DNC’s Unity Commission Further Dividing the Party
“You look at the big picture and you see that there’s a lot of money that keeps flowing to Clinton-aligned political consultants from the Democratic party, and the majority on this commission clearly does not want to shake up that game, much less end it,” says Norman Solomon, co-founder of RootsAction.org
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. The Democratic National Committee’s Unity Reform Commission held its final meeting in Washington, D.C. Friday, and it will continue on Saturday. One of the main issues being discussed on the unity front is the issue of superdelegates. Here is one of the DNC’s delegates to the 2016 DNC convention, from California, Norman Solomon, trying to participate in the meeting on Friday.
NORMAN SOLOMON: We signed up. We were never told the time or the room for this meeting. You know this is a tainted meeting and yet when a few people figure out how to participate by just sitting here, you want to take a sign away. I think that is a mistake.
SPEAKER: So can I just …
NORMAN SOLOMON: …the problem with how the DNC has not learned the lessons of the past if it’s so threatening to have a sign that simply asks, Democratic Party or Undemocratic Party?
SHARMINI PERIES: Norman is the co-founder of RootsAction.org. He is co-author of a new report, “Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis.” Thanks for joining us, Norman.
NORMAN SOLOMON: Thanks, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: So Norman, I understand that the chair of the Unity Reform Commission, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, the person trying to throw you out of these meetings, is a co-founder of Precision Strategies. Give us a sense of what happened. Why did they try to kick you out of these meetings and who is the chair anyway?
NORMAN SOLOMON: Sort of a side note, but a metaphor, just asking a question with a sign, which was the same question that is on the banner behind me here in a fairly small poster – Democratic Party or Undemocratic Party? That question on a sign was apparently too threatening for the chair of the so-called Unity Reform Commission of the Democratic Party. Jennifer O’Malley Dillon is someone who co-founded Precision Strategies, a consulting firm that in the years 2015 and 2016 received more than half a million dollars from the Democratic Party.
After the incident that you referred to, later in the afternoon on Friday, it was a sort of surreal discussion where Chairwoman Dillon, holding a gavel, oversaw a discussion about a series of proposals to basically cut back on what one Bernie Sanders supporter on the commission referred to as “outright corruption of the Democratic Party,” involving consultants. So, the very measures that were aimed to eliminate financial conflicts of interest between the party and high-rolling consultants, those proposals were being overseen by a chairperson who had received a great deal of money, including in the four-month period between February and June of 2016, 230,000 dollars to the consultant firm that she co-founded. You look at the big picture, and you see that there’s a lot of money that keeps flowing to Clinton-aligned political consultants from the Democratic Party, and the majority on this commission clearly does not want to shake up that game, much less end it.
SHARMINI PERIES: This week, both chairman of the party Perez and Keith Ellison joined forces for a reduction of superdelegates. Give us a sense of what the discussion was about superdelegates. What are the issues they’re trying to deal with and then why didn’t Keith Ellison push for a complete elimination of superdelegates from the decision-making process at the DNC?
NORMAN SOLOMON: Your last question first, I would say in response that Keith Ellison is in a bind and a box, really, when he lost a close election nine months ago to be chair of the Democratic National Committee to Tom Perez. Then Perez immediately invited him to be deputy chair. In that role, Ellison is supposed to be a team player, but when it comes down to these nitty gritty power issues, he’s pretty much in a hamstrung position. So, we know that in 2016 at the national convention, 712 of the delegates were superdelegates. That’s 15 percent of the total. There’s a proposal on the table, and it looks like it’s now being recommended by the Unity Reform Commission, to cut that number back to perhaps about 250 or 300 superdelegates.
Just to sort of recap, superdelegates means that people get to vote for the nominee for president at the national convention without any accountability or relationship to what voters or caucus members have voted for. A good example is that 11 weeks before a single vote was cast in a caucus or primary in the Bernie Sanders/Hillary Clinton battle, Hillary Clinton had already lined up half of all the superdelegates. It’s as though in a race, the starting gun goes off and immediately one of the candidates, one of the people in the race in an instant is far ahead of the other.
That’s the way the corporate forces like it. Naturally, the superdelegates being made up largely of members of Congress who are Democrats, Democratic governors, not that there are many of those anymore, others who are on the Democratic National Committee, including a lot of lobbyists and elite insiders. They love being able to put their money down literally and figuratively with endorsement quickly for their preferred candidate. It puts them ahead as media frontrunner immediately. They’re part of the delegate count as superdelegate and also gives enormous fundraising advantage. It likes to or is aimed to put forward the image that perception as reality idea that hey, there’s a frontrunner. There’s a sort of inevitability.
Another way to put it is the superdelegate battle is the question of whether corporate power in the party is going to continue to dominate. As we say in the Autopsy report, “Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis,” it’s really not possible for the leaders at the national level of the Democratic Party to have a close working relationship with the base when it’s afraid of the base. I think what’s happened here at this final meeting of the Unity Reform Commission is a further indication that those in control of the DNC by a small but significant margin are afraid of the grass-roots. They did everything they could for this ostensibly open meeting to prevent access by the public to even show up at the meeting.
SHARMINI PERIES: Norman, give us a greater sense of what are the interests that are represented on this committee and where are the chips falling? In other words, what are the decisions that are about to come forth as a result of these meetings?
NORMAN SOLOMON: As we speak, there’s another half day to go. It wraps up on Saturday, December 9. I would say that the interests represented are the contending forces within the Democratic Party. Frankly, if Bernie Sanders hadn’t done so well and gotten so many delegates, approximately 45 percent of the total, there wouldn’t even need to be, there could not have been forced into existence this Unity Reform Commission but because of pressure from the grassroots and an understanding that the momentum is within the left around the country in terms of the Democratic Party, this was seen as a necessity to supposedly bring about a unified reform position.
