The Phlip Side: Analysis of the Sally Boynton Brown Controversy Part 1

A lot of ink has been spilled over comments made by the new Florida Democratic Party President Sally Boynton Brown.  The Miami New Times wrote a piece (Click here to read it) railing against many of the points that Ms. Brown made.  My good friend Kartik, who I have a lot of respect for, editorialized here on The Florida Squeeze on why he disagreed with her assertions (Click here to find what Kartik wrote).  As someone who made the fateful/idiotic/ masochistic decision to jump in to the political realm professionally back in 2010 I can say without equivocation that most of what she said made a ton of sense to me.  It not only made sense, but a lot of her comments were actually refreshing to hear.  Her comments and actions since she took the reins at the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) makes me more optimistic about achieving our shared goal of electing more Democrats both this year and beyond.

Whether you agree with Ms. Brown or not you have to give her a ton of credit for showing up, which is more than half the battle.  Chairman Bittel and now President Brown have made it a point to travel across our diverse state and listen to Democrats from varying regions of Florida.  This may not seem like a big deal to some, and while it should be something that a Chair/President do as a matter of course the Florida Democratic Party leadership has not always excelled at showing up and listening with a sympathetic ear.  Back in 2011 now Broward DEC Chair Cynthia Busch and I led a group of South Florida activists into a meeting with then FDP Chair Rod Smith.  Chair Smith chided us for doing exactly what he asked us to do less than a year before, and called our home county of Broward, “the Serbia of Florida.”  So, covering the basics of showing up, listening, and being respectful is not something to take for granted.

I concede that showing up does not add nor does it detract from the credence of what is said, but before I get into the heart of the matter there is one basic foundation of politics that we should all be able to agree on: the winner of every election is the candidate who gets the most votes.  It isn’t necessarily the candidate who has the best message, the candidate who is the most experienced, the candidate who raises the most money, the candidate who works the hardest, the most honest candidate, or even the candidate who is best suited to serve in the office that they seek.  All of those things can help, but at the end of the day the candidate with the most votes wins regardless of everything else.  Florida Democrats too often focus on ancillary issues at best and useless distractions at worst instead of focusing on improving at the hard work of garnering enough votes to win more elections.

One other thing that I hope that we can all agree on is that facts matter, which gets me to the first criticism of Ms. Brown in the Miami New Times article that needs to be addressed:

“I’m not going to get into the hard-head debate,” (Ms. Brown) said. “I’m just sharing my perspective and that we absolutely will do data testing to see which scripts work best [and then share that with our candidates].” (So now Brown’s job does include deciding policy? What?)

It’s worth noting that Hillary Clinton’s campaign relied on data testing to an almost extreme degree in 2016 and lost catastrophically after much of that data turned out to be wrong.

Let’s pause for a second: Who is not an “issues person”? Politics is entirely about issues. The basic reason you vote for anyone is because you want that person to accomplish things that make your life better. Who are these “emotional beings” that get excited about candidates but don’t care about policy?

            Ms. Brown never said that it is her job to decide policy.  It seems like her point is that there are major issue areas, and that the FDP can test to see which approach of communicating those issues to voters is most effective.  You know, the type of message testing that is exactly what the Obama campaign did in both of their successful campaigns in Florida and that the Clinton Campaign did none of.  Also, it is patently untrue that the Clinton Campaign relied at all on data testing.  The actual truth is that they didn’t do any data testing, as anyone who read the book Shattered knows.  They had their data and stubbornly refused to test it with polling or any other method for that matter, which is one of the reasons that they lost because if they had tested their data they would have likely found out that it was flawed before Election Day and had the opportunity to adjust course.

Further, Ms. Brown is right that it isn’t the job of the FDP to try and force a particular message on every Democrat running in Florida.  First, there are many parts of Florida that are very different from other parts of Florida.  So, the same message and issues that could work in one place may not work or even be an issue of importance in another area.  Second, every campaign has a different candidate and it is up to the candidates themselves to choose which issues to focus on in their campaigns.  Having the FDP test different ways to couch different issues should be welcomed by every candidate as it will benefit their campaign.  Testing messages so that candidates can get a leg up in communicating with voters is a good thing.  Trying to force candidates to run on a pre-determined one size fits all set of issues is a bad thing that the FDP is right to avoid.  This is a distinction with a monumental difference.

