So said veteran lawmaker Steny Hoyer recently in a CNN interview, echoing the sentiments of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on whether $600 weekly payments to supplement unemployment insurance should be extended. Evidently, the Democrats are willing to negotiate—or capitulate, depending on your viewpoint—on the final figure.
This position of Democratic leadership comes amid gridlock in the Senate regarding an extension of federal unemployment benefits. Whereas House Democrats passed a bill in May that would have guaranteed the extension of $600 per week, Senate Republican leadership has balked at that figure, offering a counter-proposal of $200/wk. while states come up with a plan to satisfy their constituents’ needs with a mix of their own funds and federal dollars.
That Hoyer and other Dems have left the door open to compromise with the GOP is vaguely troubling, especially since Hoyer in that same interview parroted Republican talking points by expressing concern that people who receive a more robust stimulus check might not want to go back to work. It also renders Hoyer’s statement gobbledygook. “We don’t have red lines—we have values.” Right, but when “red lines” can be used to communicate one’s values, what is that even supposed to mean? It’s an illogical and unnecessary potshot at the Left.
In a similar vein, the recent reveal of the Democratic Party platform for the Democratic National Convention casts doubt on the party’s principles leading inexorably toward November. Upon its unveiling, the Democratic National Committee’s platform committee co-chair Denis McDonough referred to the Democratic 2020 party platform as the “boldest Democratic platform in American history.”
Progressives would beg to differ, meanwhile. John Nichols, national affairs correspondent for The Nation, underscores how without Medicare for All, McDonough’s assertion neither matches the substance of the platform as drafted nor matches this moment in history.
As an untold number of advertisements will tell you, we live in “extraordinary” or “challenging” times. It’s their way of saying we’re living in a global pandemic and people all over the world are getting sick and dying, but in a PR-speak kind of way where the actual problem isn’t mentioned as if refusing to utter the name of the disease either saps it of its power or prevents it from rearing its ugly head.
This is the moment in history to which I’m referring, and with it has come significant job loss and thus access to “affordable” health care. At a time when a safety net is needed (or three or four), being forced to worry about being plunged into medical debt is brutal, if not unconscionable.
As such, from a purely moral standpoint, the hour calls for single-payer healthcare. Beyond this, though, as Nichols explains, it’s not good political strategy to bar it from the party platform. For one, COVID-19 (gasp, he said it!) is disproportionately killing people of color, a reality about which patent refusal to entertain the mere possibility of M4A sends a bad message to a key portion of the Democrats’ base.
In addition, Medicare for All is popular with Democrats and non-Democrats alike. People, you know, generally like having healthcare and being able to afford it without having to mortgage property or sacrifice an internal organ. As Winnie Wong, former senior adviser to Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, is cited in Nichols’ piece, the Dems are “making a fatal mistake by turning their backs on Medicare for All.”
To this effect, some 700 delegates have signed a pledge refusing to back the party platform without M4A on it. At the very least, this show of opposition is a bad look for a Democratic Party touting its supposed party unity and counting on turnout from progressives to help push Joe Biden over the top in the presidential election.
We would be remiss if we were to say that the entire platform as drafted is without merit, a notion Nichols explicitly highlights. There are a number of elements within the party platform which might appeal to progressive voters and almost certainly reflect the input of progressive activists, notably a call for a $15 minimum wage and clear goals for climate change remediation. That said, historically speaking, these tenets do not in them of themselves make the platform the boldest on record and certainly are not to be lauded as uniquely courageous.
In short, the Democratic party platform as it is presently constructed is a mixed bag. What seems significant, however, is that not only are some of its recommendations rather tepid, but other provisions appear to be specifically designed to alienate progressives. The party voted against including marijuana legalization in the platform, for one.
There’s also nothing about ending qualified immunity for police officers, nothing about expressly condemning Israeli expansion/occupation in the West Bank, and no commitment to a climate change plan as comprehensive as the Green New Deal. In a game of party platform Bingo, progressives are struggling to fill one row or column, let alone the entire board.
By now, the Democrats’ agenda in advance of the general election is no surprise. As is their custom, they’re playing it safe and trying not to offend any big donors or moneyed interests in the process. The unique set of circumstances at work in 2020 might yet be enough to propel Joe Biden to victory in spite of, well, Joe Biden.
Possible short-term electoral success and fundraising goals achieved notwithstanding, encouraging antipathy from the party’s burgeoning leftist wing is quite a price to pay in service of these objectives. It’s one thing to enjoy winning or to be able to breathe a sigh of relief in avoiding four more years of President Donald Trump. It’s another to poke progressives in the eye and expect them to show their loyalty while you do it.
As it should be emphasized, for progressives critical of the 2020 party platform, while Medicare of All is a glaring omission, there is ample room for commentary. Patrisse Cullors, activist and Black Lives Matter co-founder, reportedly proposed about 10 amendments on various issues primarily impacting the black community and other communities of color which were rejected without a vote. If Cullors feels like less of an ally or a member of a party with principles, can you blame her? We’ve seen ordinary people protesting en masse IN THE MIDST OF A PANDEMIC to bring attention to and demand change to combat systemic racism in our society. How can this platform possibly be construed to meet this historic moment?
Another criticism of the platform is that it underestimates both the durability and magnitude of COVID-19’s impact. In a separate article for The Nation by Emma Galbraith and James K. Galbraith, the authors outline how the Democratic party platform falls short in several areas related to coronavirus.
In addition to, as mentioned, not embracing single-payer healthcare at a time when this pandemic has exacerbated a healthcare crisis, the platform insufficiently addresses our oil surplus, it undersells the blow dealt to the services and construction industries (among others), it offers minimal relief to renters and others facing homelessness, and it doesn’t fully comprehend the lack of trust America’s disastrous response to COVID-19 has engendered in its inhabitants. After all, faith in our political institutions was relatively low even before we started seeing cases in the States. Now? Memes about guillotines are on the rise, and while we’re yet on the level of dark humor, I feel like today’s politicians and others more removed from the struggles of everyday Americans shouldn’t push it.
I’ve heard it said that the DNC has effectively taken a victory lap with its elaboration of the party platform, an analogy I consider to be apt in how it reflects the dynamic between centrist establishment forces and progressives trying to reform the Democratic Party from the inside. What’s especially on the nose about this comparison, meanwhile, is that it resembles the attitude Democratic supporters had in 2016, which we all know was an ill-fated confidence. 2020 is already different in any number of ways and at this writing, things look good for Joe Biden. Very good. Just the same, the Dems would be well served not to press their luck. If anyone knows about losing winnable elections, it’s them.
Not everything is bad about the Democratic Party’s platform this election cycle. That said, it could be dramatically better, and furthermore, even if Biden wins, the U.S. will face huge structural issues that the policy positions enumerated within the platform won’t begin to fully address. Progressives will be holding Biden’s feet to the fire in that case. Democratic leadership better be ready for it.
Reportedly, former Ohio governor John Kasich is slated to speak at the Democratic National Convention next month. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s a Republican speaking at a gathering designed to prepare the Democrats for the looming presidential election.
Does anyone else see a problem here?
Clearly, I am not alone in having reservations. In a piece for The Nation, Elie Mystal expresses his mystified incredulity at Joe Biden’s and Co.’s choice. From the jump, there’s the matter of some of Kasich’s values, which seem patently incompatible with Democratic Party values in 2020. Kasich is anti-abortion, pro-gun, opposed anti-LGBTQ discrimination laws during his tenure, and supported legislation that labor and its advocates reviled as a “union-busting attack.” This appears largely out of step with the values of a significant segment of the left-leaning electorate.
What makes the decision to feature Kasich especially egregious, though, is that it isn’t a one-off either. Kasich’s elevation is emblematic of a pattern of behavior and thinking within Democratic circles that by accruing endorsements from more “reasonable” GOP figures (at least compared to Donald Trump), they’ll win the ever-coveted working-class white vote. The problem? At least in the short term, that’s not going to happen.
Instead, Kasich’s endorsement of Biden will not only fail to capture that sought-after voting bloc, but it won’t appeal to any others, be it people of color, women voters, or both. Kasich’s speaking time, moreover, would be better served giving a platform to Democratic candidates on the rise within the party ranks or otherwise actively trying to unseat a Republican incumbent. Kasich’s inclusion is, on multiple levels, unproductive.
As Mystal believes or is starting to believe, that may be design on the part of the right and the center-right. The involvement in Democratic circles by Kasich, the Lincoln Project, and other “Never Trump” Republicans is not about doing the right thing, but rather propping up a centrist candidate whose power likely will already be circumscribed by a Republican-controlled Senate.
As evidence of this, Mystal points to all the times in recent memory Republicans, you know, failed to do the right thing by holding up a recklessly conservative agenda. There are numerous examples cited within the article—backing the likes of Brett Kavanaugh, George W. Bush, and Sarah Palin chief among them. By showcasing reality-show “talent” like Palin and staying silent when a conservative majority in the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, the GOP have fueled the sort of conditions that gave rise to Trump in the first place. That they’ve somehow learned their lesson or weren’t already being somewhat disingenuous in appearing more moderate is therefore ludicrous.
Consequently, that some Democrats can’t see through this speaks either to their incompetence or their misguidedly slavish devotion to the idea they can hope to thrive on white working-class males at the potential expense of people of color and/or women, the essence of their base as it is right now. To this effect, Mystal highlights how Sherrod Brown, who won going away against his Republican challenger in 2018, did so not on the backs of whites without a college degree, but on the strength of his advantages with women and black voters. Such is why Brown would be a more natural fit for the Convention than Kasich, not to mention the fact that Brown is an actual bleeping Democrat.
Mystal closes with these thoughts:
Joe Biden is not going to win white men in Ohio in 2020. He’s not going to win them nationally, either. Unless John Kasich has some plan to inspire women and Black people to vote for Biden, neither he nor any Never Trump Republican is going to be all that helpful in the upcoming election. The sooner Democrats accept that the uneducated white man is not coming back to the party, the better their chances of defeating Donald Trump.
Certainly, a Democratic Party that appeals to working-class voters of all make and model is the long-term goal for the Democratic Party establishment and progressives alike. In the interim, however, with an election to win against a dangerously unhinged incumbent, it’s best to play to the Dems’ existing strengths and natural appeal to the Latinx/youth vote as opposed to trying to cajole or convert disaffected Republicans. Mere months away from the general election, that Democratic operatives don’t understand this is disconcerting to say the least.
As referenced earlier, what’s particularly problematic about John Kasich’s sanctification at the hands of the Biden campaign and the DNC is that it is one in a growing line of Republicans propped up at the expense of exposure to members of the Democratic Party and despite misgivings about their records. When John McCain died, Democratic Party figures tripped over themselves to commemorate his life and service to his country, conveniently leaving out that he was an unrepentant war hawk and that he only sometimes criticized Donald Trump. The rest of the time, he voted in line with a Republican agenda. Evidently, not folding completely to Trump and his supporters is to be considered a major achievement these days.
Similarly, bestowing hagiographic treatment on George W. Bush because of his relative civility (as with McCain standing up to Trump, again, low bar to clear) is a nauseating exercise in whitewashing his tenure as president. When not appearing downright incompetent, Bush, flanked by the soulless Dick Cheney, manufactured a war in Iraq based on fabricated intelligence, yet another costly conflict the United States willing threw itself into marked by rampant human rights abuses. He certainly shouldn’t be celebrated by Democrats—nor should he and Cheney be venerated even by Republicans as they are better considered war criminals.
Listen—John Kasich was by many accounts the most agreeable candidate running for the Republican Party nomination in 2016. That ain’t saying much, though. Regardless of his standing in the GOP, for a party in the Democrats facing a rapidly changing electorate and a vocal progressive contingent hungry for real progress, Kasich is a terrible choice for the Democratic National Convention and one of limited electoral advantage, to boot.
The Dems can’t—and shouldn’t—try to rely on “Never Trump” Republicans in 2020 and beyond. If they can’t fill a convention speaking slate or generate excitement with their own brand, how are we supposed to have confidence in and enthusiasm for them heading into November?
As Democratic Party operatives would have you believe, if Joe Biden fails to win the 2020 presidential election, it won’t be because he’s a weak candidate who doesn’t generate enthusiasm. It won’t be that he squandered a double-digit polling lead running against a buffoonish, cartoonishly stupid incumbent in Donald Trump whose administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic leaves something to be desired—and that’s putting it charitably. It won’t be that he, the nominee with the backing of an entire party, failed to make his case to Americans of voting age.
Nope, if Biden loses in November, it will be because Bernie Sanders didn’t do enough to rally his base and donors. Oh, and something about Russia and China, too. Those countries are always lurking, waiting to mess with our steez.
While not to completely dismiss legitimate foreign attempts to hack or influence our elections, that Democratic loyalists are already concocting excuses for Biden should give us pause. For progressives in particular, it should be as galling as it appears.
What is Bernie doing or not doing to raise the concerns of Biden’s backers? Because everything ultimately comes down to money for the Democratic Party establishment, he’s not raising funds for the former vice president and is daring—gasp!—to focus on races other than the presidential race.
