Academics have a hard time studying the presidency. There are few cases, little data aside from election results and administrative activity, and the recognition of the overwhelming importance of something as subjective as "leadership." Presidential scholarship usually ends up in the hands of historians who write what amounts to long-winded journalism about the men in office and political scientists who have a hard time getting their colleagues to pay attention to them.

Unfortunately a lot of the factors that lead to success in elections and politics are subjective. Leadership is like obscenity. We can't define it but we know it when we see it. What makes people watch a Bill Clinton speech and like him? What made so many Americans buy George W. Bush's honest, regular-guy horsecrap? What made John McCain appealing as a Senator and so unappealing as a presidential candidate? Like the bobbleheads on TV we can all throw out some plausible explanations, but if required to produce empirical evidence we'd come up empty. Yet these qualities, things like charisma and leadership, are the difference between the expected and unexpected in our elections.

The 8th Congressional District of Florida is a Republican's wet dream. It's not only in Orlando, it's in the suburbs of Orlando. Minivans, subdivisions, strip malls, and moneyed white people as far as the eye can see, all in the artificial shadow of Disneyworld. This is Reagan's America in a nutshell and at best the Democrats might hope to sneak a Reagan Democrat in during an anti-Republican landslide. Right? Well, after 20 years under Republicans Rick Keller and Bill "Clinton Impeachment" McCollum, the district elected Alan Grayson in 2008. If you're not familiar with him, Grayson is a major pain in the GOP's ass, one of the loudest, crudest, most outspoken ultra-liberal Democrats in Congress. Grayson is the current It Girl of the progressive community and his name alone is enough to get the average left-leaning blogger in a tizzy.

As you might imagine, the Republicans have made a lot of noise about making Grayson a target in 2010. It makes a lot of sense given the demographics of the district. Surely his victory in the Democratic landslide of '08 was a fluke. The problem is that they can't get anyone decent to run against him. The people in his district love him (and it can't hurt that he's wealthy when it comes to scaring challengers). There are currently eight people in the GOP primary – including a few teabagger types – and the best they can do is State Rep. Kurt Kelly. Grayson's odds of winning are pretty good to say the least.

How? How is it that the same Democratic Party enthralled with the sage advice of the Liebermans and Bayhs and Harold Fords of the world – move to the mushy center, and fast – can count Grayson as one of its safest freshman in a district George W. Bush won with 55% of the vote…twice? I'd suggest that Grayson does well because he has those "leadership" skills and his constituents respond to them. Sure, they might not agree with his policy positions on everything or his vituperative attacks on Dick Cheney, but he means what he says and he's not afraid of anyone. Maybe voters would rather see an elected official with a spine than one who caves at the slightest hint of opposition. Maybe a guy who doesn't back down seems like a better advocate for the district's interests than some ideologically compatible but spineless douchebag. Who'd you rather have in your corner when Congress decides to yank funding for the local pet project – Grayson or Harold Ford?

Nah. Surely the key to electoral success is to bend over in front of the opposing party at every conceivable opportunity.

13 thoughts on “WAY OF THE WARRIOR”

  • baldheadeddork says:

    It's not just Grayson, There used to be Dems like that from a lot of conservative states. Charlie Wilson built a long career in Congress with a remarkably liberal voting record on women's and labor issues despite coming from East Texas. Mo Udall was always a lot more liberal than his district in Arizona, and championing conservation has never been an easy vote to sell in the west. John Brademas was the father of the bill creating the NEA and NEH and their strongest champion in Congress, and he wrote the legislation creating the Department of Education, all despite being from a mostly rural district in Indiana. Vance Hartke, who preceded Dick Lugar in the Senate, was one of the most vocal opponents of the Vietnam War and was a champion of civil rights even during his tenure as mayor of Evansville in the mid 1950's. Birch Bayh won re-election after being the principal sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment and the primary backer of Title IX in the Senate.

    What made that possible? Most of them came to Congress when the leadership was still dominated by New Dealers. Brademas and Hartke could be that liberal even without seniority and they would have cover from the leadership when it came to matters important to their districts. All of them also had exceptional constituent service, especially on veterans issues, and that helped a lot when it came time for re-election.

    But they also never went Hollywood. Unlike all of the DLC Democrats, they never tried to pretend they were anything other than a small town lawyer from East Texas or Southern Indiana. Harold Ford and Evan Bayh are always trying to impress you with how smart and worldly they are. (Maybe it's Freudian with those two?) John Brademas might be the most culturally sophisticated member of Congress ever, but you'd never know it unless you got into a conversation with him about the arts. It's the exact same thing with Grayson. He's one of the smartest and shrewdest trial lawyers working today, but he never lets that define who he is to his constituents.

  • Now look at Indiana's delegation:

    Evan Bayh- Might as well call himself a republican
    Steve Buyer-thought smoking lettuce was just as dangerous as smoking tobacco, also set up a scholarship fund that has yet to award a scholarship after 7 years
    Dan Burton- corrupt, anti-vaccine proponent.
    Mike Pence(my congressman sadly)- Ive met the man twice and ive never been impressed. God damn I hope he never gets to the white house.

    On the other hand we have Andre Carson representing Indiana, that's a plus.

  • I love Grayson. He's my all-time favorite Democrat.

    Very insightful comment from NHD. I appreciate the chance to learn those things about the Democratic past. But the bit about Evan Bayh trying to impress people with his sophistication really cracked me up. I nearly busted a gut at the thought of that hick lookin' all sophisticatedey…

  • Clinton said back in the 90s, people would rather vote for someone that is forceful and wrong than someone that is weak and right. People like someone who will stand up and fight for what they believe, right or wrong. I like Grayson because he isn't afraid to say just how fucked up the Republican't policies are and that Cheney should be in prison.

