Did Sanders Foreclose a Larger Revolt at the DNC?
Bernie Delegates Network founder Norman Solomon talks to Paul Jay about the fury of the Sanders delegates towards the national convention, and the possibility of mounting a challenge to Clinton in 2020 – From TRNN’s Livestream of the DNC
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Now we’re back in the studio live in Philadelphia at the DNC. And now joining us is the founder, I guess coordinator, of the Bernie Delegates Network, Norman Solomon. Thanks for joining us.
NORMAN SOLOMON: Glad to be here, Paul.
JAY: So you’ve been meeting with Bernie delegates for the last few days. I know there’s been a big debate going on about what to do at the, at the convention. There was, pre-convention, there were some calls for perhaps some kind of disturbance or protest in the convention itself, either protesting against the nomination of Tim Kaine for vice president. There’s some question–there was a debate about what to do tonight during the roll call, or whether some action to show a lack of confidence in the nomination of Hillary Clinton. Tell us about the debate. Like, what were the arguments on either side, and where did it end up?
SOLOMON: I think there’s so many different cultural differences from around the country–and by cultural, I mean attitudes for politcs. What are political activities really about? And a lot of people are quite young in this delegation, and also, of any age, most of them have not engaged with partisan political activity much in the past.
When California delegates, Bernie delegates, met in Long Beach state-wide, ,oh, middle of June, and about half of our entire Bernie delegation from the state was in the room, maybe 100 people. And we asked, how many of you have ever been a delegate to the Democratic National Convention before? Five or six raised their hands. So we got, like, a vast number, 19/20, have never been to a Democratic Convention before. Most of them, I would say, have done little or no electoral experience. And I think the incubation, at least, say, the California delegation to a significant degree has been through activities like Occupy.
So it’s a different cultural sense. I mean, I know–I’m 65, but when I was in my late 20s we were occupying nonviolently a nuclear power plant. It was a consensus activity that was revived by Occupy. And some folks here are, again, in a consensus mode, as was the case with Occupy four or five years ago.
JAY: So talk about the arguments, the last night–like, I know the California delegation, which you’re a part of, had a meeting after the session ended last night. What was the debate? As far as what we hear, there was an argument or a debate about whether to have a walkout. Some kind of protest. Not to make it unanimous. What were the arguments on either side, here?
SOLOMON: Well, I think these debates have really been going on for several weeks. I wasn’t at that meeting in particular, but California has been part of that zeitgeist. And a lot of it is will it boomerang, will it backfire on us, that sort of thing. I think it goes to questions of how do you convey a message clearly, how angry people are, what are the alternatives.
And it’s also very true that the experience last night involved some booing. I was talking to a British reporter, and I was saying, well, compared to what goes on in the House of Commons it’s all very mild. You know, just the questions period for the prime minister. They’re much more raucous than basically what went on Monday night, the opening night. And yet the–I’m digressing a little, but I will get back to your basic question.
These Democratic National Conventions have become so flabby, so to speak, for 20-30 years, that in contrast to the punditocracy idea that, you know, politics [inaud.] beanbag, when they get to these conventions they think politics should be beanbag. They want it to be very placid. It’s a very negative media construct of any conflict. They want to just cool the jets and chill out.
And I think of the old aphorism of the warriors, strategists, every conqueror is a lover of peace, you know. Once you have your boot on someone’s neck all of a sudden you’re for peace, you don’t want resistance. And Hillary Clinton is that way here. Okay, now she’s going to be very tranquil.
And so I think the basic issues were tactical. What would, what would be advancing our cause, is it helpful to disrupt, to what extent will it be helpful to disrupt, and how do we organize ourselves?
JAY: There was a compromise on superdelegates, and it went from what, down to 250 from I forget the number–.
SOLOMON: Yeah, 2/3 of them were dropped for the 2020 campaign. There’s no doubt, like on so many things in the platform, that this is something tangible. Without the Bernie campaign and without the campaign being so strong, getting so many votes, 13-plus million, Hillary Clinton would have said forget it. We’re not going to do any of that. So you know, I think it’s a partial victory in those terms.
JAY: But do you think the Sanders campaign could have accomplished more here, using its leverage? This essentially is just a big TV show. The outcome was, in terms of who’s getting nominated, was all known. An enormously expensive TV show. They wanted to present a united front, and so on. It was critical to present that.
There’s quite a bit of leverage in Sanders’ hands, and the Sanders movement’s hands, not to have disruption, not to make this look like a fractured party. And frankly, right now it doesn’t look very–as fractured as it kind of really is, when you talk to Sanders supporters. I mean, the people we’re talking to, it’s hard to find anyone that wants to–never mind work for Hillary, it’s hard for people to say they’re going to vote for Hillary.
