Democrats Adopt a More Progressive Tone

At the Democratic National Convention, some tough-guy/gal militaristic talk has prompted floor shouts of “no more war,” while most domestic policy rhetoric has been markedly progressive, say Bill Moyers and Michael Winship.

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Shoot if you must these old grey heads, but these two semi-qualified observers of the passing political scene watched Monday night’s proceedings at the Democratic National Convention and saw past the heckles and opprobrium of the leather-lunged few.

Instead, we witnessed an evening of progressive rhetoric and thoughtfulness unseen on a big political stage since the days of William Jennings Bryan, Wisconsin’s Fighting Bob La Follette, the Happy Warrior Al Smith and the crusaders of FDR’s New Deal. Not to mention Hubert Humphrey, Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, and a host of others who though history kept beating the drums for ordinary people against the organized might of Big Money.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking to one of his large crowds of supporters. (Photo credit: Sanders campaign)

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking to one of his large crowds of supporters. (Photo credit: Sanders campaign)

Progressive big hitters were out on the field Monday and they successfully swung for the fences. Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders were batting like the Yankees’ legendary Murderers Row, aided and abetted by such powerful players as Representatives Keith Ellison and Raúl Grijalva, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley.

Michelle Obama was elegant and forceful as she looked back at her family’s years in the White House and endorsed Hillary Clinton.

“I want someone with the proven strength to persevere,” she said. “Someone who knows this job and takes it seriously. Someone who understands that the issues a president faces are not black and white and cannot be boiled down to 140 characters. Because when you have the nuclear codes at your fingertips and the military in your command, you can’t make snap decisions. You can’t have a thin skin or a tendency to lash out. You need to be steady, and measured, and well-informed.”

Could anyone watching not feel a tingle down the spine as this remarkable woman traced the great arc of American history? We only prayed grandchildren were listening as she said that the story of America is “the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today, I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves? –? and I watch my daughters?– ?two beautiful, intelligent, black young women?– ?playing with their dogs on the White House lawn. And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters ?– and all our sons and daughters? –?now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.”

Elizabeth Warren did what only she can do, deconstructing the charade that is Donald Trump.

“Trump thinks he can win votes by fanning the flames of fear and hatred,” she said. “By turning neighbor against neighbor. By persuading you that the real problem in America is your fellow Americans – people who don’t look like you, or don’t talk like you, or don’t worship like you… That’s Donald Trump’s America. An America of fear and hate. An America where we all break apart…

“When we turn on each other, bankers can run our economy for Wall Street, oil companies can fight off clean energy, and giant corporations can ship the last good jobs overseas. When we turn on each other, we can’t unite to fight back against a rigged system. Well, I’ve got news for Donald Trump. The American people are not falling for it.”

And then the hour belonged to Bernie Sanders. As he endorsed Clinton, he was gracious in defeat: “I understand that many people here in this convention hall and around the country are disappointed about the final results of the nominating process. I think it’s fair to say that no one is more disappointed than I am. But to all of our supporters — here and around the country — I hope you take enormous pride in the historical accomplishments we have achieved.

“Together, my friends, we have begun a political revolution to transform America and that revolution – Our Revolution – continues. Election days come and go. But the struggle of the people to create a government which represents all of us and not just the 1 percent – a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice – that struggle continues. And I look forward to being part of that struggle with you.”

Then and there, the old socialist from Vermont liberated Democrats to be the champions of everyday people again.

Choking on Big Money

If only — and it’s a big if — if only the party can liberate itself from the stranglehold of Big Money. For off camera, out of sight and (for the moment) out of mind, one could sense the corrupting presence of the lobbyists of corporate America, the bag men of special interests, and the mercenaries there in Philadelphia with hefty infusions of campaign cash eager to bring the Democrats down from the ramparts of Les Mis and back to cold, cynical earth.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire on July 12, 2016. (Photo from cloud2013 Flickr)

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire on July 12, 2016. (Photo from cloud2013 Flickr)

Monday, we saw spirit and passion, ideas and aspirations, inspiring language, diversity (1,182 black delegates — as opposed to the GOP’s 18 — and 2,887 women), values, even the tears of Bernie’s supporters and yes, the willingness to join forces to defeat Trump.

