To paraphrase the words of that Scottish master Robert Burns, the best laid plans of mice, men—and women—go often astray, or “gang aft agley,” as they say in the Highlands. No one knows this better than Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Twice now, the flight of her presidential aspirations has been forced to circle the airport as other contenders put up an unexpected fight: In 2008, Barack Obama emerged to grab the Democratic nomination away and this year, although all signs point to her finally grabbing the brass ring, unexpected and powerful progressive resistance came from the mighty wind of the Bernie Sanders campaign.
Certainly, Hillary Clinton is angered by all of this, but the one seemingly more aggrieved—if public comments and private actions are any indication—is Democratic National Committee chair and Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Hillary surrogate who takes umbrage like ordinary folks pop their vitamins in the morning.
As we recently wrote, “ . . . She embodies the tactics that have eroded the ability of Democrats to once again be the party of the working class. As Democratic National Committee chair she has opened the floodgates for Big Money, brought lobbyists into the inner circle and oiled all the moving parts of the revolving door that twirls between government service and cushy jobs in the world of corporate influence.”
And that ain’t all. As a member of Congress, particularly egregious has been her support of the payday loan business, defying new regulations from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that would rein in an industry that soaks desperate borrowers. As President Obama said, “While payday loans might seem like easy money, folks often end up trapped in a cycle of debt.”
In fact, according to an article by Bethany McLean in the May issue of The Atlantic, “After studying millions of payday loans, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that 67 percent went to borrowers with seven or more transactions a year, and the majority of borrowers paid more in fees than the amount of their initial loan.”
A recent editorial in the Orlando Sentinel notes that 7 percent of Florida’s population “must resort to this predatory form of small-dollar credit—nearly the highest rate in the nation . . .” What’s more, “Based on a 14-day loan term, the typical payday loan . . . had an annual percentage rate of 278 percent. Many lenders advertise rates of more than 300 percent.” Let us repeat that slowly . . . 300 percent!
So why has Wasserman Schultz been so opposed to the CFPB’s proposed rules? She has said, “Payday lending is unfortunately a necessary component of how people get access to capital, [people] that are the working poor.” But maybe it has something more to do with the $2.5 million or so the payday loan industry has donated to Florida politicians from both parties since 2009. That’s according to a new report by the liberal group Allied Progress. More than $50,000 of that cash has gone to Rep. Wasserman Schultz.
But we digress. It’s the skullduggery going on within the Democratic Party establishment that’s our current concern and as we wrote in March, Rep. Wasserman Schultz “has played games with the party’s voter database, been accused of restricting the number of Democratic candidate debates and scheduling them at odd days and times to favor Hillary Clinton, and recently told CNN’s Jake Tapper that superdelegates—strongly establishment and pro-Clinton—are necessary at the party’s convention so deserving incumbent officials and party leaders don’t have to run for delegate slots ‘against grassroots activists.’ Let that sink in, but hold your nose against the aroma of entitlement.
Now Wasserman Schultz has waded into the controversy over what happened or didn’t happen last weekend when Sanders supporters loudly and vehemently objected to the rules at the Nevada State Democratic Convention. In truth, some behaved badly at the event and others made trollish, violent and obscene threats to Democratic state chair Roberta Lange via phone, email and social media. There’s no excuse for such aggressive, creepy conduct, and Sanders was quick and direct in apologizing for the behavior of the rowdies and bullies.
But there is a double standard at play here. Why, pray tell, shouldn’t the peaceful majority of Sanders people be angry at the slow-motion, largely invisible rigging of the political process by Wasserman Schultz and the Clinton machine—all for the benefit of Secretary Clinton?
Wasserman Schultz claims the party rules over which she has presided (and manipulated) are “eminently fair.” She told CNN on Wednesday morning, “It is critical that we as candidates, we as Democratic Party leaders, everyone involved needs to make sure that we can take all the steps that we need to, to ensure that the process is not only run smoothly but that the response from the supporters of both candidates is appropriate and civil.”
In response to the DNC chair’s remarks, Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver talked to CNN, too, and said Wasserman Schultz had been “throwing shade on the Sanders campaign since the very beginning . . . Debbie Wasserman Schultz has really been a divider and not really provided the kind of leadership that the Democratic Party needs.”
The Nation’s Joan Walsh, a Clinton supporter critical of the Sanders campaign, concurs: “Once again, Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz escalated a conflict that she should have worked to defuse,” she writes. “ . . . Wasserman Schultz is not helping her friend Hillary Clinton with her attacks on Sanders. Just the appearance of fairness can go a long way in assuaging worries about fairness. Wasserman Schultz’s defiant rebuke to the Sanders camp has made it worse.”
So, too, has her abolition of the restraints that had been placed on corporate lobbyists and big money—now they can write checks bankrolling what doubtless will be swank and profligate parties during this summer’s Democratic National Convention. At The Intercept, Lee Fang and Zaid Jilani report that a number of the members of the Philadelphia host committee “are actively working to undermine progressive policies achieved by President Barack Obama, including health care reform and net neutrality. Some . . . are hardly even Democratic Party stalwarts, given that many have donated and raised thousands of dollars for Republican presidential and congressional candidates this cycle.”
This is a slap in the face to progressives calling for a halt to big money and allowing lobbyists to buy our elected officials. And it’s contrary to what Hillary Clinton herself has said about money and politics on the campaign trail. The Sanders movement has shown that lots of cash can be raised from everyday people making small donations. His supporters and all of us should be outraged that Debbie Wasserman Schultz and convention officials have kowtowed not only to the corporate wing of their own party but also to those high rollers who back the opposition and ideas antithetical to a democracy.
Rep. Wasserman Schultz is facing a primary challenge for the first time this year, her opponent a law professor, activist and progressive Sanders supporter named Tim Canova. But the primary’s not until late August, long after the Democratic National Convention. Unless she steps down now or Hillary Clinton has her removed, Philadelphia will be dominated by someone who represents everything that has gone wrong with the Democratic Party and Washington. At the convention’s opening session, Debbie Wasserman Schultz will be bringing the gavel down squarely on progressive hopes of returning the party to its legacy as champion of working people and the dispossessed.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Time for her to go.
Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com.
Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship.