Debbie Wasserman Schultz doesn’t get it

The New York Times published an interview between Ana Marie Cox and Debbie Wasserman Schultz yesterday, and the DNC chair’s answers were wild from start to finish. From declining to explain why the Democratic Party temporarily cut off Bernie Sanders’s campaign’s access to the party’s voter activation network (VAN) — which isn’t actually that difficult of a question to answer — to blaming young women’s “complacency” for their lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton to a positively backwards defense of her opposition to legalizing marijuana, practically every one of her answers was problematic in some way or another, and didn’t do anything to stave off the mounting pressure from progressive groups that are calling for her resignation.

Let’s break a few of these answers down:

AMC: After the Bernie Sanders campaign improperly accessed voter data, the Democratic National Committee was swift with its punishment, suspending his campaign from having access to the database. How did you come up with that sanction?

DWS: Quite honestly, we are putting this behind us. The American people deserve an intelligent debate, and this isn’t one.

There are two ways to put an issue to bed: Refuse to answer questions and hope people stop asking, or give a good enough answer that no followup is needed. As I’ve written before, given the extent to which Bernie Sanders’s campaign acted inappropriately in taking advantage of NGP VAN’s data breach, temporarily suspending the campaign’s access until the issue was resolved seemed like a standard and reasonable procedure. That’s all she has to say, but her refusal to address the issue at all gives the impression that there’s more being left out. It makes me — someone who’s actually on her side of that particular debate — scratch my head and wonder why she’s being so cagey.

AMC: Do you notice a difference between young women and women our age in their excitement about Hillary Clinton? Is there a generational divide?

DWS: Here’s what I see: a complacency among the generation of young women whose entire lives have been lived after Roe v. Wade was decided.

This was the answer that really got her in trouble with the progressive community yesterday, and it’s hard not to see why. Yes, there is a generational divide in excitement about Hillary Clinton, but it’s a generational divide that cuts across genders. Young men and young women are about equally likely to support Bernie Sanders, and Wasserman Schultz seems to be implying that this shouldn’t be the case. She seems frustrated with young women who just don’t get that they’re supposed to support a female candidate because they weren’t on the front lines of the feminist battles of past decades.

There are a number of problems with this, but the most glaring one is that young women today (and men, for that matter) are on the front lines of new, arguably more progressive feminist battles than the ones Hillary Clinton and Debbie Wasserman Schultz are used to. To be clear, that’s the result of past struggles and incremental victories, but it doesn’t change the fact that progressive social policy in 2015 is to the left of what counted as progressive social policy in 1994. Young progressives today don’t see why they should be expected to add “and rare” to assertions that abortion should be safe and legal, especially since doing so perpetuates harmful stigmas and undermines the concept of reproductive choice. They’re troubled by Hillary Clinton’s support of her husband’s efforts to dismantle welfare programs and benefits for teachers — both in Arkansas and nationally — that have made life measurably worse for women. They’re not at all on board with Clinton’s work as Secretary of State that made life positively horrific for women abroad. They are willing to put aside what representational gains would come with electing a female president in favor of the much larger material gains offered by the more progressive candidate in the Democratic field.

That’s the opposite of complacent. That’s engaged.

AMC: You’re one of a dwindling number of progressive politicians who oppose legalization of even the medical use of marijuana. Where does that come from?

DWS: I don’t oppose the use of medical marijuana. I just don’t think we should legalize more mind-altering substances if we want to make it less likely that people travel down the path toward using drugs. We have had a resurgence of drug use instead of a decline. There is a huge heroin epidemic.

AMC: Heroin addiction often starts with prescribed painkillers. Pill mills were a problem in Florida, but the state didn’t make prescribing opiates illegal.

DWS: There is a difference between opiates and marijuana.

The single most common “gateway” substance known to man is alcohol. As Zaid Jilani of The Intercept pointed out yesterday, Debbie Wasserman Schultz counts the alcohol industry as one of her biggest sources of campaign contributions. If you’re looking for a reason as to why she would repeat the tired, discredited idea that marijuana is a uniquely dangerous precursor to more harmful, addictive drugs (there is indeed a difference between opiates and marijuana), there’s your answer.

AMC: Still, your opinion on this does seem like an outlier.

