What Happened to Keith Ellison?
The Democratic establishment waged war on Keith Ellison. We should respond in kind.
On the Monday after the 2016 election, Keith Ellison announced that he intended to run for DNC chair. At the time of his announcement, Ellison had the support of prominent establishment Democrats (Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer) and prominent left-wing Democrats (Bernie Sanders, Raúl Grijalva). He was the clear frontrunner. His challengers were mostly insignificant or bygone figures that nobody thought posed a threat to his bid.
Around a week after he announced, the New York Times reported that Obama’s people were not happy with Ellison and that they were scouring the benches for someone to beat him:
But after steadily adding endorsements from leading Democrats in his bid to take over the party, Mr. Ellison is encountering resistance from a formidable corner: the White House.
In a sign of the discord gripping the party, President Obama’s loyalists, uneasy with the progressive Mr. Ellison, have begun casting about for an alternative, according to multiple Democratic officials close to the president.
The Obama people did not rally around an existing candidate in the field that they thought was better. They went out and recruited someone. The point of this recruitment was to beat back the left faction that Ellison represented. They considered many potential avatars for this anti-Ellison effort and eventually settled on Tom Perez.
On December 15, Tom Perez came into the DNC race. Around the same time, the establishment forces mounted a brutal smear campaign against Ellison, placing stories all over the place about how he was (or still is) an antisemitic, Farrakhan-loving, Nation of Islam guy.
This effort ultimately paid off with Perez narrowly winning the DNC chair election over Ellison.
During and after the DNC chair race, many moderate pundits and posters took the position that who wins the DNC chair does not really matter and also that infighting between left and right factions of the Democratic party is unhelpful in the times of Trump. But this, bizarrely enough, wasn’t self-criticism of the moderate establishment wing of the party. No, it was criticism that was and continues to be lobbed at the left-wing sorts who backed Ellison.
Before this gets turned into another thing where the establishment Democrats posture as the reasonable adults victimized by the assaults of those left-wing baddies, let’s just be very clear about what happened here. It was the establishment wing that decided to recruit and then stand up a candidate in order to fight an internal battle against the left faction of the party. It was the establishment wing that then dumped massive piles of opposition research on one of their own party members. And it was the establishment wing that did all of this in the shadow of Trump, sowing disunity in order to contest a position whose leadership they insist does not really matter.
The establishment wing has made it very clear that they will do anything and everything to hold down the left faction, even as they rather hilariously ask the left faction to look above their differences and unify in these trying times. They do not have any intent of ceding anything — even small things they claim are mostly irrelevant — to the left wing.
Of course, that’s their prerogative and there is nothing underhanded about trying to beat your ideological opponents in a fair election. But if they do not care about the Left, the Left should not care about them.
Instead, we should focus our energies on organizing under alternative institutions that, if they engage with the Democratic Party at all, only do so in order to attempt hostile takeovers of various power positions (including primarying moderate Democrats and winning local party positions). Only a sucker would do more than that, given what the party has just shown itself to be about at this time.