But those progressive voices ringing out so beautifully that night are the very ones fighting to free their party from the grip of millionaires and billionaires while at the same time the Clinton forces embrace the one-tenth of one percent represented by the multi-billionaire and former Republican Mayor of New York Mike Bloomberg. He spoke at the convention on Wednesday night, part of the Clinton effort to give moderate members of the GOP another reason to dump Trump. Nonetheless, the optics are less than great.

We took time from the grace notes of unity and collaboration sounded at the convention to look over those Democratic National Committee emails dumped on the eve of the convention by WikiLeaks, communications that reveal just how low party fundraisers will stoop for cash, promising contributors access to the White House and other higher-ups in exchange for their donations.

In The Washington Post this week, Matea Gold wrote, “The leaked emails reveal the relentless art of donor maintenance that undergirds the system: the flattery, cajoling and favor-bestowing that goes into winning rich supporters. It’s a practice that the party fundraisers themselves often find dispiriting.”

To which Nicholas Confessore and Steve Eder at The New York Times added, “As is common in national politics, Democratic staff members kept detailed track of every dollar contributed by targeted donors, aiming to get each of the wealthiest givers to ‘max out,’ or contribute the maximum legal amount to each party account. The biggest national donors were the subject of entire dossiers, as fund-raisers tried to gauge their interests, annoyances and passions.”

Avarice is bipartisan, as has been seen at both this year’s Republican and Democratic conventions. For the first time, both parties received no public money for their conventions so they were completely beholden to private funding. What’s more, Democrats reversed previous policy and lifted a ban on corporate and lobbying dollars to pay for their big soiree.

“After those limits were lifted,” Matea Gold noted, soon-to-be-former DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz “and other top party officials showered corporate lobbyists with calls, emails and personal meetings seeking convention support and PAC contributions to the party, according to a spreadsheet logging the contacts.” This year’s sponsors include Lockheed Martin, Home Depot, AT&T, Xerox, Twitter, Microsoft and Facebook.

While in Philadelphia, according to Confessore and Eder, “Donors who raise $1.25 million for the party — or who give $467,000 — are entitled to priority booking in a top hotel, nightly access to V.I.P. lounges and an ‘exclusive roundtable and campaign briefing with high-level Democratic officials,’ according to a promotional brochure obtained by The Times.”

And then there’s this report by Megan R. Wilson at the Washington paper, The Hill: “Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has accepted more than $9 million in bundled donations from registered lobbyists, while the DNC has rolled back the lobbyist bans that Obama put into place.

“‘In 2008 and 2012, there was no integration with the [Obama] campaign,’ said Al Mottur, a senior Democratic lobbyist at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, adding that he would have liked to have helped. ‘Now, the campaign is welcoming — they’re open to us. That’s why I’ve done as much work for her as I’ve done on her behalf.’”

It’s an old story. Candidates seek the votes of citizens only to turn around and promise the only real access to donors. And once again representative government is disrupted because the winners so rarely govern as they campaigned. They can’t, because they are tethered to the demands, claims and tendered IOUs of the rich and privileged.

That the system is so rigged has been a major theme of the Sanders campaign, and on Monday, it was reiterated by both Sanders and Warren as each called for the overturning of Citizens United and other court decisions that have flooded politics with money at a level beyond imagination.

In her acceptance speech Thursday night, Hillary Clinton doubtless will say similar things and praise the progressive gospel of campaign finance reform, professing to shun the appeasement of Wall Street – the big banks, hedge fund managers, and private equity oligarchs.

All well and good, but if her actions and her party’s continue to prove otherwise, the rousing rhetoric of this week – and the historic nomination of the first woman as a presidential nominee –may fade to insignificance as an angry, disillusioned, and despairing public opens the door wide for the phony “I’m so rich I can’t be bought off” gospel of Donald J. Trump. Caveat emptor.

Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship. [This story originally appeared at]


19 comments for “Democrats Adopt a More Progressive Tone

  1. July 31, 2016 at 13:05

    Throughout all this verbiage from the political class (including Bernie Sanders), there is one thing to keep in mind – most everyday people when talking about what they actually believe and what they desire and what they think is the way to do things, are honest in their speech and also trust that the other person or persons in dialog with them are doing so as well. But when we enter the realm of modern American politics (after so many years of marketing, public relations, and propaganda – both governmental and corporate), the prudent thing to do is put the speeches aside – articulate and rousing as they may be – and actually look at the actions of the speakers, their confreres, their advisers, and their powerful supporters as well as where they get their funding to proceed. Only then, after a thorough tour through the history of candidates’ careers, should we make our decision. The old saw has it: Talk is cheap. And when candidates put up obstacles to reviewing information about them (such as not revealing tax returns or not releasing transcripts of secret, paid-for speeches to powerful people), we should keep demanding such information be released – and if it is not, write that candidate off as untrustworthy and duplicitous.