SOLOMON: Well, I was sort of grimly bemused about ten days ago watching pundits on TV such as–just, for instance, David Brooks and Mark Shields, on PBS Newshour. And they’re saying, oh, the Democratic Party, it’s united. And talking to delegates the last several weeks, Bernie delegates, I mean, that struck me as preposterous.
And I just felt like, you know, there’s this either transcendent event or trainwreck, depending on your point of view, about to happen. And the conventional wisdom of the mass media, because the Clinton campaign told them so, and the pundits tell each other so, is that everything’s cool.
JAY: Well, Bernie sent, apparently–not apparently–a text message or email out to all his delegates saying don’t create a provocation, don’t create an incident at the convention, and so on. Did that dampen things? And should he have done that? Because you and I talked before the convention in an interview. And you made the point that what Bernie does is one thing, but he’s not telling the movement what to do. Well, now he did. He told the movement, let’s have a united front on this television show. And what do you make of that?
SOLOMON: Well, it wasn’t until yesterday, which is to say mid-afternoon on Monday the 25 of July, the first day of the convention, that Bernie ever sent a direct message saying, I don’t want us to protest. And he really talked about it in terms of the convention hall. So I have to go back and look at the language, but as I remember he wasn’t saying don’t protest outside, he was saying don’t protest inside.
And interestingly, what happened this evening, the second evening of the convention, really is in step with that. So while it seemed to be a contradiction, and I’m not saying he wouldn’t be happy about what happend tonight outside, but people very politely were out of the convention hall, although it’s sort of a concourse. Let’s say you’re going to a basketball game or baseball game where they’re selling the beer and the pretzels–.
JAY: What I’m asking is, should he have let this play out? Should he have let people make a fight on TPP? Maybe he didn’t want to make a platform fight, but he dampened the movement from making any platform fight.
SOLOMON: It wasn’t, in a way–I mean, it was his choice, and yet, paradoxically, it wasn’t his choice. I mean, he made the judgment call. He told us on a phone call two weeks ago, told delegates, we got everything I think we could possibly get in the platform. If we take TPP, if we take single-payer to the floor, we’re going to lose. I’m convinced we cannot possibly win the vote. And so I think he made the tactical decision that it’s better to look strong than to go in and then lose.
But he doesn’t preclude other people from finding other ways to fight. And I think there’s sort of the legal channels, the rules channels, were foreclosed in that way because you can’t effectively independently bring stuff out. But there’s more than one way to skin a corporate cat, and people, by raising issues–.
Just for instance, before I came in here, I was seeing an interview on MSNBC with Sherrod Brown. And the question was raised to him, well, you know, there are people outside here, you know, outside the walls here protesting against the TPP. What do you make of all that? You’re against the TPP. And he just teed off and said, yeah, I think we can stop it.
So there’s a sort of a disconnect, synergy that is disconnected, but is–should Bernie have done what he did? I think he’s handled this really well, because you’re in a box. At a certain point your options foreclose if you’re going to be a politician who does these sort of things. And I believe that outside of that box movement activists need to realize they have more latitude.
JAY: But see, that’s my question. I’m not suggesting that–I’m not asking whether he should have acted differently, except he sent a message to the movement about don’t, don’t create an incident at the convention.
SOLOMON: Inside the convention.
JAY: Inside the convention. And I’m saying, you know, leading up to it–you know, I interviewed you earlier, just a few days ago, and you guys were calling for actions inside the convention. And I asked you about this specifically. And you said, well, what Bernie does is one thing, but he’s not telling the movement what to do.
SOLOMON: But in terms of our own instrument, the Bernie Delegates Network, which is now 2/3 of all the Bernie delegates, it’s 1250 delegates, you have to be just more exact about it. We send out the option possibility list in general terms, and then find out where people are at. So we want to be a barometer that then is shown to everybody so we don’t rely on mass media to perceive what each other things or through our own silos.
And I think in this case, objectively, to the extent that we can use that word in this situation, Bernie sent out a message, and then 24, 26, 27 hours later there’s a sizable protest. So I think that’s partially a response–.
