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Norman Solomon: From Wall Street to the war, this isn’t what progressive democrats voted for

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. And joining us again now is Norman Solomon. He’s on the executive board of Progressive Democrats of America. He’s also featured in the film War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. Thanks for joining us again.


JAY: Alright. So we left off the first segment with the question: sociopaths to the right of us, Democratic Party mostly in the hands of corporate, center interests—and these days it seems to be mostly Wall Street interests. What do people who still think the Democratic Party is a vehicle for change do about it?

SOLOMON: Well, I think it’s important to realize that most of the Democratic Party base is appreciably more progressive than those who get elected, and that needs to be rectified. Primaries exist for a reason, and they’re rarely utilized to the extent they could and should be.

JAY: Well, back up a sec. When you say “base”, like, during the primary, presidential primary, you know, it didn’t take long before it was a Clinton versus Obama contest. Edwards, who was sort of seen as more progressive, was not out front there.

SOLOMON: But you can’t beat something with nothing, or you can’t beat something with nearly nothing, in terms of a vigorous, grassroots, well-funded-from-the-base campaign. And what I’m urging and what Progressive Democrats of America as an organization is pursuing, and other groups, and certainly many individuals, is to organize effective electoral campaigns that have organic, honest links and connections with day-to-day political organizing for progressive causes—labor, the environment, social justice, civil liberties, antiwar—that this is part of a continuum. It’s a 24-7-365 consciousness and social fabric that we’re weaving together that should be manifested, among other ways, in the electoral arena. And that’s where primaries can be so important. I think the center-right blue dog Democrat Jane Harman really had a scare thrown into her for the June 8 California primary, where a relatively unknown, principled candidate, Marcy Winograd, totally progressive and antiwar, gained more than 41 percent against an incumbent very powerful, one of the most powerful Democrats in the entire Congress. That’s a model for what we need to do. And we need to learn how to win.

JAY: Okay. Well, that’s the issue, how to win, because what the other sides say, and particularly if you look at Arkansas and the Blanche Lincoln story—. Am I—?

SOLOMON: Right. Yes. Well, 48 percent went up against her in the run-off. That was [inaudible]

JAY: Yeah, but a lot of money was spent. The unions put in a lot of dough. President Obama and the entire Democratic Party elite, as I understand it, backed Lincoln.

SOLOMON: Former president Clinton did an enormous amount of help [inaudible]

JAY: Okay. But their argument is—you know, whether they really think this is the real argument or not, is that you can’t win with a progressive candidate. But in that place, when so much money went into it, why can’t you beat Lincoln?

SOLOMON: Well, you can win with progressive candidates, just not all the time. Nothing’s guaranteed. You might say nationally to progressives: they never promised you a rose garden; you have to work for it; you have to be willing to lose; you have to be willing to build and build and build. Let me give you an example of a winnable race. In Rhode Island in the middle of September this year you have David Segal, who’s in the state legislature, who’s a down-the-line progressive. He’s done the organizing, he’s been in public life for many years, and he really has a shot to be elected for the vacated seat from Patrick Kennedy, who’s decided to leave Congress at the end of this year. Those possibilities not only exist, but we need to work with them and give the strength at the grassroots for people to build campaigns that can be victorious. If we start out and say, oh, we can’t win ’cause we’re up against money, let me give you an example about “up against money”. In the state of California, in the June 8 primary here just a couple of weeks ago, we had a $50 million campaign by the investor-owned utility Pacific Gas & Electric to promote Ballot Measure 16, and then they lost. It was—the spending ratio was probably 100 to 1. And progressives beat that initiative, which was an attempt to reinforce the monopoly of the biggest electric utility in the state. So it’s not only that you can beat City Hall: you can beat corporate America. But you’ve got to be willing to do the organizing. That’s why I’m in Progressive Democrats of America—which, I should add, is on the Web at And it’s part of, I think, a patchwork that’s growing of many organizations around the country that say, we’re tired of these corporate, centrist Democrats saying they speak for the Democratic Party.

JAY: So what do you make of a sort of [Ralph] Nader type argument, which is the Democratic Party is so rotten that you can’t really do this kind of change, because they will find a way to beat you in the primaries?

SOLOMON: I see no plausible path to victory for progressives at the state legislature level, which are virtually all partisan races, at the congressional level, or the presidential level by taking a third-party route. I mean, I personally have been that route in the past. Many other people have in past decades. It doesn’t work in terms of victory. Now, people might say, look, I’m going to make a moral statement. Well, if you want to make a moral statement, then that’s something that you might want to do. If you want to make a moral statement by fighting for everything you believe in inside the Democratic Party, but not simply relying on inside-the-party work but, as we say in Progressive Democrats of America, an inside-outside strategy, then you have a chance. And I would sort of recount something that a Chinese tactician said many centuries ago: when you’re in a struggle with an adversary, don’t do what you most want to do; do what your adversary least wants you to do. And I believe in this case corporate America, what Dwight Eisenhower—no flaming leftist—called a “military-industrial complex”, what those corporate military forces least want us to do is to find ways that progressives can win elections and change policy in genuine antiwar, anti-corporate, pro-democratic directions. And that means we’ve got to learn how to grab those levers of the electoral process and win for progressives.

JAY: To be successful—in my opinion, at least—you’re really going to need the unions to be on side and stay on side. Now, the unions did put some—I think, some real money into trying to beat Blanche Lincoln. They weren’t successful. Are the unions going to get gun-shy here? Or do you think they’re going to pursue this?

SOLOMON: Well, no doubt unions are essential, not only for electoral power for progressive programs but for the wellbeing of our society and for working people as a whole. I would say that unions ask two basic questions: what are your politics in terms of being genuinely supportive and a fighter for working people, and can you win. And we need to show that we can win and to build those sorts of alliances. After the runoff in Arkansas, already notoriously, a senior unnamed White House official said that the unions had flushed—as they put it, flushed down the toilet $10 million in an attempt to defeat Blanche Lincoln. And the White House said that it was a pointless endeavor, which is a way of saying, look, let the White House run the show, let the president make all the decisions. And that’s clearly unacceptable. We see where that leads, where supposedly a key agenda item for the Obama administration was going to be passage, enactment, and signing of the Employee Free Choice Act. Hasn’t happened. It’s not a high priority. Nobody thinks it is a high priority.

JAY: No, but nobody talks about it anymore here.

SOLOMON: Yeah, because the president has chosen not to keep his faith with working people of this country.

JAY: Well, you talk to union leaders, and they more or less defend Obama from beginning to end. It’s hard to get a critical word out of any of the national union leaders.

SOLOMON: Well, they’re not too happy about the failure of the administration to fight for the Employee Free Choice Act, for example.

JAY: Even there, I just recently interviewed one national union leader, someone from the AFL-CIO. They’re still apologizing. They say, well, he’s getting to it; the agenda’s been busy.

SOLOMON: Pressure from the base. I mean, we have to—whether it’s inside the union, inside the Democratic Party, or anywhere else, we need to speak truth not only to power, but about power is even more important. It’s about candor. It’s about honesty. It’s about being direct. I tell people, don’t just say it over a glass of wine or a bottle of beer; say it in public. And when we speak publicly, we have a capacity to galvanize, around truthfulness, a strong progressive movement.

JAY: Thanks for joining us.

SOLOMON: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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Norman Solomon is the co-founder of, and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.