Time for change in the Democratic Party
How the Democrats can be the champion of logical decision-making on the environment, foreign policy, and other important issues during the chaos of the Trump era.
The Democratic Party is complicated. While many of them believe they are progressive (and some certainly are), progressive in regards to whom matters greatly. Are they progressive as a whole or are they progressive on certain matters? When compared to the current Republican Party, the same party that is anti-science, anti-choice, anti-globalization, and anti-intellectual, of course a lot of Democrats look progressive. In the aftermath of the 2016 Democratic Primary, Clinton allies and supporters are still dragging Bernie Sanders and his supporters through the mud, even though Sanders is now back to work in the U.S. Senate. The “civil war” and “factions” rhetoric is not helping, although my experiences in Democratic Party politics and seeing the nasty attacks against Bernie Sanders can make one cynical. But instead of being cynical, it is important to reflect and understand what changes are necessary. The Democratic Party is solid in many ways. In the era of Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Betsy Devos, and Scott Pruitt, the Democratic Party could be even better by forming more logical, nuanced, pragmatic, and intelligent political stances. These positions make the party more progressive and in-tune with the history of the Democratic Party.
Let us look at Hillary’s political positions back in 2016. A+ grade on women’s issues. Also, Clinton got the support of those in the financial sector, including those at Goldman Sachs. That means more votes and money against the corporate Republican machine, which continued after the Democratic Primary. I do think Sanders’ attacks against Clinton’s Wall Street speeches were lazy and divisive. If Clinton can get the pro-business community to support a Democrat, then going to their boardrooms and trying to appeal to the base, irregardless of what she said, is worth doing. Also, Clinton did not run on a platform against free trade agreements (thank goodness!).
The Republican obsession with Benghazi is nonsense. If anyone used Benghazi to get Sanders support, shame on them. The late Ambassador Christopher Stevens turned down additional security twice. The U.S. Embassy in Libya was warned three days prior to the Benghazi attack that the situation was violent. Stevens chose to remain in the country.
As for Clinton’s emails, surely it was not ideal to use a private server. However, Colin Powell did the same thing. After inauguration, President Trump was using an unsecured cell phone for a while. Multiple members of the Trump White House have also used private email.
My issues (even before Sanders announced) with Clinton were not because she was a woman, a conclusion Hillary supporters often jump to in robotic fashion.
Hillary Clinton took campaign donations of nearly $7 million from those tied to Big Oil, despite their climate change denial efforts, and over $4 million from those tied to the Fossil Fuel industry. From the onset of her presidential campaign, she hired a former-Keystone lobbyist. But as Mother Jones revealed in March of 2013, there were serious conflicts of interest between the U.S. State Department and groups linked to TransCanada, the architect of the Keystone Pipeline. Though Clinton was gone for about a month after this was exposed, it is hard to believe that none of this was going on under her watch as Secretary of State. The Keystone XL is also an environmental disaster waiting to happen. Luckily, President Obama canceled Keystone, but Clinton remained neutral even in 2015. Nevertheless, Clinton as Secretary of State made a global push for fracking. She also refused to ban it as a presidential candidate. But fracking’s harms are well-known.
Then there is foreign policy. Clinton voted for the Iraq War, but also publicly said in 2008 that the U.S. could “obliterate” Iran. Talk about hawkish. In Clinton’s memoir, she admitted that she wanted to train Syrian rebels as Secretary of State, but President Obama rejected it. On the campaign trail, she said that the inability to train Syrian rebels had given ISIS an advantage in Syria. I wish she had considered that fact that the CIA trained Osama Bin Laden; we all know what happened next. Also, President Obama did eventually have the CIA assist the Syrian rebels. However, it was open information by 2015 that rebel groups who were working with the United States and the Free Syrian Army, such as Jabhat Al-Nusra, had links or allegiances to Al-Qaeda. Al-Nusra would later have factions pledge allegiance to ISIS, and ISIS and Al-Qaeda have had some cooperation. This was also not in the dark shadows of the internet; Rand Paul, who I rarely agree with, did bring it up. Yet Clinton still had this position on rebels. It is interesting that Syrian rebels were given Toyota trucks and then ISIS would later have them. ISIS would also get U.S.-made weapons. I know some folks will claim I am providing a broad overgeneralization of the region, but perhaps painting with broad brushstrokes when it comes to terrorism, violent Islamic extremism, and severe oppression of innocent women and ethnic minorities is not such a bad idea.
