Cory Booker Nation: Scott Peters and the Rise of Big Money Democrats

by on May 29, 2012 · 12 comments

in California, Election, History, Labor, Politics, Popular, San Diego, Under the Perfect Sun

In my column last week, I pointed out what Scott Peters’ accepting the endorsement by the New Democrat Coalition meant. Specifically, I outlined the history of the Democratic Leadership Council and its transformation into the New Democrat Coalition and noted that these organizations have been the chief engines behind the Democratic Party’s shift toward a far more business-friendly orientation. I also observed something that even Bill Clinton’s former advisor Robert Reich has recently written about—that the Clinton administration’s loosening of economic regulations as a result of this ideological shift helped grease the wheels for the great financial train wreck from which we are yet to recover.

This ideological shift in a large chunk of the Democratic Party was made possible by a web of corporate interests funding the DLC and its NDC offspring in order to influence policy on both sides of the aisle. It is, I argued, just as important to note these ideological and economic networks inside the Democratic Party as it is to look at the well-funded think tanks behind folks like Carl DeMaio.

Here, again, is the history I relayed from a recent ProPublica story and my ensuing comments:

The New Democrat Coalition was formed as a House caucus in 1997, following in the footsteps of the Democratic Leadership Council [DLC] and President Bill Clinton’s “third way” policies designed to make Democrats and their platform more business friendly. When launched, the group lacked a fundraising PAC and had no legislative staffers. However, they did have allies at the highest levels of the Democratic Party and access to the party’s political and fundraising machine.

I summarized that column with this:

So, if you like the sell-out Dems who helped kill the public option, embraced draconian corporate education reform, and promoted trade deals that have made multi-nationals rich while speeding the race to the bottom for American workers, then you’ll love the New Democrats.

For this I was accused by some of ideological extremism. True to my extremist form, I was imposing an ideological “litmus test” on Democrats. And sin of sins, I was the left-wing equivalent of the tea party.

Alas, ideology, like bad breath, is always something the other guy has. The reality is that we all have an ideology but some people like to pretend they are somehow outside its sway in a happy place unsullied by the sordid fray of competing ideas and interests. The problem with this position is that it doesn’t hold water. Nobody writes or thinks outside of ideology so condemning someone for having ideology is like condemning someone for breathing. It’s a red herring that distracts from actually discussing the history and issues at hand.

Why does history matter? Understanding the financial and ideological evolution of the Democratic Party is centrally important to the kind of deep analysis that moves one beyond the superficial discussion of the politics of personality to the real structural and institutional bases of power. Such an analysis illuminates how power actually works in America. If you don’t do this, you are just skimming the surface.

Perhaps the most disingenuous response to my column came from Scott Peters’ communications director who, rather than just admitting that her candidate was a rich corporate Democrat who was very much in tune with the agenda of the New Democrat Coalition, suggested that Peters’ goal was “to influence it toward a socially progressive direction, while at the same time working to create the good middle-class jobs families need.”

If we are to take her suggestion seriously, then we need to ask why a competent politician would take the endorsement of a group whose long term goal it is to move the Democratic Party in a more conservative direction, frequently by attacking and seeking to marginalize progressives in order to move that same organization in a “more socially progressive direction.” Why not simply reject the endorsement in the first place because you disagree with the aims of the organization?

Clearly the answer is that Peters’ communications director hopes that you are not the sharpest tool in the shed. It is also interesting that her emphasis is on “socially progressive” not “economically progressive.” What the New Democrat Coalition has most centrally done is not to move right on social issues; it has been, as my piece suggests, to shift the party’s orientation on economic issues.

The attempt here and in the campaign as a whole is to blur the issues. No one in the Peters camp answered the substance of my piece because the history I outline is unassailable historical fact. And, dear readers, history is the narrative that hurts. Ideological orientation matters.

But, just like the insipid Nathan Fletcher TV ads that substitute kids fighting over red or blue paint for real political discussion, the Peters camp seeks to fool enough progressives into ignoring his ideology by changing the subject.

But, as we close in on the final week, it is clear what the Peters campaign is really about: Peters for Peters. Still lagging in the polls with very little volunteer support, Peters has dumped in $1.25 million of his own fortune into the race to attack Saldaña and hopefully squeak past her after burying her grassroots effort under a mountain of cash.

As San Diego Politico reported:

According to the latest FEC filings, Scott Peters has loaned his campaign 1.25 million dollars to defeat Lori Saldaña and secure a place in the general election against Brian Bilbray. That kind of money could fund three campaigns for San Diego City Council. It could revitalize the county Democratic Party. It could be seed money to launch a new generation of progressive operatives through out the county. Instead, it is going to secure a likely number two position in an open primary. The race between Peters and Saldaña is seen as an inter-party one with Republicans coming home to Bilbray. The chances of a Democratic candidate coming in first with a split Democratic electorate are slim.

Thus, Peters’ stretch run is a Romney-like carpet-bombing attack that may well work if the usual pattern holds. So far it has brought him within striking range.

But what kind of Democratic Party will we get from guys like this? One need look no further than the recent Cory Booker debacle, where the Newark mayor went on TV as a surrogate for the Obama team and attacked the Obama campaign for going after Romney’s Bain Capital background. Booker was “nauseated” by such a scurrilous line of argument against the noble job creators at Bain. It was time, Booker urged, for the president to “stop attacking private equity.” Why would a Democrat (a surrogate of the campaign no less) do such a politically stupid thing?

