Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Law of Competitive Balance, Howard Dean, and the Democratic Party's Washington Establishment

I was an avid reader of Bill James’ annual Baseball Abstract while growing up in the 1980s. As both a nerd and baseball fanatic, his methodical statistical analysis and incisive prose influenced me almost as much as listening to the Beatles. Perhaps the most memorable essay of James’ career was in his 1983 abstract when he wrote about, “The Law of Competitive Balance.” Twenty-three years ago I copied words of wisdom from that essay into the spiral notebook I was supposed to use for algebra:

“The Law of Competitive Balance: There develop over time separate and unequal strategies adopted by winners and losers; the balance of those strategies favors the losers, and thus serves constantly to narrow the difference between the two.”

James utilized several hypothetical examples to illustrate his point. A basketball team that is well behind will make tactical adjustments. The team that is ahead has succeeded with the status quo and is less likely to change. Hence, the team that is behind will eventually make the game more competitive. A baseball team that finishes twenty games out of first place is more likely to shake up their roster and replace veterans with youth. The team that wins it all prefers to maintain continuity and is more susceptible to decline.

James’ law proves true in many aspects of life as well. The struggling salesman will change his approach until he finds success while someone else earning top commissions can become complacent and rely on the same accounts. A business that is enduring hard times will reassess its’ efficiency and marketing while another grows fat and spends money foolishly until they’re blindsided by a cash crunch.

Until Howard Dean became head of the DNC, the Law of Competitive Balance didn't apply to the Democratic Party. Instead the Democrats lived by the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Dean has the nerve to challenge the party’s orthodoxy and transition the Democrats from a Washington centric party addicted to wealthy contributors to a states oriented party funded by a citizens donor base. It’s remarkable to me how some Democrats whine over McCain/Feingold and long for the old days of soft money donations to the national party. Dean didn’t whine. He adjusted and myopic Washington Democrats remain clueless.

Dean is the first Democrat to think “globally” by acting “locally.” The key to power and a better nation is by strengthening state parties and taking the country back one precinct at a time. It’s basic blocking and tackling in the ground game that has eluded the Democrats for a generation, as the establishment prefers to mobilize the same special interests coalition and rally behind the politics of expediency. Dean’s way is to craft a message of truth about the public interest and fight for every neighborhood. Hence his states oriented strategy has a better chance of transforming the Democratic Party into a national majority.

Today both the Washington Post and New York Times reported about the rift between Dean and the respective heads of the Democrat’s House and Senate Campaign Committees, Rahm Emanuel and Charles Schumer. The progressive blogosphere has rallied to Dean’s defense. I thought Mole333 wrote an especially fine diary on this topic in My Left Wing.

Dean is hardly a perfect messenger for the Democratic Party. He’s impulsive and occasionally suffers from foot in mouth disease as we saw during the 2004 campaign and his recent appearance on the 700 Club.

Nonetheless, Dean’s 50 state strategy makes both short term and long term sense and even a pretty good political tactician named Bill Clinton has signed onto it. Thankfully, Dean doesn’t need the good will of the proven losers inside the Democratic Party. As the state parties continue to be enhanced the Rahm Emanuels, Charles Schumers and Joe Bidens will be marginalized in favor of Democrats on the local level.

Sadly too many Washington Democrats and consultants prefer their status as kings of the hill inside a minority party instead of making this a better country and standing for principle. The message that needs to be sent to these people is this: lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.

SIDEBAR: This topic was cross posted on Daily Kos and once again my diary was "rescued" by the blogosphere's Angel of CPR, "SusanG". She performs an invaluable service because Daily Kos has a million visitors per day and many fine diaries dissappear from the board without making the recommended list. I heartily recommend others look for her open threads at Daily Kos because she provides an indispensable portal for work easily missed. Thanks to her efforts I've learned much from posted diaries I would not have otherwise read.


liberal journal man said...

I completely agree. Democrats have used short term strategies in the past couple of elections and it has failed them. What's more is now, Americans are looking for a real alternative, and to a great extent, Americans don't feel the Democratic party is the answer. Maybe we should have opposed the Iraq war from the start and stayed true to our values!

thepoetryman said...

Absolutely. Nice read!

Deirdre Helfferich said...

I find it perpetually frustrating that the party that HAS consistently opposed the Iraq war from the start, that HAS worked at the grassroots, local level, that HAS been working on long-term strategies for improving our economy, our environment, our voting and campaign and representative systems in politics, our health and health care systems, and so forth, has been marginalized as a bunch of kooks by the media and ignored or mischaracterized continually. I speak, of course, of the Green Party. The policies espoused by the Greens have made sense all along, and (some) are now are given lip service to by the Democrats--Howard Dean notwithstanding--but not substantive oompf. If you compare the Democrats, Republicans, and Greens on various issues, you'll see that there isn't that much actual difference between the stances that the Republicans have taken and those that the Democrats have taken.

