YouTube video

Norman Solomon (running for Democratic nomination for Congress in California): Progressives must mount a challenge inside the Democratic Party

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. Norman Solomon is running in the California primary as a progressive Democrat. His district is just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. He recently wrote a piece in a local newspaper, the title of which “Democrats must push back”, except what he means by that is push back against the leadership of the Democratic Party. Now joining us to talk about that op-ed and the whole position of the progressive Democrats in the Democratic Party is Norman Solomon, who joins us from our office in Washington. Thanks for joining us again, Norman.


JAY: So talk a little bit about your op-ed, and then what the objective of what you–point of what you wrote is.

SOLOMON: Well, I think to some degree there’s a bit of an emperor’s-new-clothes dynamic among many Democrats, who certainly want to defeat Republicans, but at the same time are hesitant to say that the emperor, if not has no clothes, at least is rather scantily clad when it comes to progressive policies. And as somebody who was elected from the North Bay, north of San Francisco, to the 2008 Democratic National Convention as an Obama delegate, I certainly, like many, had high hopes. We’ve seen, however, a way in which the administration has accommodated itself to the wall of the right wing on Capitol Hill, and then after moving in that direction, moves in that direction again and again, while the right-wing Republican wall moves not all. And so this dynamic of continuing to enable the rightward move of the frame of discourse and political debate has, I think, been very damaging for progressive possibilities. That’s why I often quote Paul Wellstone, the late and great US senator who said that he wanted to fight for and represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. And I certainly intend in Congress to fight for and represent the progressive wing of the Progressive Caucus. We have to fight for progressive principles, or this country will continue to move rightward.

JAY: I mean, is part of the problem that people see the split and differences in the Democratic Party, even the Democratic versus Republican Party, more as an ideological split, like some kind of shift on an ideological spectrum, rather than within the Democratic Party there’s people in one party with very, very different economic interests? I mean, ordinary working people have one set of interests, and the Democratic Party has its own set of millionaires, as the Republicans do, but there’s lots of millionaires that more or less–in fact, more than less–control the outcome of what happens in the Democratic Party. But it doesn’t often get talked about in those terms. It usually just, like, differences of opinion.

SOLOMON: Well, left to its devices, the system will continue to enrich the already rich, as we’ve seen now for decades. But we can’t allow the system to continue to operate by its own devices. Wall Street dominates Pennsylvania Avenue, and Wall Street has been able to continue to make outlandish profits while Main Street has languished and suffered. You know, we have an absolutely unacceptable and protracted unemployment rate in this country. And I don’t believe in trickle-down economics. I don’t believe in trickle-down job creation. I’m an unreconstructed New Dealer. I believe we need massive federal jobs programs. What we’ve been getting instead out of Washington is very underfunded stimulus programs and a combination of tax breaks for businesses and relatively (compared to need) paltry job creation funds that have landed us in this mess. So we have, now, projection that even if this stimulus package were to get through Congress–and now, Democrats so weakened, it looks rather unlikely–unemployment officially might go from 9 percent to 8 percent in the next couple of years. Well, that’s totally unacceptable when you look at the cascading effect of damage to people’s lives from ongoing, protracted unemployment. So I think we need a sort of a paradigm shift that can only come from the bottom up, only from organizing in the streets and through the electoral process, to say, look, this country’s not about Wall Street; it’s about people who have a right to a job, a good, long-term, secure job, a right to secure retirement. And, in fact, health care, education, housing, and full employment are all human rights. When we can bring those principles into electoral action and win elections on that basis, then we begin to shift the sort of circumference and radius of what we’ve been talking about, in terms of what’s possible. Something I’d add is–.

JAY: But, Norman, what do you say to people that say that the Democratic Party represents, at its leadership level at least–and much of the machinery of the Democratic Party, you know, in state levels, and even municipally, is so entwined and embedded with just another section of corporate America and the wealthy that you’ll always be nothing short of a very marginal voice in that party?

