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Bernie Sanders is right about the DNC

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is right, and certain people close to the Obama White House and the Hillary Clinton campaign are wrong, about the future direction of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

The Sanders vision of the DNC is that it should be a popular-based center of organization and small-donor fundraising that supports Democrats at all levels of national and state politics and government, and promotes an agenda that offers a powerful alternative to the crony capitalism, insiderism, elitism and phony populism of President-elect Donald Trump.

A pure version of the Sanders vision is the new group he inspired, Our Revolution, an excellent organization that champions progressive causes and candidates.

The opposing vision of the DNC would continue the status quo of recent years, when it was far too focused on supporting the Obama White House and largely uninterested in supporting Democrats in Congress and at the state and local level.

{mosads}The old-politics vision of the DNC was defined by the tenure of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-Fla.) as DNC chair, when it functioned largely as a service organization for Obama and Washington-based consultants.

The mistakes of the old politics vision of the DNC were starkly revealed by the DNC role organizing the 2016 primary debates, which were designed to minimize the national audience for the debates to give an advantage to the Clinton campaign and minimize the insurgent clout of the Sanders campaign.

The DNC debate practices in 2016 not only limited the audience for Sanders, which was unfair, but also hurt Clinton, who would have been far more attuned to the change desire of voters had she participated in more debates before larger audiences.

Not all Obama and Clinton insiders support the old-politics paradigm for the DNC, but many of them do and are working behind the scenes in opposition to the more progressive and grassroots vision of Sanders and other leading progressives such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

What is at stake in this debate is the core vision of the Democratic Party.

The best formula, in my opinion, is an updated version of the Kennedys. Jack, Bobby and Ted all combined an insurgent style of mobilizing grassroots workers and voters behind a progressive agenda that appealed to both minority voters and white ethnic and working-class voters.

They supported Democrats in the Senate and House, but also built networks of alliances with Democrats in state and local politics and leaders of progressive causes such as civil rights. They mobilized grassroots workers and small donors and larger donors who supported the cause.

Where Clinton fell short in 2016, to a large degree, was refusing to even try appeal to white blue-collar voters and never fully understanding the power of small donors and workers who believe in great causes and are mobilized through social media, as Sanders did brilliantly.

Where Clinton succeeded — and let’s give her credit for this — is that she defeated Trump by a substantial margin of the popular vote.

But there are reasons that after the old-politics paradigm of the DNC throughout the Obama years the Democrats lost control of every branch of government, while in match-up polls throughout the campaign Sanders bested Trump by landslide margins!

Sanders is right to emphasize the huge and historic importance of small donors and grassroots workers. That should be a prime focus of the DNC, which should organize a huge grassroots fundraiser during the Trump inaugural.

Democrats must reject a DNC model that services a system of a Washington-based consultant industrial complex composed of individuals who often work for big banks and Big Pharma when they aren’t working for Democrats, make far too much money even when they lose elections, and overemphasize large-scale television ads paid for by big donor fundraising.

Sanders is right to emphasize a powerful presence on social media to mobilize workers, raise oceans of good money from small donors and bring a powerful progressive message to voters across the nation.

Today I am focusing on the plan, not the candidates for DNC chair. I am friendly to the candidacy of Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and watching him closely, hoping he can succeed carrying a large message to a wide cross-section of voters. I am open to a candidacy of Tom Perez, currently the secretary of Labor, but watching to see if he, or other potential candidates, embrace a new politics grassroots vision for the DNC.

A revitalized DNC would rally all Democrats and Americans against the offensive and insulting presence of President-elect Trump, and the Bernie Sanders way is the best way.

Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Chief Deputy Majority Whip Bill Alexander (D-Ark.). He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. Contact him at

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton

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