In a televised moment that could haunt the Democratic Party for years to come, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee awkwardly struggled to answer and then ducked a question from MSNBC about the difference between a socialist and a Democrat.
The exchange occurred when “Hardball” host Chris Matthews asked Debbie Wasserman Schultz about the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist who is running for president as a Democrat.
While Sanders has not been shy about his affinity for socialism, the exchange between Schultz and Matthews may betray a relationship the Democratic Party has taken great pains to hide.
The forgotten history revolves around the central role played by the Democratic Socialists of America, or DSA, in founding the Congressional Progressive Caucus, or CPC, the largest membership organization within the Democratic Caucus of Congress, currently with 69 declared members.
The DSA is the largest socialist organization in the United States and is the principal U.S. affiliate of Socialist International, the worldwide organization of social democratic, socialist and labor parties.
The CPC is currently co-chaired by Reps. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Keith Ellison, D-Minn. It was founded in 1991 by six member of Congress, including Sanders and Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Ron Dellums, D-Calif.
An early CPC member was Nancy Pelosi.
The Democratic Socialists of America’s chief organizing goal has been to work within the Democratic Party and remove the stigma attached to “socialism” in the eyes of most Americans.
“Stress our Democratic Party strategy and electoral work,” explains an organizing document of the DSA. “The Democratic Party is something the public understands, and association with it takes the edge off. Stressing our Democratic Party work will establish some distance from the radical subculture and help integrate you to the milieu of the young liberals.”
An online definition of socialism calls it “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.”
It also is described as “a stage in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism.”
Tongue-tied DNC chief suffers socialist stutter on MSNBC
As WND reported Friday, Matthew asked Wasserman Schultz, “What is the difference between a Democrat and a socialist?”
Wasserman Schultz was unwilling to offer an answer, only saying that the bigger issue is the difference between a Democrat and a Republican.
Matthews had first asked, “Do you want to see Bernie Sanders speak at the Democrat National Convention? Do you want to have him up there as a socialist representing the Democratic Party?”
“Bernie Sanders has been a good Democrat. He caucuses with the Democrats. Of course he should speak,” she said.
When Matthews presses about whether the speech should be in prime time or when nobody is listening, she waffled.
“I don’t know what time he should speak,” she said. “The progressive populist message that he has that resonates deeply and widely with the American people, not just with Democrats, absolutely should be featured,” she said.
Matthews left her struggling for words. He asked: “What is the difference between a Democrat and a socialist? I used to think there was a big difference. What do you think it is?”
Wasserman Schultz laughed nervously. Then she moved on to “uhm.”
“The difference between … the real question is what’s the difference between being a Democrat and being a Republican,” she finally explains.
Matthews pressed for an answer: “You’re the chairman of the Democratic Party. Tell me the difference between you and a socialist.”
“The relevant debate that we’ll be having over the course of this campaign is the difference between a Democrat and a Republican,” she insisted.
See the exchange:
WND left messages for both Schultz and Mathews, requesting comment on the exchange. Neither responded.
Socialists hosted CPC website
The DSA openly helped to establish and found the CPC.
In 1998, the January/February issue of Chicago DSA’s New Ground publication identified Sanders and Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts as leaders of the Progressive Caucus in Congress, which, the publication related, the DSA “helped to organize.”
Until November 2002, the website of the CPC was openly hosted by the DSA, demonstrating the close ties between the two likeminded groups.
Following negative publicity about the CPC website being hosted by the socialist organization, the list of CPC names was moved to Sanders’ own website and was later relocated to its own site.
WND reported as early as 1998 on the DSA and the progressive congressional faction. WND reported at the time the DSA website featured “The Internationale,” the worldwide anthem of communism and socialism.
Another song on the site was “Red Revolution,” sung to the tune of “Red Robin.” The lyrics include:
“When the Red Revolution brings its solution along, along, there’ll be no more lootin’ when we start shootin’ that Wall Street throng. …”
“Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping? Bourgeoisie, Bourgeoisie. And when the revolution comes, We’ll kill you all with knives and guns, Bourgeoisie, Bourgeoisie.”
The issue of the CPC being hosted on the DSA website rose again in June 2000 in connection with a heated dispute on the House floor among Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif.; Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.; and David R. Obey, D-Wis., over the “merits of the F-22 fighter plane.”
When Cunningham stood to defend himself, he included in his argument the fact the DSA website had a link to the CPC, which DeFazio then led.
In 2000, the relationship between the CPC and DSA was an open secret.
In an Aug. 10, 2000, letter to the editor published in the Kentucky Post, it was reported that then-Democrat Rep. Ken Lucas had received campaign funds from Democrat Reps. Marcy Kaptur, John Lewis, George Miller, Nancy Pelosi and Charles Rangel, “among others on the far-left.”
The writer remarked that “those five names stand out because they are all members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus – a group closely aligned with the Democratic Socialists of America.”
The CPC still had not moved to its own website on April 23, 2002. Author and political philosopher Balint Vazsonyi responded thusly in the Washington Times to the hypothetical question: “‘What?’ I hear you say. ‘Socialists in the Congress of the United States?'”
Dozens, dear reader, dozens. And they make no secret of it. Although of late it has been refurbished and the address altered, they have their own Web site. They call themselves members of the Progressive Caucus, until recently an arm of the Democratic Socialists of America, itself an arm of the Socialist International. The Progressive Caucus may be a separate entity now, but the details of its program, as advertised on the website, are indistinguishable from that of the Socialist International.
