From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject Is Stacey Abrams Progressive?
Date May 27, 2020 12:05 AM
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[The Georgia Democrat, while clearly forward-thinking on voting
rights and other key issues, has repeatedly thrown her lot in with the
corporate wing of the party.] [[link removed]]

IS STACEY ABRAMS PROGRESSIVE?  
[[link removed]]

 

Deborah Toler
May 26, 2020
Common Dreams
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_ The Georgia Democrat, while clearly forward-thinking on voting
rights and other key issues, has repeatedly thrown her lot in with the
corporate wing of the party. _

Georgia Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams took the
stage on election night event on May 22, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.,
Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

 

Stacey Abrams is being widely touted as Joe Biden’s best pick for
the vice-presidential nomination. She has been a rising star in the
Democratic Party ever since her historic and groundbreaking run in the
2018 Georgia gubernatorial race. But—while having a black woman on
the ticket would be welcome—progressives need to understand that
Abrams is firmly entrenched in the centrist establishment wing of the
party.

Because Abrams ran an excellent race for governor in the Georgia
context—fully deserving the widespread support she received from
progressive organizations and individuals—it is easy to
misunderstand her political approach as being more progressive than it
is. In December 2018, weeks after losing (or, more accurately, having
the gubernatorial race stolen from her), Abrams stepped onto the
national stage while signaling her embrace of the Democratic Party’s
corporate wing. She joined the board of directors
[[link removed]] at
the Center for American Progress (CAP), which is second to none as a
powerful political operation for the
party’s Clinton-aligned forces, fiercely hostile to the Bernie
Sanders wing of the party.

For many years, no “think tank” in Washington has done more to
wage political war on Sanders than CAP under the leadership of
fervent Clinton loyalist Neera Tanden. So, Abrams’ public
statement
[[link removed]] when
she joined the CAP board is notable: “I am honored to be joining the
board of the Center for American Progress. Led by the extraordinary
Neera Tanden, CAP has been at the forefront of progressive policy
development and activism for years. Together we will find and support
bold solutions on health care, voting rights, the economy, and other
critical issues our nation faces.”

A little more than a year later, in early 2020, Abrams doubled down on
throwing her lot in with the corporate wing of the party when she
joined the board of a major big-money organization, Priorities USA.

The first African-American woman to be the gubernatorial nominee of a
major party, Abrams came to national prominence as a result of her
grassroots campaign against Georgia’s Republican then-Secretary of
State Brian Kemp. He refused to recuse himself from running his own
election and worked assiduously to purge more than 1.4 million voters
from the rolls between 2012 and 2018. Abrams, leading the New Georgia
Project, drew 800,000 more Democratic voters to cast ballots in 2018
than in the 2014 midterms. Despite poll site closings, nonfunctional
voting machines and other voter suppression factors, Abrams “lost”
the election by only 55,000 votes.

Abrams ran on a platform that was progressive for Georgia. She
supported Medicaid expansion, universal background checks, universal
pre-K, criminal justice reform and the introduction of automatic voter
registration. She also supported pay equity and expanded sick leave.
She won union support with her backing of the right to form a union
and to collectively bargain for fair wages and safe workplace
conditions. Those positions, coupled with her massive grassroots
get-out-the-vote campaign, excited everyone from Oprah (who went
door-to-door for her) to progressive activists like the Bernie
Sanders-inspired group Our Revolution. Indeed, Bernie himself formally
endorsed Abrams.

From a national perspective however, those were mainstream Democratic
Party positions, with limits on how progressive her platform was. She
supported a $15-per-hour minimum wage for cities such as Atlanta but
not for the state as a whole, arguing that such an increase would
destabilize many of the state’s local economies. She did not
advocate for single-payer health care.

Overall, Abrams argues for the supremacy of identity over class
politics. “I’m not going to do class warfare; I want to be
wealthy,” she has said
[[link removed]]. A
longtime member of the elite Council on Foreign Relations, she laid
out her views on identity versus class politics in a 2018 article in
the Council’s _Foreign Affairs_ magazine. In that article she
argued that minorities and the marginalized have little choice but to
fight against the particular methods of discrimination employed
against them. And she rejected politics based on “the catchall
category known as ‘the working class,’” citing the long history
of conflict between black and white laborers in the U.S.

During a presentation
[[link removed]] titled “A
Conversation with Stacey Abrams” at a May 2019 Conference on
Diversity in International Affairs sponsored by CFR, Abrams said that
“income inequality is a danger because of what it signals to our
economy,” and the solution is to take aggressive steps to “ensure
that more people can make more money…” But, she added: “I
disagree sometimes with the notion that if we just reduce the top then
that’s enough, because if we reduce the top but we don’t increase
the bottom and we don’t strengthen the middle, then we’re going to
be in the same place again.”

“And so,” Abrams said, “I do believe that we have a framework
for addressing income inequality. Now let’s be clear, I’m less
concerned about what the richest person than I am about making sure
other people have the opportunity to have that too. And as long as
we’re focusing on pulling down as opposed to pulling up, then
we’re having the wrong conversation because when you’re only
focused on the pulling down, people can argue that that’s just
classism.” (This resonates with Joe Biden's comments
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the Brookings Institution in 2018—“I don’t think 500
billionaires are the reason we’re in trouble. The folks at the top
aren’t bad guys.”— and his assurance to donors
[[link removed]] last
year that “nothing would fundamentally change” under his
presidency.)

