Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.


"As Bernie voters, we know well what the issues are that we want addressed," Smith writes. "We also know that Bernie knows that it takes a movement—a very large movement—to truly force the kind of systemic change required to improve and protect the lives of most Americans." (Photo: Paige Bollman/flickr/cc)

Down the 2016 Primary Home Stretch: What the DNC Doesn't Seem to Get

Donna Smith

Far be it from me to provide analysis that the powerful, well-positioned, and well-funded pundits, politicos, paid surrogates, and other professional prognosticators have already given about the presidential primary season.  I should know my place, and I should fall in line. If you think I am referring only to what the Democratic National Committee would like me and millions of others like me to do, you would be sadly mistaken. There is pressure coming from every direction as those following the political scene jockey to prove themselves smarter than all others.

There is the cry for Bernie to break free from the obviously Clinton-biased behavior of the DNC and its chair, Debbie Wassermann Schultz. That camp wants Bernie to run as an Independent if he does not win the Democratic nomination. Some look forward to forming a completely new political party that is more responsive to the people and less beholden to special interests and big money.  Many in this camp are done with the DNC.

Others seem intent on recounting primaries from the past, especially 2008, to somehow convince potential Democratic voters that if Bernie is not the nominee following the DNC convention in Philadelphia in July that those now claiming they will never vote for Hillary will come around before November. In this camp are those who believe it is enough to convince us not to allow a low voter turnout to add to the chances that Donald Trump will win. Many in this camp are part of the DNC, including large numbers of our elected Democrats who fear Party backlash more than they fear voter backlash.

" is pretty clear to me that precious few in our political power structure really understand the disconnect felt by many voters in this country."

And it seems that almost everyone is trying to secure something as a win coming out of this primary season. Whether it is position or favor in a newly elected Billary Clinton (seems we’re to get a two-fer on this deal) or Bernie Sanders administration or access to the campaign email lists Bernie has amassed, there are definitely negotiations underway among the powerful left-leaning contingents to come out of this election cycle with more power and influence. I cannot tell you the number of conversations and meetings I have been in during which harnessing the energy of the Millennials involved in Bernie’s campaign is spoken about in ways that sounds more like a tug-of-war for ownership of this voting bloc than it does like embracing the future through the vibrant people and their ideas within that voting bloc.

Whether it is the media creating more controversy around relatively trivial issues or the campaigns grabbing a similarly small misstep and ginning up more controversy or the DNC doing its best to pretend it represents every Dem in its base or individual groups racing around to secure the best positioning post-election, it is pretty clear to me that precious few in our political power structure really understand the disconnect felt by many voters in this country precisely because of rather transparent power plays and disingenuous expressions of support played out ad nauseam during the endless campaign seasons.

While a certain percentage of voters are not intelligent, involved citizens, I would wager that an even larger number are plenty smart and plain sick of being played for fools. This is no “Silent Majority.” For millions of us, it is the actual potential of changed outcomes in our lives that drew us to Bernie Sanders. For me and my husband, the issue of achieving a Medicare for all for life healthcare system is our priority.  When Hillary said so clearly that we would “never, ever” have single-payer in this country, that sounded pretty much like what many Republicans might say.

"The DNC, if it is to claim victory in November, will need to upend itself and the way it is operating."

When the DNC turns to us, as 2016 Bernie supporters and lifetime Dem or Independent voters, and assumes we’ll be just fine voting the Party line that excludes even the possibility for achieving our number one policy issue, we have news for the DNC.  Millions of Bernie voters in the primary states (and millions more Bernie voters represented by the huge Bernie wins in caucus states like our own of Colorado) need much more than a pat on the head and a reminder about the Clinton-Obama primary in 2008 to feel like we haven’t been dumped overboard by our Party, the money that buys our Party and most of the Dem candidates, and the other groups that use us for their own benefit during election season.

As Bernie voters, we know well what the issues are that we want addressed.  We also know that Bernie knows that it takes a movement – a very large movement – to truly force the kind of systemic change required to improve and protect the lives of most Americans. Most of what we hear is allegiance not to the person that is Bernie Sanders – although he does seem to be a fine fellow; most of what we believe and hear is that Bernie supporters are demanding a different kind of governance – a democracy for all the people. It’s about the issues that touch us every day and allow us to live fully and freely rather than lives tied to endless struggle and unequal opportunity. 

The DNC, if it is to claim victory in November, will need to upend itself and the way it is operating. Some Democrats still fight for their constituents. Some do. But some do only until they are told to tow the Party line.  Voters know that. Never, ever forget that. So DNC, if you really want to shake it up and begin to change these dynamics, the Party leadership and its elected officials will need to tow the people’s line. Anything short of that is not going to garner enough support to win the presidency much less the down ticket races, and if Debbie Wasserman Schultz cannot lead the DNC in a way that embraces a truly populist agenda then someone else must.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Donna Smith

Donna Smith

Donna Smith Donna Smith is the former executive director of Progressive Democrats of America and currently a Medicare for All campaign surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Summit Participants Embrace 'Vaccine Internationalism' to End Pandemic

"Our goal is simple: to end the pandemic as quickly as possible by securing Covid-19 vaccines for all," says the coordinator of Progressive International's four-day virtual summit.

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·

As Iran Elects New President, Experts Urge Biden to Rejoin Nuclear Deal, Lift Sanctions

"The Biden administration must remain resolute and seek a break from the disastrous conditions that helped contribute to this result."

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·

UN General Assembly Condemns Myanmar Junta Violence, Urges Arms Embargo

Member nations voted 119-1 in favor of the resolution, which also calls for a return to the country's fragile democracy.

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·

Dems Introduce Abolition Amendment to Scrap Constitution's 'Slavery Clause'

"The loophole in our Constitution's ban on slavery not only allowed slavery to continue, but launched an era of discrimination and mass incarceration that continues to this day," said Sen. Jeff Merkley.

Julia Conley, staff writer ·

'Surreal' and 'Distressing': Climate Experts' Predictions Come True With US Heatwave

"The current heatwave and drought leave no doubt, we are living the dangerous effects of the climate crisis."

Jessica Corbett, staff writer ·