Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mass Movement for Democracy vs. Party Elitism



This is an important article about the ongoing fight within the Democratic Party over crucial issues of Democracy, party elitism, and mass-based grassroots political involvement...


The Democratic Take: From Top to Bottom
New York Times

The Democratic race is turning out to be a battle of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “top-down” style of politics and Barack Obama’s “bottom-up,” grassroots approach.

At least, that’s the view of Joe Trippi, a senior adviser to John Edwards, who addressed the changing political climate — particularly the transformation of the Democratic party — at a panel Wednesday in Washington.

What’s rocking the boat? The Internet, mostly. Every day, it seems, the Web provides another way for average citizens to be active in the political process, instead of having the effects of politics trickle down to them.

As campaign manager for the Howard Dean presidential campaign in 2004, Mr. Trippi was among the first strategists to harness the Web to create grassroots networks of supporters — and collect small donations from them.

But even Mr. Trippi is wowed by the grassroots movement that Barack Obama’s bottom up campaign has created. By successfully harnessing that power, Mr. Obama is able to compete with the powerful Clinton machine — which Mr. Trippi calls not just a “normal” top-down campaign, “the best top-down campaign, the strongest one ever put together.”

When the Dean campaign ended in early 2004, 1.4 million blogs were on the Web, Mr. Trippi said. Now there are 77 million. Add in YouTube, social networking sites and widespread broadband, and you’ve got yourself a whole new kind of campaign to run.

“We were like the Wright Brothers,” he said, “this flimsy little thing with a few propellers, compared to just four years later, they’re landing on the moon.”

As proof, Mr. Trippi points to the disparities between donations to the Clinton and Obama campaigns. Only 10 percent of Clinton contributors did not donate the legal maximum $2,300 for her primary campaign. In contrast, only three percent of Obama donors gave the maximum. The rest of the cash came from small sums from many more people.

Mr. Trippi made clear that he “would still not today write the Clintons out of this,” but noted that even if Hillary Rodham Clinton wrestles the nomination away from Barack Obama, this election cycle has proved that ground-level networking will be an important part of future campaigns.

Andres Ramirez of the New Democratic Network’s Hispanic program presented figures suggesting that the portion of the nation’s Hispanic population that voted for President Bush is turning back to the Democratic party — and becoming more politically active in general — in protest to the G.O.P.’s hard-line stance on immigration it’s held since 2006.

And, what’s more, he noted that the recent Arizona primary, the home state senator, John McCain, won about 22 percent of the Hispanic electorate. Mr. Obama — the candidate pegged in the media as less-Latino friendly than Mrs. Clinton — took 28 percent of that demographic, Mr. Ramirez said.

Simon Rosenberg, the founder of the progressive N.D.N. think tank, the sponsor of the event, called Mr. McCain the “worst candidate” the Republicans could have chosen because he’s the biggest throwback to old, white America, which is slowly ceasing to exist. (Mr. McCain’s sometimes campaign theme song, ’50s hit “Johnny B. Goode,” doesn’t help that image, Mr. Rosenberg said.)

Considering the low approval ratings for President Bush and considering the high Democratic primary turnout, Mr. Rosenberg said the only way the Democrats could blow the November election would be to determine the nominee based on a superdelegate vote in the proverbial “smoke-filled room” at the party convention. In that case, all the youthful energy the Democrats seem to have now would vanish.

Nowadays, anyway, Democrats at all levels across the country are more and more considering themselves to be “partners in the fight, not donors to the cause,” Mr. Rosenberg said, meaning people feel they can be a part of the process from their own homes and in their own communities — not just by volunteering at a phone bank like in the days of old.
“And I’d rather have one million people on my team than 200 kids in an office,” he said.