Friday, February 27, 2015

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 2016 (Part 2 – The Democrats)

Perhaps no prominent organization more perfectly reflects the decline and fall of American representative democracy than the Democratic Party. For it was the Democrats after their 1968 convention disaster in Chicago who begrudgingly decided to truly change their way of picking presidential candidates to reflect the leftist populism that was then ascendant within the party, and appeared as though it would be the dominant strain of American politics for the foreseeable future. The Democrats defused the power of their party bosses to choose their nominees much more thoroughly than the Republicans ever did—embracing primary elections in as many states as possible to choose the delegates who would pick their standard bearer. The Republicans eventually followed suit, but did so in a way that still left as much power as possible within the hands of the establishment.

Unfortunately for the Democrats the first product of this process, Senator George McGovern, the most liberal major party nominee ever, would in 1972 suffer the then-worst general election defeat in American history. Nevertheless, the pattern was set as insurgent candidate Jimmy Carter went from Jimmy Who? to the nominee in just a few short months in early 1976. Once again, however, an outsider candidate proved a poor choice politically even if in his single presidential term Carter attempted to guide America out of the moral swamp of the excruciating Vietnam and Watergate years. Regrettably, Carter's defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1980 was nearly as bad a debacle as the McGovern disaster and it soured the Democrats on true populist candidates.

As a result yet another insurgent candidate, former McGovern campaign manager Gary Hart, failed to topple establishment choice Walter Mondale for the nomination in 1984. Mondale’s whipping by Reagan was even worse than Carter’s and left the party in disarray on the national level, as the rugby scrum of pygmy candidates in 1988 and the disastrous nomination of Michael Dukakis that year showed. By 1992 hard lessons had finally been learned, as moderate “new” Democrat Bill Clinton adopted the insurgent’s playbook as his own to win the nomination. Unfortunately, Clinton's subsequent triumph in the general election (defeating a true insurgent candidate, Ross Perot, along the way), turned out to be a pyrrhic victory for Democratic activists.

By 2000 the Democratic establishment was firmly back at the helm, as Al Gore breezed to the nomination easier than any non-incumbent Democrat had going all the way back to Adalai Steveson in the 1950s. Had Clinton kept his dick out of Monica Lewinsky’s mouth--or had Gore just managed to run a more energetic campaign--he would have won easily, yet somehow he and 2004’s plodding establishment candidate, John Kerry, both managed to kick away close races to the worst president in American history.

By 2008 the Democrats smelled blood in the water and were hungering for a general election win, only to get sidetracked in a huge battle over identity politics as the first woman to have a realistic chance to win the presidency battled the first non-white man with the same aspirations even as the teetering Bush economy finally imploded in the background. Hillary Clinton was initially the establishment candidate, but Obama used the same insurgency tactics and bogus message of hope her husband had in 1992 to prove his electoral viability, and he then won over enough of the major players to secure the nomination.

More importantly but much less noticed was Obama’s decision to forgo federal campaign financing, which had been accepted by every major presidential candidate since Watergate but which severely limited the amount of donations a candidate could receive from any one source. With the financial backing of numerous Wall Street and big business players, Obama raised over $600 million during the 2008 cycle, a staggering sum at the time. In their elation at Obama’s victory, the Democratic party activists largely ignored the dangerous precedent his campaign had set just three years before the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision removed the last remaining barrier to America becoming a true elitist oligarchy.

Flash forward to the year before the 2016 race and it is uncertain whether any other “name” candidate will even try to challenge Hillary Clinton, who appears to have already locked up the support of the party establishment and the huge amounts of Wall Street and big business money that go with it. On an even monetary playing field, Elizabeth Warren would likely have a decent chance to be 2016’s version of Obama and knock Hillary off. But Warren has earned the permanent enmity of Wall Street due to her relatively modest attempts to reform the financial system. Even if Warren attracts large numbers of small individual donations like Obama did in 2008, she could never hope to compete with Hillary’s war chest and ability to dominate the airwaves in early primary states.

Bernie Sanders is the closest thing to a genuine liberal who might enter the fray, but he has less chance at the nomination than Warren and could only potentially affect the election’s outcome by playing a Ralph Nader-like third party spoiler role. Some liberal bloggers are so desperate they are actually advocating for Joe Biden to make what would be his third run for the nomination, conveniently ignoring the fact that Biden has spent the last six plus years carrying water for the Obama sellout presidency and before that spent decades as the credit card companies’ best friend in the U.S. Senate. Beyond those names, dreamers like Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb would seem to be angling to be an eventual vice presidential selection rather than making truly serious bids for the top spot.

