Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Learning From Mistakes - It's What We Do

Over at FireDogLake Jane Hamsher wrote today about a race in Illinois, and a disagreement of sorts among progressives about who should have been supported that I wasn't aware of until now:

I don't think Chris Bowers owes anyone an apology for backing Tom Geoghegan, he's a great guy and a true progressive who really inspired people. I also understand that people are upset. I appreciate Chris offering his thoughts on what his decision making process was in supporting Tom, so I thought I would offer mine as to why I didn't.

There will no doubt be endless stupid stories about how "the netroots can't win an election" focusing on this race, but the fact is that the two biggest netroots Act Blue fundraising efforts -- Kos's Orange to Blue and our Blue America -- didn't endorse Geoghegan. Many wonderful, smart people endorsed Geoghegan, and I support that decision completely, he's an inspirational guy who has been a guest here on FDL before with his book. I can only speak to my own decision making process and let people know why I didn't feel right about backing him.

IL-05 and Geoghegan: The Day After

Tom Geoghegan, whom Chris Bowers of Open Left had supported, ran what was apparently an unfocused and badly organized campaign. He lost, by a lot. Apparently, some folks recognized that problem, and some didn't.

Jane's point here is particularly important:

I spoke to the person on the campaign running the field operation. I did not get a sense that there was a solid plan in place, though I certainly did not know the district well enough to make that judgment definitively. As I recall, their plan was to get 20,000 contacts in the district through a volunteer network they had not started building at the time I spoke with them, which was shortly before the end of January. I was also getting information from Emily's List which indicated Sara Feigenholtz had already made that many contacts, had a big fundraising advantage, and the somewhat formidable power of their organization behind her. With little time to make up the difference and no real plan for doing so that I could see, it appeared Tom could be heavily out-gunned.

IL-05 and Geoghegan: The Day After

The campaign wasn’t organized at a time when it should have been. Assuming you’re trying to win an election, backing such a candidate really will be a waste of time, unless he can already count on name recognition.

Often times when you make a decision can be the difference between being right and wrong. I could see myself early in this process backing someone like Geoghegan, thinking that he was good on the issues and therefore worth backing. I can also see myself, later in the process, asking the same questions Jane did: Where’s the organization? What’s the plan? Do we have resources in place? If I could see that the answers to those questions were unsatisfactory, I’d conclude that this candidacy wasn’t a happening thing.

Recognizing signs of trouble early on will be key to ensuring that we don’t waste time and effort on campaigns that won’t work. That's why it's good to have discussions like this, and for everyone to remember that this really is a learning process, and that the problem itself is always changing.

Anyway, not backing this candidate at this time was a good decision. Jane concludes by writing:

But before anyone writes any articles about “netroots failures,” they need to allow for the fact that the netroots is a broad and heterogeneous group that doesn’t run in lockstep. At any given time any number of people or groups with a netroots presence can get behind a particular candidate.

IL-05 and Geoghegan: The Day After

Frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Discussion and disagreement produce correct decisions, not lockstep adherence to the wishes of the leaders. That’s what The Other Guys do, and it’s not working too well for them.

Hey, even Chris Bowers can be wrong.


Dana Hunter said...

I'm glad you digested this piece so I didn't have to. I started to read it, ye olde eyes crossed, brain went "unk," and I buggered off to look at LOL cats instead. Three guesses as to why I don't run for public office. ;-P

Your piece was just the sort of swift, informative survey I needed. Awesome.

Cujo359 said...

Must have been a bad day. Actually, it was a pretty clear article that Jane wrote, and well worth the time to check out for anyone who is thinking of being active in politics. I suppose it also points up how much educating must be done for politicians and the key people who support them. As Markos and Jerome wrote in Crashing The Gate, the Republicans are good at this game. It's the one thing, besides insulting and complaining about the opposition, that they do well.