Browsing the blog archives for May, 2016.

They Aren’t Listening to Us

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?

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.


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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Negotiation, Yes. Just Not With Ourselves.

Obama Administration

The latest excuse I’m seeing about Why We Should Just Get Over It and Support Hillary is that the Democrats have always been expedient incrementalists, including Franklin Roosevelt. For example, in response to this tweet —

Scott Lemieux wrote,

As the historian Kevin Kruse (whose book One Nation Under God is strongly recommended) observed, the obvious answers are “yes,” “yes,” “yes,” and “this is not a thing but assuming you mean the Fair Housing Act, yes.” The idea that the Social Security — which not only offered modest benefits but intentionally excluded large numbers of African-Americans — was not an example of incremental reform is quite remarkable. Even more revealing is the Medicaid example. Nothing makes it clearer that this fake-nostalgia for the REAL LIBERAL Democratic Party of yore is just a rhetorical cudgel with which to beat Democrats and not any kind of serious historical analysis than this. Apparently, a public health insurance program that required states to cover only a subset of people well below the poverty line was REAL, UNCOMPROMISING LIBERALISM while a public health insurance program that required states to cover everyone up to 138% of the poverty line is the hopelessly compromised neoliberal work of useless corporate sellouts. Right.

Of course in a democratic system everybody has to compromise. That’s not the issue. The issue for Democrats is that we’ve gotten way too good at compromising with ourselves. We don’t propose what we actually want and then get as much as we can through compromise. We deny even to ourselves what we really want and then propose things we don’t want but which are less awful than what we fear the Right will force us to do.

The clearest example of this was back in 2013 when President Obama’s budget included cuts to Social Security and Medicare. This was part of a “grand bargain” meant to appease the Right from completely trashing the country. Fortunately, the grand bargain fell through, and the Right failed to do as much damage as they’d threatened.

The Affordable Care Act was the most progressive legislation passed by Congress since the LBJ Administration. Even that wasn’t what we wanted, although I supported it because I thought it was the best we were going to get, and people were dying from lack of health care.

But there’s no reason Democrats can’t be trying to make the case to the people for single payer. There’s a great case to be made for it that people never hear, because only a few renegades like Michael Moore ever make it. If the people become sold on it, it can happen. That’s how Reaganism took over, you know; the Reaganites persuaded the people that tax and budget cuts were the road to the good life for everybody.

Where were the counter-arguments? Yes, by the 1980s the Republican Noise Machine was doing a great job of drowning out dissenting voices. But the Republican Party is imploding now. The Noise Machine is arguing with itself these days.

That’s the biggest mistake Barack Obama made, IMO — he didn’t go directly to the people to explain what was going on soon enough and often enough. Instead he allowed his administration to be defined by news media, and that’s a disaster. Those people can’t define toast.

There’s also a difference between necessary incrementalism and plain old foot-dragging. The Dems are a party of foot-draggers, IMO, for a lot of reasons I want to write about later. But let’s just say that Hillary Clinton will go into the White House with her feet locked into really big, heavy chains. You know she won’t make bold proposals even if Congress begged her to.

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Fight the (Fossil Fuel) Power

environment, Europe

It can’t happen here

On Sunday, May 8, Germany hit a new high in renewable energy generation. Thanks to a sunny and windy day, at one point around 1pm the country’s solar, wind, hydro and biomass plants were supplying about 55 GW of the 63 GW being consumed, or 87%.

Power prices actually went negative for several hours, meaning commercial customers were being paid to consume electricity.

The U.S. has lots of sun and wind. You’d think we’d be able to manage a shift to renewable energy. But we may never know — in our lifetime, anyway –because the fossil fuel industry owns too many politicians. And if we did go to renewable energy, it would be private and inefficient, and we’d still be price-gouged.

As near as I understand it, Germany has done a lot of work to reduce fossil fuel usage, and apparently this effort has been a huge success, a model for the world. They aren’t afraid to use government to do stuff, and they aren’t afraid to let the fossil fuel industry dwindle away.

I see also that Germany is shutting down its nuclear reactors. I’ve been running into people who are still advocating for building more nuclear reactors. And I say, um, Fukushima? And this is brushed off as some kind of technicality. Turns out Hillary is in favor of building more nuclear reactors, while Bernie is not.

I’m sorry, but we’ve been messing around with nuclear reactors since freaking World War II, and they still can’t build a foolproof reactor. The risks are too great, and as Germany is showing us, there are other ways to go about things.

