Sometimes a party’s leader seems to symbolize an enduring malaise. For Democrats in 2018, that institutional leader is Tom Perez.
While serving as secretary of labor during President Obama’s second term, Perez gained a reputation as an advocate for workers and civil rights. That image may have helped him win a narrow election among Democratic leaders to become chair of the Democratic National Committee, with the backing of Hillary Clinton loyalists eager to prevent the top DNC job from going to Bernie Sanders supporter Rep. Keith Ellison.
Perez’s leadership of the DNC during the last 11 months has been mediocre at best. The problems go far beyond administrative failings, lack of inspirational impacts or shortcomings in fundraising. His mode of using progressive rhetoric while purging progressives from key DNC committees reflected a pattern.
At the top of the DNC, the Clinton wing’s determination to keep the progressive base at arm’s length has not abated — while, at the same time, the DNC proclaims its commitment to the progressive base. The contradiction exists because of Democratic Party priorities revolving around corporate power.
To align the DNC with a grassroots base that is notably more progressive and has enormous energy to challenge Wall Street and the oligarchy, it would be necessary to welcome that energy instead of trying to keep it at bay.
Rhetoric aside, the DNC leadership is hardly oriented to challenging the corporate domination that imposes so much economic injustice. Some disturbing indicators of the current chair’s orientation can be found in his Obama-era record as an assistant attorney general as well as head of the Labor Department.
“Before Tom Perez was Labor Secretary granting waivers to indicted banks, he was at the Justice Department not prosecuting Steve Mnuchin for illegally foreclosing on active duty troops,” financial specialist Matt Stoller pointed out in a recent tweet.