‘You know, you have such a stunningly superficial knowledge of what went on that it’s almost embarrassing to listen to you."
That was Zbigniew Brzezinski calling out Joe Scarborough a while back on Morning Joe -- but the same could apply to Joan Vennochi’s column, "An Insider’s Game for Democrats." (Eagle op-ed, Feb. 25).
There are so many things wrong with her column, one almost doesn’t know where to begin. Let’s start with her acknowledged ignorance of the topic she describes: "I confess, the multi-week caucusing process is one I have never tried to penetrate or understand." What grade would your high-school English teacher have given you on an essay with that as your foundational statement? Berkshire Eagle readers deserve better. So, let’s help Ms. Vennochi understand the process.
First, we need to help her comprehend the purpose of political parties, which is to vet and proffer candidates who reflect the party’s values and platform and -- not insignificantly -- who can win and turn those values into law. As Barney Frank said, "The best candidate is the one who agrees with you -- and wins."
That is what the Democratic caucuses are all about. Each election year many thousands of Democrats in cities and towns across the commonwealth meet to elect some 5,000 delegates to the Democratic Convention. (The caucuses are open to all, but you do have to be a registered Democrat to vote. I mean, seriously, we are voting for candidates to carry the Democratic banner in the fall). Those delegates are elected based on whom they will support at the convention. Incredulously, through Ms. Vennochi’s looking glass, "That’s not democracy, by the people for the people. That’s the Massachusetts Democratic Party exercising power by taking power away from the people."
Of course, her statement is absurd on its face. Ms. Vennochi seems to believe anyone who wants to run for office should have the imprimatur and support of the Democratic Party, no matter his or her views or level of support within the party, and she cites Marisa DeFranco’s getting "muscled aside" as proof positive that "Democratic powers-that-be don’t want primary candidates who challenge each other." Puh-lease.
Former party chair John Walsh always encouraged primaries, as does current Chair Tom McGee, but we need to interject some reality here. While Ms. DeFranco stood solidly on Democratic values, there was no way she was ever going to beat Elizabeth Warren. She lost the vote by a huge margin, well below the 15 percent ballot threshold. That’s not getting "muscled aside," Ms. Vennochi. That is democracy at work.
The simple fact is, if you want to represent the Democratic Party, you have to appeal to the Democrats who do the work on the ground. That is what the current primary season is all about.
By the way, anyone can join us and get involved - even run for office: no secret handshakes, no big fees. In contrast, as Ms. Vennochi’s own paper reports, the Massachusetts Republican Party charges its candidates up to $25,000 to address convention delegates! Now, that’s getting "muscled aside."
Churchill called democracy "the worst form of government, except for all those others that have been tried," and certainly political parties have their flaws. But America was built by people who felt passionately enough to engage in the process, and Massachusetts Democrats remain engaged. That’s one reason we win elections. The other is that our values reflect those of most of our neighbors.
Our hard-won success seems to rankle Ms Vennochi, but possibly a desire for a political landscape that resembles the NFL, where imposed parity is the law, is behind it all. While that would make for more fun in the newsroom, the process of electing candidates is definitely not a "game," as she calls it. It’s serious business that affects the lives of everyone in
Calling it a game is demeaning. Neither Jack nor Ted Kennedy would have called it a game, and neither do the thousands of Democrats who trod through sub-freezing temperatures and snowdrifts on winter Saturdays to participate in the electoral process at their town or ward caucus.
So, Joan, if you decide you want to really understand the electoral process you write about, learning by doing is the best way. Join us. Everyone would welcome you to the party.
Lee Harrison is a member of the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee.