The Rainmakers

You may recall, if you are old enough, how traveling con men would come into a community desperate for rain, make all kinds of vague statements and pronouncements, and take everyone’s money, and then leave town?

A lot of people in Cooper’s district are desperate for change.

But even if you never, ever listen to podcasts, even if you have no idea what Liberadio is, I’m asking you to listen to their segment with Ben Tribbett. And then come back here and tell me one concrete fact he lets out about anything other than himself. This is the executive director of Accountability Now! And he’s had meetings, but he can’t say with whom. He’s talked to Democratic politicians, but he can’t say whom. They have a strategy, but it’s vague. Yeah, they know Democrats might get redistricted out of existence, but think of it this way, maybe some of them will go on to be great politicians in other ways, but in what ways remain unclear. Oh, he’s seen Cooper with all kinds of lobbyists, eating dinner in fancy places. And of course he won’t name those lobbyists. He barely wants to tell O’Connell and Mancini the names of the restaurants.

There are three choices a person has in response to hearing this. One, these people are idiots.  They don’t really have a plan. They thought showing up here with some big names and some money and doing some hobnobbing counted as leadership.  Two, they think we’re idiots and, like the rainmakers of olden days, all they had to do is show up and make some vague promises, raise some money, and scurry on to the next town if things don’t work out.  They don’t have to be specific, because they thought we’d be so excited and distracted by their showmanship that we don’t notice that it’s all very vague and nebulous. Three, they mean well, but holy shit.

I honestly don’t know which one it is, but while yesterday I was feeling like maybe it was just me, after I listened to Mancini and O’Connell last night, I’m now convinced there’s a real problem.

It’s not an insurmountable problem, at this point, but let’s not pretend like this is all wine and roses except for a few sour grapes.

(Ha, it takes real talent to mix a metaphor that bad!)

21 thoughts on “The Rainmakers

  1. As one of those nasty outsiders lured to this blog via national blogs, I am not sure what the problem is here. If, as you say, Cooper will beat any challenge, then he will beat any challenge. Not sure what your issue is, other than wounded pride.

  2. Well, my original issue was that we can’t have discussions about important things without people just making shit up in order to puff up their own ego–like how a person who read something somewhere else decided that my problem was just “nasty outsiders.”

    My issue now is that, no matter how clear I am, I have been reduced to being merely “pro-Cooper.” And that my asking for a real plan and real strategies is being met with “oh, she’s just got wounded pride.”

    I said up front that there isn’t any reason I should have had special knowledge of this. I just thought it was really, really strange that obvious people to have been brought on board also didn’t know about it.

    But yes, let’s continue to have arguments about what other people have decided I said or what my intentions are rather than what I actually said. That’s going to be so much fun.

  3. This all could be a good development in the mid to longer term.

    Bringing the issue to a head, of whether local democratic/progressive bloggers support Cooper, or actively look for an alternative, won’t be resolved right now. However, among bloggers like yourself, that are (sort of) covering the back of Cooper, I bet you’re likely to hold him more accountable in the future than you have in the past?

    I think you have to look at this from the perspective of the national bloggers too. Maybe this wasn’t handled all that great with prep and outreach and coordination with the local blogosphere, but its at least not blindly throwing money at an alternative (the challenger) to the frustration (Cooper). Hopefully the local engagement gets bettter, and if possible, a challenger emerges that you all can get behind, which people from all over the nation can help fund. Working together and all that…

    Its ridiculous to see the “interloper” charges made against progressive bloggers — that’s nothing but bomb-throwing. We all know how much of a peddler that Cooper is for the real lobbyist interlopers.

    Anyway, the bands in town, come and see.

  4. The point is — for the benefit of the interpretation-impaired — that the executive director of Accountability Now! gave a lousy and rambling interview that lacked concrete detail and leadership vision. It was a wasted opportunity. When he could have made an impressive case for Cooper’s ouster, he fumfawed around with vague verbal gestures sufficient to completely fill a Left-Wing Buzzword Bingo Card.

    And yes, we all noticed that this was not impressive.

  5. OK, as I mentioned on another thread I’m struggling to catch up here. But I think folks from out of town maybe don’t get that although the corporate medical insurance interests to which Cooper is so largely beholden are interlopers in the practice of democracy, they’re not geographical interlopers in Tennessee. They’re among the biggest employers in the state, and in Nashville itself, which is Cooper’s district. And that, sadly, lets Cooper claim that in looking out for their interests he’s helping the local economy, supporting local workers, etc., etc.

    This is a huge problem for anyone who wants to challenge him — the entire state Democratic Party is in their pockets. Which would indeed make it nice to have outside funding and enthusiasm, sure. But anyone who (because they aren’t from around here) doesn’t understand this local angle, and who thinks that Tennesseans will reject Cooper because he’s supporting outside interests over local ones, will probably fail.

    Plus what Bridgett said, of course.

  6. Cooper’s opposition to earmarks costs his district federal money that will, I assure you, just go to another congressman’s constituency.

    Why on earth would we be concerned about “outsiders” when Jim Cooper himself doesn’t follow through on one of the most important local opportunities a Representative has?

  7. Ha, Jerome, welcome. I have to say, the thing I find so funny about this is that it kind of reminds me of what Brittney Gilbert went through with Jesus’ General.

    National blogs can focus a torrent of readers where they point them–for better or for worse. Sometimes national bloggers aim poorly–they don’t understand the situation on the ground, they get caught up in their own stereotypes of a region, they pompously feel confident that they know what’s going on, and they just unleash.

    And then when well-meaning people have been unleashed, there’s this weird moment where they realize that there has been a terrible misunderstanding (which is nice that folks like you show up here and try to broker some understanding), but they still cannot bring themselves to believe they’ve been a part of something kind of douchy.

    So, the justifications begin. Maybe the bloggers the nationals decided without evidence were “pro-Cooper” will now be compelled to be sufficiently anti-Cooper? By whose standards? People who just showed up here and read five posts?

    I love liberals and I am one myself, but the way we have a tendency to pull back the boot we’ve just kicked in someone’s face with a “well, hopefully this will be a learning experience for all” just doesn’t cut it.

    The people with enough power to kick never do learn and the people getting kicked are not getting the message you hope they are.

  8. “The people with enough power to kick never do learn and the people getting kicked are not getting the message you hope they are.”

    Yup. I am meeting with the fellow tonight, and we will talk about how this has been handled.

    Notice, instead, how the nudging out of Senator Henry is being handled; this is how Cooper’s primarying could have been handled. You need advance troops to go in, learn the territory and prepare it before you do shock and awe.

  9. Ha, you know when one of the Memphis Steves is coming in to have a talk with someone that shit is going to be handled! Hurray!

    And sincerely, thanks, Steve.

  10. This is a huge problem for anyone who wants to challenge him — the entire state Democratic Party is in their pockets.

    It brings to mind the image of the dog chasing the proverbial bus. What does the dog do once he catches the damned thing?

    The scope of that problem is … impressive. I think that’s the word I’m looking for.

    Health care is one of Nashville’s top industries; according to the Nashville Health Council, the city is known as the nation’s health care center. Twenty-one healthcare companies are based within the city; in total 350 health care companies have operations here. Many service firms specializing in the industry (including accounting, legal, and others) are based in Nashville, including 12 investment and venture capital companies dealing primarily with health care. Health care services companies based in Nashville control more than 2,400 operations outside the city, as well. In 2002, almost 90,000 people in the Nashville metro area worked in the health care industry, earning more than a $4 billion payroll.

    Of course, this only underlines the necessity of reform. Given. So let’s take on Jim Cooper, the state and local Democratic Party, the Frist family and the HCA operation, Bredesen’s petty power merchants and pro-industry minions, tens of thousands of beholden employees; all of this in a district that’s more than likely not going to exist intact after 2010.

