Can the Democratic Party Represent Wall Street and Main Street? (2/3)
The politics of the possible vs a progressive vision for the future, with TRNN’s Paul Jay and members of Maryland Working Families
Paul Jay: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, and we’re in Baltimore. We’re continuing our interview with Maryland Working Families. Now joining us again, quickly, first of all is Mark McLaurin. He’s the Political Director for SEIU, and as I mentioned in the first part, SEIU is part of Maryland Working Families, Local 500. Also joining us is Charly Carter. She’s Executive Director of Maryland Working Families. And joining us is Rebecca Mark, she’s the Baltimore organizer for the group. Dante Bishop is the policy director for Maryland Working Families. Thanks again for joining us.
So, you wanna watch part one first, cause we’re gonna continue that discussion, debate, maybe. We’re talking about this whole idea that working people should want businesses to do well, because it helps create- if you’re going to ask for higher wages, it’s easier if the company’s making more money, and so on. That reflects on this fight, in the Democratic party, which means, can you defend Wall Street’s interest, and mainstream interests at the same time, or is there an antagonistic difference in those relationships. That expressed itself in the fight between Clinton and Sanders. Clinton’s argument was, I’m on the side of working people, but you can also fight for Wall Street. Sanders was saying, “No.” He challenged Clinton to declare that if she became president, she would not have anyone from Wall Street in her economics department, running the Treasury and so on.
So, Mark, you know the stats. This idea that business doing well is good for working people. You’re in a situation now, where it’s … What is it? One percent of the one percent have more wealth, than 50 to 60% of the whole society. I think I’m actually understating it. I’m trying to remember the number, but I think it’s actually, maybe closer to … It’s above 60%.
Mark McLaurin : Right.
Paul Jay: The top 10 to 12% of the population have something like 80%. This philosophy that what’s good for Wall Street, used to be what’s good for General Motors, is good for mainstream now. What’s good for Wall Street is good for Main Street. The facts simple don’t bear it out. What you have is a completely uncontrolled form of hyper-capitalism.
Mark McLaurin : Right.
Paul Jay: One of the door openers to that hyper-capitalism … I don’t think you can lay it all on the Clintons. Certainly, if you wanna get to sort of …
Mark McLaurin : Not all of it.
Paul Jay: Reagan … Well, I think it’s a continuation from Regan.
Charly Carter: Yeah.
Paul Jay: It’s a continuation. It’s not about individual … You know, bad politicians. It’s a phase of the system, that when digitization allowed for such an expansion of globalization, American workers lost their leverage. And finance became uncontrollable, and that’s partly through digitization too. Imagine doing sub-prime mortgages, if you had to do it on …
Charly Carter: Right.
Paul Jay: with a piece of paper …
Charly Carter: Yep.
Paul Jay: Without computerization, you couldn’t have algorithms.
Mark McLaurin : Right.
Paul Jay: So, we enter a whole phase. That whole new phase gives rise to politicians who represent the interests that are benefiting from that phase.
Mark McLaurin : Sure.
Charly Carter: Yes.
Paul Jay: That starts with Regan, and then Clinton is aligned, and certainly Obama’s in the same line. Not that they’re all the same. They do fight. The Republicans want ultra hyper-capitalism. The Democrats want controlled hyper-capitalism. But, that’s fighting the Democratic party … You can’t say those interests are the same as working people.
Mark McLaurin : Right. No. I don’t think I meant to suggest that the interests are the same necessarily. I mean, look … No one rolls their eyes harder than me, at the business community, who parades before … Who calls every worker advance, legislative worker advance, the death [inaudible 00:03:57] of business. That’s not at all what I’m suggesting.
SEIU, large, was the originator of the Fight for $15, as a national campaign. We fought to organize fast food workers across this country. We were one of the prime movers behind this whole ‘one percent of’ framing. I’m not at all suggesting that we do not need to do have an equalization, or … No one has fought harder, I don’t think, than SEIU, against this kind of … Against this isolation of wealth to a very discreet part of the population.
