Paul Jay, Senior Editor, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.
One of the interesting features of this primary season as the U.S. heads towards its elections in November is a phenomenon of independent progressive Democrats running within the Democratic Party, some of whom are mostly critical of the Obama administration but nevertheless are running for a seat in the House on behalf of the Democratic Party. One of those races is in California just above San Francisco, where Norman Solomon is running. And his race is drawing a lot of national attention.
And now joining us from his campaign office is Norman Solomon. Norman is an independent progressive Democrat running for an open seat in the district north of the Golden Gate Bridge. He's the author of a dozen books, including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He's a longtime political activist. He was a cofounder of the media watchdog group FAIR and founded the Institute for Public Accuracy. Thanks for joining us, Norman.
Norman Solomon, Congressional Candidate (D-CA-2): Pleasure. Thanks, Paul.
Jay: So talk a little bit about the actual race that you're in, the district, the sort of leading contenders that you're competing against, and particularly what is it about what you stand for, what your policy is, that differentiates you from them.
Solomon: Well, this is an open seat, so we're going to have a new member of Congress. It's a heavily Democratic district, so we know a Democrat at the end of the day is going to be elected. The question is: what kind of Democrat? And as you mentioned, I'm an independent progressive Democrat. That means being willing and able to challenge Wall Street and the power that it has over Main Street—and Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., for that matter—an insistence that we've got to challenge and change and end what Martin Luther King Jr. called "the madness of militarism", what I call the warfare state, and being willing to fight for working people and the want-to-be-working people and children and the retired, and to challenge the direct austerity program by any other name that threatens retirement security, that's slashing public education, that's preventing good green jobs and public transportation, a whole litany of necessities that we really have to fulfill a social compact. I've been advocating for a green New Deal. This really separates me from, if you will, sort of more mainstream or garden-variety Democrats who are running who, you know, will answer to the term liberal, or perhaps even progressive, but are not willing to advocate strongly for a fundamental reordering of priorities so that we don't have big money dictating policies in this country.
Jay: Now, if you are the nominee, I mean, if you do make it to the top-two tier, which means you'll be on the ballot—. And for people that don't understand how the race work, which included me up until about five minutes ago, the top two could even be two Democrats running against each other, because it doesn't matter what party they're in: whoever—the top two coming out of the primary are on the ballot. So if—but you being so critical of President Obama, are you concerned at all and are you getting any pushback from voters in your district that when it comes to the presidential race, you'll be critiquing President Obama, which may make it more difficult for him?
Solomon: Well, I've been very clear. I mean, I was elected from this area as an Obama delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention, and I've been clear all the way through: I support President Obama when he's right and I will challenge him when he's wrong. And so when he comes out for gay marriage, I say great. When he escalates the war in Afghanistan, as he did over a period of years, from the get-go I spoke out against that. I'm willing to insist that we've got to not bail out the big banks on Wall Street. As a matter of fact, I opposed the Wall Street bank bailout in the autumn of 2008 publicly and emphatically, one of the many differences between me and others in this race.
So I think it's a matter of independence. You know, I want to have a Supreme Court with people appointed by a Democrat in the White House, obviously, not a Republican. We don't need another Alito on the Supreme Court, for instance. So it's about charting an independent progressive path.
Just on Sunday here in the district, I campaigned alongside Congressman Dennis Kucinich, and he was saying that with the reality that come next January he won't be in the Congress, Lynn Woolsey, who has represented this district for 20 years, she won't be in the Congress, we need somebody who's willing to speak out independently for progressive values, to end this perpetual war, to end the way in which corporations, large corporations, multibillion-dollar outfits dominate the politics of the country, and on and on. You know, I could go on ad infinitum, and I won't, but the reality is that I think we need to develop our own politics that come from the grassroots.
And our campaign—by the way, people can learn more about it by going to SolomonForCongress.com—our campaign is very grassroots: more than 6,500 different individual donors who've gone to the site and made a donation or written a check, more than 1,000 volunteers engaged, more house parties than all the other campaigns put together. This is a grassroots versus astroturf campaign. And that is a politics in itself.
Jay: Right. Now, your main opponents (if one looks at polling results and money-raising) have a couple of accusations against you. Jared Huffman, who's an assemblyman, says you've never held electric office [sic], and Lawson, who's running against you and I think is doing sort of neck-and-neck with you in the polls, she says she's run a business, she knows, you know, how to hire people and such and create jobs, and you don't have either elected experience or business experience.
