Brent Budowsky: The Democrats: If Jack, Bobby, and Kenny Had Breakfast Today


When I was a young pup working for Senator Birch Bayh, who like Lloyd Bentsen was the kind of giant in rare supply in Washington today, on a few occasions, my bosses would take me to the old Mayflower Hotel where Kenny O’Donnell would hold court. I was barely old enough to imbibe the beverages, but I sat there quietly and awestruck, listening and learning as Kenny told “war stories” of Jack and Bobby.
Thinking about the results in the California House seat this week, if the Kennedys and O’Donnell were having breakfast the morning after, does anybody believe they would be saying anything like this: OK guys, Kerry got 44% in that District, and we got all the way up to 45%, and forced the Republicans to spend twice as much as us, to win the seat again?
In fact, if Jack, Bobby and Kenny had breakfast the day after that result, the FCC would not permit me on talk radio to use the exact words they would have used, but the word would go forth to Democrats everywhere: do not let this happen again.

Jack and Bobby and their contemporaries were the younger generation within the great generation. When America was at war to save the world for freedom, they used their special influence and privilege, not to avoid the war, but to join it. Having won the war against Hitler, they understood that true wartime leaders inspire the nation to rally together as a united band of brothers and sisters, and having defeated fascism they became inspiring champions of democracy and were a vital part of winning the cold war against communism.
Senator Ted Kennedy gave a recent talk at his book party, which can be viewed on the C-Span site, where he spoke of this idea of unity, and applied it to our issues today, in ways that all Democrats should be inspired by, and George W. Bush would do well to learn from.
It’s a sign of our times that the demonizing haters of the idiot right, when they are not slandering the widows of 9-11, are still obsessed with demonizing Ted Kennedy. I have worked in both the Senate and House and seen Senator Kennedy up close, and the truth is the opposite of the lie. What is most extraordinary about Ted Kennedy, is that he remains a Lion of progressivism, but just as important, he has always had highly respectful friendships and professional relationship with dozens of Republican colleagues that have enabled him to build an enormous body of achievement.
Jack, Bobby and Kenny believed in this: in elections there is one winner and one loser. The winner should campaign in a battle of ideas, and gets to wield power to implement those ideas to make our country better. The loser has nothing but excuses for defeat.
JFK viewed politics as mobilization, promoting worthy ideas and running political organizations that were full blown machines, on every level, from seizing the media initiative to organizing armies of workers, to aggressively fighting on every level involving the machinery as well as the ideas that win elections.
Looking at the Democrats today, observations:
In the recent California House election, at a time when the previous incumbent embodies incarceration for corruption, when the popularity of the Republican President is at catastrophic lows, when the favorable ratings of the one party Republican Congress are barely above the bird flu, it is a pathetic performance and a red alert warning to Democrats that they could only exceed John Kerry’s vote in the district by 1%.
Everyone knew for many months this election was coming, and was important. With the ability of the entire Democratic Party to focus on one House election, of such importance, at such a critical moment, it is inexcusable that the Republicans could outspend the Democrats by huge amounts, and my guess is, it would make the Kenny O’Donnells and Larry O’Briens fist pounding angry that some Democratic spinmeisters would try to spin this into a positive.
It was inexcusable, with months to plan for this election, that Democrats were outmanned on absentee voting; that the candidate of the Party was so sloppy and unprepared that she blunders on the front page issue of immigration; and that the Party that has become almost completely dominated by a consultariat class was so media un-savvy that the candidate doomed herself, with a wrongheaded apology, that only guaranteed saturation coverage to the demonization attack against her.
I have no doubt, that with months to plan for this important election, Jack, Bobby, and Kenny would have made damn sure that every power and resource of the party was poured into the district to win; The money would have been raised and spent. Armies would have focused on the machinery of the election. The message would have been clear, hard and focused. There would have been no apologies, but instead a ringing call to action, participation, voting rights, and winning. The Republicans did this. Democrats did not.
Going forward, there are lessons. Democrats must understand the enormity of this election and rally the entire party, from the base to the money raisers, to fight and win on every level. Bromides, platitudes, caution, evasions and hoping Bush falls far enough for Democrats to win by default, this is the road to continued disaster and defeat.
Example: it is annoying, distracting and destructive that instead of projecting unity, strength and confidence we are forced to endure stories of petty feuds between Howard Dean and Rahm Emmanuel. These disputes could be easily resolved, should never be in the news, and party fundraisers should create a rising tide of money, to wage a political battle worthy of the stakes in every district and state where a Democratic candidate has a fair chance of ending one party government in Washington.
Example: It would be swell if the Democratic Leadership Council would prepare for a great debate with other Democrats on national security that begins the day after the upcoming elections, and until then, confine their attacks to a Republican Administration that has created a major mess of virtually every institution of national security. Compared to the status quo of Bush and Cheney, the DLC and Party liberals are soul brothers and blood brothers of agreement compared to what is happening today.
The DLC can make an important contribution, but with all due respect, the fact that almost all of them were so wrong, for so long, on the Iraq war; the fact that throughout their long history of being wrong they continued their condescending quasi-demeaning of other Democrats who were far more right then they; and considering the need for the Party to take a case of unity and confidence to the country in an election of historic magnitude a little more modesty and common sense would in order.
What made JFK so special, was that he brought together differing voices of his own generation, and took his case to the country as a leader with George McGovern standing by him on one side, while Scoop Jackson stood beside him, on the other. We can learn from that; we can win with that.
Example: One of the underestimated attributes of Joe Kennedy Sr., which proved invaluable to JFK, was that he was a producer of motion pictures and ahead of his time in realizing the media migration from radio, to silent pictures, to talking pictures to the power of television as the media that would dominate his age.
What JFK did brilliantly in his era, and we should do in ours, is seize the moment and mobilize the party and nation through every avenue of the media technology of his time. Today there is an explosion of new media with people power measured in the tens of millions. It is inexcusable that Republicans remain a decade ahead of Democrats in building, mobilizing and propagating these new media and many tens of millions of believers who drive them.
It is not enough for Party leaders to continue consultant driven and poorly targeted spending on large-scale ad buys, with an occasional internet petition that is little more than exploiting these people and technologies; with an occasional speech treating this huge and growing mass of millions as just another interest group. What is needed is wholesale commitment to funding and participation throughout these new media media worlds; new energizing collaborations between the “blogosphere” communities and the party structure, and possibly even bring back the midterm National Convention that would drive unity and mobilization and make a decade-level leap to use our inherent advantages to challenge and surpass the Republican media and message machine.
There is a place in victory for the consultariat class, the Democratic Leadership Council and the Washington insiders. But Jack, Bobby and Kenny were outsiders to the system of their age. They brought whole new entrants into the political process. They organized at every level of politics and fought at every level to win at the machinery of elections. They knew the media and technology of their times and brought power to the message by driving the terms of the media.
Their leader and our hero Jack Kennedy had George McGovern and Scoop Jackson together, showing respect to the Martin Luther Kings, supported by the Frank Sinatras, reaching out to veterans who came home triumphant from the Second World War, speaking confidently of freedom and democracy at home and abroad, mobilizing the full force, power and people of the Democratic Party for the kind of challenge that should be our answer today, to a status quo that an overwhelming majority of Americans want ended.


