When Rep. Ilhan Omar intimated that the United States’ alliance with Israel is motivated primarily by money and later responded to a tweet asking who she thinks is paying politicians to be pro-Israel with the one-word reply, “AIPAC!”, the first-term senator could’ve chosen her words better. After all, it’s not truly all about the Benjamins. There are legitimate cultural, ethnic, geopolitical and religious concerns to be had with mapping out the two countries’ strategic partnership.
All the same, Omar’s comments clearly struck a nerve, and not just because of her purported anti-Semitism. That she was so swiftly rebuked by members of both parties suggests that, despite her indelicacy, she was more right than many of her colleagues would like you to know. In addition, the backlash Rep. Omar has received provides yet another lesson about the substantive role money plays in American politics and the degree to which it holds sway over the two major parties.
As always, context helps. This past Sunday, an article appeared on Haaretz.com regarding House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s vow to take action against fellow representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar for their criticism of Israel. In McCarthy’s mind, these women’s views are on par with or worse than that of Steve King, whose defense of white supremacy has prompted bilateral calls for his removal from key House committees, and in some cases, his outright resignation.
Even the authors of the Haaretz article noted it was unclear to what comments McCarthy was referring and, thus, to what extent anti-Semitism played a part. Speaking less diplomatically, though, come the f**k on.
In Tlaib’s and Omar’s case, their most notable “offenses” have been their support for the BDS movement, which advocates for boycotts of, divestment from, and sanctions of Israel for creating what supporters of the movement liken to an apartheid state. It’s a controversial movement in that its criticisms of Israel are met with their own countercriticisms that A) Israel is not an apartheid state, B) BDS is anti-Semitic, and C) these criticisms of Israel would seek to delegitimize it.
In King’s case, meanwhile, it’s repeated defense of white supremacist talking points. The man has also repeatedly re-tweeted and met with far-right nationalist leaders across continents. At the very least, McCarthy is engaging in a bit of disingenuous whataboutism. Either way, it’s an implausible false equivalency. Besides, Tlaib and Omar are new to the D.C. scene and don’t possess nearly the stature and platform King does given his veteran experience in Congress. Rep. King has been dining on nativist bigotry while holding a federal public office seat for over a decade now.
With all this in mind, journalist Glenn Greenwald reacted to the cited piece with a tweet broadly condemning U.S. political leaders for their defense of a foreign nation at the expense of Americans’ free speech rights. To which Omar retweeted Greenwald with the titular line from the seminal Puff Daddy hit, setting off a political firestorm.
In the minds of many, it wasn’t just that Omar was inaccurate with her invocation of AIPAC and the Israel lobby, but that she appeared to do so by trafficking in anti-Semitic stereotypes. For Omar’s detractors, here were the tropes about “Jewish greed” and “Jews control the world with their money” all over again. The reference to AIPAC also ruffled feathers by suggesting that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is not an actual political action committee or PAC, gives donations directly to members of Congress. AIPAC merely encourages people to be generous with their contributions to pro-Israel members of the House and Senate. And it spends its money on lobbying, not on individual candidate campaigns.
But lo, how it spends on lobbying. As Matthew Yglesias of Vox fame explains, in 2018, AIPAC spent $3.5 million on lobbying, far and away the most when it comes to foreign policy influence (second on the list is UNICEF, which managed less than $1 million). This doesn’t include what Yglesias describes as “lavish” accommodations and airfare for trips to Israel for members of Congress and their families.
Accordingly, for all the furor over Rep. Omar’s tweets, precipitated by a largely unfounded attack on her and another female Muslim congresswoman, there was a teachable moment about how money in politics impacts stated policy positions and influences policy directives. In the ensuing outrage, however, that got lost.
Instead, people tweeted their dismay, pro-Israel members of Congress expressed their indignation, and even Chelsea Clinton somewhat bizarrely weighed in to advise Omar against reliance on anti-Semitic tropes “as an American” and, evidently, as a self-appointed arbiter of responsible language toward Jews and Israel. By the time Nancy Pelosi was condemning Omar’s remarks, the track to the Minnesota representative’s apology was well-oiled. Within a day of her initial retweet of Glenn Greenwald, Ilhan Omar issued a public mea culpa, taking absolutely the right tone. She professed that she never meant to offend her constituents, Jews, and the combination therein and indicated a willingness to accept criticism and learn from episodes like this.
As mentioned earlier, the magnitude of the outcry against Omar and the rapidity with which it occurred were striking, and the fallout from the fracas is still being felt. President Donald Trump himself, a man who is no stranger to controversy, rejected Omar’s apology as “lame” and made his preference known that she be removed from committees or asked to resign much in the way Steve King has been. Indeed, even for some of those who appreciate the nuance of what Omar was saying and the point she was trying to make about the corrosive nature of lobbyist money, they lament how she has given cannon fodder to the Republican Party and risked driving a wedge between her own party. So much for the power of social media.
And so much for that teachable moment. What could have been a meaningful dialog on the role of money has since degraded into a reflexive conversation about what constitutes anti-Semitism. This is not to say, of course, that anti-Semitism doesn’t exist or that it isn’t on the rise. Heck, a man ran unopposed as a Republican for Congress in the state of Illinois as a Holocaust denier just last November and got 25% of the vote. Still, if there was a lesson learned, it was not ours, but rather Omar’s. The lesson was to watch what you say about the pro-Israel lobby, and while instructive, it’s not all that gratifying for her or the rest of us.
Ilhan Omar’s apology was intriguing in that it was “unequivocal,” yet still strove to reaffirm the problematic nature of lobbying as it concerns AIPAC, the fossil fuel industry, and the NRA, to name a few. For the townsfolk holding torches and pitchforks, this was only salt in the proverbial wound and a hollow apology. From my standpoint, I believe Omar was sincere in what she said and that her allusions to Jewish stereotypes concerning money were unintentional. Granted, she could’ve chosen her words better, but there was more substance in her words than reporting on this to-do would lead the casual news consumer to believe. If her apology seemed forced, it’s likely because it was made to appease the members of Congress who disagree with her stance—both those who would weaponize it for political gain or discourage it because of fear of that very phenomenon.
In referring to the disingenuousness of Kevin McCarthy’s part in all of this that started this controversy off and running, his participation is not without a sense of irony. McCarthy made an appeal prior to the MAGA base in October warning voters to choose Republican in the 2018 election so as not to “allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg to BUY this election.” If Omar’s tweets can be branded as anti-Semitic, McCarthy’s (now-deleted) tweet sure can.
He’s not the only one. For all of the kosher meat Donald Trump has been throwing to the Zionist cause since being elected, prior to that, he was using anti-Semitic tropes and depictions of cash next to pictures of Hillary Clinton, dog-whistling from his platform as presumptive Republican Party nominee. Just because these men aren’t Muslims or don’t support the BDS movement doesn’t mean the allegations against them are any less valid.
As much as AIPAC’s mention has been papered over by the mainstream media, moreover, there are those who would defend Rep. Omar for her attention to a group that routinely deflects criticism from its membership and from the Israeli government, branding dissent as anti-Semitic and intimidating those who advocate for anything other than the status quo. Glenn Greenwald, for one, sees Omar’s censure as a segment of a pattern, pointing to attempts by Haim Saban, the Democratic National Committee’s top donor and outspokenly pro-Israel, to label Democrat Keith Ellison, also a Muslim, as an anti-Semite because of his public condemnation of Israeli expansion of settlements into contested lands.
It’s not like AIPAC has exactly been flying under the radar lately, either. As Ryan Grim of The Intercept recently reported, leaders of the pro-Israel lobby were caught on camera discussing the extent and nature of their influence, detailing how the Committee and its donors organize events in such a way so as not to be tied to the funds they generate. Plus, there’s the whole business of AIPAC using Ilhan Omar’s controversy in it of itself as a cause for a fundraiser. Nothing demonstrates your indignation and your support of Israel like a hefty donation. Please—be generous.
Despite calls for her head, so to speak, Omar has handled this whole situation with aplomb and has not backed down from her critics—at least not the Republican ones. She notably fired back at Pres. Trump pointing out to his track record of spewing hateful rhetoric following his aforementioned rejection of her apology.
Thus, as unfortunately as some would insist this all played out, the strength and—dare I say—chutzpah she and Rashida Tlaib have shown when dealing with negative attention suggests the Democratic Party’s diversity truly is a strength. It’s up to the Democrats to decide whether or not they’ll stand behind strong progressives like them or let moneyed interests dictate who they support and when.
2017 looks poised to finish on a high note, at least economically speaking. The stock market in the United States is near a record high, likely buoyed by the GOP’s corporation-friendly tax cut that President Donald Trump signed into law. Reportedly, the holiday season saw an increase of 5% in sales, an increase of 3.7% from the same span in 2016. Winning, winning, winning. Aren’t you tired of winning so much, fellow Americans? Aren’t you glad Pres. Trump is making America great again? Never mind the notion that he may not have as much to do with the economy as he would lead you to believe. Also, maybe we shouldn’t mention that, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research in London, England, China and India’s economies will surpass that of the U.S.’s by 2030. In other long-term news, meanwhile, productivity growth within America’s economy remains low, income inequality remains startlingly high, the federal debt continues to skyrocket, and the nation is gripped by an opioid dependency epidemic.
So, glass half empty or glass half full? How do you see these United States shaping up over the next few years and into the future? It likely depends on which side of the political or socioeconomic fence you live—and whether or not you stand to personally benefit from the policies the Trump administration and a Republican-led Congress aim to advance. Looking just at the GOP tax cuts, opponents of this policy shift have assailed it as a present for the super-wealthy and industry leaders at the expense of average Americans, and as a greasing of the slippery slope toward the erosion of Social Security, Medicare, and other social safety net programs. In other words, the advantages of this agenda would tend to be appreciated by the few rather than the many, and perhaps it is no wonder Trump’s approval ratings are languishing south of 40%, a historical low at this point in the presidency.
Perhaps it’s instructive to see where we’ve been to help gauge where we may be going in 2018, in 2020, and beyond. Let’s take a look back at some of the topics covered in 2017 on United States of Joe. Warning: we may have a bit more to say regarding our orange leader. If you have any small children in the room, you may want to move them to a safe location—especially if they happen to frequent beauty pageants. I hear El Presidente and his buddies like ’em young, and like to invade dressing rooms of contestants while they’re potentially less-than-fully clothed. Without further ado, let’s do the…
US of J 2017 Review: This Time, It’s Personal—Because Our President Takes Everything Personally
The Biggest Inauguration in U.S. History—Kinda, Sorta
Hey—did you realize Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election? No? Let Trump himself tell you about it! In fact, let him tell you about how he won going away every time something goes wrong or the press challenges him on the quality of his performance as President. You know, even though he didn’t win going away—dude didn’t even win the popular vote. Of course, Trump being the stupid baby that he is, he would challenge the legitimacy of Hillary Clinton’s supremacy in the popular vote, a harbinger of a disturbing trend that continues to play out with the Tweeter-in-Chief. Hillary didn’t win the popular vote—it was massive fraud involving undocumented immigrants that illegitimately got her that small victory. There’s absolutely no credible evidence of this, mind you, and the bullshit voter fraud task force the White House commissioned hasn’t turned up anything either. Trump’s Inauguration crowds were bigger than Barack Obama’s. Don’t believe the visual evidence? That’s OK—Trump, Sean Spicer and Co. were simply offering “alternative facts.” Don’t care for CNN’s brand of reporting? No problem—it’s “fake news.” After all, the media isn’t to be trusted in the first place—it’s the enemy of the people. I’m sure you felt that deep down anyhow, though.
