Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Saturday, May 14th, 2016.


They Aren’t Listening to Us

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Obama Administration

Following up the last post, I want to direct you to an article by Ted Morgan: “This isn’t how a democracy should work.”

In his book “Democracy, Inc.,” the late, distinguished political scientist Sheldon Wolin has argued that we have a “managed democracy,” that elite “management” of elections is the key to perpetuating the “primal myth” that the people determine the rulers. As Wolin put it, this “antidemocracy” doesn’t attack the idea of government by the people, it encourages “civic demobilization” – conditioning the electorate to be aroused for a brief spell, controlling its attention span, and then encouraging distraction or apathy.

Yeah, pretty much.

For decades, going back to another supreme practitioner of cultural politics, Ronald Reagan, the right side of the elite has moved into a dominant political position by sounding unconventional, like they are on the side of millions of Americans who have long felt that their place in society and the economy is being marginalized. The right consistently trots out scapegoats – “liberals,” protesters, “welfare cheats,” immigrants, Muslims, etc. – to “explain” why this audience’s fortunes are declining.

This is the faux populism that the right has mastered in its ride to power. It’s also the faux populism of advertisers when they suggest they’re on our side as we try to make our lives better. But neither one is on the side of the people. They’re all on the side of corporate America. Despite his conservative rhetoric, Ronald Reagan arguably did more than any other president to accelerate the decline of family-supporting jobs and manufacturing communities than anyone else. Similarly, with the Trump campaign, building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico won’t improve the livelihood of American citizens one iota. But it feels that way to significant numbers of Americans.

There’s no question that the Right has done a better job than the Left of generating faux populism and making it downright tribal. But the Dems keep trying.

Not surprisingly, the Democratic Party establishment embraced Hillary Clinton from the start; she plays the same big-money, managed democracy game they play. Nor is it surprising that the national news media have also embraced her candidacy while dismissing the “unrealistic” campaign of the “unelectable” Bernie Sanders – though he does keep surprising them.

I’ve said before that a big part of Hillary Clinton’s appeal with among those who genuinely support her is that they identify with her on a deep level. Her followers can get pretty tribal also. Many of them refuse to even look at questionable aspects of her record — her hawkishness, for example — and dismiss all criticism of her as sexism, or just repetition of the mud from the Whitewater era.

Clinton doesn’t just play the same games the Dem establishment plays; it’s obvious she is queen of the establishment realm. Speaking as someone who doesn’t identify with her, it’s obvious to me that the ultimate source of her power comes from a place that has nothing to do with democracy. And that’s the primary reason I refuse to support her.

The quote at the top of the post about managed democracy says it pretty well. Clinton did not offer herself as a candidate; she was packaged and marketed to us as the inevitable nominee. The entire Democratic Party aligned itself to make that happen early last year; the primaries were supposed to be just formalities.  We’re being “managed” to accept her as a candidate, and as a president. I’m sure the insiders fully expect us all to go back to sleep as soon as she’s inaugurated.

And whatever innocent idea I still harbored that the system was still more or less democratic has been destroyed this primary season. Seeing Rachel Maddow all-too-obviously provide cover for the Clinton Machine was too much.

Back to Ted Morgan:

Our news media, television in particular, work at two levels simultaneously. One level is cultural. This is where market-driven news accentuates its entertainment value, seeking to maximize audience or readership by grabbing attention with all the devices common to entertainment. News stories are brief, dramatic fragments; they accentuate eye-catching imagery, conflict, and personalities. They play on our emotions, but tell us almost nothing about why the world is the way it is.

The other level is ideological, or political.  This is where the mass media are corporate institutions that reflect the consensual and competing views of elites who dominate our politics.  This is where Democrats and Republicans “debate” political issues, where they tell us how to interpret the world.  It is definitely not where more fundamentally critical, or outsider, views are taken seriously.

Yes to both. Mainstream media set the parameters of “acceptable” political thought and discourse, and at the same time they fail to provide information or context that might enable people to reach unacceptable conclusions.

Although the New York Times is a major enabler of the management, they do sometimes give us a peak behind the curtain:

This year the Republican and Democratic nominating conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia will be bankrolled entirely with money from corporations and wealthy individuals. Not since the Watergate era, when a $400,000 pledge to the 1972 Republican convention from ITT Corporation was linked to a favorable outcome for the company in a federal antitrust decision, has this happened.