    Hopefully the local engagement gets bettter, and if possible, a challenger emerges that you all can get behind…

    All that we ask is that you don’t get our hopes up. Our “Democrats” are people like Harold Ford and Phil Bredesen. And I’m a bit concerned that this outsider run isn’t so much because it’s being run from outside the state. Hardly. That sort of support is going to have to come here, because the incumbent infrastructure is not going to help. It’s not so much an outsider campaign as it’s going to have to become an insurgency. And I know that for myself, that’s where I’m getting a bit stuck trying to think a little bit bigger.

    For a study in how nakedly corrupt that this party is, look no further than the Rosalind Kurita 2008 primary, TN State District 22. The party maintains the court-sanctioned right to set aside primary results it doesn’t like. Don’t think it won’t happen in the event of a successful bid by an upstart. Study that episode, Jerome, because it’s called “precedent” now. And note the roles that the current party chair Chip Forrester and the former party chair Gray Sasser (yes, of Jim Sasser lineage) took in that ouster.

    We all know how much of a peddler that Cooper is for the real lobbyist interlopers.

    Since health care is, in many ways, *the* local industry? That’s disputable.

    It will be good to know that this moonshot operation has a little more involved than a wad of cash and a laudable goal. More details forthcoming, I trust.

  11. And, Andy, do you know, does that 90,000 number include people who don’t work directly for the healthcare industry but work for, say, Vanderbilt, which is both an enormous health care provider and has portions of it which have nothing to do with health care at all?

  12. …does that 90,000 number include people who don’t work directly for the healthcare industry but work for, say, Vanderbilt, which is both an enormous health care provider and has portions of it which have nothing to do with health care at all?

    Have no idea. But it’s more to the point that the gross dollar figures dwarfs any sort of income on the part of ASCAP or RCA Studios. (That is to say: I wonder if people are still laboring under the impression that “the industry” is music publishing and recording. It’s a goodish nut, but not anything like what it once was. HCA’s net alone probably exceeds the gross receipts for Music Row.)

    Cooper gets $ from the industry largely because the industry has a huge presence in his district. Not simply because he’s perceived to be malleable.

    Of course, in the event that the dog catches the bus, we may be going through this exercise again, only next time with Cooper’s successor. Whoever that person is will be predictably bombarded with campaign cash from the multibillion dollar health care industry, straight from the beating heart of TN-5’s economic engine.

    the thing I find so funny about this is that it kind of reminds me of what Brittney Gilbert went through with Jesus’ General.

    A number of the players are the same, even.

    But not to feed the tempest in the teapot; blogdom can be, if nothing else, a trifle solipsistic. It does, however, speak to a larger dialogue about how Democrats in the South manage to ruin everything (see: the “fuck the south” meme circa 2004). I know I’m more than a little sensitive to criticism that comes from DC or New York or Berkeley about how things should be run. For what that’s worth, I entirely agree with the sentiment that things *should* be different. But why they are as they are, well, you have to experience that first-hand in order to understand it.

    I know a number of very well-meaning people who’ve given 3000% to the effort to make things more like we think that they should be, only to be run to ground by the folks with the vested interest in keeping the rubes run in manners accustomed. These good folks get an unfair burden of blame, and that game is already playing out in advance of a single ballot being punched.

    And moreover, I fear a sense of non-shared sacrifice, in that if this challenge is not successful, then the blame will be hung on the locals for being insufficent to the task of being part of The Grand Scheme*, rather than on the people who went gallumphing towards the castle with little more than a nice-ish idea. Speaking for myself, the experience of being a principled progressive in TN makes me extremely wary of people thinking big thoughts out loud vis-a-vis the Democratic Party.

    (* I’m sure as I’m sitting here that there are folks who live outside of TN who still blame local Democrats for not delivering Al Gore’s birthright 11 electoral votes in 2000, as one example. It gets tiresome being the butt of the joke and the scapegoat for problems that, simply put, don’t belong solely to us. Fact is, we’re going to have to have outside help. No way around that. But the groundwork and a lot of the background work is going to have to come from the people who’ve lived this shit for years and have a much better idea of how to navigate the regional waters. We gonna have to find a way to partner, and it will amount to putting substantial egos aside, which is a nontrivial matter in *any* sort of politickin’.)