There is one rather significant one, however: the Republicans are driven by psychotic religious fundamentalists as well as corporate greedy-guts, instead of just corportate greedy-guts.

But the Democrats consistently undermine that difference by enabling the Republicans to get their way. Look at the way they are backpedaling on the NSA spying!

As you can tell, I am utterly outraged by the main two parties' abandonment of the public good. The main argument I hear for voting Democrat rather than Green is that the "Greens can't win"--a fallacy--rather than something substantive, like issue with their policies. People often say to me that they agree with Green policies, but won't vote for them. Like the Democrats are actually doing anything?

Greens are winning something like 26% of the races we enter (2005 elections). I think that qualifies as winning sufficiently, even if it's not as skookum as the big guys. We already have 260 candidates this year.


carter said...

Howard Dean mishandled the Gay Marriage issue. But it is emblamatic of the way that democrats mishandle things, by not keeping laser beam focus, as republicans do,on what needs to be communicated,and how to communicate it

The correct answer to any question about gay marriage is something that focuses on what needs to be focused on.

here's just one example on an extremely critical issue, of many)

but if the issue has to be addressed, the correct answer is

"marriage is a personal issue, a religious issue, a sociology issue. i am very reluctant,and I think in a cournty based upon civil liberties and and freedom that others should be as well, to start engaging about what the state should do, when this is not the first and foremost business of the state.

that said, since our states issue marriage licenses, and these licenses convey legal benefits to those who get married to someone that they love, it means that homosexuals (including Mary Cheney, although she'll probably twist this into an attack on me as well) can not get these same benefits by taking vows with the person that they love.

this is discriminatory, and that is a legal issue that does need to be resolved. but as for definitiosn of marriage, I have my own personal views, as do other people, but I think the responsibiit of the state is to address the discriminatory aspect of it, and not goin about defining sociological terms. I certianly know it is not the province of the federal government,and absolutely not the role of the consitution to define sociological or religious institutions for us.

do I personally believe marriage is between a man and a women? yes but that is not a platform,nor shold it be a platform.l if the democratic party is going to ahve a platfrom, it is to get the government out of people's business, out of the busines of defning our sociology for us, otu of the businesws of telling peopel what to do, andin the business of secruing a good defnese, sound environemtnal policy, a competitive econonmym,that means with competition not merger after merger leading to oligopoly, like in the oil and gas industry, equality of opportunity, equal justice, and similar aims.

this issue should not be used to further polarize America, when we have so many reasons to pull together, to restore our greatness, our freedoms, our liberties, our idepdendence, our leaderhisp role in the world as a beacon for the values of basic and intrinsic rights, for the improve or national security and move forward, not backward, to restore responsibility and accountablity to government, those are all the things that I believe in, and that the democratic party believes in."

No Blood for Hubris said...

Hear, hear.

jay lassiter said...

hey homeslice
check out this diary and recommend if you like it?

thepoetryman said...

Wish we could just pinch it off and begin anew... O! Utopian dreams!

Gun-Toting Liberal said...

Love your blog, man. As per your request, I've checked it out, love it, and have added you to our blogroll under "Liberal Bloggers". Blog ON, and thanks for giving me a heads up to your blog... it's great!


carter said...

Rob, I couldnt respond to your email (I hit respond and it came back) so am replying here. sorry about that. anyway, what I wrote was:

Rob, Im not sure which email you sent this to, so let me know if you got this (I just hit reply, but it says :"no reply blogger")

anyway, thanks for checking it out. Im basically just trying to get democrats, liberals or not, to think a little differently strategically. i think that in general they are very poor at this. but that an even worse problem is that they don;'t knwo that they are. a problem that is almost as bad is that because they tend to be smart, they are very resistant to anything poiltical strategy wise that conflicts with the way they see things, despite the clear track record of the past five years that illustrates that the way that they see things strategically, has not worked. (nor is the solution, like the netroots like to say, simply "appealing to the base." it is much more fundamental than that).

in essence, republicans are playing chess, while democrats are playing that old card game "war," or maybe :"go fish:"

a few of the most basic thoughts, briefly, are here:

I had a pretty key follow up question re blog desing, blogger, etc, but not gonna put it here.

instead, will post these amazing pictures of WWII, for reasons outlined here

anyway, hope you get this,

I Carter
you can write, really wanna ask about the design, since Icouldn't get blogger to do that)