Today in Atlanta, the Democratic party will vote for a new party chair to replace the neoliberal party hack Donna Brazile who replaced another neoliberal party hack Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. One question is why Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton urged Tom Perez to challenge Keith Ellison to run for the chair of the Democratic National Committee even though Ellison had declared first, had garnered wide support, and he and Perez share broadly similar political positions.
An article by Clio Chang in The New Republic says that the Obama-Clinton axis want to prevent the Bernie Sanders wing of the party from taking control of the party organization.
As Jeff Stein points out at Vox, Sanders supporters are likely overstating the power of the DNC chair. But that is all the more reason to throw them a win. If an Ellison victory is a modest, symbolic concession, the upside is that Democrats will signal to progressive and younger voters, who Democrats will be desperate to turn out in 2018 and 2020, that they are on their side. It would be a choice of utmost pragmatism.
But members of the Democratic establishment don’t quite see it that way. The Hill reports, “Perez supporters have expressed concern about handing the party over to the Sanders wing of the party, arguing that Ellison would move the party too far to the left.” And the New York Times suggests that Democratic leaders pushed Perez to run because they viewed Ellison as too close to the Sanders wing.
It appears that the underlying reason some Democrats prefer Perez over Ellison has nothing to do with ideology, but rather his loyalty to the Obama wing. As the head of the DNC, Perez would allow that wing to retain more control, even if Obama-ites are loath to admit it. Sanders has been accused of re-litigating the primary in his criticisms of Perez, but the fact that Perez was pushed to run, while Ellison was quickly and easily unifying the left and center, seems like the move most predicated on primary scars.
Glenn Greenwald adds this about this proxy fight.
In other words, Perez, despite his progressive credentials, is viewed – with good reason – as a reliable functionary and trustworthy loyalist by those who have controlled the party and run it into the ground, whereas Ellison is viewed as an outsider who may not be as controllable and, worse, may lead the Sanders contingent to perceive that they have been integrated into and empowered within the party.
But there’s an uglier and more tawdry aspect to this. Just over two weeks after Ellison announced, the largest single funder of both the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign – the Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban – launched an incredibly ugly attack on Ellison, designed to signal his veto. “He is clearly an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual,” pronounced Saban about the African-American Muslim Congressman, adding: “Keith Ellison would be a disaster for the relationship between the Jewish community and the Democratic Party.”
Saban has a long history not only of fanatical support for Israel – “I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel,” he told The New York Times in 2004 about himself – but also an ugly track record of animus toward Muslims. As The Forward gently put it, he is prone to “a bit of anti-Muslim bigotry,” including when he said Muslims deserve “more scrutiny,” and “also called for profiling and broader surveillance.” In 2014, he teamed up with right-wing billionaire Sheldon Adelson to push a pro-Israel agenda. In that notorious NYT profile, he attacked the ACLU for opposing Bush/Cheney civil liberties assaults and said: “On the issues of security and terrorism I am a total hawk.”
There’s no evidence that Saban’s attack on Ellison is what motivated the White House to recruit an opponent. But one would have to be indescribably naïve about the ways of Washington to believe that such a vicious denunciation by one of the party’s most influential billionaire funders had no effect at all. The DNC headquarters was built with Saban’s largesse: he donated $7 million to build that building, and previously served as chairman of the Party’s capital-expenditure campaign.
So when we say, correctly, that the Republican party is beholden to the wealthy, we should remember that the current ruling segment of the Democratic party is equally beholden. They just have different billionaires to please.
This is why the control of the Democratic party has to be wrested away from the Obama-Clinton neoliberal faction that has run the party into the ground by making it Republican-lite, and put in the hands of the Sanders faction.