  14. (Just an aside: Since a basic tenet of Tennessee politics, to say nothing of the Nashville variety, is “the good ole boys will protect their own”, would it really be a great idea for folks fomenting up revolution to go on the radio and give away 100% of the game plan?

    Honestly, I can really see both sides here. Folks from outside the district mean well, but trust me when I tell you they really have no idea what it’s like to work with a Democratic Party that stands for nothing but pretending to be Republican – and will sell out traditional Democratic ideals in a heartbeat in the name of political expediency. What they really need to be doing is helping us rebuild this party from the ground up – by building in things like accountability for the state Executive Committee, along with insisting on their doing things in daylight – but that’s a whole lot more labor-intensive than jumping in to try to swing one single district.

    Things are badly broken here, and they’re going to be until somebody comes up with the concept of branding for Democrats in the South. Because “being like Republicans, only different in ways we don’t care to specify” sure as heck ain’t workin’.

    Oh, and thanks, AA. Those posts really brought something to the discussion, I think.)

  15. Oh, I see what the national blogs mean. I’d even agree with them, except … did they never do the most basic work in How To Be An Ally 101? You know, the stuff about asking the folks you want to help (TN progressives, in this case, or even folks wanting to get a meaningful healthcare bill passed) what sort of help they need, and what the ground rules are, instead of tromping in and announcing that you have the answer and of course you can define the question better than they ever did themselves? That sort of thing.

  16. Here’s a quiz for the out-of-staters that might still be hanging around:

    Q: What is the number of state-wide state level offices that are routinely elected (i.e. people who campaign statewide whose elected office is in Nashville)?

    A: One.

    All constitutional offices (lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, state commissioners) are all patronage positions. The office of the governor is the only one that is directly accountable to the people of the state via election.

    I think it’s important to note that, and given recent history, it might tell people who don’t live here why things are such a damned wreck party-wise. Republicans were historically (and by that, I mean roughly running back into the years starting with 1872) in the minority in both houses of the state legislature up until very recently. It was all well and good to run elections for legislators off of coffee-stained index cards when you could reflexively count upon being more or less in charge.

    (For students of comparative government: Think one-party rule somewhat akin to Mexico under PRI. It was small-d “democratic” only insofar as regular elections were held. Republican governors were still a possibility but there was a lock on the state houses, which meant a lock on a goodly number of the aforementioned constitutional offices. See any possible pattern or probable outcomes emerging from that sort of arrangement?)

    That “inertia is our friend” apple cart got upset with the ascendency of one Bill Frist in the 1990s. And things really got ugly when roughly a quarter of the Senate delegation (mostly Democrats) was marched off the hill in handcuffs for taking bribes from state & federal law enforcement officers. This led to the creation of a state ethics committee, for which this current legislative session sees no further need. And then the Kurita ouster (complete with plenty of interference, deniable and otherwise, from state party muckety-mucks during and after that primary), and let’s not forget the paper ballot/verified voting law that the state now also believes is too expensive and unnecessary.

    This is the climate into which the Accountability Now folks want to inject themselves. And yeah. Like Eleanor said, there’s lots and lots and lots of opportunity to have folks learn accountability — and that won’t really start and end with the 2010 TN-5 primary (which I believe that they will find to be a vigorous game of Calvinball — the only rule is that the rules are subject to change at whim).

    The Cooper primary is just an opportunity to expose all of this crap to a national audience. Welcome. Hope you don’t mind the mess. Dig in. Don’t forget about us when you go home.

  17. I just want to say that it’s discussions like this and comments like this that really, really make me feel very blessed and humbled to know y’all. Is there anywhere else in town where you can find knowledgeable people giving this kind of analysis to the situation?

    I don’t think so.