But more than half, and we saw this on a number of votes today, more than half of the commission is composed of people who, when push comes to shove, when the chips fall, they make the chips fall in a way that protects corporate interests that prevent transparency or accountability about the hundreds of millions of dollars that are spent by the Democratic Party. It reminds me of something that Bernie Sanders said more than six months ago in speaking to a reporter from The New York Times Magazine when he put it this way, there are people in the Democratic Party who don’t mind being on the Titanic as long as they have a first-class cabin.
There are vested interests, both personal interests of lucrative contracts and power and so forth in and in relation to the DNC as well as the big Wall Street and big bank firms and so forth. And they want their party. It’s sort of a tacit division of labor. There’s an unspoken sense that yeah, you have African Americans and Latinos and lower, working class people. You want them to turn out and vote but when it comes to the policies, those policies that will be pursued by the Democratic Party are largely circumscribed by the donor class.
So, it’s talk about you support the working class. Have the ship steered by the donor class, by Wall Street. This is so corrosive because when you get real about politics and power and the future of the country, there is no way to split the difference and say we’re going to help the big bankers. We’re going to help the multimillionaires and billionaires and we’re going to help the working class. This Democratic Party has a split identity. There’s the rhetoric that says we’re for the working people. There’s the overarching policy and control the DNC that’s vested in those who feel a direct kinship, a connection with and often are of the banker and donor and Wall Street class. That’s a part of the battle that I think is being fought and must be fought.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Norman, the Democratic National Committee recently claimed, and I quote here, “We pride ourselves on being inclusive and welcoming to all.” The Democratic Party Autopsy task force that you are heading up, Norman, released on Friday saying that the DNC gave less than 48 hours notice, waiting until late in the day on December 6th to publicly disclose the times when the final meetings of the Unity Reform Commission would take place. Tell us about how accessible these meetings are, and are the people in Our Revolution and the people that supported Bernie Sanders during the presidential nomination campaign, are they getting a fair say and a hearing at these meetings?
NORMAN SOLOMON: I have to say from the outset in answering to your question that the conclusions drawn by “Autopsy: the Democratic Party in Crisis” have unfortunately been reinforced by what has occurred with this Unity Reform Commission. When Karen Bernal, the chair of the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party; Pia Gallegos, who is a civil rights attorney based in Albuquerque; Sam McCann, a researcher in New York; and myself as the task force of the Autopsy put it together, we really saw, I think, in crystal form and it’s conveyed in Autopsy, which is at democraticautopsy.org on the web that this party gives lip service from the top to inclusion, to being open, to wanting to involve people from the grassroots and around the country. But in point of fact, this commission both reinforces the problem and reflects the problem that in this case, I’ve rarely seen anything as frankly weird and disingenuous from an institutional standpoint from a political organization, where it’s sort of like Tom Perez, the chair of the DNC, saying in effect to the Democratic Party base, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”
If we believe what Tom Perez says, then it’s an open and transparent party that is so inclusive. It’s a big tent. It wants everybody to be involved, but our own eyes tell us, and this last week underscored it, that it wasn’t until a week before this long-planned commission meeting that the DNC even announced the dates or more precisely, and this was really the problem, people knew, the word seeped out that it was going to be December 8th and 9th but learned only a week ago what huge hotel the meeting would be in. Posting the invitation to RSVP, the DNC invited people to, as members of the public, click in and say I am interested in attending. People who did that never heard another word. It’s like being invited to go somewhere not being told the time of when you can actually participate, being asked to RSVP and then that’s end of it.
It would be hard to think of a way in which a political party could organize an event and do more to discourage actual public attendance even while going out of its way to say that its a public meeting. So, they essentially went through the motions of a public event and got what they wanted, which was a sparsely attended one. I think when you look at the totality of it and you add up the fact that the commission is dominated by the Clinton wing of the party – let’s face it, Clintonism is surviving Bill or Hillary Clinton having a formal role in the party, then the corporate power is dominant. I think this struggle within the party is absolutely essential, and we have a very uphill climb.
One other thing I want to be sure and say, Sharmini, is that surely there are some viewers of The Real News who perhaps understandably are thinking “Well, to hell with that party. Why bother? It’s screwed up. We don’t like it.” I would ask this question: Next year, if we don’t want to retain a Republican majority in the House or the Senate, if you don’t want to have in 2019, the year beginning with a Republican speaker or a Republican Senate majority leader, then what is the possible vehicle, party vehicle of any sort to end Republican rule of the House and Senate?
There’s only one answer, which is to use the Democratic Party as a tool or to be more imminent, if you don’t want to stop a neo-fascist, and I’m not sure about the neo part, like Roy Moore in Alabama from being elected to the Senate, like it or not, and I don’t particularly like it, the only vehicle for doing that is through the Democratic Party candidate. I think it speaks to something that we wrote about in the Autopsy and that is that we as progressives have a dual responsibility and we can’t shirk either one of them. One is to fight the right, the racists, the misogynists, the xenophobes and at the same time to fight for a truly progressive agenda and platform and implement it. The mass media and the hierarchy of the Democratic Party for that matter try continually to tell us directly and indirectly that you shouldn’t do both and actually try to deceive people into thinking if you want to fight the right, you have to moderate your politics and move toward the so-called center, what C. Wright Mills called the “crackpot centrist” position. But actually the only way to effectively defeat the right wing is to have genuine progressive populism. In a real way, that’s what the struggle within the Democratic Party now is all about.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right Norman, I thank you so much for joining us today, and all the best as the meeting moves to tomorrow.
NORMAN SOLOMON: Thank you, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.