DWS: It’s perfectly O.K. to not be completely predictable. I am a person, and I have individual opinions that may not line up ideologically. They’re formed by my personal experience both as a mom and as someone who grew up really bothered by the drug culture that surrounded my childhood — not mine personally. I grew up in suburbia.

Among a long list of bad answers, this one is, I think, the worst. Debbie Wasserman Schultz opposes legal marijuana because she’s always associated it with bad people in bad neighborhoods from which her family intentionally isolated themselves. She didn’t have any actual experience with the drug culture in those, you know, urban neighborhoods…she just knows it was bad. And the people in those urban neighborhoods deserve to be punished. So there’s no reason to curtail or otherwise change one of the single most racist public policy initiatives our government continues to engage in.

A majority of US citizens, and an even stronger majority of Democrats, support marijuana legalization. For the leader of the Democratic Party to make old, discredited, backward, privileged and borderline racist arguments against legalization is a huge issue for her. At best.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, via Wikimedia Commons

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, via Wikimedia Commons

AMC: Are there any other positions that you have that might surprise people?

DWS: My criminal-justice record is perhaps not as progressive as some of my fellow progressives’.

AMC: It sounds as if these are things that come from a personal place for you.

DWS: I guess I’m protective. Safety has been my top legislative priority. I’m driven by the idea that safety is really a core function of government.

AMC: Conservatives hate that framing of the relationship between citizens and government.

DWS: I don’t think we should just let things happen to people and let them be stupid and the victims of the consequences of their actions. I think we can put enough obstacles in the path of poor decision-making.

At this point, Wasserman Schultz needs to stop calling herself a progressive and just stick with calling herself a Democrat. Politicians who say that safety is their stop legislative priority have, with few if any exceptions, been willing to sacrifice and sell out civil liberties and economic freedoms — true progressive principles — for the sake of arcane, reactionary initiatives like the War on Drugs.

A lot of Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s politics would have played well in 1994, but 20 years later, they are fundamentally out of step with where her party currently is and where it’s headed. If she isn’t ready to lead a truly progressive party — if she’s content with being “not as progressive as some of her fellow progressives” — then perhaps it really is time for her to step aside and let someone else take the reins.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • hidflect

    Stuck this on Reddit and got over 1800 likes. Well done Jon!

    https://www.reddit.com/r/politics/comments/40baq1/debbie_wasserman_schultz_doesnt_get_it/

  • OldManPar

    I’m very glad DWS is getting primaried, and hopefully, voted out of office before the general election.

  • Rob Shaffer
  • 1nancy2

    Fire her now. We will lose as long as she is in charge. She’s a terrible disaster AKA Debbie Downer. Bad News.

  • 2karmanot

    Wassermann-Schulytz is a disaster….soon to become Hillary’s Rohm Emanuel She is a conservative apparatchik and should be booted out.

  • Melo11

    Interesting to read

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  • Ben

    Great article, DWS is awful and I hope she resigns or is replaced soon.

  • Butch1

    She continues to dispense disinformation out as if it is the truth. Is it any wonder many people registered as democrats and those who aren’t are not donating any money to the DNC? With this woman in charge and just so lazy about everything, who wants to waste their money? She needs to step aside and let a real progressive or how about a real Liberal for once take over and let’s get behind a real liberal for President! I continue to hear the only Clinton can be the one. Well, I’m hearing and seeing different responses and I do not believe the Main Stream Media for one second. They are deceivers and Blackout much of what Sanders is doing in favor of Clinton. They just have to be ignored.

  • dcinsider

    1992 actually, with the election of Clinton. Tsongas was the progressive in that race.

  • dcinsider

    Never. Liked. Her.

  • WormSmite

    DWS and Hillary are cut from the same cloth. If dems want a real progressive we need Bernie Sanders. He’s been fighting the same fight as women and real progressives for years.

  • goulo

    Yeah, she does not sound very “progressive”.

    PS: “safety is their stop legislative priority”
    should presumably be
    “safety is their top legislative priority”

  • Ashley

    I hadn’t read the article cited, but as a young woman, I’m horrified. Has she not met young women today? We are intersectional feminists (which HRC and DW-S most certainly are not), we fought for that whole marriage equality thing she might have noticed, we’re giving more support than ever to PP and NARAL, we’re advocating for transgender rights, we’re canvassing to sign people up for ACA plans, we’re doing more community service hours than any previous generation, we are more likely than other generations (according to Pew) to believe in the importance of public service and engagement…I mean, what the hell? Seriously, what. the. hell.

