Wall St. Democrats vs. Working Class Democrats
Nina Turner and Paul Jay discuss the fight within the Democratic Party and the need for the Sanders movement to more seriously take up the question of war and U.S. foreign policy
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m at the People’s Summit in Chicago, and now joining us is the host of our new show — The Nina Turner Show — Senator Nina Turner. Thanks for joining us.
NINA TURNER: Thank you Paul Jay.
PAUL JAY: So you launched your show; your first interview was with Senator Bernie Sanders. In his speech the night before, Senator Sanders was as critical or even more critical of the Democratic Party, certainly since the primaries, calling the Democratic Party a failed party I believe and-
NINA TURNER: Yes. The reason why Mr. Trump won; he said Democrats failed, yes.
PAUL JAY: A lot of people we’re talking to here — and it’s not just here, it’s been happening for last months — are debating, should Bernie start seriously considering a run outside of the Democratic Party or should everyone be considered building a structure outside the Democratic Party? What do you make of that argument, that debate?
NINA TURNER: I think you can do both and I agree with the senator in some ways; I dedicated my life to the values of this party. It’s kind of hard to walk away from your lover, if you will. It’s not a easy thing to do, and because we have the Unity Reform Commission, something that the senator fought to have, where you have people who are appointed to that commission by the senator. You have people appointed to that commission by Secretary Clinton. There was the agreement that they both had, and you have people about, I think, three people appointed by the chairman, Chairman Perez. We had our second meeting in June and we are going to be talking about and pushing for policy changes on the very issues that people were concerned about i.e. superdelegates. So in a way, the senator is doing the right thing to see this Unity Reform Commission through.
PAUL JAY: This contradiction between the oligarchy and the people of the Democratic Party … This is not a compromisable thing. You could have temporary compromises, you can have truces, but the underlying differences between Wall Street Democrats, Chuck Schumer Democrats, and working-class Democrats, it’s an antagonistic fight. And Bernie talks about fighting the oligarchy, not just about reforming the Democratic Party. So if its underlying is antagonistic, the unity is to in order to create some kind of rule framework. Like for example, the reduction of the number of superdelegates. But is it enough to make it a fight that’s winnable?
NINA TURNER: I mean, we will see. It’s my hope, Paul Jay, that beyond the Unity Reform Commission, that the leaders within the Democratic Party itself will see the wisdom that change must come, that the atmosphere that elected Mr. Trump is one that the Democrats should be concerned about beyond the Unity Reform Commission that in some ways we need to do an autopsy. You remember when the Republicans did an autopsy in 2012. The Democrats have yet to do that and they have yet to think critically, have a critical analysis about not just what happened in 2016, but also what has been happening since 2009.
PAUL JAY: One of the critiques I’ve heard of The People’s Summit, and it’s been mostly positive, there hasn’t been a lot of critique. There’s a lot of this enthusiasm, but one critique I’ve heard is on the question of why isn’t foreign policy being talked about here? There wasn’t a workshop. There wasn’t a central speaker. It’s a very dangerous time in terms of foreign-policy. Trump is planning something … not planning, we know what he’s doing; he’s creating an alliance with the Saudi Arabia to isolate Iran. It looks pretty likely — even Trump has said — about building up troop levels into Iraq. He jokes about going back and seizing Iraqi oil but there’s no foreign-policy discussion here.
NINA TURNER: But you know, Paul Jay, this is the second year of The People’s Summit. It was really born from Senator Sanders’ run so maybe next year that will be added on. But there’s so much … Since the presidency of George W. Bush — President Bush — we have been constantly focusing every single effort on what is happening outside of our shores and domestically people have been falling behind. So it’s not necessarily that the people here at The People’s Summit don’t care about those issues, but not many people are talking about what is happening with the needs of the people right here in this country.
But you bring up a really good point. So, can that be added to next year? Next year will be the third year. Absolutely. Is that something that some of the people who have come in from 49 states, as you know—I’m sure some of them are talking about these issues but we do have many opportunities to make that within the framework, is what you’re talking about, within the conversation piece; the workshops within The People’s Summit.
PAUL JAY: How do you see balancing this fight inside the party against the oligarchy as it exists inside the Democratic Party? And this issue of fighting some of the draconian policies that are coming out of the Trump administration?
NINA TURNER: We should not be fighting for balance. We really are fighting for revolution within the Democratic Party itself in many ways. And you remember, a democratic think tank — and I can’t remember the name of it right now — just recently did a focus group on Obama ’12 voters who voted for … people who voted for President Obama in ’12 and then voted for Mr. Trump in 2016. These very people, when asked to identify which party is the party of Wall Street, actually named the Democratic Party.
PAUL JAY: Well, they’re not so far off.
