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August 20, 2006

Transformational Candidates

Ned Lamont.  Jon Tester.  Jim Webb.  Jack Carter.  In our state, Darcy Burner and Peter Goldmark.  There is a new crop of folks running for office whom I describe as transformational.  These are generally people who did not plan on becoming a politician.  Rather they had other lives; they were successful in one or more areas of business or service - farming, ranching, high-tech, the military, teaching, writing, the law, something, and have come to politics because of what I might speak of as "a calling", a sense that their nation needs them. 

Ned, Jon, Jim, Jack, Darcy, Peter and many more like them have been successful in other parts of their lives and they want to help us turn this country around so that they and we can be proud of it once again and so their children and ours will also have a great country to grow up in.  A great many others of us have made similar commitments - to organize a precinct or county or write on a blog.  And we are coming together to support the people who will help us take our country back.   

I've been talking about "transformational" candidates to friends and mentioned it a time or two on this blog in reference to something else.  Over this time, I have developed five criteria for what makes a candidate "transformational": 

  • They work for a progressive agenda.  This condition is a given.  But many people whom I don't consider transformational also work hard for a progressive agenda or at least key parts of it and we are grateful for their efforts and we support them.  Barbara Boxer and Hillary Clinton come to mind, as does Barack Obama and Maria Cantwell. 
  • They are uncorruptible.  They are not going to become beholden to special interests.   This is particularly important at this time of our national life.  After a dozen years of the Republican-dominated K-Street Project, and several decades of both Republican and Democratic over-cosiness with monied interests, it's time to work directly for the people.  Matt Stoller has a terrific post up today at MyDD entitled "Dismantling the Liebermachine".  It's about, among other things, the insidious impact that Democratic consultants who are also working with corporations, have on Democrats in Congress.  Stoller astutely suggests that it is very difficult to get out of the group think of the incestuous insiders - staff, lobbyists and politicians - and to think for oneself.  I think this is why there are so few incumbent politicians we would call transformational at this time.  They are already too caught up in the web of institutional Washington life.  With a few exceptions - Russ Feingold, Chris Gregoire come to mind - you pretty much have to come from the outside to be transformational.  Al Gore had to step out of that insiders' circle to become transformational. 
  • They are willing to kick ass, to say what is and to go after the people who are in the way of taking back our country, Republican or Democrat.  Georgia10 has a great post up today at DailyKos about the origins of the donkey vs. elephant symbols.  It's called "Embracing our Inner Jackass".  In a nutshell, Andrew Jackson took a populist symbol thrown at him in derision and used it to back his campaign to "let the people rule".  Then toward the end of the Grant era, the Republicans got tagged with the elephant as a symbol of "Caesarism" or what today we would call an "imperial Presidency".  Georgia is saying it's time to bring back that feisty little jackass again, kicking the imperial elephant. 
  • They are leaders.  This means they have vision, are articulate, and are able to work well with others to get things done.  They have all been successful in other careers because they know how to help a group of people find a common agenda and then work together to get that agenda implemented.
  • They are supported by the Netroots.  The candidates who are able to get the netroots behind them are protected from the need to cosy up too much to either corporate interests or the professional politicians.  The easiest way to find our Netroots candidates is to go to the Act Blue page and see who is netroots endorsed.  The netroots have come together to get the word out on these folks because they are good.  There are however, candidates supported by the Netroots not yet on the Act Blue page.  Jack Carter has a slew of local blogs that support him.  Peter Goldmark is getting great buzz from blogs outside his district because there aren't more than a small handful of blogs in his district.

Heaven knows our national political institutions are in need of transformation.  We are headed into one of the darkest and most difficult times in our nation's history - cleaning up after this corrupt and thoughtless administration - and doing it without any money since this same corrupt and thoughtless administration has pretty much poked holes in the treasury that let out all our national money - right into the mouths of the people who support them.  We need people who can move us through to where we need to go quickly and who can lead this country out of the morass we are going into. 

This is one of those times in our nation's history when the people seem to understand that we need courageous outsiders, people who are not professional politicians.  We will only know for sure if this is the year of the transformational candidates in November but I think it will be.  I had done most of the thinking and writing for this post when I saw a diary up at DailyKos by kid oakland entitled "The Netroots Wave".  Kid oakland is one of my favorite writers; this time he is saying much of the same thing I'm saying here.  He talks about a wave rising up across our nation.  And, he uses our own Darcy Burner as his prime example.  After talking about not underestimating the power of the Republicans, he says:

But there's one thing Darcy Burner has going for her that the GOP has no answer to: Darcy Burner is the face of change in Washington State. Darcy Burner represents visibly and personally where the Democratic Party and our nation are headed.  Darcy Burner stands for fresh leadership.

We will work for almost all Democrats but we will work hardest for our transformational Democratic candidates. 

Now we know, most of us anyway, who our national and statewide transformational candidates are.  I'm going to work next on who our more local transformational candidates are.  I will be putting up a post sometime soon describing who I see as our legislative transformational candidates and why.  I've love for you to think about who you see and let us know your thoughts about who they are and why they will be our leaders.   

Posted by Lynn Allen on August 20, 2006 at 11:02 PM in Candidate Races, National and International Politics | Permalink


Lynn, you wrote:

"It's about, among other things, the insidious impact that Democratic consultants who are also working with corporations, have on Democrats in Congress. Stoller astutely suggests that it is very difficult to get out of the group think of the incestuous insiders - staff, lobbyists and politicians - and to think for oneself. I think this is why there are so few incumbent politicians we would call transformational at this time. They are already too caught up in the web of institutional Washington life."