Abrams typically hedges her ideological position. “I was a Hillary
surrogate who has hired Obama folks and Bernie folks
and Clinton folks,” she told _TIME_ magazine in 2018. “I am
absolutely a progressive,” she continued, “but I would not say
that I represent any wing of the Democratic Party except for the
Democratic Wing.” But her decisions to join the boards of both the
Center for American Progress and Priorities USA signal her decision to
join the ranks of the Democratic Party establishment.

The Center for American Progress is a behemoth in Democratic Party
circles, along with its sister organization the CAP Action Fund that
shares its staff. (The 501(c)4 Action Fund does more explicit lobbying
and electoral work.) CAP’s $60 million budget comes primarily
from philanthropic sources
[[link removed]] such as the
Foundation to Promote Open Society, the Sandler Foundation, Carnegie
Corporation of New York, Walton Family Foundation, and the Ford
Foundation. CAP claims that less than 3 percent of its budget comes
from corporations. These have included Amazon.com, Facebook Inc.,
Google, Microsoft, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Comcast NBC
Universal, CVS Health, Lyft, Uber Technologies, Verizon and Walmart.

Although CAP bills itself as an “independent nonpartisan policy
institute dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans,” in
reality it is a hotbed of Democratic operations for the party’s
corporate wing. CAP research has shaped the Democratic Party’s
centrist policy positions for more than a decade, with fierce
allegiance to the Clinton wing. As such it has actively opposed the
presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders in both the 2016 and 2020
primary campaigns.

CAP’s founder in 2003 was John Podesta, who had served as
Bill Clinton’s White House chief of staff; he went on to be a
senior counselor to Barack Obama and campaign adviser to
Hillary Clinton during the 2016 primary. CAP’s president since
2011, Neera Tanden, advised Obama and both Clintons. She was a policy
adviser to Bill Clinton and later worked as Hillary’s policy
director during the 2008 primary battle with Obama. Describing herself
as a Hillary Clinton “loyal soldier,” Tanden acknowledged that
she was an informal adviser to the 2016 Clinton campaign and that
she privately gave the campaign political advice.

One of the key differences between the establishment and progressive
wings of the Democratic Party is disagreement over the role big money
should play in electoral politics. That Abrams is comfortable with big
money playing an outsized role in electoral politics was evident in
her support of Michael Bloomberg’s entry into the 2020 Democratic
presidential primaries. While failing to publicly note Bloomberg’s
record of imposing anti-Muslim, anti-black unconstitutional policing
tactics on New York City during his time as mayor, Abrams defended
what amounted to Bloomberg’s attempt to buy the Democratic
presidential nomination.

Appearing on ABC’s “The View” in mid-February, Abrams said of
Bloomberg: “Every person is allowed to run and should run the race
that they think they should run, and Mike Bloomberg has chosen to use
his finances. Other people are using their dog, their charisma, their
whatever.” She added: “I think it is an appropriate question to
raise. But I don’t think it is disqualifying for anyone to invest in
fixing America.” When asked if Bloomberg’s $5 million contribution
to her political action committee Fair Fight Action had any influence
on her position, Abrams responded: “I am grateful to any person who
contributes to Fair Fight. We have more than one hundred thousand
contributors, his check just had a few more zeroes on it.”

When commenting on Bloomberg’s entry into the Democratic primaries,
Abrams quipped “for once we know where the money is coming
from.” Priorities USA is affiliated with the Democratic Super PAC
Priorities USA Action. Priorities USA is a lavishly funded nonprofit
501(c)(4) organization and is an embodiment of not knowing where the
money is coming from, since it relies on unlimited anonymous
contributions. Joining this group's board
[[link removed]] puts
Abrams in touch with some of the Democratic Party’s biggest donors
and, when coupled with her board membership at CAP, gives her major
access to the party’s establishment power structure.

This is in keeping with Abrams’s political ambitions. She has made
no secret of her interest in becoming the nominee for vice president
this year. She recently told _Elle_ magazine: “I would be an
excellent running mate. I have the capacity to attract voters by
motivating typically ignored communities. I have a strong history of
executive and management experience in the private, public, and
nonprofit sectors. I’ve spent 25 years in independent study of
foreign policy. I am ready to help advance an agenda of restoring
America’s place in the world. If I am selected, I am prepared and
excited to serve.”

Abrams has also made clear that she plans to run for president down
the political road. When the time comes, given her approach to
political positioning and campaign fundraising, there are scant
reasons to believe she would opt for the kind of progressive,
small-donor models embodied in the 2020 campaigns of Bernie Sanders
and Elizabeth Warren. While she likes to describe herself as a
progressive and as a pragmatist, Stacey Abrams is now on a national
path that looks far more “pragmatic” than progressive.

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Deborah Toler is a researcher at RootsAction.org. She was previously
a Program Director at Oxfam America and a Senior Research Analyst at
the Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First).

Our work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike
3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.

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