Why the Country Needs a Populist Challenger in the Democratic Primaries

By Robert Borosage
Campaign for America’s Future

Feb. 17, 2010 – Polls show Democrats want a contest, not a coronation, for their presidential nomination. The press yearns for a primary contest, if only to have something to cover. A raft of reasons are floated for why a challenge would be useful, most of them spurious.

Hillary Clinton doesn’t need a contest to get her campaign shipshape. She’s already been central to three presidential campaigns, as underdog, incumbent and, disastrously, overwhelming favorite. She has every high-priced operative in the party. If she doesn’t know how to put together campaign by now, an upstart challenger won’t help.

Some suggest a challenger could move Hillary to the left, as if Hillary Inc. were a bloated ocean liner needing a plucky tugboat to put it on the right path. But the Clintons are adept at running more populist than they govern. Hillary found her populist pitch in 2008 when it was too late to save her. She’s knee deep in pollsters and speechwriters. She won’t need a challenger to teach her the lines.

There are two compelling reasons for a challenge in the Democratic primaries: We need a big debate about the direction of the country, and a growing populist movement would benefit from a populist challenge to Hillary.

The Divide

This isn’t conventional wisdom. Matt Yglesias argues that Clinton is the prohibitive favorite for the nomination not because of experience, name recognition or the Clinton money machine but because no large ideological divisions separate Democrats. New Dems have embraced the social liberalism they once dreaded. Foreign policy differences are minimal. All Democrats sing from President Obama’s populist songbook. All favor raising the minimum wage, pay equity, investment in infrastructure, bank regulation.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer agrees that the “differences among Democrats are small compared to the chasm on the Republican side.” Democrats, he argues, are united on “fundamental issues,” like the minimum wage, pay equity, paying for college.

In fact, there is a deep divide between the party establishment and the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. All affirm, finally, that this economy works only for the few and not the many. But after that, the differences are immense.

The center of the party – which Hillary occupies – argues that our extreme inequality just happened, sort of like the weather. Globalization and technology did it. Republican trickle-down economics made it worse. We can fix it with sensible reforms packaged as “middle-out economics.” We’ll give everyone a “fair shot,” as the president puts it, echoing Bill Clinton, “with everyone playing by the same set of rules.”

The Democratic wing of the party understands, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren has put it, that extreme inequality is the result of the “rules being rigged” by the few to favor the few. The deck is stacked. Playing by the same set of rules doesn’t change the outcome if the rules are rigged. The core structures of our politics and our economy have to be changed to get a clean deal. (Continued)

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Bernie Sanders Lights a Fire under Pennsylvania Democrats at Keystone Progress’s Annual Summit in Harrisburg

By Carl Davidson


Feb 8, 2015, Harrisburg, PA. If the vote were taken for the Democratic presidential candidate at the Harrisburg Hilton on Saturday, Feb. 7, Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent of Vermont, would likely have won by a landslide.

That was the spirit in the hotel ballroom as Sanders addressed the 800 people gathered for the PA Progressive Summit. The annual meeting, sponsored by Keystone Progress, brought together progressive activists—community and trade union organizers, women’s right and civil rights groups, hopeful candidates and door knockers—all of whom made up the democratic wing of the Democratic Party, from all across the Keystone State.

“I’m going to try something a little different this morning,” said Sanders to start things rolling, “I’m going to tell you the truth.” He got a wave of laughter and cheers from people who often got something else from politicians.

Sanders with Tina Shannon
Sanders with Tina Shannon

Sanders started off with the ‘Citizen United’ Supreme Court decision taking limits off the superrich in funding elections and candidates. “It will go down is history as one of the worse ever made in modern times” Sanders said by way of description. “By a five-to-four vote, it undermined the very foundations of democracy. I know you think the situation is bad, believe me, it’s worse than you think it is.” Billionaires are not satisfied with owning the economy, he explained. They were buying government as well.”

The Koch Brothers, with 85 billion in wealth, were taken as the case in point. Sanders explained that they alone intended to spend over 900 million dollars on the 2016 election—more than the combined total of Obama and Romney in 2012. This meant these “counter-revolutionaries with a far right agenda” would wield more power than both political parties in the recent past.

Turning to the economy, Sanders said while the economy was clearly in better shape than when Obama, first took office, it was still clearly in bad shape. He explained the different meanings of official unemployment figures, with 5.8 percent being the most common number cited, but double that, near 12%, was more accurate.

Then he broke it down further: “We talk a lot about Ferguson, as we should. But we also need to talk more about Black youth unemployment, which is 30 percent. Nobody should be satisfied with where we are today. We have 45 million people living in poverty, another word we need to talk more about today.”

