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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14 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Joel Dan Walls  •  May 14, 2016 @10:15 pm

    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.

    Which describes your feeling about Sanders, perhaps? Nothing wrong with identifying with a candidate, as far as I can tell, just don’t surrender your powers of critical thinking.

    Earlier today, a woman came to the door with a little girl in tow, both of them wearing “H” buttons, and told me she lived in the neighborhood and was canvassing for Hillary Clinton in advance of the May 17 deadline for turning in ballots here in Oregon. She took all of about 30 seconds of my time, basically to remind the registered Democrats in the household to vote and to ask that those votes be for Clinton.

    Apropos “managed democracy”, sounds about right to me, sadly. I think Noam Chomsky remarked some years ago that we have a system of elite rule with the Great Unwashed being asked periodically to ratify the arrangement.

  2. maha  •  May 14, 2016 @10:49 pm

    //Which describes your feeling about Sanders, perhaps? // I actually don’t feel that much identification with him. It’s the vision thing with me. But be advised I don’t appreciate attempts to psychoanalyze me or to identify some hidden motivation in my opinions. So don’t go there.

  3. Joel Dan Walls  •  May 14, 2016 @10:31 pm

    Another thing about that tribal identification thang. The 25 year old in my household has for months now been spending hours every week streaming Sanders events on the Internet. Rallies here, town hall meetings there, over and over and over. And he repeats the Hillary-bashing talking points du jour with some frequency. It’s kind of obvious to me that he gets a buzz out of this. He feels like a member of a team, I guess.

    Kind of odd, though, he hasn’t managed to turn in his ballot yet.

  4. maha  •  May 14, 2016 @10:50 pm

    JDW — Sounds like your 25-year-old needs to move out of the household. Maybe a gentle shove out of the nest would do him some good.

  5. bernie  •  May 15, 2016 @9:36 am

    Please to respect those, myself included, who eschew Freudian Psychology. If you must use it please do so in its proper literary role. Might I suggest speculation on whom various politicians might identify. Some rules, however, should apply. For example having Lindsey Graham identifying with Scarlett O’Hare is not within bounds, as even hunters refrain from shooting ducks on the pond. Proper use of this antiquated school of psychology will probably not result in a more enlightened discussion, but certainly a more amusing one.

  6. c u n d gulag  •  May 15, 2016 @10:27 am

    Murka!
    The best representative democracy money can buy!!!

    And don’t worry, maha, I won’t try to psychoanalyze you.
    Hell, I’m 58, and don’t evev nderstand me! 😉

  7. c u n d gulag  •  May 15, 2016 @10:28 am

    Aparently, I don’t even know how to spell.

  8. Doug  •  May 15, 2016 @10:45 am

    JDW The faults of HRC are more significant than the faults of Sanders because Clinton is almost certain to win the nomination and likely to win the White House. How she will govern vs how she should govern is a legitimate topic of discussion. I’m not what you intended by your remarks about a pro-Bernie bias, but from many the message is ‘STFU and don’t criticize Clinton’.

    Wrong message, especially on this forum. And to suggest, right after criticizing Maha for criticizing Clinton, that she lacks powers of critical thinking – displays a critical lack of objectivity on your part. IMO, democrats, especially grass roots Bernie voters, need to keep the heat on Clinton, even as they declare her superior to Trump. Even before her inauguration, Clinton should know that since she won’t be running against a turnip in 2020, she either has to capture a huge chunk of conservative-leaning Independents OR she has to govern to satisfy the progressives in her policies, not just her rhetoric.

    All of which goes back to the original topic. HRC believes in a managed democracy – she wants voters to show up every 4 years to anoint her, and then leave her alone. Large numbers of engages citizens trying to affect policy are in no way a part of her plans. But that’s the definition of democracy (in my book) and the democrats and the republicans continue to game the system to prevent citizen power.

  9. csm  •  May 15, 2016 @12:17 pm

    “Even before her inauguration, Clinton should know that since she won’t be running against a turnip in 2020, she either has to capture a huge chunk of conservative-leaning Independents OR she has to govern to satisfy the progressives in her policies, not just her rhetoric.”