At least it appears even the Republicans have stopped being outraged about the halting of the Keystone XL pipeline, or at least they’ve shut up about it lately.  Oil prices are too low to make it profitable, I understand.


On a personal note, I have had a rough couple of days. The company that owns has shut down a large number of the sites there, including my Buddhism site. The old articles will be online for the foreseeable future, but the site won’t be updated. I’m very sad; I’ve been writing the articles there for more than eight years. It was a big chunk of my life. Oh, well.

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The Democratic Nomination: What’s Likely to Happen Next

Democratic Party, Sanders and Clinton

We’re entering the final weeks of the primary season. Let’s review how we got to where we are now on the Democratic side, and then project from that what’s likely to happen next.

As I wrote in this post, we know that Hillary Clinton had won the “invisible primary” by about March of 2015, if not sooner. Jonathan Bernstein, writing for Bloomberg News on March 12, 2015, said,

Clinton has (apparently) won the nomination fair and square, through hard work and political talent. That is why she has earned the support of the bulk of Democratic party actors, and gained the acquiescence of other Democrats who aren’t as enthusiastic about her.

So all those perfectly viable other candidates either dropped out or never seriously considered the race. Had Clinton chosen not to run, plenty of the others would have jumped in, and the field would have been comparable to what the Republicans have put together.

If you are sputtering but that was over a year ago, well, yes. As far as the power brokers on the Democratic side were concerned, Hillary Clinton would be the nominee, and they had decided this by March 2015. This is why her only challengers were party outsiders, in one way or another. The other insiders were discouraged from even trying. See also Ezra Klein at Vox.  For more details on how she managed to win the nomination before the primaries even started, see “Hillary Clinton Is the George W. Bush of 2016” (published February 2015).

The next thing that happened was the Hillary Victory Fund.  This joint fundraising instrument essentially makes the DNC and 33 state Democratic parties extensions of the Clinton campaign, which is why such funds usually aren’t set up until the nominee is determined. It says something about the mindset of DNC insiders that it didn’t occur to them to wait.  Clinton already was the nominee, as far as they were concerned; it had been arranged that there would be no serious competition. The HVF was receiving donations by September 2015.

Note that so far the bulk of the money collected has been spent on Clinton’s campaign, and not on down-ticket candidates as promised. The latest excuse I heard is that this was the plan all along, and the money will start flowing to the states for the general elections.

IMO the significance of the HVF cannot be overstated. Alex Seitz-Wald wrote a couple of days ago,

Clinton will have extraordinary leverage to remake the party as she fits, thanks to the $46 million her joint Victory Fund has raised for the DNC and state Democratic parties.

That money, which makes up a significant portion of the DNC’s incoming cash flow each month, has helped keep the cash-strapped party solvent.

If Clinton’s campaign ends, so does the money supply. She has bought the DNC, in other words.

Seitz-Wald writes that Bernie Sanders’s refusal to withdraw from the primary competition is causing major headaches for Clinton and the DNC. The procedure is for the nominee to assume control of the DNC before the convention begins. Sanders says he will not concede before the convention, however. Seitz-Wald continues,

The delay is a nuisance for now, Democrats say. But it would be a catastrophe if they waited until after after the Democratic National Convention, which is the earliest Sanders says he’ll withdraw.

So the DNC and the Clinton campaign will have to execute the merger earlier, with one candidate still in the race and potentially over his fierce objections. But the clock is ticking on the general election, and Democrats are eyeing the day after the California primary as a likely time to end this.

Clinton is not projected to have enough pledged delegates to claim the nomination by the day after the California primary — which would be June 8 — but by then she’s almost certain to have the necessary 2,383 delegates if the superdelegates are counted also. They aren’t supposed to count until the convention, but that’s going to be declared a mere technicality. The DNC will want to make Clinton the official  nominee, somehow, on June 8. News media will go along.

What happens next? If Clinton and her powerbroker supporters are smart, they’ll offer Sanders input into the platform, a prime-time speaking slot, choice Senate committee positions, etc.  Depending on how far he trails behind Clinton at that point, I wouldn’t blame him if he took those offers. I don’t know that he would, of course.

The other possibility is that Clinton, the DNC and her powerbrokers might just steamroller Sanders and proceed to the convention as if he didn’t exist. Considering that Clinton owns the DNC you can be certain she’s going to get the nomination on the first ballot, no matter what.

I see Sanders supporters on social media who hope the convention will work in Sanders’s favor, somehow, and that Clinton delegates will see reason and switch to Sanders. Barring some really incredible event that I can’t even imagine, this is not going to happen.