A June 21 report appearing in The Hill by Amie Parnes and Jonathan Easley found that some Democrats unaffiliated with the Biden campaign are “worried that their party unity is fraying five months out from the presidential election as several contested primaries pitting progressives against mainstream Democrats go down to the wire.” In particular, they are afraid that Bernie has been “consumed with down-ballot elections at the expense of promoting Biden’s bid for the White House” and that he “needs to do more to make sure progressives fall in line behind Joe Biden in November.”
The very language of these reservations fails to appreciate key elements of the progressive mindset. For one, Democrats—progressives included—arguably haven’t focused on down-ballot politics enough, the potential existential threat that President Trump represents notwithstanding. Establishment Dems tend to regard primary challenges from the left as threats to the order of things, believing the debates raised within this context to be divisive exercises that only serve to weaken the winner’s chances in the general election. Progressives, meanwhile, see these intraparty battles as needed efforts to push the party left if not remove do-nothing incumbents from their ranks. Progressive darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is so popular precisely because she symbolizes real, representative change for her district and for the Democratic Party as a whole.
In addition, the idea that progressives should be expected to “fall in line” reflects a fundamental misunderstanding about how many leftists approach politics. For progressives, especially younger voters, a candidate’s policies and their commitment to humanitarian values are what are most likely to drive turnout. It is not as if Bernie or any other progressive politician should be expected to be able to crack the proverbial whip and bring their followers to heel. These supporters are free thinkers who must be talked to and wooed, not talked at and coerced into making a deeply inauthentic choice. In this sense, the voters have the ultimate power, not the political figures and party leaders seeking to dictate their agenda.
With these things in mind, that even someone as revered on the left as Bernie couldn’t be expected to compel some progressives to vote—let alone spend their hard-earned money during a period of pandemic-fueled economic downturn to bolster a candidate they have to accept begrudgingly—should be well understood to someone like Philippe Reines, a longtime Clinton adviser cited in the piece.
Instead, Reines et al. either don’t understand this much—or they do and just willfully disregard it. From the article:
Philippe Reines, a longtime adviser to Clinton, said that the biggest area of need from Sanders is on the fundraising front. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) raised $6 million at a virtual fundraiser for Biden. Another event co-hosted by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) raised $3.5 million.
Sanders, who crushed his competitors in fundraising during the primary “could in one hour raise Biden north of $10 million, and the symbolism would be worth twice that,” Reines said.
“The opportunity cost of him not doing significant events of any type isn’t simply leaving money on the table. It can be construed that he’s not fully on board,” Reines added.
It can be construed that way, Mr. Reines, yes—if you’re a f**king idiot. Bernie dropped out in April, before many of his supporters and likely some objective observers were probably anticipating he would, his mounting primary losses aside. Even while campaigning, he repeatedly referred to Biden as his “friend,” seeming to pull punches when he perhaps should’ve gone for the jugular. As the Parnes and Easley piece also notes, he has appeared in a virtual event with Biden and has told his supporters to tone down their attacks on Biden, saying publicly it would be “irresponsible” not to vote for his one-time rival for the Democratic Party nomination.
Anyone remotely familiar with the state of U.S. politics today gets it—winning elections costs money. At least as far as the current system is construed, even down-ballot races can cost millions and millions of dollars. By the same token, however, money isn’t everything. At this writing, Charles Booker is leading Amy McGrath in the Kentucky Democratic Party primary for the right to take on Mitch McConnell and oust the Senate Majority Leader despite being more than $40 million short in the fundraising department.
What’s more, the Biden campaign reportedly raised more money in May than the Trump campaign—even without Bernie’s help. Sure, there’s something to be said for not being complacent even with Biden’s advantage in the polls. Then again, if the aim is to change the hearts and minds of members of problem constituencies on an ideological front, throwing more money at them isn’t necessarily going to do the trick when money in politics is already seen as a big problem and when the core message hasn’t much changed. When Medicare for All is automatically off the table, for instance, how do you appeal to people who are struggling financially and might have lost their health insurance as a function of losing their jobs? Having “access to affordable health care” means less when you’re struggling to meet even your basic needs.
Instead, as noted earlier, the focus is on what Bernie is doing or not doing, as it was with Hillary Clinton in 2016. Not, you know, why Joe Biden isn’t more visible or whether he can get through a scripted event with a teleprompter, let alone lead the country. As usual, it’s progressives who have to answer for the theoretical failures of the centrist candidate—and more than five months from the general, this is all pure conjecture—because they didn’t win the election for them. Evidently, seeing Bernie lose in back-to-back primaries isn’t enough salt in the wound.
At this point, the Democratic Party’s inability to accept responsibility for its absence of a coherent winning electoral strategy or party platform borders on the pathological. Picking up with Hillary, she evidently hasn’t forgiven Bernie Sanders for—allow me to check my notes here—doing all that campaigning for her leading up to the election four years ago.
Rather than own up to her own shortcomings and acknowledge where her campaign went wrong, she’s opining from her Hulu documentary series (!) about how no one likes Bernie and how no one wants to work with him. After seeing her endorse Eliot Engel only to see him fall to earth against his progressive primary challenger Jamaal Bowman in New York’s 16th congressional district, Hillary’s negative appraisal might be more of a blessing than a curse. Besides, one shouldn’t go to Capitol Hill expecting to be well liked or to sit at the cool kids’ table. You’re there to represent and serve your constituents first and foremost.
Alas, this is the pattern with the Democrats. Al Gore didn’t lose to George W. Bush because he is a cyborg. No, it’s because of Ralph Nader and third-party voters. Forget all the Florida Democrats who voted for Bush instead of Gore. Forget that Gore couldn’t even carry his own home state. 20 years after the fact, Dems are more apt to forgive Bush himself, a bonehead who, with his administration’s help, manufactured an entire g-d war, than Nader, a lifelong consumer protection advocate and champion for environmentalism and governmental reform. This would all be laughably absurd if not for the fact that the Democrats outside of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have been losing winnable elections for the better part of three decades. Some have been close calls and not without their share of shenanigans, but some might argue they shouldn’t have been that close to begin with.
Could Bernie do some fundraising for Joe Biden? Sure. Knowing Bernie’s draw, with the backing of the Democratic Party national infrastructure, he probably would do quite well. As critically important as this upcoming presidential election is, though (when isn’t the election an important one?), the movement progressives are building is also vital in breathing life into a party and a political system marked by rigid exclusion of people outside “elite” spheres of influence.
To have one of its standard-bearers shill for donations and risk alienating adherents, thereby blunting that momentum, would be counterproductive in its own right. Disappointed as I was by Bernie’s early departure from the presidential race and subsequent endorsement of Biden, I’ve never felt outright betrayed by him. To have him pump me for money or if—God forbid—Bernie ever gave away access to his campaign’s donor roll to the DNC, I know I’d feel different. People less forgiving than me might up and revolt against the Democratic Party altogether. You can only mess with people for so long.
The Democratic Party is a “big tent” party to be sure. Being petty and accusing certain members of not doing enough—members who are technically independents, a notion party leaders and supporters alike will invoke whenever they choose to denigrate progressives in the Sanders mold as not “true Democrats,” mind you—obscures the structural deficiencies the party faces.
“When in doubt, blame Bernie.” Fine, but if one man who’s no longer running can bring down an entire party infrastructure, quite frankly, that says more about the party than him.
As Tom Perez and the Democratic National Committee would have it, it’s OK if you risk your life and those of others to come out and vote in the primaries. Especially if you’re casting your ballot for Joe Biden.
Originally, “Super Tuesday III” (if they’re all so “super,” are they really that super?) was supposed to involve Democratic Party primaries for four states. On the eve of Ohio’s intended primary, Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration sought to postpone in-person voting until a later date in light of the ongoing global pandemic. The move was struck down by a judge but polls were later closed by Amy Acton, director of health for the Ohio Department of Health, and the primary was postponed.
Arizona, Florida, and Illinois went ahead with their primaries unabated, however, and reports from polling locations indicated that in many cases, the decision to not postpone was an unmitigated disaster. Numerous poll workers and managers were no-shows. Polling locations were closed or moved so abruptly that voters had to travel to multiple sites to try to cast their ballots, and because of the closures, prospective voters were herded into confined spaces (in violation of CDC guidelines), forced to wait potentially for one or more hours in unsafe conditions, or go home and forfeit their vote. Despite assertions to the contrary, many polling stations lacked sufficient hand sanitizer to meet the public demand or otherwise failed to enforce social distancing standards encouraged to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
These primaries were, in other words, a shit-show, and a completely foreseeable one, at that. Less than 24 hours beforehand, however, DNC chair Tom Perez was on MSNBC trying to make the case that, to borrow the verbiage of a popular meme, this is fine.
In an interview with Chris Hayes, Perez insisted that the DNC respected what Arizona, Florida, and Illinois were doing and that he didn’t think it was for him to “second-guess those judgments of governors who insisted they are able to safely carry on with the primaries.” On the day of the primary, he tweeted, “AZ, IL, and FL are all voting today. Please remember your health comes first. Stay safe and take care of yourself. Thank you to all the voters, poll workers, and staff making democracy work.”
Lo and behold, in light of the scenes described above, the judgment of Governors Doug Ducey (AZ), JB Pritzker (IL), and Ron DeSantis (FL) were very much questioned, especially so after they advised against congregations of people in other contexts to encourage social distancing. Perez’s boast about staff, voters, and workers “making democracy work” was therefore decidedly dubious. In a primary season that has seen incidence of long lines in states like California and Texas lasting beyond poll closing times, frequently in areas disproportionately trafficked by younger voters and/or people of color, poll closures and the appearance of anything remotely resembling voter suppression is liable to raise a red flag among concerned observers, particularly those of a progressive bent.
Owing to the numerous—shall we say—irregularities surrounding the latest swath of state primaries, these results should be considered illegitimate, regardless of the outcome. Furthermore, and more importantly, keeping the polls open or otherwise encouraging people to vote during a public health crisis and without credible assurance that the requisite safeguards would be available is reckless, a dereliction of duty, and as some might argue, criminally negligent. The aforementioned governors, Tom Perez, and the DNC should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves as a result, assuming they are capable of genuine human emotions like shame.
In terms of what should be the contested results of primaries, let’s not mince words: Joe Biden romped and probably would have, due apprehension of coronavirus or not. Biden beat Bernie Sanders by double digits across the board, even eating into his support among Latinos, a bastion of support that Sanders’s campaign had previously enjoyed during this campaign by a substantive margin. Exit polls indicated Biden performed significantly better among voters in terms of whose leadership they would trust during a crisis, who they think would be better able to get legislation passed given a Republican-controlled Senate, and perhaps most telling of all, that they think he would fare better than Bernie in the general election against Donald Trump.
The suggestion that Perez and Co. are trying to rush through the primaries so as to sew up the Democratic Party primary and limit Biden’s exposure, of course, is pure conjecture, barring some sort of WikiLeaks-esque revelation of favoritism on the DNC’s part as it was in 2016. Still, for a party looking to avoid bad optics following a much-publicized hack and proliferation of e-mails from the last election cycle, the choice to plow ahead and tout turnout when an untold number of voters were either turned away from the polls or feared for their safety is unconscionable and could literally cost lives.
Tom Perez and the Democratic National Committee appear to be saying that the ends justify the means. The mere thought that your vote matters more than your voice or even your life, though, is a sobering one indeed.
What shouldn’t be overlooked as part of this story is that the Republican Party, too, held primaries earlier this week. Florida and Illinois had hundreds of thousands of Republicans turn out in favor of the incumbent, Donald Trump, allowing him to secure the necessary number of delegates to earn the nomination outright. Bill Weld (if you’re wondering who that is, I had to Google him to make sure that is, in fact, his name) has consequently suspended his bid for president, not that it had much of a chance to succeed to begin with. So the Republican Party bears some responsibility in this regard to boot. But in terms of party affiliation, the blame is bipartisan. JB Pritzker is a Democrat. Doug Ducey and Ron DeSantis are Republicans (as is Mike DeWine, whose administration, as noted earlier, commendably postponed the state’s primaries). At least at the state level, there is proverbial blood on both parties’ hands.
Even the two major Democratic Party candidates (Tulsi Gabbard was running as of Tuesday, but suspended her bid the next day and endorsed Joe Biden) could have done more. Joe Biden’s campaign rather indifferently directed people to the polls, downplaying the unique threat coronavirus poses by proffering the notion “we held elections during the Civil War, the 1918 flu pandemic, and World War II” such that “we can meet the same challenge today.” Bernie Sanders, while expressing concern that he wasn’t sure it made sense to hold the primaries when interviewed following last Sunday’s debate, could’ve, in theory, told his followers not to go to the polls and protested the outcome as illegitimate. That may have only further hurt his perception among Democratic Party loyalists not to mention his decreasing odds at capturing the nomination, but it would’ve been a prudent move.
Going back to the subject of turnout, despite coronavirus concerns and the lack of a contested primary on the Republican side, turnout was yet robust, though the final tallies were certainly aided by absentee, early, and mail-in votes. This shouldn’t necessarily be assumed as a boon for Biden, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, however, particularly in deference to Trump’s having secured the nomination officially now and essentially before he began. Trump has a base of fervent supporters who haven’t substantially wavered since he took office.
