Robert Reich on Money & the Left Political Establishment
Endorsement process when Clinton is endorsed (source; click to enlarge)
by Gaius Publius
Money uses money to neuter Democrats and enable Republicans.
You've no doubt heard by now of the dust-up (or "dust-up," meaning the manufactured kind) over Bernie Sanders' remarks when he said, while he'd like the endorsement of all the big left organizations, he understands that establishment organizations are going to endorse the insider (my phrasing).
Here's Sanders' original statement, made on-air to Rachel Maddow (my emphasis). [Update: Includes the rest of this quote.]
Maddow: "Senator, let me ask you another question in terms of how the campaign is going forward.Nothing mean-spirited about that, but an acknowledgement that the big left organizations are also part of the prevailing "political establishment" in the Democratic Party ecosystem. (Many labor unions are in this position also, which accounts for many of their endorsements.) Note the distinction between "grassroots organizations representing millions of workers" and the "political establishment." An organization that reflects the views of its members is different from one that makes political endorsements that reflect the views of its board and leadership.
Your policies on issues like gay rights and reproductive choice are very consistent, they should be very attractive to progressive groups, but there have been a series of very high profile endorsements of groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL. They've gone out of their way to make early endorsements for Secretary Clinton.
Just today the Human Rights Campaign announced their endorsement. Are you competing for these groups endorsements and not getting them? Or are you not trying to get them?"
Sanders: “I would love to have the endorsement of every progressive organization in America. We’re very proud to have received recently the endorsement of MoveOn.org. We’ve received the endorsement Democracy for America. These are grassroots organizations representing millions of workers.
“What we are doing in this campaign, it just blows my mind every day because I see it clearly, we’re taking on not only Wall Street and economic establishment, we’re taking on the political establishment.
“So, I have friends and supporters in the Human Rights Fund and Planned Parenthood. But, you know what? Hillary Clinton has been around there for a very, very long time. Some of these groups are, in fact, part of the establishment. I will challenge anyone with regard to my record on LGBT issues. You know, I was one off the few, relatively few, to oppose and vote against DOMA, etc. In terms of women's rights, I believe we have a 100% lifetime pro-choice record.
“But that's what happens in politics. Look, I'm going to do well, and hopefully win, not because of establishment support. What we are going to do well at, and what we are doing well it, is rallying the grass roots of this country. ...
“So Rachel, I concede. I'm not going to get establishment support. I'm not going to get support of the governors and the senators, with a few exceptions, or many of the major organizations. But the reason we are doing so well ... is not from the establishment. It's from the grass roots of America.”
Sanders has since "walked back" those comments — in that he repeated the original assertion and said that even so, a group that runs women's health care clinics is without question a good group:
Planned Parenthood, the Human Rights Campaign and other progressive groups that have endorsed Hillary Clinton are not part of the political establishment, Sen. Bernie Sanders said Thursday, walking back comments he made earlier this week on MSNBC.Again, are Planned Parenthood, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and NARAL, to name a few, establishment in the work they do? No. Are their leaders acting like and supporting the "political establishment" in their endorsements? Yes. The last sentence in the supposed walk-back is key. Note that it reiterates his main point rather than reversing it.
“That’s not what I meant,” Sanders told NBC News in an interview during his campaign swing through the first-in-the-nation primary state. “We’re a week out in the election, and the Clinton people will try to spin these things.”
Pressed on whether he views the groups as “establishment,” Sanders said: “No. They aren’t. They’re standing up and fighting the important fights that have to be fought.”
Sanders said he was specifically talking about the leadership of those groups and their endorsement decisions.
NARAL and Planned Parenthood Supported Joe Lieberman over Ned Lamont
Are groups like NARAL and Planned Parenthood, to name just a few, part of the "political establishment"? Of course, they are, in the sense that the leaders cause their organizations to support positions and political figures which they deem advantageous to the organization's goals as organizations, whether or not those endorsements advance the goals of those they represent and/or serve. For example, consider that (national) NARAL and Planned Parenthood endorsed Joe Lieberman over Democratic candidate Ned Lamont in the election for Senate in 2006.
