DNC member Jim Zogby, who helped run Jesse Jackson’s campaign in 1984, joins The Real News Network for historical perspective and analysis of Democrats and the future we face.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Joe Biden: The Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, once wrote, “History says, don’t hope on this side of the grave, but then once in a lifetime, the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up and hope and history rhyme.” This is our moment to make hope and history rhyme. United in our love for America, united and our love for each other. For love is more powerful than hate. Hope is more powerful than fear and light is more powerful than dark. This is our moment. This is our mission. May history be able to say that the end of this chapter of American darkness began here, tonight.
Marc Steiner: Welcome to The Real News. This is Marc Steiner. Great to have you all with us today after the DNC. And speaking of that, we’re joined today by James Zogby, who has been a leading voice among progressives in the Democratic Party for some time, helped co-managing Jesse Jackson’s campaign, working with [inaudible 00:00:59], and of course, Bernie Sanders, serving on the DNC for the Sander’s coalition. And Jim Zogby is founder and executive director of the Arab American Institute and has joined us numerous times and joins us again today to look at what just happened over these last four days in the virtual Democratic Convention. And welcome Jim, good to have you with us.
James Zogby: Thank you. Thank you, Marc.
Marc Steiner: I am really curious from your perspective. You have been involved in progressive politics for a long time in the Democratic Party. You worked in Jesse Jackson’s campaign as a comanager. I remember that scene in ’84, where you were waving the Palestinian flag and the battles that took place around Progressives. And now we’ve seen ourselves come to 2020 with this super PAC created by a number of environmental and progressive organizations. We saw the campaign of Bernie Sanders in these last two elections. And then we saw this DNC, which was a really mixed bag when it came to the progressive movement, when it came to defining the Democratic Party. Given that perspective from the ’80s to now, how would you analyze what happened in last four days?
James Zogby: Look, I’m a firm believer in the fact that energy grows, it doesn’t dissipate if you keep working and building it. And I think that we’ve made real progress over the last 20, 30 years in the sense that the coalition is broader and deeper than it was, the Progressive Coalition. And I think we’ve gained not only experience, but a foothold. We have more progressive members in Congress today than we had. I mean real progressive members, not people who just say, “I’m a progressive.” We also have control of many more state parties than we ever had.
Look, the very first actual election in the DNC was in 2017, if you can believe it. Before that, in the more than a quarter century I’d been on the Democratic National Committee, we never elected an officer. The first time we had an election of an officer was in ’17 and it was because of the Bernie delegates, who’d entered the DNC and gotten themselves elected in their states. And then we had a fight on the floor or an issue, that was the first time we had a fight over an issue on the floor.
Usually we’re props at meetings. We would go and clap for speeches and then go home. And we were managed so that we wouldn’t get out of control. They can’t keep us in control anymore because we now are in the House and we have significant enough numbers and I think the numbers will keep growing. Look, I learned a long time ago, elections at the end of the day, aren’t about the choices you’d like to have. They’re the choices you really have. And I would love it to be Bernie, but it’s Joe Biden. And I think we have an impact in the Democratic Coalition. And so there’s only one choice for us to make right now, we got to win this election and keep fighting because it’ll be easier for us to fight with a Democrat in the White House than it will be with this nightmare that we’ve got right now.
Marc Steiner: [inaudible 00:04:07] nightmare in front of us and you and I have talked about the danger of what could happen in the United States for this kind of almost Neo-fascism that’s creeping up on us and this racist kind of coalition. It’s a very scary prospect. But having said that, some people think, analyze, I read this morning about what happened last four days was more show than real power, that you had a lot of Republicans and center right folks there who are making the major speeches, that AOC and others were kind of shuffled to the side, that the platform around Israel and Palestine and climate change was altered and didn’t have the effect and impact that people thought it was going to have. What does that portend?
James Zogby: Well, it portends, look, first of all on the Republican speaking, I’m glad that we’re giving them a home. They’re the homeless upper class. Poor guys, they lost their party and they need a place to go. My insistence is welcome into my house. Don’t try to take it over. You already screwed up yours. You come at our invitation, period. That fight doesn’t change because we gave them a place to speak. And frankly, I’m glad that they’re saying they can’t support Trump. That’s a good thing. Will they have an impact on our debate?