Every policy we’ve been pursuing on a national basis, on a statewide basis, on a local basis, has been aimed at addressing that disparity. My only point with you was, I think it oversimplifies it to say, that there are some people over here that are for working people, and then there are some people over here that are for Wall Street. Whatever Wall Street means. I mean …
Paul Jay: Well, Goldman Sachs and all the other related big hedge funds and so …
Mark McLaurin : Okay. Right. But, what I’m saying is that, I don’t agree that to be one means that you necessarily have to work against the direct interests of the other. I think that there is a way that folks come together, and … Look. In this partnership, the rich folks have been getting way too much of the benefits. You have to balance that equation out. All I’m saying is that, you cannot then switch to something that says, that basically says, “We’re against capitalism, that maybe there shouldn’t be private industry. Maybe there shouldn’t be private financing. Maybe we can have that conversation.” In the system that we have, as it exists currently, we’ve got to strike a balance.
Paul Jay: Okay, but [crosstalk] … One can have that conversation, but the real fight that was happening, was the Sanders/Clinton fight. Sanders wasn’t proposing that, he was proposing some basic reforms, like single pair healthcare, and such. I know, on Wall Street, breaking up big banks. Much stronger legislation than Dodd-Frank, bringing back Glass–Steagall. There is a real antagonism of interest. I’m interested how you deal with this in Maryland Working Families. Clearly there’s come basic differences, at least at the national/political level. How much does this reflect itself at the Maryland level?
Charly Carter: Well, I think we’re … The board of Maryland Working Families, which is made up of our representatives, of our affiliates, tend to be very aligned in the decisions that they make. In fact, almost 100% in alignment on most decisions, when it comes to policy. I think that we’re clear, here in Maryland, that we should not be talking about doing a, you know, 400 million dollar tax cut for the top two percent wage earners on the income earned tax credit, as has been proposed in our state legislator. That we shouldn’t, at the same time, be looking at cuts to programs for the poor, at the same time that we’re giving a 50 million dollar tax cut to Northrop Grumman, or to the Hyatt Hotels.
I think that we are in alignment that we need to do more to help the working people of the state. And so, we push policies like … Our entire agenda, that Dante can talk about, our women’s economic security agenda, is because 80% of families, in the state of Maryland, depend on a woman’s wages. And yet, it is economic insecurity, or economic instability that has continued to drive families in this state down. That’s middle class, falling out of the middle class. That’s working class people, falling further into poverty. Here in Baltimore, we talk about 30% of our kids, being raised in poverty. That statistic should be shocking …
Paul Jay: Are you gonna primary? Mayor Pugh, Catherine Pugh. Are you gonna primary against her? She’s the one that vetoed $15.
Charly Carter: We likely will. If she doesn’t do an about face, we would …
Paul Jay: She actually ran saying she wouldn’t do it, [crosstalk] and then she did do it.
Charly Carter: She did … Unfortunately …
Paul Jay: There’s gonna be some accountability for that.
Charly Carter: Unfortunately that happens a lot in the politics here. That’s what Working Families is all about. Just two weeks ago, we trained nearly 60 candidates, who will be running in the elections in 2018. Many of them in primaries, against more corporate Democrats, or Democrats who have not made championing Working Families, you know, their priority … That’s across the state. Everything from, looking at primaries against John Delaney, to looking at people who are looking at challenging some legislators in Prince Georges and Montgomery County.
Paul Jay: Would you support a non-Democratic party candidate, if they seemed like they had a shot? A Green candidate of somewhat.
Charly Carter: Well, in fact, I don’t think we endorsed Joshua Harris, but we certainly celebrated Joshua Harris [crosstalk].
Paul Jay: Josh Harris was the Green candidate for Mayor.
Charly Carter: For Mayor of last year. We did not do an endorsement in the Mayor’s race.
Paul Jay: Because …
Charly Carter: I think we weren’t all in alignment. Our board wasn’t in alignment on who to support last year.
Paul Jay: Where was SEIU, cause she’s looking at you? Did SEIU not want to endorse Josh Harris?
Mark McLaurin : Well, SEIU consists of more than one local in the state. I …
Paul Jay: Do locals get to make up their own mind about local politics? Is that a National decision, too?
Mark McLaurin : Well, National decisions like … Federal races come from International. That’s kind of the rule, but local races are by and large decided by the locals. Now usually, they act in coordination with each other at something called SEIU State Councils, which is a whole nother bit of SEIU bureaucracy. Basically, most time, if the locals don’t agree, the can go their own way.