SOLOMON: Well, I think progressives will always be a marginal voice unless we organize effectively. And it’s all about organizing. They don’t teach us how to do that in school, or certainly not from the mass media. But everything we can be proud of in this country, going back to the implementation of Social Security and unemployment compensation and the right to organize, the antiwar movement, the civil rights, gay rights, environmental movements, the labor movement going back into the past couple of centuries, everything we can be proud of now is as a result of organizing of social movements and the intersection to elected officials.

JAY: Right. But what I’m getting at is, like, in your piece you talk about, you know, people say that Obama is compromised, he’s compromised too much, and you say, well, compromise is one thing, but capitulation is another, and you talk about this piece in The Onion where the Democrats have–you know, have sacrificed and compromised to give up this, and the Democrats also gave up that–in other words, Republicans really didn’t give up anything. But isn’t–but within this discourse within the Democratic Party, do the critics with–inside the party need not–should they not speak more openly about who it is that’s running the Democratic Party? ‘Cause, you know, it’s not–is it so much that they’re compromising or capitulating, or that they have too similar an interest to the other side?

SOLOMON: Well, I think it depends on who they is. When we have the issue of, for instance, throwing Medicare and Social Security on the table and sharpening the knife, the sad fact, as Paul Krugman and Congressman John Conyers and others have pointed out, the White House did it. But still, in all, if we have a relatively spectator role, a passive role, we’ll talk about what those in power are doing. If we take to heart what Frederick Douglass said, that those in power will not give up power without a struggle, and they never did it, and it never will, then we need to do a lot better organizing. And it’s clear that those who hold state power, very importantly, are able to wield these levers of power. So unless we believe it doesn’t matter much who’s in electoral positions, I think it’s incumbent, it’s essential for us to organize effectively. And I think working within the electoral system is necessary. How do you fulfill the two overarching responsibilities of progressives going back decades and centuries to fight the right wing, the xenophobes, the racists, the bigots, those who want to even exploit further the unfortunate, and also to move progressive policies into implementation? Those two responsibilities can only be implemented by defeating Republicans and getting into office those who will truly work for progressive principles. And that means, really, invigorating the Democratic Party in a progressive way.

JAY: And what’s happening in the state California Democratic Party? ‘Cause I thought there was a move to actually throw the Progressive Caucus out of the state party.

SOLOMON: Well, it’s a long tale, but long story short, the Progressive Caucus in the California Democratic Party is the largest, by most measures, in the state party. I was not in the room at the time, but I learned later that the Progressive Caucus passed a resolution suggesting that there be consideration of the primary challenge to the renomination of Barack Obama for president. And there’s now question about certification of the Progressive Caucus within the state party. And yet if you look at the platform of the state Democratic Party in California, it’s very progressive. I co-authored a resolution now with the official position of the state party: end the air war in Afghanistan, get all the US troops out of Afghanistan; single-payer, guaranteed health care for all part of the platform. So there’s a lot of push-pull, and it’s just to say these are ongoing political struggles. It’s not only eternal vigilance, it’s about eternal organizing, because unless we can organize effectively, those who have the capital organized and the political power already entrenched, they will continue to dominate.

JAY: What’s your view about a primary challenge to President Obama?

SOLOMON: Well, I think you can’t really see any pathway for that to work effectively. I am focused on my race. I’m focused on getting progressives into Congress. And I think there’s a notable lack of infrastructure or capacity among progressives nationwide to build any kind of national electoral campaign. I think we’ve got to deal with objective conditions, so to speak, and that is that progressives have pockets of strength in this country and have some strong capacities in certain ways, in terms of independent media and certain ways of organizing, but overall we don’t have enormous amounts of strength. And I think we need to build that strength, if you will, take a page from the work of the right wing. I mean, they have reprehensible positions, but they’ve been able over the course of decades to transform the Republican Party. They didn’t do it by running people for president; they did it at the grassroots, electing people to lower offices, including the US Congress. I think we’ve got to learn how to do that.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Norman.

SOLOMON: Thank you, Paul.

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

End of Transcript

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

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