On the Competition for Recognition Part VIIA U.S. Populist Left on the Ground – Members of the House

I have read a number of articles and heard a few commentators refer to the midterm election in the U.S. as a game changer for the Democratic Party, not for gaining 40 seats in the House of Representatives, not for setting the stage for a victory in the 2020 presidential and congressional elections, but for shifting the party significantly towards the radical left sufficiently that the complete conversion of the Republican Party to populism would be imitated over the next two years by the Democratic Party  so that a populist victory on the left that had come close with the candidacy of Bernie Sanders in 2016 would be victorious in 2020.

It just ain’t so! First in the midterm elections, representatives from the far-left did gain a foothold in the Democratic Party. However, it was small and highly unlikely to develop into a significant presence let alone a majority to turn a liberal-progressive party into one driven forward by left wing populism. I previously provided an overview of the divisions on the American political left in general. In this and the next two blogs, I focus on the divisions on the ground, more specifically, within the Democratic Party and parallel to the party in grass roots organizations. I offer evidence why a radical shift has not taken place and why it is highly unlikely to take place.

I will not take the time to demonstrate why, though Bernie Sanders exhibits some populist themes, he is a social democrat in the tradition of representative government in the West and not a populist per se. In a future blog I will show how, since Ronald Regan won the presidency, the Republican Party gradually shifted to the full-blown and very dangerous populism of the right under Donald Trump. That successful historical pattern and development in the Republic Party and its historic failure to develop in the Democratic Party will then be analyzed.

In this blog, I will cover the following:

1.     the far-left in the House of Representatives before the midterms;

2.     liberals and progressives added to their numbers in the 2018 elections.

In the next blog, as an example, I will document a toss-up district in which a far-leftist lost, a case where there are questions about whether the candidate was a progressive or a far-leftist, and then probe in greater detail the new far-left members of the Democratic Party who as of January will be Democratic Party members of the House of Representatives.

In the following blog, I will describe the character and roll of grassroots movement that developed between 2016-2018 that sprang up on the progressive and far-left side to indicate whether a grassroots movement has been set in place to prepare for a victory of or even a close competition by the fat left in the Democratic Party in the 2020 elections.

The primary division in the Democratic Party has been between the liberal wing and the progressives, the latter supporting much greater intervention by the state to help the disadvantaged. Most progressive members of the House of Representatives from 2014-2016 were identified for their support of generally liberal progressive reforms with respect to health care, environmental protection, gun control, racial and gender equality, education, and foreign policy. Interestingly, not one of them initiated bills on minimum wages, union organizing or job protection, the core traditional strength of the Democratic Party in connection with the labour movement. The six platforms covered are not specifically far-left. I identified 11 Democratic members of the House, just over 5% of the Democrats in the House, who have generally been identified as progressives on every one of these issues.

The bills they initiated were indicators:
Health Care
Rep. Mark Takano California 41st
Rep. Yvette Clarke New York 9th
Rep. Charlie Rangel New York (did not run in 2018 – alleged tax violations)
Rep. Judy Chu California 27th
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s At-Large District (non-voting)
Rep. Chris Van Hollen Jr. Maryland 8th; 2017 appointed to the Senate
Rep. Barbara Lee California 13th
Racial and Gender Equality
Rep. John Conyers Jr. Michigan, did not run – alleged harassment charges;
Rashida Tlaib succeeded him
Gun Control
Rep. Mike Honda California 17th
Rep. James “Jim” McGovern Massachusetts 2nd
Rep. Raúl Grijalva, Arizona’s 3rd
Foreign Policy
Rep. Barbara Lee California 13th

There is another measure of assessing the degree of a far-left approach among Democrats in the House of Representatives – critical approaches to Israel, more specifically, vocally criticizing the occupation and/or labelling Israel as an apartheid state. Thus, Mark Takano might be considered in this group since he voted against a rebuke of the UNSC resolution opposing Israeli settlements on land that could be part of a Palestinian state. However, Takano has consistently been an unwavering advocate for the sovereignty and security of Israel clearly defined as a Jewish state. He is a progressive critic of Israel but not a leftist anti-Zionist.

Yvette Clarke is another possible far-leftist even though her district includes a good part of Crown Heights and Flatbush in Brooklyn heavily populated by Jews. Clarke, however, supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though some of her stances have subjected her to public criticism by constituents in her district. In 2009, she refused to support HofR resolution 867 criticizing the Goldstone Report, one for which Goldstone himself retracted his support. She signed two letters in 2010 critical of the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, but later retracted her signature and support.  In 2015. Clarke indicated she would vote for President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, despite appeals from some of her Jewish constituents to vote against the deal. I personally would have done the same. In explaining her decision, Clarke said in a statement, “Iran is on the verge of creating a nuclear bomb, right now. The JCPOA provides a pathway that holds great potential to forever change this reality.” However, in 2015, Clarke, after initially expressing uncertainty, attended Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu‘s speech before a joint session of Congress. She is a critic not an anti-Zionist.