Paul Jay: I do wanna say one thing. I do wanna pick a fight with SEIU.
Mark McLaurin : Okay.
Paul Jay: I wanna have a [crosstalk]. I spoke at an SEIU local meeting, during the election, during the primary, actually, I think it was. It might have been the election. Chris Van Hollen was there. There was no one … Actually, it was in the election. Sorry. It was during the primaries. There was no one there speaking on behalf of Sanders. There was only Van Hollen speaking on behalf of Clinton. You’re talking about workers being sentient beings, and being able to make their own mind. If you’re in a Union, you only hear one message from the Union.
Mark McLaurin : Was it after we’d endorsed, or before?
Paul Jay: I think after.
Mark McLaurin : Well … I mean …
Paul Jay: But, was there … Are you telling me [crosstalk].
Mark McLaurin : Our endorsed candidate … I mean …
Paul Jay: Yeah, but you’re saying [crosstalk] before that? Are you saying before that, there was an opportunity for speakers to be brought in on behalf of Sanders?
Mark McLaurin : Most locals that I know of, have some kind of forums, where representatives of all the candidates are brought in. Once the Union makes an endorsement, then yeah, you …
Paul Jay: Your local?
Mark McLaurin : The guy I didn’t endorse doesn’t get equal access to my members. You can talk to them if you want to, but not under my [inaudible]. That’s part of the … You know. I mean [crosstalk].
Paul Jay: Your local had that?
Mark McLaurin : Which?
Paul Jay: You had a forum where there was a Clinton/Sanders …
Mark McLaurin : With the presidential candidates? No.
Paul Jay: Not the candidates, representatives. I didn’t expect you to get the candidates.
Mark McLaurin : We did [inaudible]. We didn’t do a presidential candidates forum, not Local 500 specifically, I don’t think.
Paul Jay: All right. Let’s get back to the mayors issue. What blocked you from supporting Josh? Josh had a program, what seemed to me completely in alignment with your values.
Charly Carter: Well, again, we didn’t endorse any candidate. Working Families did not endorse any candidate in the mayors race. What we did appreciate was, many of the policy issues that Josh raised. We think it’s important that those issues are raised. The reality is, in this state, is that … It’s very difficult, because of the charter language in the state, for a third party to actually have, or gain power. It’s challenging enough for them, just to maintain ballot status.
If anything, Working Families is about building power for working people immediately. We support the idea of third parties, and in many states, Working Families acts as a third party, but here in Maryland the way our charter is established, and governs elections, that our direct, our most immediate pathway to influencing and impacting policies for working people, is to move through the Democratic Party.
Paul Jay: In general, but that particular election, Josh actually did pretty well. 15% of the vote. How would your endorsement of Josh affected your ability to pressure whoever the next Mayor was anyway?
Mark McLaurin : Well, I …
Paul Jay: It sounds like some of you wanted to endorse Josh, and some didn’t.
Mark McLaurin : Speaking for us …
Charly Carter: You can say that.
Mark McLaurin : For local 500, we endorsed Catherine Pugh. I was a senior strategist on her campaign.
Paul Jay: Okay, will you withdraw that now that she vetoed the $15?
Mark McLaurin : Withdraw … How do you mean withdraw? I still think that she …
Paul Jay: Primary her next time.
Mark McLaurin : Oh. Absolutely. All options are on the table. There will be accountability. Make no mistake about it. She absolutely made a pledge to us that she went back on. I had members who … As you know, unions do not spend political money from their union dues. Every dollar I give to a candidate, or that I put in the mailbox, or that I put on TV, comes from members who believe in our political program, and believe in the power of us to do collective work together. And so, they give from money that many of them made scrubbing toilets. Okay? Many of them made scrubbing toilets. They gave it to us to supplement our political program, so that we can elect candidates who will act in their interests.
Sometimes we get it wrong. We got it wrong with Catherine, at least on that issue. I still would argue that she was the best choice out of the viable candidates. You have to balance, kind of, your vision with, really, viability. At the end of the day, Josh was a great guy … Remember that originally, Josh was running as a Democrat. Remember that. Anyway. He’s a great guy, but at the end of the day, even with all the help that he had, and all the extraordinary ground campaign he had, he still finished dead last, behind the Republican in Baltimore City. And that does not speak to any, at all his failings as a candidate. It speaks to how hard it is, to be elected in a city like Baltimore, as a third party candidate.
Paul Jay: This problem of the viable candidate. It’s an endless self fulfilling prophecy, especially when there’s no accountability. Same thing happened with Barack Obama. Barack Obama promised the unions the Employee Free Choice Act. He would go and speak at union rallies, when he was first running. The Employee Free Choice Act, if people don’t know, is another piece of legislation that would undo a lot of the anti-labor laws that make it so difficult to organize new workers now. The Employee Free Choice Act was like, maybe the number one promise of Barack Obama, to the unions. I remember interviewing the current head of AFL-CIO at the time, who said, “I will eat my shoe if the Democrats don’t bring in the Employee Free Choice Act.” They promised it. Of course, they didn’t even introduce it into Congress during the time when controlled both houses.
Mark McLaurin : I think they needed 60 votes, and didn’t have 60 votes.
Paul Jay: They didn’t even fight on it.
Mark McLaurin : Agreed. I mean, I’m not … I’m just saying that, to put it on Obama, as if [crosstalk]. You know, [crosstalk] at the end of the day, if Obama doesn’t have 60 votes for a piece of legislation, then you don’t blame Obama for that. You may blame Obama for not making sufficient use of the bully pulpit, but I think we’ve seen how effective [crosstalk] the bully pulpit is with some of the …
Paul Jay: Don’t promise it in the election campaign. At least you go, you introduce it, and you fight over it. You rally people about it.
Mark McLaurin : Yeah. No …
Paul Jay: They didn’t even introduce the thing.
Charly Carter: I think there was a question of priorities in that …
Mark McLaurin : That too.
Charly Carter: Session. The priority was …
Paul Jay: Yeah, but that’s the whole point.
Charly Carter: The priority was healthcare.
Paul Jay: Yeah.
Charly Carter: And improving the healthcare for tens of millions of Americans. That same healthcare that’s now on the line, because of Donald Trump and the Republican Congress … I give great credence to President Obama for making the advances that we made … I don’t think Obamacare’s perfect, far from it. I would personally have much rather have seen Medicare for all. I think, being able to expand coverage for so many more Americans … It was a huge step forward. I think that they used their political capital to do that. You know, immediately after that, you saw a change in the turnover in the house. There really [crosstalk] wasn’t the time to do Employee Free Choice. I don’t think you can put all of that on Obama. It took 18 months to get a healthcare bill out of [crosstalk].
Paul Jay: Part of the reason for that turnover of the house, is because the crisis of ‘07, ‘08 was fought on the backs of workers. The bailout was a Wall Street bailout. Everybody despised it.
Charly Carter: Yeah.
Paul Jay: His entire finance team practically, were from Goldman Sachs. They shoveled endless amount of money …
Charly Carter: Yeah.
Paul Jay: Into the banks, and not into stimulating the economy, and creating more jobs. They could of had a direct jobs program. [crosstalk]. It was a number of things they could have done, so … The turnover in the House isn’t just because they fought for the Affordable Healthcare Act. It’s cause the whole crisis was dealt with, in a way that working people bore the brunt of it.
Charly Carter: Well …
Paul Jay: Dante. Where are you on this fight here? You can’t retreat to, I’m just policy, cause we’re talking about policy.
Dante: I don’t think the Democratic President should have been pushing the Republican healthcare plan. I’m with Charlie that Medicare would have been more appropriate.
Mark McLaurin : [inaudible]
Dante: I’m sorry?
Mark McLaurin : No …
Paul Jay: It was a healthcare plan very close to Romney. That’s, I think the point.
Dante: And it came out of the Heritage Foundations priorities, I mean, so … I think it was a missed opportunity for [inaudible] leadership on the start. We should have had a Democratic or progressive healthcare bill. We would all be better off today. I think he just would have underutilized the start of his term, where did have 60 votes. I think we could have got more done, but I’ll leave it there.
Mark McLaurin : Why am I being maneuvered into the right [crosstalk]. First of all, the individual mandate was originally in the heritage foundation. Let’s not pretend that, of Obama Care, or the ACA was not a Heritage Foundation document. The individual mandate was true enough. Secondly, this idea, as much as I may love it … This idea that this piece of legislation, which remember … Between Kennedy, and Scott Brown, we barely got it through. I mean, we were all up until two in the morning. We’re counting votes, and you know, pulling people from the [inaudible]. The idea that there was something way over here that we could have done, if only we would have given more speeches about it, it’s ridiculous.
