Failing to learn from the humiliating losses of the last election, establishment Democrats continue to cater to their oligarchical donors while rejecting the party’s progressive base and its future.
WASHINGTON — The past year has not been kind to the Democratic Party. Engulfed in major scandals in the lead-up to the election, Democrats suffered humiliating losses in November, losing the majorities they held in the House and Senate along with the presidency and several key governorships.
In addition, major rifts within the party became impossible to ignore. Many Democrats, energized and motivated by the insurgent primary campaign of Bernie Sanders, felt betrayed and ignored by the party establishment that did everything in its power to ensure the nomination of one of the most unelectable candidates of all time, Hillary Clinton.
Months after the bitter primary concluded, the Democratic Party remains anything but united, as it is desperately trying to keep Sanders-Clinton “proxy” wars from breaking out while also fighting to brand itself as “the people’s party” despite last year’s scandals. In spite of their best efforts, the very type of “proxy” wars they were seeking to avoid between the Sanders- and Clinton-supporting factions ultimately defined the contest to choose the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
DNC insiders came together in Atlanta on Saturday to choose the party’s new chair after both interim chair Donna Brazile and five-year chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz were disgraced by various scandals. The lead-up to the vote, as the Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald noted, had become “something of an impassioned proxy war replicating the 2016 primary fight.”
In November, the Sanders-backed choice for DNC chair, Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, announced his candidacy with the endorsements of several notable progressives, including Elizabeth Warren, as well as key establishment figures like Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid. At the time, Ellison appeared to be the clear front-runner. However, the Obama White House worked hard over the following month to convince then-Labor Secretary Tom Perez to run for DNC chair. Perez launched his candidacy a full month after Ellison, drawing speculation that establishment Democrats were desperate to challenge Ellison’s election to the DNC’s top position. As has been the case for so long in the Democratic Party, Perez, the establishment candidate, was chosen over Ellison.
A Washington insider disguised as a ‘progressive’
Despite presenting himself as a champion of “progressive” ideals, Perez is as establishment as they come. A controversial member of the Obama administration, Perez has been flagged for a number of top positions by Democrats in recent years. When Eric Holder resigned from his position as attorney general, Perez was named as a possible replacement. Following the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Perez was rumored to be a choice to fill the vacant seat on the court. He was even ranked as the 3rd most likely candidate for Clinton’s running mate in the 2016 election.
Though Perez was edged out as Clinton’s vice presidential pick by Tim Kaine, he made his commitment to Clinton no secret during the election. It should come as little surprise, then, that Perez’s personal email address appears in a number of the now-infamous Podesta Emails, 20,000 pages of emails published by WikiLeaks in October and November from the personal Gmail account of Clinton campaign chair and D.C. insider John Podesta.
Perez’s email correspondence with Podesta clearly shows that Perez was intimately involved with Democratic Party establishment figures in actively working to thwart Sanders’ primary campaign, particularly in Nevada. In a lengthy email sent to Podesta and Maya Harris, a senior advisor to Clinton, Perez lays out strategies to help Clinton secure a win at the state’s caucus. In the email, dated Feb. 2, 2016, he asserts that if Clinton could do well in the Nevada caucus, “then the narrative changes from Bernie kicks ass among young voters to Bernie does well only among young white liberals.” This narrative of Sanders supporters being predominantly white was widely recognized as a smear tactic on the part of Clinton supporters, one which Salon described as “a dirty, dangerous game.”
Other emails show Perez working to discredit Sanders by other means. In an email to Podesta dated March 2, 2016, Perez expressed his excitement at his upcoming appearance on the Telemundo network, where he hoped to “trumpet [Clinton’s] strong support among Latinos and put a fork once and for all in the false narrative about Bernie and Latinos.” Yet, Latino support for Sanders was anything but a false narrative, particularly at the time Perez made this claim.
Perez also openly admitted earlier this month that the primary had been “rigged” against Sanders. However, before the end of the day, he had retracted the comment, tweeting: “I have been asked by friends about a quote and want to be clear about what I said and that I misspoke.” He also made sure to add that Clinton had won the primary “fair and square.”
I have been asked by friends about a quote and want to be clear about what I said and that I misspoke.
— Tom Perez (@TomPerez) February 9, 2017
It is worth noting that Perez, in his correspondence with Podesta, used a personal email account. Perez, like Clinton, has come under fire in the past for allegedly using his personal email account in order to avoid being accountable to Freedom of Information Act requests.
Perez’s campaign for DNC chair was straight out of the Clinton playbook
Perez’s commitment to Clinton-esque campaign strategies was made evident by his own recent campaign for DNC chair. Just like Perez had once helped Clinton play the “race card” in casting a majority of Sanders supporters as “white,” Perez’s campaign for DNC chair benefited from a vicious smear campaign against his opponent, Ellison, in which Ellison, a Muslim, was accused of being anti-Semitic.
This attack on Ellison was launched by the largest funder of both the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign, Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban. Ellison’s track record as a “measured critic” of Israel’s occupation of Palestine is clearly at odds with the views of Saban, who has stated, “I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel.”
Just a few weeks after Ellison launched his bid for DNC chair, Saban called Ellison “an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual,” adding that Ellison’s election “would be a disaster for the relationship between the Jewish community and the Democratic Party.” Saban’s influence within the establishment wing cannot be understated, having donated $2.4 million to the Clintons’ various campaigns and more than $15 million to the Clinton Foundation. He also donated $7 million to the construction of the DNC’s headquarters in 2001.
Following Saban’s invective, Jewish groups began to announce that they had become “uncomfortable” with the prospect of Ellison as DNC chair. Some even remarked that the last thing the Democrats needed to attract Rust Belt voters was to elect a black Muslim as the face of the party, despite the fact that Ellison was born in Detroit and raised in the Rust Belt. Notable Jewish Democrats, such as Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, vowed to abandon the party were Ellison to become the next DNC chair. Dershowitz cited Ellison’s allegedly “long history of sordid association with anti-Semitism” as the motivating factor for his not-so-veiled threat. Even though Ellison had the support of over 300 rabbis and Jewish community leaders along with several establishment Democrats coming to his defense, he was unable to shake off the barrage of accusations.
Putting the oligarchy ahead of the voter base
After winning the election for DNC chair, Perez quickly called for unity, promising to fight for all Democrats and “change the culture of the Democratic Party and the DNC.”
Tom Perez: "We need a chair who can not only take the fight to Donald Trump" but "change the culture of the Democratic Party and the DNC" pic.twitter.com/6tnJO7qA1A
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) February 25, 2017
However, as evidenced by his behavior in the 2016 primary and in his bid to become DNC chair, Perez is unfit to change the very establishment DNC culture from which he directly benefits. While some notable Democrats have recognized that “the party is on life support,” most establishment Democrats, despite the obvious and glaring failures of DNC policies, continue to refuse to acknowledge the reality of their dire situation.
Indeed, Ellison’s recent loss has further galvanized dissatisfied progressives in their efforts to leave the party en masse, as evidenced by the resurgence of the hashtag “DemExit.” By alienating Ellison and Sanders supporters, the Democrats have chosen to follow the same course that has led them to ruin, all in the name of the DNC establishment’s veneration of its oligarchical donors over the voices of its voter base.