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Is the Center for American Progress really interested in pushing bold progressive ideas for the American people, when they make questionable claims about America’s favorite progressive candidate, Bernie Sanders? We discuss the issue with Mike Lux

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JACQUELINE LUQMAN Welcome to The Real News Network. I am Jacqueline Luqman. The Center for American Progress claims to be a progressive organization that according to its website, is “an independent, non-partisan policy institute that is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans through bold, progressive ideas.” But are they really independent of the Democratic Party? And are they really about pushing bold, progressive ideas for the American people when they make questionable claims about arguably America’s favorite progressive candidate, Bernie Sanders? Here to talk with me today about the scathing letter Sanders recently sent to the Center for American Progress, what this letter means for the 2020 Democratic primary, is Mike Lux. Mike is the President of the progressive, non-profit organization American Family Voices and has a consulting firm, Mike Lux Media. Mike’s career in politics spans four decades, including the Clinton White House, Obama transition team, six presidential campaigns, and in the D.N.C. He’s the author of two books. The first being, The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be and the most recent was last year’s How to Democrat in the Age of Trump. Mike, thank you so much for being with me today.

MIKE LUX Absolutely. I’m delighted to be on. Thank you for inviting me.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN So let’s set the stage for what’s going on with the Center for American Progress. Apparently last week, Bernie Sanders sent a letter to the Board of Directors to the Center for American Progress, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, about an article that was published in Think Progress that suggested he is a hypocrite because he’s a millionaire. I think it’s important that we note that Think Progress is the website that is run by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, which is the sister organization for the Center for American Progress. Okay, confused enough? Sanders noted that the Think Progress piece claimed that he’s been inconsistent in calling for taxing millionaires and his growing inconsistency with the issue is because he’s now a millionaire. But is reality really more mundane than this sensational piece from Think Progress made it out to be?

MIKE LUX Well the thing that I saw— I know there was also an article— but there was a video that was particularly bad in my judgment that basically said that Bernie was using the term “millionaires” less since he became a millionaire, apparently, through book sales, that now he’s focused on the evils of billionaires as opposed to millionaires and billionaires. It was one of the dumber, more trivial attacks and just more petty attacks that I’ve seen in a long time. It really didn’t make any sense. If you know anything about Bernie, his policy positions haven’t changed. His rhetoric hasn’t changed and so, it was just a silly little thing to attack him on. I think it was a sign that there is a certain attitude among some Democrats to attack Bernie on this. Now to be fair to CAP, which I want to do, Think Progress— although it’s sort of housed there and run out of there and they do fund it so there’s a lot of ties— but Think Progress is editorially independent according to their policies. They did not run this by the folks at CAP before they did it. It was just something that they did, and I did talk to Neera Tanden after this happened and she said she hadn’t seen it. She said she too thought it was a bad video and wasn’t happy about it. I will give the folks at CAP that deference, but the piece was never a good idea. My feeling is if the Democrats want to compete with Bernie, go after Bernie. They ought to do it on issues and on ideas, rather than on dumb, little stuff like this.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN It’s interesting that you call this a dumb, little issue because actually, the truth of the matter just to be clear, about Sanders being a “millionaire,” he’s 77. Apparently in 2017, he and his wife declared that their income was $1.1 million and most of that was from the sale of his best-selling book, Our Revolution, which was published in 2016. The previous year in 2016, their combined income was maybe 580-something-thousand dollars. So, yes. This is a trivial issue, but given the clear spin on this story, is this a problem for Sanders? Is this going to continue to dog him, because Conservative media has picked this up now? Or is this a problem that Think Progress and CAP, even though Neera Tanden according to you said that she didn’t like the story either, are they going to have to clean this up a little bit?

MIKE LUX I think they are going to have to clean it up. I think they’re working to do that. I will say, I don’t think this is a problem for Sanders at all. Bernie wrote a best-selling book. He made a little bit of money because he wrote a best-selling book. So for the first time in his life, for that one year he was technically a millionaire. I don’t think anybody gives a damn. In fact, I think this is the kind of attack that will firm up Bernie’s support among Bernie voters because it is so trivial. It is so silly. CAP has now apologized for it, which I think is great. So they do have some cleanup to do and I hope they do it.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN Now the interesting thing about CAP is that they focused on going after Sanders for being a millionaire. There is also the issue of CAP’s own contributions. I think that’s interesting in this story because the Sanders wing, or the left or progressive wing, of the Democratic Party that the Democratic establishment is seemingly having such a problem controlling so to speak or at least keeping silent, pretty much learned from Sanders in 2016 to question who’s funding candidates? But CAP receives funding from some pretty big corporate donors in the defense industry, from Wal-Mart, from the insurance industry, from the health insurance industry. So is this story the only thing that CAP is going to have to clear up? Are they also going to have to start answering for, “wait a minute, where is your money coming from,” from some of the very supporters that they have angered with this story about Sanders?

