Radio show host Thom Hartmann on progressives and the Democratic Party
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network, coming to you from Washington, DC. We’re at the conference America’s Future Now. We’re with Thom Hartmann, host of the Thom Hartmann Program. Thanks, Thom. So, in the first segment of our interview, you and I figured out solutions to mostly everything. And it seemed pretty rational.
THOM HARTMANN, RADIO SHOW HOST AND AUTHOR: They just need to put us in charge, Paul.
JAY: Well, that’s the question I’m going to ask you. How do people like us get in charge? And in a country where it’s—there’s a big debate whether you can use the word “socialism” without being marginalized, so I won’t even tell people. Only insiders will know what I’m about to say. What is to be done?
HARTMANN: Well, following up on our conversation of last year, I think it was, or earlier this year, we need to take over the Democratic Party. And this is what the Republicans so well figured out in the ’60s and the early ’70s, the “movement conservatives”. Actually, the Republicans didn’t figure it out; the movement conservatives did. And they, now, 30 years later, 40 years later, have entirely purged the Republican Party of everybody except the movement conservatives, you know, with the exception of Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. I mean, they’re all gone. And on the other hand, you know, the progressive caucus in the Democratic Party is what? Seventy-four people I think. You know, it’s a small fraction of the Democratic Party. And they did it just the good old-fashioned way. Here’s the political party, and it’s just sitting here saying, “Come on in.” And they just walked in the door. And we could do the same thing. And it makes me crazy that so many progressives won’t show up at the monthly meeting of the local Democratic Party, won’t run for, you know, committee chairman or for county chairperson and won’t just participate.
JAY: And why do you think that is? I mean, is there just a cynicism about what’s possible?
HARTMANN: I think that much as was the case in the 50s and 60s with regard to the Republicans, that there’s a concern that that’s them, that that’s an institution, that that’s the good old boys, that’s those are the power brokers—how can we possibly take them on? And in the last chapter of my book Screwed, I tell the story of three different people who infiltrated their local Democratic Parties—one in Portland, Oregon, one in New Mexico, and one in Denver, Colorado—and, you know, showed up with enough friends that they were able to get themselves voted into the leadership of the parties and take over those county parties and actually have an impact on the national Democratic Party. And with the Republicans, the advantage that they had was they had a really well-organized campaign that was operating outside of the party, that was being subsidized by you and me with our tax dollars, which was the churches, the evangelical churches. And so they were able to use these nonprofit organizations and organize people to get them into the party to help take over the party out of their belief system, religiously as well as politically. And we really don’t have that, and we don’t have—. You know, liberals are notoriously, you know, religiously deli. You know, “I’ll have a little of this, and a little of that,” or, you know, whatever, as opposed to, “Yes, I’m a Baptist.” And so we don’t have that secondary structure that the conservatives used to take over the Republican Party.
JAY: Well, there would be a sort of secondary structure, one of which there certainly is a lot of liberal churches. And then the obvious one is trade unions, who have—even though they’re relatively small to where they’ve been in terms of organizations with membership, compared to most other liberal or left organizations they’re massive. They have millions and millions of members and they have millions and millions of dollars. But they don’t seem to be engaged in this.
HARTMANN: It’s going to take a real change in the mindset within the union movement. The trade union movement has historically taken the position of, you know, “Okay, we’re going to be politically active. We’re going to have a PAC. We’re going to do lobbying. You pay your dues; will do it on your behalf.” And they need to flip it upside down. They need to say, you know, “We’re here as your union. Here’s what we’re seeing. Here’s our analysis of the situation. Now, if you don’t show up at the Democratic Party, if you don’t show up at your congressman’s office, nothing’s going to happen.”
JAY: Now, there’s a real litmus-test issue here in terms of the unions and the Democratic Party, and that’s the Employee Free Choice Act, which by now, if you’re watching The Real News, you know what the Employee Free Choice Act is, but just in case you don’t, it will allow what used to be the style of joining a union: you sign a card, a majority sign a card, and you’re then in a union.
HARTMANN: Well, it’s even actually the case right now. It’s just that right now employers can feel free to ignore that. But there are some fairly large employers, I think UPS is one of them, where card check was used, and the employer recognized it.
JAY: But they don’t have to.
HARTMANN: But they don’t have to.
JAY: So this is a litmus test in terms of the unions, their relationship with the Obama administration and the Democratic Party. Now, the gossip around town is already that the Employee Free Choice Act is dead, that it’s not going to get passed. And I don’t know who’s spreading that gossip, but with the exception of the town hall in New Mexico, I don’t think I’ve heard President Obama mention the piece of legislation until he was asked at the town hall. And do you get any sense that there’s a commitment on the part of Obama and his administration to pass this? Or do they just say, “We like it and we’ll see whether Congress does it or not”?
HARTMANN: We’ll see. I honestly don’t know. I’m not a close enough insider or observer of the nuance of the Obama administration to—or they haven’t let out any nuance. I mean, I’m as in the dark as you are on this, which I think is a bad sign. I think if they were, you know, gung ho for it, that they’d be all over it and we’d know that. There is talk about there being a compromise right now, that the compromise would be that you sign a cards, but then it’s sort of like a mail-in ballot: it gets mailed into the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] and it gets counted there. Which is not an unreasonable compromise, actually, and addresses the question of, you know, secret ballot, which is, frankly, a bogus issue. We all do card check right now in America. We’ve been doing card check in America for 200 years. It’s called registering to vote. If you want to participate in a democracy—and a union is a democracy in the workplace—if you want to participate in the democracy called the United States of America, you have to check a card. And it’s a public record. I can look up your voter registration and you can look up mine. You say, yes, I want to vote, and, by the way, I’m going to affiliate myself with this party. And you sign that. And what I thought was so bizarre was when Arlen Spector became a Democrat, he said, “But I’m still against card check.” You know what he had to do to go from being a Republican to a Democrat? He had to check a card. Right? He had to change his voter registration. He had to publicly check a card. It’s downright bizarre. These guys, you know, we’ve been doing card check forever. That’s how—. You know. And then, of course, just like in the union, all the elections after you’ve registered to vote or after you’ve registered to be a member of the democracy called a union, all the elections are secret ballot.
JAY: Now, in terms of what happens within the Democratic Party, and certainly people who have given up on the Democratic Party, whether they’re people that supported Nader or people that supported the Green Party, what you’re suggesting is people shouldn’t do that, that these forces should come into the Democratic Party and fight there.
HARTMANN: I think they can do both. And, again, you look at the movement conservatives, they did both. They organize conservative events. They’ve got CPAC [Conservative Political Action Conference]. You’ve got, you know, all the various—I mean, right down to the John Birch Society, you’ve got all these right-wing organizations. And their clarion call for the better part of 20 years was infiltrate the Republican Party. And they did it, and they took it over. And, you know, I am a big supporter of the Green Party, particularly at the local level, because the Green Party has been almost single-handedly responsible, probably single-handedly responsible, for over 300 communities having instant run-up voting right now, which opens up democracy. It makes it more small-D democratic in the United States. We’re one of only seven countries that doesn’t have proportional representation among the hundred-plus democracies in the world. We need IRV, and it’s only happening at the local level, and it’s only happening through the Green party. But that doesn’t exclude you from showing up for the Democratic Party.
JAY: Well, in the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about the attitude towards critiquing President Obama, because there seems to be, in many quarters, a great reluctance to put it all on Congress or put it all on somebody else. Let’s talk about how he’s doing and how straightforwardly people talk about that. So please join us for our next segment of our interview with Thom Hartmann.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.