In the real sense of politics, look, the problem is right now, nobody has an impact on debate in Congress. I’ve never seen a situation like this before. You can’t pass a bill, according to Mitch McConnell, unless you get more than 50 Republican votes for the bill. In the old days, you’d get 30 Democrats, 30 Republicans, they’d have a majority and you’d win. He will not pass a bill that doesn’t have a majority of Republicans on it. And because of what’s happened with McConnell and what Gingrich did, et cetera, the Republican Party is so polarized. They don’t compromise at all. These guys who are leaving the Republican Party are leaving this authoritarian, dogmatic absolutist control of the party that a few folks have had that have made literally government dysfunctional and or are moving us toward authoritarianism, which Trump is the product of. I’m glad that they’re they’re bolting, but I want them to go back and fight their own damn party and take it over and defeat the beast they created back 20 something years ago.
That said, I am not surrendering the progress that progressives have made. We did shape much of the platform. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we did shape aspects in the platform, even on Israel-Palestine. Look, one of the biggest victories for me on Israel-Palestine was it says, “We oppose efforts to delegitimize Israel, including the Boycott Divestment Sanctions Movement,” comma, “but we support the constitutional right of every American to free speech.” That’s the same as the Republican Party platform saying, we oppose abortion, comma, but we support every woman’s right to choose. The second clause they added nullifies the first plus, that’s a big victory for us and a huge defeat for them. They’ve been wanting to say, antisemitism. If you support BDS, it’s anti-Semite Semitism. They now say you have the right to free speech. That’s a big victory.
And while we didn’t win everything else, and I didn’t expect us to win everything else, our position within the party is stronger than it was. We got 190 members of Congress opposing annexation, [APEC 00:07:51] had to surrender and give them an okay to do it. We defeated [Eliot Engle 00:00:07:56]. We defeated [Clay 00:00:07:58]. We defeated [Lipinsky 00:07:59]. We won and beat back challenges to Ilhan and Rashida. Frankly, the myth of APEC has been shattered. And I think we’ve got nothing but an upward trajectory right now. So I’m feeling good about it, lot of work to do, but frankly, I think I would’ve liked progress to have been made 20 years ago, but we’re making it now and I’m feeling good about it.
Marc Steiner: Let me just talk a bit about where you see this going, though. If in fact Biden and Harris win, and Bernie clearly is getting older and will probably not be the force that he was, and you have these seven organizations that combine to form this super PAC from DSA to Sunrise and other groups and you were part of the Rainbow Coalition, I’m talking about the Jesse Jackson Rainbow Coalition, and building that. And I was thinking about that because I was working that as well, plus the old Rainbow Coalition of ’68 with the Panthers and Young Patriots. But I’m curious where you think we’re going with all of this? Does this new super PAC become part of a new caucus or movement inside the Democratic Party? This is going to have to take on the kind of central right of the Democrats in terms of climate change and numerous other issues, health care, Medicare-
James Zogby: [crosstalk 00:09:30]-
Marc Steiner: Where do you think this goes?
James Zogby: There is a Bernie delegates network. I’m so impressed with the numbers, with the commitment of folks and the work in DSA and the Progressive Democrats and Roots Action and Justice Democrat, all those groups that are out there, are coalescing. And I think that’s brilliant and I think it’s important. I hope that they coalesce and devise a challenge, how to take over the democratic party. I hope that that’s what they do because frankly, what we don’t need now is to split. I know the party from the inside and I know that there is dark money and there is control of lobbyists and they can be beat. They can be beat. And I’m seeing evidence of their weakness as we go forward, they can be beat. And I want us to commit to going from the 100 or so delegates we’ve got right now to going to 300 delegates and electing a real chair who’s progressive and electing a slate of officers who are progressive and making the party accountable, transparent, and more democratic. That can be done.
And as far as I know, Bernie isn’t going to run for president anymore, most likely he won’t. But my sense is I remember having dinner with him one night in Detroit last summer with Cornell West and with Gus Newport and a few others. And I just got the very distinct feeling this is a transformational person in American political history, who knows that that’s what his role is. It’s almost like he’s Moses. He walks us to the river, but he doesn’t cross over, but he understands that he has made real change possible and mobilized a lot of people who were wandering in the wilderness and he brought us together. And as far as a young bench, we got a big young bench and you don’t have to look further than the squad and a whole lot of other folks who are coming into Congress.
Look, I thought I tweeted that night of the convention that AOC spoke. I can’t imagine in all the years I’ve been going to conventions a minute that was more effectively used. That was a historic minute. There was so much in that minute. She stole the stage and she was just fantastic. We got a good bench out there. And I think there’s folks who are coming up yet and running for a state legislature and city councils and mayoral posts. Randall Woodfin is just a remarkable guy and I’m excited about the future. And look, it’s an old guy, I’m an old guy and I’ve been down this road before. I thought that would happen in the ’80s with Reverend, but we didn’t sink our roots back down into taking over the party. We didn’t do that. I see folks with a very different mindset today and they get the fact that these are institutions that have to be challenged and changed, not ignored.