Donald Trump’s assault on the truth and on verifiable fact is unmistakable, and his attacks on the press, including his fetishistic obsession with CNN, are overstated. That said, it’s not as if American news media is blameless in this regard either. Even before Trump was elected President, the mainstream media was an unabashed enabler of his antics. With Buzzfeed’s release of the “Pee-Pee Papers,” a salacious and unauthenticated account of Russian prostitutes performing sex acts at Trump’s behest supposedly based on credible intelligence, and CNN retracting a story on a supposed connection between Anthony Scaramucci, whose tenure as White House Communications Director was remarkably short-lived, and Trump’s Russian ties, Trump suddenly appears more credible. In the push for ratings and clicks in an turbulent era for journalism, the rush of media outlets to meet the demand of consumers for up-to-date information is understandable, but this does not excuse sloppy, irresponsible reporting. For the sake of the institution as a whole, the U.S. news media must balance the need to generate revenue with the importance of upholding standards of journalistic integrity, and must stand together when Trump et al. would seek to undermine one among their ranks—or risk a more precipitous downfall.
Gorsuch: Silver Fox and Supreme Court Justice
One of the big concerns following the death of Antonin Scalia and prompting voters to think hard about voting strategically between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was the idea the next President would get to nominate Scalia’s successor. We would be remiss if we did not mention that Barack Obama, well in advance of his departure from the White House, had already tapped Merrick Garland, a fine candidate to fill Scalia’s void. Mitch McConnell a.k.a. Turtle McTurtleface and the other Republicans in the Senate, meanwhile, would not even entertain Obama’s choice, prompting their constituents to protest outside of their offices and chant “Do your job!” In other words, it was really a dick move on the GOP’s part, and a gamble that the party would win the 2016 presidential election so they could install Antonin Scalia 2.0. Trump’s upset electoral victory thus paved the way for Neil Gorsuch to ascend to the highest court in the United States.
Gorsuch, previously a U.S. Circuit Court Judge with a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, is eminently qualified in his own right. This didn’t seem to be a point of contention between leaders of the two parties. Still, coming off a situation in which a perfectly good candidate in Garland was blocked as a function of mere partisanship, it brought an added measure of scrutiny and tension to confirmation proceedings. The Democrats filibustered to prevent cloture and delay a confirmation vote. The Republicans countered by invoking the so-called “nuclear option,” effectively changing Senate rules whereby they could break the filibuster with a simple majority. By a 54-45 vote, Neil Gorsuch was confirmed as the latest Supreme Court Justice. The whole process ultimately revealed few interesting tidbits about Gorsuch, and more so demonstrated the ugliness of political brinksmanship that has become a hallmark of Congress in this day and age. And we wonder why average Americans are not more politically engaged.
The Trump Administration vs. the World
As a function of “making America great again,” Donald Trump apparently believes strongly in defense spending and letting the world know the United States is #1. After alternatively touting his desire to bring the country along a more isolationist track and vowing to “bomb the shit out of ISIS” on the campaign trail, Trump, well, sort of did both. In terms of shows of force, his administration was responsible for dropping the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan, as well as approving the launch of dozens of missiles into Syria, supposedly as retaliation for the Assad regime’s use of toxic gas on its own people. The latter, in particular, got the dander of his white nationalist supporters up, though as far as most kinder, gentler souls are concerned, the disappointment of a bunch of ethnocentric xenophobes is not all that much of a loss. Less talked-about, but perhaps no less significant, were other less successful operations across international lines. First of all, not long after Trump took office, there was a botched raid in Yemen that saw Navy SEAL Ryan Owens killed, and to date, little information has been offered on the attack that led to his death and by all appearances was ill-advised. And there was the massacre at a mosque in Syria outside Aleppo. According to U.S. officials, numerous al-Qaeda operatives were taken out by the strike in the town of Jinah, but activists and others on the ground there tell a different story, one of civilians attending religious services and being fired upon as they tried to flee the place of worship. Reportedly, at least 46 people were killed in the assault on the mosque, and the U.S. military was criticized by humanitarian groups for not doing its due diligence in assessing the target for the possibility of civilian casualties. Oh, well—they were Muslims and not Americans anyway. Whoops!
In terms of isolating itself from the international community, America has done that under Donald Trump—if for other reason than it has done to things to alienate that international community. There was the whole backing of out of the Paris climate accord thing, which is voluntary in the first place and thus mostly serves as a middle finger to those here and abroad who give a hoot about polluting and climate change. Even before apparent attacks on American diplomats there, Trump and his administration have reversed course on Cuba relative to an Obama-era thawing of frigid diplomatic relations, and the benefit of this 180 to either side merits questioning. They’ve taken a tough tone with Iran and accused the country of not meeting its end of the bargain with respect to the nuclear deal much hated by conservative Republicans, in apparent deference to the whims of Saudi Arabia. Trump and North Korean president Kim Jong-un have basically had a year-long war of words through television news media and social media, with the latter referring to the former as a “dotard.” (Essentially, he told our President he’s a senile moron. Thanks, Merriam-Webster!) The White House has resolved to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and to acknowledge the city, contested as to its very boundaries, as the capital of Israel, prompting a United Nations resolution condemning the move. And this is all before we even get to the investigation into Trump, his transition team, his administration, and suspected ties to Russia. In short, if Donald Trump hasn’t pissed you off this year, you’re either one of his core supporters or have just run out of f**ks to give—and I’m not sure which one is worse.
Race to the Exit: The Trump Administration Story
Viewing some of Trump’s picks for Cabinet posts and various positions within the White House at length, it was a wonder for many to see who might be first to go or fail to even get confirmed. At least Andrew Puzder, then-CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, had the decency to withdraw before the confirmation process was over; as potential Secretary of Labor, it was his employ of undocumented immigrants which was his undoing. Not giving less than half a shit about his employees and being opposed to raising the minimum wage? Nah, that was fine. In fact, it made him more than suitable for nomination in the era of Trump. Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, Linda McMahon, Mick Mulvaney, Steve Mnuchin, Rick Perry, Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, Jeff Sessions—these are the kinds of individuals that Donald Trump, seemingly without irony, tapped for important government posts despite a lack of proficiency in their area of supposed expertise, a stated desire to abolish the very agency they were named to head, or both. Price ultimately resigned when information about his questionable spending of the government’s finances to suit his convenience came to light, and there have been whispers about the job security of Sessions and Rex Tillerson from time to time, but for the most part, the bulk of them still remain. And so much for draining the swamp—between Goldman Sachs and billionaires, this Cabinet is as marshy as they come.
As for other appointees and residual officeholders, there was yet more volatility to be had. Michael Flynn was National Security Adviser for all of about a month before getting canned, and currently, he’s facing repercussions after pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators. Not to be outdone, the aforementioned Anthony Scaramucci lasted a scant ten days before his sacking as White House Communications Director, and in that short time, he divested himself of business ties and ruined his marriage. Welcome to the team, Mooch—and don’t let the door hit you on your way out! His predecessor, Sean “Spicey” Spicer, made it to July before bowing out, but not before some hilarious cameos on Saturday Night Live featuring Melissa McCarthy as Spicer. Steve Bannon, the Skeleton King, made it to August before he was either fired or before he resigned—depending on who you ask. Sebastian Gorka also departed in August, and seeing as he didn’t do much but argue with the press in interviews anyway, I’m relatively sure he isn’t missed. Omarosa Manigault Newman is set to resign in January, and evidently is not afraid to tell all. In sum, people can’t get out of the Trump White House soon enough, and whether some vacancies will go unfilled or simply are taking forever to get filled, the hallmark of this administration is disarray and upheaval. And somehow Kellyanne Conway still has a job. Sorry—that’s the sound of my head hitting the wall. I’ll try to keep it down.
The Democrats Form a Killer Strategy to Win in 2018, 2020, and Be—Oh, Who Are We Kidding?
For a while, it was relatively quiet on the Democratic Party front following the election and even the Inauguration with the Dems licking their wounds. This is not to say, obviously, that nothing was going on behind the scenes. One event which seems fairly minor but reflects deep conflicts within the Democratic ranks was the election of a new Democratic National Committee chair to replace departing interim chair Donna Brazile, herself a replacement for Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Keith Ellison, a Bernie Sanders supporter and popular progressive Democrat, was the front-runner for the position early, but concerns about Ellison’s lack of obeisance to the positions of the DNC’s rich Jewish donors and the establishment wing of the party not wishing to cede too much control to the “Bernie-crats” among them led former Labor Secretary Tom Perez to enter the fray. In the end, the vote was close, but Perez carried the day. That the Obama-Hillary segment of the Democratic Party would expend so much energy on a position that is largely ceremonial and concerned with fundraising is telling, and signals that any progressive reform of the party will be slow in coming—if at all.
If there is any further doubt about this, look at how certain races played out outside of the presidential milieu. Sure, Democrats may point to more recent victories in the gubernatorial elections of New Jersey (Phil Murphy) and Virginia (Ralph Northam), as well as the special election to replace Jeff Sessions in Alabama (Doug Jones), but other losses appear indicative of the Dems’ failure to commit to a comprehensive, 50-state strategy, namely Jon Ossoff in Georgia, James Thompson in Kansas, and Rob Quist in Montana, who lost to Greg Gianforte, even after the latter beat up a reporter. Seriously. Elsewhere, Hillary Clinton, after a moment of repose, released a book in which she accepted full responsibility for losing a election she was largely expected to win. Kidding! She blamed Bernie Sanders, voters for not coming out more strongly for her, James Comey, and even the DNC. That last one seems particularly disingenuous, especially when considering that Donna Brazile herself had a book to release critical of Hillary and one which confirmed what many of us already knew: that Hill-Dawg and the Committee were in cahoots long before the primaries. The Democrats seem content to allow Donald Trump and the machinations of the Republican Party to dig the GOP into an electoral hole. For an electorate increasingly weary of the “We’re Not the Other One” line, though, this does not a strategy make, and without an obvious frontrunner for 2020, the Democratic Party’s presumed advantage could well be overstated. Such that, if Trump actually makes it that far, it’s not inconceivable to think he could be re-elected. Talk about a recurring nightmare.
