D.N.C. Makes Excellent Choice

[ Posted Tuesday, April 5th, 2011 – 17:29 UTC ]

The Democratic National Committee announced today they had named Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz as their next chairperson. She will replace Tim Kaine, who is leaving the post to run for the Senate in Virginia. This is an excellent choice for the D.N.C., and Wasserman Schultz should be welcomed to her new post by all Democrats who want to see their party succeed.

The D.N.C. is the official Democratic Party machine. Technically, it is the party. The choice of who leads the party apparatus is normally made on the basis of fundraising prowess, since in a lot of ways the D.N.C. chair is "Chief Fundraiser" for the party as a whole. But there's a secondary part of the job, where some party chairs can (at times) fall short of the mark, and that secondary job is defining the party's message to the public. Call it the party's "Chief Framer," for lack of a better term.

Some party chairs have done a good job presenting their party's agenda and values to the public, mostly in television interviews. Some do a spectacularly bad job. Some don't do this part of their job at all, and are all-but-invisible to the public at large. The Republican National Committee recently went through a period with a very telegenic personality -- but Michael Steele was telegenic for all the wrong reasons. The public laughed at him, and not with him, to put it bluntly. He made news, but not the news the Republican Party really wanted him to make. Over on the Democratic side, Tim Kaine has been pretty quiet as D.N.C. chair. Most Americans have never heard his name, and wouldn't be able to identify him if their lives depended on it.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is not going to be non-existent on television -- that's my guess, at any rate.

Now, I have no idea as to how good Wasserman Schultz is at fundraising, but she must be formidable enough for the D.N.C. to name her to this powerful post, one assumes. But her other skills are what could make her very good news indeed for Democrats. Her personality and debating skills are top-notch. Her intelligence shines out among the Democratic pack. She is very comfortable in front of a television camera. She stays on message relentlessly. And she has proven herself to be extremely loyal to the Democratic Party. All of these attributes make her a fantastic choice to head the D.N.C.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a House member from Florida -- a key presidential battleground state. She was a very strong supporter of Hillary Clinton in the primary season for the 2008 race, but once Clinton lost, she became an avid supporter of Barack Obama. Wasserman Schultz was selfless enough during the campaign as to not release to the media that she had an operation for breast cancer during the primaries, because she knew it would distract from the Clinton campaign (after the fight was over, she did inform the media). That is party loyalty.

Back in September of 2008, I wrote an article titled "More Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Please" after seeing her on one of the Sunday morning political chatfest shows. So perhaps I'm biased. But since then, I've never seen her give a bad interview -- not once. She is one of the best Democratic spokespersons I've ever seen in front of a camera. Wasserman Schultz is always prepared, she knows her facts, and she is not afraid to use them to strongly make her points. She is, in a word, feisty. Which is just what Democrats need, to be quite honest. She's a natural-born wonk, and a natural-born debater. And she's photogenic, to boot.

Possibly the best thing Wasserman Schultz is going for her, though, is how well she fits the "everywoman" role. She talks of driving a minivan with her twin kids on board. She looks like the quintessential suburban Mom-next-door. A vast swath of America would be comfortable knocking on her door to ask about the local P.T.A. meeting. I say this not in any sexist way -- male politicians, if anything, have to work harder to portray such an image -- but rather to show the authenticity of Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Authenticity is one of the rarest and most-valuable traits any politician can possess, and she does so with ease.

This shows up when Wasserman Schultz speaks about her life and her family. The image she projects is that she knows what life is like for average Americans. She "gets it," in other words. Which, again, should serve the Democratic National Committee quite well during her term. Republicans have spent decades trying to portray the Democratic Party as "elitists," and Wasserman Schultz could go a long way towards correcting this misimpression with the public. After all, how many elitists do you know who drive minivans?

As I said, I don't really know whether Wasserman Schultz is a great fundraiser. That is supposed to be the main criteria for the job she's just been named to. As long as you can pile up money for the party's coffers, political parties often don't mind if their committee chair isn't all that telegenic. Especially when that party holds the White House -- since the president can fill in that role, in such a situation.

But, sad to say, Barack Obama hasn't done a great job of utilizing the "bully pulpit." I've said it before and I will doubtlessly say it again -- who could have imagined, back during the campaign, that Obama's biggest problem as president could be his communication skills? Obama, at this point, could use the best surrogates possible in other Democratic Party roles. Especially heading into his re-election campaign (although -- who knows? -- Obama might return to his former glory as a campaigner in the next year or so).

I'm also glad to see that Representative Wasserman Schultz will be keeping her seat in the House of Representatives, because this woman is a fast-rising star in the Democratic Party. She could have much bigger and better things ahead of her, and it may be easier for her to reach for these things from the House, after a term as party leader.

But I'm pleased to see Debbie Wasserman Schultz named as head of the D.N.C. not only for her sake, but for the party's sake as well. Because she has a very good chance at rekindling the basic Democratic "narrative." Democrats have been floundering around seeking such a core message pretty much ever since Ronald Reagan's time. From Reagan's time until now, the Republican message has stayed pretty much the same thing: small government, low taxes, and lots of lip service about deficits (while actually racking up lots of debt). During the same period, Democrats have struggled with being defined by their opponents as "tax-and-spenders" and "soft on crime" and lots of other political labels. They've never quite managed to come up with a single defining paragraph which states what their party is for and how they're going to achieve those goals.

If I had to choose one single person to come up with such a narrative -- and then sell it successfully in media appearances -- Debbie Wasserman Schultz would be one of those on my short list. She's got what it takes. I have no doubts whatsoever that she's going to do a great job as party chairperson. I look forward to seeing more of Debbie Wasserman Schultz on my television screen in the very near future. A lot more.


[Technical Note: I would like to be the first to suggest that everyone start referring to our new Democratic National Committee Chair as "D.W.S." -- or even "DWS" -- to follow in the tradition of politicians who are known by just their initials. I am pushing for this to "go viral" because (1.) it sounds cool, and (2.) it will make her name so very much easier to type. I realize I have absolutely no leg to stand on when it comes to hard-to-spell Germanic last names, but that's neither here nor there. Ahem. I suppose I should be happy that "Debbie Wasserman Schultz" is easier to type than the current R.N.C. chair -- Reince Priebus -- the spelling of which I have to check every single time his name comes up.]


-- Chris Weigant

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


3 Comments on “D.N.C. Makes Excellent Choice”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    As soon as I heard about the choice of DWS for DNC chair, I just knew you were going to be happier than a pig in mud and all over it for Tuesday's column.

    I think it's a great choice, too - hopefully, she will be in front of the cameras more often than her predecessor. I'm pretty sure she'll be more effective.

    Although, I think she'd probably have a bigger impact if she could be in charge of the President's re-election campaign. God knows, they could use her!

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I hear Obama is expecting to raise a billion dollars, give or take.

    Maybe fund-raising won't be a top priority for DWS and her real talents won't be wasted.

  3. [3] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Liz -

    Yeah, but the DNC raises money and then doles it out to a lot of Dem candidates, for the House and Senate, too.

    But, having said that, I still think DWS is an excellent choice. I can't WAIT to see her on the Sunday morning shows, eviscerating Paul Ryan's nonsense. DWS is a ball of fire, when she gets a chance... Go, Debbie, Go!



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