Now consider that a second time. That information should stop you cold. Joe Lieberman was known as "Short Ride" Lieberman for these remarks (emphasis in original):
Lieberman said he believes hospitals that refuse to give contraceptives to rape victims for "principled reasons" shouldn't be forced to do so.Why did Planned Parenthood and NARAL endorse Joe Lieberman over the clearly more-pro-women's rights Democrat? "In order to advantage the organization (and perhaps its leaders) politically" is the obvious answer. Does advancing the career of Joe Lieberman better the lives of those whom PP and NARAL serve and represent? Of course not. Lieberman did all kinds of damage in the Senate, before and after 2006, including give us Samuel Alito by voting for cloture, which guaranteed his later confirmation.
"In Connecticut, it shouldn't take more than a short ride to get to another hospital," he said.
None of this speaks to motives, but in cases where the interests of the members or constituents of an organization are opposite to the actions of its leaders, one is forced to ask questions. And when those contrary actions help keep in place powerful establishment political figures, no matter how deserving they are of that support, the answers suggest themselves.
Robert Reich on Money and the Left Political Establishment
Robert Reich was asked about Sanders' remarks by Chris Hayes recently, and while the video has been taken off of YouTube, we have Reich expanding on his remarks in this Facebook post (my emphasis below; note the Davos reference, which we'll return to):
Last night on Chris Hayes MSNBC show, Chris asked me if there’s a “Democratic establishment.” Of course there is. It’s comprised of current and former Wall Street executives who make massive campaign donations to Democrats (some of whom have served in the Clinton and Obama administrations and then returned to the Street); hedge-fund partners who make even larger contributions; moguls from large high-tech corporations and entertainment companies who both contribute directly and also “bundle” contributions from their friends; and major Washington lobbyists and lawyers who focus their bundling and their political activities on Democrats (half of all retired Democratic members of Congress in recent years have become Washington lobbyists).In the Hayes interview he was much more pointed about the effect of all this left-wing money on the organizations that take it. For some reason, all YouTube versions of that interview have been taken down, but from the transcript (again, my emphasis):
The Democratic establishment is slightly more liberal than the Republican establishment, but their world views are not wildly dissimilar. After all, they have similar large homes in Westchester or Bethesda; they frequent the same vacation spots in the Hamptons or the Vineyard; attend many of the same charitable balls and dinners; serve on many of the same corporate and nonprofit boards; go to the same conclaves, such as Davos; travel in similar private jets; and are invited by presidents (Republican or Democratic, depending on who they’ve supported) to attend similar White House parties and receptions, and to serve on similar presidential commissions and advisory boards.
So the Democratic establishment sees the world much as the Republican establishment sees it: a system of privilege and power, to which they’re entitled because of their superior intelligence and ambition. And they view the vast and widening inequities of income, wealth, and power in America as natural and inevitable and, ultimately, just.
HAYES: Now, I asked Robert Reich, the former secretary of labor under President Clinton, if establishment is a meaningful term within the context of the Democratic Party.Reich: "Every organization, no matter who it is, just follow the money." Let's consider one such organization.
ROBERT REICH, FORMER SECRETARY OF LABOR: I think it is still clear because there are party leaders, big corporation, Wall Street. There are very wealthy individuals who kind of represent where the Democratic Party, the official Democratic Party was and to some extent still is.
HAYES: And what about these groups? I mean, the controversy over these comments, which as we noted Senator Sanders has walked back, he`s been attacked over them by Hillary Clinton, the context was Planned Parenthood and Human Rights Campaign, which I think a lot of people feel like, well, those are progressive organizations. It`s – they`re not the establishment.
What do you think about that?
REICH: Well, they`re not really the establishment. And I can`t obviously speak for Senator Sanders or about Planned Parenthood. But what we do see, and we`ve seen for years in America, is that the establishment, that is, the big banks and the executives and the wealthy do support a lot of non-profits and make the non-profits basically walk to the tune of the establishment.
So, there`s sort of a chilling effect on non-profits and the media and a lot of other places because the establishment is so powerful. That`s where the money is.
HAYES: Yes, having been a political reporter in Washington, D.C., you know, there are a variety of groups, Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, Sierra Club, that are groups that do very good work, that do a lot of things that I personally believe in, that are also as a descriptive matter they`re part of what you`re going to call an establishment in Washington of the sort of center-left probably, Center for American Progress. They are part of it.
What I think is interesting is that term is so pejorative or understood to be so pejorative and there`s a real difference between how Republicans, it seems to me, think of that and how Democrats do. I don`t think Democrats feel as negatively about the Democratic Party establishment as Republicans do feel about their party`s establishment.
