Democratic Elites Are Uneasy With Keith Ellison. That Is Exactly Why He Should Be Head of the DNC.

The Democratic Party must be rebuilt—from the bottom up.

Joel Bleifuss December 28, 2016

Keith Ellison chats with employees at Minneapolis' Clockwork Active Media in 2014. Photo by Sharyn Morrow / Flickr)

In the after­math of the Trump vic­to­ry, a heat­ed blame game is being played on the fields of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. We endorse this spir­it of recrim­i­na­tion. Let’s be frank about what hap­pened: An astro­nom­i­cal­ly well-fund­ed Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date with a cam­paign staffed by the Very Best Peo­ple and who was endorsed by vir­tu­al­ly the entire Wash­ing­ton estab­lish­ment was defeat­ed by a racist real­i­ty TV star who gave out some free base­ball caps and bragged about sex­u­al­ly assault­ing women.

If progressives have a reason to rally to Ellison it may be to pointedly clap back at the West Wing’s clear unease with him.

Giv­en November’s cat­a­stroph­ic pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, and the over­all implo­sion of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tion in state­hous­es and on Capi­tol Hill, a par­ty purge is more than appropriate.

When they meet in late Feb­ru­ary, the 400-plus mem­bers of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee (DNC) will elect a new chair. The Bernie Sanders wing of the par­ty, Sen. Eliz­a­beth War­ren (Mass.), Sanders him­self and — sur­pris­ing­ly — future Sen­ate Minor­i­ty Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) are back­ing the can­di­da­cy of Rep. Kei­th Elli­son (Minn.), the co-chair of the Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus and an ear­ly sup­port­er of Sanders’ pres­i­den­tial bid.

Anoth­er who has thrown his hat in the ring is high­ly respect­ed Labor Sec­re­tary Thomas Perez, an attor­ney who in 2002 was elect­ed to the Mont­gomery Coun­ty (Mary­land) Coun­cil, on which he served until 2006. Perez is report­ed­ly the White House choice for DNC chair. A third can­di­date is Jaime Har­ri­son, the chair of the South Car­oli­na Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty and a Podes­ta Group cor­po­rate lobbyist.

On his DNC cam­paign web­site, Elli­son has pre­sent­ed a 29-point plan for a 3,143-county strat­e­gy to ener­gize Demo­c­ra­t­ic activists across the coun­try and give them the tools to build the Par­ty from the bot­tom up.” He writes:

We will nev­er stop fight­ing at-tempts by the Trump White House, Repub­li­can-con­trolled states, and spe­cial inter­ests to roll back afford-able health care, work­er wages and pro­tec­tions, and a woman’s right to choose. We will stand up for peo­ple of all races, reli­gions, gen­ders and sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tions to fos­ter a more inclu­sive, fair soci­ety and cre­ate an econ­o­my that works for all Amer­i­cans. Our par­ty is right. Our val­ues are just. Our future depends on grass­roots orga­niz­ing. When Democ­rats cham­pi­on the chal­lenges of work­ing fam­i­lies, vot­ers will have a rea­son to show up at the polls in 2017, 2018 and beyond.

Elli­son has called for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty to devote itself to becom­ing the par­ty of the work­ing class. His stead­fast com­mit­ment to racial jus­tice proves that pro­gres­sive lead­er­ship need not trap itself in the false dichoto­my of stand­ing up for work­ing peo­ple or fight­ing race and gen­der oppres­sion. How could the Left ever do one with­out doing the other?

Perez may have his strengths, but if pro­gres­sives have a rea­son to ral­ly to Elli­son it may be to point­ed­ly clap back at the West Wing’s clear unease with him. The Oba­ma camp is in no posi­tion to hec­tor Democ­rats about their future plans. Many of the big­wigs in Obama’s his­toric cam­paigns who went on to work at the White House have now become hired guns for such pro­gres­sive caus­es as the Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty of the Unit­ed King­dom (Jim Messi­na), Uber (David Plouffe) and McDonald’s (Robert Gibbs). In the Twit­ter patois of the Pres­i­dent-elect: Not Good! Sad!

Joel Blei­fuss, a for­mer direc­tor of the Peace Stud­ies Pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri-Colum­bia, is the edi­tor & pub­lish­er of In These Times, where he has worked since Octo­ber 1986.

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