Since Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump, former operatives of her presidential campaign have struggled to remain relevant. They sometimes parrot messages that Senator Bernie Sanders may have pushed with his presidential campaign. However, this typically comes off as inauthentic or a desperate attempt for recognition.
Consider, for example, Center For American Progress president Neera Tanden’s Labor Day op-ed for Teen Vogue. She wrote a tapestry of platitudinous proclamations on why the fight for a $15 minimum wage matters.
It did not take long for a number of individuals to take her to task over her record of undermining low-wage workers’ efforts to raise the minimum wage, especially when she was an aide for Clinton’s campaign.
Leslie Lee III tweeted, “FYI: @neeratanden was against $15 when she was on the DNC platform committee. Publish someone who isn’t just with us sometimes, @teenvogue.”
“This is false. $15 min wage is in the Democratic platform,” Tanden replied. “Voted for it multiple times. May want to delete this error.”
It is not “fake news” though. Tanden and other Democrats opposed the language in the 2016 Democratic Party platform when it was time to vote on it in St. Louis in June. They rejected Rep. Keith Ellison’s amendment to specify that the minimum wage be raised to $15 and indexed. Instead, Clinton Democrats maintained no mechanism was needed to ensure wages kept pace with the economy.
Later, in July, Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator and well-known supporter of Sanders, brought it up for a vote with the support of Service Employees International Union president Mary Kay Henry.
“We should raise and index the minimum wage, give all Americans the ability to join a union regardless of where they work, and create new ways for workers to have power in the economy. We also support creating one fair wage for all workers by ending the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers and people with disabilities,” Turner proposed.
That language appears in the 2016 Democratic Party platform because Clinton delegates had to make concessions to contain and depress the anger at the Democratic Party for engaging in practices that put Sanders at a disadvantage. Sanders delegates would not give up the fight for it.
On April 15, 2015, low-wage workers held one of the largest protests in United States history for an increase in the minimum wage and expansion of workers rights. Tanden was asked if the campaign should care about the movement to raise the minimum wage. She ignored organized workers and crassly calculated Clinton would do fine if she did not support a $15 minimum wage openly.
“Substantively, we have not supported $15 – you will get a fair number of liberal economists who will say it will lose jobs,” Tanden wrote. And, she added, “Politically, we are not getting any pressure to join this from our end. I leave it to you guys to judge what that means for you. But I’m not sweating it.”
It is politically advantageous in this moment to support the “Fight for $15” against President Donald Trump so Tanden and other Clinton operatives are for it. It was not politically advantageous for a good portion of the Democratic primary, and then it was, when Sanders supporters posed a threat to the campaign’s “unity” strategy to focus attention on Trump.
There is nothing in Tanden’s op-ed on why the “Fight for $15” matters now—more than two years after she did not think it mattered. She exhibits no awareness of her history on this issue nor does she have the fortitude to acknowledge the “evolution” or tepid shift on this policy by Democrats. She does not believe she should be held accountable for her actions as a Clinton delegate and aide, who helped stymie an opportunity for low-wage workers to elect a populist president who would have strongly championed progressive labor unions.
Beyond the inability of Clinton Democrats to reckon with their political opportunism, there is a distinct difference between Tanden’s argument and Sanders’ argument for higher wages. Sanders recognizes the fight is a part of a larger struggle against a system that benefits the top one percent at the expense of the 99 percent. Tanden appears to think it is a quick policy fix that could help Democrats win in 2020.
Tanden acknowledges the precarious conditions for the working class. However, unlike Sanders, she shies away from pinning responsibility on the players who are most responsible—corporations and their profound influence over nearly every aspect of American politics.
Some Center For American Progress intern probably did a lot of work developing Tanden’s op-ed so it could be placed in Teen Vogue. They aren’t on the wrong side of the issue so they should be happy with themselves.
However, Donald Trump is currently the cantankerous lord enabling the expansion of class warfare against poor and working class citizens.
Clinton Democrats may have a good message for women or millennials, but their identity politics are weak. They do not get at the root of what makes the system rotten to the core because they have staked out positions that allow them to cope with how society is organized and do quite well.
If they truly want to agitate for progress, they can start by acknowledging those consistently on the right side of history while reckoning with those who have cowardly chosen to be on the wrong side, or worse, take no sides at all.