Feel the Bern?

Keith Ellison Is a Muslim—and the Man to Lead the Democrats Into the Future

The Democratic Party leadership needs to learn from Hillary’s flop and Bernie’s message. One man stands out as the voice of tomorrow.

Tom Williams/Getty

LONDON—Love did not Trump hate. Whichever way you voted, that statement stands, because even some of those who may have raised this pro-Hillary slogan have been out on the streets doing a disservice to peaceful anti-Trump protestors, by rioting.

Fear has won. We are all scared. But as this mourning process moves from denial, to grief, and on to acceptance, we liberals, not just in the United States, but globally, must begin to consider how to regroup, reform, and resurrect.

That resurrection cannot come without a realization that the Democratic Party establishment has had its day. They blew it, big time.

To have endorsed the ultimate Washington insider when the rebel was there right before you was utter folly. To have backed a paragon of the party establishment during an age of outsider opportunities was sheer naïveté. To have ignored the insurgent in favor of the stagnant was stubborn. To prefer the anointed over the popular was plain hubris. To have coveted the corporate while ignoring the common man was corrupt. Now, we have lost the House, the Senate, and the presidency to possibly the least competent candidate in history. That is our fault. So yes, it is time for reform. And nothing short of a major overhaul of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) will suffice.

This March, the chair of the DNC will be up for grabs. This seat has lately been mired in allegations of debate fixing and question-rigging. The sitting head of the DNC is Donna Brazile, a longtime Democrat and former CNN contributor. Brazile leads in an interim capacity after Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned amid serious corruption allegations. Hacked emails appeared to show Wasserman Schultz and other now-former DNC officials collaborating to undermine Bernie Sanders’s popular campaign to clinch the Democratic nomination. But Interim Chair Brazile herself has come under fire after another set of hacked emails showed her forwarding questions from a town hall presidential debate jointly hosted by CNN to the Clinton campaign at Trump’s expense.

This is totally unacceptable. Liberalism, democracy, and the reputation of the Democratic Party are just too important to tolerate such cronyism. To regain the trust of disenfranchised millennials—the future of the party, mind you—who were denied the candidate of their choice, a radical change is needed. This requires a total reimagining of the function of the DNC, its purpose, its reach, and its organization. Only a complete overhaul will do.

Vermont governor Howard Dean, who ran the DNC from 2005 to 2009, has announced his intention to stand again for the role. But that would not be an overhaul. It would simply be a rinse and repeat.

There is another option.

Clean, grassroots, and progressive, this option is a party outsider. He is pro-choice, pro-gay rights, and a human rights campaigner. As the second congressman to endorse Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primaries, he has shown that he saw what the Democrat-elite fatefully failed to see. This option therefore has the backing of the Sanders revolution that never was, and has the chance to resurrect some of that hope the young then felt when they asked us all to Feel the Bern, and we didn’t listen.

Keith Ellison is an African-American and currently co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Despite being elected in a post 9/11 world, he was the first Muslim Congressman. And all of this sends a perfect message to President-elect Trump, symbolizing the opposite of the worst excesses of the Trump campaign.

In a call Thursday night with members of the liberal grassroots group Democracy for Action, Rep. Ellison said he was keen to help the party move forward: “My shoelaces are tied up tight, and I’m ready to get out on that court.” He announced his candidacy on Monday.

MoveOn.org, a major progressive network, also said in a statement that Ellison would be “an excellent DNC chair.” Bernie Sanders has already declared his hand, backing Ellison by saying, “You can’t tell working people you’re on their side while at the same time you’re raising money from Wall Street and the billionaire class. The Democratic Party has to be focused on grass-roots America and not wealthy people attending cocktail parties.”

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Sanders accepted that the party must continue its high-value fundraising, but suggested a micro-donor model, too, akin to his presidential campaign, saying “millions of people are willing to put in 20 bucks, 30 bucks, 50 bucks if there’s a party to believe in.”

He’s right, obviously. But will the Democratic establishment pay heed?

Humbly, I put it you them that they must. They have no choice. Ellison will face some resistance. He is not known as a fundraiser. Assuming he would remain a representative, he wouldn’t be able to hold the chairmanship as a full-time job. But this could be fixed by drafting in competent deputies.

In terms of values, I’d advise Ellison to focus the Democratic Party on the future. In a post-Brexit, President-Trump world, liberals must move beyond post-modernism. Identity politics, censorship, and “feelings based” policy are in danger of rendering liberals as post-factual as the populist right.

The rallying cry of new, young Democrats should now be open, inclusive, universalist liberal internationalism. Former British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was the closest the U.K. had to this, but he came up politically short. America thirsts for a leader of such assertive, open liberalism.

On the economic globalization front, yes, in the long run the corrective impact of “the market” kicks in through specialization efficiencies. But it was the great John Maynard Keynes himself who retorted to the capitalists, “In the long run we’re all dead.” This is precisely why he argued for softening the blow of market “corrective” forces. In our rush for globalization, we liberals forgot this, and forgot the white working classes in the process.

Keith Ellison could change this. His great value is in what he could come to symbolize to the young voters who supported Bernie Sanders in droves, and yet abandoned Hillary Clinton in equal measure.

Ellison’s value is in the potential for the DNC to show that it has learned its lesson, and that it is finally—better late than never—listening to the outsiders who want change, and who are not stained by spending too many years greasing palms.

And Ellison’s value is in the signal his selection could send to the rest of the world.

His selection would be a beautiful reminder to concerned citizens everywhere that the USA is not only the inward-looking America of Donald Trump, but that it is also the America of this outward-looking, progressive black Muslim from Minnesota, who swore his Congressional oath of allegiance on the Holy Quran.