For those worried about deficits, Sanders noted that they had been reduced under Obama. But he also insisted that if they were truly concerned about deficits, they would have stood up against the Iraq war. This remark got wild cheers and everyone out of their seats.

Unfair Impact of Technological Change

Sanders went on to examine ‘the explosion in technology,’ not only i-Phones and i-Pads, but robotics in factories. “All of this has led to a tremendous growth in productivity on the part of American workers.” Such changes logically might suggest workers were paid more or worked shorter hours, he added, “but all of you know, tens of millions of Americans today are working longer hours for less pay.”

This meant anger and stress among workers—impacting both men and women, even if in slightly different ways—needed discussion as a national issue. There was a time, “ancient history” said Sanders, when one worker could work 40 hours and support a family reasonably well. Now women were working along with men, sometimes at two or three jobs, at long hours and low pay, to hobble together enough to support a family. “This causes a lot of anger, and often it’s being angry at the wrong people for the wrong reasons,” he added. “The average male worker, right in the center of the economy, now makes $800 a year less in inflation adjusted dollars than he did 40 years ago. The average female worker in the center makes $1300 a year, even less. They have a lot to be angry about. They want to know why, and our job is to explain it to them.” (Continued)

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Rahm Emanuel Is a Union-buster. So Why Are Chicago Unions Backing Him?

Most of the city’s labor movement is laying low or supporting the mayor in the upcoming election, despite his well-known anti-worker policies

By David Moberg
In These Times

Jan. 28, 2015 – When Rahm Emanuel strode into office as mayor of Chicago in 2011, one of his first targets was the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). He sought and obtained state legislation limiting the right of Chicago teachers to strike. But he lost doubly in the fall of 2012: The CTU successfully mobilized its members to go on strike, then won both a good contract and the battle for public support. Yet Emanuel still closed 49 public schools and expanded charter schools the following spring. Meanwhile, other public employee unions moved into the mayor’s crosshairs as he drastically cut and privatized city jobs and services, often with help from a Democratic governor and state legislature.

Emanuel stands for re-election February 24 in a non-partisan primary against four challengers (and if no one wins 50 percent of the vote plus one, there will be a run-off between the top two on April 7). Polls suggest Chicagoans are not satisfied with their mayor, but most observers give him the odds because of his financial advantage—as of early 2015, he had a $11 million war chest, 10 times that of any opponent.

In theory, labor could be an important part of these calculations. Chicago is a more unionized city than most, and union endorsements typically come with credibility, money and an army of campaign workers. But despite Emanuel’s anti-union record, unions are divided about how to deal with “Mayor 1%,” as Kari Lydersen’s biography of Emanuel is titled.

Emanuel earned that sobriquet not only for the millions he made working for an investment bank and his gift for convincing the rich to empty their pocketbooks for the Democratic Party, but also his disdain for unions. “Fuck the UAW,” he infamously said when serving as Obama’s chief of staff during the auto bailout. He also largely shares the worldview of the financial and corporate elite: Give the hard back of the free-market hand to Jane and Joe Sixpack, the soft palm of friendly government to needy businesses.

Emanuel’s leading—but still longshot— opponent is his opposite on most counts. Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a former alderman and state senator, has been a member of three different unions and strongly supports labor.

“My roots are with working-class people,” Garcia said in an interview with In These Times. “I understand what working-class families need. … Chicago would be better served by a mayor who has that background and would work with unions.” He says that Emanuel’s attempts “to break the CTU” were “heartless” and “spiteful.” Those are harsh words from a man who comes off as modest, self-effacing and “genuine”— as Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308 President Robert Kelly said while endorsing him. Garcia supports the Fight for 15, wants to strengthen neighborhoods and their infrastructure and wants to replace the mayoral appointment of school board members with a board elected by Chicagoans (a major demand of the CTU).

You might imagine that unions would rally behind a seemingly pro-labor challenger to an incumbent with an anti-union record. But as of early January, Chicago’s unions were divided between Garcia, Emanuel and neutrality for a variety of reasons—some peculiar to Chicago, others typical of the U.S. labor movement’s electoral strategy.

Broad shoulder unions

Chicago’s unions, riven with thuggish political squabbles in the late 19th century, grew more unified, progressive and powerful in the first part of the 20th. They often supported labor and socialist party candidates and welcomed organizers like William Z. Foster, a Communist Party leader who led ambitious unionization campaigns in the Chicago meat-packing and steel industries.  (Continued)

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