Industries with business before the federal government have long found opening their checkbooks for the conventions to be one of the most efficient means for influencing an incoming administration and Congress in one quick action. …

… The ITT scandal prompted legislation that provided public financing for conventions, and limited their budgets to that amount. But the parties soon found multiple ways around that, including using “host committees” that operate in the cities where the conventions are held, soliciting unlimited amounts of convention money from corporations and wealthy individuals. These committees, established to skirt federal laws banning corporations from giving to political parties directly, should be abolished.

And what’s different about this year?

The demise of public convention financing is a result of the 2014 Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act, named for a Virginia girl who died of brain cancer. The law ended government funding for nominating conventions, which in 2012 amounted to about $18 million, or one-quarter, of each political party’s convention costs, and redirected $126 million over 10 years to pediatric disease research.

Talk about unintended consequences. Of course, I’m sure no sponsor expects direct quid pro quos for their money.  The benefits they receive will be more indirect and more subtle.

And this is just one example. There have been allegations about the foreign governments that donated to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. Some of those governments were lobbying the U.S. State Department about something. I have defended the Clinton Foundation in the past, but one does wonder.  And I’m sure there’s plenty of ammunition in there somewhere for the Republicans to use against her in the fall.

Remember what I said in this post about foot dragging? We are in for some epic foot dragging. Clinton and her allies will be pragmatically certain that whatever she does will be incremental enough to not cause the clients, or the sponsors, much consternation.

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Is the Democratic Party Sustainable?

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Democratic Party, Sanders and Clinton

Last week I wrote about the way Democratic Party power brokers and insiders decided that Hillary Clinton would be the Dem nominee several months before the primaries began. No “establishment” Democrats challenged her in the primaries for that reason.

A few days later I got into an online conversation with a Dem apologist, who insisted this was not un-democratic because Clinton was the first choice of “the base.” And how do we know what “the base” wanted months before any votes were cast? Polls, he said. Polls of likely Democratic voters taken early in 2015 made her the heavy favorite for the nomination.

Just as polls taken in 2007 before the primaries started also made Clinton the heavy favorite for the nomination in 2008. Oh, wait …

I believe it has been long established that voter polls taken a great many months before serious campaigning even begins are fairly worthless as predictors of the eventual winner, because people are mostly just reacting to name recognition. Once they actually get a good look at all the candidates they often change their minds.

That’s why I’m not too concerned that polls are showing a tight race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in November. Opinion is going to shift around once we move into general election campaign mode. Clinton has huge advantages in the electoral college map, and most news media will want her to win and will give her sympathetic treatment.

However, it does amuse me that now there is reason to be worried about Clinton’s electability against Trump. Last week David Catanese wrote in U.S. News

Then came Tuesday, when a trio of battleground state general election polls dropped into the inboxes of the political intelligentsia with a disorienting thud. Surprise (!) – the numbers showed that despite all the disunity, resistance and hand-wringing, The Donald was competitive with Clinton. The tales of a great blowout were, in fact, blown out of proportion: Quinnipiac University polling placed Trump essentially tied with Clinton in Florida and Pennsylvania and ahead of her in Ohio. Even critics who quibbled the survey’s sampling could not deny these were single-digit, margin-of-error contests.

The icing on top: Trump begins in a marginally better place than Romney did in 2012. At this same point in the race, the former Massachusetts governor was behind President Barack Obama by 8 points in Pennsylvania; Trump is down just 1 point to Clinton. In Ohio, Obama was ahead of Romney by 1 point; Trump leads Clinton by 4. In Florida, Romney led Obama by 1 point; Trump is down by 1 point.

On Tuesday night, as Trump rolled to easy victories as nominee-to-be in the West Virginia and Nebraska primaries, there was Bernie Sanders, the 74-year-old steadfast socialist, scoring another victory against Clinton. The Vermont senator not only won West Virginia – he trampled her in a 15-point rout that marked her biggest drop in support in any state from her 2008 White House bid.

Propelled by rolling cable television coverage – which repeatedly flashed the Quinnipiac numbers on full-screen graphics – and the dizzying Twittersphere – which now had more reason to buzz about Bernie’s staying power – Trump looked like the winner and Clinton, a limp loser.

In the 2008 primaries, when she was running against that black guy, Clinton did very well among white blue-collar men. Now all of a sudden the old Democratic “rust belt” states look vulnerable for Dems, mostly because those white blue-collar men prefer Trump or Sanders. Like this should surprise anybody. But apparently, it did. Abby Phillip writes for the Washington Post that Clinton may have a fight on her hands in what should be reliably “blue” states.