  2. hyperbola
    July 29, 2016 at 08:42

    Please stop insulting us with zionist gatekeepers. The little sect is enormously boring and has nothing to offer.

    • Northern Observer
      July 29, 2016 at 13:17

      More to offer than the Mohammedans. I guess that is a low bar. .

  3. Brad Benson
    July 28, 2016 at 18:53

    Moyers and Winship have become two very pathetic shills.

  4. Bill Bodden
    July 28, 2016 at 16:07

    Instead, we witnessed an evening of progressive rhetoric and thoughtfulness …

    that will inevitably be revealed as another mendacious scam.

    When we turn on each other, we can’t unite to fight back against a rigged system. Well, I’ve got news for Donald Trump. The American people are not falling for it.

    If the American people don’t fall for The Donald then, unfortunately, those that will decide the winner on November 8th will fall for the other charlatan and the parade of hypocrites, fabulists and outright liars supporting her. To paraphrase the Great Skeptic: No one ever lost an election underestimating the intelligence of the American people.

    “Politician Speak at the DNC” by Paul Street –

  5. James lake
    July 28, 2016 at 15:46

    Why pretend that Hillary Clinton is going to be any different from Obama, or Bush 2, or Bill clinton? She even wear the trousers!!
    All these presidents have been neo cons and that policy won’t change.
    There will be continuous war in the Middle East, ukraine, yemen, afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Libya, to preserve hegemony that the USA can’t afford.
    Guantanamo bay will get more prisoners and Clinton will put the whole of Europe at risk by threatening Russia. She will threaten China
    Oh and she will push TPP and suck up her funders in Wall Street. Gokdman sachs
    Have I missed anything??

  6. Ol' Hippy
    July 28, 2016 at 14:54

    I’ve washed my hands of this political farce. When I quit drinking almost 4 years ago, I decided to get a PC and learn about things again and why we got attacked. Well now, we have gotten back what we have sown, at least the government anyway. This again is another of a long line of lesser evil elections and this time it really is a coin flip; one doesn’t know anything except how to ‘make deals’ and the ‘qualified one’ is about as aggressive as a Black Mamba with ties to all the big business players while making a good pitch reminiscent of Hopey, Changy Obama. So I’ll go green and let the chips fall where they may, which in either case probably won’t matter much in the end as the nation fades away as all empires before have done also. There’s always alcohol again.

    • zman
      August 5, 2016 at 16:51

      I’m with you dude. At least your conscience will be clear. Voting for either T or C is tantamount to abetting in my mind.

  7. Joe Tedesky
    July 28, 2016 at 13:35

    The nerve of how the DNC and Hillary treated the Sanders campaign, and now for the party to suggest we Americans should support the cheaters who stole the election away from our candidate, is a major insult of the first kind. Not only are we being asked to vote for the lessor of the two evils, we are being prompted to ignore Hillary’s past record and vote against our principles. Speaker, after speaker, including our President, claim we really don’t know the real Hillary. So any reference to her past failures or bad decisions, is to be treated as if she has been mistreated by the impersonal press. If the real Hillary turns out to be a diplomatic and sensible president, then I will need to say, ‘I wish I had voted for her’. Yes, I will eat my hat, but something tells me that my hat will stay in one piece, and I will be waiting still for that diplomatic sensible leader that never showed.

  8. Drew Hunkins
    July 28, 2016 at 11:42

    Over the last 35 years the Dems have always talked a fairly progressive game at convention time in order to stir up their base, which is always more populist than the backroom dealing DLC-New Democrat types.

    However, once in the White House these corporate Dems go on to eliminate AFDC; pass NAFTA; cheer lead for TPP; do nothing to make card check a reality; repeal Glass-Steagal; demonize Russia; allow Tel Aviv to continue its brutal land grabs in the West Bank; go soft on increasing the minimum wage; ignore single-payer health insurance; bomb Belgrade, Libya, Iraq and drone all over the Middle East, south central Asia, and the horn of Africa. They then get away with this criminality by throwing a little bit of red meat to the identity politics crowd every once in awhile which doesn’t threaten the bottom line profits of any powerful entity anywhere.