Marc Steiner: Let me continue playing the jaundice journalist for a while here because I love [inaudible 00:12:42] and the very positive outlook you’re bringing to this conversation, I think is really important. But one of the things we saw in the Democratic Convention was this pitch around basic decency, pitting Biden against Trump in that sense. But the question many people ask is, is that enough to win? Is that enough to move this ahead? Can Biden being a nice guy and Trump being a jerk, win an election? And I think-
James Zogby: Look, number one, well, I think you’re right. This was a pitch for decency and it was a warning about the dangers of another four years. And frankly, progressives need to get it in their heads elections matter. I’ve been also down that road before. Gore didn’t matter, Clinton would have been a nightmare, blah, blah, blah. You cannot tell me that the history of the century would not have been fundamentally different if Al Gore had been president and Hillary Clinton had been president. For all of the flaws that Hillary Clinton may have had, we would be in a very different place today, a much better place today than we are with Donald Trump. And the amount of suffering that this man has brought and the danger he poses, I am convinced that we have not seen the end of him if we beat him in November-
Marc Steiner: What does that mean?
James Zogby: [crosstalk 00:14:06] In the sense that those armed militias that were storming state capitals, he will send them into the streets. I think that the danger will be that we will have an insurrection on the part of the far right. He’s already been setting it up for they rigged the election, it’s a fraud. He’s tweeted it more than 80 times already in the last couple of months. He’s setting it up for a violent response if he loses and he won’t accept the loss. I think there’s a lot of people who worry about that.
And yeah, being nice, it pays off. I don’t think that’s what it’s all about. It’s also about being real. It’s also about being real. When I saw Jill Biden in the classroom, walking down the halls into the classroom, I said, “There are lots of people out there who say, I get that. I know what it’s like right now with my kids here at home and I can’t send them to school. I know what it’s like to be afraid of what’s happening in the street with random gun violence,” when Giffords spoke. There are so many issues that they were talking about that resonate with people in their hearts that I think it was a good thing. I don’t think that’s all that it’s about. I think they’ll come out fighting as well.
But I think that there’s nothing wrong in reminding people, as Michelle Obama and President Obama did that there’s a different tone we can set in America. And look, I tweet something nice about Joe Biden and I lose a hundred followers on Twitter. For God’s sake, folks, for fellow progressives, I’ve been fighting this fight as long as many and maybe longer than most. And I’ve taken my licks. I’ve had my life threatened. I had my office fire bombed. I know what the hell it’s about. And for the sake of my kids and my grandkids, this election has got to go differently than the last one. If people say, “Oh, he doesn’t matter. He’s no good. He’s a nightmare.” That’s what people responded to me in Twitter when I praised Joe Biden last night, he is not a nightmare at all.
He may not be the effective legislator or the effective proponent of progressive politics that these guys want, but he is going to be a hell of a lot better person and president than what we’ve got right now. And right now, there’s only one choice in front of us. It’s not Bernie versus Trump. It’s not Bernie versus Hillary. It is Joe Biden versus Donald Trump. There is no other choice to make. And to me, frankly, you got to go with the one who’s going to get us out of this nightmare.
And will it be perfect? No. Politics is never perfect. Will it be better? Absolutely better. And we cannot stand another four years of what we’ve just been through and I think if people don’t get that, then they are living way too Goddamn comfortable a life. That they can afford to say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter. There’s no difference between the two of them.” Who the hell are they to be able to have that amount of arrogance and self-absorption? And one lesson I learned a long time ago, if you get mad and you sit in a corner and lick your wounds, you’re just going to get them infected. That’s all you’re going to do. And so the point right now is we’ve got to heal the wound and not lick it.
Marc Steiner: I can ask many more things, but I think that was a great closing statement and we’ll leave it there for today. And I think that you are right about the dangers that we face in terms of the militias and what could happen after this and progressives have to be prepared for that and people have to be prepare for that in this country. I agree completely. As Eddie Conway, who has spent 40 years as a political prisoner of this country and who now works for Real News, said, “We’re not getting out of this without a fight.” And I think he’s right. And Jim Zogby, thank you so much, once again, for taking the time for The Real News. Look forward to more conversations.
James Zogby: Thank you.
Marc Steiner: Thank you. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Let us know what you think. We’re looking forward to dialogue [inaudible 00:18:16] with all of you, I’m Marc Steiner, take care.
Marc Steiner, interim co-Editor at TRNN, is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on issues of social justice. He walked his first picket line at age 13 and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested for Civil Rights protests, in the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught Theatre for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993 through 1997 his signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR – which Marc co-founded – and Morgan State University’s WEAA.