During a radio interview with John Catsimatidis, Ed Rendell, a former Pennsylvania governor and Democratic National Committee chairman, laid out his vision for how the convention would play out.

“I think it’s gonna be a great convention, but of course the key to it is the Sanders people. Bernie’s gonna have his name placed in nomination; we’re gonna have a roll call; there’s gonna be a demonstration in support of Bernie; he’s gonna lose the roll call,” he said. “His supporters have to behave and not cause trouble. And I think they will, and I think Sen. Sanders will send them a strong message.”

At this point Sanders may not be in it to win it; he’s hanging in as long as he can to demonstrate the nomination was rigged all along. Last week he publicly complained that Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is stacking the rules committees with Clinton operatives.

Under party rules, Wasserman Schultz recommends 25 at-large appointments to the party’s executive committee for each of the three standing committees; rules, platform and credentials. Wasserman Schultz has forwarded only three of 40 names the Sanders campaign recommended for the key committees while installing Clinton loyalists in leading roles. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy was put in charge of the Platform Committee, for example, and former Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts was tapped to head the Rules Committee.

Sanders called Malloy and Frank “aggressive attack surrogates” for Clinton. He doubted that either would “conduct committee proceeding in an even-handed manner” and said the appointments of the two Clinton loyalists “suggests the standing committees are being established in an overtly partisan way meant to exclude the input of the voters who have supported my candidacy.”

The truth is that the Sanders phenomenon was not something Clinton and the DNC had planned for. The primaries were supposed to be just for show; the conclusion had already been determined. Sanders literally crashed the party. And now the bouncers are about to toss him out.

And as much as everybody is going to pretend everything is fine, it’s going to get very messy.

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They Won’t Know What Hit Them

Democratic Party, Republican Party

We’re watching the Republican Party crack up. I expect it to survive, but the party that emerges from the current implosion will likely not be exactly the same one we’ve been dealing with in recent years. A realignment will happen on the Right. I don’t expect “movement conservatism” and the influence of phonies like Paul Ryan to completely go away, but I do think, if Trump loses as badly as I think he will, the surviving Republican Party will be eager to sever any ties to teabaggerism. I also suspect that what emerges will be prepared to downplay social conservatism and “religious right” issues in favor of economic and foreign policies. That would be a “best case” for the GOP, though, and I’ll come back to this in a bit.

Meanwhile, let’s look at the Democrats. Thomas Frank wrote in exasperation about self-satisfied, complacent Democrats. Bow howdy, does he have them pegged. Party insiders and loyalists apparently think the Democratic Party has found the winning formula for glory and doesn’t have to change a thing.

For example, Rick Perlstein wrote in The Nation,

What are the prospects for a realignment of American politics? On the Democratic side, practically nil. The presidential front-runner—the one with the endorsements of 15 out of 18 sitting Democratic governors, 40 out of 44 senators, and 161 out of 188 House members—is running a campaign explicitly opposed to fundamental transformation. Her signature campaign promise—no new taxes on households making $250,000 or less—renders serious change impossible.

Note that Perlstein appears to see nothing wrong with this.

The chance for her opponent to win the nomination approaches mathematical impossibility. He is running as a “revolutionary.” But governing is a team sport. If, by some miracle, Bernie Sanders entered the White House in January, he would do so naked and alone—in command of a party apparatus less prepared ideologically, institutionally, and legislatively to do great things than at any other time in its history.

One side promises competence. The other promises the impossible. This is the Democratic Party in 2016.

The pathetic truth is that even if a miracle were to occur and Sanders won the nomination and the White House, he wouldn’t face obstruction just from Republicans. Most Democrats would probably try to destroy his administration also, to see to it that he accomplishes nothing and has only one term. Never forget that the Clintons own the DNC.

Perlstein’s comments were part of an article in which three people offered opinions on a potential political re-alignment of the two major parties. The first individual wrote about how cute it was that young people can organize using those social media things, although of course none of this will ever have any impact on the two major parties, in which the grown ups do stuff. The second comments were Perlstein’s, and the third guy, named Daniel Schlozman, apparently thinks that the future will lumber along about like the recent past.

Democrats and republicans will likely spend the coming decades as they have the last eight: fighting over the legacy of the New Deal, respectively defending and assailing its commitments to a robust welfare state and a mixed economy. …

With their own house largely in order, the New Dealers’ proverbial grandchildren watch with both fascination and horror the lurid spectacle of a Republican Party whose contradictions have, in the unlikely figure of Donald Trump, finally come to the fore.

According to Schlozman, then, the Democrats’ house is largely in order, and they are watching the Republicans crack up from a safe and secure distance.