Answer: a few days later, Think Progress reported that Booker had taken close to half a million dollars in campaign cash from the Bain crew and other folks in the world of finance. Thus, in Cory Booker Nation, what matters most is who is buttering your bread and criticizing plutocrats doesn’t pass muster. It is indeed, a nauseating practice, just as bad as racially charged attacks on the President.

And to those who worry that using words like “plutocracy” or referring to the actual history of capital and its inroads into the Democratic Party is going to ruin everything and forestall the utopia of moderation to which all non-extremists aspire, relax. Sadly, the tide of big money in the post Citizens United world is rising and progressives who think we should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted are in a tough spot.

Indeed the polls in the Wisconsin recall look bad as the Walker forces are outspending the Wisconsin Democrats by ten to one and the national party, whose support was stingy at best, is already distancing itself from Labor’s Waterloo. Where will Democrats go once the labor money dries up? Hint: It won’t be the Sierra Club.

So if you are made nauseous by all this talk about corporate interests and plutocracy: don’t worry, be happy. Cory Booker Nation is on the rise.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Anna Daniels May 29, 2012 at 11:11 am

Spot on Jim.


avatar RV May 29, 2012 at 11:27 am

Thanks for this great article and analysis. I’ve been really disturbed by the ugly attacks the Peters campaign has hurled at Saldana, and especially the severely personal nature of the attacks (most not-so-subtlety insinuating that she is mentally unstable). It’s a sorry business.


avatar doug porter May 29, 2012 at 11:33 am

what she said.


avatar mEden May 29, 2012 at 11:46 am

Thank you, Jim. Selling out democracy is deadly to our country and to the hopes for freedom shared by people around the world. Anyone like Peters who thinks it’s okay to buy a public office for the sake of their own vanity simply has no idea, no clue, for what this county is all about. Pouring $2 million into his primary campaign is Scott Peters giving the people of San Diego and our country the finger. He really ought to be ashamed of himself.


avatar dorndiego May 29, 2012 at 1:24 pm

A really important article by a really important reporter.


avatar Shane Finneran May 29, 2012 at 6:43 pm

So Peters implies he is only joining the New Democrats to change them from the inside? In my experience, that’s what people say when they know they are are compromising their stated principles.

And now Peters is funding his campaign with some of his silver spoons? Pffft. This guy is Mitt Lite… yuck.


avatar George W. Dunne May 29, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Umm, this is the same basic argument recirculated since the 1980s and the creation of the DLC. The facts are these:

Where is the money to win come from? Money doesn’t grow on trees. I’d rather have Scott self-fund versus Juan Vargas panering to the insurance or predator tow truck community, for example.

The country was better off with Bill Clinton being in the White House, and Barack Obama and all his Wall Street support in 2008.

Cory Booker’s mis-speak has nothing to do with us unless we live in NJ.

Back to our situation, what will Lori promise to whom?


avatar Andy Cohen May 30, 2012 at 11:59 am

More importantly: How will Saldana’s campaign be able to deal with the mountain of campaign cash that Brian Bilbray will be able to bring to bear on her? When it’s one on one, she’ll have nowhere to hide, and he’ll absolutely BURY her.

My guess? Her grassroots effort won’t be able to compete with the aerial assault and she will lose, and San Diegans will have blown a perfect opportunity to turn the seat blue.

We may not like it, but money matters, and she doesn’t have it. I wish I could feel as comfortable that the Democratic idealists will win the day, but realistically we all know better.


avatar Rick May 30, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Saldana has a history of beating the odds.

The 52nd Congressional District is in play. If Saldana advances to the general election, she will receive support from elected Democratic officials and others who support principled candidates.

Perhaps Scott Peters could form a PAC to support Saldana’s campaign.


avatar Kevin Wirsing May 30, 2012 at 6:45 pm

great article Jim; Andy, you’ve been drinking the Koolaid; Scott will get slaughtered; have you read the Levitt Report on your boy Scotty? I didn’t think so. Well, if Scotty gets past Lori, you –and all the voters in he 52d — will get it in various forms from the RCCC. That and Scotty’s response to the SEC. I think its in the SEC responses where you’ll find (and the RCCC has already found) why Scott missed the big problem posed by the infamous Manager’s II pension proposal: staff reports came in on Friday afternoons and he had a standing golf date on Friday afternoons so he didn’t have much time to look at the materials. Yup, the great lawyer and financial genius let SD go virtually bankrupt because he had a tee time!


avatar Kimberley June 2, 2012 at 8:14 pm

Fantastic article! I’ve been recently distressed by the many examples of corporate (1%) Democrat sellouts in the state and across the country. This has been notable in the mayoral race where wealthy elites and their puppet surrogates in elected office are supporting the “independent” instead of the Democrat. This article brings home the fact that the likes of Isadore Hall, Kevin Johnson, et al are bought and paid for. And to the commentators above, please don’t be fooled into thinking that the multimillionaires and billionaires have your best interests at heart. Is anyone fooled by the “new independents”, who all happen to be multi-millionaires? I fear that corporate fascism has replaced our democracy.


avatar John June 3, 2012 at 8:16 pm

The new Democrat party has been moving into the corporate suite for decades. Started happening before Clinton even. Last year I dropped my Democrat designation with the register of voters. All of these clowns in both parties seem to be drinking the same corporate punch.
Peters was my council person for a time. Time after time, when the community (majority) was against some development, he would not take sides but be neutral. Neutral in the sense of letting things happen without him intervening. A real sell out. No different than having an executive from Qualcomm representing us on the city council.

La Jolla


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