The White Supremacists, They Come Bearing Tiki Torches
In 2017, I would’ve thought it crazy for a scene to play out like it did in Charlottesville, Virginia this past August. And yet, lo and behold, it did. Some 250 protestors, carrying kerosene-filled torches and rebelling against a perceived erosion of their heritage and history, marched on the University of Virginia campus, shouting epithets, vowing not to be “replaced,” and generally ready to start a ruckus over the planned removal of a statue honoring Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The next day, though, if not as frightening in terms of the imagery, was worse in terms of the outcome. Protestors arrived carrying nationalist banners clubs, guns, and shields. Counter-protestors were also on hand to “greet” the white supremacists, the anti-fascists among them armed as well. It was not long before violence broke out, and by the time the police intervened, there already were injuries to tally. The worst of it all, though, were the fatalities. Heather Heyer, a counter-protestor, was killed as a result of a man deliberately plowing into people, and two state troopers, H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates, died in a separate helicopter crash. In terms of senseless violence and loss, the Charlottesville riots seem to epitomize the very concept.
The apparent surge in white nationalist leanings following the election of Donald Trump is disturbing in its own right, but by the same token, so too is it unsettling that people would condone attacks against their ranks so readily. Some people who reject any set of principles that resembles Nazism believe violence to suppress hateful rhetoric is justified. Such is the belief of various antifa groups, and this where the debate of the movement’s merits comes into play. Though anti-fascists like those who don the mark of the Black Bloc don’t actually have much to do with traditional liberalism, their association with the left threatens the credibility of true liberal and progressive groups, and nullifies the bargaining power that these individuals have over the deficient worldviews they oppose. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and violence as a tool to suppress violence does not serve its intended purpose.
Congress vs. Everyday Americans: F**k Your Health Care, and F**k Your Income Inequality
Per President Trump, the Affordable Care Act, also affectionately known as “ObamaCare,” is a total disaster. Republican leaders likewise have been decrying the ACA for some time now, painting it as an unwanted intrusion of the federal government in the health care industry. Never mind that a significant portion of red-state voters depend on the provisions of the Affordable Care Act to be able to pay for medically necessary services, and that a sizable subset of America would actually like to see the nation move to a single-payer/Medicare-for-all model. Trump and a GOP Congress had a lot riding on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and replacing it, though owing to the notion the devil is in the details, that Republicans tried to rush legislation through the House and the Senate with little idea of what was in it was telling that it probably wasn’t something they would want to share with their constituents. In the end, John McCain’s “no” vote on a “skinny” repeal of ObamaCare turned out to be pivotal in the measure’s failure to pass. Trump would later issue an executive order that would broadly task the government with working on ways to improve competition, prices, and quality of care, though it faced criticisms for how it essentially opened a backdoor for the destabilization of ACA marketplaces by taking younger, healthier consumers of the equation. Yet more significant could be the planned ending of cost-sharing subsidy payments to insurers that would likely mean higher prices for the consumer. Whatever the case, Trump and the GOP haven’t killed the Affordable Care Act, despite their boasts—they’ve only repealed the individual mandate aspect of the law. Of course, this doesn’t mean the Republicans are done coming for affordable health care. Far from it, in all likelihood.
Where Trump et al. found greater success—to our detriment, it should be stressed—is in the passage and signing of their tax reform bill. Once again, the knowledge of its contents prior to voting among lawmakers was questionable, but ultimately, by relatively slim margins in the House and Senate, what many have referred to as the “GOP Tax Scam” cleared Congress. Make no mistake: this is not good news for average Americans. Any benefits to be enjoyed in the short term are outweighed by how the wealthiest among us and corporations will experience that much more of a boon, with long-term consequences to the national debt and minimal rewards to be trickled down to the rank-and-file. In short, it’s class warfare, and potentially a troubling herald of future attempts to screw with Medicare, Social Security, and other entitlement programs—and the worst part is most of us seem to know it. One can only hope that Republicans will face their own consequences in forthcoming elections. It’s not a great consolation, but at this point, it’s the best we’ve got.
Some Protests Get Lost in the Shouting/Tweeting; Others Succeed Beyond Expectations
Even before Colin Kaepernick, there were player protests and refusals to stand at attention for the playing of the National Anthem at professional sporting events. Not long after the start of the NFL season, however, the continued kneeling, sitting, staying in the locker room, or raising of fists raised the ire of one President Donald Trump who, while apparently not busy playing golf or signing disastrous legislation into law, started a fracas about players refusing to stand during the Star-Spangled Banner, suggesting they should be suspended or outright released for their disrespect of the flag and of those who have served and died for our country. Trump also cited the NFL’s declining ratings and ticket sales as a direct impact of the players kneeling. While it’s possible reactions to player protests may be a factor in these downturns, this overlooks other persistent issues facing professional sports in general: declines in traditional television viewership among younger adults, high costs of premium sports channel packages, the prevalence of injuries and concerns about traumatic brain injuries, the steep price tag for attending games in person, and the mediocrity of play of any number of teams. All the while, the original thrust of Kaepernick’s protest—to raise awareness of the unfair treatment of people of color at the hands of police and other institutions—seemed to get lost in the discussion of who was protesting, which teams issued ultimatums about standing and which did not, and why people weren’t watching now. So much for fighting racial injustice. Better luck in 2018, people of color.
In perhaps a surprising turn of events, though, and possibly a watershed moment in the fights for gender equality and for standing up for victims of sexual assault and harassment, movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s exposure as a habitual offender of sexual misconduct, if not outright rape, opened the floodgates for other accusations, admissions, allegations, and denials. Hollywood has apparently borne the brunt of the revelations inspired by the #MeToo movement, with any number of projects shelved or cancelled as a result of men’s misdeeds, but the political realm also has seen its share of high-profile figures caught in the spotlight. Al Franken was forced to resign from his seat in the U.S. Senate after numerous women accused him of impropriety. John Conyers, another congressional Democrat, resigned too in the wake of a veritable mountain of allegations. Roy Moore didn’t abandon his political aspirations even after the likes of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan suggested he should step aside, but he also didn’t win as a Republican in Alabama. And then there’s maybe the biggest fish of them all: none other than Donald Trump. That Trump hasn’t been brought down by his own accusations—or for any other wrongdoing, for that matter—is somewhat deflating. Then again, maybe it’s only a matter of time. As with members of the GOP losing in 2018 and 2020, once more, we can only hope.
Meryl Streep famously put Donald Trump on blast at the Golden Globes. Predictably, this invited jeers from Trump supporters who felt “limousine liberals” like herself should “stay in their lane.” You may not like that Streep has a platform in this manner, but she still is an American, and that means not only is she entitled to say what she wants given the opportunity, but as she and others might see it, she has a civic duty to speak out when someone who ostensibly represents us, the people, does so in a destructive way. Kudos, Ms. Streep. I look forward to your acceptance speech at the forthcoming Golden Globes. Come on—you know it’s coming.
Bill Maher more or less engaged in a conversation with Sam Harris about how Islam is a deficient religion—though both men notably have their issues with organized religion, so take this for what it’s worth. In a separate chat with Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, when jokingly asked by the senator if he would work in the fields of Nebraska, Maher referred to himself as a “house n****r.” For an educated guy, Maher is kind of a dickish moron.
Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz had a health care debate on CNN. Why? Why not! At any rate, it was better than the Republican Party debates from last primary season.
In perhaps a glaring example of where we are as a nation in 2017, our President revealed he did not know who Frederick Douglass is—though Trump being Trump, tried to play it off like he did. Also, Kellyanne Conway continued to speak words that sounded like actual thoughts, declaring herself a “feminist” who apparently doesn’t know the meaning of the word, and elsewhere suggesting microwaves can be turned into cameras and be used to spy on us. Hmm—it appears my nose is bleeding. Or maybe that’s just my brain liquefying from these comments. Carry on, please.
In international news, Canada moved closer to legalizing marijuana, with a target date of Canada Day, 2018. In the States? Jeff Sessions the Racist Dinosaur and others like him talk about how weed is a drug for “bad people.” So, if you’re keeping score at home: cannabis :: bad; alcohol, tobacco, and firearms—things that are way more deadly than cannabis :: good. Well, at least we’ve got our priorities straight.
A handful of inmates were executed in Alabama, essentially because the state had a bunch of drugs used in lethal injection at its disposal set to expire, so—what the hell!—might as well use them! Pardon me for waxing philosophical as this moment, but the death penalty is state-sponsored murder. It is revenge for the sake of revenge, and way too often (and too late), it has ended the lives of those whose guilt would be proven false with new evidence and advances in forensic science. It should be abolished. Thank you. I’ll get down from my soapbox now.
James Comey was fired from his post as FBI director. This was in no way politically or personally motivated and in no way related to the investigation into Donald Trump, his finances, and any collusion with or other connections to Russia involving him or his surrogates. Right.
In Florida, the Grieving Families Act was signed into law, allowing women who have had miscarriages to obtain a “certificate of nonviable birth” for their fetus. So it’s about providing solace to women and their families? No, not really. At heart, it’s an end-around about abortion that seeks to specify when life begins and potentially heralds future attempts to chip away at women’s reproductive rights. Not to mention it connotes the idea that women who lose or terminate their pregnancies should only feel grief, when really, it can be a complex mix of emotions. As long as men are making decisions on the behalf of their female constituents about what they can and can’t do with their bodies, we’ll continue to see policies like this. Keep your eyes peeled.
Dana Loesch released a fiery video about the NRA and how it is “freedom’s last stand.” In other exciting gun news, a guy shot up a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and killed a bunch of people. Let freedom ring, eh?
White nationalists apparently love Tucker Carlson because he question the merits of all immigration—legal or not. Carlson, like Bill Maher, is kind of a douche.
Venezuela held a sham election “won” by Nicolas Maduro. Maduro identifies with socialism. Socialism, therefore, is bad, and Bernie Sanders is the devil. Are you following this logic? If it makes sense to you, um, you’re probably not the intended audience for this blog, but thanks for reading anyway.
Catalonia had a vote to declare independence from Spain. The Spanish government, well, didn’t like that too much. The result was a violent crackdown against pro-independence protests and a lot of international attention drawn to the situation, and in a recent vote, separatists won a slim majority after Spain ousted the previous Catalan government. Great job, Prime Minister Rajoy! You really screwed the Puigdemont on that one.
Joe Arpaio, a virulent racist and all-around ass-hat who held inmates in substandard conditions and profiled residents suspected of being undocumented immigrants as Maricopa County Sheriff in Arizona, was pardoned by President Trump. In other words, f**k off, Hispanics and Latinos.
Millennials can still be blamed for pretty much anything, depending on who you ask. The extinction of the dinosaurs? Oh, yeah—we did that shit.
Bitcoin continues to see wild swings in its valuation after the spike in the second half of the year which brought it to the national consciousness. Does this mean it’s inherently bad? Not necessarily. As with any emerging technology, there are ups and downs to be had with Bitcoin made more pronounced by its recent prominence. Are you behind the curve now, though, with respect to making big bucks off of a relatively small investment? Most definitely.
By installing Mick Mulvaney as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, America moved one step closer to eliminating the one agency expressly devoted to protecting consumer interests as regards their finances and investment vehicles. Consumer advocacy—what a joke!
Speaking of one step closer, the powers-that-be edged the Doomsday Clock one tick nearer to midnight. Er, pop the champagne?