Here’s the thing — first, all these complacent Democrats apparently are determined to overlook the fact that their darling candidate, queen of complacency and competence, has still failed to clinch the nomination with pledged delegates and will probably need the superdelegates at the convention to close the deal. And her only rival is an elderly socialist who was not a nationally recognized figure until recently and not formally part of the Democratic Party until last year.

The degree of their determination to not see the implications of this fact rivals that of General Patton at the Battle of the Bulge. Never have so many eyes been so avowedly glued shut.

Since she does own the DNC, and the convention is the DNC’s party, there’s little question Hillary Clinton will be the nominee. And in Donald Trump, Hillary has hit the opponent lottery. He is tailor-made for her long-practiced shtick of feigning martyred feminist victimhood while promising testosterone-on-steroids toughness, especially on foreign policy. Even better, if his crude bigotries become the center of the fall campaign she can look principled and serious without having to defend her own record on anything. Win/win!

And, as far as the complacency crowd goes, winning the November election will be vindication that those Sanders people were just wrong about everything and need to learn their place. Which is, like, nowhere, as far as they’re concerned.

My sense of things is that the Clintonistas have persuaded themselves that opposition to Clinton is based on sexism and the many spurious charges of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. Once the election is over, they think, that opposition will fade away. Obviously I disagree, but a lot depends on keeping the young folks from getting too discouraged by what’s about to happen over the next few months.

But let’s go back to the Republicans. And the Democrats. It’s obvious to me that both parties have been in locked into extreme reactive mode for some time. This is particularly obvious with congressional Republicans.  They’ve devolved to the point of having no cohesive idea how to do anything; their only function is to stop the Democrats from doing anything.

And the state Republican governments are no better. They do little but think up new ways to stop abortions or react to the conservative outrage du jour, currently transsexuals in public restrooms. Kansas has gotten so bad that even the Republican legislature is in revolt against more tax and budget cuts. That’s one of the signs of the Apocalypse, I think.

Movement conservatism as we know it very much took shape as a reaction to the New Deal and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. McCarthyism and John Birch-ism are part of its DNA as well, of course. But for the past several decades “conservatism” in America has been in a long arc of being more and more reactionary, until it’s finally reached the point of being utterly dysfunctional.

We may not yet have hit the Joseph Welch “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” moment, but with the Trump nomination we’re damn close to it, I think.

But the Democrats, too, have fallen into their own reactionary pattern. Especially since the ascension of the Clintons, the Democratic Party has been locked into the mode of reacting to the Republican Party. Everything they do — or don’t do — seems calculated with the Right in mind, one way or another.

Even as the Right is imploding, we’re lectured by Democrats that nothing can be done because of the Right, but Clinton is our best hope of getting nothing done competently. She promises little on the domestic front except to keep things from getting worse. (Supreme Court; protecting Obamacare; etc.)  As Rick Pearlstein said, what little she has promised makes serious change impossible. And the current Democratic Party considers this to be a model of success.

And yet it doesn’t occur to the Democrats that if the Republican Party changes, they will have to change also.

But how? A lot depends on how the Republicans change, and how quickly.

Best case, for the GOP, would be if a large part of them disavowed the bigots and baggers, stepped back from the extreme-right precipice, and got serious about governing. It’s a long shot, but it’s not impossible they could revert to a being a mostly pro-business party as in the old days –Dick Nixon’s “cloth-coat Republicans” from the Checkers speech, but without the red-baiting. The culture wars would be put on the back burner, if not taken completely off the stove. They’d still fight for tax cuts and against regulations, but only within realistic limits.

That may sound farfetched, but if the donors who keep the GOP going decide that’s their best option after Trump, that could happen.  In which case, how would they be much different from the neoliberal Clinton Democratic Party?

In fact, sometime down the road I could see a realignment putting neoliberal Republicans and Democrats on the Right, and democratic socialist progressives on the Left. That would be more like the political alignments one sees elsewhere on the planet.

I’ve also seen it suggested that the GOP could evolve into an isolationist and anti-globalization party that would peel anti-neoliberal pacifists away from the Democrats, but I think that’s less likely. The point is, though, that whatever happens to the Republicans will force the Democrats to make adjustments, at the very least.

It would be good for all of us if Trump loses big, and if the GOP loses control of the Senate and ends up with fewer seats in the House. This would be good for all of us even if it means watching Clinton win in a landslide and assume a mandate. The bigger the loss for the GOP, the bigger the realignment. The bigger the realignment on the Right, the more pressure on the Dems to change as well.

