Norman Solomon and Paul Jay discuss the Struggle in the Democratic Party
The report “Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis” comes at the time of Donna Brazile’s book and raises the question: Should progressives fight within the Democratic party, and if so, how?
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network, live on Facebook and YouTube and, I think, Periscope and therealnews.com. We’re going to continue our conversation we’ve been having on The Real News about the fight within the Democratic Party, Donna Brazile’s revelations, and as we go, a bit of a series that’s going to unfold here with our guest, who I’ll introduce in a moment, about just what is the prescription, one could say, for reform of the Democratic Party, if that’s possible, and we’re going to discuss whether or not it’s worth the effort, and if so, what that might look like.
But we’re going to start with Donna Brazile. In Donna Brazile’s book, which I’m sure just about everybody who’s watching this has heard about if not already read, one of the more explosive things she exposed was a sort of financial shenanigan that the Clinton campaign had used to up the amount of money any individual could donate by giving a certain amount of money, a few thousand dollars, to every state party, which in theory is supposed to be used for state funding of local elections. But instead, 99%, apparently, according to Donna Brazile, of that money actually went back to the coffers of the Hillary campaign, back to the DNC, and then the Hillary campaign controlled that money.
To quote Donna Brazile, she says, “The states kept less than half of 1% of the $82 million they had amassed from the extravagant fundraisers that Hillary’s campaign was holding.” It’s interesting that if you actually do the math — because they accused Bernie Sanders of not raising hardly any money for the state campaigns — if you do the math, something like $850,000 or so actually stayed in the state campaigns once all this money gets transferred back to the control of the Hillary campaign. Sanders raised $5 million for down-ticket Democrats, so he actually wound up raising more for down-ticket ballots than the Hillary campaign.
At any rate, the revelations of Donna Brazile, which essentially amount to her accusing the DNC of rigging the primary, the Sanders-Clinton primary — and when Elizabeth Warren was asked directly, “Did you think it was rigged?” she said yes — it’s sparked a great deal of controversy, as you know. For example, this is what happened on CNN. We’re going to run the Hilary Rosen clip.
HILARY ROSEN: For Democrats to spend a second re-litigating this primary fight could not be stupider. If we’re going to take Donna at her word, then you have to read the whole excerpt, because what the excerpt said is Hillary Clinton bailed out the DNC financially and controlled the staffing of the DNC, but Donna also said in that excerpt, Nina and Don, that she went door to door at the DNC and could not find a single shred of evidence that the actual results of the primary were tilted one way or another. And so if we’re going to comment on the book, we ought to go all the way and say that actually Donna said that she found no proof and no evidence at all that the system was rigged.
NINA TURNER: Since you want to go there, this is really about a DNC that lacks accountability and transparency, period, and we can deal with more than one thing at a time.
HILARY ROSEN: That’s not the issue. That’s not about rigging an election.
NINA TURNER: We have to restore the faith and credibility of the Democratic Party, and statements like you’re making doesn’t help.
PAUL JAY: All right, let me introduce our guest, Norman Solomon. Norman is the co-founder of rootsaction.org, and he’s co-author of a new report, “Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis.” Thanks for joining us, Norman.
NORMAN SOLOMON: Thanks, Paul.
PAUL JAY: There’s kind of two arguments there. One, let’s start with the first, that now’s not the time to rehash all of this, that Trump represents a kind of — they are not using this language, but I will — a kind of neo-fascism. There’s a broad front called the Resistance, and people like Hilary Rosen and others are saying that this isn’t a time to, they use the word re-litigate what the DNC did or didn’t do. There should just be a constructive outlook in terms of reforming the DNC. Don’t rehash who did what to whom, and focus on attacking Trump. How do you respond to that?
NORMAN SOLOMON: Ideally, there’s a united front against the horrific Trump presidency. There’s not usefulness in getting united behind bad strategies and undemocratic internal processes of the Democratic Party. After all, “Democratic” is the first name of the party, and when we see so clearly that contempt for basic democratic principles were in play and in force inside the Democratic National Committee, then it doesn’t work to just shrug and say well, that’s the past so let’s move on. The reality is that the same basic forces, the political corporate tendencies and power, that held the DNC last year still control it this year. So it’s all well and good to say hey, just move on, but we can’t move on without being real about what happened and what continues to be in play in terms of the top-down power at the DNC.
PAUL JAY: The media has on the whole been very antagonistic to Donna Brazile, at least the media I’ve seen, led of course by MSNBC, and I’ve seen CNN, especially the first few days after Brazile’s book was started to be released by the Washington Post. There was one report I saw, it was a CNN journalist, who just lambasted Brazile. We couldn’t find the clip, but NBC had released this agreement between the Clinton campaign and the DNC, and according to a couple of sentences in that agreement, the money that Clinton was controlling and the power she had over the DNC was all supposed to be directed towards the general election, which would have been appropriate. But NBC later actually, it got revealed, when people look at the dates, and I understand NBC even had to retract this, that the dates actually showed it was clearly about the primary, and Donna Brazile clearly makes that this control of Clinton was all about the primary. But the attack continued. Here’s Robby Mook, a former campaign manager for Clinton, on CNN.