In advance of the coming year, as far as politics and current events are concerned, there are all kinds of things that may factor into predictions for 2018. Certainly, though, we would expect certain things to continue as they are. Our beloved President will undoubtedly keep Tweeting acrimonious barbs at anyone who runs afoul of him and making cheap concessions to his supporters, especially from the context of rallies that he shouldn’t be having while not on the campaign trail. A GOP-majority Congress will still try to pass off policy designed to primarily benefit its wealthy corporate and individual donors as a boon for the “American people.” Bitcoin will probably still see extreme volatility as to its price, if the bubble doesn’t burst outright. And don’t even get me started about America’s attention to environmental conservation. When Trump and his Republican cronies are repealing Obama-era protections on keeping mining waste out of clean water, reversing bans on the Keystone XL Pipeline going through Native American reservations, allowing for the use of lead ammunition in national parks, and greenlighting drilling for oil in wildlife refuges, you know we are not close to doing our part to combat deleterious climate change. These actions belie the seriousness of the problem, and stunt the progress which can’t be stopped regarding the transition to renewable energy sources away from fossil fuels. At a time when we need to do all we can to slow or reverse the damage we’ve done to our planet, standing still is going backward.
Sounds bad, huh? While there are yet more reasons to be concerned from an activism/human rights standpoint—the all-too-slow recovery from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico; the pervasive influence of money in politics and gerrymandering purely for political gain; the plight of immigrants, migrants, and refugees worldwide; and the repeated iterations of the travel ban (read: Muslim ban) jump to mind—there is yet for hope for those on the left, and perhaps even those on the right. You know, even if they don’t know any better. In the political sphere, in particular, the deficient policies advanced by Republicans could end up in an electoral backlash in 2018 and 2020. Granted, this does not mean that Democrats don’t need to be held to higher standards, and as bad as GOP leadership has been, that Bernie Sanders, an aging independent from Vermont, remains a more popular choice than most prominent Dems suggests not is entirely well with the Democratic Party either. Speaking of bad leadership, and depending on the contents of Robert Mueller’s investigation, President Donald Trump might also be in real trouble from an ethical/legal standpoint. While visions of impeachment and President Mike Pence aren’t all that inspiring, at this point, anyone seems better than President Pussy-Grabber. I mean, eventually, all the terrible shit Trump has said and done has to come back to him, right? Right?
In truth, I am not terribly optimistic about 2018. But I’m also not done resisting against those who compromise ethical and moral standards to enrich themselves at the expense of others. By this, I mean the people at the top who are willing to see everyday Americans struggle through hunger, poverty, sickness and even death to further their bottom line. For all the preoccupation about border security, crime, and terrorism for many prospective 2020 voters, the “rigged” system about which Trump offhandedly talks is a yet bigger worry, and the aforementioned climate crisis our Earth faces is potentially worst of all. This all sounds very old-hat and trite, but until we start making real progress on the various forms of inequality which plague our society, these aphorisms must be repeated and stressed. Accordingly, through all the trepidation we might feel, there is too much work to be done not to do it. It’s worth the effort. After all, it’s our very lives and livelihoods we’re fighting for.
Whatever path you choose, best wishes to you and yours for 2018 and beyond, and keep fighting the good fight.
“Wow. F**k the DNC.” That’s what I thought upon first reading excerpts of Donna Brazile’s first-hand account of Hillary Clinton’s “secret takeover of the DNC.” As published in a piece on Politico, Brazile’s reflections and retelling are apparently themselves an excerpt from her (Brazile’s) upcoming book. Yup—like the subject of her account, Brazile is seeking to profit off a relitigation of the 2016 election. But I digress.
As I alluded to in the title of my own piece, Donna Brazile’s insider information from her time as interim chair of the Democratic National Committee is both a confirmation of what many of us have suspected or known outright, and yet still startling. Even before we were mired in the era of President Trump—a tenure which has every possibility of lasting two terms, despite what approval ratings and legal entanglements might otherwise suggest—it was made evident through WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of E-mails from a hack of key DNC officials that there existed within the Committee a clear bias in favor of the Clinton campaign. It’s a bias that was suggested by a questionable Democratic Party debate schedule marked by relatively few debates (at least next to the Republican Party and its gaggle of uninspired candidates) on odd days and times, but ultimately confirmed in black and white by these E-mails, not to mention Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s particular animus toward the Bernie Sanders campaign and campaign manager Jeff Weaver. At the same time, it’s perhaps unexpected to have these revelations come from Brazile, someone who infamously was fired from CNN after it was discovered she was tipping off the Clinton campaign in advance of a debate televised by the cable news network, and someone who, within the DNC E-mails, expressed her own, even if momentary, irritation with the Sanders campaign.
Before we dive into Donna Brazile’s—shall we say—allegations, let me cut off a potential objection I see to my analysis here and clarify my purpose. Do I think the way in which the DNC “rigged” the primary, as some would say, cost Bernie Sanders a chance at the Democratic Party presidential nomination? While I may disagree with a number of my fellow “Sandernistas” on this point, I don’t think the pro-Clinton bias exhibited by the DNC prior to the Democratic National Convention tipped the scales so heavily that Bernie would have won even in a fair fight. Beyond the evident collusion between the Clinton camp and the DNC, Sanders faced significant challenges in going up against the larger Democratic Party establishment apparatus (“how dare this independent run as a Democrat!”), as well as a comparative lack of name recognition next to Hillary Clinton, an understandable disparity in support among older women, and a failure to establish a significant advantage among minority voters, a struggle which mirrors the progressive movement’s difficulties in reaching people and communities of color in American politics.
These admissions aside, to adhere to the notion that Hillary still would’ve won the Democratic Party nomination and to say nothing of the other shenanigans is to miss the point. If Hillary Clinton and her campaign didn’t need to game the system, why bother doing it in the first place and inviting criticism/risking low turnout in her favor? This kind of manipulation, even if legal—and that’s a big “if”—is the kind of unethical which undermines people’s confidence in political institutions and representative democracy as a whole. For younger or otherwise more idealistic voters who envision a reform of the political process and rejection of the status quo which favors the interests of corporations and wealthy individuals, these hijinks are far more significant in their implications for campaign finance reform and political participation than the outcome of one election, disastrous as it was in ushering Donald Trump into the White House.
In other words, this aspect of the 2016 campaign season is significant, especially for a party that lost an election it was widely predicted to win and has been suffering down-ticket losses even in states in which it has historically thrived. So, let’s get to Donna Brazile’s “bombshell” account. Here are some of the more salient quotes from the excerpt featured on Politico:
My predecessor, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, had not been the most active chair in fundraising at a time when President Barack Obama’s neglect had left the party in significant debt. As Hillary’s campaign gained momentum, she resolved the party’s debt and put it on a starvation diet. It had become dependent on her campaign for survival, for which she expected to wield control of its operations. Debbie was not a good manager. She hadn’t been very interested in controlling the party—she let Clinton’s headquarters in Brooklyn do as it desired so she didn’t have to inform the party officers how bad the situation was. How much control Brooklyn had and for how long was still something I had been trying to uncover for the last few weeks.
By now, Wasserman Schultz’s reputation as DNC chair has long been made sour; if you’ll recall, she was forced to resign in disgrace after the evidence of her Clintonian favoritism was made public knowledge. Hence, this is not exactly news that her managerial skills are suspect. Still, it does provide those who felt and continue to feel “the Bern” a certain sense of satisfaction. I know it did for me.
On the phone Gary told me the DNC had needed a $2 million loan, which the campaign had arranged.
“No! That can’t be true!” I said. “The party cannot take out a loan without the unanimous agreement of all of the officers.”
“Gary, how did they do this without me knowing?” I asked. “I don’t know how Debbie relates to the officers,” Gary said. He described the party as fully under the control of Hillary’s campaign, which seemed to confirm the suspicions of the Bernie camp. The campaign had the DNC on life support, giving it money every month to meet its basic expenses, while the campaign was using the party as a fund-raising clearinghouse.
Here, Brazile is describing her conversations with Gary Gensler, CFO of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. According to Gensler, Barack Obama’s campaign incurred some $24 million in debt, and between his slow repayment of that debt and the contributions of Hillary for America and the Hillary Victory Fund, a “joint fundraising vehicle with the DNC,” the majority of the remaining monies owed had been taken care of. But that still left some $2 million or so that required the approval of a loan, the arrangement of which was orchestrated by Wasserman Schultz and made possible by the direct connection between the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Given the apparent dire financial straits of the DNC at the time, it is perhaps no wonder that Hillary and Co. had so much control over the allocation of monies in the Hillary Victory Fund. Still, that knowledge of this situation was not more widespread—whether within the Bernie Sanders campaign or within the DNC itself—keeps with the theme of a lack of transparency and ethical practices. Even if Hillary still would’ve won the primary nomination, this evidence of an unethical process leaves one to wonder if the race might’ve been closer if there were a more equitable arrangement, and to lament that we’ll never know for sure how close.
I wanted to believe Hillary, who made campaign finance reform part of her platform, but I had made this pledge to Bernie and did not want to disappoint him. I kept asking the party lawyers and the DNC staff to show me the agreements that the party had made for sharing the money they raised, but there was a lot of shuffling of feet and looking the other way.
When I got back from a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, I at last found the document that described it all: the Joint Fund-Raising Agreement between the DNC, the Hillary Victory Fund, and Hillary for America.
The agreement—signed by Amy Dacey, the former CEO of the DNC, and Robby Mook with a copy to Marc Elias—specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings.
I had been wondering why it was that I couldn’t write a press release without passing it by Brooklyn. Well, here was the answer.
There are two particular reasons why Brazile’s references to this agreement are significant. The first is that, despite Hillary’s talk on the campaign trail about wanting to rebuild the Democratic Party from the bottom up, the state Democratic Parties were getting less than half of 1% of what Clinton and her campaign were raising. Brazile references a separate Politico article from May 2016 by Kenneth P. Vogel and Isaac Arnsdorf which details this suspect arrangement. Again, old news, but the severity of the situation merits underscoring. The second, though, is the timing of the agreement’s creation. It was signed in August 2015, less than six months after Hillary Clinton officially announced her candidacy, and long before she had officially secured the nomination. This kind of control for Hillary’s sake well in advance of state primaries and the election itself may be unprecedented, and—not to beat a dead horse, but—it flies in the face of a fair and transparent selection process. Some kind of democracy—and we’re the ones who don’t support democracy by not voting for her.
I told Bernie I had found Hillary’s Joint Fundraising Agreement. I explained that the cancer was that she had exerted this control of the party long before she became its nominee. Had I known this, I never would have accepted the interim chair position, but here we were with only weeks before the election. Bernie took this stoically. He did not yell or express outrage. Instead he asked me what I thought Hillary’s chances were. The polls were unanimous in her winning but what, he wanted to know, was my own assessment?
