BY HUGO TORRES
The Second Annual Harvard Law School Democrats Conference came to a close last week, with a succession of panels on Thursday. Covering a range of topics from “Effective Use of the Media” to “Community Building” to “Building a Stronger Farm Team” the panels continued the overall theme of the conference, “Rebuilding the Democratic Party and the Left”. Speakers at the panels included well-known Democratic figures such as Joe Lockhart, press secretary to the Clinton administration, Tom Hughes, Executive Director of Howard Dean’s Democracy for America, and Rep. Arthur Davis, D-AL.
The panel on the media was representative of the larger themes being discussed throughout the week. During the panel, Ben Hubbard, Campus Programs Director for the American Progress Action Fund, noted that the “right is investing a lot on college campuses.” Hubbard pointed out that “they train students to be effective communicators, to be media savvy.”
According to Hubbard, the left needs to follow this example and invest more in training not just young activists but also young people who know how to use the media. “You can’t secure a lasting movement unless you devote the resources…to keep it going generation after generation.”
David Brock, president of Media Matters, discussed the importance of the right’s ability to form connections among the different media outlets. As an example, Brock noted that the Washington Times, a conservative paper, has a circulation of about 100,000. But then Rush Limbaugh will read a story on his radio show, exposing the paper to 20 million people. Bill O’Reilly might get the writer of the story onto his show, bringing in another 5 million people. Finally, Matt Drudge will link to it on his website, pulling in even more exposure to a specific story.
Brock helped found Media Matters to serve as a watchdog on the media. “It’s an effort to hold the media accountable. You’re no longer going to operate with impunity.”Mike Feldman, former senior advisor to Vice President Al Gore, offered the suggestion that Democrats take the initiative in formulating a larger vision. “We’re not doing as good a job at the bigger picture. At changing the narrative.”
Feldman offered as an example the 2000 election. “The 2000 election came down to a narrative between two candidates,” of Dumbo v. Pinocchio, according to Feldman, with Bush being the bumbling but honest cowboy and Gore being the smart but deceitful politician. As such, every inaccuracy was cast in a particular light by the media: when Bush misspoke, he was regarded as a man who makes honest mistakes, whereas when Gore misspoke he was considered to be a man who intentionally lies.
Despite the current situation where Republicans control all three branches of government, Joe Lockhart, former press secretary under the Clinton administration, urged Democrats to have hope. “I do believe that politics is cyclical…[it] has a way of self-correcting.”
David Burd, co-chair of the Conference Committee that organized the week’s events, was pleased with the way the week turned out. “Overall, it was great. Both the attendees and panelists enjoyed themselves and walked away learning a lot, and we are continuing this work moving forward.”
Burd explained that the idea for the conference came out of the enthusiasm generated during the 2004 election. “Coming off the 2004 election, a lot of us were trying to figure out ways we could get involved with the party and progressive causes more generally that would have a lasting impact.” From these discussions came the general theme of the conference, “Rebuilding the Democratic Party and the Left”. Notable Democrats were also consulted for advice, including Mary Beth Cahill and Maggie Williams.
“In the end, we really had an all-star lineup by any measure,” said Burd.