November 05, 2004

Opposition Leader

The latest interpretive buzz making the rounds of Left Blogwonkistan (a breakaway quasi-independent republic either bordering or surrounded by Left Blogistan proper) is that Karl Rove has maneuvered the Dems into the position of a quasi-parliamentary opposition party.

There is some merit to the argument, as well as to the complementary point that the Dems should embrace the position (it's not as if they can do much better right now) and truly oppose, rather than obstruct, the Bush-Rove-DeLay-Frist machine.

There's one key element missing, though: the opposition leader.

That's the diabolical genius of uniting all three branches under majoritarian single-party control: there is no institutional/Constitutional mechanism to provide for clear leadership of the party on the outs. And, of course, the Dems are so temporally demoralized and constitutionally disorganized that they're incapable of identifying, let alone rallying behind, a forceful and charismatic leader.

If, as the Confidence Man avers, 11/2 Changed Everything and we must now wage a Global War on Fundamentalism (which may also be characterized as a Global War on Errorism), the Dems require a strong, charismatic, and resolute leader. And need one as soon as possible. Our post paralleling 9/11 and 11/2 started out as a tongue-in-cheek idea, but the more we think about it, the more we recognize the necessity of the Democratic Party to fundamentally reckon with this week's election as a staggering blow, and to use the trauma to pull together in the way that the entire country did in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 -- and to then continue to build the unity and togetherness that most everyone wishes Bush had done in the months and years after 9/11.

The problem is, there's no clear single Dem figurehead to rally around.

And as we said above, there is no clear Constitutional or institutional solution to this leadership vacuum.

Senators, as John Kerry recently demonstrated, are institutionally and professionally unprepared for the role; and in any event, Harry Reid and Byron Dorgan won't cut it. (They're fine as Sen. Minority Leader and Whip, but not as national rallying figures.) Barack Obama certainly has the magnetism and gift of gab, but he's simply too inexperienced.

Congresspersons are temperamentally more suited to the demagoguery necessitated by such a role; but they are, unfortunately, accustomed to working at too small a scale. (As much as the Confidence Man himself would be willing to follow Nancy Pelosi into battle, she's not a national presence and does not quite have the national-unity message cred.)

Governors, as many a Presidential election has shown, do tend to have the "stuff," and Arnold Schwarzenegger in particular has run his campaign and governorship in a very imperial manner. What dynamic Dem governors have established their own voices or national presence or institutional Party constituency, though?

Essentially, the Democratic Party needs to rally around an unelected figurehead. It's not clear to the Confidence Man that the Chair of the DNC is necessarily the most appropriate position to fill this vacuum; however, in the absence of (a) attractive current elected officeholders, (b) any Constitutionally defined quasi-parliamentary "opposition party" leadership role, and (c) any significant other Dem organizational apparatus in place, the DNC Chair probably has to be the default opposition leader.

All of which leads the Confidence Man to rethink some aspects of his original suggestions regarding potential DNC leadership candidates.

Under this quasi-parliamentary opposition party role, the DNC Chair should, as we suggested, be split into complementary "CEO" and "COO" roles. The CEO would be the figurehead/spokesperson/"message disciplinarian," with the COO remaining behind the scenes and attending to operations and fundraising.

Our original suggestions for COO -- Bill Gates or Steve Jobs -- might still be adequate, but this parliamentary scheme might better require a veteran political operative. McAuliffe, in this delimited role, might actually suffice; though we'd still like to see someone with a better and more aggressive track record -- perhaps bring James Carville back into the fold? (In any event, the operational side of the Dem Party really needs to enter into partnership with the private sector. That will be the subject for more thoughts in the near future here at Croatan.)

Obviously, under this type of regime, our original suggestions for CEO -- Steven Spielberg or John Lasseter -- would most assuredly not work. (We do, however, insist that both of these men be brought into the Dems' message machine for consultancy.) No, in the system we're envisioning, the CEO role in the DNC must be filled by a genuine, legitimate politician -- and a politician with gusto, charisma, leadership, and a compelling message and mastery of pitching that message. He must also have demonstrated experience in rallying rank-and-file Dems to his cause -- and not currently be holding elective office.

That leaves four clear choices: Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Howard Dean, or John Edwards.

Clinton, due to his residual impeachment baggage, the Hillary-in-'08 nonsense, his health issues, and his time out of the spotlight, is pretty much out.

Gore is unfortunately still unable to successfully define himself through the media.

Dean, as we've pointed out, has his own gig going -- and has some detriments as a national figurehead.

But John Edwards would be perfect for this role.

Now, here's one last factor that both simplifies and complicates the matter: this CEO-type person, under this quasi-parliamentary regime, must essentially be the singular voice of the Dem Party and be prepared to assume the role of (and have the Party be prepared to accept him as) the presumptive next Dem Presidential nominee. (That even more clearly rules out Clinton.)

As we have pointed out, the one immense barrier to Edwards' nomination in '08 is the absolute lack of any significant electoral role/experience for him to fulfill over the next four years. His electoral vitae was thin enough this year to cause some concern; with four years of indolency, he would be an extremely weak candidate, despite his rhetorical and charismatic gifts.

Under this scheme, however, if Edwards becomes the "CEO" of the DNC -- the face of the Party, the Opposition Leader -- then for the next four years, he will be in the living rooms of the American people nearly daily, acting as a "shadow President." It would be both a legitimizing dose of gravitas for Edwards, and a four-year jump-start on the '08 national campaign versus whichever Bush scion Rove designates.

Edwards in '08 would then be able to say to America, "Over the last four years, as the GOP has made disastrous mistake after disastrous mistake, I have presented to you clear and better alternatives. When the GOP has followed my Party's recommendations, things have gone better; when they have not, they have failed. I have been right for four years, and I have demonstrated my wisdom, resolution, and vision."

The complication of this is that it requires that all other contenders -- Hillary, Dean, Wes Clark, Jay Rockefeller, et al. -- relinquish their status as challengers. And relinquish immediately. And all agree to back Edwards. Immediately.

The GOP has figured out that this approach works. As Will Saletan points out in Slate, in 1998, George H.W. Bush made some phone calls, got some folks together, and cleared the decks for Lil' Georgie. (Saletan, incidentally, is also a strong Edwards booster, and advocates that the Dems rally behind him in advance of '08.)

Are the Dems strong enough to sacrifice individual aspirations and constituent politics for the greater good? That's the fundamental question.

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