The intersection of intra-party politics and party strategy has come to a collision, producing mixed results for the party’s prospectus moving forward.
Bernie Sanders ignited a firestorm of criticism with his support of Heath Mello, who is running for Mayor in Omaha, Neb. and has a mixed voting record on abortion rights and Planned Parenthood.
Mello’s situation is complicated. He has taken some bad votes on abortion during his time in the unicameral Nebraska Legislature, but as of late, has a strong record supporting Planned Parenthood and has worked well with local activists to stem the flow of anti-woman legislation coming out of Nebraska. He is personally pro-life.
Pressured by people who didn’t stop, step back and think about the complexity of the situation, Tom Perez issued an impulsive statement labeling abortion as a non-negotiable issue within the Democratic Party, ignoring the fact that many people within the Democratic Party share Mello’s views or are personally pro-life but politically pro-choice, and exposing a ridiculous double standard for people like Joe Biden, Tim Kaine and Bob Casey.
Furthermore, Perez was elected DNC Chairman to be a leader of the entire Democratic Party, which includes elected officials like Joe Manchin, Jon Tester and Joe Donnelly. The core of the problem with former DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was that she chose to take a political position and supported a candidate instead of facilitating the success of the choice of the Democrats preferred candidate prior to that candidates’ election. Perez is choosing the same path with this statement. It’s alienating a lot of Democrats in different states and other leadership figures like Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer recognize this and are backing off of his pledge.
I don’t write this lightly and I certainly don’t think any restrictions on a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body are acceptable. But what individuals at the national level need to understand better is that politicians represent their communities and abortion is a very entrenched issue in conservative states. If you want candidates that are as liberal as Pelosi on abortion, get involved at the local level in Texas or Kansas or Nebraska and support Planned Parenthood, abortion clinics and women in need. When opinions and organizing power on the issue swing toward choice in those communities, the politicians will as well.
Again, this is not meant to excuse any bad votes or bad behavior when it comes to reproductive rights. But unity, and a path forward to defeating Trumpism, starts with understanding and Tom Perez has demonstrated that he doesn’t have a clue on how to achieve it.
Ironically, people might be more willing to listen to Perez and other different viewpoints on abortion if they felt that he genuinely cared about their economic concerns. That starts not with a bus tour, but with meaningful policy changes on who is represented by the Democratic Party and the actions of its leadership.