18 comments on “Brent Budowsky: The Democrats: If Jack, Bobby, and Kenny Had Breakfast Today

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  8. Truth Teller says:

    Hey Cynthia, and others like her: try to engage us in debate. Don’t just do some “hit and run” job. Your post was as pathetic and childish as it was wrong on its assertions.


  9. J says:

    You seem to be going in a lot of different directions in this article, the most prominent being “those were the days my friend”. The problem with this is twofold – 1) Politics, the press, and the nature of both parties have drastically changed in the past 45 years 2) There’s a certain seductive naivete in believing that all Democrats were so united. Many Democrats were bitterly opposed to the cause of Martin Luther King. Their anger was one of the reasons the GOP experienced a revival in the 60’s. They put Richard Nixon in the White House. The other problem is that in the 60’s, the Democrats in the House were never sorely tested and as a result never really had to run the campaigns that you see being run today.
    People place far too much importance on this race. This was a race that was very unlikely to go to the Democrats even under the best of circumstances. Not with Busby, who no offense to her, was never the most ideal of candidates. People got their expectations way too high up with this race, and all the handwringing over the loss is the type of namby-pambiness that has been such a burden to modern Democrats.


  10. Greg-O says:

    “Phelps provides rooms for Democrat Al Gore’s presidential campaign workers. Though the Phelps-Gore connection will grow increasingly distant, Phelps’ oldest son, Fred Jr., is invited to the first Clinton-Gore inauguration in 1993.”
    Democrats have been wise to alienate Phelps, but don’t try to hang him on Republicans. Democrats would also be wise to alienate Howard Dean if they wish to continue as a viable national party.


  11. Pissed Off American says:

    Cynthia, there is nothing wrong with “conservatives”. But if you think these lying criminal assholes in the Bush Administration are “conservatives”, then I have a WMD story to sell you, and while I’m at it I’ll even throw in Gannon’s journalism degree.
    BTW, “civility” went out the window for me when these fucking crooks lied this nation into the mess in Iraq.


  12. Phredd says:

    Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, Charles Johnson, Fred Phelps, William Bennett, Ben Domenech, Michelle Malkin, Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh, Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon, Duke Cunningham, Tom DeLay, Tom Coburn, Tony Perkins, Randall Terry, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Paul Cameron.
    You on the right own these people. These people speak for you on the national platforms of the mainstream media. Show me where anyone on the left preaches annihilation like your spokespeople above. Show me where Kennedy or Marcos Moulitsas or Michael Moore call for the poisoning or assassination of Supreme Court judges or the bombing of the New York Times building. You can’t show me, because no one on the left engages in the eliminationist rhetoric like these mainstream spokespersons of yours that I listed above.


