Q & A on the Struggle in the Democratic Party with Norman Solomon
Part 2 of the discussion between Paul Jay and Norman Solomon, the author of the report “Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis”
PAUL JAY: The next segment, we’re going to go through the autopsy document in some depth, but before we do that, we’re going to take some questions from viewers that are sending questions in on Facebook, and on YouTube and I think on the realnews.com and maybe some other places. If you do want to send in some questions, we’re going to spend some time on the questions, and then we’re going to come back and do another interview segment with Norman about the autopsy report.
So first question, a lot of the questions are kind of pretty similar actually, but here’s the first one that came in. Does the Democratic Party see its errors with going with the Clintons, and going against Bernie, and will they look to take a more progressive stance in going forward towards something more classical? I’m not sure what the means, more classical, but is the party going to learn from its errors?
NORMAN SOLOMON: Well first classical, I want to interpret it this way: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when he ran for re-election in 1936 as president, he spoke in Madison Square Garden, and he said, “The overprivileged, the wealthy, they hate me and I welcome their hatred.” The message from President Obama and President Clinton before him in effect was, “Maybe the overprivileged and the wealthy in Wall Street don’t love me, but I want them to love me.”
That’s a fundamentally different sort of a message. I was speaking the other day with a member of the Democratic National Committee who summed up, I think, pretty astutely what we’ve got when we say the Democratic Party, and this includes a lot of middle management people and operatives and so forth. Some of them are just dyed in the wool, corporate militarists, and that’s their commitment. And they would much, much, much rather have a President Bush or even a President Trump, than to have a Bernie Sanders. So that’s one of the segments. The other is genuine progressives, who are really in ascendancy, and according to polling, a majority of the base of the Democratic Party — 52% in a recent Harvard Harris poll — said among registered Democrats said that they think the party needs to move left, in a very clear statement.
Then there’s a third sector, and these are folks who for whatever combinations of reasons, whether they are inside the party as activists, or registered Democrats, or semi-attentive observers, they will tend to go which way the wind is pushing and blowing. We have a responsibility to change the way the wind is blowing so that we can sweep the country, and the party along with it, in a genuine progressive direction.
PAUL JAY: Okay, here’s another question. What implications do the revelations about WikiLeaks communications with Don Junior, have for the credibility of DNC hacking allegations? I don’t know, I guess he’s getting at the Russiagate stuff and to what extent WikiLeaks was hacked or whistleblown. I don’t know. What do you make of that?
NORMAN SOLOMON: I like, and the autopsy does this, to use the metaphor of a train wreck. Let’s face it. The November 2016 election was a huge tragedy. One of the most historic ones for the United States in the history of any of our lives. And after a train wreck, you go in, and if you do an investigation that’s worth anything, you don’t talk about the weather. You don’t try to find external sources that had nothing to do with the way the railroad was run.
You deal with what happened that was preventable. What are the lessons to be learned? I think a lot of what Bernie Sanders supporters have been slow to understand, that by incessantly obsessing about Russia, real or imagined intervention, the people who have had a hammerlock in a corporate militarist way at the top of the Democratic Party — people who hated the Bernie Sanders campaign — they have been able to divert attention from what would’ve been, should’ve been the logical questions coming out of the 2016 campaign.
And that is, how did Hillary Clinton lose? The answer is, when you’ve got a Democratic Party elite that is so tied in with Wall Street, that claims to be fighting for working people, that claims to be on the side of the victims of the corporate capitalist system, and yet is incessantly siding with the victimizers and refusing to name the victimizers of oligarchy, then you don’t have a coherent message that makes sense to people if you don’t talk about the victimizers as well as the victims.
So we have this opportunity to be real about it, and I think frankly, there’s a flinching going on from the top of the Democratic Party. Tom Perez, the chair of the DNC, this is the last thing he wants to talk about. We heard the clip from [inaudible 5:00:00]. It’s just the message is: Pipe down, don’t talk about those class realities, and we’ll all get along just fine.
PAUL JAY: They’re also talking unity, unity, unity except they’re purging some of the Sanders people from the DNC.
NORMAN SOLOMON: Yeah, Paul there’s this quote. I think it’s from the tactical theorist [Carl] von Clausewitz. He said, “Every conqueror is a lover of peace.” So the corporate forces that still dominate the DNC and won a close election over Keith Ellison in order to make Tom Perez the chair of the DNC, they are right now the conquerors. They’ve got their boot on people’s necks, and they want us to just chill out. It’s not going to happen. There’s an uprising around the country that says this Democratic Party has to be taken by the people. Taken away from the corporate militarist forces.
PAUL JAY: People generally, when they talk about this fight in the media particularly, it’s seen, it’s portrayed as if it’s just an ideological fight between people who believed and sort of a group of leftist assumptions, or progressive assumptions. People who have more centrist, supposedly more pragmatic, more adult they like to say, assumptions. But it seems to be this is just a reflection of the real fight and the party.
I interviewed Bernie Sanders during the primary, when he was in Baltimore. I said, “You say the enemy is the oligarchs and the fight is against the oligarchs, but aren’t the oligarchs who you’re fighting in the Democratic Party? Aren’t they oligarchs and isn’t this really a class struggle in the party?”
He said, “Yes it is.” Although he doesn’t talk that way that often, I guess for more tactical reasons. This isn’t just a fight over opinions, this is a fight over basic interests.