ROBBY MOOK: You know, politics is politics. People have to go out there and say what they need to say. I think it’s dangerous to say that this contest was rigged. We can’t make the case to working people in this country that we’re going to stand up for them and we’re going to fight for them if we’re fighting each other. We can’t do that. Hillary Clinton won this primary with almost four million votes. That’s a bigger lead than Barack Obama had over her when she lost and conceded in 2008. The idea that the DNC could rig a contest frankly is laughable, and here’s the last thing I’ll say. The caucus contests within the larger primary are the contests that are run by the party. The primary elections are run by secretaries of state. Those contests, the caucuses that were run by the party, Bernie Sanders won overwhelmingly. So if we look at what the party actually managed in this process, Bernie Sanders won those contests. I think we only won three of them, and we barely won Iowa. So there’s just no evidence to back this up.
PAUL JAY: So Norman, what do you make of that point, that the caucuses were controlled by the party, Bernie won the majority, and the DNC didn’t control the elections in the states, so how can you accuse the Clinton campaign and the DNC of rigging the primaries?
NORMAN SOLOMON: A significant side note, a footnote, is that the Iowa caucuses, pivotal at the very start of the season, were run in an extremely shabby and questionable way by the party. So if I were Robby Mook I wouldn’t boast about how the caucuses were run by the party, but more fundamentally, getting hung up-
PAUL JAY: Hang on for a sec, Norman, what do you mean by run in a shabbily way?
NORMAN SOLOMON: Oh, the count of the votes during the Iowa caucus night you wouldn’t accept at a student council race. It was funky to say the least, problematic. There seemed to be thumbs on the scales in terms of just counting up in the caucus rooms who had won, and it’s very dubious whether Hillary Clinton actually won the Iowa caucuses, even though officially she did. Fundamentally, whether we get caught up in the word “rigged” or not, the reality is — and we knew this way before Donna Brazile’s book — the reality is that there was a tilted playing field. It was not a level playing field. The DNC was tilted for Hillary Clinton from 2015 on, and the reality is, as we know now from the Brazile book, that the Clinton campaign at the outset of the primary season had control over, and veto power over, who was hired in basic positions such as communications director at the DNC.
People can try to clean up the mess like Robby Mook, the campaign manager for Hillary Clinton, but the reality is it was wrong. It was wrong how the DNC operated. It was not even-handed. It was a violation of the DNC’s own charter, which commits theoretically the party and the DNC to being even-handed throughout the nomination-selection process for president. So there’s a big problem, and unless the people at the top of the DNC acknowledge the problem, then we’re fated — and required, really — to keep fighting this battle.
PAUL JAY: And the battle includes not just the battle against Hillary Clinton, but people involved in this “progressive wing,” as people are calling it, of the Democratic Party were also many of them dealing with the policies of Barack Obama. In Donna Brazile’s book, one of the interesting revelations was the extent to which the DNC, the party itself, was millions and millions of dollars in debt, and we know during the Obama years many — a majority, I think — of state legislatures were taken over by the Republicans. At many levels, the party was kind of being demolished across the country. And it’s interesting, on CNN, at the same time when Hilary Rosen was on, there was a Republican, a former advisor to Bush, Scott Jennings, and he actually makes an interesting point about Obama’s role. Let’s roll that.
SCOTT JENNINGS: It is amazing to me what no one’s pointing out, that the President of the United States at the time, Barack Obama, had left his Democratic National Committee in such a shambles that not only was Hillary Clinton having to fight off Bernie Sanders, but she knew that if she were to get the nomination, she had to simultaneously bail out the DNC so it could be a viable entity for the general election. And this really to me falls at the feet of Barack Obama, whose path of destruction through the Democratic Party for eight years is completed by these Brazile revelations.
PAUL JAY: I know the right-wing use of Brazile is certainly not meant to kind of strengthen any progressive fight anywhere, and particularly not in the Democratic Party, but it seems to me what Jennings is saying has a lot to it. When you look at Barack Obama’s policies that led to such growth in inequality across the country … we know the numbers of the, what is it, something like 90% of the post ’07-’08 crisis-crash income gains went to less than 1% of the population. That plus the destruction of the infrastructure of the Democratic Party all helped create the conditions for the election of Trump. Certainly this needs to be part of the diagnosis too, doesn’t it?
NORMAN SOLOMON: These are points that were elaborated on in great detail in the report released three days before the first excerpts from Donna Brazile’s book came out, and that is the task-force driven report called “Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis”, which I co-coordinated with Karen Bernal, the chair of the California Democratic Party Progressive Caucus. Everybody is invited, by the way, to go to the web, read that report, that autopsy report, at the website democraticautopsy.org, and one of the points that we emphasize throughout the autopsy is that in eight years of the Obama administration, the President’s affinity with, support for and from Wall Street, cut the legs out from under the traditional working-class support for the Democratic Party.
