Letters

Now that some of the election dust has settled, Salon readers duke it out over who's to blame for the Democrats' loss.


Salon Staff
December 18, 2004 2:15AM (UTC)

[Read "The Revolution That Failed -- for Now," by Farhad Manjoo.]

I found Ellen Malcolm's position could be summarized as: The operation was a success, but the patient died.

Which is really unfortunate, because without some kind of critical self-examination, we're going to be looking at the exact same post-election map in four years.

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In order for the revolution to succeed, it is going to have to start in the primaries so that we have a meaningful choice in November. Once the true believers have chosen someone who believes only in power and the importance of having it, it's too late.

-- Stephen Rojak

I was a precinct leader for MoveOnPac in West Philadelphia, and overall, I feel Manjoo is on the mark. However, it is unfortunate that he lumped MoveOn and ACT together in his discussion of strategy and, in so doing, missed the innovative aspects of MoveOn's "leave no voter behind" strategy.

Manjoo places a lot of the blame on volunteers going out of state, but this was not what MoveOn did. Rather, people like me volunteered in their own neighborhoods, speaking with people who lived right around the block.

Manjoo also points to the failure of targeting urban areas, but that strategy did work in states like Pennsylvania. I don't know why it didn't work in Ohio; perhaps Ohio's cities just don't have the population density necessary to carry states. Philadelphia apparently does.

Lastly, I disagree with Majoo's contention that the MoveOn letter was aimed at groups like ACT, a key ally that recognized MoveOn's efforts. It was more likely directed at the likes of Bob Shrum, to whom losing presidential campaigns having consistently turned for guidance.

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-- Eli Alberts

The bottom line on ACT, MoveOn and the rest is that outside groups, regardless of their strategy and tactics, are a sorry substitute for strong state and local party organizations.

We'll never know exactly how many voters ACT or other groups turned out in this highly polarized and pressurized election year. There was no control group. We can be sure that they turned out some. And we can be sure that paid canvasses are far less effective than all-volunteer, neighbor-to-neighbor efforts.

Based on my experience as a volunteer with ACT in Wisconsin that last week in October, I'd say Matt Bai's analysis is basically correct. ACT could have deployed more resources, earlier on, to suburban and exurban population centers, though this would have meant a costly, formidable logistical challenge, taxing their efforts in the big cities. Either way, paid canvassers lack the persuasion power of volunteer groups organizing locally, like MoveOn. MoveOn chapters, in turn, lacked the money, coordination and numbers of ACT.

-- Matthew Arnorld

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If my Philadelphia MoveOn experience is any indication, the activists who delivered Pennsylvania to Kerry are not going home. Were certain swing neighborhoods overcanvassed? You bet. Were we hobbled by an inability to coordinate with Democratic efforts because of our 527 status? Absolutely.

Are we giving up? Are you kidding? With Rick Santorum's election a mere two years away, our little group of former MoveOn precinct leaders -- who delivered a few thousand votes last election -- are already meeting to strategize his defeat and to learn the dance moves of our new poster boy. No, not Eli Pariser. I'm talking about Karl Rove.

-- Ilene Rush

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[Read "It's the Incompetence, Stupid," by James Verini.]

In 2000, I spent the week before the New Hampshire primary working for the Gore campaign in Manchester. My experience with paid staffers there (and numerous other campaigns) mirrors James Verini's. Many -- not all, thank God -- are worthless to the campaign effort and relatively unconcerned about the outcome. Each campaign is merely another career stop. "Hey, so what if Candidate A loses? I can put 'Deputy Campaign Manager' on my résumé!"

The paid staffers I met and ferried about in my rental car (paid for by me, not the campaign) were self-absorbed, self-important jerks who had no idea what life is like outside the Beltway and their little world of "professional campaign operatives." (That's what they called themselves.)

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It was pitiful. And as long as people like that are in charge of campaigns and the national Democratic Party, we might as well suck it up and get used to losing.

-- Larisa Thomason

Verini is a very creative writer to be able to come up with such incredible detail about the Kerry and Bush campaigns, and be able to make such sweeping statements about the front-line and middle management operations of both campaigns in multiple states. His conclusion? The Kerry campaign lost because the grunt work was done by a bunch of clueless Bush haters who blew off their assignments and sat around their offices, assuming they were lucky enough to have been assigned some responsibilities.

He's absolutely wrong. I worked with these people on the front line and at the middle management level for the last year and a half. Like any other national campaign, there are a fair share of selfish egomaniacs and wandering college kids, but the overwhelming majority of staffers were making any and every sacrifice to elect a man they believed could very likely be one of the best presidents of their lifetimes. Most of us truly were, and still are, completely dedicated to rescuing this country from the brink.

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Get a life, Verini. We lost. Maybe the campaign made some foolish strategic decisions at the top levels, but the grunts who carried out the strategies on the ground level and busted their butts are not to blame. We worked hard nearly every hour of every day to elect a man we believed in, and we have no reason to hang our heads.

-- Brian Hayden

I too logged hundreds of hours for Kerry-Edwards, but unlike Verini's experiences, mine were much more positive. I was particularly impressed with the level of preparation and training given to volunteers at the DNC headquarters in D.C. and in the field by precinct leaders and volunteer coordinators.

I was saddened to read of Verini's experiences in the Southwest, but I don't think our ground game was the root cause of our defeat. Despite the odds heavily favoring the incumbent, we ran a very close race with a good candidate; and we learned a lot that will help us in the future. Campaign coordination certainly could be improved, but the real problem was that our candidate simply didn't distinguish himself enough from the other guy to garner the requisite support.

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I suggest we reclaim our progressive roots and heal our shame about the "L" word. It wasn't ground-game incompetence; it was our message.

-- Randy McClure

Let me give you another example of Kerry's people dropping the ball while the Bush crowd scored a T.D.

The Ohio State/Penn State football game took place on Oct. 30, 2004 in Columbus, Ohio. The Bush people took their standard election poster, shrank it to the size of a name tag and gave out these name-tag-size posters to the fans as they were going into the stadium. Before the game even started, you could look around and see those little posters on the clothing of almost everybody there. It looked like a major Bush rally in the Ohio Stadium. The Kerry people did nothing, apparently thinking a major football game was too culturally lowbrow for them.

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So what's the result? There were about 105,000 people in that stadium. They came from Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, a state home to fans of both teams. Roughly 80 percent of that crowd was eligible to vote. Add to that the regional television broadcasting that would show the Bush-Cheney name tag anytime there was a crowd close-up, and you get incredible exposure. Keep in mind that the Kerry folks did nothing to exploit this opportunity.

Bush carried Ohio and West Virginia and did better than expected in Pennsylvania. Care to guess why?

-- Harlow Keith


Salon Staff

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