Inaugural Day Fun in San Francisco with DNC Folks and Battle Armor Elves!

How’d you spend Inauguration Day today?
I got up, watched the Big Speech by El Presidente, which was fine. Said all sorts of nice things about freedom, democracy, and whatnot. Funny how in other countries buying off the press, lying about wars, and screwing up the economy are bad things, but here, it’s all about helping those donors that got the Ruling Party into office.
Ah well. It’s their day. Let them spend 100 million dollars of Homeland Security Money on the festivities. God forbid the corporations that will get billions off this administration actually pay for security!
Fine. Onward.
I actually spent a strange day today. It started with a lovely afternoon working in one of my favorite Internet cafes, Golden Gate Perk in San Francisco. I’ve written about them before – since my last visit they’ve improved the seating and the computers, while still keeping that great plasma screen TV showing movies while I work. Today I got to see “X Men United” once again – a movie I never get tired of seeing.
But you’re not reading this to hear about my exciting day. Now, for those of you who lead normal lives, you may not be aware that the major political parties have actual elections amongst their hierarchy for “Chair” (once known as Chair-man) of their national party committee.
Normally such proceedings don’t earn more than a handful of mentions in the national press in the DC edition of the paper. More to the point, 99.99% of Americans don’t know who a particular party chair even is, much less give a hoot about what some arcane party platform says. As I’ve said before I’m sure most people think a “party platform” is what the candidate stands on when he or she speaks.
This time around, though, on the Democratic side, there’s an actual election for this position. No less than six candidates, representing different ideologies, styles, and views on just what a “party chair” is, are running. This evening in San Francisco, I had a chance to attend a fund-raising party for Simon Rosenberg, the executive director of the centrist New Democrat Network.
Now, I’ve been to way too many Democratic party candidate events. That said, I have to say now, that very rarely have I been at a fundraiser this well catered, and with this well-mannered a crowd in..well, ever. Held at the Old Federal Building downtown, even, and when I went to the bar to get a Coke I had a momentary gasp at the drink prices. Then I was told that beer and wine were comped. I almost fainted.
When you consider that the “normal” price the house caterers charge was over $5 for a lousy Miller Lite (please people, can’t the party of the working man get Pabst Blue Ribbon instead of this South African owned crap?), and here they were giving away Heineken, well you knew that you weren’t in Kansas (or some other red state with lousy 3.2 beer) any more.
That was just the bar. Then there was the food. Free brie. Free bleu cheese. They even had egg rolls and other good stuff. Free. Free, I tells ya! It was a Homer moment. I had to resist the urge to just say “screw it” to covering the event and just tip the bartender a buck a pop for beers and be a freeloading journalist, but good sense, and decorum (as well as the fact that I knew people at this thing!) kicked in and I had my perfunctory beer and moved on, so to speak.
Again, you have to understand, that in a normal universe, NO ONE cares about these things to begin with. So when you attend an event that has the San Francisco City Attorney, Dennis Herrera and San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, as well as all sorts of political movers and shakers, donors, and the wannabes, hanging out waiting to listen to a speech for DNC chair, you realize that something’s up.
Both Herrera and Harris spoke. As it turns out both City Attorney Dennis Herrera, his spokesman Matt Dorsey, and Simon Rosenberg go way way back, having worked together for some time in the Clinton Administration, and in politics. City Attorney Herrera spoke first about Rosenberg’s DNC candidacy, praising his ability to create and direct a message, and in particular Rosenberg’s work doing effective outreach to Latino voters.
Harris also spoke, reinforcing the theme that Simon’s focus was on building the tools, infrastructure, and whatnot to get the word out. Harris has been an effective communicator and campaigner in her job as D.A. so far. Both Harris and Herrera did something else I rarely see at these kinds of events – they kept their remarks short and to the point so people weren’t standing around too long. Wow.
Simon Rosenberg addressed the crowd at the end. He talked briefly about the process of the DNC race, making the point that unlike John Kerry, who only competed in 17 states, he has to run in 56 states and jurisdictions, but less than 500 people in all those areas will vote. “It’s kinda like the way they pick a Pope,” joked Rosenberg.
Then he went over his basic plan for reactivating the party. His focus was not so much ideological, or driven by his desire to take office some day – it was more on how to talk to people effectively about Democratic ideas, how to modernize the party structure so it could be competitive, and how to find ways to work with the many new people and organizations sprouting up online and offline, instead of just trying to ignore them or keep them out.
This last point was one of interest to me. For years I’ve seen party organizations do their damnedest to keep “new” people with different ides out because they somehow feel threatened by anyone who wasn’t working on this stuff back in the Truman Administration. It was nice to see so many grassroots groups in places like Washington State and in California, to name a few, buck this trend and show tremendous growth.
However, the enthusiasm for these new people does not extend to all party officials and offices in DC, state capitals, and elsewhere. Right now it sounds like only Rosenberg, and maybe Gov. Dean (haven’t interviewed him yet), are even talking about this as an issue at all.
But what impressed me the most was the fact that after laying out his points (which you can read at his web site and blog he didn’t spend a lot of time talking in fro t of a crowd – he spent most of his time talking to people in small groups, or one-on-one. I talked to several of his supporters, including Alice Carnes, and Amy Everitt, who both pointed out this as one of Simon’s strengths.
All in all, an interesting evening, and not at all what I expected. I’m going to try and make it up to the DNC Western Conference in Sacramento on Saturday to try and talk to some of the other candidates for chair, and find out more about what’s going on.
My day ended with an “only in San Francisco” moment…a long parade of anti-Bush folks, of all types. Most notable was the nice young man decked out in pink leather “elf battle gear” (his words, not mine!) and an assortment of folks in costumes that would make a typical Burning Man attendee feel like Ned Flanders.
I channeled comedian Patton Oswalt, who I saw recently on Comedy Central, and his criticism of hippies. For some reason, I made the mistake of saying “Wow, that’s an effective way to reach the voting public…”
I was besieged from all sides by folks, who suddenly felt the need to lecture me on how I “didn’t do anything” to “stop Bush.” Now, in another era, I would have happily gone to war with these PC partiers, but I was in no mood to spread more ill will. I shouted “Stick it to the Man!” and went on my way.
All in all, one heck of a way to spend Inaugural Day. Well, the drinks were free, and I got to meet some people who seem committed to doing something about the state of affairs that doesn’t involved pink elf armor. Woo hoo!

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