Having missed the last few College Democrats meetings, David Chapman was surprised to learn that the group had voted to no longer actively support Jon Corzine in the upcoming gubernatorial election. But despite the unexpected revocation, Corzine/Weinberg signs still hang in the freshman’s dorm room. “There shouldn’t be any question that the club should support the governor,” Chapman said. “I would have thought that as Democrats, they’d come together and back the Democratic nominee, even if there were disagreements.”
College Democrats did not take a vote on whether the individual members personally supported Corzine; but rather, whether the club would actively campaign for the candidate. Although the majority of the club will likely vote for Corzine, the College Democrats agreed to prioritize other causes.
Brian Block, president of the College Democrats, concurred with Chapman. “All in all, I don’t agree with [the vote], but I agree with my club’s ability to decide on its own,” he said. “For the sake of the national party, though, it would be better to elect a Democrat.” Brian R. Hackett, conservative activist and former College Republicans chairman, sensed that something had gone awry. “They’re sending out the public perception that they’re totally confused about this election,” Hackett said. “On one hand they’re propping up Corzine, but on the other hand, many of them are saying they’re not supporting him… Politics is about perception, and they’re not doing a good job with it.”
Division within College Democrats, I have learned, is hardly a new phenomenon. I am not a Democrat, nor do I associate with the Democratic Party, but I have observed enough of the club’s internal dynamics to identify the rifts that exist within it. They exist around conflicting personalities and organizational priorities; there has been a tendency for one side to be directly involved in single-issue activism, and for the other (usually the side including most of the executive board) to focus more on hosting and campaigning for politicians.
And though the club had been marred by disunity in the past, intra-party discord was never so clear as on the day that a majority, albeit slim, of College Democrats voted not to support the Democratic incumbent governor’s bid for reelection.
The decision, it seemed, was made out of disdain both for Corzine’s perceived failures in office, as well as the nature of his campaign apparatus. Alex Berger, vice president of the club, worked on the campaign for a time as “TCNJ Campus Coordinator.” Berger, who left the position in early October, called the campaign’s atmosphere “very machinelike; they run things very backroom, backdoor – decision-making is done in little interest groups.”
The governor’s personnel have aggressively courted TCNJ Democrats all semester, effectively converting meetings into Corzine campaign events without the consent of the general membership. With gifts of Chinese food and soda, Corzine staffer Ilene Lampitt attempted to entice the mostly-uninterested attendees into compiling voter registration reminders – junk mail, really – that would be sent to friends and relatives. During the meeting, one disillusioned College Democrat questioned whether the club was truly obligated to support every Democratic candidate simply for the sake of party loyalty; she proposed that the group actually take a vote on whether it would collectively support Corzine. Lampitt, the campaign staffer, became incensed at the mere notion; she shouted down the rabble-rouser, scolding her for having the audacity to challenge the status quo. Lampitt didn’t back up her arrogant command with any real argument as to why the Democrats at TCNJ should support Corzine – it was a “because-I-said-so” affair.
The Corzine campaign took notice of the group’s infighting, and reacted with indignation. Vice President Alex Berger said Corzine staffers told him that if the College Democrats kept it up, the campaign would have to look elsewhere for help on campus – maybe even recruiting fraternities to do their grunt-work. Apparently, there’s no better way to rally your base than to tell them that they can be replaced by hired flunkies.
This is not simply a problem of personality differences or mismanagement by local leaders – most any political organization will experience hiccups. The issue is that the national Democratic Party, in my view, is not a party of the people. It is beholden to the corporate two-party system, a system not actually interested in advancing progressive causes. Historically, the Democratic leadership has either failed to live up to their liberal ideals, or only acted upon them when forced to do so by mass movements. Discouragingly, people who care about progressive issues have been known to “Get out the Vote” for Democratic candidates, only to find that their issues are left unaddressed when the candidates win. It was only a matter of time before the strain in this contradictory situation, of enlisting energetic youth in a stale political machine, would show itself at TCNJ.