Clinton performed poorly against Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in Democratic primaries in this part of the country — partly because of her past support for free-trade agreements and partly because Sanders’s promises to focus on economic issues and income inequality resonated with voters. Those factors could work against her with Trump, who has criticized her positions on trade and has also found deep appeal among the working class.

Oops.

Do you remember all the times we were told that not voting for Clinton was a vote for President Trump? A big part of Clinton’s marketing strategy has been that she was the only Democrat running who could beat Trump. The only Clinton television ads I saw here in New York were basically trying to frighten voters with the Trump boogeyman, so you’d better vote for for Hillary. There’s no way to know, but I strongly suspect that Clinton’s margin of victory in many states (like New York) was made up of people who bought that argument.

I should say, who bought that argument that was unfounded on anything like a factual basis. It’s probably the case that among all the Democrats who might have run had the power brokers told them not to, just about any of them would have been a stronger general election candidate against Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton will be. It’s also possible that Bernie Sanders would be a stronger general election candidate against Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton will be. Poll data certainly says so, although that’s not necessarily proof of anything this far in advance of the general election.

The moral of this story, seems to me, is that rather than allowing a cadre of elites to decide ahead of time who The People want, maybe it’s better to encourage competition and let The People decide for themselves who they want. You end up with a more marketable product in the end. However, the reaction of the DNC seems to be in the opposite direction — let’s eliminate open primaries! We need to be even more isolated and ideologically inbred than we already are! That’s the ticket!

This is so obviously a “change” election. To run a candidate who represents the past, who promises to be pragmatic and not attempt anything radical, is an obvious misstep. Loyal Democrats will vote for her, but independents have already shown they’d prefer somebody else. And while Clinton currently looks weak against Trump, if the GOP had gotten its act together and nominated a more “establishment” Republican, I doubt she’d have any chance at all. Given a contest of two candidates both promising to not do anything, it would come down to a likeability contest. Cough.

A few days ago David Atkins wrote at Washington Monthly that the Democratic Party elites (including news media elites) have now decided voters aren’t really angry about economic unfairness after all.

There is a growing amount of contrarian analysis these days suggesting that Americans really aren’t so angry about the economy after all, that what appears to be economic populism is really just a cover for racism, sexism or other cultural issues, and that ultimately the only thing the majority of voters really want is a stable technocrat who will keep the good times rolling while fixing some social issues….

…In most cases, these writers are trying to use broad quantitative data about economic satisfaction to explain away what seems to be obvious on its face, which is that Sanders and Trump are both running economic populist campaigns that have resonated deeply with large and different sections of the electorate. The corollary to this argument is that it’s not economics but raw racism that is driving Trump’s success, and that Sanders’ success is a factor less of economic anger than some combination of sexism and cult of personality.

I think that most Clinton supporters sincerely believe this. They believe they can ignore Sanders’s popularity because it’s just sexism, or a fad. They don’t have to listen to what his supporters actually are saying (although, to be honest, a lot of them aren’t saying it very well) because they’ll get over it once Hillary Clinton is president and they see how awesome she is.

To believe these things, of course, you would have to assume that voters aren’t actually being inspired by the rhetoric and policy positions of Sanders and Trump but by other factors they’re subtly tapping into. You would have to ignore most of the actual reasons given in interviews and focus groups by Sanders and Trump voters for why they support their candidates. You would have to ignore what they actually say in media comments sections and at various political forums.

You would, in essence, have to ignore all the qualitative data in front of you showing what people say in their own words, in favor of polling data about their generic feelings about the economy or their own current personal economic situation.

So, basically, opposition to Clinton / support for Trump is being attributed to bigotry, and all the other reasons are being swept under a big, expensive rug, as far as the elites are concerned.

I still (although sadly) expect Clinton to be the nominee, and I still expect her to win. As I said, her advantages will be that (a) Trump is an odious oaf, and (b) most news media will prefer her to him and will treat her sympathetically. Women and minorities will turn out to vote down Trump in epic numbers.

But the question I initially asked is, is the Democratic Party sustainable? How long can it continue to be this oblivious to reality and still function?

I have more to say on this, but will continue later …

Update: See also This is one weak nominee: Hillary Clinton’s problem isn’t Bernie Sanders. It’s Hillary Clinton

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