    The Dem Party is essentially a colossal wreck.

    • zman
      August 5, 2016 at 16:47

      And they did this all by themselves and the repug party was all innocent. What a lovely delusional world you live in.

  9. July 28, 2016 at 11:22

    They succeeded in fooling the voters again. Clinton’s promises won’t go any further than Obama’s did. The Dems are really good at pandering to the voters to continue the war and police state, while feathering the nests of the elite and ignoring the plight of working people. Look for four more years of corruption, intervention, drone killings, favors for the rich and corporations, continued likudnik neocon policy, speaking fees out the kazoo, and no indictments for the anointed criminals. They’re laughing all the way to the bank!

  10. b.grand
    July 28, 2016 at 10:39

    The “tone” is a charade.

    A VOTE for JILL STEIN means either
    a) Jill wins (very long odds) or
    b) Trump wins

    Both preferable to the Neocon/Zionist Clinton War Machine. (And she won’t help the middle class, either.)

    • zman
      August 5, 2016 at 16:44

      Or c) vote for Killery or Donald and reinforce the 2 party fraud in perpetuity. As far as which would be worse, that is an unknown as they both pander to the very same criminals and are both liars. ANYONE that believes that Trump is not in the same bed is crazy.

  11. dfnslblty
    July 28, 2016 at 09:16

    ¿Buyer beware?
    This is the consumerism – so deeply ingrained to be invisible to voters themselves – that fuels the class & race inequities that continue today.
    There is only tone – no progressive solidity in the dnc platforms nor in the candidate & vpcandidate themselves.
    Protest loudly against the charade of hrc anti~progressivism & pseudo~ progressivism.
    Stop the pandering, and write like the intelligent humans you are!

    • Zachary Smith
      July 28, 2016 at 10:34

      “Stop the pandering, and write like the intelligent humans you are!”

      Whoa! There was actually some very intelligent pandering in this campaign ad for Hillary.

      Elizabeth Warren did what only she can do, deconstructing the charade that is Donald Trump.

      Because they’re defending an undefendable candidate, they shift the story to the undeniable low character of the opposition. What else can they do?

      That the system is so rigged has been a major theme of the Sanders campaign…

      Given that our intelligent Hillary authors have less than nothing to work with on the DNC emails, they attempt to change the story to Corporate Corruption. This avoids addressing the fact that the DNC cheated for Hillary, and Hillary not only didn’t condemn the cheating, but the “steady, and measured, and well-informed” and “remarkable” woman embraced Wasserman and added the cheater to her own campaign.

      Because when you have the nuclear codes at your fingertips and the military in your command, you can’t make snap decisions. You can’t have a thin skin or a tendency to lash out.

      Motor-mouth Trump is indeed a scary proposition, but our intelligent and pandering authors again ignore that “remarkable” Hillary has virtually promised to rattle the nukes, and her documented history of violence is a subject they both avoid like the plague.

      Given their extreme constraints and the nature of their candidate, they actually do a very good job here.

      Don’t know if they were responsible for the “Tone” part of the title or not. That’s all it is. Hillary will promise anything to get elected. Only a damned fool would believe anything she says – except of course for her willingness to smash any country in the way of Holy Israel.

      • exiled off mainstreet
        July 28, 2016 at 11:47

        The fact that Hillary chose an exponent of the TPP belies all of this. If these “trade agreements” come into force, all anti-corporate regulation is under threat from private corrupt arbitration tribunals. Any claim to roll-back global warming would then be a sham, since this would run afoul of the neoliberal post-legal post-democratic “trade” regime. This is all propaganda by misdirection and is totally contrary to the Clintons’ decades-long record of corruption and corporatism. Whatever their past record of decency, these guys have degenerated into propaganda cogs in the wheels of one of the most corrupt power structures ever to exist.

      • July 31, 2016 at 16:48

        “A historical milestone need not come at the expense of America.” Leslie Rutledge, Attorney General of Arkansas.


        and watch Laura Ingraham, bring the house down.

      • zman
        August 5, 2016 at 16:56

        So many good points, so little to argue against.

Comments are closed.