Charly Carter: That’s true.
Mark McLaurin : I mean, this was the very best we could have gotten out of that group of members of Congress. Now, maybe you can say it’s groups like, Maryland Working Families, who’s job it is to organize the electorate, so that we have a different congress, so that there is possibility of much more progressive things. I agree with that. [crosstalk].
Paul Jay: Cause it was right-wing Democrats that were the real problem.
Mark McLaurin : And, a united Republican caucus.
Paul Jay: Yeah, but if there hadn’t been so many right winged Democrats, starting with Baucus, steering the whole process.
Mark McLaurin : Right. Then you take him out, and we don’t control the senate anymore.
Charly Carter: Right.
Mark McLaurin : … You know, there’s got to be a balance between people thought … I feel like this is the same conversation we had with Rahm Emanuel, you know, with conservative Democrats, and then, Howard Dean with the 50 State Strategy. It’s always a balance. It’s never either this, or that. It’s got to be a balance. If you want only progressives, in the Democratic party, that’s why, when we targeted Maryland, we’re targeting in solid Democratic districts. If you only want down the line, solid progressive Democrats, in the United States congress, you’re gonna be in the minority. That’s the way the districts are drawn.
Now, we should fight against Gerrymandering, and then take that out, so that there are ways to address that, but I’m saying we’ve got to be realistic about what really is the art of the possible. I reject any notion that Barack Obama, and the ACA, were somehow, some unneeded capitulation to, you know … He could have had Medicare for all, but Max Baucus didn’t let somebody speak about it, before the hearing.
Paul Jay: No. It’s [crosstalk] more than that. They wouldn’t even take the public option seriously.
Mark McLaurin : Okay, but if you took the public option seriously … When you look at where the votes lined up on what he did get, it tells you …
Paul Jay: Well, you have to fight for it.
Dante: Exactly. He didn’t champion …
Paul Jay: You have to fight for it. You can’t just sit there. It was obvious Obama didn’t support the public option, and was more or less Baucus’ camp.
Mark McLaurin : Okay. Define fight …
Paul Jay: Who had more political capital going in, than him?
Mark McLaurin : … When you’re defining fight for it, does that mean, what? Organize around it, or is it more speeches, or …
Paul Jay: Yeah. Go around the country, speaking for it.
Mark McLaurin : Okay.
Paul Jay: Call rallies. Ask hundred of thousands of people to come to Washington.
Dante: And also when …
Mark McLaurin : And how does that work?
Paul Jay: He had more political capital than any President in a long time, when he got elected. He had a mass movement around him.
Mark McLaurin : He used it to pass as progressive a piece of healthcare legislation as he possibly could have …
Charly Carter: I would agree with that.
Mark McLaurin : Out of that Congress.
Charly Carter: If we could bring it back to Maryland. Even before the ACA came up, Maryland was on the cusp of implementing its own healthcare reform policies. At that time, I represented Unite Here, and worked very closely with the coalition that was trying to move that. Even here, where we are two to one Democratic registration … Even here, where we have a blue legislator with veto-proof majorities. Even then, the idea of a single payer system was not a policy that was even possible to move here in Maryland. We were still looking at having a very similar set up to what was passed.
Paul Jay: Well, it doesn’t happen without this kind of fight about, what’s going [crosstalk] to happen in the primaries.
Charly Carter: And there was a great deal of fighting and gnashing of teeth, even then, among the progressive movement. I think Mark’s point that I really want to echo is, is that it really is about the art of the possible. I think that it’s great to have people … I think it’s always important to have a left flank. I will always encourage people to have a left flank. Taking it back to Joshua Harris. Joshua Harris represented the left flank, and raised issues …
Paul Jay: Well, we’re gonna do another segment on this. I would argue, and maybe we’ll keep going a little bit in the next segment, the art of the possible philosophy gave birth to Donald Trump. That will be … We can pick that up in the next segment, so please join us as we continue this discussion and debate on The Real News Network, with Maryland Working Families. We then elected Donald Trump.