To their credit, they make no secret of it. Only the rest of us prefer not to believe it.
In a follow-up article in November 2002, Vazsonyi dug deeper into the continued presence of the CPC on the DSA website. He discussed the issue of constitutionality and the ramifications of the relationship:
The Socialist International carries the torch for Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, V.I. Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and Josef Stalin. Pay no attention to the desperate attempts by socialists to distance themselves from Stalin. For our purposes, it suffices to observe that every single tenet of the Socialist International is the exact opposite of the principles upon which America was founded, and which define the U.S. Constitution.
For our purposes, it suffices also to observe that members of the U.S. Congress are required to furnish an oath whereby they will preserve, protect, and defend said Constitution.
Sanders recruited socialists to Congress
In divining the early DSA-CPC ties, it is instructive to review the case of CPC co-founder Sanders.
In fact, the ties between Sanders and the DSA go back to at least 1988 and continued openly until recently, WND has found.
On Oct. 24, 1988, The Nation magazine, identifying Sanders as “the socialist Mayor of Burlington, Vermont,” reported he had been endorsed for Congress by both the Democratic Socialists of America and the progressive founders of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream.
The DSA endorsed Sanders for every one of his subsequent elections and has openly helped to raise funds for him over the years.
In 2006, for example, the DSA boasted in its literature about the socialist group’s “involvement in Bernie Sanders’ pivotal independent 2006 Senate campaign in Vermont.”
Indeed, the DSA held “Elect Sanders” house parties in Atlanta; Boston; Detroit; Portland, Maine; Boulder, Colorado; Indianapolis; Columbus, Ohio; Ithaca, New York; Springfield, Massachusetts; Washington, D.C.; and New York City.
“DSAers wanting to hold Sanders house parties should contact me at [email protected],” wrote one senior DSA activist in the socialist group’s July 2006 newsletter.
That same year, Sanders spoke at a Detroit fundraiser for DSA’s Political Action Committee. The fundraiser was connected by telephone link to a simultaneous DSA fundraising event in Atlanta.
DSA literature notes that in January 2006, DSA Detroit Chair David Green “took Bernie Sanders to tour Stan Ovshinsky’s United Solar Ovonics plant in Auburn Hills northwest of Detroit.”
“The plant makes successful, cost-efficient solar panels and is pioneering the hydrogen fuel cell,” added the DSA.
In the fall of 2006, Sanders was the featured speaker at several DSA “urban parties” also meant to garner support for his senatorial run while raising awareness about the DSA and recruiting new members to the group.
One New York City event was held Sept. 19, 2006, at the home of DSA activists Gene and Laurel Eisner on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
“The questions and comments actually had to be cut off to let Bernie get to the plane,” reported the DSA.
DSA reported the Sanders events helped to recruit new members to the socialist organization.
“Sanders support work provides a natural vehicle in any locality for DSA to reach out to – and potentially recruit – unaffiliated socialists and independent radicals.”
Sanders is not the only former CPC member openly affiliated with the DSA.
WND reported in 2010 former Ohio Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy was listed in DSA literature as a member of the U.S.-based socialist organization.
Obama connected to socialist group
Top Democratic Socialists of America members have been closely linked for years to Obama.
Obama himself spoke at a forum organized by the group at the University of Chicago in early 1996 called “Employment and Survival in Urban America,” WND previously found.
Quentin Young, considered the father of the U.S. single-payer health-care movement, is a longtime Democratic Socialists of America activist. Young has had a relationship with Obama, particularly in the 1990s, when he reportedly advised Obama on health care.
Young was reportedly present at a 1995 meeting at the home of former Weather Underground terrorist William Ayers, who was said to have launched Obama’s political career.
Young has been active in Chicago socialist circles and was previously accused of membership in a communist group. In 1992, Chicago’s branch of the Democratic Socialists of America awarded Young, a member, with their highest honor – the Debs Award.
In a 2008 article in the official Communist Party USA magazine, Young noted Obama previously expressed support for a single-payer universal health-care program, although he later waffled when asked about his position.
As an Illinois state senator representing a mostly black district on the South Side of Chicago, Obama publicly supported universal health care. He also co-sponsored the Bernardin Amendment, which did not pass but would have amended the Illinois State Constitution to add health care to the list of basic rights for residents.
Meanwhile, Obama spoke at the March 29, 1998, memorial service for Chicago Democratic Socialists of America member Saul Mendelson, DSA literature documented.
Timuel Black, a member activist, mediated political disputes on behalf of Obama in the 1990s and was reportedly involved in Obama’s campaign committee during his successful 2004 Senate race.
Longtime member activist Arnold Wolf was a member of “Rabbis for Obama” and has held fundraisers in his home for Obama, including a function in 1995 that was aimed at introducing Obama to the Hyde Park activist community.
Eliseo Medina, international executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union, has been honored by Democratic Socialists of America. During the most recent presidential campaign, Medina served on Obama’s National Latino Advisory Council.
WND reported Medina, speaking at a 2009 Washington, D.C., conference, declared granting citizenship to millions of illegal aliens would expand the progressive electorate and help ensure a progressive governing coalition for the long term.