A roiling debate about the Democratic establishment is making everyone dumber

A roiling debate about the Democratic establishment is making everyone dumber
Gage Skidmore

We've reached that point in the primaries when those who are invested in a candidate are perpetually primed for outrage. So on Saturday, when Sen. Bernie Sanders' comms team tweeted out a standard-issue outsider-y appeal, his detractors were quick to pounce.


That led to widespread condemnations of the Democratic establishment's perfidy, both real and imagined, by Sanders supporters. The usual claims and counter-claims about the 2016 nomination being stolen from Sanders were dutifully exchanged. And this played out against the backdrop of  a ubiquitous storyline in the political press about a homogenous Democratic leadership bent on destroying Sanders' campaign.

But the Democratic establishment is anything but monolithic. And the reality is that while he may not identify as a Democrat, Bernie Sanders is one of the leaders of a faction within that establishment that has gained significant influence over the past 15 or 20 years.

It's more accurate to view the establishment as a constellation of power centers that sometimes but doesn't always walk in lockstep than it is to see it as a single organization. The seminal book on major-party primaries, The Party Decides, describes it as a loose array of "party actors." Sanders represents the wing led by progressive unions and environmental groups, think tanks like Demos, Data for Progress and Campaign for America's Future and outside electoral groups like Our Revolution and Justice Democrats. They raise money, produce policy papers, do advocacy work and fund races up and down the ballot the same way that their center-left counterparts like the Center for American Progress, Third Way or the various campaign committees do.

In addition to caucusing with Democrats on Capitol Hill for over 30 years and winning 1,865 delegates in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries, Sanders has long been a prolific fundraiser for the Democratic party. He is a member of the Democratic Senate leadership team and personally appointed one-third of the members of the DNC committee that established the rules for this year's primaries and caucuses.

If all of the above doesn't describe a member of the Democratic establishment then the word really has no meaning.

It's abundantly clear that some elements within the establishment are hostile to Sanders and his movement, but the common storyline about a uniformly centrist cabal fighting in lockstep against a progressive "insurgency" is both wildly over-simplified and also far less interesting than the real push-and-pull of intra-party wrangling among the different factions of the Democratic coalition.

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