Nina Turner: Democrats Lost Because They Lost Touch With the People, Not Because they Moved Left
Nina Turner says calls to move Democrats to the center are out of touch with the impacts of their policies and the needs of the majority of working people
AARON MATE: It’s the Real News, I’m Aaron Mate.
“Back to the center Democrats,” so say two prominent Democrats in a widely circulated piece today in the New York Times. Mark Penn and Andrew Stein argue that to return to power, Democrats must “reject the siren calls of the left,” whose policies, they say, have weakened the party. Instead, they advise Democrats to move right, and return to the centrist days of President Bill Clinton.
Well, my guest has a different take on where the party should go. Nina Turner is a former Ohio State Senator, a national surrogate for Senator Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, and now the president of the Sanders campaign offshoot, Our Revolution. She is also the host of The Nina Turner show, here on the Real News. Senator Turner, welcome.
NINA TURNER: Thank you, Aaron.
AARON MATE: Thanks for joining us. Let me quote you from this piece today. “The last few years of the Obama administration and the 2016 primary season once again created a rush to the left. Identity politics, class warfare, and big government all made comebacks.” These authors seem to blame that for the Democrats’ huge losses. What’s your take?
NINA TURNER: I mean, the Democrats lost over the last decade because they lost touch with the people, not because they were moving left. A lot of the policy positions that these two authors decry, whether it’s Medicare for all or making sure that we make requisite investments in pre-K to 16 education. In other words, it’s not about free college and university, but this is about this country making that investment in our young people so that they can compete. Not only in this country but compete with other young people across the globe. This is about investment.
Those authors are way off the mark. When these issues are polled, they poll very high across the electorate, whether people lean a little red or lean a little blue. When you think about other policy positions, like making sure that people have paid family and medical leave, those types of things poll well with the majority of citizens in this country who, quite frankly, have not seen an increase in their wages. In other words, their wages are not keeping up with inflation, since the 1980s. Dare I say that the losses of the Democrats is not only because they lost touch with the people, but for these two authors to say that it is because the party is moving left, left is patently false.
AARON MATE: Let me read you some more of what they write. They say, “Bigger government handouts won’t win working class voters back. This is the fallacy of the left, believing voters just need to be shown how much they are getting in government benefits. In reality, these voters see themselves as being penalized for maintaining the basic values of hard work, religion, and family.”
NINA TURNER: Made my skin crawl, Aaron, because that’s just to assume that people who espouse policies on the progressive side somehow are saying to American people, “This is a handout for you,” or, “Don’t believe in a strong work ethic.” Let me tell you something, the working class … It’s called the working poor for a reason. That means that people work. They’re not sitting at home with their feet up, eating Bon Bons all day. They are working, and they have to work two or three jobs just to keep up, just to have the same standard of living or quality of life that they had a decade ago, dare I say even a generation ago.
It was so much that was wrong about that article, Aaron, but that makes my skin crawl. Along with the fact that they talked about tough on crime policies. I hope you’re going to read an excerpt of that, or show an excerpt on that. We know good and well that those policies of the 1990s, both welfare reform and also the crime bill, destroyed poor communities and destroyed communities of color. Particularly African American communities and Hispanic communities. We have about 2.2 million people housed in prison right now. We spend $80 billion a year to house people in prison. In this country, more than any other industrialized nation, those policies did not work in the ’90s, and people have awakened from that. They know that they have been duped all this time in this country.
I don’t know what prompted those two gentlemen to write that article, but they just tone deaf. They are not in touch with what the American people want. It’s not about people not working, it’s not about being tougher on crime. I mean, we’ve got an AG right now, under the Trump administration, that’s going to take us back to the war on drugs. Again, devastation of the African American community, and other poor communities of color. It makes no sense to me. That is a very one-sided article and I would even say that that article is dangerous.
AARON MATE: Yes, Senator Turner. I’ll just read out that part that you referenced. “After years of leftward drift by the Democrats culminated in Republican control of the House under Speaker Newt Gingrich, President Bill Clinton moved the party back to the center in 1995 by supporting a balanced budget, welfare reform, a crime bill that called for providing 100,000 new police officers, and a step-by-step approach to broadening healthcare. Mr. Clinton won a resounding re-election victory in 1996 and Democrats were back.”
NINA TURNER: The impacts, though, of that bill are being felt in communities of color all across this country for generations. That crime bill has hurt communities of color, particularly African American communities. The overwhelming majority of folks who are in prison right now, or on parole, or under some type of correction are black, and brown, and poor people in this country.
