Well that was very disappointing, but I can’t say it was unexpected.
Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez was just elected as chair of the Democratic National Committee, winning over Minnesota representative Keith Ellison. The final tally was 235 to 200.
As a consolation prize Ellison received the job of deputy chair. He told his supporters to give “everything you’ve got to support chairman Perez.” They switched campaign pins in an effort to show unity. It’s unclear what the position of deputy chair will even involve.
But surely Ellison has enough insight to know this was way bigger than him. It was the Democratic Party’s last chance before another election to show support for progressives that remain in the party.
Perez’s supporters swore that he was just as progressive as Ellison. But as the New Republic recently explained, if that was the case, why field him at all?
The Intercept delved deeper, and laid out evidence that Perez entering the race was likely an effort to placate the party’s donor class. The single biggest funder of the Clinton campaign—Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban—launched an Islamophobic attack on Ellison. “He is clearly an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual,” Saban said. As has been discussed in detail in various publications, that accusation is without merit.
The reasons for the party’s establishment to be concerned about Ellison are manifold. his religious background is one. That he’s more of a grassroots organizer and less of a lobbyist supplicant may be another. But a key one is that those within the party are not willing to concede power to the supporters of Bernie Sanders.
The DNC race may have turned into a proxy war between the Hillary and Bernie supporters—but in my view it’s much bigger than that. After all, it’s likely neither candidate will ever run again. This is not about cult of personality, but if the party is willing to tap into the leftist undercurrent that is brewing in the country.
Increasingly the answer seems to be absolutely not. As Nancy Pelosi’s recent answer to a millennial voter indicated, Democrats are unwilling to even give even a slight critique to capitalism. The Democrats are so invested in the status quo, they fail to see that an entire generation is ready for something more transformative than stale neoliberalism.
They are also driving away voters like me, who have voted Democrat their entire lifetime, but are ready to see substantial change within the party. I even supported Hillary in 2016, but the actions of the party during the election and now are driving me further away. Judging from what I’m hearing from other Democrats, I’m definitely not alone.
The strategy the Democrats seem ready to capitalize on is anti-Trump sentiment. Just like the Clinton campaign, the Democrats are hoping fear and disgust with Donald Trump will be enough to mobilize voters. But as repugnant as Trump is, the Democrats fail to offer anything to vote for.
I’ve always been skeptical of third parties—I’ve never held the choice to vote third-party against anyone, but I’ve always doubted third parties’ real political power in a system dominated by two parties. Now I see them as a legitimate vehicle for change, regardless if one can win on the national level. They can pressure the Democrats from the outside—and who knows, maybe grow over time into a legitimate challenger.
For the first time in my life I’m open to a third-party, and I’m not alone.
One thing for sure, the current state of affairs cannot hold. Those of us on the left need to make our voices clear. Structurally, the Democratic Party is now at the point where donors matter more than their constituents. Truthfully, it has never been a vehicle for the left. Even though presidents like F.D.R. and L.B.J. passed more progressive economic policies, leftist movements have always been relegated to the sidelines. Now even many of those New Deal progressives would be out of place in today’s Democratic Party.
It’s time to find a new vehicle to be heard. I suggest the Democratic Socialists of America—they have membership dues at different income levels. This country is overdue for a massive socialist movement.
If Ellison would have won, this would have been a cautious post that the Democrats were at least beginning to move in a positive direction. But they’ve refused to even give a nod to progressives, which makes it even easier for many to exit the party. Will the Democratic Party ever wake up? Only if they hit rock bottom. And only if we pressure them from the outside.