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With Perez Elected DNC Chair, Establishment Democrats Stifle Grassroots Pressure To Transform Party

Establishment Democrats elected former Labor Secretary Tom Perez to chair the Democratic National Committee. They defeated Representative Keith Ellison and survived a push from the grassroots to take a meaningful step to transform the Democratic Party into a real and actual opposition party.

DNC members also defended campaign contributions from corporations and struck down a motion to reinstate a ban against corporate contributions that was once supported by President Barack Obama.

Bob Mulholland, a California superdelegate who supported Hillary Clinton in the primary, helped lead the effort against the motion put forward by Christine Pelosi, daughter of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

“We are in a corporate hotel. We have meals provided by a corporation. We drive cars provided by corporations,” Mulholland declared on February 24.

During the vote on the motion to prevent the ban from coming up for any debate, Mulholland declared, “Our federal laws allow Westin Hotel to contribute to us, allow Microsoft, allow Google, and all those corporation in northern Carolina, who stood up for the Democratic Party platform against the law there to try to outlaw or discriminate against transgender—Why should the Democratic Party say now, hey, great what you did, but we’re not gonna take your contributions?”

Harold Ickes, a former deputy chief of staff for President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton superdelegate, stated, “I don’t think federal corporate lobbyists, however defined, should be precluded from participating in Democratic Party affairs, especially at the Democratic National Committee.”

Pelosi was upset because the resolution apparently had unanimous support of the resolutions committee yet a faction undertook an attempt to scuttle it. Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union President Stuart Appelbaum said the motion was an “opportunity to send a message to the people of this country as to our values and who we are as Democrats.”

Those opposed to the ban sowed confusion about whether it would prevent contributions from nonprofit organizations, like Planned Parenthood. Yet, it was identical to a ban that was in place for seven years until the DNC under Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s leadership quietly rolled back restrictions with little input from DNC members.

Particular DNC members appeared to treat the ban as a referendum on the DNC’s support for corporations rather than a motion aimed at curtailing the influence of big money in politics. It was very similar to how Clinton surrogates regularly took offense to criticism of her ties to corporate donors, as if Democrats are somehow magically impervious to corruption when they depend on such contributors.

Perez often held himself out as a DNC chair candidate, who was not very different from Ellison. But Perez entered the race weeks after Ellison announced his campaign. If there was not anything different, why did centrist Democrats, particularly Clinton and Obama Democrats, want Perez to be the next chair?

Establishment Democrats did not want Ellison, a former Sanders surrogate and a black Muslim American, to be the chair. Many believe the Sanders campaign substantially diminished Clinton’s chances to beat Donald Trump in November by challenging her so strongly from the left.

Throughout the afternoon, DNC members consistently raised the issue of unity. However, what Clinton and Obama Democrats really seem to want is conformity from the most progressive wing of the party, especially those who supported Sanders for president.

Recall, during the Democratic National Convention, the DNC confiscated signs, drowned out protest chants with counter-chants, locked down the arena during certain speeches to deter walkouts, and stationed party-appointed whips in the aisles to monitor rowdy Sanders delegates and signal to Clinton supporters when to chant and hold up pro-Clinton signs.

Perez and his DNC backers co-opted the message of grassroots organizations and phonily acted as if they would resist President Trump just as supporters of Ellison demand, even though Perez had very little support from the grassroots.

But this is the strategy of the New Democrats and has been since their rise in the early 1990s.

As detailed in Lance Selfa’s book, “The Democrats: A Critical History,” President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore stood with conservative Democrats, who broke with labor, civil rights, and other liberal causes. They pushed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). They backed welfare repeal, bills which fueled the rise of mass incarceration, and signed a 1997 budget that slashed millions for social programs like Medicare and Medicaid. They put corporate interests over environmental protections. They encouraged the deregulation of industry, which greatly boosted Wall Street.

Perez supported the corporate Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which Sanders Democrats vehemently opposed (and Trump has now killed). Though he supports $15 minimum wage, he backed a presidential campaign, which deceptively endorsed the Service Employees International Union’s “Fight for 15” while refusing to support a $15 minimum wage.

He also granted waivers for UBS, Barclays, J.P. Morgan, the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, and Citigroup” while he was Labor Secretary received waivers, which allowed them to go back to managing pension money even though they were guilty of a crime.

And, as The Intercept’s Lee Fang reported in January, Perez refused to support a revival of Obama’s ban on donations from corporate lobbyists.

Establishment Democrats are afraid the party may become the Tea Party of the Left. They see Sanders Democrats not as assets for energizing voters to help them win elections but as liabilities that will cost them the ability to engage in business as usual. However, that business as usual resulted in the loss of over 1,000-plus seats at all levels of government while Obama was president.

This controlling faction worries about the effect of such efforts, like “We Will Replace You,” a campaign to primary Democrats and create a political cost for elected officials, who take the “path of least resistance” and fail to stand up for economic, racial, social, and environmental justice.

Bill McKibben, 350.org founder and former Sanders surrogate, clearly articulated the potential benefit grassroots forces would win if Ellison was elected to chair the DNC:

We don’t need the Democratic Party to tell us what to think – we have vibrant and engaged movements out there that are reshaping public opinion every day, in the airports and on Facebook. Black Lives Matter leads our movement intellectually in a way that the Democratic Party never will. But we may need the Democratic party for the fairly limited purpose of winning elections and hence consolidating power.

However, after electing Perez to chair the DNC, the New Democrats have ensured most movements will maintain a distance from the Democratic Party. They will view efforts by the Democrats to align themselves with grassroots campaigns as less than genuine if not completely cynical.

And most definitely, candidates will be fielded to defeat incumbents, who do not meaningfully stand for an alternative vision to Trump’s agenda, whether Perez approves of this strategy or not. That is because they want to support an opposition party, not a party that has become the second-wing of a corporate party that dominates the United States.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."