REICH: Well, I`m not so sure about that, Chris. I think the big problem is you have a vicious cycle of wealth and power in America that`s just gotten completely out of control and you`ve seen it in politics.
I was there in Washington in the `90s. It was pretty bad then. It`s much worse now. And that vicious cycle is you`ve got again big corporations, executives, Wall Street, very wealthy individuals in both parties who are calling the shots.
And you`ve got to just follow the money. You see it. There`s no countervailing power.
HAYES: That may be true. But the Planned Parenthood – I mean, is Planned Parenthood – it just doesn`t seem to be plausible that Planned Parenthood is part of the establishment in that sense. Or maybe you think they are.
REICH: I don`t know, and I don`t – I don`t think they are. But again, every organization, no matter who it is, just follow the money. I mean, I was just last week, I was asked to talk at a religious congregation about inequality. And just before I began, the minister who headed the congregation whispered to me and he said, don`t talk about changing the estate tax and don`t in any way attack the rich because we are dependent – you know, we`re dependent on them.
Well, this happens to me again and again and again. So, what we really need to understand here is that it`s all about power. This is where the surge is coming from for Bernie Sanders. In some ways, it`s a very different – it`s a different surge, but it`s coming out of the same sort of sense of fundamental powerlessness and anger and frustration for Donald Trump.
HAYES: But I think politically there is less juice to be squeezed out of that orange in the Democratic side. I mean, my feeling is your median Democratic voter, they`re angry at the banks or they`re not psyched about companies that outsource and things like that.
But when they think about a group like Planned Parenthood or Human Rights Campaign, when they think about even the Democratic Party writ large or elected Democratic officials, I don`t think they feel the same visceral anger toward those people, I think they generally trust them in a way Republican Party members don`t. Or maybe you think I`m wrong about that.
REICH: Well, I think – I think generally speaking. Certainly I would trust the Democrats and the Democratic establishment more than the Republican establishment. But I think you`ve got to understand, Chris, and I mean this in the sense that what has happened is so dramatic in terms of people`s feeling that the establishment – you know, the big corporations and Wall Street and the wealthy individuals even in the Democratic Party don`t really get it.
They don`t understand that they have had a huge impact on changing the rules of the game to favor themselves and hurt average working people. There`s not the same degree of resentment and anger, I don`t think, but there is a deep desire to change the power structure. That`s what this is all about.
HAYES: All right. Robert Reich, thank you very much.
REICH: Thanks, Chris.
Why Did Human Rights Campaign Also Endorse Clinton So Early?
Consider the pro-gay rights Human Rights Campaign (HRC). They have also endorsed Clinton. Here's activist and radio host Michelangelo Signorile, writing at Huffington Post, on that decision:
This week the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest LGBT group, endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. It was a bit of a shocker not because HRC endorsed a Democrat -- the group has only endorsed Democratic presidential candidates, as the GOP has always been hostile toward LGBT rights -- but that it occurred before even one vote has been cast in the Democratic primaries and while two hugely gay-supportive candidates are so close in the polls in the first contests.The key question, of course. Why did the largest LGBT group endorse so early and preëmptively. Signorile's answer (my emphasis):
In 2008, HRC endorsed Barack Obama, but not until June, when it was clear he would be the nominee. (For 2012, the group endorsed the president, who had no major challenger, in May of 2011). In 2004, HRC also endorsed the Democratic nominee, John Kerry, in June, after all the votes in the primaries were in. And it's very first endorsement of a presidential candidate, Bill Clinton, came in June of 1992....
But here we are less than two weeks from Iowa, and Senator Bernie Sanders is surging in the polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire, looking like he will take one or both. He has many LGBT donors and supporters, many of whom are HRC contributors who are, judging from Twitter, bewildered and angry. As I wrote last fall, Sanders has a stellar gay rights record, having been one of only a small handful of federal legislators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act (when he was in the House), and he's been out front in this campaign. ...
As I've also written, Hillary Clinton has responded to criticism by some LGBT donors and activists who were frustrated by what they saw as slowness on her part to publicly speak to the issues, and in recent months she released a robust, far-reaching and more detailed plan to foster LGBT equality. That's a great thing. And it's not unfair to suggest that Sanders' presence and his record had some effect.
So why didn't the largest LGBT group keep it going?
