The DNC Chose Perez. What Does that Mean for Progressives?
By Michael Molitch-Hou
In a closely watched vote for DNC chairman this weekend, Tom Perez, former Secretary of Labor under President Obama, pulled out a narrow win against Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison, heavily favored by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Though such a position is not typically seen as the most powerful or important one, particularly in an off-year for elections, the vote has become a controversial one. That’s because many saw the vote as an indication of the future of the Democratic Party.
As many have argued, both candidates, Perez and Ellison, are fairly progressive, with Perez described as the “most liberal member of Obama’s cabinet” and Ellison an early backer of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Due to the indiscernible differences between the two, from a policy standpoint, some, like Clio Chang from the New Republic, have argued that the DNC should have thrown the progressive wing a bone, pick Ellison, and, as a result, garner the support of the substantial number of people that backed Sanders in the primaries:
“There is one real difference between the two: Ellison has captured the support of the left wing. Ellison backed Sanders early in his primary race against Hillary Clinton, and was one of the first candidates to announce his bid for DNC chair. His election would generate goodwill from Sanders supporters—or, to put it another way, would avoid the enmity that would surely result from a Perez win.”
Ellison was an early entrant into the race and garnered endorsements from both establishment Dems like Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid and progressive Dems like Elizabeth Warren and Raúl Grijalva. Rather than compromise with the progressive wing, however, the Obama coalition sought its own candidate, which resulted in Tom Perez joining the race. Here’s the New York Times’ description of the Obama wing’s influence:
“Mr. Perez met with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. last week and had lunch Tuesday in the White House Mess with Valerie Jarrett, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, while also visiting with David Simas, Mr. Obama’s political director… Some Democrats, in Mr. Obama’s orbit and beyond, say that elevating Mr. Ellison would amount to handing the party to Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Mrs. Clinton’s primary race opponent, and his liberal followers.”
What was meant to be a boring lead-up to a non-controversial vote soon became an ugly campaign that echoed the 2016 primaries. While Ellison backers relentlessly campaigned on behalf of their candidate, Perez supporters began accusing Ellison, the first Muslim member of congress, of anti-Semitism. Haim Saban, the pro-Israel entertainment mogul, called him anti-Israel and anti-Semitic for supporting Palestinian rights in addition to a secure Israel. Meanwhile the Anti-Defamation League urged the DNC to reject him.
These accusations didn’t stop even up until the night before the vote, as Jack Rosen, head of the American Jewish Congress, emailed DNC members suggesting that Ellison would damage US-Israeli relations.
To further cement Perez as the choice, President Obama personally called voters the night before the election. Politico writes:
“…[T]he distaste for [Ellison’s] approach and profile  helped push former President Barack Obama to urge Perez into the race — and continue the support all the way through. He called DNC members himself, and had aides including confidante Valerie Jarrett, former political director David Simas and his White House director of political engagement Paulette Aniskoff working members by phone through the votes on Saturday afternoon. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who officially endorsed Perez, also worked the phones with members.”
For a position and a vote that was meant to be more or less unimportant, a lot of importance was suddenly being placed on the vote. On Saturday, February 25, the vote resulted in two rounds, with Perez first scoring 213.5 votes, one vote short of winning, followed by a revote in which Perez won 235 to 200. In addition to the chair decision that day, the DNC also voted to repeal the Obama-instituted ban on accepting corporate donations.
Nomiki Konst, of the Young Turks, notes that some members of the DNC were already dissatisfied with the huge payouts the party had been giving to consultants. She points out that “it doesn’t take much research beyond FEC filings to see that six of the top major consulting firms had simultaneous contracts with the DNC and HRC — collectively earning over $335 million since 2015. (This does not include SuperPACs.)”
Altogether, these decisions jaded many progressives already disappointed with the ties between the Democrats and large corporate donors. The “Bernie Would Have Won” crowd argues that, had the Democrats backed their own populist, Sanders, to fight against Trump’s own populist rhetoric, the Democrats would have won the election. Instead, the choice of Perez meant yet another move to ignore a vibrant and enthusiastic base of progressives who could push the party back into relevancy. Those people are now asking what to do. Should they #DemExit to pursue other, less constrained methods for pushing progressive values forward or #DemEnter and take over the party?
What does this have to do with Ashland? As the progressive oasis in a conservative desert, where our representative is in favor of the Muslim Ban, we have an opportunity to reform District 2 to address the issues of working and middle class people in the Rogue Valley. How do we do it? Do we push the Democrats to recognize the needs of rural Southern Oregon? Do we start a new party to empower the people of the Rogue Valley?
One answer may come from law and welfare expert Matt Bruenig:
“The establishment wing has made it very clear that they will do anything and everything to hold down the left faction, even as they rather hilariously ask the left faction to look above their differences and unify in these trying times. They do not have any intent of ceding anything — even small things they claim are mostly irrelevant — to the left wing.
Of course, that’s their prerogative and there is nothing underhanded about trying to beat your ideological opponents in a fair election. But if they do not care about the left, the left should not care about them.
Instead, the left should focus its energies on organizing under alternative institutions that, if they engage with the Democratic party at all, only do so in order to attempt hostile takeovers of various power positions (including primarying moderate Democrats and winning local party positions). Only a sucker would do more than that, given what the party has just shown itself to be about at this time.”
If we take Bruenig’s words to heart, this would mean that progressives in the Rogue Valley should campaign to oust leaders that may not be progressive enough, either through Indivisible-style protests at representative offices or by running better, more populist campaigns in upcoming elections.