more participatory, and (most importantly) far more local-volunteer-driven than the Democratic Party's.

Here's the key difference:
  • [The Ohio State director of America Coming Together Steve] Bouchard closed almost a third of the offices and pared down his canvassing staff by two-thirds. His team then focused its efforts on signing up new voters in heavily Democratic areas where a lot of new and transient voters had yet to register. Using Palm Pilots equipped with 30-second video ads to show to prospective voters, the canvassers set about identifying voters across the state: where they lived, how they planned to vote, what issues they cared about. Even building an up-to-date list of previously registered voters was a monstrous assignment in Ohio, because voters in the state don't register with a party affiliation; the only thing canvassers knew about their political orientations before knocking on their doors was whether they had voted in either party's primary in the last six years. Every night, without fail, the canvassers plugged their Palm Pilots, full of new data about the homes they had visited, into ACT's Web-based voter list" (Matt Bai, "Who Lost Ohio?" New York Times, November 21, 2004)

  • [Bush's campaign manager Ken] Mehlman explained that Bush volunteers, in consultation with headquarters, set their own goals for their states and counties, and thus had a sense of ownership in the campaign. He said this new kind of grass-roots campaign sprang from the same lofty impulse as "Survivor" or "American Idol." "The lessons of reality TV are that people today are into participatory activities," he said. "They want to have influence over a decision that's made. They don't want to just sit and passively absorb. They want to be involved, and a political program ought to recognize that" (Matt Bai, "The Multilevel Marketing of the President," New York Times, April 25, 2004)
The Democratic Party, unlike the Republican Party, refused to tap into local knowledge of local organizers in Ohio (and probably elsewhere).

From personal observations, I knew that none of the longtime organizers in any sort of social movement (labor, community, Green, feminist, religious, etc.) in Ohio was enlisted to map the Democratic Party's GOTV campaign -- it was all money, Palm Pilots, and inexperienced white youths hired by 527s and dispatched to communities to which they were strangers and will not come back after election day.

In contrast, Bai's April 25, 2004 article shows that the Republicans -- while tightly controlling the campaign's overall structure, message, and strategy ("despite Mehlman's 'Free to Be . . . You and Me' rhetoric, they were not, in fact, empowered to make even minuscule adjustments to the Plan" [Bai, April 25, 2004]) and giving specific tasks and rewards to volunteers ("[Bush Team Leaders] are volunteers who are given prizes . . . for accomplishing six specific tasks, the first of which is to recruit five other B.T.L.'s. Volunteers are also rewarded . . . for calling in to talk radio programs or writing letters to the editor on behalf of the president" [Bai, April 25, 2004]) -- relied upon local volunteers to organize Republican supporters in their own communities. That's a better organizing model both for the short and long-term.

Why did the Republican Party have a better model of organizing than the Democratic Party? Because Karl Rove's brains are bigger than any Democrat's? No.

The reason is that there is no structural symmetry between the Republican Party's relation to grassroots organizers on the right and the Democratic Party's relation to grassroots organizers on the left.

Most organizers on the left -- including those who ended up voting for John Kerry -- positively hated Kerry's and the Democratic Party's program on big-ticket issues like war and health care, so they didn't volunteer their knowledge of local communities to the Democratic Party's and allied 527's campaign managers -- nor did they in 2000, and they will not in 2008 either.

In contrast, I have yet to meet an "AnybodyButKerry" voter in person -- those who positively hated George W. Bush's and the Republican Party's program but voted for Bush anyway because they hated Kerry's and the Democratic Party's program even more -- though there must be at least some. Nationwide, only 7.5% of those who voted said that they voted for Bush in order to vote "against his opponent," whereas 17.5% of those who voted said they voted for Kerry to vote "against his opponent" (CNN, "U.S. President/National/Exit Poll"). Organizers on the right were even less ambivalent about Bush than Bush voters in general, so they could readily offer all they had to the Republican Party's campaign managers.

More importantly, the Republican Party elite can easily court and absorb organizers on the right. What organizers on the right want -- restrictions on abortion, opposition to gay marriage -- doesn't cost the Republican Party donors any money, so Republicans in the White House, Congress, state legislatures, etc. can actually deliver a good deal of it -- of course, piece by piece, so as not to kill the gooses that lay the electoral golden eggs.

Not so with the Democratic Party and organizers on the left. What organizers on the left want -- an end to foreign wars, no foreign military aid to regimes that violate human rights, single-payer universal health care, equal funding for quality public education, defense of workers' rights to organize, strong protection of natural environments, etc. -- at least hurts the interests of one or more important sectors of the ruling class in the short term and may even threaten the ruling class's collective class power and capitalism as a mode of production in the long term. The Democratic Party not only cannot deliver it, but, when in power, it makes its own attack on it (especially since the mid-1970s). The Democratic Party, therefore, cannot even court organizers on the left as vigorously as the Republican party does organizers on the right. On the contrary, the Democratic Party wants to keep organizers on the left at arm's length.

That, in a nutshell, is the reason why "entryism" of the left is futile.

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