On healthcare, Hillary Clinton was staunchly and fiercely opposed to single-payer healthcare, which was Sanders’ vision. After the election, Democrats are more open to it then ever before (see the first photo at the top). So was Clinton on target when she called it “unrealistic”?
Other than what was mentioned above, I had no qualms with Clinton. Now, let’s look at Bernie Sanders.
Sanders did make stupid comments about Lloyd Blankfein over at Goldman Sachs, as well as about J.P. Morgan and General Electric as a whole. He also had the wrong ideas on NAFTA, CAFTA, and trade in general. Though his rhetoric on income inequality was valid, much of his opposition to Wall Street and the wealthy was indeed a bit too divisive, as Mike Bloomberg would later point out. In other words, Sanders’ views on fighting poverty had merits, but went about it the wrong way.
Despite this, the “Bernie doesn’t get economics” line, used by both Republicans and Clinton voters, rings hollow. Sanders would not have raised taxes as much as Eisenhower did. There is also that thing when Minnesota Federal Reserve Governor and Bush Treasury official Neel Kashkari, a Republican, embraced much of Sanders’ pet ideas on regulation. There’s also a lot of backlash for Sanders supporting Glass-Steagall revival; Dodd-Frank included the Volcker Rule, which is Glass-Steagall watered down. Meanwhile, every Democrat except for Russ Feingold (who found it not tough enough on the banks) still voted for the bill despite Volcker and President Obama did sign it. So is Glass-Steagall reenactment so radical?
If Sanders was such a dangerous radical, why did all of the Nobel Laureates in Economics except for Paul Krugman endorse Clinton only after she had clinched the nomination? And while Krugman is an impressive endorsement, Sanders did clinch the support of Jeffrey Sachs (who also advised the campaign), Clinton Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, as well as Thomas Piketty, author of the world-renowned book Capital in the 21st Century. These three are great intellectuals in their own right.
On campaign finance, Sanders walked the walk on getting corporate money out of politics on policy and actions, turning down Super PACS and focusing on small contributions. Clinton’s fundraising strategy (excluding oil and fossil fuels) was smart; fight fire with fire. But her method wins battles. Bernie’s crusade against excessive corporate and wealth-based political influence wins wars.
On environmental policy, Sanders was spot on, making a full list of tangible climate change policies, policies that were much more pro-science than Clinton’s. Bernie was against the fossil-fuel industry. He called for the ban of fracking. He was strongly against the Keystone Pipeline. And he called out the TPP for the environmental train-wreck that it was. I cannot think of any issue which can be given priority over the state of the planet, and I do think it was reasonable to make this a deal-breaker.
On foreign policy, Sanders was as William Fulbright (Sorry Bubba) as it got, with a 2014 statement calling out the bad optics of the United States fighting ISIS alone, opting for an international coalition and calling out Saudi Arabia for their lack of involvement despite a large military budget. He stated that the United States should not put taxpayer money or troops on the line for a battle of the region, which was better handled primarily by powerful and wealthy states in the Middle East who are allies of the U.S.. At the same time, Sanders supported careful usage of drone strikes under The Obama Administration . During the campaign, Sanders maintained this position, and said it was a fight for Arab troops, such as those in Jordan. This is what progressive foreign policy should look like. A tint of isolationism mixed in with multilateralism. It is a valid argument that Turkey, Oman, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar should be more heavily invested. Should the United States intervene, it is best to be alongside other NATO countries. Fulbright, had he been alive, would have sided with Sanders, not Clinton. To the point of Clinton voters that Sanders did not know foreign policy well, his temperament, despite being Jewish, on Israel-Palestine and choosing diplomatic efforts over war with Iran (who have diplomatic relations with Britain and Canada, by the way) should have ended that hogwash.