Just for those authors to so cavalierly say things like that just absolutely makes no sense to me and shows very clearly that they are not in tune with what is necessary today, which is really to be smart on crime. Nobody’s arguing that if somebody is a hardened criminal that they should do the time. Anybody that commits a crime has to face the consequence. We have so many people right now housed in prison who may have a mental health challenge, or people who are drug addicted. Why are we criminalizing people who may have a drug addiction or people who, if they do go to prison …
Aaron, I can share with you, because I was on the Criminal Justice Committee when I was in the Senate, here in the state of Ohio. To hear people who came to testify when Ohio was working on policies to be smarter on crime, and not necessarily tougher on crime. To hear a gentleman talk about how he went into the prison system one way, but came out even more hardened. You know, in other words, he said, “Yeah, I got a real PhD in criminology after spending time in prison.” Then, also that 1995 crime bill provided more funding to build more prisons. Just think about had we made those same investments in building schools throughout this country, where we would be.
The direction of that article should cause everybody to pause because it would take us back to a time in this country that I would hope that no one, but especially Democrats, would want to go to. It was a dog whistle, for me, as an African American woman. It was a straight up dog whistle.
AARON MATE: I’m reminded of those who argued that if the Clintons hadn’t locked up so many people, they might have been able to win the election with the voters who couldn’t vote because they were put in jail.
NINA TURNER: Yeah, the irony of that and that there are so many states in this country where, you know, people who are under either federal or state authority, they can’t vote. Some of them, even when they get out, they can’t vote. Thank god Ohio is not one of those states where once you’ve served your time, you may have to re-register, but you can certainly vote. There are many states in this country where you have to petition to even get your voting rights back.
This article is quite shocking to me, and I’m keeping it PG, as much as I can.
AARON MATE: We appreciate that.
You mentioned these authors being out of touch. I wonder if we can talk about the wing of the Democratic party that the represent. Mark Penn is a former Senior Advisor to Bill and Hillary Clinton. I’m not so much interested in his personal details but the interest that they’re representing here, and why this mentality is still so pervasive inside the Democratic party. You, I’m sure, interact with these types of people because you’ve been very active in Democratic party politics. Especially since campaigning so prominently for Senator Bernie Sanders.
NINA TURNER: Yeah, you know, I’m not sure why. I don’t know why. It is shocking to me.
I will tell you, they’re talking about moving back to the center but let’s listen to the voices and the cries of the American people in this country. Now, FDR, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1944, talked about the economic Bill of Rights. Within that Bill of Rights, he talked about the fact that Americans have a right to expect certain things. Government is not designed to do everything, but it is designed, in my opinion, for us to do collectively what we cannot do as individuals.
It is obvious that these two authors, who aside of the fact that corporate welfare happens all the time in this country, on the state level, on the federal level, and even on the local level. I don’t hear them decrying that. It’s all right to give the wealthiest among us all the federal aid that they want. When it’s helping, when we return those taxpayer dollars back to the people, then all of a sudden, it is a problem. I digress.
Going back to President FDR, when he talked about the economic Bill of Rights, and he said people have a right to expect a job, that they have a right to expect decent housing. Excuse me, the right to be able to work and make a decent wage. I would say a good wage. Those are the things that we have to go back to, as Democrats, if we ever hope to win back majorities in the Congress, in state legislatures, and also Governors mansions. We lost because we lost touch with the people, not because of Democrats leaning left.
I would not consider President Obama the type of president that leaned left. He certainly did not lean left. While we need to take a look at what has happened over the last decade to assess why Democrats have lost so many offices, not withstanding the fact … We’ve got to factor in, to a certain extent, Aaron, I will admit gerrymandering, you know? Because Democrats lost in 2010 so Republicans got a chance to draw the lines. I was in the legislature at the time when we drew those lines after the 2010 … After we got crushed, and then the Census. I understand that. Also, voter suppression as well. Those also are variables, but they don’t necessarily tell the whole story.
We’ve got to stand up for trade deals that says that free trade is not the way to go, but fair trade is the way to go. For so long, Democrats were unwilling, until the 2016 election cycle, to even admit that. The American people want to know who’s standing up for them. When they have the opportunity to choose between a progressive or somebody that’s Republican-light, or a Republican, they choose the real thing every time.
AARON MATE: Voter suppression, which you mentioned, we’re going to talk about in part two of this discussion. Before we go in this part, I want to ask you about this latest campaign slogan that was put out by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. They sent out a fundraising email asking recipients to vote on which slogan they favor, and one of them was, “Democrats 2018: I mean, have you seen the other guys?”
NINA TURNER: Aaron, I’m just absolutely speechless. I just cannot believe that they would put out something like that. Basically, they’re trying to motivate voters to vote for Democrats because they’re less bad. I mean, that’s no big deal to say that, “Have you seen the other guy? We’re a little better than the other guy.”
What are you standing for? What do the American people have to look forward to, or should expect from your leadership? What policy changes? What big ideas? What things will you push that will help to lift the American people? That’s what they want to know. Not that, “Have you seen the other guy?” That was the campaign they ran in 2016. It didn’t work in 2016, and that is definitely not going to work in 2018. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad, Aaron.
AARON MATE: Senator Nina Turner, the President of Our Revolution and the host of The Nina Turner Show, here on the Real News. Senator Turner, thank you.
NINA TURNER: Thank you.
AARON MATE: Thank you for joining us on the Real News.