Or, if the GOP implodes entirely, that leaves room for a new national party. And there’s no rule that says that party can’t form on the Left..

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The Question Nobody Asks

Democratic Party, Sanders and Clinton

John Kasich is supposed to be dropping out of the race any minute, which means Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee. There is no reasonable way for the Republican establishment to choose someone else now, however much they may want to.

(Just to show how screwed the Republicans are, see John French argue in National Review that Trump really isn’t a better choice for President than Clinton. Or, at least, one is as bad as the other. In National Review, mind you.)

The irony is that people had been predicting a contested convention for the GOP, but it looks as if it’s the Dems who will not have an official nominee when the gavel opens their convention. However, I have no doubt Clinton will have the nomination in the first round of voting, barring some unforeseen catastrophe that causes a massive shift in public opinion between now and then. Possibly even that wouldn’t change much.

But I want to get to the question nobody asks. Here it is not being asked by Josh Marshall — someone wrote to him, saying,

I’m a little late to the party on the Sanders comments, but I think one additional perspective on the current state of affairs is missing: Sanders’ entire campaign was made possible by the fact that Hillary essentially cleared the playing field for him prior to the primary season getting started. O’Malley was never a serious contender, which left the entire “not-Hillary” space to Sanders. Given all of the Democrats out there that have misgivings about her (you included), the default vehicle for channeling their disenchantment was to feel the Bern.

To which Josh replied,

As TPM Reader JR noted in his last email, a big part of Sanders success was based on the face that Clinton so effectively cleared the field of other candidates. Once it was just the two of them, he was going to do pretty well. But that doesn’t explain the scope of his victories. Some of this is just the left-wing of the Democratic party which is always there. But the heavy weight of young voters supporting Sanders is a genuinely new thing under the sun. Sanders has managed to garner a huge amount of support for a range of policies and basic perspectives about market economies that would have seemed anathema to most Democrats or at least politically fatal only a few years ago.

I agree with this, yet the question was not asked — how did Hillary clear the field prior to the primary season getting started?

We know some of it was Debbie Wasserman-Schultz denying exposure to the challengers by scheduling few pre-primary debates and putting those on at weird times no one would be watching. The Hillary Victory Fund scam also has the effect of corrupting the primary process by making 33 state Democratic parties (even though they are being screwed now) and the DNC financially dependent on a successful Clinton campaign. But the bigger question nobody asks is how did Hillary become the only establishment candidate?

Think about it. It’s been obvious for four years — eight, really — that there would be an open seat in the White House in 2016. And it’s been obvious for about that long that the Republicans were not going to have a reasonably challenging candidate. Given that every politician in Washington must at least occasionally fantasize about being POTUS, how come the only candidates to step up and challenge Hillary Clinton were outsiders?

Doesn’t that strike you as odd?

The only time a non-incumbent Democrat has had so little presidential primary competition in my memory was 2000, when the only serious challenger to Al Gore was Bill Bradley. I don’t remember asking the question then, either, but the Dems seemed at tad demoralized at the time. I could understand not wanting to run against an aggressive and organized Right. But there’s no reason for them to be demoralized now.

There’s a big sentiment out there that this year was Hillary Clinton’s turn. But how did that happen? In 2000 Al Gore was the sitting vice president, and sitting vice presidents are often assumed to be POTUS candidates unless the POTUS really screws up.

It might have been argued that it is now Joe Biden’s turn, which he chose not to take. But I don’t see a logical argument that a former Secretary of State gets a turn.

I looked it up. The last former Secretary of State who was elected president was James Buchanan. That was 160 years ago. Buchanan was a really awful President, but perhaps that had nothing to do with his being a former Secretary of State.

So, how did it get to be Hillary Clinton’s turn?

There’s been kind of a whispering campaign that’s been going on since 2000 that someday Hillary Clinton would be POTUS, and that the only reason she ran for Senator was to make it a springboard for running to the White House. And the whisperers — in politics and in media —  have been saying she’s the inevitable candidate ever since. And I guess a lot of people just bought into that; you hear something often enough, it gets to be Revealed Truth.  I don’t see any other earthly reason for such widespread public acceptance of her almighty inevitability.

And here we are. I agree with Josh Marshall’s letter that a lot of the support that coalesced around Sanders initially was anti-Clinton sentiment — he seemed to be the strongest candidate who was Not Hillary. I also agree with Josh that Sanders turned out to be a lot more than the not-Clinton candidate; people really warmed to his positions. He has been calling out loud for things that Democrats dared not hope for just a short time ago.