  • It's funny that this column should show up the week I am quitting my job. I am quitting primarily because the lack of "leadership" within the government agency in which I work has become so bad it borders on criminal negligence. So, I am out. There have been so many people who’ve come up to me to tell me how crazy I am for just putting in my two weeks without having anything solid lined up. My response is that they are crazy for continuing to work in a bureaucracy that is so clearly lead by functional maniacs. (There are functional alcoholics. I've come to realize during my tenure within the Federal gooberment that there are also functional maniacs, sociopaths without the murder wrap, and lots of 'em.) I was joking with a peer, who feels the same way, that it's gotten so bad, the ineptitude-the incompetence-the apathy-the cronyism-the complacency, that surely I must actually be in a coma and that this is not my actual reality. Surely, no society would allow itself to devolve into such a stupor. But, alas, it is not to be. The safety of a dream state to which my consciousness can retreat can be no comfort to me. I must free myself from this, for lack of a better descriptor, shite! So, what defines leadership? Leadership is an action, not a quality. It is what makes men want to follow another man into battle. It is what makes a person stand beside another person as the baton falls on his face repeatedly. It is what enables a person to stand up for what they think is right in the face of certain derision. Leadership is charisma and competence combined and it is not to be found within the Federal ranks of this government.

  • Funny, I did almost exactly the same thing as DaMoose in my younger years – only in my case it was employment in a non-profit that suffered from exactly the opposite problem. There was leadership and competence out the wazoo, but the new young leader infuriated me by stepping on my toes in his attempt to bring new, exciting and driven direction to the old, comfortable staff. The fact that I was doing the work of three people for the pay of half a person, and that the area I was responsible for had been almost completely rebuilt after the deterioration of the previous decade meant nothing to him. There it is; he left soon afterward anyway, and hopefully found a job where his leadership skills will work out. Leadership isn't some "one-size-fits-all" quality; it should be appropriate to the situation. Not everyone works in a military zone, and even his own men weren't that fond of George S. Patton. And don't get me started on George A. Custer..

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    That's the only way Scott Brown of Massachusetts will get reelected in 2012. Cuz if he sits on his butt and does whatever the Republicans tell him to do, he'll be ousted; and if he tries to kiss up to the Democrats, he'll be ousted.

  • Leadership and success in elections may be mutually exclusive states, if we assume that leadership means good management, and not cheerfully running us off the cliff. I think that success in elections is based on confidence — not only the attitude projected by the candidate, but the voter sentiment.

    Most people don't understand the issues, the laws, or their responsibilities as citizens; they enter the voting booth armed with a few buzzwords and a gut feeling — "I wouldn't mind having a beer with that guy," (or shooting hoops) — or a purely animal reaction to tone of voice: "that guy knows what he's talking about" (even if I can't check his work.)

    What he does once in office…well, we don't get to vote on that, do we?

  • Grayson is the real deal, but I am deeply concerned about his future given the recent Supreme Court ruling. He would seem the ideal candidate for corporations to "send a message." Sure hope I am wrong.

    As for the larger issue of the Democrats need to "grow a pair" I could not agree more. Being inundated with Tea Party articles for the last week has discouraged me so much. It's ironic that they are so anti-main stream media but have enjoyed slavish media attention leading up to their blatantly manipulative and crass convention.

    I can only wonder what it will take for progressives to launch a counter-movement. For now, I guess it's just a fantasy of mine. Grayson would be the ideal leader for it though.

  • baldheadeddork says:

    @ts46064 – What do you think about Baron Hill? He voted for health care and the energy bill, and he's making all the right noises to move from being a blue dog to more of a populist? If nothing else, I think he's smart enough to see that if you want to survive in 2010 in a tossup district, you have to do it like Grayson by turning out your base instead of trying to pass yourself off as a Lite Republican. He and Brad Ellsworth are going to give us a nice lab test of my theory this fall.

    Evan Bayh – I don't know what happened with him. I've wondered what effect his father's loss to Dan Quayle in that ugly 1980 race had on shaping his politics? Evan has never, ever put himself out on a ledge because he believed the bill was right. I'm probably over stating this, but it is like he saw what happened to his dad and decided he would never put himself in that position. And I'm sure the power he has in the Senate by being a swing vote has also done a lot to create the politician he's become. When watching Bayh, always remember that all the power he has in the Senate comes from threatening to vote with the Republicans. He's not going to give that up voluntarily, and neither are any of the other five or six hardcore conservative Dems.

    In the past Bayh has had an easy time in elections because he can count on winning almost all of the Democrats just because he has a D behind his name, and enough of the independents to push him over the line. I hope that isn't going to work for him this year. I hope Indiana Dems either vote for whoever the Republicans put up or skip the vote for Senate. I would sacrifice his seat in a heartbeat (along with Reid and Blanche Lincoln) if it meant getting Dick Durbin as Majority Leader and a caucus that wasn't as quick to be held hostage by conservative Democrats.

    @Desargues: Maybe I'm the only one who sees Ev and feels his skin crawl at his slimy, condesending attitude. He's the bad politician version of Mike Brady always explaining to us kids why we should stop thinking only about ourselves and support those tax cuts for billionaires. I want to cock punch him.

  • I didnt comment on Ellsworth because i was not aware of his activities in congress. I hope it works out for Ellsworth, we need more true populists in congress. Not fake populists like Paul or Bachman.
    I can recall a time(2008) when saying your were a populist was tantamount to saying you were a communist, now the same people are bastardizing the term and applying it to their bullshit libertarianism.

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