Moreover, while Biden-friendly pundits tout the breadth of the coalition he’s building (I say that Biden is building it, but it’s more that Democrats are coalescing behind him as the person they think is best-positioned to beat Trump), Bernie continues to beat him handily in terms of independent voters and crushes him on youth support. It is very fair to wonder whether these key groups will come out in force for Biden, especially in swing states. While it’s reckless to put anyone’s supporters in danger, one might insist it is egregiously bad to do that with Biden’s backers, who are his bedrock and are most susceptible to the effects of COVID-19 generally being older.
This all makes for a disturbing picture for the rest of the primary season and engenders even less confidence in Democratic leadership among progressives than they previously have had during Tom Perez’s tenure as DNC chair. For his part in last Tuesday’s fiasco, Perez should resign, and as has long been a rallying cry, the Democratic National Committee should be reformed to more authentically represent the designs of rank-and-file party supporters instead of merely satisfying moneyed interests and seeking votes. Until and unless dramatic changes are made, the prospects of a Democratic Party victory in the 2020 election are suspect and the possibility of a mass exodus from the party sooner or later is disturbingly real.
That’s the story we get from our beloved president, Donald J. Trump, at least. As many of us can attest to, though, what he says may not be (or is rarely) the gospel truth.
In an August 13 post in his nascent online newsletter, Popular Information, journalist Jedd Legum discusses how, indeed, GDP growth is strong and unemployment is low. Sounds great, right? While not to discount these trends, the issue is that wages aren’t rising to accompany them. Legum writes:
There is something fundamentally broken about the United States economy and no one is doing anything about it.
Unemployment is low. GDP growth is strong. But official government data released on Friday show that real wages for American workers have gone down over the last year.
Nominal wages, the dollar amount workers see in their paychecks, have slowly crept up, increasing 2.7% between July 2017 and July 2018. But that has not kept up with inflation, which rose 2.9% over the same period.
The economy is growing. Workers, however, are falling further behind.
This sounds awfully doom-and-gloom coming from Legum, but as he indicates, he has the data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to back him up. What’s more, he identifies key reasons why workers aren’t reaping the benefits of a robust economy through their take-home pay.
First of all, before we get to why wages are stagnant or declining, there’s the matter of the Trump tax cuts. After the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was signed into law, the White House promised that “the median U.S. household would get a $4,000 real income raise.” That hasn’t happened, though.
To make matters worse, Trump and his advisers are apparently not interested in revisiting their policies to assess their potential flaws. Instead, Trump has—in characteristic fashion—doubled down on his assertions. He has ignored any evidence to the contrary, boasting that our paychecks are bigger and America is booming like never before. That’s especially not true in the case of our “booming” nation, but why let facts get in the way of a good story?
As Legum is keen to point out, however, trends in wage stagnation relative to inflation are bigger than Donald Trump. (But shh—don’t tell Trump that. In his mind, he is the sun around which we revolve.) Regardless of who is president or which party is in power, wages have been effectively stagnant for decades.
Based on this phenomenon, Legum insists that if people are complaining of an economy “rigged” against them, they are, well, right. Despite America’s status as one of the richest countries in the world and in an era of increasing profits, fewer people are enjoying those additional rewards. Cue the conversation about the 99% versus the 1%.
Accordingly, as Legum asks in his introduction, what gives? The answer is a complicated one, though there are some major culprits in the eyes of economic analysts. The first is employer-based health insurance, of which costs are on the rise. Because of escalating health care expenses, employers are less likely to raise wages. Because they are concerned about coverage and costs, employees are less likely to seek employment elsewhere. Consequently, employers are less inclined to negotiate on wages for fear of a departure. It shouldn’t surprise you to know that lower-wage workers also are disproportionately affected by these rising health care costs.
Speaking of negotiating for higher wages, a decline in union membership mediated by deliberate attempts to undermine organized labor has weakened the bargaining power and wages of union and non-union workers alike. Without significant union membership, there is insufficient reason for non-union employers to raise wages to compete with those of union firms. This is to say that it is not a zero-sum game involving the wages of union and non-union workers.
Compounding the problem of wages in America is that productivity is lagging despite advancements in technology. Legum speaks to the theory that American companies are simply not investing enough for the long term, instead opting to turn revenues into dividends or stock buybacks that inflate stock prices. Meanwhile, as he also indicates, wages have increased more slowly than productivity, so this is “only a piece of the puzzle.”
All of these factors lead up to Legum’s central point. While wage stagnation is obviously complex, there are yet remedies which can be effected. On the health care front, Medicare-for-all and other single-payer models at the state level have been suggested as ways to make employer costs more manageable. For unions, there are possible interventions like majority sign-up or multi-employer bargaining. For productivity’s sake, where private organizations fail, public investments in infrastructure can help pick up the slack.
The problem with these remedies is that they aren’t being implemented, or as Legum puts it, “no one is working to fix the problem.” Re the Trump administration, in many cases, these solutions aren’t just being ignored—they are forsaken for policies that deliberately move us backward.
We all remember the attempts by the president and a Republican-led Congress to kill the Affordable Care Act. They haven’t yet proven wholly successful, though this doesn’t mean the GOP will stop trying. Trump also celebrated the ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, characterized by many as a major blow to public-sector unions. As for infrastructure, Trump promised it would be a priority of his tenure in office. Heretofore, like most of Trump’s promises, it has yet to come to fruition.
In closing, Legum writes, “Politicians of all stripes speak incessantly about the American worker. But until they tackle the wage crisis head-on, it’s hard to take them seriously.” The absence of references to a specific political party here implies that both Republicans and Democrats should be taken to task for their role in subverting the wage growth of the labor force in the United States.
For the GOP, which has long kept the interests of big business close to heart, this is no big surprise. On the other hand, for the Democrats, the putative party of the people, the charge is that they have failed workers by not more vigorously defending organized labor, not to mention too eagerly embracing corporate lobbies/wealthy donors and their influence. This is the sort of inaction from lawmakers that the average voter is arguably justified in raging against. With the criticism from the left, there is an added sense of disappointment that a party which traditionally has embraced working-class Americans appears to have so readily abandoned them.
As Judd Legum underscores, these trends which have contributed to wage stagnation amid a growing economy were in motion before the rise of Donald Trump. His ascendancy is perhaps an all-too-logical consequence of their elaboration. As numerous publications and pundits observed, working-class whites, who came out in force for the business tycoon in 2016, were a key source of his support.
Before the election, the voting bloc of whites without a college degree was reportedly shrinking, and polling data had Hillary Clinton with one foot in the White House. Meanwhile, a group of individuals who disdain professionals because they perceive themselves to be disdained, while holding fast to the aspirational model embodied by Trump, was instrumental in swinging the election to the Republican presidential nominee. If Democratic strategists were convinced they could all but ignore this subset of the electorate (and key segments of the Rust Belt), it turned out they were wrong.
It’s political realities like this which make the recent decision by Tom Perez and the Democratic National Committee to reverse a ban on donations from fossil fuel companies rather alarming. Ostensibly, this was a move made because input from labor suggested a ban on fossil fuel money was an “attack” on workers. In reality, and as the activist community has observed, this 180 is designed to allow fossil fuel executives to keep donating to (and buying influence within) the Democratic Party.
The DNC’s about-face is particularly galling given that the prohibition on fossil fuel contributions—which specifically targeted corporate PAC donations—only came about this past June. Defenders of Perez’s proposal might be wont to point out that the Republican Party accepts substantially higher amounts of cash from the fossil fuel industry than the Dems do. There’s also the aspect that Democrats in contested districts/states feel they need to take a more moderate stance when it comes to energy production.
Still, as Kate Aronoff, contributor to The Intercept, quipped, “There are no jobs on a dead planet.” The DNC’s recommitment to an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy is a regressive turn of events at a time when more urgent action on climate change is needed, and when the Trump administration is doing its part to reverse as many regulations designed to safeguard the environment as possible (see also Scott Pruitt as the original pick for the EP-freaking-A).
Moreover, the rationalization of taking fossil fuel PAC money as a defense of organized labor is an altogether cynical one. Apparently, being a rank-and-file worker/Democratic Party supporter and having enthusiasm for an energy plan based on renewable sources are mutually exclusive. If you care about your job, evidently you give f**k-all about the planet.
To reiterate, the problem of stagnant and declining wages in America is a complex one mediated by a number of factors. At the same time, a little leadership from our elected representatives could go a long way in convincing us we are on the right track in trying to ameliorate the situation. Unfortunately, legislative gridlock and intentional concessions to corporate interests inspire little confidence we’re moving in the right direction on this issue.
“Wow. F**k the DNC.” That’s what I thought upon first reading excerpts of Donna Brazile’s first-hand account of Hillary Clinton’s “secret takeover of the DNC.” As published in a piece on Politico, Brazile’s reflections and retelling are apparently themselves an excerpt from her (Brazile’s) upcoming book. Yup—like the subject of her account, Brazile is seeking to profit off a relitigation of the 2016 election. But I digress.
As I alluded to in the title of my own piece, Donna Brazile’s insider information from her time as interim chair of the Democratic National Committee is both a confirmation of what many of us have suspected or known outright, and yet still startling. Even before we were mired in the era of President Trump—a tenure which has every possibility of lasting two terms, despite what approval ratings and legal entanglements might otherwise suggest—it was made evident through WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of E-mails from a hack of key DNC officials that there existed within the Committee a clear bias in favor of the Clinton campaign. It’s a bias that was suggested by a questionable Democratic Party debate schedule marked by relatively few debates (at least next to the Republican Party and its gaggle of uninspired candidates) on odd days and times, but ultimately confirmed in black and white by these E-mails, not to mention Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s particular animus toward the Bernie Sanders campaign and campaign manager Jeff Weaver. At the same time, it’s perhaps unexpected to have these revelations come from Brazile, someone who infamously was fired from CNN after it was discovered she was tipping off the Clinton campaign in advance of a debate televised by the cable news network, and someone who, within the DNC E-mails, expressed her own, even if momentary, irritation with the Sanders campaign.
Before we dive into Donna Brazile’s—shall we say—allegations, let me cut off a potential objection I see to my analysis here and clarify my purpose. Do I think the way in which the DNC “rigged” the primary, as some would say, cost Bernie Sanders a chance at the Democratic Party presidential nomination? While I may disagree with a number of my fellow “Sandernistas” on this point, I don’t think the pro-Clinton bias exhibited by the DNC prior to the Democratic National Convention tipped the scales so heavily that Bernie would have won even in a fair fight. Beyond the evident collusion between the Clinton camp and the DNC, Sanders faced significant challenges in going up against the larger Democratic Party establishment apparatus (“how dare this independent run as a Democrat!”), as well as a comparative lack of name recognition next to Hillary Clinton, an understandable disparity in support among older women, and a failure to establish a significant advantage among minority voters, a struggle which mirrors the progressive movement’s difficulties in reaching people and communities of color in American politics.
These admissions aside, to adhere to the notion that Hillary still would’ve won the Democratic Party nomination and to say nothing of the other shenanigans is to miss the point. If Hillary Clinton and her campaign didn’t need to game the system, why bother doing it in the first place and inviting criticism/risking low turnout in her favor? This kind of manipulation, even if legal—and that’s a big “if”—is the kind of unethical which undermines people’s confidence in political institutions and representative democracy as a whole. For younger or otherwise more idealistic voters who envision a reform of the political process and rejection of the status quo which favors the interests of corporations and wealthy individuals, these hijinks are far more significant in their implications for campaign finance reform and political participation than the outcome of one election, disastrous as it was in ushering Donald Trump into the White House.
In other words, this aspect of the 2016 campaign season is significant, especially for a party that lost an election it was widely predicted to win and has been suffering down-ticket losses even in states in which it has historically thrived. So, let’s get to Donna Brazile’s “bombshell” account. Here are some of the more salient quotes from the excerpt featured on Politico:
My predecessor, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, had not been the most active chair in fundraising at a time when President Barack Obama’s neglect had left the party in significant debt. As Hillary’s campaign gained momentum, she resolved the party’s debt and put it on a starvation diet. It had become dependent on her campaign for survival, for which she expected to wield control of its operations. Debbie was not a good manager. She hadn’t been very interested in controlling the party—she let Clinton’s headquarters in Brooklyn do as it desired so she didn’t have to inform the party officers how bad the situation was. How much control Brooklyn had and for how long was still something I had been trying to uncover for the last few weeks.
By now, Wasserman Schultz’s reputation as DNC chair has long been made sour; if you’ll recall, she was forced to resign in disgrace after the evidence of her Clintonian favoritism was made public knowledge. Hence, this is not exactly news that her managerial skills are suspect. Still, it does provide those who felt and continue to feel “the Bern” a certain sense of satisfaction. I know it did for me.
On the phone Gary told me the DNC had needed a $2 million loan, which the campaign had arranged.
“No! That can’t be true!” I said. “The party cannot take out a loan without the unanimous agreement of all of the officers.”
“Gary, how did they do this without me knowing?” I asked. “I don’t know how Debbie relates to the officers,” Gary said. He described the party as fully under the control of Hillary’s campaign, which seemed to confirm the suspicions of the Bernie camp. The campaign had the DNC on life support, giving it money every month to meet its basic expenses, while the campaign was using the party as a fund-raising clearinghouse.
