Over the weekend, Bernie Sanders fired a salvo at the Center for American Progress, Washington D.C.’s largest liberal think tank. Per Sanders:
Dear members of the Board of the Center for American Progress and CAP Action Fund,
I write to express my deep concern and disappointment with the destructive role that the Center for American Progress and its affiliated Action Fund arm are playing in the critical mission to defeat Donald Trump.
Last week, you published an article on ThinkProgress criticizing me for my appearance and for the income I earned from writing a book. Then, a day later, you published a video that dishonestly attacked me for hypocrisy in my effort to address income inequality in America — a video that was excitedly discussed on many conservative websites.
Here is the video from ThinkProgress that really started this whole mess (ThinkProgress is theoretically editorially independent, but they are owned by CAP).
That’s a fairly harmless video, but it is a cheap shot. The implication throughout that whole thing is that Bernie has changed his politics after becoming a millionaire, but there is absolutely no evidence in his actual platform that things have changed since writing a best-selling book. It’s simply a change in rhetoric, likely stemming from the fact that he is a millionaire and politically, ranting about “millionaires” would open him up to more attacks (theoretically far more substantive than this one). This is a pretty innocuous change in political strategy, but because there is a lot of anger in the Democratic Party, it has sparked a long-simmering battle that we need to have.
Now, many current ThinkProgress employees will tell you that they secured their independence from CAP in their latest union contract, but plenty of former employees have stories suggesting otherwise. Benjamin Armbuster was the national security news editor from 2011 to 2014, and he said that Neera Tanden, head of CAP, and other senior staffers overruled ThinkProgress’ editorial independence in saying that “Benjamin Netanyahu’s name was not to appear in any stories I wrote or edited.”
2016 e-mails released by Wikileaks revealed that Tanden vigorously interjected in ThinkProgress’ election coverage, proving that while ThinkProgress does have editorial independence, Tanden and other senior folks at CAP will not hesitate to try to inject their agenda into ThinkProgress—and this is the “establishment” mindset us leftists have been highlighting as part of the central problem in America. The party of the little guy sold him out in order to pledge fealty to the global financial elite, and that influence is laundered through organizations like CAP (it should be noted that CAP does a lot of good work, and they are far from a monolith—this is a critique of senior leadership at CAP like Tanden and these D.C. swamp folks below).
This pushback is long overdue, and it really isn't about that stupid video. That stupid video is simply an entry point into the larger fight over who should control institutions like CAP, and how much say they should have in a party shifting its focus away from the upper end of the economic spectrum and towards the lower end. Neera Tanden will tell you that those working on the nitty gritty details of policy are the heart and soul of CAP, but that thread by Lee Fang above proves that elite financial interests have immense sway over this liberal organization. Thanks to the efforts of these establishment folks, CAP has become a symbol for the Democratic Party's abject failure over the last 40 years.
But in very on-brand Bernie fashion, his righteous crusade contained some serious unforced errors. He also claimed that ThinkProgress unfairly went after Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren in articles that were 100% fair. In fact, the woman who wrote the article critiquing Warren's DNA test is a Bernie supporter.
Bernie likely included Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren in his letter because he wanted to make it look like he is defending progressivism from CAP, and not just himself, but the notion that Cory Booker is progressive is objectively hilarious. Booker's votes prove that he is part of the insurance company and Wall Street-backed establishment that so many progressives spend their days fighting against. The narrative put forth by Bernie is fairly incoherent, and I am not the only leftist who believes this.
This is a gigantic mess with varying degrees of mistakes on behalf of everyone involved, but that’s OK. We need this fight. The Democratic Party is currently undergoing a massive change for the better, and a battle over major capital’s influence at key liberal organizations like CAP is the first step in addressing the Democratic Party’s inherent shortcomings.
While Bernie is leading the charge against the establishment and deserves a ton of credit for his leadership on that front, the 29-year congressman is not immune to the ills of the last 40 years of the Democratic Party. Including Warren and Booker in his letter is emblematic of a party who assumes to speak for everyone before actually speaking to anyone. Charging ThinkProgress—which on the whole, is a staunchly liberal/sometimes leftist outlet—with being wrapped up in some massive CAP conspiracy is a reflection of the destructive—yet legitimate—paranoia that has plagued leftists for more than the last 40 years. This mindset certainly has a hand in the lack of power that progressives have in government (that said, the primary reason is clearly thanks to major capital freezing progressive priorities out of the party).
Politics is about building coalitions to pass laws that make lives better. While there is clearly a concerted effort at the highest levels of CAP to continue the Democratic Party’s fealty to major capital and endless war, smearing the entirety of CAP and ThinkProgress is counter-productive to Bernie’s righteous crusade against a wholly inadequate Democratic establishment. He has tons of allies at both institutions (his speechwriter, David Sirota, worked at CAP and created a newsletter that would go on to become ThinkProgress), and this far too generic broadside is sure to cut into his support at these very important liberal outlets. All of us have a hand in this massive failure that is 2019 America, and once we put all our grievances on the table, the next step in this fight is to accept the varying degrees of personal responsibility that every liberal has in the creation of President Donald J. Trump, and work to rectify our mistakes to help build a future that most liberals agree on.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.