  13. Mike Dugas says:

    “It’s a sign of our times that the demonizing haters of the idiot right, when they are not slandering the widows of 9-11, are still obsessed with demonizing Ted Kennedy.”
    Demonizing haters of the idiot right? Lemme tell ya brother, I have seen MUCH nore hatred, name calling and all around idiocy on the left than on the right. Just visit the various blogs, compare say KOS to Redstate. People at KOS talk about hatred, wishing people were dead, planned vandalism etc. Redstate I see people working together, discussing issues and acting like responsible human beings. Now considering that in Florida I’m registered as an NPA (non-part affiliate), who do you think is going to draw me to their cause? The ones acting like kids or the ones acting like adults? And believe me sir there are alot of us. We see the Left disrespecting our country, our military and american values…everyday. Don’t get me wrong, we also see things that the Right isn’t handling all that well either but not to the degree of the Left and not with the severe reprucussions that we believe will be a result of the Lefts policies.
    I am pro-choice, though not for the same reasons the left is. I am pro-gay?, each to his own. I am pro Dept. of Education, though not for the same reasons as the Left and definatly not their program, they,ve never gotten it right as far as education. They worry more about the pledge of allegiance than about if little Johnny can read or add. Of course that’s my opinion, just happens to be right. What the left really needs to do is find someway to grab those of us in the middle and believe me when I say, it won’t be with the way they are behaving nowadays.


  14. Cynthia says:

    I started to read this artici
    le, but after a few paragraphs, you lost me. The comment of “the haters on the idiotic right”, huh? I will be up front and say I am unashamedly Conservative. Probably, you Dems/Libs out there believe sincerely that that alone disqualifies me, because without ever meeting me, hearing what I have to say, etc., Conservative=haters,vile, evil, corrupt, nasty, fascist, ignorant,etc. Only the libs know how to love and be tolerant, compassionate, true? Anybody else who disagress with your opinions, ideals, thoughts, should be locked up immediately at the very least, or shot/assasinated at the worst. Your idea of an honest, open debate is yelling, chanting, screaming down and over your opponet, and you walk away feeling so good and smug about yourself. Self righteous phonies, holier than thou hypocrites. You can’t afford to have an honest, civil exchange of ideas because you know you would loose. You name call, get nastily personal, hoot and holler, make fun, swear at, talk down to, turn your backs etc., but God forbid, sit and listen respectfully to the other side, then state your case. Although I am aware that both sides can be guilty of such uncivil behavior, the Left is infamous for this. It is their M.O. YOu can be passionate about your ideas, agenda, and so on, but you can still be civil and honest about where you stand. I may not agree with you, we may have a hearty, robust exchange, but don’t call me a hate filled, vile, vicious kook, then lecture me on how intolerant I am and walk away believing yourself to be a smarter, better person then I am simply because you are a Liberal and I am a Conservative. And you have the gall to to call us hate filled. LOOK IN THE MIRROR. Everything you accuse the right of , you are. It used to work in shutting us up and having us hide in the corner, afraid to speak out for fear of be ostricized, cat called, laughed at, ridiculed. It doesn’t work any more. But keep it up, most of America now sees and understands how you operate. They don’t like your tactics. It is now the case of the Emperer has no clothes.


  15. AnonCon says:

    I enjoyed your piece, but I think the biggest flaw that the Democrats face is that they cannot figure out whether they want to be Joe Lieberman or Russ Feingold. There is nobody to unite George McGovern and Scoop Jackson, and so long as the more visceral among the left seem to dictate policy positions there will be no Scoop Jacksons left. New Deal/Fair Deal and liberal internationalism was a winning message, let the tax cuts lapse and bring our troops home now is not. I do not know that even the Kennedy brothers would have been up to this task, but of the current field there seem precious few capable of doing so. It might be a recipe for temporary electoral success, but not for the sustained triumphs necessary to govern effectively and to stay in office.


  16. Steve says:

    You can email President Bush, VP Cheney, Congressional Leaders & Rush Limbaugh from my eclectic homepage. Check it out here…….
    ps. You can also read Chapter 1 of Ann Coulter’s new book “GODLESS”.


  17. jonst says:

    I agree with the general thrust of your article. Well done. I disagree with your implied premise that the DLC WANTS Dems to win. They don’t want Dems to win. They want THEIR Dems to win. Period. Other Dems? Well………


  18. angharad jones says:

    Bravo. Great take on the San Diego election. Who ever remembers the runner-up, and yet here we are patting ourselves on the back for doing so well. Give me a break… We’d better get our playbook in order before November.
    Thanks for the article.


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