Also, a lot of people aren’t “issues” people.  Most voters in General Elections are low information voters.  If you think that even 1% of the voters who cast ballots have read a single word of a Democratic Party Platform then you are delusional.  Platforms have their place and do matter, but they do little to nothing to help in the effort to win the votes that decide elections.  A lot of people who voted for Trump are emotional voters as they wanted someone who they thought would look out for them with no detailed policy agenda in mind.  Also, “Hope and Change” has nothing to do with being President of the United States and has nothing to do with issues, but was an emotionally charged phrase that was the centerpiece that voters associated with the Obama Campaign back in 2008 more than anything else.  “Who would you rather have a beer with?” has predicted the winner of every Presidential Election in my lifetime, which crosses the ideological spectrum and proves that emotions matter in winning elections.

There are many more things that have been said and written about Ms. Brown’s visit to Broward this past week that need to be unpacked that I cannot get to everything in one column while keeping it at a reasonable length.  So, I will write and publish Part 2 of this diatribe in the coming days.  The last point I want to make here is that we should all be rooting for Ms. Brown to succeed, as I am, because if she does succeed then more Democrats will get elected and we all win.  That doesn’t mean that someone in her position shouldn’t be criticized when criticism is warranted, but it does mean that any criticism made of someone like her should be constructive in an effort to get better at what we do to win elections.  This becomes truer with each passing year as the craft of electoral politics changes rapidly, and as with a lot of other things in life the pace of that change keeps accelerating.

18 comments

  1. barbara miller · · Reply

    Thank you, Sean. This is a very important time for Democrats to take back our state. We should all be attacking the Republican Legislature, their policies and their methods and not attacking Democrats whose goal is to elect Democrats.

  2. What bothers me about this is the focus is on electing democrats rather than electing principled democrats who share progressive goals. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a democrat and the party supports her to the exclusion of all others in her races, but she does not serve the people of her district. She panders to lobbies. She doesn’t support single payer, she refuses to do so. She supported the TPP and fast track. She supports the payday lenders for chrissake. She is ‘too powerful’ to appear at town halls. She had one scheduled recently but when she found out advocates for single payer were coming she canceled and called a press conference, closed to the public.

    1. I am a fan of Rep. DWS, but understand that not everyone is. We need to support our nominees and elect more Democrats because with very few exceptions a Democrats is going to be better for our issues than any Republican that can be elected. I do think we should focus on beating Republicans rather than fighting over Democratic seats as that is the only way to increase our power at the table where decisions are made, which means we have a much better chance to have our policy preferences passed into law.

      1. This is the thinking that will give us Donald Trump 2020. Lesser of two evils is not a valid defense. I will never vote for DWS or HRC and I am not alone. The party is not campaigning for Rob Quist, but Bernie Sanders is. This is loser mentality.

      2. G. Fredrick Barnes · ·

        You’re arguing counter to Sally. She’s saying the opposite, that people don’t vote based on game theory abstractions. Will the activists who read this site vote in the abstract, supporting candidates who will screw their policy interests just to get another D elected? Probably. But the vast majority of voters won’t.

  3. Ralph W. · · Reply

    I almost thought this was another home-run Squeeze piece (this place has been on a terrific hot streak, by the way — congratulations).

    Then I realized I was only looking at the excellent quotes from the Miami New Times and realized this is actually an unintentionally hilarious, flailing attempt to refute basic political / ethical / functional logic as enunciated by the New Times, like

    “Politics is entirely about issues. The basic reason you vote for anyone is because you want that person to accomplish things that make your life better.”

    Well yes, of course that’s true.

    What rational or ethical being would even attempt to counter something so basic as the idea that political movements and parties are supposed to be about *ideas and policies* and the desire to improve people’s collective situation?

    I guess we have our answer though, as this piece and Ms. Boynton Brown’s inane speeches contend that poor white people and people of color just don’t understand “issues,” so it’s best to ignore their actual needs and wants and cater to wealthy business interests, which certainly *do* know what they want, and conveniently can dump mountains of strings-attached cash into campaigns.

    Sure, that’s both ethically plausible and proven to work. Just take a peek at the current White House for proof of how well this pretzel of corporate rationale is working.

    That’s been working so well, hasn’t it? Rick Scott’s election and re-election? Patrick Murphy? Hillary Clinton? Truly this philosophy is shocking in its effectiveness, so long as the effect desired is the election of rightwing Republicans.

    So the Democratic Party shouldn’t be about values or policy, or how to run good government, but just identity-tailored emotional “scripts” designed to appeal to people the leaders of the party hold in such contempt they don’t think they even understand their own needs? We’re going to dismiss voters’ own ability to assess what they want, and just assume they’re emotionally out-of-control rubes who need the firm hand of corporate donors when it comes to actual policy?

    Can you people even hear yourselves? This is “Let them eat cake” level tone-deafness. It’s a privileged fantasy of how the world works that’s never going to fly with anyone any better than it did in 2016.