NORMAN SOLOMON: There’s a great quote that Bernie gave to New York Times magazine about six months ago. He said there are people in the Democratic Party who don’t mind being on the Titanic as long as they have a first-class cabin. I think that very much describes what we’re dealing with in terms of the top strata of Democratic Party national power. When you look at climate change, and just the cataclysmic issues involved with being deferential to big oil.
The big energy conglomerates. When you see the destruction of the environment. What’s being done to low-income people around this country and ravaging across the planet at the behest of these corporate plunderers. And you look at what’s at stake, then we have to question why we should use euphemisms. I mean I think Bernie is not rhetorical. He’s very real. This is progressive populism saying essentially in the name, in the phrase of the old labor song, which side are you on?
That’s a very key question. The answer is coming not from rhetoric, the real answer isn’t rhetorical from the Democratic Party. The real answer is in policies, and how we run campaigns, and what we fight for.
PAUL JAY: Sue Donim on Facebook, writes an interesting question. She says, “I remember being aware of all the Clinton money laundering when it happened. Why is this a “new revelation”? Nothing new from Brazile!” It seems to me there’s two parts that are interesting with that, which is a lot of the media, CNN, MSNBC particularly, but others, they’re making so much money being anti-Trump, they’re not actually all that interested in stories that might be an exposé about the Clintons or democrats.
NORMAN SOLOMON: More than two sides to any argument is way too complicated for a lot of traditional, clinical journalism. Let’s face it. A lot of these accusations, which were accurate when they came from the Bernie Sanders campaign and supporters during the primary battle, they were just blown off and discounted.
As the person who wrote in via Facebook points out, a lot of this was basically known. By the time we went to Philadelphia at the Democratic National Convention, and I was a Bernie delegate, it was very clear, and even months before that, that the DNC was tilted in an unfair way. Then when you look at what actually came out at that point, you have to ask yourself why is it such a shock?
Well the shock now from the Brazile book is that it’s coming from a Clinton supporter. Let’s face it. She may have thrown Clinton under the bus because Clinton lost essentially, but this is the reality that we’re looking at. If we’re going to be clear about what is at stake, it’s about whether this party is going to function democratically or not. I put it this way, we saw in 2016, in real time, the severe wounding of democracy inside the Democratic Party. It was the wounding of 1,000 cuts. What Donna Brazile did in her book is illuminate some of the gore, some of the gore of actually what happened, but it didn’t change what we knew to be the case for a very long time.
PAUL JAY: All right, I got to combine two questions that have come in. Chris Chetram is on YouTube: “Why should we talk about trying to ‘fix’ the Democratic Party?” And another one, which is: “How can Bernie not stand up for the people who supported him?” This comes from Black Mamba Coffee on YouTube. These YouTube names always get me. “He now belongs to the corporate Democrats.”
So there’s a lot of these things tied together, which as the argument goes, the Democratic Party is a corporate democratic Democrats party, and the amount of energy that goes into fighting within it should really be directed towards fighting to create something new, and people should just en masse leave the Democratic Party — there’s one campaign to try to get Sanders to do that — that it really isn’t fixable, and that Sanders is actually helping maintain the structure of this corporate Democratic Party because he essentially still represents the Democratic Party even though he technically runs as an Independent. His fight is directed towards this internal fight in the Democratic Party. Some people are arguing it shouldn’t be.
NORMAN SOLOMON: Yeah. Let’s get real. I mean with feet on the ground, magical thinking might work in some realms. Magical thinking does not work well in politics. When I go to Germany, and I meet with members of Die Linke, the Green partym as well, the Left Party and the Green Garty, they’re in a parliamentary system. To win, even a few percent — six, eight, 10% of the vote — gets you somewhere, perhaps even some leverage over the national government.
In this country, it gets you nowhere whatsoever. So there’s a very real question that has to be asked from the get-go, when that sort of a suggestion of a Dem exit comes up. Yeah Dem exit sounds fine. Exit to where, and what, to what end is another matter. The question is, when you look at the imperative to end the Republican majority in the house that gives us a Speaker Ryan, when you look at the imperative to end hopefully as well, sooner rather than later, the Republican majority in the Senate, such as allowing for Majority Leader McConnell, then what is the real-world vehicle, the tool to do that?
There is zero real party tool to do that, other than through and with the Democratic Party wielding and using it as a tool. So there’s a sort of a fantasy world out there that says, “Oh, we’re just going to leave the Democratic Party.” By the way, then leading it into a firmer, much firmer control by and with the corporate militarist forces, and then what?
There is not a shred of plausible scenario that by doing that, you do anything but even reduce — perhaps drastically — the chances of getting rid of the Republican majority in the House and Senate. So then people are left with the question: Does that matter or not? I think it’s an absurd proposition for any progressive to say it doesn’t matter whether the Republicans have majority control over the house and senate.
So I think that we need to look at the reality that if you’re going to construct a structure, you don’t build the roof first. All these fantasies about a new party, and then you run somebody for president for the new party, it’s the equivalent of saying, “Hey we want to build something, so let’s put up the roof first.” There’s a lot of foundation building that can and should be done, is being done in local races around the country.
Progressives are winning with de facto quasi-new parties by many different names. They are basically non-partisan racists, so let’s get real. Do the local work where we have a plausible chance to win.