In the US, the two major political parties of Democrats and Republicans are not really distinguished by their class structure. Both parties contain the full spectrum of classes from the very wealthy to the working class, the urban and the rural. The main difference is the relative weight that is given to the various constituencies that make up the parties. The primary races, where each party selects its candidates for general elections, reveal the strength of the various factions. Because of gerrymandering, demographics, and geography, most elected offices are safely Republican or Democratic so the primary elections are where the action is and where the fissures are most clearly revealed, because the need to defeat the Republican opponent is not a major factor in the calculus.
One particularly revealing race is taking place in Ohio where on August 3 there is a primary to fill the congressional seat vacated by Marcia Fudge when she became the secretary of housing and urban development. Fudge’s seat is in the area where I used to live when I was in Cleveland and is solidly Democratic. There are two front runners for the primary, both African American women. One is Nina Turner who was a prominent surrogate for Bernie Sanders and is a solid progressive. The other is Shontel Brown who is favored by the party neoliberal establishment. One key defining issue is Medicare for All. Turner is outspoken in support of it while Brown is clearly not in favor of it and is trying to hide that fact by talking vaguely about supporting ‘affordable healthcare’.
The party establishment is throwing all but the kitchen sink against Turner, hoping to prevent her from adding to the progressive caucus in Congress. It is very telling that Hillary Clinton has endorsed Brown. That is no surprise since Clinton has always opposed the more progressive elements of the Democratic agenda. Then congressperson James Clyburn also endorsed Brown. Luke Savage analyzes the dynamics at play and follows the money.
The special election in Ohio’s 11th congressional district, where Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment are struggling to defeat former Bernie Sanders surrogate Nina Turner, is the latest illustration of how Democratic elites prioritize defeating the Left over strengthening their own party.
When Hillary Clinton endorsed Shontel Brown’s candidacy in the Ohio 11th congressional district’s special election last month, there was an obvious personal dimension and a noticeable amount of pettiness involved. Nina Turner, Brown’s primary opponent (and, by all appearances, the race’s front-runner), played a significant role as cochair of Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign and was a vocal supporter during his 2016 challenge to Clinton. The narrative of a relitigation of the 2016 primaries spawned by Clinton’s intervention has predictably come to color national perceptions of the race. But this development risks obscuring the wider dynamic at play.
Last week, Brown secured another high-profile endorsement from none other than Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, a development that is striking for a number of reasons. As the New York Times noted in its reporting on the race, the congressman rarely intervenes in primary contests. In publicly justifying the move, Clyburn invoked his by-now-familiar opposition to what he called the “sloganeering” of the Democratic Party’s left wing — citing as an example, among other things, the issue of Medicare for All.
As Julia Rock and David Sirota of the Daily Poster have observed, Clyburn actually cosponsored Medicare for All legislation when it was first introduced in 2017, before ultimately coming to vilify it a few years later. His stated reason was that the issue would hurt Democrats electorally, though it’s hard not to think that the more than $1 million he’s received in donations from Big Pharma — an amount that, as of last year, put him firmly ahead of other members of Congress — may have had something to do with it.
As Rock and Sirota have also pointed out, Medicare for All is incredibly popular in the district, which for almost thirty years has elected lawmakers supportive of single-payer legislation. It’s also become a hot-button issue in the election courtesy of Turner herself, who has campaigned vigorously on the idea and run television spots in support of M4A. For her part, Brown has been attending fundraisers put on by corporate interests, one of which was quite literally headlined by a registered lobbyist for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which is part of a powerful alliance of special interests pouring money into a national effort to defeat Medicare for All.
But what is really revealing (and sad) is that the Congressional Black Caucus, that once used to support progressive policies, has been co-opted by the neoliberals, particularly the health insurance lobby, and has come out against Turner.
Progressive political observers on Thursday registered the Congressional Black Caucus’s political arm’s endorsement of Shontel Brown in the Democratic primary in Ohio’s 11th district as the latest effort by the caucus—long a defender of corporate power—to stop leftist candidates from making inroads in Congress.
Turner is a vehement supporter of Medicare for All; a Green New Deal to create millions of green energy and transportation jobs; a taxation structure that ensures the wealthy pay their fair share; and other bold universal proposals she argues would lift up all the people of the 11th district, including its large population of Black residents.
While the CBC PAC claims to work “to increase the number of Black members of the U.S. Congress” and elect candidates who will “champion the needs and interests of the Black community,” its endorsements in recent years have pointed to other priorities, including its strong opposition to proposals like Medicare for All—despite the fact that racial justice advocacy groups including the NAACP, United We Dream, the Movement for Black Lives, and the Black Women’s Health Imperative have called on Congress to pass such a proposal.
Turner has won the support of a number of members of the CBC, including Reps. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)—all progressive lawmakers who refuse corporate donations and back policies aimed at supporting working people and the poor.
Norman Solomon, co-founder and national director of Roots Action, which backs the Turner campaign, said the CBC PAC’s announcement came as “no surprise.”
“Unfortunately, the days of the Congressional Black Caucus as an overall progressive force are long gone,” Solomon told Common Dreams. “The CBC and its PAC now serve corporate interests to an extent that is truly sad, especially in light of how wonderful the caucus was decades ago under the visionary leadership of such progressive champions as Ron Dellums.”
As is almost always the case, what policies and candidates politicians support has a strong correlation with who gives them money.
I really hope Turner crushes Brown, to show the establishment that their days are numbered.