Judy Chu opposed the HofR Res. 11 that objected to the UNSC that deemed all settlements across the Green Line as illegal. Nevertheless, I would dub her a moderate progressive rather than far-left based on her voting record and stances on Israel. Eleanor Holmes, a veteran human rights activist from the sixties who was a member of SNCC, most recently attended the Washington Adas Israel Congregation interfaith and solidarity service memorializing the 11 parishioners killed in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. She too has no record of undermining the sovereignty and security of Israel.

Barbara Lee, who began here career of political activism as a volunteer for the Black Panthers and has been a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and is the current Whip and former Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, was unique in opposing the Iraq War (as I did) and joined other members in September introducing a resolution to withdraw US military support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, but has no record of anti-Israeli activity that I could find.

Mike Honda supported a Hof R resolution directing Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State to end the blockade of student travel from Israel and called for a diplomatic initiative to lift the Gaza blockade, but has otherwise not been an activist against Israel. Jim McGovern is another human rights activist who has shown no pattern of undermining Israel. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, from Arizona’s also began his political career as a militant and is generally considered the most liberal member of the House, but he has no record of anti-Israel activity. His involvement on the boycott issue was not about Israel, but about boycotting Arizona itself for its stand on immigration.

The progressives in the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives in the last Congress were noticeably liberal and not far-left. The far-left did not have a single representative. That cannot be said after the midterm elections. (For the full results, see http://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/2018-midterm-election-tracker-house.html#competitive-seats)

Who was elected in the midterms in 1918? Here are samples in possible toss-up seats. In New York’s Third Congressional District, centered in northern Nassau County, the Democrat Tom Suozzi, a first-time congressman who won in 2016 over Jack Martins by just over 17,000 votes, defeated his Republican opponent, Dan DeBono, in 2018 by a margin of 17 points. To get the nomination in 2016, he had to defeat four other Democratic contenders, Anna Kaplan, Jon Kalman, Steven Stern and Jonathan Clarke and he was not really challenged in 2018. He outspent by six times the defeated GOP candidate.

In a district that was two-thirds white and one-third divided almost equally between Hispanics and Blacks, and with one-third of voters college graduates, one might have expected a much larger victory by the Democrats given the low opinion of Donald Trump and that DeBono, a former Navy SEAL, was a Trump-supporting banker endorsed by a Trump absolute loyalist, Roger Stone. The surprise is not that Suozzi won, but that his margin of victory was not much greater. On the other hand, if you look closely at the other races across the state, the efforts of upstarts or of third-party candidates largely fizzled out.

Jump to Texas where, going into the election, the Democrats only had 11 representatives compared to 25 Republicans. In the 2016 elections, John Culberson, a Republican in a supposedly swing seat, the 7th district, won by more than 31,000 votes. The seat went to Lizzie Pannill Fletcher by five points or about 12,000 votes in 2018. Lizzie had defeated Laura Moser, the left activist in a bitter primary contest.

In the other seat that the Democrats won, the 32nd district, Colin Allred, a Black former pro-football player and a civil rights attorney who could be said to be more left than liberal, defeated Pete Sessions, a well-established incumbent, by 6.6 points. It was a district that Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and one in which a Libertarian candidate drew over five thousand votes away from the GOP.  Allred can be placed comfortably within the Democratic Congressional Progressive Caucus but is not far-left.

In California where Democrats voted 2:1 across the state against Republicans, of seven possible swing seats, every one shifted to the Democratic column. In the 48th district, projected to be a neck-and-neck race, Harley Rouda, a Democrat, beat the incumbent, the uniquely pro-Russia and pro-Trump Dana Rohrabacher, by 6.5 points in major part because the increase in voter turnout for the Democrats was double that of the Republicans. In fact, Orange County, formerly a Republican stronghold, became a Democratic one.

We could track each new winner in a swing seat, but the record is clear. The Democratic Party in the House of Representatives is made up of middle-road democrats and a significant minority of true progressives. However, there are now a very small cluster of far-left Democrats in the House, but they number just over 1% of the Democratic members. They will help shape the debate, but not the actual outcome concerning anti-Israel stances of far-left position. I will document this in the next blog.

The mark of a far-leftist in my view is one who follows the dictum of Dima Khalidi, director of Palestine Legal, a Palestinian rights group. “You cannot take positions on social justice issues, on the border wall, on immigration rights, without addressing the injustices of the Israeli occupation.” If you vote for social justice issues consistently, you are a progressive. If you believe that you cannot separate social justice issues from Israel’s activities in the West Bank and Gaza, you are a member of the far-left.

In sum, the overwhelming number of Democrats who won in the midterm elections are liberals or progressives and not far-leftists.


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