Public Comment

Dumbed Down Democrats

By Thomas Gangale
Thursday June 12, 2008 - 10:48:00 AM

One of my international relations instructors at San Francisco State knew the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of Massachusetts, and characterized him as a raging alcoholic. OK, I’m Irish on my mother’s side, that goes with the territory. But, he also said that Moynihan was smarter dead drunk than most of his colleagues were sober. Would that we had more Democrats like him these days. 

I’ll fess up: I just lost the election to the Sonoma County Democratic Central Committee. Hell, I haven’t won an election yet. Now, you can chalk up my attitude to sour grapes. I don’t care. Jesse Unruh said, “Winning isn’t everything, but losing is nothing." Right, so why should I cry over nothing?  

And, what a nothing the Central Committee is. I was in the office of one of our senior ranking elected officials the week before the June election, and a staffer declared loudly, “The Central Committee is a joke!” 

How much of a joke? 

One of last week’s winners is someone who a couple of years ago got the Central Committee to pass a resolution to ban from the committee’s sponsorship lists any local Democratic officeholder who “has publicly endorsed or supported non Democratic Party candidates or incumbents for an elective office, including non partisan offices,” or “has supported the appointment of a non Democrat to any commission, agency, committee, or other group." Shortly after I was appointed to the Democratic Central Committee a couple of years ago, I paid a courtesy call to the Republican Central Committee headquarters. They told me that this individual was the greatest gift that Democrats had ever given Republicans in Sonoma County. And, since he’s been reelected, he’s the gift that keeps on giving. 

This guy seems to be mostly about restricting what other people do. Late last year, he threatened to bring a motion before the Democratic Central Committee to enjoin me from advertising my book in the signature block of my own email messages. So much for freedom of speech. Last month, he got a majority of the Central Committee members present to agree to restrict the number of resolutions that its Issues and Legislation standing committee can report each month. That standing committee has been far too productive, and it has thrown more issues at the Central Committee than it can stand to think about. 

And he calls himself a “progressive.” 

I was chair of that Issues and Legislation Committee, for which I became much disliked. Among my many transgressions was to ask the Central Committee to take positions on a couple of proposed amendments to the California Constitution. I met with vehement resistance. They were too much for the former mayor of Sebastopol to handle. “These issues are too complex and confusing for us to take a position on!" The issues in question were Propositions 98 and 99, which appeared on the June 3 ballot. Never mind that any high school dropout who was registered to vote could take a position on these. She likes to impress her colleagues on the committee by claiming to have a master’s degree from Harvard. Well, so does George W. Bush. I take it that Harvard isn’t what it used to be. 

And she calls herself a “progressive.” 

But this last one takes the cake. This weekend, another of the recent winners asked me about a Central Committee member who won reelection, but who has accepted a job as a Department of Defense contractor and who will soon deploy either to Iraq or Afghanistan. Dr. Marilyn Dudley-Flores couldn’t find a job in academia in this state, so in her mid-50s, she is going to war, to be embedded with troops one-third her age. But she’s tough; 35 years ago, she was the Army’s first female infantry soldier trained for arctic and mountain combat. I said, “She’ll do all right. After all, she served under Norman Schwarzkopf.” 

The newly-elected Central Committee member, no spring chicken herself, replied, “That doesn’t mean anything to me." I looked at her with astonishment. When I saw the deer-in-the-headlights glaze in her eyes, I realized that she wasn’t being rude or flippant. 

“You know, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who commanded American troops in the Gulf War?” 

“I wasn’t paying attention." I might as well have been talking about Caesar’s campaign in Gaul. She says that she wants to work on issues that are important to Sonoma County residents, and she calls herself a “progressive.” 

I suppose “progressives” might support our troops... if they knew where they were. 

When one loses to people of this caliber, it really is nothing. Well, perhaps it’s a bit of a repressed grimace, followed by an unrestrained belly-laugh. I take it as an article of faith that the democratic process works in the long run, but neither have I any doubt that in the short run it produces sub-optimal outcomes. Just look at who’s in DC and Sacramento. In any case, I never really lose; if a path before me closes, there are still so many others that are open. I have some more books to write, and perhaps the Sonoma County Democratic Central Committee has furnished me with some useful material. 

Meanwhile, I’ll drink a toast to Pat Moynihan. Maybe two. 


Thomas Gangale is the author of From the Primaries to the Polls: How to Repair America’s Broken Presidential Nomination Process, published by Praeger.