More conservative and pro-establishment Democrats have frantically been waving the visage of Trump at us to get us into line. And I think a lot of people bought that, too. Hillary seems to be the safer candidate against a slate of right-wing crazies, so we’d better vote for her in the primaries or we’ll get Donald Trump. This writer says she knows people who voted for Clinton only for that reason, even though they sorta kinda preferred Bernie. If Trump had not been the nominee, Clinton and the Dems would have been in trouble. But now that he is they may be secretly relieved.

But had Clinton not been the only establishment Democrat in the race, I don’t think she would have had a chance to sell herself as the Trump-slayer. Any establishment Dem would have done as well. Certainly Joe Biden also would have been a credible threat to Trump. John Kerry is the current Secretary of State and would have been a respectable, if not terribly interesting, candidate.

One of the jobs of a party is to identify and promote good candidates for office so that they are well known, and well thought of, before the elections begin.  But this is something the current Democratic Party does not do well at all, and not just at the presidential level. They suck at identifying and supporting congressional and state-level candidates also. It’s why the Republicans run things.

Reason magazine was asking a year ago where are all the Democratic presidential candidates?  “ claims Clinton remains the only serious potential candidate on the Democrat side because she’s ‘crushing the opposition.’ Or she could be sucking all the air out of the room, preventing anyone else from lighting a match,” this article says.

What opposition? Ezra Klein wrote in March 2015:

Jonathan Bernstein and Reihan Salam have written two smart articles on the Democratic presidential primary — or lack thereof — that are best read in tandem. Bernstein’s article is meant to explain why it looks like Democrats don’t have a bench even though they do, and Salam’s article is meant to show who’s sitting on it.

Bernstein’s argument is related to the “invisible primary” theory of presidential elections. Hillary Clinton, he says, “has earned the support of the bulk of Democratic party actors, and gained the acquiescence of other Democrats who aren’t as enthusiastic about her.” The result is that the Democratic Party’s “perfectly viable other candidates either dropped out or never seriously considered the race.”

Perhaps a slightly clearer way to put it is this: in the invisible primary, when the contest is as much a draft as it is a campaign, Clinton is “opposed” by essentially every Democrat fit for the presidency. If the party’s powerbrokers didn’t want to support Clinton and instead really wanted Sen. Michael Bennet to run, or Gov. Andrew Cuomo to lead the field, they would be working toward that outcome. Instead, they’re lining up behind Clinton. In this telling, Clinton isn’t winning by default. She’s winning by winning. The absence of competition is the product of Clinton’s strong, successful campaign to win over Democratic Party elites.

Ezra also had polls saying that people viewed her favorably, but polls that far ahead of an actual election make very bad predictors of anything, I understand. The fact that so many people seized upon the only remotely viable not-Hillary candidate tells us something that those polls missed.

Jonathan Bernstein actually wrote in March 2015,

Clinton has (apparently) won the nomination fair and square, through hard work and political talent.

Get that — she won the nomination fair and square months before the primaries began.

That is why she has earned the support of the bulk of Democratic party actors, and gained the acquiescence of other Democrats who aren’t as enthusiastic about her.

So all those perfectly viable other candidates either dropped out or never seriously considered the race. Had Clinton chosen not to run, plenty of the others would have jumped in, and the field would have been comparable to what the Republicans have put together.

When Clinton has a bad week — and during a multiyear campaign, everyone has bad weeks — pundits will look around for something or someone to blame. But there are going to be many weeks in the next year when Republicans are squabbling, and commentators are going to talk about how lucky the Democrats are for avoiding a contested primary.

Ha. Shows what you know, Jonathan Bernstein.

The problem is, of course. that Democratic Party elites have their heads up their ass and are largely insulated from the issues a lot of us are facing. Thomas Frank — and I don’t always agree with Thomas Frank, but I do here — writes of the Democratic Party establishment,

Cool contentment is the governing emotion in these circles. What they have in mind for 2016 is what we might call a campaign of militant complacency. They are dissociated from the mood of the nation, and they do not care.

I mean this in ways both great and small. The party’s leadership is largely drawn from a satisfied cohort that has done quite well in the aftermath of the Great Recession. They’ve got a good thing going. Convinced that the country’s ongoing demographic shifts will bring Democratic victory for years to come, they seem to believe the party’s candidates need do nothing differently to harvest future electoral bumper crops. The seeds are already planted. All that is required is patience.