NINA TURNER: They’re not. And at the polling right now, there’s only a 1% difference in approval rating between the Democrats and the Republicans, even with someone as polarizing as Donald Trump in the White House. Someone that is proven himself, to this point, unworthy of the office, Democrats are still considered the party of the elite. So, to me right now, this is not about balance. This is really about shaking up the very foundation of the Democratic Party.
That is part of what this People’s Summit is about, and I do caution that if the Democrats don’t heed the messages of the people, that the majority of the people in this country right now, Paul Jay, identify as independents—that if they don’t heed the lessons and the feelings that the people are expressing, that they’re going to continue to erode people who are so-called card-carrying members of the Democratic Party. This is not about … We want imbalance right now. Imbalance to the point that we are going to shake things up and bring that party back to the FDR frame.
PAUL JAY: The idea of the progressive candidacies and challenging right-wing Democrats … What’s the lay of the land like that for in Ohio?
NINA TURNER: My state swings. We are the quintessential swing state. We swung for President Obama both in ’08 and 2012, but on the legislature and the statewide level, every single statewide office is held by a Republican, and there is a supermajority in both chambers in the state legislature. When I was there we had 12 members and we were thanking God for that. Now, there are only nine Democrats in the Ohio Senate right now. We lost seats in 2016.
PAUL JAY: Explain that.
Nina Turner: The fact that the Trump wave took over in-
PAUL JAY: But it was even before then, they had this super, supermajority.
NINA TURNER: Supermajorities, meaning they didn’t even need Democrats to come on the floor of the Senate, for example, to conduct the state’s business. That’s how far in the minority [crosstalk 00:08:14]
PAUL JAY: A lot of that happened over the Obama years.
NINA TURNER: Yes, and that’s the point, Paul Jay; that we really have to have those deep conversations with the people in this country, that it is not enough just to come out and vote for a president. We have to vote every single year there’s an election. There’s issues on the ballot, there are people running. Most of the seats that Democrats lost were on the state level of government, were on the governor’s mansions, and I would argue that is where we’re losing most of the progress up unto this point, where we have extreme right-wingers in the Congress and then we have President Trump. But to that point, most of the ground that was lost had been lost on the state level of [crosstalk 00:08:54]
PAUL JAY: You said in your speech this morning when you opened the conference, essentially, that the reason for losing all these seats and losing these governor mansions is because people’s life didn’t get better.
NINA TURNER: It didn’t, Paul Jay, and we can’t delude ourselves on that. The quality of life is not what it once was. You and I talk to people; you’re in Baltimore, I’m in Cleveland. People who only needed maybe a job, or job and a half, two years ago, five years ago, 10 years ago, not they’re working two and three jobs. Parents who don’t have time to spend with their children because they’re at work. Mothers and fathers who are afraid to let their children walk down the street because of violence, infrastructure that is broken and torn up that it doesn’t benefit individuals or businesses. We have a real crisis on our hands. And it’s more a crisis of consciousness from both parties, but my critique is the harshest on Democrats because we know better. And because we know better, we should do better. We have failed the American people.
PAUL JAY: You were quoted as saying, when you go home and talk to people in Cleveland, “They’re not talking about Russians. They’re talking about their problems.”
NINA TURNER: They are.
PAUL JAY: Why is the Democratic Party leadership so preoccupied with what, in the scheme of things, is relatively minor. Even if there was Russian interference in the elections it didn’t determine the outcome of the elections.
NINA TURNER: No.
PAUL JAY: I’ve been joking the reason the American elites are so concerned about the Russians, because only American elites are allowed to rig American elections. No one else is allowed to do that.
NINA TURNER: Isn’t that the truth.
PAUL JAY: And that’s as American as apple pie.
NINA TURNER: Is Goldman Sachs a threat? Is Wall Street a threat? Are the people who refused to honor the wishes of the Native American people in North Dakota … are they a threat? We have many threats. And make no mistake about it, the intelligence agencies have said that Russia interfered and there should be a consequence for that. We have to do something about that. But to have the American people [crosstalk 00:10:52]
PAUL JAY: If we believe it. So far, the intelligence is pretty thin.
NINA TURNER: Right. If we believe it. But at the same time … Well, you asked me a question; why do I think that the Democratic elite are preoccupied? It’s because they think that that’s what’s going to help them win in 2018, instead of thinking, “Oh, let me dance on the tables until we fix the infrastructure in Flint or places like West Virginia.” I got a chance to talk to a young lady from West Virginia who said that the same challenges in Flint regarding clean water is happening to our sisters and brothers in West Virginia, but who’s talking about that?
PAUL JAY: In Baltimore, it’s lead paint and there’s-
NINA TURNER: Same thing in Cleveland.
PAUL JAY: … evidence it may be worse in Baltimore than the water problem was in Flint.
