We are less than two months away from the election for the DNC chairmanship. This year, it has taken on an over-sized importance among American liberals. The front-runner is Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison. And you would think his election would be a sure thing. He’s been endorsed by Elizabeth Warren on the economic left and Chuck Schumer on the economic right. But the whole thing has unfortunately turned into a proxy war between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton — as if we need to run the presidential primary all over again.
Jeff Stein wrote a very good overview of what’s going on, The DNC Race Has Become Another Fight Over Bernie Sanders When Dems Need It Least. As he indicates, the push to get Thomas Perez in the position shows how stupid this all is. The two men are pretty much identical ideologically. I certainly admire them both. But why is it that Ellison is not acceptable? The best example of this was how Ellison was unacceptable because the job should be full-time. But as soon as Keith Ellison said he would step down as Representative if elected, new reasons to be against him popped up. There’s clearly a more fundamental reason that Ellison is unacceptable — just not one that Democratic Party elites want to talk about openly.
Elites Don’t Like Keith Ellison
The truth is that political parties are the way that their elites want them to be. And those elites don’t want things to change. And this was always my biggest concern about Bernie Sanders winning the Democratic primary. I voted for him, of course. But I saw the complaints that Sanders supporters wouldn’t support Clinton as being more projection than anything else. That is to say: there were far more Clinton supporters who would never have voted for Sanders than their were Sanders voters who didn’t vote for Clinton.
We’ve seen this same kind of thing in the UK Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the party has been met with extreme hostility. There is a huge part of the Labour Party elite that would rather see the Tories in power than Labour in power if it were led by Corbyn. And I think we would have seen the same thing with Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party if he had won the primary.
Trump and the Republicans Are Different
And note: this is not equivalent to Donald Trump and the Republican Party. In as much as the Republican elite was ever really against Trump, it was because he was seen as (1) personally offensive and (2) unelectable. The issue was never ideological. Yes, there was a little ideological heterodoxy at first. But as soon as Trump came out with his tax plan that was a huge giveaway to the rich, the Republicans knew they had nothing to fear from Trump. The issue with Corbyn and Sanders (And Keith Ellison!) is different. In each of these cases, the liberal party is afraid that it will have leaders that are ideologically in sync with their voters. That is to say: they are afraid that the liberal party will be run by actual liberals.
The Democratic Party Is Moving Forward — Regardless
It doesn’t matter to me if Ellison or Perez become DNC chair. Actually, I’d kind of like to see Perez in the position because I want them both fighting for us in high profile positions. But it’s clear that the push for Perez is not about that. The push for him is about telling the base of the party that it isn’t in charge. Yes, Perez is as liberal as Ellison, but the more conservative elites can ignore that. Allowing Keith Ellison to become chair would be an unmistakable indication that the Democratic Party has changed and that the New Democrats are dead, after doing so much damage to the nation and the party.
But like most fearful efforts to hang onto what little power you have, the anti-Ellison campaign will likely fail. I find it annoying that we are even having this fight. Part of being a liberal is believing in democracy. So there really shouldn’t be a big effort to stop the Democratic party from representing the base. But it’s okay. I think the Democratic Party will get to where it needs to go. Eventually. Despite the wishes of too many in the party elite who represent the past and not the present (much less the future).