Here, Brazile is describing her conversations with Gary Gensler, CFO of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. According to Gensler, Barack Obama’s campaign incurred some $24 million in debt, and between his slow repayment of that debt and the contributions of Hillary for America and the Hillary Victory Fund, a “joint fundraising vehicle with the DNC,” the majority of the remaining monies owed had been taken care of. But that still left some $2 million or so that required the approval of a loan, the arrangement of which was orchestrated by Wasserman Schultz and made possible by the direct connection between the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Given the apparent dire financial straits of the DNC at the time, it is perhaps no wonder that Hillary and Co. had so much control over the allocation of monies in the Hillary Victory Fund. Still, that knowledge of this situation was not more widespread—whether within the Bernie Sanders campaign or within the DNC itself—keeps with the theme of a lack of transparency and ethical practices. Even if Hillary still would’ve won the primary nomination, this evidence of an unethical process leaves one to wonder if the race might’ve been closer if there were a more equitable arrangement, and to lament that we’ll never know for sure how close.
I wanted to believe Hillary, who made campaign finance reform part of her platform, but I had made this pledge to Bernie and did not want to disappoint him. I kept asking the party lawyers and the DNC staff to show me the agreements that the party had made for sharing the money they raised, but there was a lot of shuffling of feet and looking the other way.
When I got back from a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, I at last found the document that described it all: the Joint Fund-Raising Agreement between the DNC, the Hillary Victory Fund, and Hillary for America.
The agreement—signed by Amy Dacey, the former CEO of the DNC, and Robby Mook with a copy to Marc Elias—specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings.
I had been wondering why it was that I couldn’t write a press release without passing it by Brooklyn. Well, here was the answer.
There are two particular reasons why Brazile’s references to this agreement are significant. The first is that, despite Hillary’s talk on the campaign trail about wanting to rebuild the Democratic Party from the bottom up, the state Democratic Parties were getting less than half of 1% of what Clinton and her campaign were raising. Brazile references a separate Politico article from May 2016 by Kenneth P. Vogel and Isaac Arnsdorf which details this suspect arrangement. Again, old news, but the severity of the situation merits underscoring. The second, though, is the timing of the agreement’s creation. It was signed in August 2015, less than six months after Hillary Clinton officially announced her candidacy, and long before she had officially secured the nomination. This kind of control for Hillary’s sake well in advance of state primaries and the election itself may be unprecedented, and—not to beat a dead horse, but—it flies in the face of a fair and transparent selection process. Some kind of democracy—and we’re the ones who don’t support democracy by not voting for her.
I told Bernie I had found Hillary’s Joint Fundraising Agreement. I explained that the cancer was that she had exerted this control of the party long before she became its nominee. Had I known this, I never would have accepted the interim chair position, but here we were with only weeks before the election. Bernie took this stoically. He did not yell or express outrage. Instead he asked me what I thought Hillary’s chances were. The polls were unanimous in her winning but what, he wanted to know, was my own assessment?
I had to be frank with him. I did not trust the polls, I said. I told him I had visited states around the country and I found a lack of enthusiasm for her everywhere. I was concerned about the Obama coalition and about millennials. I urged Bernie to work as hard as he could to bring his supporters into the fold with Hillary, and to campaign with all the heart and hope he could muster. He might find some of her positions too centrist, and her coziness with the financial elites distasteful, but he knew and I knew that the alternative was a person who would put the very future of the country in peril. I knew he heard me. I knew he agreed with me, but I never in my life had felt so tiny and powerless as I did making that call.
When I hung up the call to Bernie, I started to cry, not out of guilt, but out of anger. We would go forward. We had to.
Wonderful story, Donna. I’m sure your book is full of such vividly-written prose. As unsympathetic as I am toward Donna Brazile’s position as DNC chair, even under these circumstances, and all kidding aside, it is intriguing to hear her talk about how she had reservations even before the election about Hillary’s campaign and the challenges she (Hillary) faced in beating Donald Trump. Plus, it also is kind of nice to have Brazile say something positive about Bernie. He may not be a saint and I might not agree with every last one of his positions on issues, but I do have a lot of admiration for that man. Fellow Sanders fans, this last quote was for you.
Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee were in cahoots—fine, you may be saying. Still, even if you don’t believe this ultimately affected the outcome of the primary election to the extent that Bernie Sanders would’ve won instead, and even if Donna Brazile’s insider account reveals a broken political process that merits fixing, what is the utility of opening up old wounds? Why risk dividing a Democratic Party that has seen so much tumult over the past year and change?
Well, Esteemed Reader, the answers to these queries are manifold. First of all, there is the issue of money, and by that I mean, campaign donations. For all the donors who contributed to the Bernie Sanders campaign (myself included), it makes a bit of a difference to have them sink their money into a cause that the DNC worked so hard to ensure was a lost one rather than an equal and fair bid for the nomination. If you weren’t already aware, a class action lawsuit already has worked its way through the courts, with the case brought against the DNC by attorneys Jared and Elizabeth Beck being dismissed back in August by federal judge William Zloch on the grounds that “the named Plaintiffs have not presented a case that is cognizable in federal court.” As Bruce Spiva, on behalf of the DNC, argued, and as the court evidently agreed, there is no way to determine who is to be considered in standing to be defrauded and eligible for remediation. In doing so, however, Spiva essentially confirmed that the Committee favored Hillary Clinton, and theoretically that it could do so because the Democratic Party can do what it wants regarding the selection of its representatives at the Democratic National Convention and at the state level. Good for party unity, this line of thinking is not.
More pressing than this, though, is the notion that the Democratic Party never has truly healed in the first place from the divisions which surfaced during the primaries. While I’m not here to defend the actions of Sanders supporters who would demean Hillary Clinton and her supporters through thinly-veiled sexism, and while there is some degree of “to the victor goes the spoils” to be expected with how the Clinton camp and Hillary’s faithful reacted to the “Bernie or Bust” crowd, if ever one was to have the impression that the establishment wing of the Democratic Party and newer members/fervent Sanders supporters were a cohesive lot, he or she was missing the signs of an ongoing battle for the soul of the party. Take Hillary Clinton herself. Why author and release a book about the 2016 election concerning “what happened” only to once again deflect responsibility and to blame Bernie Sanders for irreparable harm done to the Dems? For one thing, if Bernie Sanders as one man can bring down the entire apparatus of a major political party, that appeals to a weak party infrastructure even before the events leading up to the election began. Indeed, from the sound of what Donna Brazile is indicating, the debt created by the Barack Obama campaign compounded by poor management from Debbie Wasserman Schultz already had the DNC in dire straits. In this regard, Bernie is a fall guy as much as anything.
Besides this, though, and as Clinton and her parrots would insinuate, Bernie isn’t a “true Democrat,” and beyond Bernie self-identifying as an independent, this kind of deprecation begs the question: What does it mean to be a “true Democrat”? Does it mean blindly supporting the party’s chosen candidate despite any reservations about him or her? Does it mean holding lavish meet-and-greet fundraisers that are meant to exclude a large swath of would-be Democratic voters? Does it mean bypassing whole battleground states because making speeches about income inequality in Giorgio Armani clothing is generally not appreciated by blue-collar types? To me, attacking Bernie for not being a Democrat when the Democratic Party itself has moved away from its roots as a party of the middle class and of working-class Americans is as disingenuous as it is fruitless. At least he ran an authentically grassroots campaign and talked about income and wealth inequality in a meaningful way. And yet he is the divisive one when the class warfare perpetrated by corporations and the wealthy puts the bottom 99% at risk. If Bernie isn’t a “true Democrat” by these standards, I’m not sure I want to be either.
Hillary Clinton may choose to take her potshots at Bernie Sanders from behind the cover of her non-fiction—well, more or less; it’s not fiction if she believes it’s true, right?—book. On one hand, it appears as if Clinton’s personal political aspirations have subsided. That is, “Hill-Dawg” is unlikely to run again in 2020. Though you never know—she or Joe Biden just might rear her or his head in two to three years’ time to represent the Obama administration/Democratic Party establishment in full force. Either way, however, and on the other hand, as a political figure whose work has spanned her formative years as a woman interested in politics, her identity as a notably engaged First Lady during her husband’s tenure as President, her time in the U.S. Senate, and her service as Secretary of State, HRC’s voice carries a certain amount of weight, and she figures to still be involved in the world of politics.
Thus, when Clinton speaks about Bernie in this way—someone who is still directly involved in the political sphere as senator from the state of Vermont and who may yet have designs for another run at the presidency in 2020—it does matter. Perhaps above all else, it is a signal to party leadership that Sanders is not to be trusted with the keys to the car, so to speak. If the management of the DNC under Tom Perez, former Labor Secretary and Donna Brazile’s successor, is any indication, Democratic Party leaders already have this advice close to heart. Recently, Perez revealed his list of appointments and nominations for key Committee positions, and to a large extent, Democratic Party loyalists were favored over individuals who supported Bernie Sanders and/or Keith Ellison. If there’s a better symbolic gesture of just how unwelcome progressives are at the Dems’ table, you’d be hard-pressed to find one.
All this makes Donna Brazile’s depictions of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee, and Hillary Clinton all the more curious. Is Brazile trying to stir the pot merely to sell copies of her own work of non-fiction? Does she legitimately believe the criticisms she leveled against these current and former bastions of Democratic Party infrastructure/leadership? Or might she primarily see value in throwing a bone to Bernie Sanders supporters rather than deliberately alienating them? One can only speculate as to whether or not Brazile’s true motivations are self-serving, but if someone who seemed as staunchly pro-Hillary as she can make these comments, maybe more than just Donna Brazile see the writing on the wall concerning the future of the Democratic Party for 2018, 2020, and beyond. Serious reform of the Democratic Party and of the DNC is needed if its leadership hopes to match the enthusiasm the Republican Party has been able to generate among its loyalists and within its conservative base. Certainly, there’s a long way to go on this front, and with only a year to go before mid-term elections in 2018, the short-term political outlook looks bleak for the party associated with the color blue.
At the rate we’re going in this country, I tend to worry that, by the time we’ve thrown the last shovel of dirt on the events of the 2016 election, we’ll be in 2020, ready to elect a new president. I mean, I hope. Right now, it seems like the challenger to Donald Trump is an amorphous blob of old white people, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris. In essence, it’s one blob against another, and for whatever reason, a good deal of Republican voters support the blob with the bad hair, oversized ties, and predilection for golfing on the taxpayer’s dime. Not helping this trend is the more recent public reemergence of one of the election’s most prominent figures, fresh off a period of mourning filled with sorrowful hikes near her home in Chappaqua: none other than Hillary Rodham Clinton herself. Clinton, at a conference sponsored by Recode, the tech news website founded by Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, spoke in an interview about why she lost the election.
As Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus tells it, though, she did so by “not merely relitigating the 2016 election but relitigating it like the relentless trial lawyer she once was.” This is to say that Hillary accepted responsibility for her part in her electoral loss—except that she didn’t really accept responsibility for her part in her loss. Instead, she blamed a myriad number of factors in her downfall, which may have contributed to her defeat, but only up to a certain point, and all told, the list seems more of a tiresome exercise in excuse-making than anything. Among the justifications thrown around by Hillary Clinton and enumerated by Marcus for her column: the failings of the Democratic National Committee; James Comey; the media, for overhyping her anticipated victory and for making a mountain out of her E-mail server molehill; the Russians; and sexism within the electorate and elsewhere, for making such a big stink about her Goldman Sachs speeches “when men got paid for the speeches they made” and for not believing a woman could be President of the United States. She also acknowledged the private E-mail server was a “mistake,” but, you know, one other people made too—cough, Colin Powell, cough—and for not being a perfect candidate—though no one’s perfect, right? Right?
In recounting these various reasons rattled off by Hillary Clinton, Ruth Marcus allows the Democratic Party nominee her “critique”—more so along the lines of Russian interference and Comey’s fateful letter than the complicated and hard-to-prove matter of misogyny—as well as her “venting,” especially after winning the popular vote. Marcus even concedes HRC her Trump-bashing, as Trump’s abnormality is of the sort about which no one should be silent, much less someone of her stature. Still, ultimately, Marcus is critical of the subject of her piece, as the very title of her column—”Hillary Clinton, smash your rearview mirror”—would signify. Citing the poor appetite other recent Democratic Party general election losers Al Gore and John Kerry had for retrospective analyses, Marcus has this commentary to offer:
But enough, already, with the seemingly never-ending, ever-expanding postmortem. Sure, Clinton was responding to questions, but if anyone knows how to duck a line of inquiry, it’s her. Meanwhile, the excuses — really, bringing up the DNC? — make her look smaller. Clinton is always at her best when she perseveres, not when she lashes out. It’s essential to understand what went wrong in 2016 and to call out the bad actors. Clinton is just the wrong messenger.
What Democrats crave most is not wallowing in theories about the defeat; it’s a template for resisting Trump now, and a vision for 2018 and 2020. Clinton’s obsessive summoning of 2016 gives Trump an excuse to change the subject from his missteps. “Crooked Hillary Clinton now blames everybody but herself,” he tweeted after the Recode interview.
And Clinton’s behavior doesn’t help would-be glass ceiling-crackers. Publicly calling out misogyny is probably not the best strategy for combating it, or for encouraging other women to run for office.