I had to be frank with him. I did not trust the polls, I said. I told him I had visited states around the country and I found a lack of enthusiasm for her everywhere. I was concerned about the Obama coalition and about millennials. I urged Bernie to work as hard as he could to bring his supporters into the fold with Hillary, and to campaign with all the heart and hope he could muster. He might find some of her positions too centrist, and her coziness with the financial elites distasteful, but he knew and I knew that the alternative was a person who would put the very future of the country in peril. I knew he heard me. I knew he agreed with me, but I never in my life had felt so tiny and powerless as I did making that call.
When I hung up the call to Bernie, I started to cry, not out of guilt, but out of anger. We would go forward. We had to.
Wonderful story, Donna. I’m sure your book is full of such vividly-written prose. As unsympathetic as I am toward Donna Brazile’s position as DNC chair, even under these circumstances, and all kidding aside, it is intriguing to hear her talk about how she had reservations even before the election about Hillary’s campaign and the challenges she (Hillary) faced in beating Donald Trump. Plus, it also is kind of nice to have Brazile say something positive about Bernie. He may not be a saint and I might not agree with every last one of his positions on issues, but I do have a lot of admiration for that man. Fellow Sanders fans, this last quote was for you.
Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee were in cahoots—fine, you may be saying. Still, even if you don’t believe this ultimately affected the outcome of the primary election to the extent that Bernie Sanders would’ve won instead, and even if Donna Brazile’s insider account reveals a broken political process that merits fixing, what is the utility of opening up old wounds? Why risk dividing a Democratic Party that has seen so much tumult over the past year and change?
Well, Esteemed Reader, the answers to these queries are manifold. First of all, there is the issue of money, and by that I mean, campaign donations. For all the donors who contributed to the Bernie Sanders campaign (myself included), it makes a bit of a difference to have them sink their money into a cause that the DNC worked so hard to ensure was a lost one rather than an equal and fair bid for the nomination. If you weren’t already aware, a class action lawsuit already has worked its way through the courts, with the case brought against the DNC by attorneys Jared and Elizabeth Beck being dismissed back in August by federal judge William Zloch on the grounds that “the named Plaintiffs have not presented a case that is cognizable in federal court.” As Bruce Spiva, on behalf of the DNC, argued, and as the court evidently agreed, there is no way to determine who is to be considered in standing to be defrauded and eligible for remediation. In doing so, however, Spiva essentially confirmed that the Committee favored Hillary Clinton, and theoretically that it could do so because the Democratic Party can do what it wants regarding the selection of its representatives at the Democratic National Convention and at the state level. Good for party unity, this line of thinking is not.
More pressing than this, though, is the notion that the Democratic Party never has truly healed in the first place from the divisions which surfaced during the primaries. While I’m not here to defend the actions of Sanders supporters who would demean Hillary Clinton and her supporters through thinly-veiled sexism, and while there is some degree of “to the victor goes the spoils” to be expected with how the Clinton camp and Hillary’s faithful reacted to the “Bernie or Bust” crowd, if ever one was to have the impression that the establishment wing of the Democratic Party and newer members/fervent Sanders supporters were a cohesive lot, he or she was missing the signs of an ongoing battle for the soul of the party. Take Hillary Clinton herself. Why author and release a book about the 2016 election concerning “what happened” only to once again deflect responsibility and to blame Bernie Sanders for irreparable harm done to the Dems? For one thing, if Bernie Sanders as one man can bring down the entire apparatus of a major political party, that appeals to a weak party infrastructure even before the events leading up to the election began. Indeed, from the sound of what Donna Brazile is indicating, the debt created by the Barack Obama campaign compounded by poor management from Debbie Wasserman Schultz already had the DNC in dire straits. In this regard, Bernie is a fall guy as much as anything.
Besides this, though, and as Clinton and her parrots would insinuate, Bernie isn’t a “true Democrat,” and beyond Bernie self-identifying as an independent, this kind of deprecation begs the question: What does it mean to be a “true Democrat”? Does it mean blindly supporting the party’s chosen candidate despite any reservations about him or her? Does it mean holding lavish meet-and-greet fundraisers that are meant to exclude a large swath of would-be Democratic voters? Does it mean bypassing whole battleground states because making speeches about income inequality in Giorgio Armani clothing is generally not appreciated by blue-collar types? To me, attacking Bernie for not being a Democrat when the Democratic Party itself has moved away from its roots as a party of the middle class and of working-class Americans is as disingenuous as it is fruitless. At least he ran an authentically grassroots campaign and talked about income and wealth inequality in a meaningful way. And yet he is the divisive one when the class warfare perpetrated by corporations and the wealthy puts the bottom 99% at risk. If Bernie isn’t a “true Democrat” by these standards, I’m not sure I want to be either.
Hillary Clinton may choose to take her potshots at Bernie Sanders from behind the cover of her non-fiction—well, more or less; it’s not fiction if she believes it’s true, right?—book. On one hand, it appears as if Clinton’s personal political aspirations have subsided. That is, “Hill-Dawg” is unlikely to run again in 2020. Though you never know—she or Joe Biden just might rear her or his head in two to three years’ time to represent the Obama administration/Democratic Party establishment in full force. Either way, however, and on the other hand, as a political figure whose work has spanned her formative years as a woman interested in politics, her identity as a notably engaged First Lady during her husband’s tenure as President, her time in the U.S. Senate, and her service as Secretary of State, HRC’s voice carries a certain amount of weight, and she figures to still be involved in the world of politics.
Thus, when Clinton speaks about Bernie in this way—someone who is still directly involved in the political sphere as senator from the state of Vermont and who may yet have designs for another run at the presidency in 2020—it does matter. Perhaps above all else, it is a signal to party leadership that Sanders is not to be trusted with the keys to the car, so to speak. If the management of the DNC under Tom Perez, former Labor Secretary and Donna Brazile’s successor, is any indication, Democratic Party leaders already have this advice close to heart. Recently, Perez revealed his list of appointments and nominations for key Committee positions, and to a large extent, Democratic Party loyalists were favored over individuals who supported Bernie Sanders and/or Keith Ellison. If there’s a better symbolic gesture of just how unwelcome progressives are at the Dems’ table, you’d be hard-pressed to find one.
All this makes Donna Brazile’s depictions of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee, and Hillary Clinton all the more curious. Is Brazile trying to stir the pot merely to sell copies of her own work of non-fiction? Does she legitimately believe the criticisms she leveled against these current and former bastions of Democratic Party infrastructure/leadership? Or might she primarily see value in throwing a bone to Bernie Sanders supporters rather than deliberately alienating them? One can only speculate as to whether or not Brazile’s true motivations are self-serving, but if someone who seemed as staunchly pro-Hillary as she can make these comments, maybe more than just Donna Brazile see the writing on the wall concerning the future of the Democratic Party for 2018, 2020, and beyond. Serious reform of the Democratic Party and of the DNC is needed if its leadership hopes to match the enthusiasm the Republican Party has been able to generate among its loyalists and within its conservative base. Certainly, there’s a long way to go on this front, and with only a year to go before mid-term elections in 2018, the short-term political outlook looks bleak for the party associated with the color blue.
Who’s the most popular figure in American politics right now? Well, obviously, our fearless leader Donald Trump, right? Um, yeah, no. As of April 12, per Gallup, Trump’s approval rating sits at 41%, seemingly not all that much improved since hurling 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria. In fact, since the start of his term, President Trump has gone from having essentially equal approval and disapproval ratings at a point in the mid-40s, to having his approval rating dip to a level of near-stasis around the 40-percent-mark and his disapproval rating escalate to a near-constant rating upward of 50%. So, yeah, it’s not that guy. For the sake of a contrast, Barack Obama finished his tenure with about a 60% approval rating—though let’s be real—as feelings of buyer’s remorse began to kick in shortly after Trump’s electoral victory, this figure was bound to be on the incline.
Given Congress’s depressed approval rating of late, you would be loath to thinking it would be a member of the House of Representatives or Senate either. Back to Gallup we go. Though hating on Congress is nothing new, it’s still fairly startling to see only one in five Americans giving our lawmakers a proverbial thumbs-up. Democratic respondents, likely frustrated with a Republican-controlled legislature running amok, report a scant 10% approval rating. Independents, likely believing both major parties, by and large, suck eggs, lie at the 20% national average. Even Republican respondent approval ratings of Congress are down; the current approval rating sits at 31%, notable after a 50% rating and seven-year high in February. Apparently, people don’t like it when you screw around with their health care—who knew!
Let’s back up a moment. Who is the most popular senator with his or her constituents? Wait a minute—could it be a certain senator from Vermont? Close! Patrick Leahy is second among senators in terms of approval from the residents he represents. Oh, wait—you meant the other senator from Vermont. Yup, the Granite State has quite the one-two punch in terms of positive vibes, and leading the country in terms of the most beloved senator in these United States is none other than Bernie Sanders, according to a recent Morning Consult poll. Both of Maine’s senators, Angus King (#5) and Susan Collins (#6), also ranked in the top ten, which is actually pretty well balanced between Democrats/independents and Republicans.
It should be noted that Sanders, while most-approved of within this poll and possessing the widest gap of approval to disapproval percentage, does not get the lowest disapproval rating overall; that honor goes to Brian Schatz of Hawaii (#8). For the sake of completion, lowest approval rating goes to Thom Tillis of North Carolina (39%), with Democrats Gary Peters of Michigan (39%), Robert Menendez of New Jersey (40%), and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada (42%), and Republican Dean Heller of Nevada (43%) rounding out the bottom five. Honorable mention goes to dishonorable Mitch McConnell (44%), Republican senator from Kentucky, the only person in the Senate to garner a higher disapproval rating (47%) than his or her approval rating. Congratulations, Mitch—you toad-faced heel.
Forget about mere popularity within the state of Vermont, though. Nationally speaking, Bernie Sanders, according to a FOX News poll dated March 15, enjoys a 61% approval rating, as opposed to a 32% approval rating. That’s significantly better than Donald Trump (44% favorable; 53 unfavorable) or even Mike Pence (47% favorable; 43% unfavorable). As Janice Williams, writing for Newsweek, frames these statistics, this kind of appeal might have been enough to give Bernie the W in a theoretical head-to-head matchup with Trump. Whether or not this is true is anyone’s guess, but regardless, these kinds of figures likely merit the Democratic Party’s attention.
While Sanders ran on the Democratic ticket in opposition to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 primaries, as a member of the Senate, he is, of course, an independent, and one of only two in the Senate alongside the aforementioned Angus King of Maine. As much as Bernie Sanders is keen to preserve his identity as an independent, though, the establishment wing of the Democratic Party appears content to keep him at arm’s length. Such is the complex dance between progressives who are sympathetic to the aims of the Democratic Party at large, especially as regards the Dems’ superior positions on matters of social policy, and mainstream Democrats who, generally speaking, want nothing to do with progressive candidates.
