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Truthdigger of the Week: Progressive Congressional Candidate Tim Canova

Posted on Jan 31, 2016

By Alexander Reed Kelly

    Tim Canova, a former adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders, is seeking to oust Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz from her congressional seat in Florida. (Tim Canova)

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Every week the Truthdig editorial staff selects a Truthdigger of the Week, a group or person worthy of recognition for speaking truth to power, breaking the story or blowing the whistle. It is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, we’re looking for newsmakers whose actions in a given week are worth celebrating.

The urgent question in American politics is a simple one: Who, in contests for every available public office in the country, will stand with the American people against the indifferent power of special interests?

By the account of The Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald, Debbie Wasserman Schultz will not. A six-term representative for Florida’s 23rd Congressional District, chair of the Democratic National Committee and co-chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, Schultz became a villain of the 2016 Democratic primary when she severely limited the number of Democratic debates and scheduled them for times that ensured low viewership. This led to widespread perceptions that she had breached the obligation to neutrality that comes with her position of leadership within the party and was working for Clinton to limit the exposure of her opponent Bernie Sanders, a candidate with enormous populist appeal.

“In general,” wrote Greenwald, “Wasserman Schultz is the living, breathing embodiment of everything rotted and corrupt about the Democratic Party: a corporatist who overwhelmingly relies on corporate money to keep her job, a hawk who supports the most bellicose aspects of U.S. foreign policy, a key member of the ‘centrist’ and ‘moderate’ pro-growth New Democrat coalition” and “a co-sponsor of the failed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)” who demanded that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden “be extradited, arrested, and prosecuted” because he allegedly “jeopardized millions of Americans”—a version of events that Clinton has endorsed without demonstrating it to the satisfaction of independent experts.

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For the first time in her career, however, Wasserman Schultz faces a Democratic challenger for her seat in Congress: Tim Canova, “a smart, articulate, sophisticated lawyer,” in Greenwald’s words. A law professor seeking to help Sanders and other progressives resume the New Deal project of transforming the United States into a genuine social democracy, Canova supported Occupy Wall Street and opposed the Wall Street bailout and the Patriot Act, both of which Wasserman Schultz supported with votes. He served as an aide to the late Sen. Paul Tsongas, worked with former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson against the drug war and for-profit prisons and advised Sen. Sanders on Federal Reserve policy on a committee that included economists Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Reich and James Galbraith. He vocally supported the effort led by then-Reps. Ron Paul and Alan Grayson to audit the Federal Reserve and has never wavered on his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an international trade treaty championed by President Obama that has long been negotiated by corporate lobbyists in secret. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has written that the agreement would “undermine U.S. sovereignty” by “allow[ing] foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws” in international courts “and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers.”

Canova also spent part of the 1990s warning against both Bill Clinton’s dismantling of Glass-Steagall, the Depression-era law that for six decades prevented disasters in investment banking from spilling over into Americans’ savings, and the then newly developed financial derivatives—both of which precipitated the financial crisis of 2008. (You may recall that derivatives are so complicated that a vice president of Lehman Brothers and a Harvard economist struggled to explain them in filmmaker Michael Moore’s 2009 film, “Capitalism: A Love Story.”)

I first encountered Canova in San Rafael, Calif., in 2013 when he spoke to attendees of a two-day conference organized by the Public Banking Institute, the organization founded by Truthdig contributor and public banking advocate Ellen Brown, about the need to reform the Federal Reserve. (Investigative reporter Matt Taibbi and Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir also spoke.) “I think it’s so important here to understand the forces that have undermined our democracy, undermined our economic prosperity and are destroying the middle class and harming the poor,” Canova said at the start of his remarks. “And of course, the importance of understanding our own roles, our own responsibilities as citizens, as agents of change, not alone, but acting together.”

In closing he said, “We have to see ourselves as benefactors for future generations fighting for democracy. We have to see ourselves as redeemers of our broken democracy.”

In an interview Greenwald conducted with Canova shortly after the latter announced his campaign, Canova continued with his theme of “making our institutions more democratically accountable,” a commitment that he said “has animated me throughout my career.” The conviction drives his challenge of Wasserman Schultz, whom he has described as “the quintessential corporate machine politician.” With Bernie Sanders closing in on Hillary Clinton in the polls before the caucus in Iowa, we at Truthdig were intrigued to learn that another credible public advocate was seeking to recover official power from the iteration of the Democratic Party that has kept its back to American workers for 2½ decades. What we learned compelled us to make him Truthdigger of the Week.

I spoke with Canova by telephone recently about the political prospects of U.S. progressives. The following transcript of our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

* * *

Alexander Reed Kelly: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Tim, and on behalf of all of us at Truthdig, congratulations on your campaign.

Tim Canova: Thank you for the honor of being called a Truthdigger, Alex.

Q: I’m interested in your campaign as an expression of what many people feel is a revival of populism underway in the United States. You’re a progressive critic of the status quo mounting a congressional campaign against the Democratic Party establishment. Some people suggest that candidates like you should not be supported because they assume such candidates will not be able to work with the existing system. How do you respond to these claims? And if you obtain office, what will you see as your chief functions and responsibilities?

A: My responsibility would be to represent the interests of the people in my district, and by that I mean real live people, not corporate persons. The real live people of this country have been neglected for way too long. To those who say that there’s no room for progressives in our party’s politics, my response is that they don’t have much faith or confidence in democracy, and that progressives have done plenty of good in this country’s past. Are they going to dismiss the administrations of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy? The progressives going back to Teddy Roosevelt? It’s a way of basically trying to restrict democracy to big corporate interests. When Bernie Sanders is elected he’ll be able to work with Congress if we have a wave election that brings us a Democratic Congress with many progressives.

Q: That answer deals with pundits, political advisers and other public figures who resist challenges to the status quo. But what do you say to working people who find themselves repeating what these figures say?

A: I felt the same way for two or three years and have just in the past six months to a year come around to believing that now’s not the time to be discouraged. This is a great moment of opportunity for this country. The Bernie Sanders campaign has galvanized people all over the land. It’s OK to be demoralized now and then. It happens, especially when you’ve been on the losing side for so long. It’s OK to get down. But it’s also in the nature of human beings to get back up and fight.

Q: At the Public Banking Institute’s conference in San Rafael in 2013 you were bleak about our nation’s “prospect for reform” given what you described as our “two-party, corporate-owned duopoly.” You said: “It seems to me that nothing’s gonna change in this country under the Republicans and the Democrats. I’m sorry to say it as a lifelong Democrat: To me it suggests the need for a third party united by core principles.” Today you’re running for Congress as a Democrat. What changed between 2013 and now?

A: What changed for me was Bernie Sanders’ candidacy. Perhaps an Elizabeth Warren candidacy would have done this as well. It was the corporate establishment of the Democratic Party that I was criticizing in San Rafael. It was demoralizing to see the progressive wing of the party so marginalized during much of the Obama administration. But over the past six months or so, the growing movement behind Bernie Sanders’ campaign renewed my hopes in progressive reform within the Democratic Party and inspired my decision to run.

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