Op-Ed

Dems must confront bad news, create good news — and come up with the ‘Big Idea’

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, does not face a Democratic primary in 2018 after a multi-million dollar challenge from law professor Tim Canova in 2016.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, does not face a Democratic primary in 2018 after a multi-million dollar challenge from law professor Tim Canova in 2016. Getty Images

As the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party continues, recent Democratic victories in Miami-Dade County, New Jersey, and Virginia gave Democrats more good news than they could handle. Events from just last week show that Democrats, perceiving that electoral successes were too good to be true, were having trouble enjoying success.

In addition to the two Florida Democratic legislators who recently resigned — Sen. Jeff Clemens and Rep. Daisy Baez — State Party Chairman Stephen Bittel resigned on Friday. This happened not for touching women, but for getting too close, making creepy comments and displaying creepy behavior. I will put my record on behalf of women and feminism against anyone. Men bullying women verbally or physically is abhorrent, but I have to say there is something particularly bothersome about Bittel’s transgressions.

He was recruited for his fund-raising prowess. He proved capable of raising money for the party and contributed a considerable amount himself by providing office space and the use of his private plane. He also wiped out the existing nest of party consultants and sycophants. Some suspect they may have played a role in undermining him. We will never know, because rumors are enough to kill. As I said in my Nov. 14 oped, “When legislators behave badly their constituents lose,” you must live as if newspapers and social media are watching your every action.

At the same time, in our rush to correct unacceptable behavior, we must be very careful to avoid the odor of McCarthyism.

Last week was a busy one. There’s more.

Hillary Clinton slammed President Trump and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore over their alleged sexual misconduct, criticizing them for not accepting responsibility and apologizing for their reported transgressions, as did Democratic Sen. Al Franken. This was said after Democratic Senator Kirstin Gillibrand said on Thursday that Bill Clinton should not have been allowed to finish his term because of the Monica Lewinsky affair. So Democratic leaders are discussing events from a “Saturday Night Live” skit from 10 years ago, and a presidency from 30 years ago, and conflating them with a creep like Roy Moore. Talk about unforced errors.

And in matters having nothing to do with abusive relationships, Donna Brazile has a new book, “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-Ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.” You might remember that Brazile was interim party chairwoman when U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign for putting her thumb on the scale in favor of Clinton at the expense of Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, the other two Democratic presidential candidates.

In 2011, at the urging of President Obama, Wasserman Schultz was appointed chairperson of the Democratic National Committee. By the next year, it was an open secret that Obama’s political advisers wanted her out. In her book, Brazile writes that not only were the Sanders people rightly concerned but that the national party was in a state of chaos and intrigue. Brazile is generally critical of Wasserman Schultz’s leadership. No one came to Wasserman Schultz’s defense — either when she resigned from the DNC or when Brazile slammed her. It was stunning, and speaks volumes. Wasserman Schultz appears to be on an island all alone.

Brazile implies the financial arrangement between the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign had serious ethical issues. And she reports haphazard coordination between the party and campaign. A recent book on the 2016 campaign, “Shattered,” by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, describes dysfunction within the Clinton campaign and lends credibility to Brazile’s themes. However, not everything in the Brazile book sounds credible. At one point, after the Clinton fainting spell, Brazile writes that she thought about how the Democratic National Committee could replace Clinton as the nominee. This is a patently absurd notion, and one can assume there are some other sensational accounts of the campaign designed to sell books.

These were the events of only one week, involving standards of behavior in the face of changing mores and expected conduct complicated by the issues of how human beings relate. How party activists react to them will determine the future success of both the state and national parties. My hope is that Democratic leaders will be more agile to this challenging task and stick like glue to advancing big issues and big idea that inspire.

Mike Abrams is former chairman of the Dade Democratic Party, a former state legislator, and currently a policy adviser to Ballard Partners.

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