Listen...it’s time we had a little chat about Debbie.
In the past week, Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been the talk of the internet and not in a good way. They claim all press is good press, but when you can draw a direct line between an individual’s actions and the decline of one of our major political parties I think that old saying goes right out the window. What’s worse is that her public ineptitude just might cost Democrats the election.
This isn’t the first time she has generated negative headlines for the Democratic Party. At countless points during her tenure, Wasserman Schultz has shown herself to be woefully out of step with the Democratic Party base and with liberal voters across the country. By placing her in the topmost position at the Democratic National Committee, she has become the face of the party nationwide — and that face is one that current and potential Democrats do not feel represents their true values. Next to party stalwarts like the Clintons and President Obama, she is perhaps the most recognizable figure from the Democratic establishment and her word is taken to represent the party as a whole. Since her appointment in 2011, her tenure has been nothing short of disastrous for both our progressive ideals and the wellbeing of the Democratic Party and its candidates.
PART ONE: FAILURE OF PRINCIPLE
First, let’s discuss her track record on key progressive issues because it’s a doozy. Wasserman Schultz is NOT a progressive and that is a reality which is putting her at odds with a party that is moving continually to the left. At numerous crucial moments in the public policy debate she has routinely bucked, not just the will of the majority of members in her party, but that of the overwhelming number of voters who would be likely show up to support Democrats at the ballot box. Looking just at a few of the crucial issues arising this past year, it is easy to see why liberal voters have never fully warmed to Wasserman Schultz and why Democratic-leaning independents have soured on her almost entirely.
In June, a proposed amendment was put before the House of Representatives that would have allowed the over two dozen states which have approved medical marijuana programs to implement them without fear of federal repercussions. The issue should have been a no-brainer since over 80% of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, support access to medical marijuana. Support among Democrats and Independents is even higher and often inches closer to the 90% mark nationwide. Apparently, Wasserman Schultz remains in the shrinking minority of citizens who believe that members of Congress know better than physicians and should actively work to block Americans that are suffering from severe illnesses from receiving what could be an effective and relatively safe treatment. Despite her opposition to this amendment, it was ultimately approved by Congress.
Her opposition to the medical marijuana issue goes even further. She previously rejected an even more modest proposal in 2014 that would have allowed veterans to utilize medical marijuana for the treatment of PTSD (a treatment for which there is an overwhelming amount of science to support) if they lived in states that had approved medical marijuana laws. When the issue came up again this year, she was conspicuously absent and did not cast a vote. This is a tragedy for the estimated 500,000+ veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who could’ve used the relief. In addition to going against the wishes of the majority of party members and her constituents, her lack of engagement and previous opposition to this issue leaves many of our veterans who are suffering to resort either to no treatment at all or ineffective ones. This vacuum of leadership doesn’t come without a body count considering an estimated 18-22 veterans commit suicide in the United States every day.
Much has been written about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and how the secretive trade deal would be a disaster for American workers. Before the actual agreement would come up for a vote, two other measures had to be considered. In June of 2015, the House of Representatives had an opportunity to put the brakes on this deal, which none of the representatives had even been allowed to read yet, by rejecting these early provisions.
First, there was Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). This proposal wouldprovide federal funds for workers displaced by free trade agreements. It would have funded job training, placement services, relocation expenses, and income support to help with health insurance premiums. Traditionally, this type of measure has been used as a “sweetener” to get Democrats who are typically opposed to international free trade deals to get on board. The arguments for and against this measure are often lengthy and I won’t get into all of them here, but I feel it was summed up perfectly by David Dayen from the Fiscal Times when he stated, “TAA is like throwing a quarter in the tip jar for somebody that just lost their house.”
While TAA would have allowed Democrats to save face for supporting the deal by letting them claim they at least fought for SOME worker related assistance, the reality is that a program like TAA is wholly unnecessary if they just opposed the trade deals responsible for wage suppression and the offshoring of American jobs like TPP, NAFTA, and CAFTA in the first place.
The majority of House Democrats, who were hip to this entire ruse, agreed to shoot down TAA from the get-go, therefore crippling any potential Democratic support for the next steps in the process. Most of them stood together in solidarity and voted “NO” — but some did not. Care to guess who was one of the few who broke rank? (hint: DWS)
TAA ended up being defeated overwhelmingly in its first round of voting. Undeterred, then Speaker of the House John Boehner proceeded to bring up the next related measure, the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). This was a measure put before Congress which, if approved, would allow President Obama to negotiate the deal in total secrecy with other countries and major multi-national corporations. In addition to the ability to sidestep around Congress during negotiations, TPA would hinder any ability to amend or filibuster the deal when it went to the floor for final approval. Members of Congress would only be allowed a simple up and down vote on the final language.