  4. Having attended the Broward Democratic Progressive Caucus, I was appalled at the vitriol that was aimed at Sally from people who weren’t there. This meeting, which was well publicized was live streamed and available to many people. Sally was there for 3 hours and answered many tough questions. She was warmly received but unmercifully drilled. Picking and choosing certain statements and attacking this good person by people who didn’t attend the meeting was very disappointing. With that said, it is time to move forward. Aim your anger at Republicans. Let’s win elections for a change. If we give the electorate great candidates with integrity and compassion we can win with the help of a competent FDP, something that has sorely been lacking in the past.

    1. We actually do see it’s time to move forward, and SBB’s first foray into the Florida Sunshine show the party is still headed in the opposite direction. Maybe this stuff worked in Idaho, but it’s not what Floridians are looking for. We actually DO have needs and issues, and if she bothered to actually read the source material she’s referencing (Lakoff), she’d know that she’s doing it wrong.

  5. Not sure if you read Shattered, but the issues with over-reliance on data analytics is a central theme, especially w/r/t Mook who wouldn’t make a move w/o data. the Brooklyn headquarters is characterized as “worshipping data” and the campaign’s operatives are called “young data warriors.”

    You’re confusing data analytics with polling in the Blue Wall states which Mook skimped on believing that the cash-poor areas would (according to their past analytics) swing for HRC regardless of having adequate boots on the ground.

    1. I did read the entire book, and I stand by what I said because it is factually true and backed up by the book. Yes, they did rely in data. That doesn’t mean that they did it well as the way they approached data was incredibly arrogant and using an approach I would never even consider. They relied on their own data without testing or verifying it despite a lot of people pleading with them to do so. This just wasn’t in the Blue Wall states, it was in every state. They did no tracking, and poll tracking is one way to verify if your data and scoring holds true, at all in October.

      1. It’s not factually true, and it’s laughable to insist the campaign was weak on data analysis. But, please…proceed.

      2. When a campaign stubbornly refused to verify their data, and that data ends up being wrong, then it is quite obviously a weakness.

  6. Susan McGrath · · Reply

    Weeks into a new position and Democrats are willing to vilify one who’s only intention is to get Democrats elected. Maybe she said things you don’t agree with. So what? Spoiler alert: everyone will. Democrats refuse to see who the opposition is. This is why we lose. I take it it’s not possible for us to actually try to support a Democrat?

  7. Janet Burnett · · Reply

    I don’t know who Jerry Iannelli is or what’s his claim to fame. He referenced me in the article and got my intention all wrong. From his photo, he seems to be just a bit past puberty. Anyway, this “elderly woman” asked a question to clarify, not vilify. I’ve made an observation that’s continually recurring. Democrats involved in clubs and caucus are a tiny percentage of the voting population.
    If one is going to take the time to get involved in political activism, one ought to take the time for some self development. I’d say, learn to actively listen. Don’t jump to conclusions. I can’t believe I’m agreeing with Sarah Palin, but stop the “got you” journalism. Democrat activists seems to all want to be head cooks. No one wants to be the bottle washer. We are going to kill this party, like fire ants consuming a lion. Instead of merely criticizing, offer a suggestion.

  8. Mitch Ceasar · · Reply

    Please call me…Mtch ceasar..954-475-2500X2

  9. Phillippi once again, showing the entire state that he is incapable of thinking passed the establishment line. This piece is complete nonsense, and tone deaf. Democrats didn’t lose the rust belt because we didn’t play to emotions enough, or engage in identity politics enough. We lost the rust belt, because we could not articulate a clear message with policies focused on creating jobs.

    The Democrats have lost the middle class, and continuing down the road grossly articulated here will continue a streak off losses nationwide. This is what happens when we listen to people that are incapable of seeing the whole board. This addiction to playing to people racial, religious, gender and orientation divisions is why we lose. We need to go back to our roots and focus on messaging that clearly articulates policies that will improve peoples lives, create jobs, put more money in peoples pockets, and reduce health care costs, not dividing people and building “coalitions” around those divisions. It hasnt worked since Obama’s inauguration, and its time those responsible for peddling these losing strategies shut up, get out of the way and move on.

    Sean included.

    1. LMAO, I see that you haven’t changed a bit Justin. Facts still don’t seem to matter to you, like the fact that I have won a large majority of the campaigns I have been hired to run. I let evidence dictate conclusions and strategy, and don’t try to justify a belief that I have despite the fact that the overwhelming evidence available would lead any rational human being to re-examine things based on the perpetual failure of their original viewpoint(s).

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