Actually, Debbie, The Democratic Party Is Anti-Grassroots

Last week, disgraced former Democratic National Committee Chair and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) told Greta Van Susteran that the Democratic Party “already is a grassroots party” in response to Senator Bernie Sanders’ call for a top-down overhaul of the DNC following across-the-board losses on Federal, state, and local levels in the November 2016 election.

Not only is Wasserman-Schultz’s comment shocking in its resilience to accept any notion that the DNC may require reform should it be interested in reversing its losing streak, it is particularly galling coming from the one of the few people most responsible for facilitating the transformation of the Democratic Party into a party that actively suppresses grassroots movements both at home and abroad.

Wasserman-Schultz’ assertion is not just a false claim, it is precisely the opposite of the truth. Since losing the Democratic nomination to Obama in 2007 as Clinton’s campaign co-chair, Wasserman-Schultz’s work and leadership within the Democratic Party shows a pattern of continued suppression of the grassroots, notably beginning from her installment by Barack Obama as Chair in 2011.

Citizens United: The Beginning of The End

Context to understanding the paradigm shift that undermines the Democratic Party’s best intentions is the way the Citizens United court ruling put all Democrats’ trust at risk across the board. Across the aisle, Republicans use the guises of “freedom of speech” and “small government” as arguably credible values that allow them to genuinely support the lifting of restrictions on political expenditures by major corporations that Citizens United has made possible. Republicans openly support the Citizens United ruling, so they invariably remain “trustworthy” to their constituents who understand and support their view on this issue.

Conversely, following the Citizens United ruling on January 21, 2010, the Democratic Party would need to demonstrate its pro-democratic values by supporting the liberal justices’ opposition to the ruling, and using this as a wedge issue to energize Democratic voters, especially those concerned with the critical balance of Supreme Court justices. Unfortunately for Democrats, campaign promises to get money out of politics can be examined in real time for authenticity. The “trust gap” that has emerged as Democrats denounce Citizens United, while simultaneously accepting huge sums of cash from lobbyists and corporations, has had a catastrophic effect on the party’s ability to succeed.

Leading into Obama’s election in 2008, the Democratic party under the George W. Bush administration amassed a body politic that consisted of a legitimate and diverse coalition of grassroots activists. Republican-led voter suppression and gerrymandering efforts were a concern of many of the groups that supported Obama, a former community organizer, who was considered trustworthy enough on this and other issues to get elected. This trustworthiness would begin to erode the moment he seated Wasserman-Schultz as Chair of the DNC in 2011. (Coincidentally, Tim Kaine stepped down to make way for her).

Having Cake And Eating It Too

Obama’s endorsement of New York Senator Hillary Clinton’s former campaign manager as head of the DNC was a clear signal he would not police Wall Street’s involvement in politics or the Democratic Party itself. With a shady family Foundation in operation while Clinton served as Secretary of State, Americans saw point-blank that Secretary Clinton would not be a credible leader on campaign finance reform approaching the 2016 election. To the party, it seemed that fundraising for campaigns remained a “necessary evil” for Democrats; who better than the former Wall Street Senator herself to be the party’s most promising candidate from a fundraising standpoint alone.

Voters following the restoration of Clinton influence in the Democratic Party through these and other events began struggling to defend Obama, Clinton, and the Democratic Party’s commitment to true democracy. As Republicans on all levels raked in corporate money from businesses and myriad special interests, the Democrats condemned dark money fundraising as part of a broader, legitimate criticism of the Republican Party’s anti-democratic tendencies to suppress voter turnout. The catch-22 that beguiled Clinton and the Democrats would become more glaring over time: One cannot condemn special interest money on the right, if you excuse it on the left.

Dismissive of the impact this mixed message would have on mobilizing voters in a general election, the Democratic Party under Wasserman-Schultz began seemingly unanimously circling its wagons around Hillary Clinton as the presumed Democratic nominee. When Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders entered the race for the Democratic nomination, a correct skeptic would have suggested an Independent would stand slim to no chance in the Democratic Party’s nominating process, particularly given the voting power of superdelegates whose loyalty is only to the Party establishment and its donors and, evidently, is in no way required to honor the will of American citizen voters.

Wasserman-Schultz would later confirm the superdelegate system specifically serves the purpose of thwarting the interest of an “insurgent” candidate supported by the grassroots against the interest of party decision-makers. Gone was any pretense that the Democratic Party would respect the interests of the grassroots.

Resist Is The New Obstruct

Wasserman-Schutlz’ public image continued to deteriorate after Wikileaks published emails leaked when Clinton Campaign Manager John Podesta fell to a phishing scam and exposed the great length Wasserman-Schultz went to in rigging the primary to favor Clinton behind-the-scenes. That is to say, the superdelegate system itself may not have had enough political power to secure the nomination for Clinton, so the party would need to go further, and further, until ultimately failing.

Alarmingly, party leaders responsible for these massive failures continue applying these same failed strategies and dismissing recommendations of the one leader who remains trustworthy, leaving voters to wonder if the party will ever change course. Party figures such as Wasserman-Schultz will only continue to diminish what little credibility they may still have if they continue to deny their actions and therefore refuse to take responsibility for the consequences. Despite how focusing campaign tactics on a personal attacks over policy substance has proven to be a kiss of death, the party moves forward with the “Resist” brand based principally on broadly and blindly obstructing Trump.

Americans, still fatigued from the bipartisan incompetence and obstruction in Congress under Obama, deserve better.

Originally published at on April 6, 2017.

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