Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Reuters/Scott Audette)

10 reasons why #DemExit is serious: Getting rid of Debbie Wasserman Schultz is not enough

The DNC canned its chair, but it has done little to address the grave concerns raised by its members


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Sophia A. McClennen
July 29, 2016 1:57PM (UTC)

Shortly after Bernie Sanders publicly endorsed Hillary Clinton a new hashtag trended on Twitter: #DemExit.  The hashtag offered Sanders supporters a chance to vent their frustrations with the Democratic Party and with the sense that their candidate had been pressured into an endorsement.  Rather than reach out to these disaffected voters, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) ignored them. Understood within the larger narrative that Sanders supporters were just whining brats who refused to concede and move on, #DemExit was dismissed as just more sour milk.

But now that the latest leak of DNC emails proves that Sanders supporters have a legitimate right to feel cheated, #DemExit increasingly seems like an appropriate response to a rigged system.

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The new leak shows that the DNC never took the Sanders campaign seriously, even when he was winning state after state. Rather than recognize that Sanders was attracting new voters to the party, members of the DNC chose to mock them and close ranks around Clinton.

Here are 10 reasons why the #DemExit movement has a valid reason to want nothing to do with the DNC.  Having DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz resign is not enough for #DemExit supporters because their concerns run throughout the ranks of the DNC. Until party leaders take these concerns seriously they will have to spend their convention watching potential voters jump ship.

1.     Superdelegates

It is important to recognize that frustrations over party politics are not uniquely tied to the email leaks. The frustration over the superdelegate system is one clear example that distrust of the DNC goes deeper. The fact that the party even has superdelegates is a sign of its anti-democratic, pro-oligarchy stance. As Branko Marcetic of In These Times reports the superdelegate system was created specifically to challenge the will of voters. According to Marcetic, “When a Sanders supporter criticized superdelegate Howard Dean for sticking with Clinton despite Sanders’ landslide victory in Vermont, Dean tweeted back: “Superdelegates don’t represent the people.”

While there have been new negotiations to adjust the role of superdelegates, these concessions still give too much power to the party elite.

In addition, the fact that Clinton superdelegates were regularly reported by the media in her delegate tally contributed to the sense that Sanders couldn’t win.  So it was not just the existence of the superdelegates; it was the way they were covered by the corporate media that pissed off Sanders supporters. Any party with a superdelegate system should be prepared to alienate voters.  This time it worked.

2.     The Debate Schedule

The DNC created a debate schedule designed to make it hard for candidates to challenge Clinton’s status as the "presumptive" nominee.  Debates were held on weekends, at times that conflicted with other events, and were generally slotted to attract fewer viewers. From the start, well before it was clear that Sanders was gaining momentum, folks were already complaining that the debate schedule was slanted towards Clinton. According to a piece in The National Review from November some Democrats thought it was no accident the DNC scheduled a debate in Iowa on the night of a big Iowa Hawkeyes game.  The next two debates were also scheduled for less viewer heavy weekend slots.

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The drama over the debate schedule got worse as the DNC refused to add more debates to give Sanders a chance to continue to build momentum.  As The Intercept reports the DNC laughed at the idea of adding another debate prior to the California primary, even though Fox News offered to host one.  Fox News wrote that, “the race is still contested, and given that you sanctioned a final trio of debates, the last of which has not yet been held, we believe a final debate would be an excellent opportunity for the candidates to, as you said when you announced these debates, ‘share Democrats’ vision for the country.’”  There never was a California debate set up. Not on Fox News or any other venue.

3.     Campaign finance

Back in April the Sanders campaign questioned “serious apparent violations” of campaign finance laws under a joint fundraising deal between Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.  The Sanders camp alleged that the joint fundraising agreement offered Clinton a chance to “launder” money through the DNC.  “While the use of joint fundraising agreements has existed for some time — it is unprecedented for the DNC to allow a joint committee to be exploited to the benefit of one candidate in the midst of a contested nominating contest,” said Jeff Weaver, Sanders' campaign manager.

Politico reported that legal experts gave conflicting views on whether the practice constituted a violation of campaign finance law.  But whether or not it was legal was not the only point.  Larry Noble, the general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, who served for 13 years as general counsel at the Federal Election Commission, stated that "It clearly goes against what was intended for the joint fundraising committees.”  Given the already significant war chest Clinton had to run her campaign it is not surprising that Sanders supporters would find this news disturbing.

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4.     Refusal to Address Claims of Election Fraud

According to a piece from the Observer on calls in California to have the DNC investigate election fraud, “Voter tampering has been frequently cited in California, with many alleging their party registration was changed without their consent. In Riverside County, district attorney Mike Hestrin confirmed voters’ party affiliations were changed without their knowledge.” And that was just one part of the story from California.

The primary elections were rife with claims of election fraud. From the purging of voter rolls (Brooklyn) to cutting poll locations (Arizona, Rhode Island, Puerto Rico), to the debacle of the California primary, there were numerous situations where the DNC could and should have called for an investigation. Despite the fact that in many cases it was Democratic voters that were directly affected, the DNC made no move to support voters’ claims of election fraud.

5.     The Democratic Party Platform

The recent fights over the DNC platform reveal a real lack of support for progressive policy, especially on key economic issues.  As Marcetic reported for In These Timesthere’s no denying that the platform compromises on certain core progressive values.”  While some suggested that the new platform was a "win" for Sanders, in the end the platform submits to corporate will on many issues.

