Former New Jersey Senator, 2000 Presidential candidate, and NBA All-Star Bill Bradley has a cogent piece in today's New York Times regarding the differences in Republican and Democratic electoral strategies.
"To further the party's ideological and political goals, Republicans in the 1970's and 1980's built a comprehensive structure based on Powell's blueprint [he advocated a sweeping, coordinated and long-term effort to spread conservative ideas on college campuses, in academic journals and in the news media.]. Visualize that structure as a pyramid."
And the Democrats? Find out on the flipside:
"To understand how the Democratic Party works, invert the pyramid. Imagine a pyramid balancing precariously on its point, which is the presidential candidate.
Democrats who run for president have to build their own pyramids all by themselves. There is no coherent, larger structure that they can rely on. Unlike Republicans, they don't simply have to assemble a campaign apparatus - they have to formulate ideas and a vision, too. "
And the result?
"A party based on charisma has no long-term impact. Think of our last charismatic leader, Bill Clinton. He was president for eight years. He was the first Democrat to be re-elected since Franklin Roosevelt. He was smart, skilled and possessed great energy. But what happened? At the end of his tenure in the most powerful office in the world, there were fewer Democratic governors, fewer Democratic senators, members of Congress and state legislators and a national party that was deep in debt. The president did well. The party did not. Charisma didn't translate into structure."
[Disclaimer: I was a big Bradley supporter in 2000]
Now in these days while we wild-eyed liberals are daring to think that whole right-wing Republican apparatus is cracking up and will eat itself, Bradley's point is important. Because of their underlying institutions, the right-wing , while not liking it much, could weather a Delay indictment or even a Bush/Cheney impeachment. Their current misteps over Social Security and Schiavo case will embarrass them and could even shift the balance of power in Congress, and even the presidential race in 2008.
But that doesn't mean that the war is won and that the battles will be over. In fact, those institutions will make life hell for a new Democratic majority or a Democratic president, as Bill Clinton found out, "vast right-wing conspiracy" or not. The enduring Republican money, organization, ideology and media control makes mere electoral victory a much less powerful prize than it once was.
The path to real change in our country will come from the establishment of long-term mainstream progressive institutions, rather than temporary or narrow issue-based coalitions. The institutions that served us in the past, like labor unions and mainstream Protestant denominations have been targeted and gravely weakened by the right-wing radicalization (through a kind of willful ignorance and bait and switch politics, to be sure) of an increasing portion of the working and middle class. The mainstream media has fallen largely into their hands, and now it looks like academia is under assault.
This is where the grassroots participation via the Internet has been and will continue to be so important. Is it any wonder that the Republican-dominated Federal Election Commission is making hostile sounds about blogging and Internet political organizing?
We in the blogosphere are in our own echo chamber, and need to reach out and motivate those who have neither the time nor inclination to spend hours a day online. It is those people's votes, contributions and indignation that will change our society in ways that promote fairness and equality for everyone, and shift the balance of power from the corporations to the people.
Like the Freedom Riders in the 1960's who left their ivory towers to go down South and help organize for voting and civil rights, so we today must broaden the base of our pyramid so that progressive candidates have a firm foundation upon which to represent us, no matter their personal charisma. One Barack Obama will not bring down the whole right-wing edifice by himself.
Howard Dean's assumption of the DNC chairmanship is but the smallest of first steps. The efforts must extend beyond the party, and find homes throughout our society, where ever people find themselves feeling more and more the victims of policies that directly rob them of their security in the present and their hopes for the future. By addressing their needs directly, not abstractly, and showing by comparison to the opposition's program, how the results of our program will better their lives, we can create enduring institutions of our own.