MIKE LUX Well I do think CAP needs to do full disclosure on who’s given it money. They need to do full disclosure on if there are strings attached. I think those are fair questions to ask of any campaign and any institution. If you’re getting a lot of money from the defense industry, from insurance, from wherever, and your positions are more in line with those industries, I think those are very legitimate questions. Again, CAP gets money from a lot of different sources. They get money from a lot of classic liberal donors who have no ideological drum to beat, or anything like that. I don’t want to say that all or even most of their money is questionable, but I do think they need to be thoughtful. When they’re taking their positions, they should be clear that they’re not in line with some of these kinds of donors. And so, I think it’s a legitimate issue for critics to raise and I think CAP needs to speak to it.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN Finally, Mike, I want to ask you about a specific response from the Center for American Progress to Sanders’s letter to them. They claimed in an article in The Hill that Sanders was trying to muzzle journalists with his criticism of this article published by Think Progress and this video and the suggestion that Sanders is a hypocrite because he’s a millionaire. This is an interesting accusation to level against Sanders, especially given what’s going on now with Julian Assange where the U.S. government really is trying to silence journalists for exposing corruption in the U.S. government. This is also an interesting time where we’ve learned that the D.C.C.C. has demanded a loyalty oath of vendors to promise that they won’t support challengers of Democratic incumbents for House seats in the coming midterms. This claim from CAP that Sanders is trying to muzzle them, is this more of this Democratic Party establishment pushing back or trying to silence themselves, or to stop the progress of progressives from making more of a headway into the Democratic Party? Or, is this something else that’s a little bit more concerning?

MIKE LUX Well again, I think that was a dumb answer or dumb statement by the folks at Think Progress, as opposed to CAP. The problem is that there’s a complicated role here and it’s one that I understand. It’s what people call advocacy journalism. CAP is a think tank, CAP does lobbying, and CAP has Think Progress, which is a journalistic enterprise, all under the same rubric. And so, they’re playing multiple roles. Things get complicated when you’re playing multiple roles. I don’t have any problem with advocacy journalism as long as you state upfront things like who your donors are, and all of that. I think it’s fair enough, but to say that you’re trying to muzzle journalists in this context when this wasn’t a journalistic endeavor, this video, this was a petty little, personal attack on Bernie. Like I say, it was not well done. It was stupid. It wasn’t investigative journalism. Bernie has released his taxes and fully admits that for one year, he got slightly over the million-dollar mark. So it wasn’t investigative journalism. It was just a petty little, personal attack on him. I think to say that it’s muzzling journalism, to push back on that when it was a direct political attack, is wrong. It was not a good thing for CAP or Think Progress to push back on. I think Bernie, when attacked, Bernie has every right to answer, to push back. To say he shouldn’t do that, I just think is wrong.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN Finally, Mike, I got to ask you— you said something in your latest book, How to Democrat in the Age of Trump. First, “the bridge between grassroots progressives and the party’s leaders need to be rebuilt.” This is from your book. “Party leaders need to genuinely listen to their grassroots, rather than battling or ignoring them. Democratic leaders need to learn what the Republicans have understood for decades now that to win, a political party needs enthusiasm from its activists and base voters. That means, a message that embraces the passions, values, and agenda of grassroots leaders.” How do the Democratic Party, the Democratic candidates, the D.C.C.C, the D.N.C., CAP— how does the Democratic apparatus get to that point in the history of their political life, in the current environment from where we are now, and these kinds of forced errors being committed by the Party?

MIKE LUX Ironically, I actually think it’s already happening to a degree. Certainly on the presidential level, if you look at the candidates and what they’re saying about issues, how they’re talking about issues, a number of them that have moved in a progressive direction. Compared to candidates in past elections, I think this is the most progressive field of candidates that we’ve ever had. And so, you see it happening in front of our eyes and I think it’s a great, exciting thing. I think the old guard of the Party needs to let that happen, needs to understand how important it is, and not do these kind of petty, personal things. Like I say, the best way to answer Bernie if you want to beat Bernie Sanders, you should have a debate with him on the issues about what’s going to work best, about the best way to reach common goals. You should assure voters that the Democratic Party is free of the influence of big, corporate money. You should move in that direction. And I think a lot of the candidates are getting that, even if not all of the old school Democratic groups are.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN Mike, thank you so much for joining me today to talk about this issue. We really appreciate your perspective and your insight.

MIKE LUX Thank you. Thanks for having me on. I’ve enjoyed the interview.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN And thank you so much everyone for joining me here on The Real News Network. I’m Jacqueline Luqman in Baltimore.

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Jacqueline Luqman is a host and producer for TRNN. With more than 20 years as an activist in Washington, DC, Jacqueline focuses on examining the impact of current events and politics on Black, POC, and other marginalized communities in the US and around the world, providing a specific race and class analysis at the root of these issues. She is Editor-In-Chief and a co-host of the social media program Coffee, Current Events & Politics in Luqman Nation with her husband, and is active in the faith-focused progressive/left activist community.