Ruth: Democrats navel-gaze, Republicans win

Published Nov. 19, 2014

Get ready for a rash of navel-gazing rivaling the Beatles heading off to "Ohmmmmmmmm!" away with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Or you could think of the Florida Democratic Party's plans for self-reflection, meditation and thinking deep thoughts as its rendition of "Yawnberry Fields Forever."

After coming off an election debacle best described as the Charge of the Ultra Light Charade, as Florida's Democrats pretended to be a political party, state Chairwoman Allison Tant, the Gen. Halftrack of the Hustings, created a blue-ribbon panel of prominent Democrats (all 14 of them) to study the election's outcomes and recommend ideas to transform the party in time for the 2016 campaign. Forget the pig. This is going to be like putting lipstick on Lenin's corpse.

The formal name of the Tant commission is the LEAD (Leadership Expansion to Advance Democrats) Task Force. It could just as well stand for Losers Eclipsed by Advanced Dunderheadedness. The whole exercise recalls the late Tampa Bay Buccaneer head coach John McKay, who when asked what he thought of his forlorn team's execution after yet another loss, replied: "I'm all for it."

When all the chin-rubbing and thumb-sucking and brow-furrowing is over, Florida Democrats hope to accomplish three goals: a) "Review best practices for candidate recruitment for local, state and federal offices;" b) "Examine data and digital footprint to ensure new technologies are being utilized;" and c) "Assess field and turnout operations and recommend steps to improve performance."

We might also add a fourth element: Replace Tant with someone who knows how to compete in a knife fight.

You don't need to be some well-paid consultant to figure out this is a faux political party with all the bench strength of the Little Rascals when it comes to cultivating future candidates who have a chance to win a statewide election.

This is absolutely no knock on Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, one of the few remaining politically savvy, skilled retail Democratic politicians on the horizon, who would be a formidable gubernatorial candidate come 2018. But after Buckhorn — who?

No doubt the Tant Consortium of Hand-Wringing will spare no amount of cogitation on how to attract a new generation of candidates and win elections. Let's start with a pulse.

This may come as a revelation to the elite assemblage of mourners, but how about creating a slate of candidates who aren't afraid to stand up for party principles instead of turning themselves into the red badge of porridge every time a Republican sneers in their general direction?

It might be argued voter turnout could improve if voters were given candidates worth voting for. And while we're at it, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who is a co-chair of the Tant Convocation of Alibis, might explain why he was a virtual no-show during the 2014 gubernatorial campaign when his presence alongside Democratic nominee Charlie Crist might have helped to convey a sense of party unity in an election decided by a 1.2 percentage-point margin for Gov. Rick Scott. It's not as if Nelson was all that busy in Washington.

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It's not entirely clear how much money the Tant Privy Council On What, Me Worry? has to do its work. But it might not be a bad idea to scrape up a few dollars to hire a medium to conduct a seance with the late Republican Party of Florida Chairman Tom Slade.

It was Slade who was one of the key architects of the GOP's rise — from just about where the Democrats are now (irrelevant) to political dominance in the Florida Legislature and around the state.

After Slade died recently at 78, his political skills were recalled and admired by both his fellow Republicans and by Democrats.

Slade played hardball. Democrats play canasta. Slade was an adept strategist, a cunning marketer, a relentless fundraiser and a skilled kneecapper when the occasion arose. He was able to bring factions together, recruit talent and stay relentlessly on message.

In 1993, when Slade assumed the chairmanship of the state GOP, Democrats held the Governor's Mansion, controlled the Florida House and shared the Florida Senate. Five years later Republicans had seized control of … everything.

Why? Perhaps Slade said it best when he mused: "We must be careful not to be our own worst enemy." And that pretty much sums up the challenge for the Tant Round Table of Concession Speeches.