And the money problem that the DNC fell into with the neglect from President Obama was in its own right a huge problem, and also a marker and a tracker for the way in which the Obama presidency helped to get Obama, obviously, reelected but was devastating for down-ballot Democrats. When you have during the eight years of the Obama administration a loss of more than 1,000 state legislative seats, loss of Democrats to Republicans, around the country, when you lose the Senate and you lose the House on Capitol Hill, and somehow the President comes up high and dry and keeps hobnobbing with and stocking his cabinet with all these corporate flacks, and in some cases billionaires like Penny Pritzker as Secretary of Commerce who helped to bankroll Obama’s political career in the first place, then it is a fundamental problem about the Democratic Party at the top. And there are really no indications that the governing body of the national party, the DNC, has come to terms with that reality in any way other than continuing it.
So this is what the battle is really about, as we come to the last weeks of 2017, when we look to the elections coming up in 2018 and beyond, is a struggle for the Democratic Party. Will it be the party of Main Street or Wall Street? And the claim … and, incidentally, Donna Brazile is a long-time Clinton loyalist but she’s willing to look out for herself now and sell the books and so forth … but the reality is that the power structure at the DNC that Donna Brazile has always been part of, and that the current chair, Tom Perez, is very much part of, that power structure is all about serving the donor class, the big donors, those who can provide six-figure checks with the flick of a hand in the checkbook.
And the pretense, the fallacy, and the betrayal, really, of working class people, of young people, of people of color from the hierarchy of the Democratic Party is the claim that somehow we’re going to be getting along with Wall Street and we’re going to help Main Street. We saw, and you alluded to the transfer of wealth further upward, Paul, during the Obama administration, this an absolute falsehood. This is in reality a division of labor that is being called for and enforced by those in power in the Democratic Party that effectively, they look at working-class people as those who are supposed to come up with a requisite number of votes during an election, but it’s the people who are at the top donor strata, Wall Street, big corporations, those who serve and represent and are at the top of the big banks, they are the ones who are the masters, largely, of national Democratic Party policy. Not entirely, but largely.
And so when it comes down to deference to messaging and messaging priorities in terms of who gets the money of these Democratic Party campaigns, the emphasis is on shifting the party more and more in a corporate direction. That’s why in our report, “Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis”, we focus on how so much money in 2016 … and still, even in Virginia … so much money from the Democratic Party goes to messaging supposedly persuadable so-called moderate Republican voters. And it’s a way of saying to people of color, young people, working class people generally, we want your votes but our policies and our outreach and our messaging will set you aside as being secondary.
PAUL JAY: I think it’s particularly interesting, Donna Brazile’s critique, even attack on Obama. During the Obama years she was number one cheerleader on CNN for the policies of Barack Obama, but she called Obama and Clinton, she talked about dealing with these two enormous egos, and a lot of people have critiqued Obama for continuing, really, the Bush-Cheney imperial presidency, the idea that the presidency’s above the law, above everything else, and in Obama’s case, certainly above the party. The idea of a real party with party structure in theory introduces a certain kind of democratic process, and Obama had no interest in that after he had this campaign, his first campaign particularly, but second, which was all about online and mass movement and house parties and small donors. All that went by the wayside once he was President. I guess part of what Sanders did is he kind of reignited a fight within the party to actually build some party structure, and now we see from Brazile’s book, in spite of and against the DNC, which supposedly is supposed to be there to defend party structures.
NORMAN SOLOMON: I think that’s right, and I want to recommend to people the cover story in the current issue of The Nation magazine by William Greider, who’s been covering the Democratic Party for several decades. In this piece in The Nation, titled “What Killed the Democratic Party?” he summarizes our autopsy report and quite correctly characterizes it as a call for rebellion and for working people, for young people, people of color to gain control over the party that in theory represents them and, in fact, largely does not. Greider, I think quite astutely, sums up that we have this challenge now to organize effectively, to point out what the Democratic Party really is, not what it claims to be, and to see that there’s an opportunity here. We’re down in the hole, we do not have a lever to pull that can move the Democratic Party in a progressive direction, and yet there’s tremendous organizing going on.
And as you referred to, Paul, I think Bernie Sanders did reignite a struggle that has to take place, because as we say at the very outset of the autopsy report, we have two huge responsibilities in this historic period. One is to fight the right, the racists, the xenophobes, the misogynists, the repressive forces that according to — and I think he’s correct — Noam Chomsky, the Republican Party now is the most dangerous organization in the history of the world. We’ve got to fight back against the Trump regime and against the Republican control of Congress. And the second responsibility is to move forward a truly progressive agenda that will come from the grassroots, have staying power, and move not only the Democratic Party but the country in a genuine progressive direction.
The mythology, and we have so many liberals and people like, at the clip, Robby Mook and Hilary Rosen and others, people at Mother Jones piling on, some traditional liberals or some who claim to be progressives — and I remind people there’s an insurance company claims to be progressive, doesn’t mean much of anything, the label — there’s an effort to tell people, “Chill out, calm down, only concentrate on defeating the right wing Republicans, don’t advance a progressive agenda,” and there’s a claim, explicit or otherwise, that actually those two goals are in contradiction. You know, either you push your progressive agenda or you fight the right. In fact the opposite is true, and I think the autopsy documents that very clearly.