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

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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