Hillary is not the only Democrat to engage in this kind of looking back in hindsight. To a certain extent, party leadership should reflect on where it went wrong in 2016 and where it continues to lose ground heading into 2018 and 2020. That said, there’s a right and a wrong way to do it, and Clinton’s way smacks of pettiness, however legitimate her finger-pointing may be. More importantly, the relentless retrospection is, by its nature, not a path forward for Democratic hopefuls in the next two to four years. By this token, Clinton’s evidently limitless blame game only reinforces the notion that her presidential aspirations were a vanity project, and that a fair deal of her support was incidental, a means to an end to further her political legacy. And going back to the idea of blaming the Democratic National Committee, as her detractors in and around the Democratic Party would be apt to point out, she has the DNC and the machinations of Debbie Wasserman Schultz to thank for making her eventual nomination for POTUS seem like a predestined coronation. Yea, verily, that DWS and her cronies had it in for the Bernie Sanders campaign was one of the worst-kept secrets in American politics next to Ted Cruz strangling a man in the 90s just to watch him die. Come on—you just know that man has seriously contemplated murder at least once in his life. They don’t invoke the name of the Zodiac Killer for nothing with him—just saying.
As a product of a string of losses up and down ballots over the past decade or so, Democrats have gotten into the habit of making excuses for coming up short in race after race, as well as trying to claim moral victories for candidates doing reasonably well in individual contests held in red states—even though the criticism may be well-founded that party leadership is not doing enough to support these candidates, especially when they adopt more progressive platforms (see also James Thompson, Rob Quist). Besides merely failing to truly own up to one’s shortcomings, though, the specter of Hillary Clinton is one that is arguably not only counterproductive for a party in disarray, but detrimental to American politics at large. We already know the kinds of diatribes that those on Donald Trump’s corner of the political right are wont to throw Hillary’s way. Crooked Hillary. Lock her up. Of course, the irony is not lost on the rest of us in consideration of Trump’s manifold ethical, legal, and moral conflicts. This notwithstanding, Clinton’s critics on the left (“Shillary,” anyone?), regardless if—and I’m primarily talking about the average voter here, but hey, who knows—they truly comprehend what they are talking about, commonly refer to HRC as a “neoliberal.” This is not a term of endearment.
Someone who does know what he is talking about, meanwhile, is Noam Chomsky, who continues to be highly regarded in intellectual circles for his views, political and otherwise. In a fairly wide-ranging interview with Christopher Lydon for The Nation, Chomsky makes a central point about the pitfalls of neoliberalism and what we as a nation need to do to truly reclaim our ideal of “democracy,” and in the context of historical threats to our bodily well-being in nuclear war and catastrophic climate change, he outlines the neoliberal tradition as its own threat, in that its persistent influence may only hasten the onset of the other two. Chomsky explains:
So there’s the two existential threats that we’ve created—which might in the case of nuclear war maybe wipe us out; in the case of environmental catastrophe, create a severe impact—and then some.
A third thing happened. Beginning around the ’70s, human intelligence dedicated itself to eliminating, or at least weakening, the main barrier against these threats. It’s called neoliberalism. There was a transition at that time from the period of what some people call “regimented capitalism,” the ’50s and ’60s, the great growth period, egalitarian growth, a lot of advances in social justice and so on[…]. That changed in the ’70s with the onset of the neoliberal era that we’ve been living in since. And if you ask yourself what this era is, its crucial principle is undermining mechanisms of social solidarity and mutual support and popular engagement in determining policy.
It’s not called that. What it’s called is “freedom,” but “freedom” means a subordination to the decisions of concentrated, unaccountable, private power. That’s what it means. The institutions of governance—or other kinds of association that could allow people to participate in decision making—those are systematically weakened. Margaret Thatcher said it rather nicely in her aphorism about “there is no society, only individuals.” She was actually, unconsciously no doubt, paraphrasing Marx, who in his condemnation of the repression in France said, “The repression is turning society into a sack of potatoes, just individuals, an amorphous mass can’t act together.” That was a condemnation. For Thatcher, it’s an ideal—and that’s neoliberalism. We destroy or at least undermine the governing mechanisms by which people at least in principle can participate to the extent that society’s democratic. So weaken them, undermine unions, other forms of association, leave a sack of potatoes and meanwhile transfer decisions to unaccountable private power all in the rhetoric of freedom.
Hmm, make it so average people can’t participate in political decision-making, weaken unions or otherwise fail to safeguard attempts to undermine them, and transfer power to unaccountable, private entities. Yep, this sounds like today’s standard operating procedure in Washington—and before we go pointing our fingers at the “they” across the aisle, understand this is not merely a Republican problem, though the GOP does tend to be the biggest offender herein. Indeed, Democrats have worshiped at the temple of neoliberalism themselves—cordoning off the press and public alike at big-ticket private fundraisers, failing to stand with the working class when Republicans actively work to diminish forms of organized labor, serving special interests and other moneyed influences—and Hillary Clinton was and perhaps still is the example par excellence of the out-of-touch elitist Democrat who tries unconvincingly to appeal to the masses as one of their own. Come to think of it, by the time she had the nomination sewn up, Clinton wasn’t really trying that hard to appear down-to-earth. Or likable. Or trustworthy. She was making speeches about economic inequality while wearing a Giorgio Armani jacket. She was never going to let you know what she said in those Goldman Sachs speeches—#DealWithIt. She knew you probably didn’t believe a damn word about what she said about her E-mail server or Benghazi or the Clinton Foundation, but shit, she had come this far denying any involvement in anything underhanded, so she might as well stick to the script and try to ride out the storm, throwing darts at Donald Trump and calling his supporters “deplorables” and such. Hey, give the devil in Prada her due—it almost worked.
Almost. Instead, an American electorate, much of it deeply resentful about being looked down upon by liberal elites and ready to blame those unlike them, those who they can’t—or won’t—understand, voted Donald Trump into the White House largely based on anger, distrust, and fear. Noam Chomsky recognizes this state of politics today characterized by the rise of nationalism in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and elsewhere, seeing the prevailing trend not only as predictable, but justified. After all, these voters are raging “against socioeconomic policies which have harmed the majority of the population for a generation and have consciously and in principle undermined democratic participation.” As Chomsky concludes, “Why shouldn’t there be anger?” In Europe, as Chomsky outlines, democracy is undermined in a very “direct” way. with the likes of the European Central Bank, the European Commission, the EU’s executive wing, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) calling the shots, handing down decisions with minimal input from the bourgeoisie. The implication herein is that, in the United States, stifling democracy is done more indirectly, but no less insidiously. Among the factors cited in the rise of neoliberalism since its beginnings at the end of the 70s is the massive growth of financial institutions to encompass a larger and larger percentage of the world of corporate profits, all the while becoming disconnected from the “real economy.” Not to mention the likes of Goldman Sachs is well represented in the Trump administration, despite the boast #45 would “drain the swamp” from the jump.
Noam Chomsky goes into even more depth concerning which specific doctrines are to be considered forerunners of the modern neoliberal tradition and, for that matter, the neoconservative movement. I’ll let you seek that out and fill in the gaps as you see fit. The main idea is yet quite apparent, though. From both sides of the political equation, the bargaining and decision-making power of the American public has been nullified—and this is by design. On the conservative side, the rhetoric has been one of vilifying the “godless” left and taking back the country from these “rampaging” sorts. Apparently, it takes a cadre of crusaders to nullify the dangerous advances of a national liberal agenda. We must protect our bathrooms and our businesses from all this LGBT nonsense! On the liberal side, meanwhile, there is an active suppression of the more authentic grassroots forces on this end of the spectrum, and this clash of ideals would appear to be exemplified in the current battle for the soul of the Democratic Party between its more traditionalist wing and its upstart progressive faction.
This, broadly speaking, is why we have the Democratic National Committee essentially admitting it intentionally thwarted Bernie Sanders’ presidential aspirations, or Democratic leadership inserting Tom Perez into the mix for chair of the DNC, a largely ceremonial position, pointedly to proscribe Keith Ellison’s chances. As for Hillary Clinton, her dismissive comments of the recent past and the not-so-recent past are of the ilk that even the staunchest Democratic loyalists would be wont to cringe. Baskets of deplorables. Super predators to be “brought to heel.” The Trans-Pacific Partnership as the “gold standard” in trade deals. The now-infamous “Why aren’t I 50 points ahead?” comment. The knock on Hillary over the years is that her opinions on policy issues have changed markedly from moment to moment, and while she and her supporters would characterize this as an “evolution” of her viewpoints, others less inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt see it as a chameleonic tendency to pivot her position to suit her political needs. Criminal justice reform, gay marriage, Iraq, the Keystone XL pipeline, trade—on these issues and more, Clinton has not only changed her stated position, but for certain topics, has shifted appreciably in a short time. Perhaps at no time was this more glaring than during the 2016 primaries, when her critics saw her ideas “evolve” seemingly in response to concern about Bernie’s prolonged and fervent support from his base, thus marking a stark contrast between the two candidates. For better or worse, Bernie stuck to his guns. Contrasted with the shiftiness of Clinton and the babbling incoherence of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders easily emerged as the most authentic of the candidates running last year. Of course, authenticity goes only so far when you’re fighting an establishment candidate aided by superdelegates, not to mention your own relative obscurity and stances the naysayers deride as “unrealistic” and “socialist.” Universal health care? What, you want everyone to have access to quality health care? What an asshole!
Based on my admiration for Bernie and my 2,500-or-so words up to this point, it might appear that I think Hillary Clinton is a bad person. The truth is, I don’t, if for no other reason than I don’t really know what she believes. The HRC we know today strikes me as someone who is a product of this political system that has justifiably caused so much resentment and unrest among the constituencies of countries all over the world, one that values campaign donations and votes over ideas and real progress. Perhaps I am naïve to think in this way, and should consider Hillary a more-than-willing participant in the political games that pass for discourse and negotiation today. Then again, Clinton is not the only bad actor in this regard. Wait a minute—I sound like Hillary trying to defend herself about her use of a private E-mail server. Have I started thinking like Hillary Clinton? Get it off! GET IT OFF!
Regardless of what I may believe of her, though, the prevailing opinion of the Pantsuit Valkyrie still seems fairly negative, although it is probably helped by the shit-show that is President Trump’s tenure thus far. Hell, Trump’s first 100+ days have been so bad it almost has made liberals like myself pine for the days of George W. Bush. Almost. The creation of vaguely sympathetic figures in Hillary and Dubya and James Comey post-firing notwithstanding, and whether or not she has any political aspirations for 2020 or beyond, the retrospective blame game is not one that benefits the Democratic Party, nor does it reflect kindly on the person throwing stones in a proverbial glass house. Besides, speaking of glass and ceilings and all, while it certainly is neither mine nor any man’s place to tell Hillary Clinton what to do with her political career, if she feels she has anything left to prove, she might be advised to think better of it and consider all that she has achieved. She’s been a First Lady, a U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, was the first female nominee of a major U.S. political party, and won the 2016 popular vote. That’s, ahem, not too shabby. Plus, if endeavors like the Clinton Foundation really are as meritorious as members of her party and the media would make it seem, then she just as well could devote the bulk of her efforts to this cause. And then there’s the occasional six-figure speaking fee. Not that she needs the money, mind you, but I suppose she feels valued because of it.
So yes, in summary, Hillary Clinton was not the worst presidential candidate or perhaps even a bad candidate, but given the Democratic Party’s profound recent struggles, her personal baggage, and an electorate more angry about being marginalized by the nation’s “elites” than someone like me can profess to remember, she is not the kind of dynamic, grassroots-oriented leader the Dems should want. Accordingly, I have but one further piece of advice: please, Hillary, go back into hiding. It might be better for all of us if you do.
Don’t get me wrong—Tom Perez, the newly-elected chair of the Democratic National Committee, seems like a nice enough guy, not to mention that as Hillary Clinton’s nomination for the office of President of the United States was an historic one because it meant that a woman was a presidential nominee for a major political party for the first time, so too is Perez’s victory in that he holds the distinction of being the first Latino DNC chair in the party’s storied history. Also as with Clinton’s capture of the nomination, once more, the emphasis from ranking members of the Democratic Party and from its most fervent supporters is on a unified party as the best way to defeat Donald Trump and other Republicans in Congress and down the ticket. Unfortunately, much in the way tensions between factions in the Democratic Party have lingered related to the presidential race and behind-the-scenes machinations of the Democratic National Committee, so too does a power play within the party related to the DNC vote threaten to undermine this call to arms and further sow the seeds of division among registered Democrats and would-be Democratic voters. Along these lines, and in short, when it comes to the notion of whether or not the Democratic Party has learned anything from its pattern of losses in the Senate and House and gubernatorial seats, aside from the obvious in their electoral loss to Trump this past November, the apparent answer is no, and it begs the question: will it anytime soon?
