Messy Democracy on Eve of DNC Convention Kickoff

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July 24, 2016; New York Times

Even as Bernie Sanders prepares to give the opening remarks at the Democratic National Convention, protestors have taken to the streets in Philadelphia in large numbers to declare their anger at a system that they believe was rigged against the Vermont Senator. And the Wikileaks leak of almost 20,000 emails from the Democratic National Committee does seem to confirm that DNC officials favored Hillary Clinton. One DNC official even suggested in an email that the party use Sanders’s being Jewish (or an atheist, which Sanders denies) to hurt him in the South.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who until recently chaired the DNC, was implicated in the emails. She still plans to open and close the convention but will resign immediately afterward to take a prominent role in the Clinton campaign. Donna Brazile, a vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, is to be the interim chair through the election, according to the DNC.

For his part, Sanders has been low-key since her resignation announcement, saying Wasserman Schultz “has made the right decision for the future of the Democratic Party. […] While she deserves thanks for her years of service, the party now needs new leadership that will open the doors of the party and welcome in working people and young people. The party leadership must also always remain impartial in the presidential nominating process, something which did not occur in the 2016 race.”

But Sanders appears to want to focus acutely at the task at hand, which is defeating the man he calls “perhaps the worst Republican candidate that I’ve seen in my lifetime.”

“We have to elect Secretary Clinton, who on every single issue—fighting for the middle class, on health care, on climate change—is a far, far superior candidate to Trump,” Sanders said on Meet the Press. “That’s where I think the focus has got to be.”

The Sanders campaign has been recognized as being largely responsible for delivering the “most progressive platform in Democratic Party history.” Apparently, his message to the 13 million voters who supported him during the primary is that the political revolution they launched with him at the fore must move forward.

“Together, we continue the fight to create a government which represents all of us, and not just the 1 percent,” he will say, according to the campaign. “A government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice.”

Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton for president at Portsmouth High School on July 12, 2016, in Portsmouth, N.H. He’s said he will do everything he can to help defeat Trump. However, Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, does not know whether the “Bernie or Bust” folk, whose suspicions of collusion between Clinton’s campaign and the DNC appear now to be documented, will fall in line.

“The wound hasn’t healed yet,” he said. “It’s ripping off the scab and reopening it. In the end, they’re going to vote for her. The impact is on the level of enthusiasm. What [Democrats] were hoping for is a clean convention with Sanders sending a very clear signal with his speech that ‘We’re all united behind Clinton.’ These email leaks just make it harder for some of his supporters to do that in a very enthusiastic way.”

But one has to wonder if any plan might be afoot on the part of Sanders and his supporters to take the moment to strengthen the DNC with a less establishment oriented leader who might, as Sanders suggests, open the party up for an energetic and active pursuit of some of those new planks in the platform.

Sanders supporter and former president of the NAACP Ben Jealous, in an editorial about the need to eliminate the superdelegate system, writes:

The rules committee members won’t be the only ones in the City of Brotherly Love this weekend. Also gathering in Philadelphia will be tens of thousands of millennial activists drawn from the largest, most diverse and inclusive generation of American voters…Everyone agrees this group should be the future of our party and could ensure its dominance in future elections. However, many of them are heavily critical of a party primary process they see as “rigged” against the will of the people and also more likely to be seeking an alternative party where their voice is guaranteed to be heard, or abandon political parties all together. Simply put, making the Democratic Party more democratic is a necessary first step to making it a party they can believe now, let alone for the rest of their lives.

—Ruth McCambridge