The Democratic Party needs to change, and fast. That is why it needs Keith Ellison.
By David Fredrick
Keith Ellison is the only acceptable contender to be the new chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Rep. Ellison has now been endorsed by the AFL-CIO, National Nurses Union, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. John Lewis, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, so he is not a long-shot choice or a fringe candidate. In fact, these endorsements only solidify that Ellison is the right person for the job.
He is the best option, and he is the most in-step with the direction of the growing cadre of young and disenfranchised progressive Democrats. As a reformer with a history of voter engagement, turnout, fundraising, and support from Bernie Sanders, America’s most popular politician, Ellison must be the party’s next step. If he doesn’t get a serious leadership position, the DNC will face the extremely dire threat of irrelevance.
Without Ellison as DNC chair, there is little hope for reforming the party into something more progressive before 2018 — and possibly no hope of reform at all.
Without Ellison as chair, any gains made to appeal to young voters and progressives over the course of Bernie’s campaign will be lost except for a few zealots hiding in pragmatic clothing. The controversies surrounding the DNC — including those concerning Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Donna Brazile, and John Podesta — have already deeply hurt those numbers. If the party is going to muster any kind of resistance to a Republican-controlled country, it is going to need far more enthusiasm than the pro-corporate moderates have shown they are capable of generating. It is especially frustrating that those exact same establishment insiders are attempting to rebrand themselves as “progressives” without making good on the policies that would validate those claims.
If Democratic leadership is going to make a case for liberal push-back against xenophobia, bigotry, and crony capitalism, it needs energy and new blood. The only way to foster that passion is for a Bernie-backed candidate to become leader. Any chair will be reliant on current and prospective supporters made up of newly minted leftist Democrats that Bernie has brought into the party over the past two years.
The Democratic Party lost. We have said that, and we need to keep saying it. The Democratic Party lost. Across the country, the DNC failed the American people. Besides violating their own stated platform by removing limits on donations, establishment leadership actively opposed legislation in line with the party’s past goals (Medicaid-for-all Colorado Care), and Progressive candidates in tight races were ignored (Russ Feingold, former US senator, received less than $20k from the Democratic Party). This myopic mismanagement is more of the same losing strategy that the Democratic Party has been doubling down on for the past 30 years.
This isn’t a question of how the Democrats lost this year, it’s a testament to the fact that they have been losing year after year. They lost a super majority in the senate, they lost the midterms (which placed redistricting squarely into the hands of the GOP), they lost the public option, and lost thirty five states that switched from Democrat to Republican. All in the last 10 years.
The DNC leadership is adrift after decades of self-contradictory policies, feckless strategy, and revolving-door partisanship. In 1992, it bought into the voodoo economics of the Reagan era, promoting globalization, privatization, neoconservative military adventurism, and neoliberal fiscal policies. In short, rather than being Democrats, Democrats became Reagan Republicans.
This election pointed to the obvious trend that the Democratic Party as a whole has marginalized its own left wing. As it continues sliding toward the pro-corporate right, we see an organization capable only of internal micro adjustments and increasingly dependent on large injections of cash from the donor class. It relies less and less on average Americans, and in doing so, it distances itself from the people it claims to represent.
This lack of commitment to its ideals and this willingness to preemptively concede to the reactionary right are killing the DNC. It’s not that Americans are happily turning toward fascism; it’s that Democrats’ “ethical flexibility” has killed supporters’ enthusiasm. It is a key reason that voter turnout gets lower and lower, despite an army of celebrity surrogates and a huge swing in demographics that have historically been pro-Democrat.
Ellison represents the DNC’s only chance to openly confront this culture of ineffectiveness, corruption, and moral cowardice. His leadership is the opportunity to confront the issues that lost not just this election, but the ones before it. He represents a chance to win back the trust and support of an electorate that should have made 2016 a shoo-in for Democratic leadership and progressive agendas.
If the chair is handed to another more-of-the-same insider who is unwilling to address its perennial failures for the sake of maintaining connections to lobbyists, super PACs, and the very wealthy, then the party is dead on its feet. We will no longer have a significant organization able to honestly say that it has a mandate on progressive politics. Rather, the hubris of the political elites — who see power in only short-term gains and massive corporate donations — will leave the rest of us twisting in the wind.
Keith Ellison must be the DNC chair or the Democratic Party will face continuing declines in voter participation and supporter enthusiasm. Without his leadership and supporters, the party will maintain its present trajectory toward death.
EDIT: Since the majority of this article was written, Ellison has endorsed millionaire Stephen Bittel against a Bernie Sanders candidate, Dwight Bullard. We must remember that while Rep. Ellison will likely have to compromise and play insider politics, he is still the best option for the job.