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The Democratic National Committee Needs a Hero

Posted on Feb 22, 2017

By Eileen Cronin

  The Democratic National Committee—the formal governing body of the Democratic Party—was founded in 1848. (Cliff / CC BY-SA 2.0)

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The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is voting for a new chair. This person will need to rally Americans to insist that the Trump administration does not jeopardize our civil rights. Regulatory law provides the barrier that protects citizens from corporate or government malfeasance, and on this score, Donald Trump is not building a wall but tearing one down. There are so many regulatory policies under fire that it’s hard to say which loss poses the greatest threat.

For me, it is most alarming that our president recently promised pharmaceutical CEOs that he will remove the Food and Drug Administration’s regulations by at least 75 percent. I was born without legs due to a drug called thalidomide, which was given out to 20,000 U.S. citizens before it was approved. The regulatory laws on pharmaceuticals that are now in place came into existence because of the thalidomide tragedy. Due to the drug’s toxic effect on the fetus, at least 10,000 children were born with severely disabling conditions, including many who were missing limbs.

Now, as the DNC chooses its next chair, it faces a GOP-driven Congress, a potentially right-leaning Supreme Court and the Trump administration. This leaves Democrats with only two channels for protecting the rights of citizens. These include whistleblowers and the rule of law. The next DNC chair should be someone with a strong background in civil and consumer rights advocacy.

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We need a DNC that will fight to embolden the voices of whistleblowers. If not for a whistleblower, the U.S. might have approved thalidomide during the baby boom. It took the courage of Dr. Frances Kelsey at the FDA in 1962 to deny its approval, but she might not have been able to accomplish that without the whistleblowing efforts of her colleague, Dr. Barbara Moulton. It was Moulton’s testimony in the Kefauver Senate hearings that helped shape the Kefauver-Harris Amendments that resulted from the thalidomide tragedy in 1962.

The president’s promise to remove most of this pharmaceutical law is only one repeal in motion. The Dodd-Frank Act mandated transparency in the banking industry, and the administration is repealing one of its major components. At the same time, health care is under the knife, with the forthcoming repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Many parents are concerned about the civil rights of special-needs students, with our attorney general and secretary of education showing indifference or even disdain for laws that protect those students.

As multiple regulatory laws face repeal, the DNC needs a chair who will articulate these threats to our nation, and will stand up for whistleblowers and the rule of law. The next DNC chair should also rally citizens to demand an independent committee on intelligence. The GOP-driven intelligence committee is focused more on removing executive branch leaks (some would call the leakers whistleblowers) than on investigating the administration’s pre-inaugural contacts with Russia.

In terms of education and human rights, the administration’s choices of Betsy DeVos to lead the Department of Education and Jeff Sessions to head the Department of Justice threaten the protection of vulnerable students and populations. In respect to Sessions, the problem of racial bias was famously addressed by the letter from civil rights activist Coretta Scott King, which was quoted by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren during Sessions’ confirmation hearing. The Washington Post reported that Sessions has linked special education law to a “decline in civility” in the classroom. During the DeVos nomination hearings, DeVos dodged questioning about the enforcement of those laws in the schools. She said it was up to individual states to decide whether to grant disabled students their educational rights, even though this is federal law.

For these and other reasons, the next DNC chair had better be good at connecting the dots, because it is raining tiddlywinks in Washington, D.C. DNC chair candidate Tom Perez has a strong background as a prosecutor for the Department of Justice. Eric Holder endorsed Perez, who was also the labor secretary under President Barack Obama. The son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Perez has a robust legal background in both the executive branch and as an aide to the late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy. As a prosecutor in the Department of Justice, he championed the rights of people with disabilities, the LGBT community and other minority cultures.

Representative Keith Ellison from Minnesota, also in the running for the DNC chair position, has served multiple terms in the House. An African-American Muslim, he has a track record in civil rights. He is endorsed by Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

A third candidate, Jehmu Greene, is an African-American who has worked in the DNC. She has a strong background in social justice and has been a political commentator on Fox News.

But left-leaning liberals should not overlook the endorsements of Holder and former Vice President Joe Biden for Perez. Some will complain that he is an insider candidate because of his endorsements, but if we were facing another thalidomide-size catastrophe in any area of the government, I would choose Perez to challenge the administration.


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