    The DxC (x equals N or C) since the 90s has focused more and more on a strategy of capturing “a huge chunk of conservative-leaning Independents…” Progressive groups and issues, have always been used as the fulcrum for “triangulation” designed to capture more of the elusive white working class. Hence, for example, Obama’s focus on reaching across the aisle to conservatives long after it was made clear there would never be any reciprocation. This is the reason for the frustrating “negotiation” tactics of the dems, of underbidding in negotiations with congressional GOP on legislation, ensuring they’d get less, or outright co-opting right wing policies, like “fixing” social security with the assumption they’d bring along sufficient numbers of GOP legislators, and make themselves more appealing to the white working class.

    This is a self-con on a huge scale. The right wing policies that the dems tried to mimic were hurting the white working class. The GOP was always able to sate them with a “social” issue — transgender bathrooms — to keep them in the fold. And more importantly, were successful in blaming the dems for every ill that still befell them as a result of a lack of attention by their party to the things that hurt them most. At some point, getting reduced to not having a proverbial pot to piss in, the basics become more important — jobs, opportunity, economic security, retirement. The dems, themselves drunk on “free-trade” deals that satisfied high-dollar donors the conservative wing of the party relied on, ensured that little would be done for these voters. Hillary’s strategy of “incrementalism” is just an attempt to sate the left with enough rhetorical fairy dust while ensuring policies that rake in the dollars continue to flow.

    This created a gap; neither party was seriously paying attention to the needs of working class voters. Obamacare was a “big thing” and a positive for the voters, but at the same time was a windfall to the insurance and pharma companies, without which they’d never have gone along. Other than this, not much if anything was done.

    Enter Sanders and Trump. Though ideologically from different ends of the political spectrum, both candidates addressed this gap. Trump initially did so, with his calls to bring jobs back, etc. And although there is ample evidence to disbelieve every word he says, it was coming from an “outsider” and some voters want to believe it.

    My biggest fear seemed to be on the verge of realization: years of triangulating “progressive” constituencies created an opportunity for the right to fill that gap, at least rhetorically, by tacking left to address it. This is what Trump has done, and while I don’t doubt that his thinly veiled racist appeals are what attracts many of his supporters, the thought that he is addressing needs that neither party has is attractive. And worrisome; Trump is the definition of Fool’s Gold for these voters.

    And this is why Sanders is so threatening, and why the media narrative of a “wild-eyed socialist revolutionary” not to be taken serious is successfully enough in the short term to neutralize Sanders candidacy. The good news is that millions of people, and not just “young voters” get it. The problem is, there is not enough time before the die is cast with a choice between Clinton or Trump. And while I am not in the “not a dime’s bit of difference between the candidates” crowd; Trump is actually dangerous and I will vote for Clinton to prevent a Trump presidency, either candidate ensures a continuation of the money-drenched, democracy subverting status quo.

    I hope I am wrong, but my fear is that, come November, “they aren’t listening to us” ends up being the biggest lament of a democratic party that ended up snatching defeat from what should have been the jaws of victory.

  10. c u n d gulag  •  May 15, 2016 @12:59 pm

    Hey!
    What happened to comment, which was being ‘moderated?’

  11. Swami  •  May 15, 2016 @3:55 pm

    Years ago I ran across a cartoon that struck me as not only amusing, but had a quality similar to a parable when viewed in light of Hillary’s current stance on a progressive agenda.
    The carton showed several shoppers at a Costco checkout counter. At the end of the line of shoppers was an old man with a coffin sticking out of his shopping cart. The callout from the old man read: “Hurry up! I don’t got all day.” That sentiment kinda expresses in a very profound way my exact feelings about Hillary’s pragmatic and incrementalist approach to make changes in what she claims to be a progressive agenda.
    That’s one of the reasons why I support Sanders.. I believe in the idea that at least he’ll push for change…because change doesn’t always happen without an aggressive catalyst.

    Yeah, I know I’m an ingrate..After all, Hillary is doing it “all” for me, but what she’s doing I really dont want.

  12. JMS  •  May 15, 2016 @10:00 pm

    Different circumstances, but the underlying principle is the same:

    ‘I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.’ ~ MLK, Letter from a Birmingham Jail

  13. Swami  •  May 16, 2016 @2:59 pm

    JMS …Good catch.. MLK certainly had a way of articulating a truth.

    I guess when you’re getting paid $225,000. an hour the urgency to act to alleviate economic inequality isn’t really a pressing concern for some people.

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