The well-publicized tension between the then-leadership of the Democratic National Committee and the Sanders presidential campaign provides perhaps the most salient example of this divide, but even after a failed attempt to keep Donald Trump out of the White House—an attempt which featured Bernie, upon suspension of his campaign, throwing his support behind Hillary Clinton, mind you—this same kind of tug-of-war informs Democrats’ backing of more liberal candidates, or lack thereof. This past Tuesday, the results of a special election to fill the vacancy of the House seat left vacant by Mike Pompeo’s appointment and confirmation as CIA director were surprisingly close given the setting: a Kansas district, which is situated in a deeply red state and which opted for Trump over Clinton by a 27% margin in the presidential election. Only seven percentage points separated the winner, Republican Ron Estes, from the runner-up, Democratic challenger James Thompson. Whether or not this one election heralds a more pronounced Democratic uprising in future elections is yet to be seen, but in another upcoming special election for a House seat in Georgia, Democratic supporters are licking their chops at the chance to grant victory to Jon Ossoff and send a message—however small—to President Trump and the GOP that their agenda is not approved of by a significant cross-section of the American population.
Give Republicans a run for their money in two red states? Democratic leadership must have invested a lot in both candidates, huh? Maybe—maybe not. In terms of Jon Ossoff, the candidate for the vacant House seat in Georgia, both the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) have invested heavily in support of him, adding millions of dollars to the millions his campaign has raised, eager to spin the narrative of sticking it to Donald Trump. As for James Thompson, the progressive from Kansas? Eh, not so much. Sure, after the fact, the Democratic establishment added the closeness of the race between Estes and Thompson to this same anti-GOP, anti-Trump narrative. But during the campaign itself? Support for James Thompson was quantifiably lacking, despite his identification under the Democratic Party banner.
The Democratic establishment tried to appropriate Thompson’s success in the district as a testament that anti-Trump sentiments will translate to big wins for Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections. However, when pressed on why they failed to support Thompson, they dismissed criticisms for ignoring the race. The Huffington Post reported, “A DCCC official who spoke with The Huffington Post on Monday, however, argued that the party’s involvement would have been ‘extremely damaging’ to Thompson because it would have been used against him by Republicans, who have poured significant money into the race. Thompson has performed better than expected in the race because he stayed under the radar, the official added.” This claim makes little sense, especially given that Thompson’s Republican opponent portrayed him as an establishment Democrat anyways.
Rather than this special election representing an anomaly or misstep from the Democratic leadership, there’s a prevailing trend within the party’s establishment to select and support weak, centrist candidates who provide the party with opportunities to fundraise from corporate donors. This trend is symptomatic of a revolving door within the Democratic Party leadership, where party officials often sell out to work for Republican lobbying firms.
In this equation, Ossoff is that “centrist” candidate, which explains the disparity of support. The thinking from the leaders of the Democratic Party seems to be that a moderate Democrat is better than a Republican—even when courting big money from similar or even shady sources, or even “selling out” to working for Republican lobbying firms after the fact. A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, and as progressives might argue, money in politics, whether at the behest of Dems or Republicans, is still a corrupting influence.
Thus, when it comes to progressive candidates and voters, there’s a dilemma concerning how and where they swear their allegiance in upcoming elections. By virtue of the Republican Party’s alliance with regressive conservative elements, and Trump’s own collusion with the far-right, the right side of the spectrum is a no-go. Supporting the Democratic Party, meanwhile, is problematic in its own right when its leadership doesn’t support them back, hews too close to center, and refuses to authentically embrace grassroots fundraising and organizing on a national level. Existing independent/third-party options are likewise less than savory owing to questionable organizational infrastructure and, as regards the Green Party and Libertarian Party specifically, figureheads in Jill Stein and Gary Johnson that are considered punchlines more so than viable presidential candidates. Broadly speaking, the current list of options for liberals is fraught with frustration.
In fact, if a recent article by Alex Roarty for McClatchy DC is any indication, liberals are “fuming” over the Democratic establishment’s reluctance to stick its neck out for anyone of a more progressive tint. Both Jim Dean of Democracy for America and members of our Our Revolution, an organization founded by former Bernie Sanders campaign staffers, are cited within the piece as reproaching the Democrats for their refusal to “wake up” and to stop ignoring districts they don’t think they can win because they are too “red.” Even James Thompson, the also-ran man from Kansas, was critical of the Democratic Party’s approach to his race, averring simply, “(DCCC) and DNC need to be doing a 50-state strategy.”
The DCCC and DNC spokespeople cited in Roarty’s article seemed to defend the lack of backing for Thompson by throwing up their hands and declaring the race “unwinnable,” a sentiment echoed all the way up to Committee chair Tom Perez himself. This is not the kind of talk that helps energize a party and recruit new members, though. First of all, yes, James Thompson lost, but only by seven percentage points, and with the likes of Mike Pence and Ted Cruz making appearances and Republican donors infusing money into the race against him in the final weeks and days when the final result seemed not so sure. In addition, and in the arena of the self-fulfilling prophecy, if you never try to make inroads in certain districts and areas of the country (e.g. Midwest, South), you are never going to win. It didn’t play well for Hillary Clinton to write off Trump supporters as “deplorables,” and it arguably doesn’t help the Democratic Party to ignore whole swaths of the United States of America.
In short, what are progressive liberals to do, especially when they see some of their most popular figures in Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Keith Ellison reduced to flunkies for the Clinton campaign and/or donation solicitors in the name of “party unity?” See, I think the Democratic leadership thinks we progressives are too stupid to notice that they are less concerned with what’s in our hearts and minds, and more concerned with what’s in our wallets and purses—or that they simply don’t care if we do notice. I believe, however, that progressives—young progressives, especially—are better at reading authenticity or its absence than today’s political leaders give them credit for, such that when Sanders or Warren threw their support behind Hillary for political reasons, or when they create a position in the DNC of deputy chair that is even more ceremonially meaningless than that of Perez’s role of chairperson, it rings hollow. As it should. Representative democracy doesn’t truly qualify as such unless constituents feel they are being represented by someone who embraces and exemplifies their values, and consistently, the Democratic Party brass had made it evident that they can’t or won’t go as far on matters of grassroots fundraising and policy than their more liberal supporters are asking them to.
As Jonathan H. Martin, professor of sociology at Framingham State University, and others of a progressive mindset are convinced, the answer to the question, “What do we do?” is “Form a new party.” As Martin depicts the situation, if people can’t coalesce around an existing party that has seemingly benefited from a Bernie bump of sorts, such as the Green Party, Justice Party, Socialist Alternative, or Vermont Progressive Party, then a new organization needs to be forged, with those who “feel the Bern” in mind. According to Prof. Martin, the two groups who are leading this charge, at least as of late February, are the Progressive Independent Party, which aims to be a coalition of the willing in terms of progressive, third-partiers, and others on the left, and the Draft Bernie for a People’s Party movement, which pretty much says what it entails up front.
Of the two, Jonathan Martin finds the latter more immediately appealing, for if someone as popular as Bernie Sanders were to break ranks and form a new party, polling indicates that not only does a sizable subset of the voting population desire a viable third party, but many Americans do want the kinds of bold reforms that a Sanders type proposes. Martin highlights both the likelihood that this vision could move forward with Bernie at the helm, and the ultimate choice that progressives face in the political uncertainty following the 2016 election, with the following ideas:
While recruiting Sanders for a “people’s party” may sound like a long-shot effort, his own statements indicate that he remains open to third party politics, and might well go that route if his work to reform the Democrats fails. However, if Bernie doesn’t eventually do this, the movement for a new party may go forward without him.
In any case, the DNC election and subsequent events should challenge both influential and ordinary progressives to ask themselves how long they will continue sailing on the U.S.S. Democrat. That ship is not headed toward the desired destination, nor is it even designed to go there. Moreover, in the wake of the 2016 election, it is a boat that appears to be rotting, drifting, and gradually sinking. Why not jump aboard a different vessel, one that really has the potential to get us where we urgently need to go?
For Bernie’s part, the man still seems unwilling to abandon ship, continually speaking in terms of reforming or rebuilding the Democratic Party in more democratic fashion, and eschewing the pleas of Jill Stein and Company to get on board with a third-party agenda. At the immediate moment, therefore, it seems more probable that a theoretical People’s Party will have to soldier on without their muse, though the alternative is certainly not impossible considering just how tiresome the Democratic establishment can be for the rest of us—and we’re not even interacting with them regularly like Bernie Sanders is. As for the rest of us? Perhaps we don’t quite see the Democrats as a rotting, drifting, sinking ship, but how many of us have one foot in a lifeboat—with some rope handy just in case we get the urge to kidnap Captain Sanders and hold him as our progressive prisoner? Presumably, such a political maneuver would be intended for 2020, as the 2018 midterms are just a year-and-change away, but to take a genuine shot at disrupting the duopoly held by the Democratic and Republican Parties, even that kind of mobilization needs to happen sooner than later. In other words, if liberals are thinking about bailing, they may need to make a decision fast with political waters rising.
Fix the Democratic Party or start a new party altogether? For progressives across the United States, it’s a conundrum, to be sure. This much, however, is clear: the Democratic Party, as it is, can’t function as a cohesive unit in the long term, and progressives backed by/composed of a coalition of young voters and working-class individuals either need to be invited to the table, or find a new restaurant altogether. What to do, what to do?
Don’t get me wrong—Tom Perez, the newly-elected chair of the Democratic National Committee, seems like a nice enough guy, not to mention that as Hillary Clinton’s nomination for the office of President of the United States was an historic one because it meant that a woman was a presidential nominee for a major political party for the first time, so too is Perez’s victory in that he holds the distinction of being the first Latino DNC chair in the party’s storied history. Also as with Clinton’s capture of the nomination, once more, the emphasis from ranking members of the Democratic Party and from its most fervent supporters is on a unified party as the best way to defeat Donald Trump and other Republicans in Congress and down the ticket. Unfortunately, much in the way tensions between factions in the Democratic Party have lingered related to the presidential race and behind-the-scenes machinations of the Democratic National Committee, so too does a power play within the party related to the DNC vote threaten to undermine this call to arms and further sow the seeds of division among registered Democrats and would-be Democratic voters. Along these lines, and in short, when it comes to the notion of whether or not the Democratic Party has learned anything from its pattern of losses in the Senate and House and gubernatorial seats, aside from the obvious in their electoral loss to Trump this past November, the apparent answer is no, and it begs the question: will it anytime soon?
Let’s first step back and look at the particulars of the vote itself. Though there were other qualified candidates for the position of DNC chair on the ballot, so to speak, this was essentially a two-horse race between Tom Perez, the Obama administration’s pick to fill the vacancy left by Donna Brazile, who would not be continuing in her capacity as interim chair after Debbie Wasserman Schultz essentially left the post in disgrace, and Keith Ellison, backed by Bernie Sanders, prominent Democrats, various labor organizations, and more progressive members of the party. Perez missed the necessary majority of 214.5 votes (427 were cast) in the first round of voting by a scant one vote, requiring a second round of voting. In that second round, he was able to officially outlast Ellison to 235 to 200. Suffice it to say the vote was a close one, but what did not appear to be close was the enthusiasm behind the candidates, at least from those in attendance there in Atlanta where the vote took place. Jonathan Easley, writing for The Hill as part of a live blog about the proceedings, had this to say about Keith Ellison’s level of support:
It is clear who has the energy here. Ellison’s supporters are loud and in charge and erupting at every chance. “Don’t mourn organize!,” declared Ellison backer and labor leader Randi Weingarten to an outburst of shouts and applause. Minnesota Democratic leader Ken Martin followed, noting that Ellison’s district has gone from the lowest turnout in the state to the highest. “This party is going to rise from the ashes under Keith Ellison,” he said, turning out another standing ovation.