Outside of Clinton comparisons, I still believe that Bernie had much to offer as a presidential candidate. Sure, the amount of bills he has gotten passed is not spectacular, but he has voted the right way on a lot of things and had good ideas throughout his career. He has a proven record on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee leading to a bill signing. Sanders has also had an interesting record on guns, voting against the Brady Bill, citing states’ rights and Vermont’s constituent views on guns as a rural state. This was torn apart by Clinton and her supporters. Current Vermont Democratic Congressman Peter Welch got an A from the NRA in 2010. Bernie had a D-. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy also voted against the Brady Bill, and Leahy would go on to become U.S. Senate Pro-Tempore. Howard Dean had high marks from the NRA himself as Governor of Vermont, and he would still go on to be a presidential candidate and DNC Chair during the 2008 election. Also, Sanders has distanced himself from Vermont gun groups in recent years, and voted for gun control legislation after the tragedy at Sandy Hook. But I never knew that being moderate on guns, with the possibility of winning over moderate, midwestern and southern Democrats, Republicans, and conservative Independents in a general election was so devastating.
And finally, Sanders had a pretty impressive and unique record on civil rights. Let us not forget that Sanders won the endorsement of Russell Begaye, President of the Navajo Nation, and had strong support among Native Americans. Bernie was always ahead of the curve on LGBT rights in comparison to other politicians. Meanwhile, Clinton did oppose gay marriage, before reversing in 2013. A fellow board member over at UD College Democrats when I was President tried to say that this was untrue, citing that Sanders did not support gay marriage, but civil unions in 2006. However, Sanders still came out for gay marriage four years before Clinton, and that same article that my colleague had shared also pointed out that Sanders chose unions over marriage in 2006 because gay marriage was too “divisive”. Given the backlash that followed in the nine-year struggle to get gay marriage legal in all fifty states from 2006–2015, pragmatic resorting to civil unions should be appreciated, not criticized. Sanders also was for same-sex unions as early as 2000. Moreover, Clinton justifiably brought upon backlash after praising Nancy Reagan on HIV/AIDS- did she not know that President Reagan cut the National Institutes of Health’s funding by 23%?
During his youth, Sanders was involved with SNCC. He was at the March on Washington and led sit-ins. He got arrested. No one can take that from Sanders. Unfortunately however, Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis decided it was appropriate to come out and essentially label Bernie as a liar who was actually not involved in the movement. Harry Belafonte, who actually endorsed Bernie Sanders, would make the brilliant assertion that in the 1960’s, Bernie was not a politician or even a political candidate. He was actually a student who was simply involved, and it is very clear that he was. There were at least thousands of normal people involved with the movement, how and why would John Lewis remember every face, especially of a random young white guy in Chicago?
Not to mention, it would have been highly inappropriate for a white person like Sanders to be in high leadership for a Civil Rights Movement organization when organizations like the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were very clearly focused on African-Americans and other minorities. If Sanders had been appointed and Lewis had met him, that, in many respects, would have been rightly seen as a whiter person being chosen over a black or brown person. In short, that is deeply counter-productive. It was simply a dishonest and disgusting attack on a man’s contribution, no matter how small, of a movement greater than Martin Luther King Jr., Lewis, Belafonte, or Sanders themselves. A movement, which, as a person of color, I am eternally grateful for in many ways. John Lewis, roughly fifty years later, betrayed the very movement he bled for when he made those comments.
The Belafonte-Lewis divide is rather interesting. Lewis was a paramount and irreplaceable figure in the civil rights movement, as is Belafonte. Harry was involved in both John and Bobby Kennedy’s presidential campaigns. John Lewis was involved with Bobby’s. It does not take a history PhD to see Bernie’s platform resembled the Kennedy brothers far more than Hillary’s did. Belafonte endorsing Sanders was actually a powerful symbol, one that showed that a Kennedy ally threw his support behind the Sanders’ long-shot bid to the White House. Meanwhile, Lewis, bound by the Democratic Party establishment and the Congressional Black Caucus’ establishment links, backed Clinton. Draw your own conclusions.
As a former Vice President of my college’s NAACP chapter, it is disheartening to now look back and realize African-American and minority Democrats brushed off Sanders’ civil rights contributions like it was nothing. They also brushed off the fact that Sanders promised to restore the Voting Rights Act and was much more open to Black Lives Matter. If these things can be trivialized and downplayed, then what has our country become for people of color?
