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Democratic Party... What Is It Good For!

Say It Again, Ya'll

Friday evening, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, the progressive congressional candidate taking on Blue Dog Kurt Schrader in a redrawn central Oregon district, told us that "By voting against lowering prescription drug prices to please his Big Pharma donors and promoting legislation that benefits them instead of our working families, Schrader is betraying all Americans who desperately need access to affordable prescription drugs. And, he’s doing this on top of the struggles of the pandemic, which have exacerbated health care inequities in the US. I don’t take any corporate PAC money, and that includes money from Big Pharma. I think it’s unconscionable to benefit from other people’s pain, but based on the fact that he’s taken over $650,000 from Big Pharma, it’s clear he’d rather take the money than do what’s right."

One day earlier Austin Ahlam had written at The Intercept, that Schrader is coming to realize that voters in his district see him exactly that way and may be ready to hand him his walking papers. In fact, his reelection campaign "touts his support for the popular agenda he worked to undermine. Earlier this month, he released his first advertisements of the 2022 election cycle. In those ads, Schrader casts himself as a champion of Democratic priorities, claiming that he is 'working to rebuild the safety net,' 'making sure Medicare can negotiate lower drug prices,' and 'leading the fight to get big money out of politics.'" Schrader is a scumbag and bold-faced liar who has no respect for the ability of his constituents to have seen exactly act he has done in Congress.

"Schrader," continued Ahlman, "is facing the strongest primary challenge of his seven terms in office. In a series of unprecedented votes, four of the six Democratic county parties in his district endorsed his primary opponent, Jamie McLeod-Skinner. The votes are unusual considering the procedural hurdles required for county parties to endorse: Party bylaws dictate that a two-thirds supermajority of votes cast by participating Democrats is required within a county. No other Oregon congressional incumbent in recent memory has faced renunciation from a single county party. The four counties that bucked Schrader-- Clackamas, Deschutes, Linn, and Marion-- contain over 90 percent of the 5th Congressional District’s voters." Just above is a Blue America 2022 Primary A Blue Dog thermometer. It is a live link and by clicking on it, you will be able to contribute seamlessly to McLeod-Skinner's grassroots campaign.

In an interview with The Intercept explaining the unorthodox decision to endorse against an incumbent, Jan Lee, chair of the Clackamas County Democratic Party (Schrader’s home county), described Schrader’s new ads as misleading. In the lead-up to its endorsement of McLeod-Skinner, the group prepared a detailed position paper that broke down Schrader’s history of voting against the interests of Oregonians and the stated values of the party.
Schrader’s conservative record has drawn increased scrutiny from local and national Democrats since Biden’s election. In 2021, Schrader ultimately voted in favor of former President Donald Trump’s impeachment for inciting the January 6 Capitol insurrection after facing backlash for calling it a “lynching.” A couple months later, Schrader voted in favor of final passage of the American Rescue Plan after receiving a blistering letter from the Democratic Party chairs of each county in his district that lambasted his vote against initial passage. And last November, Schrader voted for Biden’s Build Back Better Act only after working to delink it from the bipartisan infrastructure bill and weaken key prescription drug reforms in committee.
In the words of the Clackamas County Democrats, Schrader’s record reflects a representative who serves “the rich and powerful,” not one who works “to protect the disenfranchised, the environment, or our democracy.” With recent internal polling first reported by Politico showing Schrader and McLeod-Skinner in a dead heat, Schrader’s ad blitz indicates that he is hoping to spin his record to address the growing discontent of his constituents.
...One of Schrader's highest-profile conflicts with the party came in September, when Schrader was one of three House Democrats who voted to block a measure allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices in favor of a much narrower reform that would allow Medicare to negotiate only a few drugs and therefore result in only a fraction of the cost savings. The move played a key role in weakening the Build Back Better Act. Though Schrader has long insisted that the federal deficit and Medicare spending need to be reined in, the larger reform would have saved the federal government hundreds of billions more each year and offset spending in other parts of the Build Back Better bill.
Schrader-- who used a family fortune largely composed of pharmaceutical profits to fund his first congressional race-- was heavily criticized following the vote, which he explained by pointing to dissent in the Senate. Schrader is also one of the top recipients of pharmaceutical money in Congress, taking over $100,000 from affiliated PACs in each of the last three election cycles. He has received almost $90,000 from these political action committees in the 2022 cycle so far.
...Clackamas County Democrats took specific issue with Schrader’s extensive receipt of campaign funds from business interests that oppose the reforms Schrader has worked to defeat. By contrast, McLeod-Skinner, whom the county party endorsed, has pledged not to accept any donations from corporate PACs to her campaign. That differing approach has left McLeod-Skinner with considerably fewer campaign resources leading up to the May 17 primary. Figures from the end of 2021 indicate that McLeod-Skinner had $200,000 on hand. After years of collecting disproportionately large amounts of corporate PAC money in uncompetitive election cycles, Schrader’s campaign chest has swelled to over $3 million dollars. McLeod-Skinner, meanwhile, has relied almost exclusively on individual contributions, substantially out-raising Schrader among small-dollar donors in the district.
...Lee says Schrader’s work to defeat Biden’s agenda and the substantial evidence that he may live outside the district were key reasons local Democrats have gone to unprecedented lengths to disavow him. “He came out here recently and turned right around after bringing his horses and just left,” she said.