Let’s first step back and look at the particulars of the vote itself. Though there were other qualified candidates for the position of DNC chair on the ballot, so to speak, this was essentially a two-horse race between Tom Perez, the Obama administration’s pick to fill the vacancy left by Donna Brazile, who would not be continuing in her capacity as interim chair after Debbie Wasserman Schultz essentially left the post in disgrace, and Keith Ellison, backed by Bernie Sanders, prominent Democrats, various labor organizations, and more progressive members of the party. Perez missed the necessary majority of 214.5 votes (427 were cast) in the first round of voting by a scant one vote, requiring a second round of voting. In that second round, he was able to officially outlast Ellison to 235 to 200. Suffice it to say the vote was a close one, but what did not appear to be close was the enthusiasm behind the candidates, at least from those in attendance there in Atlanta where the vote took place. Jonathan Easley, writing for The Hill as part of a live blog about the proceedings, had this to say about Keith Ellison’s level of support:
It is clear who has the energy here. Ellison’s supporters are loud and in charge and erupting at every chance. “Don’t mourn organize!,” declared Ellison backer and labor leader Randi Weingarten to an outburst of shouts and applause. Minnesota Democratic leader Ken Martin followed, noting that Ellison’s district has gone from the lowest turnout in the state to the highest. “This party is going to rise from the ashes under Keith Ellison,” he said, turning out another standing ovation.
Like Perez, Ellison stressed unity. “Unity is essential, we have to walk out here unified, not just between the candidates but the groups that support all the candidates,” Ellison said. But if Ellison doesn’t win his enthusiastic supporters are going to be extremely let down.
As with Bernie Sanders’ concession of the nomination to Hillary Clinton, needless to say they were let down, as I was. I’m not sure that they were all that surprised, though. I sure wasn’t. This is the Democratic Party we’re talking about here, an organization primarily devoted to fundraising, and only secondarily to change, which it sees fit to dole out incrementally. Back in December, I wrote a piece devoted to the very topic of Keith Ellison’s bid for DNC chair, detailing why voting committee members may not have supported the representative from the state of Minnesota, and surmising that, despite the enthusiasm behind his campaign and endorsements from key political figures, Democrats may well pick someone other than Ellison because, well, they’ve made a habit of making poor decisions lately and getting behind the wrong candidates. About a month-and-a-half removed from the election, the complete list of people running for the top post in the Democratic National Committee had yet to be fully formed, and wounds from the presidential campaign and election were still fairly fresh. At that time, resistance to Keith Ellison’s designs to be DNC chair seemed strongest from those resenting his identity as a Bernie backer, with those vowing to vote for anyone but him dining on the faulty notion that Sanders cost Clinton the election. (Primarily, Hillary lost herself the election, though it was a complex mix of factors that lay behind the Dems’ electoral demise in November.) If the old standby about party unity above all else was a genuinely-held sentiment, come February when the vote was scheduled to take place, these frustrations had a chance to be brought down to a simmer and more people could conceivably have warmed to the idea of Keith Ellison as Donna Brazile’s/Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s successor.
A little over two months later, though, with the race for DNC chair having run its course and more candidates having entered the fray, the apparent reasons for Committee members to bypass Ellison in favor of someone else are yet more insidious and no less galling to progressives and younger Democratic voters. Keith Ellison announced his candidacy for Democratic National Committee chair on November 14, 2016, and pledged to forfeit his seat in the House of Representatives if elected on December 7. On December 15, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez announced his candidacy, endorsed by the likes of Joe Biden and other Obama administration figures. Why do I mention these details concerning the chronology of the race for DNC chair? As Glenn Greenwald, writing for The Intercept, argues, “the timeline here is critical.” Greenwald, who has written more than one piece on the resistance Ellison faced as a candidate to head the DNC, asks not why Perez ran, but knowingly questions why the White House recruited Perez to oppose Ellison. His analysis, as he himself readily acknowledges, owes a certain debt to an article authored by Clio Chang for New Republic, which tries to make sense of choosing Tom Perez in the first place. After all, if Keith Ellison and Tom Perez are ideologically similar, why bother actively trying to torpedo the chances of the former to buoy those of the latter?
The distinction between the two candidates, as Greenwald and Chang detail, is a two-headed monster in it of itself. The first, er, head is found in the death grip the Democratic Party establishment has evidenced it wants to maintain on leadership of and, thus, direction of the party at large. Clio Chang explains:
It appears that the underlying reason some Democrats prefer Perez over Ellison has nothing to do with ideology, but rather his loyalty to the Obama wing. As the head of the DNC, Perez would allow that wing to retain more control, even if Obama-ites are loath to admit it. Sanders has been accused of re-litigating the primary in his criticisms of Perez, but the fact that Perez was pushed to run, while Ellison was quickly and easily unifying the left and center, seems like the move most predicated on primary scars.
In reasoning out the conflict that manifested in the form of the split between supporters of Ellison and Perez, Chang diminishes the “progressive vs. establishment” narrative that has been spun by various outside sources trying to fashion a frame of reference for their audiences, in favor of depicting the struggle as a power struggle. Barack Obama and others high up on the Democratic Party food chain were uneasy about giving Keith Ellison and his less-moderate supporters too much control. This is almost unquestionably related to the antagonistic attitude Ellison and his main man Bernie Sanders have taken against big-ticket donations and highly-paid consultants. The Democrats may view themselves as morally superior to their counterparts in the Republican Party, but on the subject of money, they are all but addicted to mega-bucks fundraisers and wealthy patrons much as the GOP is. Chang connects this resistance among the Democratic elite to grassroots organizing and fundraising to a similar battle fought over the simultaneous existence of the Democratic National Committee and Organizing for America, Obama’s grassroots fundraising creation from his initial campaign. Ultimately, the DNC absorbed this separate organization, and as Chang highlights, critics of the move blame it in part for the string of losses the Dems have suffered since Obama was first sworn in. The Democratic Party seems expressly averse to a reliance on bottom-up change and small donations, and a separate resolution by those voting Committee members at the festivities in Atlanta against a ban on corporate donations to the DNC exhibits this attitude perfectly.
Glenn Greenwald, meanwhile, while he acknowledges the White House’s role in thwarting Keith Ellison’s hopes to be DNC chair, also sees a more reprehensible dimension to his opposition, and from additional parties as well. Ellison, as you may well know, is the first Muslim to serve as a member of Congress. In the past, all the way back to his days as a college student, he expressed support for the likes of Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, before reversing his position on them and condemning their anti-Semitic positions. This personal history of Ellison’s, while it could be and was used as fodder against him politically, was not enough to disqualify him in the minds of DNC voting members. His attitudes on Israel, however, break with the mainstream bipartisan lip service that the United States government pays to our chief ally in the Middle East. At first glance, the combination looks bad. A Muslim—waxing philosophical about our relationship with Istael—oy vey! In all seriousness, though, and in reality, Ellison’s past commentary on U.S.-Israel relations is relatively benign, all things considered. By a sizable margin, Israel receives the most aid of any foreign nation from the U.S., mostly in the form of training and weaponry for use by the Israeli Defense Forces. Keith Ellison, like any number of other critics, is justified in wondering why we shower Israel with money when they aggressively pursue the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and disputed territory in East Jerusalem against the consensus within the international community. To this end, why do we kowtow to Israel at the expense of our relationship with much of the Arab and Muslim world?
As you might have guessed with respect to these questions and in general, where there’s money, there’s an answer. Keith Ellison, because he appears more amenable to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and because he is not more staunchly pro-Israel, is at odds with wealthy Jewish patrons who possess strong ties to the upper ranks of the Democratic Party. In particular, billionaire Haim Saban, the foremost donor to the Democratic Party and both Hillary and Bill Clinton’s campaigns, demonstrably labeled Ellison an anti-Semite and an anti-Israel individual, and the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization Greenwald slyly quips is ironically named in this instance, saw fit to chime in with their reservations about Ellison and his views on Israel. Their combined influence and lobbying translates to considerable power in Democratic Party circles, and since we know the Democrats can’t get enough of big, fat campaign contributions, they are inapt to risk such important sources of revenue. The result was character assassination at its finest of Keith Ellison leading up to the chair vote. Coming from members of a group that identifies itself as the “chosen people,” it would seem the Jews pulling the strings are quite choosy themselves.
Whether seeing the progressive challenger with rabid support on the left as something of a nuisance or an outright threat, as with attempts to deep-six Bernie Sanders’ chances to capture the presidential nomination for the Democrats by discrediting him or showing favoritism to Hillary Clinton, the establishment candidate, the smear campaign against Keith Ellison by people and organizations close to the Democratic Party alongside the power play made by the Obama White House in the first place to prop up Tom Perez betrays an unwillingness to authentically embrace party members and supporters more to the left on the political spectrum, often coinciding with younger entrants into the field. What’s more, in all likelihood, both moves were patently unnecessary on the part of those scheming to influence the final result. Going back to the primary race and clear evidence of bias in favor of Clinton on the part of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donna Brazile, and others involved with the Democratic National Committee, as revealed by Wikileaks’ DNC leaks, for all their machinations, Hillary was almost certainly going to capture the nomination. Sanders did provide a spirited challenge for the bid, but Clinton had the support of superdelegates before the race even began, not to mention entrenched, loyal support elsewhere. In the case of Ellison and Perez, meanwhile, the thing that is perplexing to many is the notion the DNC chair is, as Glenn Greenwald describes it, “a largely functionary position, with little real power over party policy or messaging.” As Clio Chang helps buttress this notion, the role of chair is designed to help win elections by increasing turnout and facilitating small-dollar donations, and Ellison is well-experienced in this regard. But apparently, his progressive base of support is neither allowed by the Democrats to have its cake, nor is it allowed to eat it. And, if we’re sticking with the whole birthday party analogy, they are being asked to clean up afterwards, not be petty, and unite. For the good of the party.
All this chicanery, it can be argued, is detrimental to the Democratic Party’s ability to strengthen its base, particularly among younger voters and independents. The DNC’s bias in favor of Hillary Clinton only fueled sentiments that the primaries were “rigged” against Bernie Sanders, serving to erode confidence in a Democratic vote that was already shaky to begin with given Clinton’s scandal-dotted past. Now, with Tom Perez capturing the post of DNC chair over Keith Ellison despite the latter’s enthusiastic following, this fuels the whispers among Sanders supporters that something truly iniquitous has occurred, and in turn, that the Dems don’t really want them at the adults’ table, so to speak. It certainly didn’t help perception matters when, as noted in the Jonathan Easley live blog, the electronic recording devices initially planned on being used to record the chair vote were scrapped in favor of a paper balloting system mid-stream under the pretense that the devices were vulnerable to manipulation and thus unreliable. Then why even have them there at the event in the first place? This just makes it appear as if there is something to hide, a notion not lost on the Ellison supporters in attendance.
Tom Perez may be well suited to serve in his current capacity as DNC chair, and almost certainly will end his tenure on a higher note than either Debbie Wasserman Schultz or Donna Brazile did. Keith Ellison, because he is loyal to the Democratic Party, will soldier on as deputy chair, lending his support serving in a role that is seemingly of even less consequence than the chair itself. Once more, the Democratic Party brass has evidenced it is resistant to change, unwilling to move away from a moderate position, and that it simply doesn’t understand the American electorate—or doesn’t want to. Conceived of in different terms, it is playing not to lose, hoping its distinctiveness from Donald Trump and the regressive politics of the Republican Party are enough to win it back seats all the way up the levels of government. As sports fans can attest to, however, playing not to lose rarely is a sound strategy, especially when you’re already losing. The Democrats haven’t learned anything from their recent electoral defeats, and as the old saw goes that those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, their prospects for 2018 and 2020 already look bleak.
The Democratic National Committee is not scheduled to elect a new chairperson to replace interim chair Donna Brazile until the end of February 2017—from the 23rd to the 26th, to be precise. If DNC voting members are smart, they’ll choose Rep. Keith Ellison, who hails from Minnesota’s 5th District. Seeing as the Democratic Party has done some pretty dumb things as of late, however, and has not managed to overcome the yet-more exceedingly dumb things done and said by Donald Trump and the Republican Party, at least not with respect to what has transpired in voting booths across America, there’s every chance they won’t. Apparently, Democrats are trying to keep the trend of being disappointed in our elected officials alive and well straight through until next year. Um, hooray?
I say, er, write these things in reference to a recent article by Gabriel Debenedetti and Daniel Strauss on Politico, which cites an E-mail survey conducted of 447 voting Democratic National Committee members and suggests Ellison’s early lead in these polls is anything but secure. According to those either surveyed or interviewed for the piece, a majority have yet to make up their minds, and a significant portion of them seem to be waiting for one or more potential candidates to officially declare to run for the position at the head of the DNC. To a certain extent, this makes sense. As part of the decision-making process, you would like to have as full a complement of choices as possible—although too many choices can really cause anxiety and gum up the proverbial works when it comes to reaching a final conclusion with any due sense of alacrity. But whatever, let the voters be fussy.
Refusing to endorse or officially declare for a particular candidate at this stage in the game is one thing. What, or should I say who concerns me, though, is those individuals quoted for the Debenedetti and Strauss article who seem to already have their minds made up against certain candidates, and based on prejudices held over from the election, no less. One Committee member cited in the piece in particular, a William Owen from the state of Tennessee, both aggravates and unnerves me for what he stands for and what he may represent regarding the 447-person DNC electorate as a whole. An excerpt to illustrate:
Ellison may be the choice of many Democratic leaders and a hefty portion of the grass roots — he cleared a major obstacle last week by pledging to resign his seat in Congress if he becomes chairman, and he has scored backing from a wide range of party influencers including Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer — but there’s no easy glide path ahead.