Solomon: Well, you know, heaven forfend that I haven't gone up the electoral ladder in the traditional way. Paul Wellstone never held elective office before he went into the U.S. Senate, and he came out of social movements, as do I. The notion that the people who really know how to create jobs are the people who got rich being CEOs and venture capitalists, we've heard that from Meg Whitman, we've heard that from Mitt Romney, and it's being plied now by one of my opponents. But I think people largely see through that, because the engine of growth in this country is not wealth creation, it's job creation, and those who become multi-multimillionaires, as in the case of one of my opponents who's making that critique, I mean, they're feathering their own nest. And we've had more than enough of that. That's what Wall Street has done to this country, driving our economy into the ditch.
Jay: So you've had debates with the other candidates and you've raised your policy points. What is the answer, in the sense that—are your main opposition there essentially defending drone attacks, defending Afghanistan? Or do they share some of your critique?
Solomon: [snip] of what I get and what we've seen from my opponents is the politics of silence. Afghanistan's a good example. I was calling upon the president—appearing on C-SPAN's Washington Journal and so forth, between his election as president and moving into the White House, I called for an end to the war in Afghanistan, opposed any escalation of that war, while my main opponents just stayed silent while the U.S. troop levels were tripled in Afghanistan. That is a politics of silence.
And, again, if people go to SolomonForCongress.com on the web, you'll see what our politics of activism and speaking out for progressivism really is. But the politics of silence is tangibly destructive. I think of what AIDS activists said, beginning in the late 1980s. The mantra, the slogan, the motto, if you will, was silence equals death. That's not only true about AIDS; it is true about one policy after another. So the silence of traditional politicians, including my main opponents, has been deadly. And the war in Afghanistan is one example.
Jay: And what are you hearing when you're knocking on doors and shaking hands outside shopping malls? And then I don't know if you're kissing babies. What are you hearing in terms of people that are arguing with you, are questioning or haven't decided to vote for you? What pushback are you getting?
Solomon: Well, you know, our district, I should say, goes from Marin and Sonoma county all the way up through Mendocino and Humboldt, and [incompr.] couple of other counties on the Oregon border here in Northern California. And of course you have a wide range of opinions, but what I'm seeing and hearing is a lot of frustration, a lot of anger, a lot of belief, well-founded, that the big corporations and the powerbrokers, politicians, are basically cutting backroom deals while the unemployed and the underemployed continue to see a degradation of living standards. And so there's also a lot of disaffection.
I say, not really in jest, that one of the two main political parties has given faith a bad name, that being the Republican Party, and the other party, which I belong to and think that we need to support and strengthen, the Democratic Party, has given hope a bad name in the last few years. We can't live without hope. We've got to generate, from the grassroots, hope. And that's where the Solomon for Congress campaign—what we're doing is about hope, not in an airy sort of just mythological way, but in a concrete way. When this office here (and it will be again) yesterday was filled with dozens of phone bankers—this is going up and down the district—they're volunteers doing it because we want a future that's not based on war and economic Wall Street domination.
Jay: So one of the arguments I would guess is being made against your candidacy is that you're kind of so far from where the administration and the powerbrokers of Congress are that you're going to wind up getting kind of marginalized there, and somebody like a Huffman or Lawson or someone who's kind of more within the center of the Democratic Party might have more effect. How do you answer that?
Solomon: Well, there is some belief that folks think, you know, you've got to be able to go in and cut the deals. I answer that by saying that we've got great examples of people in Congress who get a lot done precisely 'cause they don't go in and cut the deals and cave in. They know the difference between compromise and capitulation. We've got to fight for our core values, defend Social Security and Medicare, don't militarize our society, defend civil liberties, take care of elderly and children, make sure that those who are making out like bandits on Wall Street finally are brought to heel and pay appropriate taxation.
So it's a matter of making the case from the grassroots and economic populism that says, oh, yeah, we can see all these supposed political pros who've done so well in Sacramento or Washington in cutting deals. Look what it's gotten us. One example would be Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont now in the U.S. Senate, caucuses with the Democrats in Congress, has always when he's been on Capitol Hill. He fought for funding—for one example, he fought for funding for the federally qualified health centers that serve the underserved and the unserved in our communities across the country. And as a requirement to get his vote on the health care legislation a couple of years ago, he said we've got to get major long-term committed funding for these federally qualified health centers around the country. And he got the money. He got the money not because he caved in, but because he refused to cave in.
Jay: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Norman.
Solomon: Thanks, Paul.
Jay: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.