Two Democratic parties will meet in Philadelphia this week. It is crucially important that they unite to defeat Donald Trump – and then work together to win progressive change for all Americans.
A huge impediment to unity has been removed: Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced on Sunday she is resigning as chair of the Democratic National Committee. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and supporters had long complained she undermined him in setting primary rules. And leaked Democratic National Committee emails showed DNC staffers conspiring to sabotage his campaign. Only hours after Sanders renewed his call for her to resign, saying the emails confirmed their longtime complaints of DNC bias, Wasserman Schultz was gone – and unlikely to even speak at the convention. Longtime Democratic leader Donna Brazile, who stayed authentically neutral in the primaries, will lead the DNC through the general election.
The Sanders Democratic Party complained, and Hillary Clinton, the leader of the other Democratic Party, responded – because the presumptive party nominee wants the support of Sanders’ new insurgent movement. And Sanders once again made it clear he wants his supporters to support Clinton – to defeat Donald Trump and because he thinks his new progressive movement will continue to transform Democratic politics. And, now that this Wasserman Schultz problem has been dealt with, he will make this case in his convention speech Monday night.
But there are still two parties. The Democratic Party of Hillary Clinton and her just-announced vice presidential candidate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, was led early in their careers by “New Democrats” who believed their party could be “progressive” only as long as they did not challenge the political power of corporate America. The Democratic Leadership Council, founded by Bill Clinton, argued that Democrats needed to finance their campaigns with money from at least a portion of the corporate elite and the richest 1 percent. But they also argued that Democrats had to be “pro-business” in order to win the support of middle-American voters. Early on, these “New Democrats” even argued that Democrats needed to keep civil rights advocates at arm’s length in order to win elections.
To his great credit, Kaine has demonstrated, as mayor of Richmond and as a statewide candidate in Virginia, that interracial coalitions can win in the South by being strong on civil rights and sensible gun laws. Hillary Clinton, of course, has evolved from her New Dem roots – and she has always inspired considerable support from women, African Americans, and Hispanics – key parts of the “rising American electorate.”
But there is a new force in the Democratic Party, represented by the Bernie Sanders campaign, with a very different strategy for winning elections: a strategy built on an economic agenda for the people, not the wealthy, and a fundraising strategy that can give Democrats the freedom to attack the growing problems of inequality, declining wages and economic stagnation. The Sanders movement pushed and educated Clinton and many other Democrats during the presidential campaign. The result was considerable unity around a platform shaped by the Sanders movement for change. Tim Kaine, her choice for vice president, is having to catch up quickly to make sure that the Clinton-Kaine campaign doesn’t alienate Sanders voters Clinton is counting on to win.
Kaine’s support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal was immediately criticized by progressives and Sanders supporters. Clinton has felt the pressure of TPP critics on the campaign trail and declared her opposition months ago. On Friday, when Kaine’s new role was announced, Clinton staffers immediately told MSNBC’s Kristen Welker that Kaine would now oppose the TPP. On Saturday came the announcement from a Kaine spokesperson that “he agreed with [Clinton’s] judgment that it fell short” when it came to protecting wages and national security. Now Clinton and Kaine need to take their opposition to TPP into the campaign, showing Sanders voters – and voters in industrial states tempted to go for Trump – that they really mean it when they say they will stop the TPP.
Kaine’s recent letters to Senate colleagues, lobbying to weaken public oversight of banks, could throw into question Clinton’s public commitment to tough financial reform and oversight. The Clinton campaign needs to clarify where he stands – perhaps at a Tim Kaine rally with Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the dangers of an unregulated banking system. The sooner the better.
Both Clinton and Kaine come from an older, more cautious wing of the Democratic Party – a wing that been slowly evolving since the days when Kaine as a governor also had the job of begging big-money donors to finance Democratic political campaigns. Today that old Democratic Party is quickly being transformed from the grassroots up – and we will see that transformation in progress this week.
At the convention in Philadelphia close to half of the delegates – almost 1,900 – are pledged to vote for Sanders. They are there as the result of an incredibly successful campaign that won 22 states and 43 percent of the popular vote. And the “Sanders Party” came so close to winning the national election without taking a penny of support from corporate America, including the big banks. This new Sanders progressive party operating within the Democratic Party raised over $230 million through average donations of $27 from millions of supporters to finance its amazing volunteer organizer network.
Bernie Sanders generated incredible enthusiasm among voters not just because he refused to take big corporate money. Young voters, progressive voters, working people and independent voters rallied to Sanders precisely because he boldly declared that irresponsible corporate power and the influence of wealthy Americans was a big part of the cause of America’s growing inequality, joblessness and a dysfunctional government unable to grapple with obvious problems like global warming and racial injustice.
In order to win the nomination, Clinton had to learn from Sanders. She quickly moved to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. She early on started talking about big public investments to create jobs and retool America’s energy economy to dramatically reduce carbon pollution. She also tried to match Sanders with primary voters by declaring her opposition to the TPP and claimed she would strengthen and go beyond the Dodd-Frank bank reform law to regulate the banking system.
Because Clinton needs to win the general election support of Sanders voters, her team allowed the Sanders supporters to write much of the Democratic platform. The result was a progressive victory. Here’s what Bernie had to say about the outcome in an email to supporters:
You should know that in the weeks since the last primary, both campaigns have worked together in good faith to bridge some of the policy issues that divided us during the election. Did we come to agreement on everything? Of course not. But we made important steps forward.
Hillary Clinton released a debt free college plan that we developed together which now includes free tuition at public colleges and universities for working families. This was a major part of our campaign’s agenda and a proposal that, if enacted into law, would revolutionize higher education in this country.
Secretary Clinton has also publicly committed to massive investments in health care for communities across this country that will increase primary care, including mental health care, dental care, and low-cost prescription drug access for an additional 25 million people. Importantly, she has also endorsed the enactment of a so-called public option to allow everyone in this country to participate in a public insurance program. This idea was killed by the insurance industry during consideration of President Obama’s health care program.
During the Democratic platform proceedings in St. Louis and Orlando, we were victorious in including amendments to make it a clear priority of the Democratic Party to fight for a $15 an hour federal minimum wage, expand Social Security, abolish the death penalty, put a price on carbon, establish a path toward the legalization of marijuana, enact major criminal justice reforms, pass comprehensive immigration reform, end for-profit prisons and detention facilities, break up too-big-to-fail banks and create a 21st century Glass-Steagall Act, close loopholes that allow big companies to avoid taxes by stashing their cash in offshore tax havens and use that revenue to rebuild America, approve the most expansive agenda ever for protecting Native American rights and so much more.
All of these progressive policies were at the heart of our campaign. The truth is our movement is responsible for the most progressive Democratic platform in the history of our country. All of that is the direct result of the work that our members of the platform committee did in the meetings and that you have been doing over the last 15 months.
As Sanders says, the new populists and the old Democrats did not agree on everything – and, assuming we help Clinton win, the battle over issues will continue, even on issues where the 2016 platform says the two Democratic parties agree.
But all progressives must ask themselves: Is there any way that this productive debate on issues will continue if we pretend the November election is not that important – and the crazy, intolerant, opportunistic and irresponsible Donald Trump is elected president of the United States?
As the Democratic Convention opens on Monday, the issue fights and primary debates and platform discussions have allowed us to air our differences, and demand (and get) leadership changes. In the process we have discovered a lot of points of agreement and respect between the two Democratic parties. Now is the time to work together to defeat Trump and win control of the White House, the U.S. Senate – and even, if we reach out to our fellow Americans voters, to win back the House of Representatives.
And that’s when the interesting politics really begin. But first we work for the victory over Trump.