I wonder how you'd respond to this little campaign finance proposal:
- Individuals may contribute unlimited amounts of money to political parties and political campaigns. Groups (including corporations, unions, non-profits, think tanks, but not including political parties) may not contribute to political parties or political campaigns. All contributions must be fully disclosed with the Federal Elections Commission.
- Individuals may spend money on behalf of any candidate, party, or ballot initiative, but their expenditures must be declared to the FEC, and advertisements must disclose who paid for them. Groups (including all of the varieties mentioned above) are prohibited from spending money on behalf of a candidate, party, or ballot initiative.

My premise here is that the rights granted in the Bill of Rights, specifically here the right of free (political) speech, is granted to flesh-and-blood individuals, not "legal persons" such as corporate entities.

Is this a proposition you could get behind?

Posted by: Allen McPheeters | Aug 21, 2006 2:37:29 AM

Important points all. I like Kid Oakland as well, when he put up a NetRoots candidate forum I nominated Peter. KO also has a blog, did you know? Don't have the link but can get it for you. I was particularly impressed by Peter's visit over to Kos on Friday and look forward to the visit tomorrow as well. These Progressive candidates have an extraordinarily tough road to hoe and if we can just keep Stevens' internet "Pipe" bill from passing, the netroots are bound to play an important role in keeping the wheels that will mend this country rolling ahead.

Posted by: mainsailset | Aug 21, 2006 7:44:06 AM

The thing about confronting this right-wing juggernaut that has been up and going for 4 decades is that the responses will have to be complex and inter-connected and persistent. I believe that we have to stop the right-wing takeover of the courts in order to have a chance at what Allen above is asking for in the way of dumping the notion of "corporate personhood", an insidious idea if ever there were one.

And we have to build up our organizing ability and netroots presence in the less populous areas of our states in order to win elections like Goldmark's.

And we have to be vigilant in preventing the old forces from preventing our upsurge as in this nasty Stevens' anti-net neutrality bill.

This will require commitment on a scale we haven't seen in decades, perhaps not going back to the beginning of this country.

Posted by: Lynn | Aug 21, 2006 8:11:56 AM

And, kid oakland's site is at http://kidoaklandblog.blogspot.com/.

Posted by: Lynn | Aug 21, 2006 8:13:18 AM

I like Tester, Webb, and Carter, but I don't think Ned Lamont fits your definition of a transformational candidate, at least not the "leader" part of the criteria. Whenever I hear him in interviews, he sounds like he has no clue what he's talking about. He's absolutely right on Iraq, but he doesn't sound like he knows why. He was on NPR's All Thigns Considered, and seemed to duck all the questions about Lebanon. The interviewer didn't let him get away with that, but even when he gave real answers, they sounded shallow and stupid - even when I agreed with his overall point. He sounded like he was guessing his way through, making it up as he went. He also, I think, exaggerates Liebermann's conservativism. He may be conservative for a Democrat, but he's still more liberal than conservative. Yeah, he's an ass on Iraq, but let's not lie about his other positions.

Don't get me wrong. I don't like Liebermann - but I don't see Lamont as articulate or visionary. He's no leader. The rest of your list is good, though.

Posted by: Nathan E. | Aug 21, 2006 12:51:32 PM

As I'm learning, many of the candidates we are running and supporting do have the capacity to grow into great leaders but it's been so long since the Dem leaders of this country surrendered the language of leadership to the Rep's that when these fresh candidates speak, using strong, new language it just takes a minute to sink in. At first their speeches seem just a bit off key but then your ear adjusts. Lamont didn't interest me at first, then he began to hit his stride and didn't back down, even Chris Matthews was taken aback (FYI, I have this love/hate viewership of Hardball). Now, I'm finding the grass roots language, the unscripted heart felt postures and un-party talking points memo responses to be unfallible. It's the very connection with constituents and disconnect with party lines that will be the strength that I follow because I've had it with DC bubble ideologies.

Posted by: mainsailset | Aug 21, 2006 1:16:49 PM

Some serious questions over at MyDD about Darcy's choice to make her ads. http://www.mydd.com/ Good points.

Posted by: mainsailset | Aug 21, 2006 2:07:25 PM

Great essay Lynn. Great links and great analysis.

I think your term: transformational is awesome as well.

There's something happening here that you've identified: something about these candidates and something about the political environment they find themselves in, that is new.

It's a trasformational politics as well.

(I'm coming back to this post for a reread later...thanks for your thoughts and links.)

Posted by: kid oakland | Aug 21, 2006 5:47:40 PM


Yes, I think that this influx of transformational candidates and the buzz they've engendered is already buttressing Howard Dean and Russ Feingold and enabling the "inner jackass" in John Kerry and John Edwards to come out. Closer to home, we've seen Chris Gregoire take more stands on important issues in public. She's tended always to work behind the scenes before I think. And Maria is starting to pay attention to what we, her base, wants from her. It's very encouraging. I think a lot of them are "teachable".

Posted by: Lynn | Aug 21, 2006 9:12:25 PM

Lynn: This is encouraging. I often think that the reason the grassroots candidates take a bit longer to formulate their platforms is because they're out with their ears to the ground checking out what people in their districts are saying rather than approaching things with a deaf ear like Lieberman, "I know what's best for you." Gregoire was not someone who, I think, campaigned well but from my perspective she has taken the reins as Gov and done some profound good for this State. These Dem candidates are going to get bashed by Rep hate ads. Without a doubt a tactic will be to try and divide the base through issues, all the more reason for as much sunlight as possible. Thanks

Posted by: mainsailset | Aug 22, 2006 12:18:23 PM

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