As frustrated as many of us get with the Democratic Party, it's worth considering what Thom Hartmann wrote yesterday before we give up on them. Like myself, he still feels progressives have to keep working towards taking over the party-- as hard as we've all found that to be. "It's not," he readily admits, "like Democrats don't have a lot to answer for. But the unfortunate truth is that, in America, there is one and only one way for us to accomplish the progressive goals we've worked and fought for all these years, and that's through getting inside and seizing control of the Democratic Party... What I've discovered after doing progressive talk radio for nearly 20 years, is that most people who want to gratuitously trash the Democratic Party falsely believe that there's an easy alternative. But there isn't."

  • Most think the Greens or some other third-party can someday win and thus elevate progressive values. While they can be a significant and positive force at the local level and have brought instant runoff voting to over 300 municipalities, at the congressional and presidential level they generally pull votes away from Democrats and overall reduce the power of the left.

  • Some think if they can just "tear down the system" by breaking windows, setting fires, or engaging in massive strikes (that never happen), a thousand flowers of democracy will bloom. Sometimes such things are triggers for change-- witness the Boston Tea Party-- but more often they simply alienate locals and give conservatives a handy villain to complain about.

  • Others are convinced we just need to loudly criticize any Democrat (or ally) who's not sufficiently pure, and they'll all fall right into line. That "yelling on social media" can be satisfying (and sometimes slightly alters politicians' behavior on specific issues), but most often just provides an excuse to avoid the hard work of infiltrating and taking over a party and/or running for political office.

This is not to say I'm not a big fan of public accountability. Locally, for two election cycles in a row (for example), I've tried to help rid Oregon of a "corporate problem solver" Democrat, Kurt Schrader, who regularly tries to sabotage progressive programs as simple and elementary as letting Medicare negotiate drug prices.
Some of my colleagues have made holding Democrats accountable a regular part of their beat. I salute and often quote their efforts, like The Lever critique of Biden continuing Trump's support for corrupt and predatory for-profit colleges.
And sometimes it makes a difference: Schrader announced this week that he's no longer going to take contributions from Koch.
I still prefer his progressive primary challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner. As do FOUR local Oregon Democratic county Parties where progressives have done the hard work to get inside and now have actual political power.
...When Obama was president, a conservative group that called themselves the Concord Project, presumably preparing for the 2010 elections, put together a series of videos about how movement conservatives could seize control of the Republican Party.
Their message was simple: get inside the Party and take it over.
Even simpler, they noted, party precinct committee members are, in aggregate, the single most powerful political force in America.
Here's one of their clips, running just two minutes and well worth your taking a moment to watch:
This strategy, now being openly advocated by Steve Bannon, worked for the conservatives who wanted to take over the GOP and evict the "weak" Republicans they saw as standing in the way of rolling back Roe v Wade, reversing decades of racial and gender progress, and rigging election laws to create a permanent Republican majority.
Today, because of these very same types of efforts by Bannon and people like him on the right, Trump-aligned neofascists have seized considerable control over the Republican Party in almost every state in the nation.
Successful nations with power distributed over multiple parties are:
  • using government to improve the lives of their citizens with national healthcare systems

  • maintaining high quality public schools and colleges

  • keeping big money out of their politics

  • and building a green infrastructure for the future.

But to do that here takes political change within one of our two parties. A political revolution, to paraphrase Bernie.
Revolutions never happen from the top down, even when they look that way, as Thomas Paine pointed out at length in The Crisis. Without popular support they fail right away or their foundation is so weak they don't last.
Instead, changing American politics and creating a progressive future requires large numbers of us working from the bottom up, getting directly involved in the daily, messy work of the Democratic Party.
When, in 2016, Senator Bernie Sanders ran for president on the Democratic ticket, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez volunteered as an organizer for his campaign.
She got inside the system. And two years later she took down the ultimate "corporate Dem" (and Chair of the Democratic House Caucus), Joe Crowley.
Today, she and other progressives within the Democratic Party have become major forces in our nation. We need more like her.
When Bernie first started doing his "Brunch With Bernie" hour every Friday on my program back in 2003, he'd recently started the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
I remember doing a fundraising event back then for them; it was a small affair with a half-dozen politicians (including its then-chair, Rep. Raúl Grijalva) and fewer than 100 activists. The CPC only had a few dozen congressional members; it was new.
Today, because more and more Democrats are waking up to and rejecting widespread corporate-funded grifts with names like "Corporate Problem Solvers" and "No Labels," the Progressive Caucus has grown into one of the largest and most vibrant caucuses in DC.
And the most powerful.
Look at what progressives have helped to get through already in less than two years. The list is exhaustive.
While much of it is attributed to Biden, the political reality is that he could not have done much or even most of it if the Progressive Caucus wasn't with him. That is true political power.
Progressives are gaining political power by the day, and America needs us to continue pushing back against the corporate bribery and graft that's infected both parties. While the Republican Party has turned to outright white supremacy and neofascism, the Democratic Party has rapidly moved in a more progressive direction. But there are still stragglers.
We can help. Reach out to your local Democrats and show up at the Party meetings. Make friends, pitch in, help out. It's satisfying, meaningful, and important work. God's work, some would say (those who take Jesus' words about feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and healing the sick literally).
As in so many meaningful efforts in life and even in work, when you go into political battle you often don't necessarily like or even fully agree with the people who stand by your side.
Nonetheless, it's important to remember who's the real opponent, versus who shares some or hopefully most (but not necessarily all) of your values.
Whether you're volunteering to canvas or campaign, running for precinct committee-person, or just helping out, if you really want to see progressive change in America the single most effective way to do it is to infiltrate join the Democratic Party and transform it from the inside.
Just yelling about the evils of "corporate Dems" may be satisfying, particularly for those of us in the media, but it's often just the political equivalent of masturbation. Instead of just complaining, get inside the Party and evict those corporate Dems, replacing them with good progressives, so we can create genuine and lasting progressive change!

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