Such is relevant to the next point. Clinton had all sorts of endorsements, with an overwhelming majority of those in Congress, as well as plenty of others in Hollywood, intellectuals, and accomplished individuals. But Bernie Sanders, despite going up against such a qualified candidate, still got the endorsement of Spike Lee, Danny Glover, Cornel West, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. In addition, he snagged the endorsements of Noam Chomsky, Bill McKibben, Michael Moore, Bill Maher, Ben Folds, EPMD, and Nas. As much as I like Madeleine Albright, Sasheer Zamata, Kristin Wiig, Zoe Kravitz, Rosario Dawson, the real-life Erin Brockovich, Jenny Lewis, Emily Ratajkowski, and Sarah Silverman all reserved their “place in hell” when they chose Sanders over the female candidate. Check Wiki for the full list if interested. Also, neither Elizabeth Warren nor Nancy Pelosi endorsed Hillary Clinton until she had secured the Democratic nomination.
Not reading up on politics enough is a problem all its own, but almost all of the information on political positions cited above was widely available during the 2016 Democratic Primary, being published in 2014, 2015, and 2016. There was also campaigning of course. The fact that Hillary Clinton still won the Democratic nomination leads one to believe that the Democratic Party is truly not that progressive. It is not the party of FDR or Bobby Kennedy.
In the nearly two years since Clinton wrapped up the nomination, petty and uncalled for attacks continue against Senator Sanders, who was destroyed for being a speaker at the Women’s Convention (where he was not the only male speaker). Interestingly, when Sanders withdrew from the event and went to go help Puerto Rico, none of these critics said a word.
Despite knowing these favorable points for Sanders and being an open supporter, I had the option of writing this kind of an essay back in Spring of 2016. But as President of UD College Democrats at the time, I chose not to, out of respect for the club members who supported Hillary and to maintain the camaraderie of the club. I put the institution (CD’s) over my own political views. I also did not want to risk having such a post reach readers and have them doubt their support of Clinton in the general election. It did hurt to see just how unfair some of these attacks on Secretary Clinton truly got. In that regard, I do not regret it. Clinton should have won in a landslide against Trump. Thanks Comey.
Despite my staunch disagreements, I have defended the Clinton candidacy many times since election day. I’ve gone back and watched Mayor Bloomberg’s speech at the DNC and appreciated its brilliance. I am grateful to Bill and Hillary for all they have done for the Party and for the country. I wish them the best and hope to support their future endeavors.
I fundamentally disagree with Sanders’ decision to run as an Independent for re-election in the U.S. Senate and his utilization of the Vermont Democratic Party nomination process in election years. Despite these attacks for not being a Democrat officially for all these years, his politics are the core of what the Democratic Party is about, from William Jennings Bryan, Woodrow Wilson, the New Deal Era, to Adlai Stevenson, Estes Kefauver, John F. Kennedy, Shirley Chisholm, to Frank Church, Ted Kennedy, Barbara Jordan, Gary Hart, Patsy Mink, Carol Moseley Braun, Mario Cuomo, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama. The Democratic Party opposition’s belief that he was simply using the Democratic Party for his own gain has no antidote. Now the coalition that his campaign successfully built will think twice before remaining or switching to Democratic. Many of them will be locked out of voting for Democratic Primaries across the nation. I understand that Bernie’s path has been as an Independent and it is commendable; after running for President on the Democratic side and getting a position in Democratic Party leadership however, things should have changed. Although in his defense, the Vermont Democratic Party seems to be okay with it. I am disappointed, but I will support Sanders’ work in the U.S. Senate and I am inclined to get behind candidates he has endorsed. I am also slightly inclined to support candidates supported by Our Revolution.
Moving forward, the Democratic Party, remembering Franklin Roosevelt and Robert F. Kennedy, should accept significant parts of the Sanders platform. Other Democrats should carry on with these initiatives, even if Sanders is not a Democrat. At a bare minimum, Sanders’ environmental and foreign policy positions should be streamlined in the coming years. Until this happens, the Democrats are not a left-wing political party in the United States. Anyone who calls themselves a progressive but finds serious disagreements with Sanders needs to consider themselves a centrist. But unlike the “Bernie Bros” who were “Bernie or Bust”, I know how important centrist support of the Democratic Party can be. But in the event that centrists truly outweigh progressives, the Democrats should accept the centrist label instead of progressive. After all, Democratic centrists are far more intelligent than today’s GOP.
Special thank you to Deval Mehta, general member of the College Democrats at UD during my time as President, for his useful feedback while writing this article.