Sometimes, when you’re faced with a situation that’s confusing or doesn’t make sense, it helps to look at it from a different angle. To us progressives, the election of Tom Perez this last weekend as chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) makes little sense at all; but, if we look at the election from a slightly different viewpoint, things become much clearer.
Progressives demand certain things from our political leadership. We want good jobs, universal education, universal healthcare, clean air and clean water, solid infrastructure — you know the list.
However, when we look at the leadership of the Democratic Party, it becomes clear that they want something different. Why? Because they already have most of the things you and I are still struggling for. A United States Senator or Representative makes more in one year than many of us make in three (and has to work many fewer hours to get it, but that’s another story). Talking head pundits, heads of think tanks, and central party officials can make that much and more. Public officials have Cadillac health care plans that ensure none of them will go bankrupt just because they got sick. Their kids go to the best schools, just like the kids of their parents’ peers do, and often simply because of who their parents are. The water in the District of Columbia is potable, the air is reasonably clean most of the time, and the bridges and roads are in good repair.
So what do these people want from their political leadership?
A perpetuation of the status quo.
Of course, those in elected offices want to keep their jobs and those running for office want to be elected. Both take a great deal of money, we are told over and over again, in this post-Citizens United political landscape. The Washington Post reported that as of December 31st, 2016; Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign, Democratic Party and joint committees, and allied Super PACs had raised over $1.4 billion dollars in her failed election bid. Donald Trump similarly raised over $950 million. That’s over $2,350,000,000 raised by only the two major party candidates — not counting Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, or any of the other candidates in last year’s election.
That’s two billion dollars. That rivals the gross domestic product of several small nations or the approximate operating income of CBS Broadcasting for the year 2015. Or, to put it another way: Out of every $9,000 spent last year in the United States, by anyone, for anything, approximately $1 was spent on this election. And that’s just the presidential election — similar, albeit smaller, expenditures occurred at the state, county, and local levels all over the country.
Now to you and me, it might seem that the money just disappears down a rathole. But that’s because we’re looking at it from our point of view. Candidates spend that money on an impressive number of people and services, from salaries for paid campaign staff to pollsters to focus group studies and any of the many other specialized services that have grown up around the political industry in this country. Plus plane tickets and car rentals have to be paid for, people have to be fed, speaking venues have to be booked, campaign materials have to be printed, advertising time and space needs to be purchased, cell phone and Internet bandwidth have to be paid for . . .
Every single one of these individuals and companies has a financial stake in our election process. Even those whose full-time function isn’t getting candidates elected, like TV stations and printing companies, often count on elections for a significant boost to their income during campaign season.
And, of course, those expenditures are made whether or not a candidate wins their election. Hillary Clinton’s campaign still had to pay her staffers, her advertising costs, her ahem Correct the Record cadre, and all of the other costs her organization incurred.
The people on the campaign staff, and to some extent ancillary positions like the DNC leadership, see all this as an investment, of course. If they win the campaign, they have access to more influence and more power and they have the ear of an influential person who either actually takes part in writing the laws or heavily influences them — but even if they don’t win, they still have the opportunity to continue to earn money as part of the permanent campaign apparatus. After all, there’s always another campaign.
And the pundits, think tanks, pollsters, and the like make their money regardless of who wins or loses.
When viewed from this perspective, the election this weekend of Tom Perez as the chair of the DNC makes perfect sense, as do the Chairships of Donna Brazile and Debbie Wasserman Schultz before him. The job of the DNC chair isn’t to win elections. That much should be obvious from the DNC’s track record over the last eight years — over 1,000 seats lost at the Federal and state levels. No, their job is to ensure the supply of money for Democratic candidates and institutions and to maintain the status quo. This is why Sam Ronan never had a chance of winning, and Keith Ellison’s chances were only slightly better. Ronan presented a major risk of upending the status quo, and Ellison, while still firmly within the Democratic establishment, also posed a threat. Tom Perez had been on the short list of vice-presidential candidates considered by Hillary Clinton, the embodiment of establishment candidates, and was no doubt chosen for his service to the Democratic Party and for his presumed ability to keep the party machine going.
Progressives understand that, if the ability to recruit electable candidates and winning back seats in the Senate and Congress had been a factor at any time within the last two years, the choice of DNC chair would have been heavily influenced by President Sanders and you wouldn’t be reading this article now. As it is, the election of Perez to be chair of the DNC is just the most recent demonstration, as if more were needed, that progressives and others who actually want change, whether within the party or the country, are not welcome among the Democrats.