Posted by: Jeff | January 19, 2010

Massachusetts (And Plouffe Daddy)

I had the good fortune earlier this evening to stumble upon an open forum hosted by the Progressive Book Club and featuring David Plouffe, the architect of Obama For America – the highly-lauded and incredibly efficient organization behind Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.  While the forum itself was a bit disappointing (Plouffe doesn’t work for the White House, stop asking him questions about their legislative agenda please), there were a couple of interesting insights about campaigns and the status of the Democratic electorate.

The consensus seems to be that enthusiasm among Democrats is surprisingly low, given that we’re scarcely a year removed from the most exciting election in modern memory.  Perhaps it’s a bit of an enthusiasm hangover, but with tonight’s expected result in Massachusetts (Brown up 54-46 with 60% of precincts reporting) and the dour predictions for the Congressional midterms in November, Republicans are crowing at the perceived downfall of Democratic momentum.

Plouffe hinted at a few reasons for this – first, he noted that the media seems fixated on personalities involved in the process, and not on action.  Second, though he made clear that he does not slight the Administration for giving only soft support to some progressive provisions in the bill, he cited the continued lag on passage of Health Care Reform as troubling.  He seems optimistic about eventual passage (electoral results in Massachusetts notwithstanding), but the message that “this is farther than we’ve ever come toward reform” doesn’t exactly resonate in Peoria.

Third, he argued that Republicans have been focusing on short-term political goals.  Sullying Democratic legislative efforts and making cute soundbites that stir up enthusiasm but fail to give it any real direction.  He said he was impressed by the Tea Party movement for its energy, but skeptical that it would ever amount to any strategic aim.  And that seems to be the crux of the issue.  Where the Republicans have enthusiasm without real direction (Rush is not the future of the party), Democrats have seen enthusiasm ebb and direction sink in.  And that’s not very exciting.  I agree that there is a foundation for good governance and long legislative success – however, the Democrats do seem to have a large enthusiasm problem.

This is rooted, I think, in messaging, and I was surprised to see this point go without followup by Sam Stein, the moderator of tonight’s event.  Plouffe ticked off a number of real successes that Obama has achieved (timeline for withdrawal in Iraq, restoration of American image abroad, transparency in the executive branch, economic stimulus, etc.) – yet we rarely hear about any of these as successes.  In fact, Obama just had a year of governance that many experts graded extremely well – why are we all so glum?

I think this is a messaging issue – like the failure to focus on the nuts and bolts of health care reform (increases coverage, decreases costs), Democrats are lost in nuance.  There has been real progress in the last year.  Candidates would do well to talk about it – if not to show difference between Republican competitors then at least to show that Democrats have the capacity to act.

Martha Coakley is likely to lose tonight in part because the campaign for the open Senate seat in Massachusetts was never about this contrast.  It was about the Kennedy legacy, and the assumption that Massachusetts bleeds blue.  Here’s hoping the assuming ends and the acting takes center stage before panic sets in.

I’ll likely write more about Massachusetts and its implications for health care reform soon, but for starters read this piece by Jonathan Chait.



  1. stumbled upon? i told you about it! haha.

  2. ya burnt

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