Ellison has worked hard to appeal to both sides of the party, but he nonetheless engenders by far the most impassioned responses from DNC members, both positive and negative.
One reason is that the shadow of the contentious presidential primary continues to hang over the party, and some DNC members view the Minnesota congressman as part of the faction that delivered a mortal wound to Clinton, despite his best efforts to convince them otherwise.
“Ellison is not the front-runner, Ellison has no chance at all,” said Tennessee committeeman William Owen, giving voice to that view. “I’m a Hillary person. Bill Clinton said, ‘I’ll be with you till the last dog dies,’ and I’m the last dog. I will not vote for Keith Ellison, I will not vote for a Bernie person. I think they cost Hillary the election, and now they’re going to live with Donald Trump. Donald Trump asks, ‘What do you have to lose?’ Nothing, except life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Please excuse me while I place my face against my palm. Thank you. Here we go again with the “Bernie cost Hillary the election” bit. Like the “Nader cost Gore the election” narrative from the 2000 election, I find this charge to be overblown, and here’s why:
1. Bernie Sanders gave Hillary Clinton a run for her money when it came to the Democratic Party nomination. Perhaps she was always going to win, but that the race went on as long as it did speaks to both the strength of Sanders’ message and Clinton’s weakness as a candidate. If you believe Bernie is to blame because he exposed Hillary’s flaws during the primaries, that’s your prerogative, but chances are Donald Trump and his Republican supporters were going to point out her shortcomings anyway. Regardless, in case anyone forgot, Bernie Sanders swallowed his pride and rallied behind Hillary Clinton in an effort to gather support for the Democratic Party nominee. It didn’t work, but that’s not Bernie’s fault.
2. Speaking of getting behind Hillary, Bernie on numerous occasions cautioned his followers and other voters not to cast their ballot for the sake of a “protest vote.” That is, he felt it was the wrong time to consider voting for Gary “What Is An Aleppo?” Johnson or Jill “Hey, I’m a Medical Doctor” Stein. Assuming those who voted for either third-party candidate were primarily younger voters, Bernie Sanders is not their father. He couldn’t force his supporters to pick a candidate they don’t like any more than my adult father can try to get me to eat spinach. I KNOW IT’S GOOD FOR ME, BUT I DON’T LIKE THE CONSISTENCY, OK?
3. When push comes to shove, you know who ultimately lost the election for Hillary Clinton? Hillary Clinton. Continuing the discussion from Point #2, Aaron Blake of TheWashington Post notes how Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, pointed to a smaller advantage among millennials than Barack Obama enjoyed in 2012, and worse than was predicted for Clinton even noting Obama’s singular appeal. In other words, as Blake put it, “Yes, you can blame millennials for Hillary Clinton’s loss.”
OK, this is all well and good, but now that we’re done with scapegoating an entire generation, let’s consider that she couldn’t beat a candidate who was as disliked as she was, something Aaron Blake notes toward the end of the article. Millennials disliked Hillary Clinton more than liked her by a narrow margin, but they hated (Blake himself adds this emphasis) Donald Trump, to the tune of a 22% approval rating among likely voters. That Hillary still couldn’t make up the difference speaks volumes, as far as I’m concerned. Besides, if we’re blaming voters, why point fingers at those who didn’t vote for Clinton and not at those who went all aboard the Trump Train? Or is that just what we’d expect from a bunch of “deplorables”?
See, this is the kind of mentality that has me convinced the Democrats don’t really “get it” when it comes to why they are generally losing more than they are winning, especially when their name is not Barack Obama. Case in point: Hillary Clinton herself. We haven’t really heard from the only female presidential nominee of a major party in American history since her defeat in the general election, but recently she broke her silence on why she believes she lost. And much as she has deflected blame when it has come to her use of one or more private E-mail servers to view classified messages as Secretary of State, Clinton is all-too-quick to point to external factors as reasons why she was unsuccessful in her bid to win the presidency. As Amy Chozick of The New York Timeswrites, Hillary spoke to a group of donors to her presidential campaign in Manhattan, and talked about how Vladimir Putin has a “personal beef” against her and this is why he ordered Russian’s hacking attacks, and furthermore, that FBI director James Comey’s letter raising new questions about her use of E-mail released a week before Election Day led to her loss in key swing states. Even if these things are true, though, to take such a defiant tone and to look past her own failings arguably takes the wrong tack.
When Bernie Sanders eventually conceded the Democratic Party nomination, there was no talk on his part of being cheated by the Democratic National Committee—even though we eventually learned there was collusion on the part of Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other key figures in the DNC to subvert his campaign—but rather an emphasis on what the Sanders campaign meant in terms of setting off a political revolution. The focus was on the inclusion and involvement of new entrants into the political sphere, and not on his own personal achievement. To Hillary Clinton and her campaign, it was Director Comey. It was the Electoral College. It was the media. It was millennials. It was Putin. It was Russia. It was third-party candidates. It was Trump’s rabid supporters. Again, these may all have been contributing factors, but for Clinton to negate her own failings would seem to betray her arrogance. After all, if Vladimir Putin and the Russians tried to hack the election, it couldn’t have been about Donald Trump—it had to be about her, right? Only all these elements conspiring against her could bring down the most qualified presidential candidate in modern history, no?
It would be one thing if Democrats were in a strong position to be so principled about their choices of leadership alongside their professed loyalty for certain members of the party. In this case, it would make more sense that Democratic National Committee voting members such as William Owen are willing to continue holding a grudge over a contentious primary season at the possible expense of the party. But the Democratic Party isn’t playing with house money these days. At a recent rally for Keith Ellison in Washington, D.C. at the headquarters of the American Federation of Teachers, Bernie Sanders, in introducing Ellison, made certain to illuminate how Democrats have lost significant ground to Republicans over the past few years, culminating in a devastating series of losses at the state and national level right up to the White House.
In Sanders’ view and in an opinion shared by others, this signifies the Democratic Party isn’t doing something right strategically. As has been his rallying cry and as Keith Ellison has echoed in his own plan for a new path forward for the Dems, the growth of the party and positive change must come from the bottom up, not from the top down. Ellison framed this when he took the microphone in terms of a “3007-county strategy.” As he put it, “We need a town strategy. We need a precinct strategy. The resources need to be moved down closer to the voter.” This is important language regarding organizational structure for a political party that saw voters reject the kind of rich patronage someone like Hillary Clinton so clearly embraced. Of course, these are only words of Keith Ellison’s, and are primarily designed to garner political support for himself. But that doesn’t make what he’s talking about less worthy of aspiration. Because Barack Obama wasn’t able to achieve everything he talked about on the campaign trail, does that mean hope and change are mere illusions? Have we suddenly soured on the whole political process because tens of millions of people were stupid enough to elect Donald Trump?
Even those DNC members who are not as vehemently anti-Sanders as William Owen, I fear, don’t truly have their finger on the pulse of the wants and needs of a growing segment of support within the party. Going back to the Politico piece, here’s a quote from Daniel Hynes, another Democratic National Committee voting member, I found vaguely troubling:
“I’m hoping that there’s another candidate that’s going to emerge. I’m not really happy with the candidates that are out there,” said Illinois committeeman Daniel Hynes, echoing sentiments relayed over and over in interviews over the past week. “I don’t know who that person is, I just think it’s someone who’s detached from Washington, somebody who’s full-time, somebody who’s from the moderate side of the party, and somebody who’s going to steer the party back towards our ability to appeal to middle-class working Americans.”
Hmm, so you want someone who is not a member of the Democratic establishment, but someone who should have a clue about the inner workings of D.C. politics. Oh, and they shouldn’t be too liberal and should have blue-collar appeal. Um, you realize you’ve either described Bernie Sanders minus the moderate part, or—gulp!—Donald Trump minus the clue part. And Trump was only moderate as a by-product of more recently embracing conservative ideals and not having much to say in the way of concrete policy goals. Waiting on a candidate who ticks off all those boxes and is as dynamic as someone like a Sanders or even an Elizabeth Warren is, frankly speaking, asking a bit much.
More importantly, though, this dogged insistence on having a representative of the Democratic Party who hews too close to center arguably is a self-defeating proposition. Outside of her hawkish predisposition with respect to foreign policy, Hillary Clinton was too moderate for her own good, and Tim Kaine, whom John Oliver referred to as the human equivalent of a sweater vest, didn’t help matters. Despite the Democrats’ win in the popular vote for the presidency, they still lost the election, and have gotten shellacked otherwise outside of Barack Obama’s victories the past several years. Insisting on someone more moderate, therefore—in effect, playing not to lose—makes little sense when you’re already losing.
The most energized we have seen liberals and Democratic voters of late, meanwhile, has been behind the vision of people like Bernie Sanders for a more progressive direction for the Democratic Party and the nation, one that has captivated younger voters and thus is key to the source of growth the party will need going forward. With this in mind, the path forward existing Democratic Party leadership needs to embrace is one of bold leadership and an insistence on grass-roots organization that engages both new entrants into the voting process and working-class voters who the Dems seemingly have all but abandoned. And right now, Keith Ellison is the candidate for DNC chair who is best iterating these values and who has the backing of key figures within the party. If the voting members are smart, they’ll choose him to help the Democratic Party regain ground lost to a Republican Party that has made fear of change its raison d’être. If the present insights from members of the Democratic National Committee are any indication, though, the Democrats are not even close to being ready to go bold and far enough to make that a reality.
We had the 2016 presidential election, which sucked. We talked about why the 2016 election sucked. (Short answer: because the candidates both sucked and half the country made a stupid choice.) We’ve discussed just how much it’s going to suck should what we think what is going to happen actually comes to fruition. Therefore, in contemplating just how profound the suckitude, if you will, will prove, we have put the election behind us and are ready to move on and steel ourselves for the politics of the years to come. Right?
Not so fast. By now, most of us get the gist of what went down but a few weeks ago both in terms of the Electoral College and the popular vote. Concerning the former, which is what counts given our current system, Donald Trump carried Election Night. His 306 electoral votes, ahem, trump Hillary Clinton’s 232, an advantage secured by winning 30 states to his rival’s 20. Conversely, with respect to the latter, Clinton had the better showing; as of this writing, over 125 million votes have been counted, and her tally of 64.8 million bests Trump’s figure of 62.5 million, more than 2 million more. Percentage-wise, it’s still close—Hillary captured about 48.0% of the vote to Trump’s 46.3%—but no matter how you slice it, the woman of 1,000 pantsuits won the popular vote. You can’t take away the historic nature of her nomination as the Democratic Party nominee for President of these United States, and you can’t act as if, to borrow a Trump-ism, Hillary Clinton got “schlonged” in the general election.
These realities of the election seem pretty much ironclad. So what’s the lingering preoccupation with the results, especially on the part of people who supported and/or voted for Hillary? Aren’t they just kidding themselves, living in a state of denial? While on some level this may be the case, to be fair, some of the outcomes of individual states were close contests. Like, really close. In Michigan, for example, Donald Trump captured 16 electoral votes on the strength of a margin of victory of less than 10,000 votes, a difference of only about two-tenths of a percent. In Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, too, a divide of only about 1% separates who won and who lost, with the victor (Trump) earning 10 or more electoral votes despite the slim advantage. Noting these narrow wins, which would appear to fall within some sort of margin of error, it wouldn’t be outrageous to think that error alone could have swayed the results in one candidate’s favor. Or, perhaps something more nefarious.
If only there were some way to verify whether or not the purported vote totals in key states are accurate, or at least more accurate than previously determined. Oh, wait—there is. It’s called a recount. As in counting again. When the tallies are this close between candidates, it’s not only advisable to effect a re-running of the ballots through the machine, but one might argue it should be necessary. If the results in swing states and other close contests are enough to potentially sway the election, shouldn’t it be incumbent upon the powers-that-be in these jurisdictions to revisit the vote counts for the peace of mind of the electorate as well as their own sense of self-respect for wanting to do their jobs correctly? Suppose a county clerk in one of these states went rogue and inserted the ballots of 20,000 dead people and fictional characters for his or her candidate of choice. If Darth Vader and Kylo Ren voted for Donald Trump in Lancaster County, PA (they totally would vote Trump if given the choice, by the way—you know they would), I, as a voter from this area, would want to know as much. From what we know of history, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that local voting officials might try to game the results coming out of their district.
This last scenario speaks to more than just the possibility of error in the processing of people’s ballots, but in line with the idea of something more “nefarious” happening, electoral fraud occurring within the 2016 election. Now, with all due respect, even during the primary season, reports of fraud and voter disenfranchisement were rampant on the Internet and social media. Anecdotally, I observed a number of Bernie Sanders supporters/political conspiracy theorists indiscriminately hurling around accusations that Hillary Clinton’s campaign and its friends in high places were rigging the electoral process in her favor. With yet more due respect, as Wikileaks has helped convey, the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee, and members of the news media were more than a little chummy with one another, and especially on the part of the DNC, deliberately operated and spoke against the Sanders campaign. Within the specific sphere of influence of primary voting, however, a lot of these reports are, if not unfounded, then otherwise unproven. As much as I might be loath to admit it, Hillary Clinton fairly easily outpaced Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party primaries, and even if independent voters were allowed to cast ballots for one of the two in these party primaries (many states did not permit this), Clinton likely still would’ve come out ahead. Of course, we’ll never know for sure what would’ve happened had Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Co. not acted so conspiratorially and/or undeclared voters had been given an authentic voice, but let’s not act as if fraud completely got her the nomination.