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Committee delegates selected by Clinton and Wasserman Schultz voted down several measures dear to progressives’ hearts: “amendments advocating single-payer health care and a $15 minimum wage indexed to inflation, several proposals to halt climate change, language criticizing Israeli ‘occupation’ of Palestine and an amendment explicitly opposing the TPP trade agreement.” As Marcetic shows, delegates to the committee with corporate ties were among the most avid in promoting pro-business policy completely out of step with the sort of progressive values that once separated Democrats from Republicans. Unsurprisingly, those very same delegates were the ones connected to Clinton and Wasserman Schultz.

6.     Documented Attempts to Discredit / Dismiss Sanders

As if the previous issues were not evidence enough to justify the #DemExit movement, the Guccifer 2.0 leaks now offer Sanders supporters copious examples of ways that the DNC simply did not respect the Sanders campaign.  It is important to note that Wasserman Schultz was not alone in this general attitude. Even more disturbing, we have no examples of any DNC staffer suggesting that Sanders deserved a better shake than he was getting.  Some of the most egregious examples can be found here.

7.     DNC Collusion with Media

The corporate media was no ally to the Sanders campaign. With AP calling the primary for Clinton before California, New Mexico, New Jersey, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota were set to vote, many Sanders’ supporters felt betrayed by the press. As Bill Boyarsky reports for Truthdig, “The story was not just a scoop. It fed the hostility and cynicism of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ fervent supporters.”

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The Guccifer 2.0 leaks also reveal a disturbing pattern of collusion between the media and the DNC to support Clinton and not Sanders.  Luis Miranda, the national communications director for the DNC, communicated with reporters from both Politico and the Wall Street Journal in efforts to discredit Sanders. In one email thread, Miranda told Politico he would “point out… some of the issues” with Sen. Sanders’ DNC committee appointments, but only “off the record.”  Miranda also helped craft “talking points”  to be used by the Clinton campaign in response to the Hillary Victory Fund’s money laundering allegations referenced above.

DNC Press Secretary Mark Paustenbach also vetted a Politico story by reporter Ken Vogel before it was sent to editors:  “Vogel gave me his story ahead of time/before it goes to his editors as long as I didn’t share it,” Paustenbach wrote to Miranda. “Let me know if you see anything that’s missing and I’ll push back.”

And then there are the messages that show how Wasserman Schultz pressured MSNBC after it criticized her “unfair” treatment of Sanders.

8.     False Claims of Neutrality

Perhaps one of the most enervating features of the story is the fact that the leaked documents counter Wasserman Schultz’s claims that the DNC was neutral.  There simply is no evidence of neutrality at all--only evidence of bias. It makes moments like Wasserman Schultz’s interview with "The Daily Show" host Trevor Noah where he asked her to respond to allegations that she has been cock-blocking Sanders seem like an orchestrated cover-up.

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Clinton now says that Wasserman Schultz will serve as honorary chair of her campaign’s 50-state program to help elect Democrats around the country only seems to confirm a relationship of biased cronyism. The fact that Clinton still calls her a “longtime friend” and is not calling her out for her mistakes further fans the #DemExit fire.

9.     Failure to Protect Donor Information

The Guccifer 2.0 leak reveals a lot of the shenanigans inside the DNC, but it shouldn't be overlooked that it also shows that they didn't use necessary precautions to protect donors’ information.  As Vox reports “the leaked emails suggest that the group was somewhat careless in handling donors’ private information.”

In one example an email contained an attached image with a picture of a $150,000 check. “Emailing checks like this is a bad idea because [it] allows anyone to withdraw money from anyone else’s account with only the routing information printed on every check.” The dump included a ton of donor information -- more than enough to create some real identity theft risks.  If the sloppiness reminds you of using a private email server to communicate classified information, then you are not alone.

10.  The DNC Has Not Taken the Leaks Seriously

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Much in the same way Clinton blew off her own email scandal, we basically have crickets from the DNC and party leaders. The failure to take responsibility or reach out to disaffected supporters has created a real blowback where voters who backed Sanders are irate.  Now many supporters just think the party is corrupt-- and they have point.

The Wasserman Schultz resignation does nothing to correct an election that many supporters feel was rigged. And it does nothing to hold Wassermann Schultz accountable.

Meanwhile a class action lawsuit is forming that is looking into allegations of fraud. It contends, among other things, that the bias of the DNC means that Sanders supporters basically threw their money away when they supported his campaign in good faith.

There is much in the news about the possibility that the hacks were supported by Russia.  And while that is of serious concern, it really isn’t the point. It’s like blaming your girlfriend when she reads your flirty text messages.  If there are no communications to worry about, then there is no story.   Freaking out over the identity of the “hacker” is a great way to cover when you have gotten busted. The issue of who uncovered these messages is less important than the fact that the messages exist and they make the DNC look really bad. Rather than worry about Russian hacks, the DNC should worry about its integrity.

Today the polling for a potential Donald Trump win is increasingly frightening.  Even Michael Moore is predicting a Trump win.  While there are a variety of forces that are working together to advance the Trump campaign, the DNC’s actions are certainly not helping. If Trump wins in November, the DNC will certainly bear a good portion of the blame.


Sophia A. McClennen

Sophia A. McClennen is Professor of International Affairs and Comparative Literature at the Pennsylvania State University. She writes on the intersections between culture, politics, and society. Her latest book, co-authored with Remy M. Maisel, is, Is Satire Saving Our Nation? Mockery and American Politics.

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