Why Was Tom Perez Willing to be the New Democrats’ DNC Stalking Horse?

By William K. Black
February 22, 2017     Bloomington, MN

Hillary Clinton did not lose the presidential race because she is stupid.  The New Democrats have dominated the Democratic Party’s presidential candidates for decades.  This means that they are extremely good at internal Democratic Party politics.  The New Democrats faced a major challenge after Hillary’s loss to the worst presidential candidate in our Nation’s history.  The loss discredited the New Democrats’ leaders, policies, institutions, and funders.  It proved the accuracy of Tom Frank’s efforts to warn the Party about the price it would pay for abandoning the Party’s traditional working class base.

Bernie Sanders posed a major challenge both to Hillary in the nomination contest and to the New Democrats’ domination of Party organs such as the Democratic National Committee (DNC).  Keith Ellison, one of the Nation’s rising stars among progressives, announced his candidacy to lead the DNC.  Ellison was among Bernie’s most effective surrogates.  Ellison gained the support of Senator Schumer and became the odds on favorite to become the next DNC head.  At that point, however, the New Democrats’ leaders showed their cleverness, the depths of their hostility to Bernie and progressives, and their ruthless determination to maintain their dominance of the Party.

The New Democrats faced a difficult tactical problem, however, in coming up with a workable plan to defeat Ellison.  The DNC had proven ineffective and been caught putting its thumb on the scale to try to ensure that Hillary beat Bernie.  The New Democrats lacked a strong candidate.  They could have supported Ellison, who is widely viewed as likely to be a highly effective DNC leader that will lead the revitalization of the Party.  Obama and the Clintons, however, are enraged at the prospect that a Bernie supporter would lead the DNC.  Their highest national political priority is defeating Ellison.  Do not fall for the “cool Obama” hype.  Obama is furious with Bernie and Ellison and has pulled out all the stops to try to prevent progressives’ from challenging his legacy as a New Democrat.  The Clintons share his rage.

Obama was clever in his tactics to defeat Ellison.  He recruited Thomas Perez, twice a senior official in the Obama administration, to run against Ellison.  This was an unconventional political choice for Maryland Democrats are eager for him to run for governor and take that seat back from the Republicans.  Ellison, by contrast, has said he would step down as a Congressman.  His seat (a few miles from where I write this piece) is a safe seat for the Democrats so the Party does not risk an election defeat if Ellison becomes DNC chair.  Perez is a clever tactic from the New Democrats’ perspective for several reasons.  First, Obama signaled that Perez is the New Democrats and Obama’s candidate.  Second, Perez is a Latino.  Third, Perez was Obama’s most effective enforcer against discriminatory lending and employment.  He is competent and was one of Obama’s liberal officials.  (Ellison is black and strongly progressive.)  The New Democrats understood that by running Perez they could split the progressive vote in the DNC election and split the vote of those who wished to encourage diversity.

There is no mystery about why Obama and the Clintons would select Perez as their candidate to seek to block Ellison’s election.  The mystery is why Perez agreed to allow the New Democrats to use him to try to defeat Ellison.

Perez’ willingness to allow Obama and the Clintons to seek revenge against Bernie because he had the audacity to contest Hillary’s nomination will, if successful, outrage progressives.  Progressives are the modern base of the Democratic Party.  They have very high voter turnout and likelihood of voting for Democratic candidates.  Progressives have these characteristics regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender.  The downside of this loyalty, of course, is that New Democrats have taken the position that because progressives will continue to vote for New Democrats, the Party should ignore progressives’ preferred policies and exclude them as candidates for the presidency and for leadership of Party organizations.

Progressives know how to defeat this tactic.  They are outraged enough to defeat it.  The question is whether they will exhibit the will to end the New Democrats’ perennial strategy of playing them.  Perez could do a great service for the Party and the Nation by endorsing Ellison and refusing to be the New Democrats’ surrogate.  No one, of course, expects that to happen.  The election is pivotal to whether the Democratic Party survives which will require a rebirth and return to first principles developed in the New Deal and the Civil Rights movement.


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