NINA TURNER: Same thing in Cleveland. I think it was Rutgers University that did a study that proves out just your point; that there are 3000 other areas — urban and rural areas — in this country who have higher lead levels, whether it’s paint, whether it’s water, whether it’s lead leaching … the same problem, but greater. Greater, higher levels than even in Flint. Can we do some of that, all at the same time? Yes, we need leaders who ‘gon to protect this country from threats, both foreign and domestic. But in the meantime, can we do something to help the people in this country who are suffering and still handle that at the same time?
PAUL JAY: There’s a convergence of this issue of dealing with foreign policy, climate change, and dealing with domestic problems, because taking $54 billion and giving $54 billion more to the Pentagon by trashing all domestic social programs … That’s why I will go back to this issue of foreign policy here, whether it’s at the conference or not, forget it; the conference is done now. But we need to be having that conversation, because America’s getting ready for war, and one of the ways it’s getting ready is not by taxing the people who have the money to pay for it. Not in any way am I suggesting there should be such a war, but by trashing as many of the social programs as possible-
NINA TURNER: You’re saying follow the money, where I always hope … I’ve told my constituents and people that I serve and I continue to serve, that follow the money. If you want to know where the policy, principles, and priorities, is a better word, of people you elect to office follow the budget. Follow the money. So, absolutely. Your point is well-taken, Paul Jay, but it’s all in the way that you’re framing that, and you are framing the notion of war in a way that puts the bread crumbs out there, that this is a domestic concern as well. There’s a umbrella to that, and you and I talked a lot about the environmental as well, that that is not a secondary, that that issue is really at the foundation.
PAUL JAY: Yes, because this administration is a fossil fuel administration.
NINA TURNER: Oh, no doubt about it.
PAUL JAY: All the foreign policy, in fact domestic, is all driven by serving oil companies. And the preparation first, a troop surge in Iraq, and Trump joked—when he spoke to the CIA just after his inauguration, he said that, “We should have seized Iraqi oil the first time.” And then he jokes and says, “Hey, you guys are going to have a second crack at it.” That’s what they’re planning to do with the destabilization in Iran. It’s a very dangerous situation.
NINA TURNER: Yes, it is. He really told people who he was when he was running, but what he tapped into on the negative side is the fears of many Americans in this country. That fear was built upon the fact that people who had the power, who wanted to do good, who could have done good, failed to use the power of the people to do that good. So I do agree with Senator Sanders’ critique that Mr. Trump is in office because of the failure of Democrats.
PAUL JAY: And it’s these Democrats that are cheering on the most war-like activity of Trump.
NINA TURNER: They’re with him on the war side [crosstalk 00:14:48]
PAUL JAY: Completely. Chuck Schumer is out there; “Go, go Trump go,” when it comes to allying with the Saudis and targeting Iran.
NINA TURNER: Yes. No doubt about it. And I think that brings up another point, that sometimes the people who vote can’t really tell the difference between a Republican and a Democrat, and hence is our conundrum.
PAUL JAY: One of the things I thought very interesting about The People’s Summit was the number of people running for office across the country. We had a Real News booth down there and candidate, after candidate, after candidate … some who have won, some who have a good chance of winning. What did you make of that?
NINA TURNER: Not just running for state rep or school board member, people running for Congress but I … talking to people that are actually running to be the chairman and chairwomen of their respective Democratic parties in their home state. That is what we need. We need progressives to challenge the status quo, to challenge the establishment. That goes back to the point that you were making about whether or not the Democratic Party can really be reformed. I say that if progressives run for these seats, from precinct level, to state level, to running to challenge establishment Democrats for the chairship, that then we can start to turn this thing around.
So it’s not just running for a state rep, or say, senator. It is also running within the Democratic Party’s apparatus itself. I gotta give a shout-out, Paul, to Kimberly Ellis who ran California. Lost by 62 votes, but I would say in many ways she did not lose, because she shook the very foundation of that place by challenging an establishment Democratic and coming so very close.
PAUL JAY: I don’t know if you know the answer to this yet, but is Sanders running in 2020? He sure is going like he’s running.
NINA TURNER: Oh my God. You know what? I don’t know, but what I do know, and you probably saw the same thing — this is Bernie nation — that he was here with 4000 of his closest friends. There is no doubt that he has energized people across the spectrum. 54% of the other attendees here were people of color, I want to put that out there. The plurality here were in their 30s, and again, that really is a big deal and that is a symbol about the future that they want to see. So, if 4000 people here had any say, Senator Bernie Sanders would be running in 2020.
PAUL JAY: Cool. Thanks very much. Nina’s interview with Senator Sanders is going to be up on The Real News Network in a very short amount of time, if you want to see it again. Of course, you can find it somewhere here on Facebook as well and watch it again. And look forward to the Nina Turner show. We will give you a schedule very soon of a rollout of different episodes. I think for the next little while it’s gonna be every few days of People’s Summit interviews. Then it will be a regular weekly show on The Real News Network. So, thank you Senator Turner.
NINA TURNER: Thank you Paul Jay.
PAUL JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.