With all this in mind, though, let’s also not completely negate the possibility that something underhanded occurred with respect to voting in one or more key regions, and furthermore, that those instrumental in influencing American votes were based outside the United States. While Hillary Clinton and her campaign were awfully quick to throw out the specter of Russia as a deleterious force in our electoral process (that is, while the Russians were likely behind hacks of the Democratic National Committee which led to the Wikileaks DNC E-mail dump, they didn’t coerce the officials represented in those messages to say the disagreeable shit they did), at the same, we shouldn’t consider it impossible that skilled Russian operatives could hack the software used in our voting machines. J. Alex Halderman, professor of computer science at the University of Michigan, recently wrote a piece about this very hypothetical scenario.
As Halderman reasons, Russia has already been asserted by multiple government agencies to be behind hacks of the DNC and the E-mail of John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, as well as voter registration systems in Arizona and Illinois, not to mention the vote-counting infrastructure in Ukraine during its 2014 presidential election, almost causing the wrong winner to be announced completely. What’s more, as Prof. Halderman cites, we’ve been able to hack our own machines. Princeton professor Andrew Appel was able to do it with the help of graduate students—Halderman himself being one of them. J. Alex Halderman is reasonably certain he and his own grad students at Michigan could pull off the same caper, and with numerous states reading ballots using machines with severely-outmoded software, lacking the resources or perhaps the urgency to update what they have, the risk is all the more widespread. The solution, as Halderman and election security experts reason, seems counter-intuitively old-fashioned, but nonetheless may yet prove more effective in deterring fraud: checking the paper trail. To quote the Professor:
I know I may sound like a Luddite for saying so, but most election security experts are with me on this: paper ballots are the best available technology for casting votes. We use two main kinds of paper systems in different parts of the U.S. Either voters fill out a ballot paper that gets scanned into a computer for counting (optical scan voting), or they vote on a computer that counts the vote and prints a record on a piece of paper (called a voter-verifiable paper audit trail). Either way, the paper creates a record of the vote that can’t be later modified by any bugs, misconfiguration, or malicious software that might have infected the machines.
After the election, human beings can examine the paper to make sure the results from the voting machines accurately determined who won. Just as you want the brakes in your car to keep working even if the car’s computer goes haywire, accurate vote counts must remain available even if the machines are malfunctioning or attacked. In both cases, common sense tells us we need some kind of physical backup system. I and other election security experts have been advocating for paper ballots for years, and today, about 70% of American voters live in jurisdictions that keep a paper record of every vote.
To interpret what J. Alex Halderman is saying for my own purposes, maybe voting and the necessity of paper ballots is something with which we shouldn’t f**k around. Additionally, maybe—just maybe—we should check these records in the event of an inquiry, because these matters of choosing a president are kind of a big deal.
So, about this whole idea of a recount now. We know where we might opt for to revisit the tallies for each candidate. We know why it might be prudent to go ahead with such an electoral review. We even know who might be hacking our dadgum machines. How do we make a recount reality? Just ask Jill Stein. Wait, the Green Party presidential candidate? One and the same, reader, one and the same. As someone who voted for Stein in the general election knowing full well she wouldn’t win, it’s vaguely amusing to see opinions of her change now that she has been instrumental in fundraising and otherwise spearheading a campaign for a recount in the pivotal states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. For some voters, opinions aren’t really changing, but rather are being formed in the first place, as there’s a good chance they had no idea Jill Stein was the Green Party representative, or a representative for any party, for that matter. For the Democratic Party voters who dismissed Stein as a lightweight candidate and annoyance as a potential spoiler for Hillary Clinton’s hopes to become the United States’ first female President, many are likely regarding her with a newfound sense of appreciation, and at any rate, probably figure it’s the least she could do after taking votes from their candidate.
But about her supporters and those within the Green Party ranks? Daniel Marans, writing for Huffington Post, helps to map out the tangled web of approval and disapproval that has met Jill Stein in her quest for a three-state recount, and concerning the Green Party, Stein’s choice to challenge results in these states and primarily for the benefit of Democrats, at that, has these Green Partiers, ahem, seeing red. So, what’s got Jill’s critics up in arms? Let’s review the charges, if you will:
1. The recount doesn’t help Green Party in its efforts to build and grow.
Right, although this is the beginning of December, the election just happened, and the window to file a recount is tighter than Chris Christie in skinny jeans. One jurisdiction Marans cites in the article that Green Party brass would rather Jill Stein focus on is Texas, where a Green Party candidate almost captured the 5% of the vote to keep the party on the ballot for the 2018 midterm elections in the state. On one hand, I am sympathetic to the cause of Andrea Merida Cuellar, party co-chair, and others who feel this is an important battle to be fought for the sake of the Green Party’s initiatives and values. On the other hand, however, Stein, as the face of the party, is generating publicity for their movement, even if she happens to be “serving the interests” of Democrats in doing so. In the big picture, Stein may be doing more good for third parties than her supporters otherwise might think.
2. There are more pressing issues facing election integrity in this country.
From a purist’s standpoint, yes, there are serious problems facing the electoral process in the United States. As Kevin Zeese, adviser to Jill Stein’s campaign, notes, issues with voter registration and the prevention of people voting are pressing concerns, the kind that tends to get glossed over in the winner-takes-all format of the Electoral College. Still, Zeese and other like-minded critics behave as if these concerns are the likes of which can be quickly resolved, or that by raising support for a recount, these other pursuits will be done irreparable damage. America’s electoral system is indeed riddled with flaws, but they will not be solved overnight, and it is not as if calls for a recount do not expose additional liabilities of individual state systems.
3. If the recount is not done manually, inherent inadequacies of our electoral system will be not exposed.
It seems kind of silly that a “recount” of the balloting in key states would involve anything other than a by-hand review of the tallies for each candidate, but yet that is what is being contemplated in Wisconsin, for one, where a judge ruled that Jill Stein’s campaign could not compel the state’s 72 counties to actually count their ballots, though Daniel Marans’ Huffington Post piece notes that a majority voluntarily obliged anyhow. Otherwise, though, what would suffice as a recount would be merely re-running the votes through the machines and seeing if anything else comes out. Presumably, this could turn a spotlight on any attempts at computer fraud or external hacking, but it still seems just as likely that this would provide little solace or new information. As far as Stein is concerned, though, as with votes for the Green Party, she’ll probably take what she can get.
4. Depending on the level of Democratic Party involvement in the recount, the integrity of the results might be doubtful.
Merely petitioning for a recount, an act which might benefit Democrats, has raised suspicion among Green Party activists. Throw in the fact that Jill Stein’s representation for the sake of the recount in Michigan, Mark Brewer, was once chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, and you can understand from the appearance of things why independents and party supporters might be upset. Especially in the minds of progressives, neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party are particularly trustworthy institutions right now. That said, I think a good part of the antipathy to Stein’s mission for multiple recounts is that she apparently decided to crowd-fund and solicit the recount petitions in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin of her own volition—that is, without consulting Green Party leadership. Jill Stein is a bit of a political neophyte still, and it’s very possible she didn’t think she had to let anyone know first. From the gist of Marans’ report, though, Green Party die-hards aren’t real happy with her decision, and this could be the beginning of the end for Stein as the face of the party. It’s never easy to serve in such a role, is it?
At this writing, Wisconsin’s recount is ongoing, though Trump supporters have filed a lawsuit and request for a temporary restraining order in federal court in hopes of bringing it to a stop. Donald Trump’s camp and the Pennsylvania Republican Party have also asked a court to dismiss a recount request in Pennsylvania, where Trump’s lead has shrunk from 1% to 0.8% as some of the final votes in some counties have come in. And in Michigan, a request to prevent a recount was issued by—guess who—Donald Trump supporters, but with the state elections board vote ending in a deadlock, the case will proceed later next week unless a forthcoming court order supersedes this result. The common theme with these individual state recounts, viewed through the lens of opposition to them, obviously is that the Trump campaign and his followers really, really don’t want any recounts to occur. The reason behind this is likewise painfully clear: President-Elect Trump has everything to lose from a challenge to the results of the votes already tabulated, having secured enough electoral votes to garner victory. Bested by more than 2 million votes in the popular vote, and with potentially less than a percentage point separating the winner and loser in valuable swing states, there is sufficient reason for concern on his point. Anytime a candidate fails to win a convincing majority, I feel there should be at least some concern that a recount could produce a materially different outcome.
Jill Stein, for her part, has averred that she is asking for a recount with the best intentions. That is, she only wishes to confirm the integrity of the results—not anticipating a meaningful change in the counts already observed—and is not soliciting a review of the tallied ballots to curry favor with the Democratic Party or anything of that nature. Indeed, even with her penchant for conspiracy-theory-type disbelief of what the mainstream media tells us, she is not the one who has cast the most doubt on the veracity of the American electoral process this cycle. No, in his usual baffling, counterproductive style, it is Donald Trump himself who has cast aspersions on the fidelity of the counts thus recorded. As noted, Trump has everything to lose from challenges to the totals in key states, having captured the win with narrow margins in a few of them.
But, lo, it his losing the popular vote which has truly set him off. The self-centered egotist that he is, Trump has built his legacy on the iconography of being a “winner”—of course, with a healthy heaping of helping from his father, as well as his evident ability to lie, cheat and steal his way to greater fortune—such that winning the presidency is not good enough for him, apparently. Indeed, losing the popular vote has stuck in Mr. Trump’s craw, to the extent he has challenged the results in his own grouping of states, and most reprehensibly, says he would have won if not for the “millions of people who voted illegally.” He’s not saying it directly, but you know he’s saying it in a way for his faithful to interpret in such a way: he’s accusing undocumented immigrants of voting for Hillary Clinton. Non-citizens, as we know, are unable to vote in presidential elections, and to wit, election officials and reporting news media outlets have found no evidence that such widespread fraud occurred in the 2016 election. What’s more, to have millions of people voting illegally for the same candidate suggests collusion on the part of Democrats. It’s believable enough for the crackpots among us, but reckless as f**k otherwise. It’s not like this is the first time we’ve heard this charge from the man, either. Even before Election Day, Donald Trump preemptively insinuated the election would be proven as “rigged” if he lost the state of Pennsylvania. He still might, mind you, but why even invite this allegation for a specific state? To your non-supporters, it only makes you seem more suspicious. What can you say, though? Dude’s worse than a sore loser—he’s a sore winner.
Whatever you call him, insinuations of this sort are a dick move on Trump’s part, as the American people’s flagging confidence in politicians and voting doesn’t need any more grease to help it along a downward path. According to this article by Daniel S. Levine on Heavy.com, an estimated 57.9% of eligible voters voted in the 2016 presidential election. That’s better than half, but still low by international standards. Moreover, according to survey information, even fewer have deep and abiding confidence in the electoral process as a whole. In a Pew Research report authored by researchers Betsy Cooper, Daniel Cox, Rachel Lienesch, and Robert P. Jones and published less than a month before Election Day, 43% of the individuals surveyed said they had great confidence that their vote would be counted accurately, and a significant gap was found between the confidence of intended Clinton voters and Trump supporters—with those riding the Trump Train pulling down the overall average. Donald Trump isn’t just casting a single line in the hopes of eroding public confidence in the electoral process—he’s chumming the water. And a significant portion of Americans, like sharks smelling blood, are eating it up. This would be fine if it were Shark Week, but it’s not, and this country doesn’t need help in fomenting its innermost fears. I mean, if Trump said snakes and spiders were attacking Americans on the regular and thus presented a present danger to the United States, I tend to believe too many of us would have clubs and tissues on hand, ready to bludgeon and squish these creatures in a spirit of bloodlust and wanton destruction. As far as many of us are concerned, it’s a scary time, politically speaking, in this country.
Now that I’ve mentioned sharks and snakes and spiders, you may be dredging up all sorts of personal nightmares, so let’s bring this discussion back to its central thrust. Should we have a recount in crucial swing states? Sure, it couldn’t hurt, and if we are really concerned about pervasive fraud, we should encourage such examinations of the accuracy of the vote, right, Mr. Trump? What does Jill Stein’s involvement in recount efforts mean for the future of the Green Party? I don’t know, but all the pissing and moaning about potentially helping the Democratic Party’s cause seems rather short-sighted. We get it—major parties are not to be trusted—but occasionally, the interests of both parties do coincide, especially when Donald Trump is up to no good. What do we make of Trump’s ranting and raving about millions of people voting illegally? Quite frankly, very little, and once again, it’s upsetting the mainstream media is not more vocal in denouncing his false claims. For an institution like the news media, you would think they would understand the importance of maintaining and bolstering public confidence when they have faced their own difficulties in attracting and keeping customers, but as usual, the lure of short-term ratings numbers are evidently too much to ignore. Finally, where does all this leave us? As with the future of the Green Party, one can’t tell for sure, but one thing is certain: though a winner has been called, the 2016 presidential election is far from over. Unfortunately.