To the contrary.
Having just limited presidential primary debates to a maximum of six, and even threatened sanctions against any candidate who goes outside the party to hold informal debates, the 21st century Democratic Party is still operating very much in the Jacksonian tradition. And that tradition is speaking up for the common folk out of one side of its mouth, and pledging fealty to its wealthy benefactors out of the other.
To their credit, two of the national candidates -- Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders -- both spoke out against the undemocratic nature of the Party at the DNC's annual confab last week, rightly noting that the game is rigged for the establishment and against the voter. Left unspoken was the common wisdom that the less the electorate gets to see the robotic and ethically compromised Hillary Clinton juxtaposed with other, more populist candidates, the better are her odds of securing the nomination based purely upon her money and her weighted press coverage and her powerful connections and her shallow progressive rhetoric.
As told by Howard Zinn in his A People's History of the United States, the recently banished Andrew Jackson was the Clinton prototype. Jackson was the first American politician to pretend to "feel your pain" in order to get your vote. "He was the first President to master the liberal rhetoric - to claim to speak for the common man."
Despite the fact that he owned slaves, exterminated Indian populations and sent federal troops to beat striking workers into submission, he still enjoyed widespread support from the newly-enfranchised working class.
It was the new politics of ambiguity- speaking for the lower and middle classes to get their support in times of rapid growth and potential turmoil. The two-party system came into its own in this time. to give people a choice between two different parties and allow them, in a period of rebellion, to choose the slightly more democratic one was an ingenious form of control.Fast forward to 2015, and the Democratic establishment is still ingeniously, albeit desperately, trying to keep controlled debates largely confined to those between its own centrists and crazy Republicans. They don't want us to see arguments between centrist Dems and leftist Dems. Bernie Sanders is starting to give the plebes too many bright ideas and the power brokers too many conniption fits. The party establishment does not want the general public to see him and Hillary in too many head-to-head TV appearances. She might stumble. She might fall. She might start losing the super delegates who, she seems to undemocratically think, are not beholden to the wishes of actual primary voters.
America is in another of its periods of incipient rebellion, because the Precariat has gotten wise to the fact that we live under an oligarchy. Hillary Clinton openly admitted that she is anxious for a battle of the sexes and the hairdos between her and Donald Trump -- not a discussion about the malefactors of great wealth with Bernie Sanders. Even the four-to-six debates she has grudgingly agreed to are an inconvenience, a pesky bump in the road to her coronation. She and the Party establishment would prefer to give voters the choice between neoliberalism (free market solutions to social and economic problems, for the benefit of free market capitalists) and fascism (Trump's roaring xenophobia and racism for the benefit of free market capitalists) rather than a choice between neoliberalism and Sanders-style democratic socialism (for the benefit of ordinary people.)
That Sanders and even O'Malley are now shaking up the inner party structure from within is a stroke of genius. Sanders has long recognized that the establishment party system is anti-social to its very core and by its very nature.
Earlier this year, as the Democrats were formulating their electoral game plan at their ambiguous winter "issues retreat" they were also busily banning press coverage and otherwise acting in a distinctly totalitarian fashion. We could have seen that their summer agenda would try to consist of more of the same. This time, though, they had to let the media in. It might have looked undemocratic had they not allowed Bernie and other candidates to speak. Since he is running within the establishment and not as an independent, they had no choice but to let him in. Pure political genius on Bernie's part to make a public, in-house stink.
Meanwhile, an #AllowDebate movement has sprung up. From The Hill:
(Ben) Doernberg said he launched #AllowDebate earlier this month after realizing that many Democrats like him are frustrated with the DNC’s handling of its presidential debates this election cycle.
It now boasts 30 active organizers, he added, and approximately 500 members.
“The DNC exists – at least in theory – to reflect the will of the voters,” Doernberg said. “It is incredibly obvious that the DNC apparatus views us a nuisance and purely wants us to go away. That just seems wrong to me.”
Doernberg said #AllowDebate is inspired by the stark contrast between this election cycle’s debate rules and the DNC’s 2008 approach.
He said his organization is exasperated with the DNC’s unwillingness to let candidates participate in outside debates, which was allowed the last time the Democratic nomination was up for grabs.
In the 2008 cycle, eventual nominee then-Sen. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton debated each other 27 times, including outside debates.
“I think telling the candidates that they are banned from participating in outside events is incredibly undemocratic,” Doernberg said.As French philosopher Simone Weil wrote 70 years ago in the wake of the last outbreak of global fascism, political parties are inherently undemocratic. She believed they should be abolished outright. Like capitalism itself, they exist only for the sake of their own existence. Their goal is to maintain power and enrich their leaders. Ordinary people are permitted to register for token membership and thereby become"sheepdogged" into compliance and obedience and loyalty to the designated plutocratic power broker. Ordinary people are not ordinarily permitted to have independent voices within the confines of the strict party system.
During this endless American election season, the standard complaint has been that the media are covering it as a horse-race rather than as a dialogue about issues. But political parties by their very nature are devised to be a game and a sport to which we are invited to participate as mere spectators, biting our nails in shock, awe and suspense, as we root for our favorite team.
During this endless War on (and of) Terror, it's also apropos to remember that the very concept of the political party was born in the post-revolutionary Reign of Terror. Weil wrote:
The evils of political parties are all too evident; therefore, the problem that should be examined is this: do they contain enough good to compensate for their evils and make their preservation desirable?
It would be far more relevant, however, to ask: do they do the slightest bit of good? Are they not pure, or nearly pure, evil? If they are evil, it is clear that, in fact and in practice, they can only generate further evil.Simone Weil observed that the extermination of Jews would have been just as evil under the Weimar Republic as it was under Hitler. And so too are the forever-wars and the mass deportations and the global trade deals and the record incarcerations and the political corruption and the police brutality and the racial profiling and the erosion of civil liberties and the pollution for profit just as evil whether they're performed under a Republican majority or under a Democratic majority.
Once political parties gain power, they always seem to forget the basic social contract. Their goal becomes greed itself: more votes, more power, more members, more money. Weil wrote, "Once the growth of the party becomes a criterion for goodness, it follows inevitably that the party will exert a collective pressure upon people's minds. This pressure is very real; it is openly displayed; it is professed and proclaimed. It should horrify us, but we are already too much accustomed to it."
Or are we?
This could be one of those infrequent moments in history when we are actually starting to become horrified. It is, ironically, this very sense of mass horror that should be giving us hope. No matter our social status, our race, our ethnicity, our nationality, we can all join together in horror and outrage over the fact that unfettered capitalism is literally killing us.
People are beginning to discover their own agency and their own anger.
The abolition of the two major political parties is not likely to happen, of course. But the fact remains that both of them are being rattled from within, without, and below.
Whether these upheavals will lead to Trump-style fascism, or whether they will lead to a new New Deal, is still an open question.