Like Perez, Ellison stressed unity. “Unity is essential, we have to walk out here unified, not just between the candidates but the groups that support all the candidates,” Ellison said. But if Ellison doesn’t win his enthusiastic supporters are going to be extremely let down.
As with Bernie Sanders’ concession of the nomination to Hillary Clinton, needless to say they were let down, as I was. I’m not sure that they were all that surprised, though. I sure wasn’t. This is the Democratic Party we’re talking about here, an organization primarily devoted to fundraising, and only secondarily to change, which it sees fit to dole out incrementally. Back in December, I wrote a piece devoted to the very topic of Keith Ellison’s bid for DNC chair, detailing why voting committee members may not have supported the representative from the state of Minnesota, and surmising that, despite the enthusiasm behind his campaign and endorsements from key political figures, Democrats may well pick someone other than Ellison because, well, they’ve made a habit of making poor decisions lately and getting behind the wrong candidates. About a month-and-a-half removed from the election, the complete list of people running for the top post in the Democratic National Committee had yet to be fully formed, and wounds from the presidential campaign and election were still fairly fresh. At that time, resistance to Keith Ellison’s designs to be DNC chair seemed strongest from those resenting his identity as a Bernie backer, with those vowing to vote for anyone but him dining on the faulty notion that Sanders cost Clinton the election. (Primarily, Hillary lost herself the election, though it was a complex mix of factors that lay behind the Dems’ electoral demise in November.) If the old standby about party unity above all else was a genuinely-held sentiment, come February when the vote was scheduled to take place, these frustrations had a chance to be brought down to a simmer and more people could conceivably have warmed to the idea of Keith Ellison as Donna Brazile’s/Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s successor.
A little over two months later, though, with the race for DNC chair having run its course and more candidates having entered the fray, the apparent reasons for Committee members to bypass Ellison in favor of someone else are yet more insidious and no less galling to progressives and younger Democratic voters. Keith Ellison announced his candidacy for Democratic National Committee chair on November 14, 2016, and pledged to forfeit his seat in the House of Representatives if elected on December 7. On December 15, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez announced his candidacy, endorsed by the likes of Joe Biden and other Obama administration figures. Why do I mention these details concerning the chronology of the race for DNC chair? As Glenn Greenwald, writing for The Intercept, argues, “the timeline here is critical.” Greenwald, who has written more than one piece on the resistance Ellison faced as a candidate to head the DNC, asks not why Perez ran, but knowingly questions why the White House recruited Perez to oppose Ellison. His analysis, as he himself readily acknowledges, owes a certain debt to an article authored by Clio Chang for New Republic, which tries to make sense of choosing Tom Perez in the first place. After all, if Keith Ellison and Tom Perez are ideologically similar, why bother actively trying to torpedo the chances of the former to buoy those of the latter?
The distinction between the two candidates, as Greenwald and Chang detail, is a two-headed monster in it of itself. The first, er, head is found in the death grip the Democratic Party establishment has evidenced it wants to maintain on leadership of and, thus, direction of the party at large. Clio Chang explains:
It appears that the underlying reason some Democrats prefer Perez over Ellison has nothing to do with ideology, but rather his loyalty to the Obama wing. As the head of the DNC, Perez would allow that wing to retain more control, even if Obama-ites are loath to admit it. Sanders has been accused of re-litigating the primary in his criticisms of Perez, but the fact that Perez was pushed to run, while Ellison was quickly and easily unifying the left and center, seems like the move most predicated on primary scars.
In reasoning out the conflict that manifested in the form of the split between supporters of Ellison and Perez, Chang diminishes the “progressive vs. establishment” narrative that has been spun by various outside sources trying to fashion a frame of reference for their audiences, in favor of depicting the struggle as a power struggle. Barack Obama and others high up on the Democratic Party food chain were uneasy about giving Keith Ellison and his less-moderate supporters too much control. This is almost unquestionably related to the antagonistic attitude Ellison and his main man Bernie Sanders have taken against big-ticket donations and highly-paid consultants. The Democrats may view themselves as morally superior to their counterparts in the Republican Party, but on the subject of money, they are all but addicted to mega-bucks fundraisers and wealthy patrons much as the GOP is. Chang connects this resistance among the Democratic elite to grassroots organizing and fundraising to a similar battle fought over the simultaneous existence of the Democratic National Committee and Organizing for America, Obama’s grassroots fundraising creation from his initial campaign. Ultimately, the DNC absorbed this separate organization, and as Chang highlights, critics of the move blame it in part for the string of losses the Dems have suffered since Obama was first sworn in. The Democratic Party seems expressly averse to a reliance on bottom-up change and small donations, and a separate resolution by those voting Committee members at the festivities in Atlanta against a ban on corporate donations to the DNC exhibits this attitude perfectly.
Glenn Greenwald, meanwhile, while he acknowledges the White House’s role in thwarting Keith Ellison’s hopes to be DNC chair, also sees a more reprehensible dimension to his opposition, and from additional parties as well. Ellison, as you may well know, is the first Muslim to serve as a member of Congress. In the past, all the way back to his days as a college student, he expressed support for the likes of Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, before reversing his position on them and condemning their anti-Semitic positions. This personal history of Ellison’s, while it could be and was used as fodder against him politically, was not enough to disqualify him in the minds of DNC voting members. His attitudes on Israel, however, break with the mainstream bipartisan lip service that the United States government pays to our chief ally in the Middle East. At first glance, the combination looks bad. A Muslim—waxing philosophical about our relationship with Istael—oy vey! In all seriousness, though, and in reality, Ellison’s past commentary on U.S.-Israel relations is relatively benign, all things considered. By a sizable margin, Israel receives the most aid of any foreign nation from the U.S., mostly in the form of training and weaponry for use by the Israeli Defense Forces. Keith Ellison, like any number of other critics, is justified in wondering why we shower Israel with money when they aggressively pursue the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and disputed territory in East Jerusalem against the consensus within the international community. To this end, why do we kowtow to Israel at the expense of our relationship with much of the Arab and Muslim world?
As you might have guessed with respect to these questions and in general, where there’s money, there’s an answer. Keith Ellison, because he appears more amenable to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and because he is not more staunchly pro-Israel, is at odds with wealthy Jewish patrons who possess strong ties to the upper ranks of the Democratic Party. In particular, billionaire Haim Saban, the foremost donor to the Democratic Party and both Hillary and Bill Clinton’s campaigns, demonstrably labeled Ellison an anti-Semite and an anti-Israel individual, and the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization Greenwald slyly quips is ironically named in this instance, saw fit to chime in with their reservations about Ellison and his views on Israel. Their combined influence and lobbying translates to considerable power in Democratic Party circles, and since we know the Democrats can’t get enough of big, fat campaign contributions, they are inapt to risk such important sources of revenue. The result was character assassination at its finest of Keith Ellison leading up to the chair vote. Coming from members of a group that identifies itself as the “chosen people,” it would seem the Jews pulling the strings are quite choosy themselves.
Whether seeing the progressive challenger with rabid support on the left as something of a nuisance or an outright threat, as with attempts to deep-six Bernie Sanders’ chances to capture the presidential nomination for the Democrats by discrediting him or showing favoritism to Hillary Clinton, the establishment candidate, the smear campaign against Keith Ellison by people and organizations close to the Democratic Party alongside the power play made by the Obama White House in the first place to prop up Tom Perez betrays an unwillingness to authentically embrace party members and supporters more to the left on the political spectrum, often coinciding with younger entrants into the field. What’s more, in all likelihood, both moves were patently unnecessary on the part of those scheming to influence the final result. Going back to the primary race and clear evidence of bias in favor of Clinton on the part of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donna Brazile, and others involved with the Democratic National Committee, as revealed by Wikileaks’ DNC leaks, for all their machinations, Hillary was almost certainly going to capture the nomination. Sanders did provide a spirited challenge for the bid, but Clinton had the support of superdelegates before the race even began, not to mention entrenched, loyal support elsewhere. In the case of Ellison and Perez, meanwhile, the thing that is perplexing to many is the notion the DNC chair is, as Glenn Greenwald describes it, “a largely functionary position, with little real power over party policy or messaging.” As Clio Chang helps buttress this notion, the role of chair is designed to help win elections by increasing turnout and facilitating small-dollar donations, and Ellison is well-experienced in this regard. But apparently, his progressive base of support is neither allowed by the Democrats to have its cake, nor is it allowed to eat it. And, if we’re sticking with the whole birthday party analogy, they are being asked to clean up afterwards, not be petty, and unite. For the good of the party.
All this chicanery, it can be argued, is detrimental to the Democratic Party’s ability to strengthen its base, particularly among younger voters and independents. The DNC’s bias in favor of Hillary Clinton only fueled sentiments that the primaries were “rigged” against Bernie Sanders, serving to erode confidence in a Democratic vote that was already shaky to begin with given Clinton’s scandal-dotted past. Now, with Tom Perez capturing the post of DNC chair over Keith Ellison despite the latter’s enthusiastic following, this fuels the whispers among Sanders supporters that something truly iniquitous has occurred, and in turn, that the Dems don’t really want them at the adults’ table, so to speak. It certainly didn’t help perception matters when, as noted in the Jonathan Easley live blog, the electronic recording devices initially planned on being used to record the chair vote were scrapped in favor of a paper balloting system mid-stream under the pretense that the devices were vulnerable to manipulation and thus unreliable. Then why even have them there at the event in the first place? This just makes it appear as if there is something to hide, a notion not lost on the Ellison supporters in attendance.
Tom Perez may be well suited to serve in his current capacity as DNC chair, and almost certainly will end his tenure on a higher note than either Debbie Wasserman Schultz or Donna Brazile did. Keith Ellison, because he is loyal to the Democratic Party, will soldier on as deputy chair, lending his support serving in a role that is seemingly of even less consequence than the chair itself. Once more, the Democratic Party brass has evidenced it is resistant to change, unwilling to move away from a moderate position, and that it simply doesn’t understand the American electorate—or doesn’t want to. Conceived of in different terms, it is playing not to lose, hoping its distinctiveness from Donald Trump and the regressive politics of the Republican Party are enough to win it back seats all the way up the levels of government. As sports fans can attest to, however, playing not to lose rarely is a sound strategy, especially when you’re already losing. The Democrats haven’t learned anything from their recent electoral defeats, and as the old saw goes that those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, their prospects for 2018 and 2020 already look bleak.
The Democratic National Committee is not scheduled to elect a new chairperson to replace interim chair Donna Brazile until the end of February 2017—from the 23rd to the 26th, to be precise. If DNC voting members are smart, they’ll choose Rep. Keith Ellison, who hails from Minnesota’s 5th District. Seeing as the Democratic Party has done some pretty dumb things as of late, however, and has not managed to overcome the yet-more exceedingly dumb things done and said by Donald Trump and the Republican Party, at least not with respect to what has transpired in voting booths across America, there’s every chance they won’t. Apparently, Democrats are trying to keep the trend of being disappointed in our elected officials alive and well straight through until next year. Um, hooray?