Hillary Clinton is more or less openly offering herself as the complacency candidate. The least inspiring frontrunner in many years, she is a dynastic heir who stands to receive the Democratic nomination largely because it’s her turn – the logic that made Bob Dole the GOP leader in 1996. …  Clinton’s unofficial slogan, “America never stopped being great” — supposedly a searing riposte to Trump’s “make America great again” – sounds like the kind of thing you’d see inscribed in a country club logo. In her words, we can hear the call of contentment, a would-be catchphrase for a generation of satisfied people.

Andrew O’Hehir has been arguing for months that both parties are splitting apart; it’s just happening more slowly on the Democratic side. The Democratic elite thought they were being smart by putting all their eggs in one basket, so to speak. Instead of giving a platform to a slate of candidates, the party tried to give us a single prepackaged candidate. This would have been a bigger marketing fiasco than New Coke were it not for the fact that the Republicans were imploding.

If Hillary Clinton becomes the next POTUS, she’ll have Donald Trump to thank.

Meanwhile, the young progressive folks who are the Dem Party’s hope are convinced that the Dems are hopelessly corrupt, that they rigged the primaries in favor of Clinton, and that neither party has anything to offer them.  Way to go, DNC.

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Politico Does the Reporting Job on the Hillary Victory Fund That Rachel Maddow Wouldn’t Do

News Media, Sanders and Clinton

Politico, of all creatures, actually did an analysis of the Hillary Victory Fund and reached the same conclusion I did.

In the days before Hillary Clinton launched an unprecedented big-money fundraising vehicle with state parties last summer, she vowed “to rebuild our party from the ground up,” proclaiming “when our state parties are strong, we win. That’s what will happen.”

But less than 1 percent of the $61 million raised by that effort has stayed in the state parties’ coffers, according to a POLITICO analysis of the latest Federal Election Commission filings.

I believe this is based on the end-of-March filing and not the one due recently. At the end of March, the HVF had taken in $60,568,530 , according to Open Secrets. I hope they follow up when they can analyze the April data.

I’ve been flogging this story for awhile, even though it barely qualifies as a “story” since it’s gotten no traction in news media. It has been obvious that something really underhanded has been going on with the Hillary Victory Fund, but nobody wants to notice.

I haven’t watched Maddow’s show for awhile, in large part since I haven’t had regular access to a television for awhile. But I was never so disappointed with her as when she brushed allegations about the Hillary Victory Fund aside without even looking at what was going on. I wrote about this here.

Here’s something I did not know. Politico reports,

The victory fund has transferred $3.8 million to the state parties, but almost all of that cash ($3.3 million, or 88 percent) was quickly transferred to the DNC, usually within a day or two, by the Clinton staffer who controls the committee, POLITICO’s analysis of the FEC records found.

Maddow was too complacent to even just look at public reports. This was not exactly like meeting Deep Throat in the parking garage. Just look at the public record.

By contrast, the victory fund has transferred $15.4 million to Clinton’s campaign and $5.7 million to the DNC, which will work closely with Clinton’s campaign if and when she becomes the party’s nominee. And most of the $23.3 million spent directly by the victory fund has gone towards expenses that appear to have directly benefited Clinton’s campaign, including $2.8 million for “salary and overhead” and $8.6 million for web advertising that mostly looks indistinguishable from Clinton campaign ads and that has helped Clinton build a network of small donors who will be critical in a general election expected to cost each side well in excess of $1 billion.

The Sanders campaign complained about the latter, and news media told him to shut up.

But it is perhaps more notable that the arrangement has prompted concerns among some participating state party officials and their allies. They grumble privately that Clinton is merely using them to subsidize her own operation, while her allies overstate her support for their parties and knock Sanders for not doing enough to help the party.

“It’s a one-sided benefit,” said an official with one participating state party. The official, like those with several other state parties, declined to talk about the arrangement on the record for fear of drawing the ire of the DNC and the Clinton campaign.

Hillary and Debbie must be keeping everybody’s grandmothers hostage in their basements. Everyone on the Democratic side is terrified of them.

Some fundraisers who work for state parties predict that the arrangement could actually hurt participating state parties. They worry that participating states that aren’t presidential battlegrounds and lack competitive Senate races could see very little return investment from the DNC or Clinton’s campaign, and are essentially acting as money laundering conduits for them. And for party committees in contested states, there’s another risk: they might find themselves unable to accept cash from rich donors whose checks to the victory fund counted towards their $10,000 donation limit to the state party in question — even if that party never got to spend the cash because it was transferred to the DNC.

Money laundering. Thank you.

Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for Clinton’s campaign, suggested that a handful of key state parties last month received another $700,000 in transfers from the victory fund, and enjoyed other benefits from it that will be detailed in subsequent FEC reports. (The latest reports only cover through the end of March.)…

… But Schwerin did not respond to follow-up questions about how much of the $700,000 in victory fund transfers to the state parties was subsequently transferred to the DNC.

It’s also a shell game. They keep moving money around and everybody gets dizzy and loses track of where it is.

Sanders’ campaign late last year signed a joint fundraising agreement with the DNC, but the committee has been largely inactive. Instead, after Sanders was chided by Clinton allies for not helping down-ballot Democrats, he sent out appeals to his vaunted email list that helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a trio of progressive House candidates, who got to keep all the cash.

The Hillary Victory Fund, by contrast, allows the Clinton campaign to maintain tight control over the cash it raises and spends.

The article goes on to describe how the Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon vs. FEC (2014) made this operation possible. It goes way beyond the fundraising apparatus of any previous presidential campaign. But I’ll skip over that part for now.

According to the agreements signed by the participating committees, which were obtained by POLITICO, the money is required to be distributed, at least initially, based on a formula set forth in joint fundraising agreements signed by the participants. The first $2,700 goes to Clinton campaign, the next $33,400 goes to the DNC, and any remaining funds are to be distributed among the state parties.

But what happens to the cash after that initial distribution is left almost entirely to the discretion of the Clinton campaign. Its chief operating officer Beth Jones is the treasurer of the victory fund. And FEC filings show that within a day of most transfers from the victory fund to the state parties, identical sums were transferred from the state party accounts to the DNC, which Sanders’ supporters have accused of functioning as an adjunct of the Clinton campaign.

This scheme was in the works for a long time before the primaries started. Isn’t it odd that, in a year in which the Oval Office contained an open seat and the Republicans were expected to be in disarray, no “insider” Democrats stepped up to challenge Hillary Clinton? What are the odds, given that probably every politician in Washington has at least entertained fantasies of being POTUS? It’s as if they all got threats, in plain envelopes slipped under the office door — Nice grandma you have there …

For example, the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party received $43,500 from the victory fund on Nov. 2, only to transfer the same amount to the DNC that same day. The pattern repeated itself after the Minnesota party received transfers from the victory fund of $20,600 on Dec. 1 (the party sent the same amount to the DNC the next day) and $150,000 on Jan. 4 (it transferred the same amount to the DNC that day).

That means that Minnesota’s net gain from its participation in the victory fund was precisely $0 through the end of March. Meanwhile, the DNC pocketed an extra $214,100 in cash routed through Minnesota — much of which the DNC wouldn’t have been able to accept directly, since it came from donors who had mostly had already maxed out to the national party committee.

A similar pattern transpired with most of the participating state parties. As of March 31, only eight state parties (most of which were in battleground states such as Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire and Virginia) had received more from the victory fund than was transferred from their accounts to the DNC.

This is the kind of analysis I couldn’t do myself, and it tells us that the Hillary Victory Fund is an even bigger scam than I thought it was.

Another area in which critics contend the Hillary Victory Fund appears to be pushing the bounds of joint fundraising is in its online advertising campaign, which has included many ads urging readers to “Stop Trump” or to support Clinton.

While joint fundraising committees are allowed to pay for ads as part of their fundraising efforts, they are forbidden from funding campaign advertising urging voters to vote for or against specific candidates. Those types of ads qualify as electioneering expenses that are supposed to be paid for directly by the campaign or by party committees.

Nice bit of line-blurring, there. The Clinton people say these ads are for fundraising purposes, not Clinton campaign purposes. Here’s a page full of those online ads. You be the judge.

Those victory fund ads, as well as a direct mail campaign funded by the same committee, “appear to benefit only [the Clinton campaign] by generating low-dollar contributions that flow only to HFA, rather than to the DNC or any of the participating state party committees,” charged Sanders’ campaign lawyer in an open letter sent to the DNC in April. It alleged that the victory fund was essentially a pass-through to allow Clinton to benefit from contributions that far exceed the amount that her campaign could legally accept.

In a news release accompanying the letter, Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver argued “it is unprecedented for the DNC to allow a joint committee to be exploited to the benefit of one candidate in the midst of a contested nominating contest.”

Typically, the Clinton campaign responded by calling any criticism of The Empress Hillary out of bounds.

Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook called the letter a “shameful” and “irresponsible” fundraising ploy, and urged Sanders to “think about what he can do to help the party he is seeking to lead.”

Nice bit of misdirection there, and every bobblehead on television fell for it.

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