An article By Jo Mannies of the St. Louis Beacon on the challenges faced by Susan Montee, the New Chair of the Missouri Democratic Party, raises some interesting issues. Mannies notes that Montee and a new activist group, the Progressive Democrats of St. Louis, are both concerned about the organizational and communications failings of the state Democratic party. Beyond that point, though, Mannies’ report implies that when the smoke of the last electoral defeat clears and Montee gets down to work she may not see eye to eye with progressives about the correct direction for the state party.
I find it telling that Montee describes the “messaging” failures of the Missouri Democrats in the last election as follows:
We didn’t talk about what makes state Democrats different from national Democrats or California Democrats.
Would the crucial difference that Montee is hinting at have anything to do with the fact that the most prominent elected Democrats in the state, Senator Claire McCaskill and Governor Jay Nixon, are essentially old-time moderate Republicans in disguise? Although the article makes it clear that McCaskill and Nixon aren’t claiming responsibility for Montee’s selection, it seems equally clear that Montee is the choice of the state Democratic establishment which, from my admittedly limited perspective, seems to bless only good, well-mannered little boys and girls like McCaskill and Nixon.
Montee’s view that her job is to distance the state party from what the GOP represents as the socialist-communist-facist policies of the national Democratic Party (or Nancy Pelosi’s Gay California Hippie Party) indicates that she may have taken too deeply to heart the Republican message, as articulated by the Missouri Republican Party Executive director, Lloyd Smith:
… that Missouri is becoming an increasingly conservative state, …. Susan Montee was soundly defeated because she embraced the failed policies of Barack Obama and national Democrats.
If this is indeed the case, I would invite Montee to ponder the defeat of her colleague, Robin Carnahan, who was at the head of the losing Democratic ticket in November. As a progressive, the first big disappointment that I experienced in regard to Carnahan was her rush to embrace the Bush tax giveaways for the wealthy. Before that time, I had been annoyed by her incipient posturing as a “deficit peacock,” but her lame effort to deprive the GOP of a campaign weapon at the cost of the core Democratic value of fairness was something that no messaging strategy or slogan could have overcome, not even the “caring, fair and smart” refrain that the spokesperson for the Progressive Democrats of St. Louis, Rea Kleeman, suggested to Mannies as a first step in reviving the party message. I don’t think that I am alone in this feeling; I believe that was the point where many in the Missouri Democratic base cashed in their chips.
I ultimately stuck with Carnahan because I decided a vote for her was a vote for a national Democratic majority, and even – in the long run – a vote for Nancy Pelosi (of the California branch of the party). Lots of Democrats that I know weren’t so forgiving. Carnahan lost decisively and, as I remember, didn’t even do that well in the Democratic strongholds of St. Louis and Kansas City. I wonder if her willingness to betray a core Democratic principle might not have been the final straw in the broom that swept away her margin in those regions?
It bears thinking about, and I hope Montee will be able to take it into consideration as she tries to shape the Missouri Democratic message. Democrats are eager for a strong narrative, one that grabs at our core values with two fists, something that nice girls and boys who are worried about offending Grandma and Grandpa Grundy can’t offer.