Don Davis

A Tale of Two Kinds of Democrats

Filed By Don Davis | April 18, 2011 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, Brian Schweitzer, Democrats, media, Montana, politics, Republicans, Social Security

If your view of politics is filtered by a lens marked "Progressive" or "Liberal," there's a pretty good chance that you've been democrat.jpggnashing your teeth and pulling your hair in frustration over the "give away the store, then negotiate" approach professional Democrats have used when facing the challenges from the Tea Party last year, and all that's come after.

Over and over and over people like me have written stories wondering why Democrats, starting with this president, don't get out in a very public way and slam Republican policies, over and over and over - especially when most Americans hate the things Republicans seem to love to support.

Turning over government to the highest bidder?

Not so popular.

Going back to a heath care system run by, for, and of the insurance industry?

Again, not so much.

Jacking up taxes and healthcare costs for you and me in order to provide another trillion in tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires?

So unpopular pollsters hardly believe it.

But there is another way, and today's story is in two parts: we're going to talk about how hard it is to get Democrats, as a group, to get loud and get aggressive, and then we're going to talk about Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, who is out there showing any reluctant Democrat just exactly how you can "grow the brand."

We are, all, North and South, engaged in the White Slave Trade, and he who succeeds best, is esteemed most respectable. It is far more cruel than the Black Slave Trade, because it exacts more of its slaves, and neither protects nor governs them. We boast, that it exacts more, when we say, "that the profits made from employing free labor are greater than those from slave labor." The profits, made from free labor, are the amount of the products of such labor, which the employer, by means of the command which capital or skill gives him, takes away, exacts or "exploitates" from the free laborer. The profits of slave labor are that portion of the products of such labor which the power of the master enables him to appropriate. These profits are less, because the master allows the slave to retain a larger share of the results of his own labor, than do the employers of free labor.

--From the book "Cannibals All!", by George Fitzhugh, 1857

So let's start with the "How hard is it?" part.

I get to participate in conference calls these days, and I was recently on a call with a member of Congress who shall remain nameless (to protect the moderately guilty). The member was unable to remain on the call until my question, but I was able to get an email off to the press rep over there, who was kind enough to get back to me.

After an exchange of emails, we got down to the real question:

How should I explain to readers why they don't hear every Democrat saying something like this, every single day: "We get that there's a financing problem in the future, and the good news that it can be fixed without raising the retirement age, and without cutting benefits, and we can even lower the payroll tax rate at the same time--and that's why we will never let the Republicans destroy Social Security, even under cover of a budget fight"?

Now I post on almost 30 blog sites, from Kos to Docudharma to Left In Alabama to The Bilerico Project, and all sorts of others in between, and if there is one theme that is consistent across all these sites, it's that readers do not understand why so many Democrats, over and over, don't avail themselves of the obvious political advantages that are there to be had when they get in front of the public and, well, frankly, act like Democrats?

So that was the question I sent, and it's a good thing I didn't hold my breath waiting for an answer, because that answer never came.

I sent the same question to the office of a very liberal Member with whom I've had good relations in the past. And again, nothing.

Here's another "What does it take to get Democrats to act like Democrats?" story.

I was in Olympia, Washington, on April 8th for a big ol' labor rally, and the featured speaker was Senator Spencer Coggs (he's one of the 14 Democratic State Senators who left Wisconsin to make Scott Walker's life a whole lot less comfortable), and he tore up the crowd pretty good, but there was at least a couple of hours of speakers, and the event was held right in front of the State Capitol, and the (Democratically controlled) Legislature was in session, right at that very moment... and the (Democratically occupied) governor's mansion is literally right next door and yet, somehow, not one single elected official of the Democratic persuasion from anywhere in the entire state of Washington could manage to find their way past the kids ringing bells under the Dome and out the front door to greet the thousands of voters standing just outside.

OK, so that's the problem, but as you know, I like to offer solutions as well, and with that in mind, it's time to meet the governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer.