So unless something dramatic happens between now and when the actual primary voting gets underway a year from now, the Democratic nomination is Hillary’s to lose. It is even possible that we might see something unprecedented in the years since primaries came to be the preferred method of selecting convention delegates in the early 1970s--a non-incumbent candidate walking to the nomination of a major party virtually unopposed. If so, it would be the most dramatic illustration yet of the corrosive effects of big money on American politics in the post-Citizens United era.

In the past couple of months I’ve heard numerous people express their dismay at the possibility of another Bush-Clinton presidential campaign, and such an eventuality should make it clear to all except the most completely thickheaded that American democracy is dead and and will be buried in 2016 under a mountain of presidential campaign cash that is already predicted to soar as high as $6 billion or more. That is an incredible figure when you consider that what it's really buying is merely an elaborate illusion that, especially at the presidential level, there remains even a dime's worth of difference between the two major parties.

Bonus: "I I've been here before"


  1. BWAH-HAAAAH! The Dumbocrats. With an opposition party having no legitimate leg to stand on they can't defeat the single-mindedness of the big-money bullshit ultra-conservative leanings and the weakness in their own resolve - afraid to stand up for what's right for the citizenry and in bed with the same Wall Street psychos, having the same feather-my-own campaign war chest syndrome that Citizens United has fomented. Since there's no viable third party ALLOWED (ask Ralph Nader and a long string of others who keep trying), there's effectively no choice - they're the twin sides of the corporate coin and have no plan for the ordinary people who vote for them out of some kind of amnesia and fictional, school-taught model of their supposed place in the plan.

    Shit, we hardly have RIGHTS left - and basically no working Constitution (at least not one that can't be misinterpreted to mean that the President can do whatever he wants - much like Nixon, only "legitimified" as W would have said.

    Thanks for the laugh Bill.

  2. As far as 2016 goes, the Democrat establishment is going to have to find someone to run against Queen Hillary if only to prop up the illusion of a competitive primary. Warren could be Obama 2.0 but she doesn't appear to have inherited President Sparkle Pony's Chicago/Hollywood machine and she doesn't seem interested in playing judas goat. They used to have Kucinich (D-Hobbiton) for that role, but now that he's gone it looks like it's up to Sanders (D-Cheddar Cheese) to lead their gullible liberal voting bloc to the slaughterhouse. Assuming Sanders is up for it the question then becomes - what are they going to give Bernie in return?

  3. $6 billion is cheap for the collective interests of the oligarchs. It buys the illusion of democracy to placate and divide the masses, sure, but it also buys the candidates in a decisive fasion. The more money involved the less the candidates can diverge from the company line.

    It is interesting to see how the one small corner of real democracy in America, citizen's referendums and initiatives (which are mostly a feature of the West), have shaped politics. Marijuana legalization has slowly crept into the mainstream through initiatives. The depressing aspect is seeing how ham-fistedly this has been handled in Washington state (where the black market still rules), and also realizing that national legalization will be delayed because the center of power is in the East and Eastern states generally don't have initiatives.

    It's interesting to me that the whitest states are first to legalize. Pot is effectively legal for wealthy white people, and has been for decades, and even for poor white people it rarely is as dangerous as for black people (in terms of an excuse for the law to mess with them). The biggest benefit to legalization would be to make it harder for the law to harass poor and black people, but the states that would most benefit (or should I say, where black people in the state are mostly likely to benefit) are likely to be the absolute last ones to legalize.

    This is not to mention federal laws that effectively make drug testing mandatory for many professions (drug testing being most effective at catching marijuana use). Those still affect legal states and most strongly affect the working class and poor. A burger flipper almost always has to pass a drug screen, as does a welder, transportation workers have random test, yet lawyers, politicians, bankers, or even doctors (the ones with the most direct access to drugs!!!) are not tested.

    Sorry, this was a tangent. We certainly have "elite democracy". It does beg the quesiton of how or whether there can be anything like a fairer distribution of power. The republicans have been very successful with their top-down model.

    1. Good tangent. As for the marijuana laws, I wish they'd hurry it up. I'd really like to see what it could do to alleviate my chemo-induced neuropathy pain--which ironically would be far less dangerous than the prescription painkillers I take now.

  4. i see Bush-Clinton in 2016. By that time most people will have figured out that this democracy is a sham. Most people out there when faced with this choice will simply not vote and walk away. I see Jeb Bush winning, after that its all over for the common working man and middle class. Four more years of another Bush in office will be a disaster for the poor and middle class. It will be the end of us. As for the Marijuana laws they cannot change fast enough for me. But I live in Illinois and they are not going to change any time soon. Its a real shame it had to end this way. But not all stories have happy endings, or countries or even people for that matter.

    1. I actually still think Hillary will win unless the economy crashes again before then. The Republicans have a lot of trouble in national elections when there is a higher turnout (hence their efforts at voter suppression). But even if she does, it won't help the middle or working classes one bit.