Don't get your hopes up for DNC's "autopsy": Operatives, not policy people, dominate new task force

The DNC is going to figure out what's wrong with Dems -- by enlisting "digital gurus" and a tech billionaire?

Published December 5, 2014 3:47PM (EST)

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz                (AP/Alex Brandon)
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (AP/Alex Brandon)

We all remember the RNC "autopsy" of the GOP's devastating electoral losses in 2012. We remember it, mostly, because of how the GOP more or less avoided all of the policy advice (example, paraphrased: "don't be so nativist... please?") and still won a hundred billion seats everywhere in 2014. That may come back to haunt the GOP in 2016, when there's a completely different electorate, but at least it gave the RNC a hollow opportunity to declare its post-2012 revamping "successful" and continue raising funds.

Now it's time for the DNC to do the same thing. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who for some mind-blowing reason still chairs the DNC following November's shit show, has commissioned her own "Democratic Victory Task Force" to produce a report. Its initial findings will be presented in February with final recommendations due mid-year. "This diverse group of Democratic Party officials, strategists and advocates," Wasserman Schultz announced, "will each bring with them expertise from their fields to collaborate on a holistic review of the Party’s past performance and present actionable areas for improvement moving forward."

"Officials, strategists, and advocates." Look at the list and determine which area of expertise the task force tilts toward:

The committee is made up of Democratic fundraiser Naomi Aberly, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, DNC Vice-Chair Donna Brazile, political operative Maria Cardona, party lawyer Marc Elias, former Obama digital guru Teddy Goff, marketing and event planning veteran Maneesh Goyal, Colorado Democratic Party Chair Rick Palacio, AFSCME President Lee Saunders and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.

Don't know about you, but I see basically two (2) policy-ish people on that list: a labor leader and a governor. Otherwise we have a explicit fundraiser -- they're all fundraisers, in one way or another -- a lawyer, an operative, a "digital guru," an event planner(???), a state party operative, and Donna Brazile, who is cool, but also a campaign operative by training. Also, too: a tech billionaire.

Which is to say: it doesn't look like the DNC "autopsy" is going to be much in the way of a creative and interesting policy document that helps give the party a new set of central economic policy ideals around which to orient itself. Instead of developing a set of guiding principles beyond increasing the minimum wage or rebuilding infrastructure -- fine and necessary things, but marginal -- that Democrats' organizing energy can work towards indefinitely, the task force will likely come up with buzzy office-speak about more efficient advertisement-targeting metrics, enhanced voter databases, etc.

Ever since 2008, Democratic party operatives have had a tendency to fetishize advancements in voter turnout models and data collection. As if these things were central to Barack Obama's win that year! Barack Obama didn't win because his campaign had fancier computers than the RNC. He won because he was offering a vision and a concrete set of policies and was a likable politician. (Also: George W. Bush was really unpopular.) Now that those policies have either (a) been enacted in some form or (b) gone by the wayside, either due to a lack of political courage or because Republicans have nuked their chances of ever happening anytime in the near future, there's no clear idea of what the Next Big Project will be -- other than electing Hillary Clinton in 2016 and treading water a few more years.

But hey, the DNC isn't a think tank. Its job is to elect Democrats in the next election cycle, and if it can get that done in the easiest possible way, it will. Hillary Clinton could win in 2016 by relying on demographic changes and the Republicans' penchant for self-destruction, without having an interesting or novel thought of her own expressed once. And that would be just fine for DNC. It could claim that its autopsy worked, just like the RNC claimed its did after the 2014 elections. This autopsy and the Democrats' worship of data is a strategy of professional risk-aversion. Meanwhile, the political stagnation continues on.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

MORE FROM Jim Newell