The only answer to that question has to do with access to the White House, and perhaps what the Clinton campaign may have said to HRC, and to Planned Parenthood, the Brady Campaign on Gun Violence and other groups that have endorsed early, about the kind of access they might get -- and what they might not get if they didn't endorse now. (Let's also not forget that Chad Griffin, HRC's president, worked in Bill Clinton's administration, and raised much money as a bundler for Obama's and Clinton's campaigns.) And it is a campaign that needs those endorsements now, calling in its chips, as Bernie Sanders and his insurgency has taken the Clintonites by surprise. What seems like an early burst of enthusiasm from a group that hasn't ever endorsed any seriously contested presidential candidate before any votes took place may actually be an indication of the fear and loathing inside the Clinton campaign.Shorter Signorile — they did it to get "access," to avoid being denied access, and because its leadership is interconnected with the Clinton administration and fund-raising infrastructure. Plus the Clinton campaign needed that endorsement now.
What does that access mean, not just for the organization, but its leaders? More on Chad Griffin, HRC's president, from this Washington Blade piece by White House reporter Chris Johnson (my emphasis):
Sen. Bernard Sanders retracted his comments about the Human Rights Campaign days after he made them, but labeling the nation’s leading LGBT advocacy group as part of the “establishment” last week struck a chord with some LGBT critics.Reich: They "go to the same conclaves, such as Davos; travel in similar private jets..." How is an organization like HRC, at the leadership level, not the "left establishment" in the same sense that the owner of the private jet that ferries them around is also "left establishment"?
Some said Sanders was correct in labeling as “establishment” the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT group known for black-tie fundraising dinners, lauding corporations with pro-LGBT records in its Corporate Equality Index, close ties to Democratic Party leaders and support for Republicans who back LGBT rights (even when their Democratic opponents are stronger on LGBT issues).
The day after Sanders made the comments, Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, was in Davos, Switzerland, to attend the World Economic Forum where Vice President Joseph Biden spoke in support of international LGBT rights.
Andrew Miller, a member of the New York-based grassroots group Queer Nation, said Sanders’ comments were accurate.
“I’m surprised Chad Griffin wasn’t flattered that Bernie Sanders labeled HRC ‘part of the political establishment,'” Miller said. “Griffin, who has just returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, certainly runs the organization as if that’s what they aspire to. It’s gratifying that at least one American politician understood — at least for a moment — that HRC represents the 1 percent, not the majority of the LGBT community nor the values of LGBT Americans.”
In that light, consider HRC's endorsement of Hillary Clinton. About the timing, as Signorile indicates, one could easily see her getting that endorsement because now is when she needs it, when she's in trouble in Iowa.
Now consider who is most revealed by endorsements like these — Clinton, Sanders or groups like HRC and their leaders?
The Great Unmasking
I'll expand on this later, but there's a bigger story here. This primary election is the "emperor's new clothes" election. Bernie Sanders is telling the truth, finally, and people are saying, yes, I agree. Then they're watching their leaders, their progressive and "progressive" leaders, sort themselves into two camps — Sanders' camp and the emperor's camp.
Those leaders can say, "No, the emperor is perfectly well dressed. Now let's just get on with business as usual. 'Cause Republicans...." Or they can say, with Sanders, "Yes, I see that too." The election is not calling out the left electorate. It's calling out the left electorate's professed leaders, sorting them into groups for us. In that sense, this election is performing quite a service.
It's as though one day everyone in town assembled in the town square, and all of the nobles and town officials took the stage as a group and threw off their masks. What a sight for the townspeople. Masks flying into the air like birds from a tree.
And another sight, the sudden revelation of who's really who. On the one hand, those for whom the mask is identical to the face — the Keith Ellisons of the world — those who've been working for the town, in other words. On the other hand, those for whom the mask is very different from the face — the Chad Griffins of the world, if Signorile is to be believed — those who've been pretending, but really working for themselves, their careers, their enrichment all along. And those who've been trying to straddle both worlds, with only a mask to hide their failure to do so.
This is turning into an amazing election, the most interesting in my lifetime. Also the most consequential, as I tried to indicate here. Isaiah Poole and I discussed this election and more on a recent Virtually Speaking Sundays discussion. Tune in and listen if you like.
(Blue America has endorsed Bernie Sanders for president. If you'd like to help out, go here; you can adjust the split any way you like at the link. If you'd like to "phone-bank for Bernie," go here. You can volunteer in other ways by going here. And thanks!)