I would like to revise and extend my post from yesterday on Jim Messina.
In that post I argued that Messina’s working for the Obama campaign and then Britain’s Tories was understandable if one were looking simply at the policy space, but unforgivable if one sees partisan struggle as a fight between the wealthy and powerful and everyone else, or the Democratic Party as a vehicle for espousing moderation now and greater egalitarianism in the future. I still believe that.
But, ridiculous as it may sound—and as a self-styled political junkie I take full blame—I forgot one thing: Messina is not only the past manager of Obama’s campaign but the current chair of Organizing for Action. (Many of the other posts on Messina also omitted this, possibly because an outfit as ineffectual and unrelated to real organizing as OFA is easy to forget, but Hunter Walker’s piece reminded me.) This, in my view, cannot continue.
It’s fine, in fact laudable, for a policy expert in government to be nonpartisan—meaning not free of ideology, which nobody is, but determined to work for the public interest rather than the narrow interest of one party vis-à-vis another. It’s fine, though rarer and not mandatory, for a policy expert outside of government to be the same way. It’s thirdly fine for a political commentator or blogger who never claimed to be easily classified in Left-Right terms—Keith, or Andrew Sullivan—to support Obama in the U.S. but Cameron in Britain. Finally, while I haven’t thought this through, it seems to me defensible for the manager of a center-left campaign in one country to advise a center-right party in another country if that’s where his or her policy commitments lead. This seems to me very different from the Dick Morris case of someone who indifferently advises the two opposing parties in the same country.
But someone who purports to be the leader of a party’s grassroots had better understand, and be prepared to practice, the thing that Max Weber said the leaders and followers of mass political parties “always and necessarily” must do: fight. And the mass membership of a modern party will never fight for the sake of a specified level of public debt, but only for the less compromising reasons—loyalty to a side, and/or devotion to a larger and longer cause—whose importance Messina demonstrably does not begin to grasp.
Messina can, barely, remain a political consultant to both our Democrats and Britain’s Conservatives. But grassroots Democrats will not, and should not, follow a supporter of the Tories into political battle. If Messina thinks we should, that’s all the more evidence that he’s unfit for his current job.
To campaign is to choose. Having taken the Tories’ shilling, Messina should resign from OFA. He will not lack for other work.