But while I think most people literally and figuratively did not get the memo from Bernie when they were in the convention hall. He sent it out like three or four in the afternoon. Last night, so they were booing and all this. I think that there was some kind of tacit reevaluation, apparently. And then I want to add Paul, that although this has not been relased yet, it’ll be released tomorrow, the Bernie Delegates Network sent out a questionnaire link survey, straw poll, where each person has a unique link and can only vote once, and we’ve gained hundreds of votes back in the last few hours asking the questions–two questions. One is, did Bernie’s email make you have a different approach to protesting? Did it make you significantly less–did it have a significant effect, a minor effect, or no effect at all?
And the numbers are coming in, and I’m losing the train of thought here, but it also asked what people’s response was to the first day of the convention. They essentially were asked, listening to the speeches the first day of the convention, did it make you more want to support the Hillary Clinton ticket, less interested in supporting the Hillary ticket, or it didn’t matter? And I can tell you that the effects of those delegates being in that hall the first full day made them less interested in going out and working for Hillary Clinton. These are Bernie delegates.
So that’s signifcant. So both of those together–I think Bernie has a role to play. Sort of a dance. And I think that I’ve heard very few Bernie delegates say they’re mad. We’ve been sort of egged on by some reporters saying, well, do you think he–and they would use [inaud.].
JAY: Well, I haven’t heard people mad at Bernie. A little bit. But they’re furious at the DNC.
SOLOMON: Oh, no doubt.
JAY: We talked to one California delegate that said that they were briefed and told that the voted delegates, the pledged delegates, would be announced first. Then at the end of the whole process they would announce superdelegates. And he was very mad that they combined superdelegates right from the start, so you didn’t get a sense of who was super and who was elected. That in fact, that–because the count was actually much closer than what it appeared on the TV screens. And he, he was ready to walk out then.
SOLOMON: Well, certainly for the months and months of the campaign, CNN and other outlets would include the superdelegates. Which was wrong, was wrong to do. But I think it’s always been the case that, you know, delegates, they throw all the pickles in the jar. They count all the pickles, whether they’re a superdelegate or not. So I don’t think that was egregious.
But I do think what’s egregious is that even when the scandal came out with Debbie Wasserman Schultz, with those email leaks, and she was forced to resign, within hours she’s appointed to be honorary chair of a major part of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. And that was a thumbing of the nose at the Bernie folks right after putting Tim Kaine on the ticket, which is also antithetical to any sort of reaching out. As I’ve said, if Hillary Clinton has reached out to the Bernie Sanders delegates, it’s to politically put her thumbs in our eyes. It’s absurd that–.
JAY: So what does that mean for the future, then? You’ve been someone who’s been, amongst other things, fighting for progressive reform within the Democratic Party. A lot of the young Sanders people, not just young Sanders people we’re talking about, they want to wash their hands now of the Democratic Party. Some people are saying this is the first stage, first act of this fight in the Democratic Party. It will go on in 2018. You can imagine primarying Hillary in 2020 and making it a one-term president. And again, some of these younger people saying, well, no. The hell with the whole Democratic Party process completely. What do you say to those people?
SOLOMON: Well, that’s an interesting point, because we know that instead of 700-something superdelegates, the next presidential cycle there are only going to be 200. Now, that’s 200 too many. But it still is already a sort of a club over Hillary Clinton’s head. She should be threatened with being challenged in the primaries in 2020.
People may say, well, that’s a long time from now. But if the lever is starting to be used, and if you will, the cudgel or threat is being held over her head–.
JAY: And if she’s challenged by a black candidate, and she starts to lose some of the black Southern vote–.
SOLOMON: That’s a good point, if it was somebody–.
JAY: Nina Turner’s being talked about.
SOLOMON: Somebody who had really strong politics, who could really energize. And going up against the establishment, of course, even if you’re a progressive, is really a threat. Sort of like why it’s been so tough to get any, hardly, superdelgates for Bernie. Because they want to eat lunch at what they think will be the Clinton, Hillary Clinton White House.
So I think that there’s going to be a real scatter, that’s my own guess, among these delegates. So much of it is relevant to their age, their cultural experience, their orientation, what they think the political framework is, and there’s a strong, as they say, Occupy thread runnning through here. And it’s really hard to run electoral campaigns that way when you’re in charge, you know. It’s maybe useful if you’re willing to go out and do this, this [inaud.] work. But you know, electoral work is something else. I think this is sort of what you’re alluding to, as well.
Basically, Bernie Sanders did as much as one could possibly imagine running an electoral campaign. But that’s got to be a subset of a movement.
JAY: Okay. Thanks for joining us.
SOLOMON: Yeah, thank you.
JAY: You’ll be back sometime in the next few days.
SOLOMON: I hope so, yeah. Thanks, Paul.
JAY: Okay. Thank you very much for joining us on the Real News Network.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.