Now, as you might imagine, Montana is not exactly a haven for lefty liberals, but Schweitzer, a Democrat, is not only not caving under pressure... he's showing Democrats everywhere how to send a message and how to send it with style.

The Republican-led Legislature passed a slew of bills he didn't like (he reported that none of 'em created new jobs and doesn't that sound familiar?), and he could have given in and signed them, or he could follow the advice of Denny Lester, ace political cartoonist for the Helena Independent Record and veto the hell out of those bills, preferably with a branding iron.

There is a Montana Department of Livestock, and if you intend to register a new cattle brand, they are the folks you need to see, and sure enough, on February 23rd, an "Official Brand Certificate" was issued to the governor for the brand "veto."

Then the governor went out and created a job in Montana: he had a series of branding irons made, each carrying the new brand in various sizes ("calf," "yearling," and "bull," depending on how much he wanted to veto any particular bill).

"...so my Mom called to find out if there was a branding going on, and I said well, not really, it's a sort of a branding, and she said, uh, do you need somebody to bring the beer?..."

--Governor Brian Schweitzer, April 13, 2011

The governor got a few friends together last Wednesday, and he vetoed not one, not two, but 17 bills he felt were "either frivolous, unconstitutional or in direct contradiction to the expressed will of the people of Montana," and he did it, with the cameras rolling, by using the branding irons to brand a red-hot "veto" on those bills, all to the cheers of the assembled crowd.

You can see it for yourself, right here, in a video produced by the Montana Democratic Party. And trust me when I tell you, it's a hoot:

Now if you watched that video, you might be thinking: "Hey, maybe that guy should be President..." and that's how we get to the real point of this story.

We have in front of us a president and a Democratic Party apparatus who can either negotiate with Republicans who want to kill both Social Security and Medicare (the likely end result being two programs and a Democratic Party that will basically be "circling the drain" from then on) or they can take the branding iron to Paul Ryan's "Catfood Plan v 2.0" and a lot of other Republican ideas besides, and they can help their own party and make every Republican in the country feel the burn, all at the same time.

Since negotiating away Medicare and Social Security is hugely unpopular... that's pretty much what I expect far too many Democrats to do, unless we can grab 'em by the lapels and show 'em that voters want Democratic Democrats. You know, the kind of Democrat who understands how to grow a brand, and how to keep it strong, and how to set fire to bad ideas, loudly and publicly, when that's the right thing to do.

Tell your member of Congress about this video, and your president, too; and let's see if we can show our elected "followers" how to get on the road to becoming elected "leaders."


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i don't think you intended to ask your question in this string of comments...but since you bring it up, yours is a question as old as humans, and as far as i know, zoroaster might have been the first to try to get at the answer--or at least he seems to have been the first person who tried who left a record behind of which we are aware.

as you might know, he thought about morals and consequences and ended up thinking a lot about enlightenment here on earth; hindus and buddhists both trace their religions back to him.

I've removed that comment, Don. It was spam and left on the site in various incarnations approximately 42 times - most in a derogatory manner about lgbt people.

that's too bad, because you really just don't get to spend thinking about zoroaster, eh?

Thanks Don. That branding video is 19 minutes long but well worth watching all the way through. The real beef in the message comes in the last 2 minutes.

it is long, but the whole vibe is something we need to create a lot more of: those folks were there to do good and have a good time, and it's a great counter to the very angry attitude at tea party events.

A quick thought...

I saw the video of him branding the vetoes on tv. My first thought was "it's great that he's killing these draconian measures, but is he moving FORWARD?" I'm so tired of playing defense even when we're in the majority (or remain in the minority but have chances to compromise to our benefit!).

you have a republican-dominated lege in montana, so the first step to "playing offense" is to get the state and national democratic parties to develop some candidates; at the same time unions and other "interest groups" have to find ways to get those candidates some support.

at that point you'll be able to move legislation, but until then, the only real offense available is rhetorical.