Sorry, Meade County Dems: Rick Weiland does not want to chair the South Dakota Democratic Party. We can now focus on debating the relative merits of Ann Tornberg and Jeff Barth as to who can best redirect and rebuild the party.
Whomever Dems pick as their practical leader, they should look for someone who can align with Weiland's philosophical leadership. Consider this passage from Weiland's message to supporters yesterday, which sounds more like a call to arms than a demurral:
But in 2014 our Democratic Party has become almost as hogtied by big money as the other party and ridding our political system of it’s influence became the cornerstone of my campaign for the United States Senate.
It is past time for another injection of common sense from the prairie.
We need a new declaration of independence, a declaration of independence from big money [Rick Weiland, e-mail, 2014.12.04].
Weiland is saying the same thing here that he consistently said during his 18 months on the Senate campaign trail: plutocracy is bad for democracy, and even his own Democratic Party needs to do more to reclaim democracy from its rich hijackers. It sounds an awful lot like what many progressive commentators are saying Democrats need to do to win back their base.
David Dayen says the working class and the middle class are mad that the wealthy have rigged the system in their own favor, and the only thing they are hearing from most Democrats is the same free-market bushwa they get from Republicans:
This is not the Democratic Party of your great-grandfather’s New Deal or your grandfather’s Great Society. The takeover of the party by more business-friendly interests — which ironically (or perhaps not) dates back to right around 1973, when wages decoupled from productivity — necessarily impoverishes the imagination around issues of economic security and prosperity [David Dayen, "The So-So Society: Democrats Have Forgotten What Made Them Great," Fiscal Times, 2014.11.14].
Barack Obama kept telling folks to brighten up: the economy is coming back, he said, and prosperity is just around the corner.
A party truly connected to the people would never have dared to make such a claim. In the real world of voters, human experience trumps macroeconomics and the slowly declining official unemployment rate. An official at the AFL-CIO culled the following insights from what voters said about themselves on Election Day: 54 percent suffered a decline in household income during the past year. Sixty-three percent feel the economy is fundamentally unfair. Fifty-five percent agree strongly (and another 25 percent agree somewhat) that both political parties are too focused on helping Wall Street and not enough on helping ordinary people [William Greider, "How the Democratic Party Lost Its Soul," The Nation, 2014.11.11].
Dave Johnson of the Campaign for America's Future says Democrats' "New Coke" response to the GOP's pro-business Pepsi has driven voters away:
As Democrats embraced neoliberal “market solution” arguments and moved away from representing the interests of working-class and middle-class voters, many of those voters had nowhere left to turn and simply stopped voting [Dave Johnson, "Is the Democratic Party Relevant Anymore?" Truthout, 2014.12.03].
The Nation says voters see the Democratic Party "too close to corporate funders" and calls for a progressive challenger to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential primary. Richard R.J. Eskow says Democrats must rekindle a "passionate commitment to core progressive values" to restore their party's soul. Greider calls for outright populist-progressive insurrection to reclaim the party:
What we need is a rump formation of dissenters who will break free of the Democratic Party’s confines and set a new agenda that will build the good society rather than feed bloated wealth, disloyal corporations and absurd foreign wars. This is the politics the country needs: purposeful insurrection inside and outside party bounds, and a willingness to disrupt the regular order [Greider, 2014.11.11].
Is Weiland reading these thinkers? Are these thinkers reading Weiland? Whichever the case may be, Weiland may be positioning himself to lead just such a progressive-populist fight for the soul of his party. Weiland writes in his December 4 e-mail that he will do everything in his power "to assist the new Chairperson," but by keeping himself out of the elected party leadership, he keeps the freedom to advocate and criticize his party to push them toward his populist values.
As the South Dakota Democrat to emerge from the unpleasant midterms with the largest, most active base, Weiland doesn't need an official title to lead the party in the right direction. Dems, and next Dem chair, you should strongly consider following Weiland in the fight against plutocracy.