Author and political strategist Donna Brazile chatted with us about her new book, Hacked, and shares her thoughts on Al Franken, Bernie Sanders, and the #MeToo movement.
When your book, Hacked, came out, it created quite the firestorm. Were you surprised the excerpts created so much controversy? DONNA BRAZILE: Think of it this way, 2016 was a very disruptive political year. We haven’t seen such an acrimonious, anti-establishment, populist campaign since the early 19th century in American politics. I’m not surprised that some of the reactions to the excerpts caused some people to have a little bit of heartburn. But for those of us who worked on the 2016 campaign, whether as a political operative, strategist, or staffer, or in my case as the chair of the party, I believed that we had an obligation to tell the American people our story. One year ago, we had a substantial number of Americans who did not believe that there was meddling in our election by a foreign government. I think today, more Americans believe that the Russians played a role, they don’t know the extent of the hacking, but I became familiar with what happened when I became chair of the Democratic National Committee for the second time in my career, as a result of the hacking, and I wanted to tell my story.
But that's not what started the controversy, you do assert that Clinton's campaign had become too close with the DNC during the primary process, which gave the impression that she had done something wrong, no? DB: I didn’t work for Hillary Clinton. I did not work for her campaign. I did not endorse her candidacy. I was an officer of the DNC and therefore, I had to maintain my neutrality during the primary process. I did, of course, keep in close communication with her campaign, as well as the campaigns of the other Democrats running, including Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee. My job was to protect the integrity of the Democratic Party, not to report to Robby Mook or John Podesta. I was the chair of the party, not a member of there inner circle, a member of their strategy group, or a consultant. So, the notion that some people would throw shade on my story, only reinforces the notion that they wanted to tell a different story. I wanted to tell the complete story of not just the party, but also of the hacking.
There were some Bernie Sanders voters who felt that Clinton had rigged the primary against him. At the end of the day, did you feel there was a fair and clean primary? DB: As fair and clean as any primary is. The DNC doesn’t set the dates of statewide primaries. We accept them if they follow the rules within our party. We gave Bernie a seat at the table. He became a democrat and therefore, a superdelegate. We gave everyone else a seat at the table. Again, when I went through and did an exhaustive review of the party, I found no evidence that anything was out of place.
What do you make of the recent resignation of Senator Al Franken? DB: Well, this all started with women speaking the truth. It started with people who were tired of the abuse of power, they were tired of sexual misconduct, of sexual harassment, of sexual assault. People forget that this is a crime. I remember back when Anita Hill spoke her truth, and nobody wanted to hear her truth. Today, people are listening, people are speaking up, and women feel empowered, and the consequences, of course, are going to be a cultural shift. We should continue to focus on the women who are stepping up to speak the truth, to feel empowered, and to feel like they can finally get the trauma or pain out of their system. This is really about a cultural awakening and not so much about the politicians who are misbehaving.
Is there anything you think someone who has done something like this could say? Is an apology enough? DB: Look, how do you apologize for a culture that has often put men at the head of the table without giving women the right to come into the room? It’s been a long-standing problem, and that’s why we have sexual harassment guidelines. We should adhere to these rules and people should understand that they do not have to allow this to happen in the workplace. After, women feel coerced, if they speak their truth they’ll lose their job, or maybe lose the opportunity to advance their career. Whether you're a man or a woman, it’s important to know that you have a right to be in the workforce free of harassment, free of any coercion, and free of any form of sexual misconduct.
Is this something you've experienced? DB: You don’t work in politics or academia or the media or other all other areas of life without someone trying to harass you or put you in a difficult position. I’ve been exposed to it, and I have tried my entire life to ensure that people who I bring into the political process are not exposed to it. It’s been a frightening moment to recall all of this because as you can imagine as a human being, as a woman, you don’t want anyone to violate your personhood, your dignity, your self-respect, but there’s no question I’ve experienced it, and I experienced it very early in my life. I’ve been very aware of it. I’ve also been a champion of women’s rights, of civil rights, of gay and lesbian rights, of labor rights, and I know my rights, and I try to empower others to understand their rights because of that.