From the same folks who brought you Tim Kaine for VP, presents: Tom Perez as DNC Chair! Keep Dems Uninspiringly-Boring Again!
Cry the beloved country.
The Triumph of Bigoted Fear-Mongering: It’s Personal
On a personal level, let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: Black Americans and Muslims have legitimate grounds to be frustrated and despondent about Keith Ellison’s loss. Despite repeated pledges by both Keith and Tom that this was all about “unifying” and reinvigorating a humiliated and embattled party, there were forces which not only reared their ugly heads, but came to the forefront in this race. Perez’s appointment as DNC chair is genuinely historic, and I'm really happy for the Latin fam.
Yet given the noxious and blatant tinges of Islamophobia and anti-black racism throughout the campaign ("OMG he pals around with the Nation of Islam!” “He was critical about Israel and thus must be a raging anti-Semite!” “Can you imagine what the Republicans will be able to say with a Muslim at the helm of the DNC?"), Keith’s loss seems to validate the narratives of his small-minded detractors. One is left despondent: If we can’t overcome these poisonous narratives within the Democratic party-the so-called liberal party of the marginalized and downtrodden!-what hope is there for doing so in our society writ large?
Make no mistake-this loss was always going to be personal
Money over Merit
Yet Beyond the personal backgrounds of these two men lie the dashed hopes of progressives throughout the country.
Confession: I used to think that whoever becomes the next DNC chair really wasn't that important. Despite my long-held admiration for Keith (admiring both his leadership as well as the inspiration he gave me as one of our nation’s first Muslim congressmen), and no matter how animated and invested and my fellow progressives would get, I didn’t want to dive headfirst into another Dem battle after the exhaustion and heartbreak of the Bernie campaign. I thought: As long as it was not someone as blatantly corrupt as the previous Chair, surely whoever followed that train wreck would be huge upgrade. Perez was billed as a leftist within the Obama administration, and ideologically similar to Keith.
Yet with further digging, this narrative seems to come apart. The fact that Perez was specifically selected by the Dem establishment to run against (and beat) Keith demonstrates that there are significant substantive differences between the two men, and it did matter who ended up in the top spot.
Perhaps Keith’s most visible strength is his unrelenting charisma. Yet charisma isn't the only category where Keith beats out Perez. Over the years, Keith has proven himself to be extremely perceptive and in touch with the prevailing political and social climate, including being able to clearly spot the dangers of a fear-mongering demagogue like Trump taking advantage of the festering situation .When the vast majority of his colleagues couldn't (and many didn't even bother to try until it was far too late), Keith was able to peer beyond the Beltway bubble. Yet like Bernie, Dem party stalwarts chose to once again ignore those with prescient wisdom for established political insiders. At the end of the day, it seems the Dem establishment and politicos simply concluded: Donors and lobbyists > grassroots appeal and people power. No matter how many times that play keeps failing (on both sides-just ask Mitt Romney!), we keep running it. How many more times will we keep validating Einstein's definition of insanity?
Progressives and Organizers: All Work, no Respect
Keith not only had the endorsement of progressive stalwarts like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Al Franken, but was enthusiastically supported by numerous grassroots organizations. Perhaps the most impressive was his ringing endorsement by hundreds of millennial leaders heading up a wide range of organizations. It was quite clear: Keith was the candidate of future generations.
Now it seems painfully clear that those calling the shots at the highest levels may never learn, and are chronically allergic to change. With Memento-level amnesic consistency, they forget that money can't vote, and grassroots organizing is everything.
It boggles the mind to try and comprehend why the Dems harbor so much raw hostility towards and their grassroots: The same grassroots that delivered victory to President Obama-twice! The same grassroots who ushered in Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate for the first time in decades! A grassroots machine which publicly financed a historic Presidential campaign without the candidate having to attend a single fundraiser.
It's incredible that the same folks who kept ringing the alarm bells on not underestimating Trump, connecting with working class interests, and the urgent need to genuinely fight for progressive change have again been brushed aside. They keep being proven right, yet once again they have been shut out. For far too many, at this point remaining with the Dems feels like staying in a relationship with an abusive spouse-one that repeatedly disrespects and devalues your talents if not your very existence.
Back to Our (grass)Roots
Yet one thing offers a degree of comfort: While the Democratic Party seems to be on the verge of descending into irrelevance, in a way, the Republicans are collapsing as well. The script was supposed to read: Clinton wins, and the GOP collapses into factions. Yet even with Trump’s “shock” victory, it’s quite clear that the much-heralded Reagan brand of Republicanism has finally been killed off. With the rise of Trump and his coalition of anti-intellectuals and white supremacists, the GOP rank and file have as much soul-searching to do as we do. Even with all the madness and the terrifyingly high stakes, I take some comfort in knowing there is a shared struggle-and possible allies.
Throughout the annals of history, political parties come and go, as do hot-button issues. Yet principles remain eternal. A party that doesn't harness the power of its most passionate and energetic supporters is doomed to fail. The Dem’s and the broader progressive moment’s core strength is in the grassroots. The truth is now more self-evident than ever: We hold the real power. Not lobbyists or donors, but we the people, baby. And we shall once again overcome all the odds and help make our country and the world a better place-with or without the Dems or any other party.