“Oh great, Tom Perez won DNC Chair, same old, same old.” “Tom Perez is another corporate centrist!” “What do you call a party that does the same thing over and over again and expects a different results? The Democratic Party.” “Goodbye Democrats, I’m going third party! Demexit!”
We heard all this and a lot more from disappointed Bernie fans last weekend when Tom Perez secured the DNC Chair and it didn’t seem to matter much that his first act was to appoint Keith Ellison as Vice Chair. [Bernie fans went from saying “The DNC Chair is a largely symbolic position with not much real power so why don’t they just give it to Keith?” to complaining that Perez’s Vice Chair olive branch was…a largely symbolic position with not much real power.] And nearly a week later they are apparently unmoved by Perez pretending to be Ellison’s best friends and posting near-daily pictures or mentions about him. As I’m typing this, Perez is probably tweeting “Hanging out at TGIFriday’s with my bro Keith for a totally casual chill-sess, and our waitress just happened to be an undocumented transgender Latina threatened with deportation–shame on you Trump!”
Still, I can’t help but feel the blowback over Perez is ridiculous for many reasons, perhaps the biggest one being that Democrats fighting each other seems to exist on a different planet than the one where we’re not at a near-90 year low point and completely uncompetitive in 2/3rds of America. [Talk of a more liberal third party may not be the smartest move at a point where there’s barely two parties.] But another, more complicated, subtler reason is because of this: Tom Perez will actually be better for Bernie fans.
“Whaaaaaaaat?” They may ask. Actually, let’s not pretend Bernie fans are big on “asking” anything, so much as hurling accusations of “Go back to Wall Street you corporate phony!” By the time you’re finished reading this, I will doubtlessly have been accused of doing the bidding for my “TPP, Clinton-crony, Wall Street-loving, Big Bank puppet masters” despite the fact Alabama Liberal has lost money every year I’ve done it.
But the truth remains that Tom Perez is actually a better deal for Bernie fans than Ellison—who, let’s be honest, is only really popular because he’s Bernie’s man, not because people really believe Keith will be good at this job. And if Ellison weren’t in the race, would people really be saying Tom Perez is a centrist? The head of Barack Obama’s pro-union, pro-minimum wage increase, pro-Civil Rights Labor Department that is now the first black Latino head of the DNC wouldn’t be considered a liberal if it weren’t for the perceived snubbing of Bernie by DNC “party elites?” [It’s also funny to see people complaining about the DNC’s meddling in another election…as they were literally electing their own party head.]
As far as I can tell the best way to help Democrats, liberals, Bernie fans, progressives, The Gay Green Muslim Transgender Feminist Latina African Studies Coaltion, or however way you want to phrase the “Trump sucks” movement at this moment, but the best way to help “us” beat “them” is to get more of “us” into office. And Tom Perez is dramatically better-suited to do that than Keith Ellison.
First, he’s an organizer. As Obama’s Labor Secretary he oversaw an entire, complex department and obviously he got to know a lot of blue-collar labor organizers and union bosses we’ll need to win back some of that white working class vote from Trump. Second, he’ll be more likely than any of the other six candidates that ran for the DNC Chair to rebuild the states parties and local races. All of them said that was a priority, but Ellison’s example of how he used larger urban turnout to win senate and governor’s races in Minnesota is not really going to make a big difference in flipping state legislatures (as proven by Minnesota having a Republican state legislature currently). Third, Perez’s answers are the best, as given by his correct assessment of Trump’s victory: “Trump had a message and a vision for his voters, Hillary’s message seemed to be ‘vote for me because this man is crazy.'”
Finally and most importantly: Ellison had too much baggage and a great DNC head is largley an invisible, managerial type. It was no secret that Trump was subtly rooting for Ellison to be DNC Chair (read between the tweets), and much of what I’ve heard about Ellison—living in Minneapolis I heard people I believe tell me they knew women who’d slept with him while he was married—suggests Republicans were looking forward to waiting until the 2018 midterms, and then releasing a flood of compromising information about Ellison to throw the party into chaos (as they did with Debbie Wasserman-Shultz in 2016). Can anyone really make the case that a disorganized DNC did much to help Hillary or especially congressional Democrats in 2016?
People usually only talk about a DNC Chair for bad reasons, and the job is largely thankless when done correctly–just ask Howard Dean, who led a massive 50-state campaign that won back the senate, the house of representatives, most governorships, and state legislatures in 2006, but was promptly shown the door when Obama was elected in 2008. Ellison needs the spotlight too much—he’s already been making speeches and an Islamic agenda for congress as if he’s the DNC Chair—and I think Perez is more of that invisible manager type the job requires. He has a bit more of the wonkish, technocratic aspects that Democrats now seem to hate in their candidates (like Hillary) but that they don’t quite realize is essential for behind-the-scenes party building.
In the end, Perez is more likely to engineer that Dean-esque 50-state strategy and actually get Bernie fans a Democratic congress that could actually pass some of Bernie’s agenda. It’s a good thing for them, even if they don’t know it yet.