Field Notes from the Battle Within the Democratic Party
TYT reporter Nomiki Konst interviews DNC Chair candidate Tom Perez
by Gaius Publius
If you ask mainstream Democrats (not a homogeneous group, but easily identifiable by their Clintonist, Obamist policies), and also their collaborators in the so-called "left media," this question — "What about the battle within the Party?" — they'll ask incredulously back, "What battle? Doesn't everyone want unity?"
Which is, itself, the next phase of the battle within the Party. The old guard, the Clinton and Obama factions, want unity — so long as they're still in charge. Which sets the twin terms over which the next phase of the battle will be fought: the demand for "Party unity," and the insistence on silence about fundamental, irreconcilable differences.
Here are two small instances to illustrate that battle and its terms, field notes if you will about how the Party split is being handled its leaders. Both are from the above interview by TYT reporter Nomiki Konst with Tom Perez, the Obama wing candidate for DNC Chair.
Keeping the Money Game Alive
Let's begin with an exchange about the interests of big-money consultants and consulting firms in keeping the Party's budget "bloated" (Konst's term) so they could drain into consultant coffers money that could bolster state party organizations instead. (Recall that Party funding and use of money was a key Sanders concern.)
At 3:48, Konst asks Perez about the Party's ties to those high-dollar consultants and firms. His answer is revealing. He starts by saying he believes in "grassroots organizing" instead of just putting money into high-dollar TV advertising. Yet when pressed (at 6:08, which is where I cued the clip) about the role of those consulting firms, which benefit financially from their role in current Party practices, in shaping the future of the Party, he avoids the question completely.
So she tries again. At 7:30 she asks about conflicts of interest between what the consulting class wants and what the Party needs. Her example is the forward-looking "Unity" commission, on which a major Party consultant sits. This, to her, is a clear conflict of interest.
Here's that exchange (my transcript; emphasis in the original conversation):
Konst: Aren't conflicts of interest a concern? If you're going to change the culture on the ground, how do you change it without banning these conflicts of interest who want to keep the party bloated?He then pivots to talking about how he would use more "minority contractors" — in other words, he repeats the Democratic Party appeal to "identity" rights and benefits as a way to distract Democratic voters and supporters from how money changes hands in the inner circles.
Perez: When you say that someone wants to keep the party bloated, I don't know. The people that I talk to want to build a Democratic Party that works for everyone. ... The folks that are running the Unity Commission, there's going to be a lot of different perspectives that are put to bear — that's what we want!
Konst (incredulous): Including consultants?
Perez: We have a big tent in the Democratic Party....
Shorter Perez: We're a big-tent party. Even the corrupt have a seat. (For a real-life example of what that corruption looks like, scroll or jump down to the end of this piece.)
Where Are Your Sanders Supporters?
The second interview chunk I want to point out is about why his own campaign for DNC Chair contains no high profile Sanders supporters or surrogates. At 9:08, Konst sees she's being given the off-camera signal by a Perez staffer to wrap it up, so she hurries to ask "one last question":
Konst: This is about unity, right? Who in the Bernie Sanders world, of the surrogates, is supporting you? ... Do you have any notable Bernie Sanders supporters? ...Ponder that. For Perez, it seems the only Sanders people of note are "celebrities." And the capper — after Konst says that the future of the Party is "about unity" (a statement I'm not in agreement with, by the way), we hear this:
Perez: I think you're asking the wrong questions.
Konst: I mean, you're talking about unity. Every single candidate has both sides. Every single candidate that we've asked has a surrogate from both sides.
Perez: ... Do only celebrities count?
Konst: No it's not celebrities ... union leaders, party chairs ...
Perez (emphasizing each word): I think the future of the party is about making sure that we are focused on what we have to do together to take on our existential threat, which is Donald Trump. And when we focus on that existential threat together, that's how we move forward.Shorter Perez: But ... Trump! That's the unity I'm talking about.
Yes, Donald Trump is certainly an "existential threat" ... to the country. But it sure sounds like for Perez, the existential threat to the Party are those pesky Sanders people and their challenges about money, about who gets it, and about how the consulting class, which feeds on and impoverishes the Party, is protected by Party's leaders, its Obama and Clinton wings.
The Democratic Consulting Class
I'll have more to say in a bit about the Democratic Party consulting class — a group of, I have to say it, predators. But this should get you started if the topic is new to you. From my friend Joe Sudbay via email, we find this article on the subject from 2005. The writer, Amy Sullivan, asks the question, "Why do Democrats continue to hire campaign advisors who lose races?" and then illustrates with examples.
Here's the start of her answer (my emphasis):
Fire the ConsultantsWhy do I call them predators? Because the only success they feed, is their own.
Why do Democrats continue to hire campaign advisors who lose races?
If you were a Democrat running as a first-time candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2002, Joe Hansen was most likely a familiar part of your life. As the field director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), Hansen was responsible for recruiting promising candidates, and then for getting the nascent campaigns off to a running start. In the first overwhelming days of your campaign, Joe was a lifeline. He took you out to dinner for pep talks, broke down the fundraising process into something almost manageable, walked you through the selection of campaign staff and consultants, and promised that – if you proved you were a serious candidate by putting together the right team – the DSCC would happily write the checks that might make the difference when things really heated up in the fall. And when it came to choosing just the right firm to design and produce the fliers, postcards, and door hangers that would blanket your state in the closing weeks of the campaign, Joe recommended the very best consultant he knew: Joe Hansen.
In addition to his job at the DSCC, Hansen was also a partner in the direct mail firm of Ambrosino, Muir & Hansen. His sales pitch must have been effective – Democrats in nine of the closest Senate contests in 2002 signed up with Hansen, including Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, Max Cleland in Georgia, and Alex Sanders in South Carolina. The day after the election, only two (Tim Johnson in South Dakota and Mark Pryor in Arkansas) were still standing.
- Whatever his other merits, there's no question that Tom Perez is running at the behest of the Obama wing of the party as a counter to Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
- There's also no question, whatever the organizational merits of any of the DNC Chair candidates, that for medium- to low-information voters this is seen as a proxy battle between the Obama-Clinton wing and the Sanders wing of the Party (search here for the phrase "proxy battle").
- And there's absolutely no question that one of Sanders' big issues in the primary was (a) the role of money in politics, and (b) the role of money in the way the Party does business. Needless to say, that message resonated with a great many supporters who had no interest in seeing the Party's current leadership continue. That was not only true for all Sanders voters in the primary; it was true for many Sanders supporters who failed to turn out in general election as well.
- Which means, finally, that if Perez wins this contest, those medium- to low-information voters may well think the Party hasn't changed much after all, and just stay home again in 2018.
Or so one would think, unless one had a vested interest in keeping the Party just the way it is. Field notes from the battle within the Democratic Party. Stay tuned.
Scheduling note: My comments here appear regularly on Monday and Thursday, or Tuesday and Thursday if Monday is a holiday.