There’s a necessary and creative tension between the massive outpouring of the Resistance and the Democratic Party.
But if there was ever any doubt that the Resistance and the Democratic Party are not the same thing, it was made crystal clear by the victory of establishment choice, Tom Perez, as DNC chair over the change candidate, Keith Ellison. It represented the last gasp of a broken neoliberal Democratic establishment that would rather maintain its institutional power than make the changes demanded by the grassroots necessary to begin winning again.
The DNC’s pick of Perez was made even more galling by the DNC’s rejection of a resolution which would have reinstated an Obama ban on corporate PAC contributions to the Party, that had been quietly lifted by Debbie Wasserman Schultz along with a ban on contributions from lobbyists. The DNC also rejected a ban on DNC chair Perez appointing lobbyists as at-large DNC members.
All and all, it was a narrow, but decisive, win for the Democratic Party status quo which had anointed Hillary Clinton, the least electable Democrat, as its nominee and had lost the Senate, the House and innumerable governorships and state legislatures.
The public face of the national Democratic Party in the near future will be the uninspiring Tom Perez, the 66-year old Senator from Wall Street, Chuck Schumer, who has served in Congress for 38 years, and the 76-year old Nancy Pelosi, who has served in Congress for 35 years. As I recently pointed out, the average age of the Democratic Congressional leadership is older than the Soviet Politburo in the age of Brezhnev, shortly before the fall of communism.
But beyond personalities, there’s a vital struggle between the last gasps of neoliberal corporate Clintonism, which has led the Democratic Party into the political dessert, and an emerging social democratic populism which is the only viable answer to Trumpism’s hateful white nationalism.
As Kevin Baker wrote in Harper’s Magazine early in the Obama administration,
“Obama internalized what might be called Clinton’s ‘business liberalism’ as an alternative to useless battles from another time...Clinton’s business liberalism, however, is a chimera...a capitulation to powerful and selfish interest. ..a ‘pragmatism that is not really pragmatism at all, just surrender to the usual corporate interests...”
Or as David Brooks wrote back then:
“[Obama and Clinton] Democrats learned never to go to war against the combined forces of corporate America. Today, whether it is on the stimulus, on health care, or any other issue, the Obama administration and the Congressional leadership go out of their way to court corporate interests, to win corporate support and to at least divide corporate opposition.”
Clintonism is an exhausted force waging a last-ditch effort to hold onto the Democratic Party machinery. Democrats will not win against Trump’s right-wing populism unless it abandons corporate Clintonism for a strong progressive populism which challenges the power for the corporate oligarchy.
Meanwhile, the political energy to defeat Trumpism is not in DNC meeting rooms, but in the streets with the Resistance—in the Women’s March, the spontaneous airport demonstrations against Trump’s Muslim ban, and in the raucous grass-roots democratic actions at Town Hall Meetings of both Republican and Democratic Congresspeople. It’s with organizations outside the Democratic Party like Indivisible, Peoples Action, MoveOn, Working Families Party and Our Revolution.
Already, the Town Hall meetings have given pause to the Republicans’ Quixotic effort to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act.
It’s next focus should be on forcing recalcitrant Democrats to filibuster the Supreme Court nomination of the smooth talking, good looking Neil Gorsuch, who’s a shill for the right-wing Federalist Society which has waged a 30-year long campaign to stack the judiciary with pro-corporate right-wing judges.
But the Resistance can’t ignore the Democratic Party either. Unfortunately, the winner-take-all American political system makes it all but impossible to form a third party that functions as anything but a spoiler.
So the Resistance needs an outside/inside strategy towards the Democrats. It’s strength comes from the streets. But it must also work to transform the Democratic Party into a people’s party and not one beholden to the corporate donor class.
If necessary, it must scare recalcitrant corporate Democrats with primary challenges, as the Tea Party did with establishment Republicans. A good place to start would be by making it clear that any Democratic Senator who does not filibuster Merrick Garland will be primaried.
Long-standing institutions are being disrupted, not the least of which are the political parties. The most encouraging part of this disruption is the emergence of the Resistance movement, many of whose members have never been politically active.
It must resist not only Trumpism, but neoliberal corporatism in the Democratic Party.