  18. Lemme just throw in here that the idea of elected Constitutional officers was one that Kurita was aggressively pushing her last term in office. Coincidence? Magic 8-Ball says no. Rumor I heard was Bredesen’s folks were against it because electing other statewide offices would cut into the Governor’s power base.

    Lately, I was telling a friend from out of state that the excuse to toss Kurita out was literally that she went to the bathroom in a building containing a poll – he was so incredulous he made me repeat the story four or five times. Him: “This is the senior elected Dem woman in the state?” Me: “Um, yup.” He further didn’t believe her head was served on a platter for voting for a Republican Senate leader – after the Republicans won the Senate majority. This to defend 85-year-old fossil Wilder – who you’ve gotta imagine was a puppet for one behind-the-scenes player or another.

    Seriously. I really, honestly, in my heart of hearts think these people have no dreaming idea what goes on down here.

    I think their assumption that we have more of a functional infrastructure may have led to what now looks like a crapload of carpetbaggery. In many places it would be no big deal to recruit a challenger to take on an incumbent – or a handful of them. I think they’re assuming we have a healthy, functioning electoral system with a bench of candidates waiting in the wings. What they misjudged is the moribund state of things around here since virtually all the ideologues have been run out of TNDP.

    That party cares about one thing: Money. Well, two things: money and power.

    You just gotta wonder why it didn’t ever occur to the powers that be, that having those priorities just right out in front like they do would eventually cut into their numbers. They want all the power and none of the responsibility: “Because we like being in charge” just isn’t a good enough reason to elect these folks.

  19. Add this to my growing list of “Things That People From Outside of Old Hickory Blvd* Should Know about Tennessee Democrats:”

    Our leadership vocally criticizes GOP candidates on the grounds that the GOP candidate in question is — wait for it — PRO-CHOICE!

    I mean, for real. If it wasn’t for the Campfields and Blackburns and Corkers and Hobbses… I’d just say to that it’s time to let the TNDP wallow and burn in their own crapulence. (A state chock-a-block of faithful Democrats turns its lonely eyes to the heavens and begs for deliverance from our very own fucking morons; the moon says nothing in reply.)

    * As near as I can figure, this is our “beltway.” No offense intended to Nashvillagers who inhabit the outer rings.

  20. The political problems in Tennessee didn’t begin yesterday but way back in the bad old days when Tennessee first became a state in 1796 (when it was carved out of the old North Carolina Territory). Tennessee then had fewer slaves than any southern state and the laws here made it easier to free a slave. After the anglo Tennesseans pushed the Native Americans out of Tennessee and found that their land in West TN grows cotton well, more slaves were brought in to help grow & harvest the cotton. Laws were passed making it more difficult to free a slave.

    Remember that Tennessee was the last state to secede from the Union in the ‘late unpleasantness’ and the first state to return after the war was over. After the 15th Amendment was passed (giving Black MEN the right to vote) a poll tax was passed to assure that the ‘landed gentry’ maintained power.

    Then in 1870, the West Tennessee ‘landed gentry’ called a constitutional convention – with 69 attendees (all land-owning white men – since women nor Blacks had the vote) It was their opportunity to hold onto power. That is when they decided the constitutional officers would be ‘selected’ — not elected. In the early 1900s several governors tried to make the change to elect the constitutional officers. Although bills passed the legislature, the legislature did not fund the ability to publish notice, so none of the bills passed.

    Tennessee is one of only 4 states that do not have direct election of constitutional officers – including Maryland, New Hampshire, and Maine. Only one of those states (N. Hampshire — Jeanne Shaheen) has ever had a woman governor. Maryland had a woman lieutenant governor — Kathleen Kennedy. There is no “pipeline” through which female or Black candidates can go to win statewide election.

    What does all this have to do with Democratic politics in Tennessee today? The foundation for exclusivity and corruption was firmly laid and hasn’t been totally dismantled to this very day. It is no accident that the base of the Democratic Party has always been and continues to be in West Tennessee. It will probably take a lot of dyin’ off of the old guard and a lot of immigration into Tennessee for anything much to change no matter how many folks come in from outside to try to help effect change.

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