I say, er, write these things in reference to a recent article by Gabriel Debenedetti and Daniel Strauss on Politico, which cites an E-mail survey conducted of 447 voting Democratic National Committee members and suggests Ellison’s early lead in these polls is anything but secure. According to those either surveyed or interviewed for the piece, a majority have yet to make up their minds, and a significant portion of them seem to be waiting for one or more potential candidates to officially declare to run for the position at the head of the DNC. To a certain extent, this makes sense. As part of the decision-making process, you would like to have as full a complement of choices as possible—although too many choices can really cause anxiety and gum up the proverbial works when it comes to reaching a final conclusion with any due sense of alacrity. But whatever, let the voters be fussy.
Refusing to endorse or officially declare for a particular candidate at this stage in the game is one thing. What, or should I say who concerns me, though, is those individuals quoted for the Debenedetti and Strauss article who seem to already have their minds made up against certain candidates, and based on prejudices held over from the election, no less. One Committee member cited in the piece in particular, a William Owen from the state of Tennessee, both aggravates and unnerves me for what he stands for and what he may represent regarding the 447-person DNC electorate as a whole. An excerpt to illustrate:
Ellison may be the choice of many Democratic leaders and a hefty portion of the grass roots — he cleared a major obstacle last week by pledging to resign his seat in Congress if he becomes chairman, and he has scored backing from a wide range of party influencers including Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer — but there’s no easy glide path ahead.
Ellison has worked hard to appeal to both sides of the party, but he nonetheless engenders by far the most impassioned responses from DNC members, both positive and negative.
One reason is that the shadow of the contentious presidential primary continues to hang over the party, and some DNC members view the Minnesota congressman as part of the faction that delivered a mortal wound to Clinton, despite his best efforts to convince them otherwise.
“Ellison is not the front-runner, Ellison has no chance at all,” said Tennessee committeeman William Owen, giving voice to that view. “I’m a Hillary person. Bill Clinton said, ‘I’ll be with you till the last dog dies,’ and I’m the last dog. I will not vote for Keith Ellison, I will not vote for a Bernie person. I think they cost Hillary the election, and now they’re going to live with Donald Trump. Donald Trump asks, ‘What do you have to lose?’ Nothing, except life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Please excuse me while I place my face against my palm. Thank you. Here we go again with the “Bernie cost Hillary the election” bit. Like the “Nader cost Gore the election” narrative from the 2000 election, I find this charge to be overblown, and here’s why:
1. Bernie Sanders gave Hillary Clinton a run for her money when it came to the Democratic Party nomination. Perhaps she was always going to win, but that the race went on as long as it did speaks to both the strength of Sanders’ message and Clinton’s weakness as a candidate. If you believe Bernie is to blame because he exposed Hillary’s flaws during the primaries, that’s your prerogative, but chances are Donald Trump and his Republican supporters were going to point out her shortcomings anyway. Regardless, in case anyone forgot, Bernie Sanders swallowed his pride and rallied behind Hillary Clinton in an effort to gather support for the Democratic Party nominee. It didn’t work, but that’s not Bernie’s fault.
2. Speaking of getting behind Hillary, Bernie on numerous occasions cautioned his followers and other voters not to cast their ballot for the sake of a “protest vote.” That is, he felt it was the wrong time to consider voting for Gary “What Is An Aleppo?” Johnson or Jill “Hey, I’m a Medical Doctor” Stein. Assuming those who voted for either third-party candidate were primarily younger voters, Bernie Sanders is not their father. He couldn’t force his supporters to pick a candidate they don’t like any more than my adult father can try to get me to eat spinach. I KNOW IT’S GOOD FOR ME, BUT I DON’T LIKE THE CONSISTENCY, OK?
3. When push comes to shove, you know who ultimately lost the election for Hillary Clinton? Hillary Clinton. Continuing the discussion from Point #2, Aaron Blake of TheWashington Post notes how Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, pointed to a smaller advantage among millennials than Barack Obama enjoyed in 2012, and worse than was predicted for Clinton even noting Obama’s singular appeal. In other words, as Blake put it, “Yes, you can blame millennials for Hillary Clinton’s loss.”
OK, this is all well and good, but now that we’re done with scapegoating an entire generation, let’s consider that she couldn’t beat a candidate who was as disliked as she was, something Aaron Blake notes toward the end of the article. Millennials disliked Hillary Clinton more than liked her by a narrow margin, but they hated (Blake himself adds this emphasis) Donald Trump, to the tune of a 22% approval rating among likely voters. That Hillary still couldn’t make up the difference speaks volumes, as far as I’m concerned. Besides, if we’re blaming voters, why point fingers at those who didn’t vote for Clinton and not at those who went all aboard the Trump Train? Or is that just what we’d expect from a bunch of “deplorables”?
See, this is the kind of mentality that has me convinced the Democrats don’t really “get it” when it comes to why they are generally losing more than they are winning, especially when their name is not Barack Obama. Case in point: Hillary Clinton herself. We haven’t really heard from the only female presidential nominee of a major party in American history since her defeat in the general election, but recently she broke her silence on why she believes she lost. And much as she has deflected blame when it has come to her use of one or more private E-mail servers to view classified messages as Secretary of State, Clinton is all-too-quick to point to external factors as reasons why she was unsuccessful in her bid to win the presidency. As Amy Chozick of The New York Timeswrites, Hillary spoke to a group of donors to her presidential campaign in Manhattan, and talked about how Vladimir Putin has a “personal beef” against her and this is why he ordered Russian’s hacking attacks, and furthermore, that FBI director James Comey’s letter raising new questions about her use of E-mail released a week before Election Day led to her loss in key swing states. Even if these things are true, though, to take such a defiant tone and to look past her own failings arguably takes the wrong tack.
When Bernie Sanders eventually conceded the Democratic Party nomination, there was no talk on his part of being cheated by the Democratic National Committee—even though we eventually learned there was collusion on the part of Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other key figures in the DNC to subvert his campaign—but rather an emphasis on what the Sanders campaign meant in terms of setting off a political revolution. The focus was on the inclusion and involvement of new entrants into the political sphere, and not on his own personal achievement. To Hillary Clinton and her campaign, it was Director Comey. It was the Electoral College. It was the media. It was millennials. It was Putin. It was Russia. It was third-party candidates. It was Trump’s rabid supporters. Again, these may all have been contributing factors, but for Clinton to negate her own failings would seem to betray her arrogance. After all, if Vladimir Putin and the Russians tried to hack the election, it couldn’t have been about Donald Trump—it had to be about her, right? Only all these elements conspiring against her could bring down the most qualified presidential candidate in modern history, no?
It would be one thing if Democrats were in a strong position to be so principled about their choices of leadership alongside their professed loyalty for certain members of the party. In this case, it would make more sense that Democratic National Committee voting members such as William Owen are willing to continue holding a grudge over a contentious primary season at the possible expense of the party. But the Democratic Party isn’t playing with house money these days. At a recent rally for Keith Ellison in Washington, D.C. at the headquarters of the American Federation of Teachers, Bernie Sanders, in introducing Ellison, made certain to illuminate how Democrats have lost significant ground to Republicans over the past few years, culminating in a devastating series of losses at the state and national level right up to the White House.
In Sanders’ view and in an opinion shared by others, this signifies the Democratic Party isn’t doing something right strategically. As has been his rallying cry and as Keith Ellison has echoed in his own plan for a new path forward for the Dems, the growth of the party and positive change must come from the bottom up, not from the top down. Ellison framed this when he took the microphone in terms of a “3007-county strategy.” As he put it, “We need a town strategy. We need a precinct strategy. The resources need to be moved down closer to the voter.” This is important language regarding organizational structure for a political party that saw voters reject the kind of rich patronage someone like Hillary Clinton so clearly embraced. Of course, these are only words of Keith Ellison’s, and are primarily designed to garner political support for himself. But that doesn’t make what he’s talking about less worthy of aspiration. Because Barack Obama wasn’t able to achieve everything he talked about on the campaign trail, does that mean hope and change are mere illusions? Have we suddenly soured on the whole political process because tens of millions of people were stupid enough to elect Donald Trump?
Even those DNC members who are not as vehemently anti-Sanders as William Owen, I fear, don’t truly have their finger on the pulse of the wants and needs of a growing segment of support within the party. Going back to the Politico piece, here’s a quote from Daniel Hynes, another Democratic National Committee voting member, I found vaguely troubling:
“I’m hoping that there’s another candidate that’s going to emerge. I’m not really happy with the candidates that are out there,” said Illinois committeeman Daniel Hynes, echoing sentiments relayed over and over in interviews over the past week. “I don’t know who that person is, I just think it’s someone who’s detached from Washington, somebody who’s full-time, somebody who’s from the moderate side of the party, and somebody who’s going to steer the party back towards our ability to appeal to middle-class working Americans.”
Hmm, so you want someone who is not a member of the Democratic establishment, but someone who should have a clue about the inner workings of D.C. politics. Oh, and they shouldn’t be too liberal and should have blue-collar appeal. Um, you realize you’ve either described Bernie Sanders minus the moderate part, or—gulp!—Donald Trump minus the clue part. And Trump was only moderate as a by-product of more recently embracing conservative ideals and not having much to say in the way of concrete policy goals. Waiting on a candidate who ticks off all those boxes and is as dynamic as someone like a Sanders or even an Elizabeth Warren is, frankly speaking, asking a bit much.
More importantly, though, this dogged insistence on having a representative of the Democratic Party who hews too close to center arguably is a self-defeating proposition. Outside of her hawkish predisposition with respect to foreign policy, Hillary Clinton was too moderate for her own good, and Tim Kaine, whom John Oliver referred to as the human equivalent of a sweater vest, didn’t help matters. Despite the Democrats’ win in the popular vote for the presidency, they still lost the election, and have gotten shellacked otherwise outside of Barack Obama’s victories the past several years. Insisting on someone more moderate, therefore—in effect, playing not to lose—makes little sense when you’re already losing.
The most energized we have seen liberals and Democratic voters of late, meanwhile, has been behind the vision of people like Bernie Sanders for a more progressive direction for the Democratic Party and the nation, one that has captivated younger voters and thus is key to the source of growth the party will need going forward. With this in mind, the path forward existing Democratic Party leadership needs to embrace is one of bold leadership and an insistence on grass-roots organization that engages both new entrants into the voting process and working-class voters who the Dems seemingly have all but abandoned. And right now, Keith Ellison is the candidate for DNC chair who is best iterating these values and who has the backing of key figures within the party. If the voting members are smart, they’ll choose him to help the Democratic Party regain ground lost to a Republican Party that has made fear of change its raison d’être. If the present insights from members of the Democratic National Committee are any indication, though, the Democrats are not even close to being ready to go bold and far enough to make that a reality.