Again, the majority of Democrats held firm in their opposition. A minority didn’t. Want to guess who was one of the Democrats who voted in favor of this unnecessary enhancement of executive power? Correct again! It was Wasserman Schultz.
The measure passed in a 219 to 211 vote. Her actions on this deal were less “leading from behind” and more “leading from the opposite side.”
A month later, President Obama announced one of the most significant foreign policy developments in recent years. After calling for the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba in December of 2014, he formally announced in July that both nations would be reopening their respective embassies in each other’s countries and called for the ultimate dissolution of the Cuban trade embargo. After decades with no diplomatic progress between the two nations, stemming from an adherence to old, tired Cold War strategies, this thaw was a very big deal and one of the biggest breakthroughs in the United States’ foreign relations in the new millennium (only to be rivaled by the next topic in this article). Democratic elected officials were overwhelmingly supportive and a very strong majority of the American public was enthusiastic about the development. Quick to throw a wet blanket on the situation, and empower detractors, Debbie Wasserman Schultz again went against the will and principles of both the Democratic Party, their current voters, and prospective supporters by speaking loudly in the media against President Obama’s efforts to reestablish diplomatic ties. Despite her opposition, these efforts have thankfully progressed nicely. Both nations have since re-opened their embassies and President Obama has already begun to rollback the trade embargo by approving proposals that, among other things, eased travel restrictions on Americans visiting the island, authorized telecommunications companies to do business in the country, and allowing certain trade with Cuba's private sector. This was yet another breakthrough that was achieved despite of, not because of one of, one of the supposed “leaders” of the Democratic Party.
2015 also featured another historic moment for American diplomacy: the Iran nuclear deal. The importance of this deal for our relations with Iran, our ability to slow their nuclear production capabilities, and just generally improve our relations in the Middle East has been discussed at length so I won’t reiterate those points here. In short, this deal was of incredible importance and marked a huge step forward for our nation’s foreign diplomatic efforts. Unsurprisingly, before a final deal was even on the table, Debbie Wasserman Schultz was working to undermine the administration’s progress.
She began throwing up roadblocks in August, when members requested that a motion be put before the Democratic National Committee which would have declared their support for the deal. At their annual meeting, the DNC already approved similar motions supporting both the $15 minimum wage and the Black Lives Matter movement. A majority of the committee’s members were eager to approve a similar show of support for the developing Iran deal, but that motion was never even called upon for a vote. Why might that be? It was simply and straightforwardly because DNC chair, Wasserman Schultz, refused to bring it before the membership for a vote.
In the end, she voted in favor of the deal, but only begrudgingly and not before trying to hinder its approval throughout the process. So, while she finally gave the deal her nod of approval, it made it to that point without her assistance as a major party spokesperson.
PART TWO: A FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP
The issues that were just addressed are notable instances where she broke with progressives and liberals on policy in just the previous year alone. The next point that needs to be addressed is the way in which she has conducted herself as DNC chair and how she went about the party’s broader mission of electing Democrats to positions of power.
To be frank, she has utterly failed at the party’s broader mission. During her time as chair, Democrats have faced some of the most sweeping losses they have seen in their modern history. Using data since 2009, which admittedly is 2 years before her tenure started, you can see the downward spiral the party has found itself in when it comes to the number of federal and state offices held. Since 2009, the Democratic Party has lost an estimated 11 governorships, 13 U.S. Senate seats, 69 House seats, and 913 state legislative seats and 30 state legislative chambers.
While there have been many factors that have played into this trajectory, the very least that can be said is that Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s term as DNC chair has clearly not inspired confidence in the party and done nothing to increase the odds of Democrats achieving any real electoral victory outside of the presidency.
The general failure on the part of Democrats to win or retain their elected offices is one thing to consider. The other is the allegations of how Wasserman Schultz has spent her time and resources. Commenting on her style of business at a DNC retreat, one unnamed party members surmised that, “We say the big ‘D’ is for Democratic. For her, the big ‘D’ is always for Debbie.”
It is easy to see where this sentiment comes from. Politico reported that, according to sources who attended DNC donor meetings, Wasserman Schultz would routinely pitch party donors not just by asking them to contribute money to the Democratic National Committee, but also to her personal leadership PAC, her reelection committee, or sometimes all three. As Politico stated, “There’s nothing illegal about this, but donors often grumble privately that this sends mixed messages about her priorities and why she’s interested in meeting with them.”
The list of allegations runs longer and includes trips to uncompetitive House districts on the party’s dime to shore up support for future leadership votes, prioritizing the hiring of close political allies to DNC positions, among other equally questionable practices.
