The Democratic National Committee will choose a new chair at its February 23-26 Winter Meeting in Atlanta. That choice will be a fateful one.
Despite being the smaller party, Republicans hold the country in an iron grip. Their dream of dismantling New Deal social programs is within reach. They’re racing to accelerate global warming by mining, drilling, and burning all the fossil fuels they can lay their hands on. They seem bent on stripping millions of families of health care, threatening more millions of immigrant families, and demonizing 3.3 million Muslims who are our fellow students, co-workers, neighbors, and friends.
A lot of responsibility for that falls on the DNC’s shoulders. The party’s collapse this past election was obviously a stunning rejection of Hillary Clinton. But the rejection wasn’t just personal, it was systemic. Millions of voters were turned off by the party’s hypocrisy and the DNC’s subservience to corporate money.
Let’s tell it like it is. The DNC gamed its own system, killed enthusiasm, and drove huge numbers of newly-engaged voters out of the campaign. They ushered Hillary Clinton into the nomination and the party over a cliff.
What needs to be fixed?
Don’t underestimate the problems. The less difficult fixes are managerial, and even those will require major effort to accomplish. But after one of the most humiliating defeats in U.S. history, all of the candidates for chair agree they need to happen. Those fixes include:
- reviving the 50-state (plus 7-territories) strategy;
- pouring substantial resources into making the party competitive in state and local levels;
- contesting races up and down the entire ticket rather than beginning and ending at the top;
- supporting, not starving, progressive candidates;
- listening to the grassroots.
Publicly, that’s all the candidates are willing to discuss. The corporate wing of the party wants to keep it that way. What they don’t want is to own their part in the problem.
It was the corporatists who abandoned Howard Dean’s 50-state approach, sucked the money and support away from downticket efforts, and sought out lobbyists and big-dollar donors—and they don’t intend to change their ways.
The corporatists’ basic pitch in framing the DNC’s choice of a new chair is a bureaucratic two-step. 1) The party needs to bury its “philosophical differences” over big donors (i.e., keep on living off corporate handouts), ignore the outrageous abuses of the last campaign, and unify. 2) The best fit for heading the rebuilding job is a good manager who will reach out and rebuild the party at its lower levels.
In other words, their recipe for success is a better-run version of the status quo.
Why is that not enough?
That argument may sound plausible. But it won’t work. In fact, it’s actually a recipe for further disaster.
Young people, working class people, and people of color deserted the party in droves this last election. Even the shock of a Donald Trump administration won’t be enough to bring them back unless there is major systemic change—starting with the chair. In their encounters with the Democratic Party last primary season, attempts to squelch them were every bit as ugly and undemocratic as Republicans’ efforts to suppress minority votes. They’ve had it with the cynicism and hypocrisy of corporate Democrats.
Beyond that, there are structural problems plaguing the DNC like multiple cancers--the caucus system, the superdelegate system, and the core issue destroying the party: its dependence on donations from corporate lobbyists.
What really needs to be fixed?
The DNC is sick. It has an addiction to corporate money. And your dealers don’t stop coming around just because you’ve lost your house, been fired from your job, and been rejected by your kids. You’re the dealers’ mealticket, and in their own way, they’re as sick as you are.
As any addict or member of an addict’s family will tell you, recovery begins by acknowledging that you have a problem. That was Bernie Sanders’ role in the last campaign. He was the unlikely young boy who blurted out—in a Brooklyn accent—that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes. The wonder wasn’t just that Sanders couldn’t be bullied or bought; it was that he actually talked about Wall Street and corporate money as corrupting democracy. He broke the party’s sick silence. It was the greatest contribution he could have made to the party—and the party turned it down.
Once the silence was broken, volunteers poured into Sanders’ campaign. His massive support via small donations was unprecedented. Hundreds of thousands of those same folks, along with other energized, passionate people, are now out jamming airports, filling our cities’ streets, and hounding members of Congress. They’re pouring millions of dollars into the ACLU. Do the powers-that-be in the DNC actually believe that managerial fixes will satisfy people’s demands for change?
As crazy as that sounds, they may. Never underestimate addicts’ ability to delude themselves.
How do things look at the moment?
Early on, Keith Ellison, a strong progressive and early Bernie Sanders supporter, was the clear frontrunner to become the new DNC chair. But the party’s Clinton/Obama corporate wing, threatened by the prospect of real reform, pushed Tom Perez into the race. Perez, ex-Labor Secretary under Obama and one-time prospect to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate, is now Ellison’s main competition.
Unfortunately for Perez, he had a temporary lapse into frankness. He told county leaders in Kansas, “We heard loudly and clearly yesterday from Bernie supporters that the [party’s primary] process was rigged, and it was. And you’ve got to be honest about it. That’s why we need a chair who is transparent.”
His straight talk was quickly followed by a humiliating flurry of tweets in which he claimed he “misspoke” and that “Hillary became our nominee fair and square, and she won more votes in the primary—and general—than her opponents.”
That Clinton won more votes is obviously true; that she won the nomination “fair and square” is a lie. Emails released via Wikileaks, as well as the debate schedule, the stacked deck in debate questions, and the abuses in party caucuses all confirmed the process was rigged.
By now we all cringe each time Kellyanne Conway debases herself by excusing or lying about yet another vile thing Donald Trump has said or done. But here’s Tom Perez doing the same thing, flip-flopping at Clinton’s command.
The speed with which Clinton//Wall Street forces were able to pull Perez’s strings and jerk him back into line is all we need to know about his fitness for the job. The last thing the DNC needs is a male version of Debbie Wasserman Schultz at its helm. Nevertheless, Perez now claims he has the support of at least 180 DNC members.
Keith Ellison has been low key, presumably because he’s trying not to poke a stick in the eye of people he’ll need to work with if elected. But Sam Ronan’s late entry into the race is a plus for Ellison because the young Ohio vet is making Ellison’s case for him, putting 2016’s rigged nomination front and center and demanding the DNC hold itself accountable.
Ellison’s bid has also been bolstered in the last few days by a strong endorsement from Ray Buckley, who dropped out of the race. Of key importance here is that Buckley is not only the chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, but also President of the Association of State Democratic Chairs and Vice Chair of the DNC. He has been engaged in Democratic politics since he was eight years old and is widely respected. His endorsement carries a lot of weight.
If the DNC blows this one, it can kiss the party’s future—and ours—goodbye.
What can you do?
Call your state’s members on the DNC. If you can’t find out who they are, get their names and contact info from your state’s Democratic Party office. Don’t put it off; time is short. Tell the DNC members what you want and who you support. Let them know the public is watching, and expects real reform.
© Tony Russell, 2017