Memo to new ODP Chair: Ohio has changed since 2005

The last time the Ohio Democratic Party faced a vote to elect a new chairman, 2005, was another era. Before the collapse of the world economy in 2008, before the bailouts, before the emergence on the right of the Tea Party in 2009 and on the left Occupy Wall Street in 2011. Will Ohio Democrats notice?

Back in 2005, tactics, and a chairman or chairwoman’s mastery of tactics, was all that mattered in the job description. Nuts and bolts. Organizing, fundraising, candidate recruitment, understanding the internet’s new role in politics…crossing T’s and dotting I’s. I never heard a debate about message; should the new chair represent what Democrats stand for? No one asked the front runner Chris Redfern, or his challenger Montgomery County Chair Dennis Lieberman, why they were a Democrat, or what Democrats should stand for. It was all about how, specifically, tactically, the new chair could help Democrats win elections. As a campaign professional covering that election at worm’s eye level in 2005, I made tactics my top priority in a chair, too.

That was a trap. If all you care about is tactics, you’re playing the rigged game oligarchy wants you to play, because oligarchy will benefit from an ODP Chair who can be purchased to play the game well, for their gain. I could detail precisely how Chris Redfern became that tool for oligarchy, but Ed FitzGerald’s candidacy should be plenty enough to convince you that tactical game playing only benefits oligarchy. Just ask John Kasich.

So in 2014, frankly, I’m just not interested in those tactical questions anymore, and I don’t really think the average Democrat is interested in them either. Average Democrats are wondering what on earth happened to the party of FDR, Harry Truman, Jack Kennedy, LBJ, Howard Metzenbaum, John Glenn, and Dennis Kucinich. Democrats we help elect end up handing billions from the poor to the rich, whether it’s Ed FitzGerald putting renewal of the Cuyahoga County sin tax on the ballot for the benefit of 3 sports billionaires in this spring’s primary election, or Barack Obama failing to arrest a single banker for their role in strip mining neighborhoods through mortgage fraud to pay for their third yacht.

What about the little guy? Who stands up for the average schmuck anymore? Income inequality is at historic, near Dickensian levels in 2014 America. The social contract is in tatters. All the promises of the American Dream, which Democrats saved from the gaping maw of free market fetishist capitalism during the Depression, and which Democrats solidified after World War II, with Democratic policies, that dream is now a mere fantasy for most Americans.

What about the student who is told from the day she is born that college is the key, she goes to college, yet comes out with $75,000 in debt into a job market that places her in a coffee house at minimum wage? The retiree who loses his pension because, well, the oligopolist on the other end just doesn’t want to pay it anymore. Or the homeowner whose property is now worth a fraction of what it used to be worth because unseen hedge funders gamed a bunch of blips on a screen to become a billionaire, sucking every penny out of a neighborhood with scientific precision. Did Democrats see this coming in 2005 when we elected a chair purely on tactical skill?

In 2014, if you work hard, play by the rules, you’re still screwed, no matter how hard you try, because the game is so rigged, no one but the richest few ever advance. That’s what I want to hear candidates for ODP chair address. For example, I want to know where a candidate for ODP chair was during Occupy Wall Street. Were they in the streets with the kids who just graduated from Oberlin College with 6 figures in debt who pitched a tent on public property, knowing a Democratic Party mayor’s police force would eventually arrest them, because they had nothing better to do to try and change their world? Or did a candidate for ODP Chair spit at them from the sidelines. That matters.

Voter turnout, and engagement with a political party, is a direct function of belief in the system; belief that your voice matters, your vote counts. Turnout was so low this year, and continues its downward trend in America because voters, quite reasonably, believe the game is rigged to pointlessness. Does it really matter who controls the US Congress? Or the state government in Ohio? Ohio Democrats have not provided a sufficient answer to the rigged game, in fact, Ohio Democrats have perpetuated the rigged game, from rigging every primary since 2005 to Sherrod Brown attempting to rig this ODP Chair election two weeks ago.

During Occupy Cleveland, I would get into arguments about why I’m still a Democrat. Folks would ask me, “Don’t you have any self-respect? All these Democrats do is fuck you, repeatedly, just like the rest of us. Don’t you see it’s not working? Why are you even engaged with this broken fraud of a system?” That sorta thing. I’ve had a few conversations with former Occupados about this ODP Chair thing, and they are just laughing. They ask, “How is any of this going to matter?”

It’s not an easy question to answer. Immanuel Kant, writing in response to the French and American revolutions in 1795, argued that politics must treat human beings as ends, not as means to an end. In the context of this year’s ODP Chair election, I would like to be treated as an end, not a means to an end, and so would everyone else in Ohio, especially rank and file Democrats.

As a guy who has studied and worked in politics all over the world, my answer to my most cynical friends from Occupy is pretty simple; it is a total surrender to just walk away from the one political party in American history that actually enacted the checks on capitalism that kept the American Dream real. Democrats have a proud record, which right now is fading into a sepia toned history book, chased away into the cobwebs by the ever concentrating power of money.

The 2014 ODP Chair race, coming before a presidential election in which Ohio will again be pivotal, is a key crossroads. I certainly hope we take the right fork in the road, for once.

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