The Democrats desperately need a new national party leader, technically the chair of the Democratic National Committee. The current national committee, elected at the last Democratic convention based on the relative strengths of the Clinton and Sanders forces, is narrowly divided, and close to deadlock.
Rep Keith Ellison of Minnesota, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, an early favorite after Sanders endorsed him, now appears to be fading. Though Senator Chuck Schumer quickly jumped in and backed Ellison as part of Schumer's repositioning as a progressive, there is pressure on Schumer and other early supporters to back off.
The biggest problem is that Ellison is a sitting Member of Congress, and national party chair ought to be a full time job. The best recent DNC chair, Howard Dean, who rebuilt a 50-state party in the mid-2000s, wanted the job back, but Sanders vetoed that because he felt Dean had been disrespectful to him. Dean has now dropped out.
Other objections have lately been raised, that Ellison is a Muslim and that he is not friendly to Israel. His religion is the wrong reason to challenge his candidacy, but the latest disclosures of remarks that alienated much of the Jewish community make sink Ellison as a party unifier.
In 2010, it recently emerged, Ellison spoke at a fund-raiser hosted by a past president of the Muslim American society. In the speech, referring to Israel. He declared, "We can't let another country to treat us like we're their ATM." This is not entirely wrong as a description of Israel's view of U.S. aid, but Ellison added:
The United States foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad through a country of 7 million people [Israel]. A region of 350 million all turns on a country of 7 million. Does that make sense? Is that logic? Right? When the Americans who trace their roots back to those 350 million [Muslims] get involved, everything changes.
So while it is appalling to have Ellison's candidacy founder for the sin of criticizing Israel, his language was pretty raw and Ellison is now probably too radioactive to get the job. No other contenders seem to have what it takes.
Here are two outside-the-box ideas for potential people to lead the national Democratic Party. Neither has declared a candidacy. This is just a citizen nomination, from me:
Cecile Richards. The head of national Planned Parenthood, a job she's held for a decade, is far and away one of the best organizers, on the ground and nationally, in the progressive Democratic universe, as well a prodigious fundraiser for progressive causes, a fighter and a genuine hero.
As a young adult, Richards was a labor organizer in the south. She did a brief stint as an aide to Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and then headed a broad get-out-the vote coalition in 2004 called America Votes.
Tom Perez. Obama's labor secretary and former assistant attorney general in charge of civil rights, is one of the best we've got. He is also a superb politician, with no immediate plans after January 20.
Perez is great at connecting to the working class -- black, white, Latino. He served as the elected president of the Mongtomery County Council and many of his admirers were disappointed he passed up the chance to run for governor of Maryland.
Both of these leaders are charismatic, in their 50s, widely admired, and good at details as well as at rousing grass roots enthusiasm. As full time party leaders, either could re-energize a party in an understandable funk. None has Democratic enemies.
Both bridge the Clinton/Obama wing of the party with the now ascendant Warren/Sanders wing. Both are somewhat to the left of the Clintons ideologically, though Hillary was a Richards ally as a stalwart on reproductive rights. And Perez was one of the most progressive of Obama's appointments.
The appointment of either one would sidestep a potentially divisive factional dispute, would look forward rather than backward, and unify the party behind a progressive leader.
As that old typing-drill sentence had it: Now is the time for all good men [and women] to come to the aid of the party. Lord knows, the party needs some fresh leadership.
What say, Cecile and Tom?
Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and professor at Brandeis University's Heller School. In his spare time, he writes musicals. His latest book is Debtors' Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility.
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