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Who Picks The Candidates– The Corporately Financed Bosses or Grassroots Primaries?

Clinton DLC -HKNormally the grassroots likes ’em and the Inside-the-Beltway Establishment hates ’em. They cost a lot of money that can go to attacking the other party, cause friction in your own party, can… well when the damn base gets involved, anything can happen. Yes, it can; it’s called democracy. And right now we have party hacks like John Cornyn (R-TX) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) at the NRSC trying to prop up Charlie Crist– popular with Florida’s general public but distrusted by the right-wing Republican Party base– against a radical right fanatic who is more in sync with the extremism of characters like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Dick Cheney and Ann Coulter which dominates the intraparty debate.

Similarly we are watching with dismay as Democratic Beltway Insiders are attempting to anoint favored candidates and cut out grassroots voters in the states. Pennsylvania Democrats are displeased that Joe Biden and Ed Rendell, who is rumored to want a sick, elderly seat-warmer like semi-Democrat Arlen Specter to keep the seat open for himself eventually, are trying to shove someone they don’t trust down their throats.

In New York state, you have a similar situation. Biden who’s made a career of being a corporatist shill isn’t only trying to make sure Republican Arlen Specter has no Democratic primary to contend with, but is also trying to clear the field for Blue Dog Kirsten Gillibrand. The Insiders were able to bribe Long Island moderate Steve Israel into dropping out (and something or someone changed implacable Gillibrand foe Carolyn McCarthy’s mind) and now Biden is working on progressive icon Carolyn Maloney.

Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based Democratic strategist, warns that Maloney "has been a good fundraiser over the course of her career, but the institutional powers who want to keep her from running are going to try to block that money." He’s talking about Biden and Schumer. The other Democrat in the race– progressive activist Jonathan Tasini– is beyond the reach of the Beltway creatures because he’s all about progressive values and policies, not their partisan games. "Progressives," he told me on the phone yesterday, "should be 100 percent in favor of primaries and against attempts to shut down the democratic process and the ability of voters to have choices."

The most establishment and conservative forces within the Democratic Party are working for the most establishment and conservative candidates. And it isn’t only in Pennsylvania and New York. They already managed to clear the field for a disastrous loser in Florida, a corrupt and untested backbencher, Kendrick Meek, who couldn’t beat Charlie Crist if Crist campaigned in the latest Jason Wu gown, high heels and a diamond tiara. We can think corporatist fundraiser William Jefferson Clinton for that. And Meek isn’t the only less progressive Democrat for whom Clinton is doing fundraisers. Wherever a Democratic primary pits a progressive against a corporate shill, you can be sure Bill Clinton will show up to help the shill raise money against the progressive.

A few weeks ago we talked with Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, the progressive candidate for the open Senate seat. She’s a much stronger candidate against the Big Business candidate the GOP is putting up, George Bush’s Rob Portman, but the Establishment prefers Lee Fischer– and yesterday we found this item in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Clinton will host a private fund-raiser June 20th at a Cleveland-area home for Fisher, who is trying to knock out Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, who trails Fisher in fund-raising and insists she is not getting out of the Democratic primary. The event will likely give Fisher a boost in the second quarter of fund-raising, which closes June 30th. Fisher is hoping to keep financial pressure on Brunner by widening his money lead. At the close of the first quarter, Fisher reported raising just over $1 million, though not all the money can be used in the primary. (The figure also was propped up a bit by loans Fisher made to the campaign. Cash on hand looked good because he left some bills unpaid.) Still, it was far more than Brunner, who reported raising just a bit more than $200,000.

So the man who pushed through NAFTA, which devastated Ohio’s economy, who signed the repeal of Glass-Steagall, which was just about as Republican as anything George Bush ever did to the economy, and who made an exception for Rupert Murdoch so he could buy Fox and launch the worst right-wing propaganda network since the launch of the Völkischer Beobachter, is supposed to be a good thing? People have short memories.

But I can understand why a corporate shill like Clinton– look, he was one before he became president; he was one while he was president and now… I wouldn’t be shocked to see him dressed up in a Ronald McDonald outfit someday soon– would prefer a candidate less committed to ordinary working families than Jennifer Brunner. I wouldn’t be surprised if he brings Harold Ford along for the ride. After all, Ford is chairman of the conservative DLC, just like Clinton (as well as Lieberman and super-lobbyist John Breaux used to be). The folks who bankroll Clinton– and the DLC– these days might not like Brunner’s vision:

“Creating regulatory oversight specifically for the benefit of consumers is overdue. Economic recovery measures that strengthen the middle class are the fastest and most enduring method to return our country to prosperity; financial institutions that have contributed to middle class turbulence, yet benefited from tax dollars and government support, must be made to account for their future actions to ensure a lasting economic recovery and real change… The truth is consumer protections have not been pursued or adequately monitored by the government agencies that are in place now. It is time to rethink old practices and move in a direction that helps Americans who are trying to act responsibly, to change old spending habits and to take care of their families."

That’s the kind of stuff corporatists– whether Republicans or Democrats (like Bill Clinton) just hate. And Brunner goes much further. After passage of the very tepid Credit Cardholder Bill of Rights a couple weeks ago Brunner was urging Congress to pass an anti-usury law: "[W]e need to quickly impose a cap on [credit card] interest rates so that the bill has some teeth and actually protects everyday Americans when it finally becomes law.

“As middle-class Americans have been trying to pay down their credit balances and spend responsibly, financial institutions are pushing off on consumers the effects of poor decisions and the excesses of executives whose extravagances are not enjoyed by everyday Americans. Now, instead of doing what ordinary consumers are forced to do– tighten their belts and make it on what they have– it is expected that some of these institutions will be leveraging their superior financial position to gouge the very lifeblood of their businesses until the law takes effect and they are forced to treat their customers with respect. All of us, citizens and corporate citizens alike, should share in the sacrifices needed for economic recovery… Any corporation that receives the benefit from the government of shielding its shareholders, officers and directors from personal liability for their actions should step up and be responsible to the customers they serve, and they should do it now. For those corporate citizens unable or unwilling to make the sacrifices, Congress should quickly stop them from the anticipatory moves they can make to shield themselves from the impact of the law when it takes effect."

It must have freaked Clinton out to hear her say that she plans to seek passage of a rate cap, like the one Bernie Sanders introduced, if elected to the Senate. Just one Republican joined 32 Democrats in voting for a credit card interest rate cap, an anti-usury bill. Brunner would have been #34.

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Howie Klein

Howie Klein

Howie Klein spent much of his life wandering around the world living in places like Afghanistan, Nepal, Holland and Morocco. He moved backed to America when Richard Nixon resigned and promptly helped start the first punk rock radio show in the country and then a DIY punk rock record label. His adventures in the music business ended a couple of years ago when he retired as president of Reprise Records. He began blogging almost immediately, starting Down With Tyranny. Jane taught him html while he held one of her dogs at a party. He is a raw foodist, lives in L.A., swims and hikes every day, thinks Howard Dean could be a president as great as FDR and will never be completely happy until Bush and Cheney are behind bars.