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The Angst of the Rich and Powerful

There have been a couple of recent articles that relate to money and politics that, while infuriating on many levels, have also struck me as very funny.

One of them came out yesterday, a broadside no doubt planted by a Wall Street lobbyist intending to frighten Democratic party leaders into trying to shut up Elizabeth Warren (good luck with that!), Sherrod Brown, and other populists who challenge banking malfeasance. It is a classic story about today’s bizarro world of big-money-dominated politics:

Big Wall Street banks are so upset with U.S. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren’s call for them to be broken up that some have discussed withholding campaign donations to Senate Democrats in symbolic protest, sources familiar with the discussions said.

Representatives from Citigroup, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, have met to discuss ways to urge Democrats, including Warren and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, to soften their party’s tone toward Wall Street, sources familiar with the discussions said this week.

The Wall Street lobby is the richest and most powerful constituency in D.C., and they have been pretty successful over the last couple of decades at getting their way on policy and shutting up politicians who take them on. This kind of ham-handed threat might have worked in the past, but we are living in a new era where the progressive movement, in combination with leaders like Warren and Brown, isn’t backing down. It is worth noting this article, though, and keeping it in your file of favorite clip; this kind of moment is one to be savored. There will be more to come as the challenges to the Wall Street establishment keep growing.

There was another remarkable article on the front page of the Washington Post the other day, this one about millionaire bundlers for presidential candidates who were feeling hurt that candidates, now more focused on billionaires, weren’t courting them in the manner to which they were accustomed.

I feel for these poor but very rich souls. Having been in presidential politics since 1984, I can tell you that these millionaire bundlers really used to be the top dogs in the game. While there are always reasons to court the profoundly wealthy, because presidential campaigns couldn’t take unlimited money directly, it was actually more important for them to have the folks who had the ability to put together $100,000, $250,000, or $500,000 in $1,000 and $2,500 checks, but no more, not with billionaires happy to write $1 million and $10 million checks to super PACs that openly support these campaigns.

And the angst of these millionaires is bipartisan. The ultimate pal for Wall Street and big money in the Democratic Party may fall to a crashing defeat: Rahm Emanuel is in real trouble.

Through his massive amounts of campaign spending, his association with Obama, and his wide initial lead in name recognition, Rahm Emanuel had a plurality lead of 45-34 over Chuy García in the first round of the Chicago mayoral race and has kept a modest lead in some of the public polls since. But the dynamics on the ground are rapidly changing, and the momentum in the race is now with the García campaign. In the private polling that we and our allies have done, and in the early-voting numbers where Chuy’s wards are coming in very strongly, it is clear that this race is moving in Chuy’s direction. Here are the fundamentals in this race:

  1. There is now a private poll taken by an ally of the García campaign that shows him with a 7-point lead, but even the polls that still show us a few points down have Rahm losing 5 to 7 points over the last week, and stuck at 45 percent or below. With Rahm’s approval ratings still in the 30s, and with undecided voters decidedly unhappy with him, the undecideds are likely to move strongly Chuy’s way. And when asked which statement most closely represents their views about the mayoral election, 54 percent say “Chicago needs a change,” while 39 percent say “Chicago can’t risk putting an inexperienced leader in charge.”

  2. Almost entirely because of Obama’s endorsement, Rahm won a big plurality among African-American voters in the first vote and in the early polling right afterwards, but the dynamics are changing dramatically in the African-American wards. A series of endorsements from major Chicago African-American leaders including Jesse Jackson, Obama mentor Emil Jones, and a series of influential ministers, along with an outstanding field operation and some great ads on black radio, have caused a big upsurge in African-American support for Chuy, and a drop in support for Rahm from 58 percent to 41 percent. The campaign’s voter-ID program in the predominantly African-American wards is now showing Chuy at 52 percent of the vote.

  3. Youth support for Chuy is surging, and particularly among voters below the age of 50. Young and Latino voters are the two hardest-to-reach voting segments in public polling, one reason that Chuy was polling at only 22 percent in the polls leading up the first round of voting, yet ended with 34 percent.

  4. Rahm’s voting base leans heavily on Republicans who don’t like Rahm but are holding their nose to vote for him, and on older white voters who aren’t sure that Chuy can handle the job. There is no enthusiasm in either of those voting groups, so a turnout operation for Rahm is going to be tough going. On the other hand, the enthusiasm level for Chuy among his base voters — Latinos, younger voters, white liberals, union members — is sky-high. Just as importantly, the Democratic base groups that do the best get-out-the-vote operations — groups like AFT, NEA, SEIU, MoveOn, and DFA — are working for Chuy. The field operations include more than 70 full-time field organizers, more than 6,000 volunteers, and more than 100 staging locations for knocking on doors and getting out the vote.

Rahm still has more money than God (he outspent Chuy 12 to 1 in the first round and will outspend him by many millions again in this round), and he is a street fighter who won’t hesitate to use every trick in the book to win this race, so this race will be tough to the finish. But the fact that a grassroots community leader is in the hunt to win this race against an incumbent who raised an unprecedented $30 million from 100 donors and has the support of Obama and other establishment Democrats is a sign that things are changing in this country. Politicians aligned with the rich and powerful had better watch out.

In this era when Citizens United has unleashed a tsunami of money into the political system, the large majority of it on the Republican side, and the Koch brothers plan to spend $1 billion on the 2016 elections without breaking a sweat, Democrats need to adapt a new political strategy, one pioneered by Elizabeth Warren and now being used by Chuy García: Run as unapologetic populist progressives, and don’t worry about raising corporate cash. The Democratic Party would miss getting Wall Street money and would likely be outspent in most elections, but like Warren and García, they could make up for it with online donations and grassroots movement passion. The Koch brothers and Wall Street guys are going to make sure we get outspent in virtually every election anyway. Let’s walk away from their money and run as real Democrats. It is our best hope.

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