    I switched from independent to Democrat for this election so I could vote in the primary, and I was strongly leaning towards staying in the party so that I could get involved locally. After this? Fuck it. If this is what the Democratic Party represents, I’ll be going right back to independent the day after the election.

  • Jonathan Carr

    Hillary thought she’d use her status as a major power broker to line up everything in her favor, so that 2016 would be an unlosable primary. She’s a diligent, masterful strategist of the political power game. She thought she’d pack the DNC with her supporters, get a hold of all of the superdelegates, get just about every Democratic politician in the country to endorse her, and she’d be a shoo-in. Problem is, the people do not like her or trust her, because she has no integrity and has been in elite echelons far too long to relate to normal people. Bernie is loved by the people.

  • anonymot

    Rather like Hillary herself!

  • hidflect

    Poodle hair has got to go. The Down With Tyranny blog has been listing her high-handed fecklessness and myriad of failed strategies for over a year now.

    http://downwithtyranny.blogspot.com/

  • MidgardMortal

    She should call herself a DINO and step down.

  • 1nancy2

    I detest that woman. She’s no Dem. and is destroying the party. We will lose and she will be the cause. Get her the h*ll out and pronto. Calling Dr. Dean.

  • milwaukeegregg

    Love this Idiot!! Perfect for that feckless party!

  • asclepiuskay

    That lady is terrible. Just terrible :

  • I especially tire of the sheer intellectual laziness they employ with respect to MJ legalization, as if anybody really believes now (or ever did?) that it is literally as bad as heroin in terms of addictiveness and destroying lives. Absent the felony convictions for non-violent drug offenders, most of whom are just users charged with possession, no lives would be ruined by grass.

    “There are more than 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths in the U.S. each year – an average of 6 alcohol poisoning deaths every day.” (CDC study) The number of marijuana overdoses leading to death? Zero. Zero every single year for as long as anybody has been paying attention.

  • She’s appalling. Howard Dean got it: He took a minority party in both houses of Congress and no presidency and by 2008, with the 50 state strategy, energized young voters like never before. For a very brief period, they even had a filibuster proof majority in the Senate! How? He and the party began at least talking like progressive Democrats.

    Then they kicked Dean to the curb and pissed it all away. Lost Congress and now we have Democratic candidates happy only because their GOP opponent is likely to be an openly autocratic fascist (who might not even be Trump) — and so they think they’ll win by default. They could not be more wrong.

    She’s certainly not a progressive of any stripe. She’s a center-right Blue Dog Third-Way ‘new’ Democrat (aka “actually a center-right Republican but in the wrong party’), the ones who basically would’ve been Republicans in another less radical time for the GOP. Interesting you’d bring up 1994 there, Jon — that’s precisely about the time the Democrats began their hard lurch to the right, well seasoned by corporatism, what with ramping up the ‘war on drugs,’ welfare ‘reform’, DOMA and DADT, repealing Glass-Steagall, passing NAFTA, and so on.

  • Jack Bruce

    She needs to GO! She’s incompetent and dumb too, judging by this interview. She’s making decisions that will have negative repercussions in the election. FIRE ? BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE. Can we have Howard Dean again, please

  • bandanajack

    i concur, she has been an ally and a leader in her time, but that time has passed her by. while she might be a progressive by florida standards, is there ANYONE who wants florida to be that arbiter?

  • Butch1

    This woman has screwed up the Democratic Party by trying to run it. There ARE no progressives if she is running it and she has proven it. This is why we need to get rid of people such as her and those like her and get more real progressives into the party once again. We have the same old types pretending to be the “new democrats.” (lipstick on a pig) It isn’t going to work.

  • SkippyFlipjack

    I think she’s out of her league at this point. When she first rose to national prominence I remember really liking her honesty and passion in a couple interviews, but since then it’s been downhill for me. I got tired of defending her to Republican friends when she says plainly dumb stuff.

    I do think medical marijuana is an interesting issue because in California at least it’s tacit legalization. I’ve renewed my medical recommendation with 5 or 6 physicians and never has the appointment been anything but a formality. One guy has several offices throughout the state, each with a receptionist and a computer. You fill out your forms with the receptionist, then you have a 2 minute Skype video call with the doctor, wherever he happens to be. Just legalize it already.

  • Gindy51

    Get rid of her already.

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