PART THREE: FAILURE TO MANAGE THE 2016 ELECTION
That all leads us to the current situation that has put her back in the headlines: her handling of the 2016 presidential primary process. This issue first flared up earlier in the year when she announced the Democratic primary debate schedule. During the 2008 election, the Democratic Party authorized over two dozen debates between their primary candidates. Many expected a similar number for the 2016 election, eager to see a strong policy discussion between the different wings of the party. However, at Debbie Wasserman Schultz behest, the DNC only authorized a laughable total of six debates. Of those, only four will be held before the first primaries and caucuses begin in February.
Many saw this as an attempt on the part of the DNC and Debbie Wasserman Schultz to protect Hillary Clinton and ensure a coronation for the establishment’s candidate of choice. All the other candidates in the race denounced this decision and many Democrats organized and protested this decision both online and in person at the DNC offices in Washington, DC. Others in DNC’s leadership joined the protest against the proposed the debate schedule, such as Vice-Chair Tulsi Gabbard. In return for voicing her opinion, Wasserman Schultz had Gabbard uninvited from the Democratic Debate in Las Vegas. After a prolonged out cry, there was still no sign of movement from those in control of the DNC and those of us hoping to see more spirited debates between our primary candidates begrudgingly accepted the reality that the schedule was unlikely to change.
Tensions simmered down for awhile, until last week when the whole situation hit another boiling point. Due to a security flaw in NGP-VAN, a vendor the DNC contracts with to handle voter lists, data management, and other engagement programs for the party’s candidates, data from Hillary Clinton’s campaign ended up being available to members of the other campaigns. This was similar to an incident that had occurred in October. That breach was immediately reported to the DNC by Sanders’ campaign staff. This time, a member (potentially a few) of Bernie Sanders’ staff, unbeknownst to campaign management, accessed the data. In response, Wasserman Schultz and the DNC closed off the Sanders campaign’s access, not just to the broader 50 state voter list, but also to all the data the campaign had spent time and money collecting on their own. By shutting them out of the system, they also denied the Sanders campaign the ability to do any internal investigation in terms of the extent of the problem.
While the story is still developing, it is clear that what these campaign staffers did was wrong. That is not in question. However, the bigger failure, in addition to the DNC and their vendors’ incompetence at managing data security, is their overreaction to the entire situation. Not only was it a grossly heavy-handed course of action, but by shutting down the campaign’s access to the voter list and their own collected data it was also a clear breach of contract on the part of the DNC. The Sanders campaign responded, quite rightfully, by filing for injunctive relief in federal court. Outrage swirled in political circles and on social media. Later that day, under pressure, the DNC ultimately relented and returned Sanders’ access to the data.
Unfortunately, the damage was already done to the DNC brand. While the October breach was handled quietly and behind closed doors, the leaking of this most recent incident to the press reeked, rightfully or wrongfully, of opportunism. Coming on the heels of one of the biggest days for Bernie Sanders’ candidacy, which saw him receiving two major endorsements and surpassing more than 2 million individual campaign contributions, it was hard to not interpret this as the establishment throwing a wrench in his campaign to benefit their chosen candidate.
CONCLUSION: TIME TO GO
The history here speaks for itself. Not only is Debbie Wasserman Schultz out of step with the Democratic voter base, but by staking out opposing positions on key issues she is alienating potential supporters that Democrats must bring into the fold to win, not just in 2016, but for election cycles to come. Under her leadership, Democrats have suffered some of the starkest defeats in their modern history: losing control of the Senate, seeing their numbers in the House of Representatives diminish further, and becoming an extreme minority party in way too many state legislatures. Her handling of 2016 candidates not named Hillary Clinton has only legitimized the view that the institutional party is corrupt and actively pursuing their own interests at the expense of the desires and beliefs of their supporters.
Even worse is that this current misstep comes at a time when the Republican Party was in the process of digging its own grave. With the GOP in total disarray, the election was quickly becoming Bernie or Hillary’s to lose. By abusing her power in a way that comes across as an outrageous manipulation of the primary process to favor Hillary Clinton, she is more likely to drive otherwise Democratic voters away en masse. If Hillary ends up winning the nomination, but in a way that Bernie Sanders’ supporters perceive as rigged by the party establishment, they won’t hold their noses and vote for Hillary in the general...they will simply stay at home. Without their participation and enthusiasm, we WILL lose to Republicans next November. If Bernie Sanders wins the nomination in this climate, we will be hindered in our ability to ensure his election since there will be a rift a mile wide between the campaign’s volunteers and supporters and the apparatus of the Democratic Party which must be utilized to achieve victory.
For the good of the country, the future sustainability of the Democratic Party, and the ability for us to champion and implement our progressives ideas — the time has come to kick Debbie Wasserman Schultz to the curb and seek new leadership in order to restore faith in the Democratic Party.