The New York Democratic gubernatorial primary -- in which the progressive, previously almost unknown, money-out-of-politics candidate, Zephyr Teachout, received over a one-third of the votes while raising less than $1 million to corporate-Democratic incumbent Andrew Cuomo's nearly $40 million war chest -- may have dashed Cuomo's future presidential aspirations.
But it raises the tantalizing possibility of Teachout challenging corporate-Democrat Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
The Democratic Party establishment and its wealthy funders seem to want Clinton coronated for presidency, rather than nominated after a vigorous contested primary debate about the direction of the country, economic inequality, corporate power, money in politics, and Clinton's corporate-friendly domestic policies and interventionist foreign policies.
Many progressive Democrats have been hoping Elizabeth Warren would run against Clinton. However, even the usually courageous Warren seems unwilling to challenge Clinton, Inc.
But after Zephyr Teachout's surprising showing against Cuomo, Teachout has shown she may have the personal and political chops to be the spokesperson for what Howard Dean, whom Teacheout once worked for as head of internet organizing for his 2004 campaign, has called "The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party."
Indeed, in many ways, Teachout would make a better challenger than Warren even. Warren has certainly become the most articulate Democratic spokesperson on economic inequality and the need to curb the power of the big banks.
But Teachout has become the most articulate spokesperson for an even more important issue (or at least the issue that must be won first in order to effectively challenge economic inequality and crony capitalist dominance): the need to end the corrupting influence of big money on democracy. And she's no slouch when it comes to the issues of economic inequality and undo corporate power either.
At this point many readers may be asking, "who the hell is Zephyr Teachout"? Don't be embarrassed. Only two months before Teachout received nearly 36 percent of the New York Democratic primary vote, less than 11 percent of New York Democrats knew who she was either. But remember, only a few years ago Elizabeth Warren was just an obscure professor of bankruptcy law.
Click here for a short video introducing Teachout. She grew up on a farm in Vermont, got a BA from Yale, received both a law degree and an MA in political science from Duke, and clerked for the US Court of Appeals. She teaches law at Fordham and her central focus both as a professor and an activists has been fighting the corruption of democracy by big money. Some of her work was cited by Supreme Court John Paul Stevens in his thundering dissent in the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Citizens United, and she just published one of the most important books ever written on the subject of money in politics, Corruption in America.
In it she writes, "What America now faces, if we don't change the fundamental structures of the relationship of money to legislative power, is neither mob rule nor democracy, but oligarchy."
However, she's not just a professor but a brilliant political activist and organizer. She was Director of Internet Organizing for Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign, which as you may recall, catapulted Dean from an obscure governor of a small state to a presidential front-runner until he self-destructed with the infamous "Dean scream." She helped found A New Way Forward, an organization dedicated to breaking up the power of big banks, and participated in Occupy Wall Street. She was also the first national director of the Sunlight Foundation, whose goal is the increase the transparency and accountability of government and reduce the role of money in politics.
If, in a couple of months Teachout was capable of running a shoestring campaign against a sitting Governor with a famous father and a $40 million campaign war chest that catapulted her from an unknown to nearly 35 percent of the vote, imagine what she could do with two years to organize a grassroots Democratic presidential primary campaign.
While Hillary is raising hundreds of millions of dollars from wealthy donors, Teachout would have to run a grassroots campaign that refused all contributions over, say, $200. But as her experience with the Dean campaign shows, she's an expert at grassroots organizing. And her New York gubernatorial campaign garnered support from a slew of grassroots progressive organizations including The Progressive Democratic Campaign Committee, Move On, the Public Employees Federation and the state branches of NOW and the Sierra Cub. So while she might not have the funds to run much of campaign of 30-second TV spots, she could mobilize a massive grassroots movement to her candidacy.
Just as Teahout ran against the soft corruption of Andrew Cuomo -- who shut down the anti-corruption Moreland Commission after is started investigating Cuomo allies -- she could also raise questions about the soft corruption of Clinton, Inc. When Bill Clinton entered the White House, he claims to have had the lowest net worth of any sitting American president. According to the Washington Post, between 2001-2011 the Clintons earned at least $136.5 million. They receive hundreds of thousands of dollars for giving an hour speech to the likes of Goldman Sachs. It's one of the most egregious cases of the revolving door. As president, Bill Clinton deregulated the financial industry, helping to lead to the crisis of 2008. After leaving office, he was richly rewarded by the same financial industry. And my guess is that Barack Obama -- having refused to prosecute a single big banker for the fraud that caused the financial crisis -- can look forward to a similar financial future. It's a classic example of the soft corruption of transactional politics and the revolving door and ought to be openly debated if Hillary runs for president.
Zephyr Teachout might not be able to defeat Hillary Clinton, Inc. -- with its bevy of rich and well-connected donors -- for the nomination, but my bet is that she could collect a slew of delegates and have a big impact on the national debate. And even if Clinton ultimately receives the nomination, a contested primary campaign would force her to become a better candidate. Unlike Cuomo, Clinton couldn't avoid debating Teachout. Teachout would force Clinton to confront the issues of political corruption, money in politics, economic inequality, and the power of the financial oligarchy. A Teachout campaign could put the issue of money in politics squarely at the center of national agenda.
The Democratic wing of the Democratic Party deserves a strong warrior in the 2016 presidential primaries, not just a Clinton coronation.
Run, Zephyr, Run.