Sunday, August 30, 2015

Anti-Democracy Democrats

The Democratic Party may have belatedly kicked Jefferson and Jackson out of its annual dinners for reasons of political correctness (having apparently just found out that both presidents were a tad on the racist side). But that doesn't mean the Democratic Party has suddenly changed for the better after its nearly two centuries of existence.

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.


annenigma said...

The Founding Fathers tried to warn us.

"However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion." - George Washington

"There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution." - John Adams

The Founders clearly didn't anticipate the two parties would become two sides of the same coin. The good news is that a majority of the electorate are now independent (yay!) and the two candidates who are actually lighting people on fire are both essentially independent.

Both Bernie and The Donald are running on a major party ticket out of convenience. Bernie still isn't a Democrat, which must really gall Hillary, and The Donald has spent far more years as a Democrat than he has a Republican, plus he's been an Independent and Reform Party member.

Unlike The Donald, Bernie has loyalties other than to himself, i.e. Israel and the Democratic Party. He's already pledged to support the Democratic candidate for President ("I always have!"), and Debbie Wassermann-Shultz gave him a warm hug at the DNC confab despite his criticism, along with Martin O'Malley, of the undemocratic nature of the Party. Debbie gave O'Malley the hairy eyeball instead. That's funny considering that O'Malley's been a lifelong Democrat and Bernie isn't even a member of the team. One of them, however, is clearly a member of the right Tribe.

Meredith NYC said...

The DNC confab and speeches are being rerun tonight, sunday, on cspan at about 630, with Omalley and Sanders a bit later. I want to see again O'malley's pointed criticism of this absurd reduction of the debates by Debbie, etc. And his other good points.

The number of debates is scandalous---it's like censorship-- and reports say Dems are unhappy with her. She's trying to promote herself. I think it was Politico's article that said she'd demanded in 2012 that her wardrobe be paid for by DNC. They wouldn't. I think she should earn her living as a model for hair curlers. Perfect. She has that public relations/advertising aura about her---very off putting.

One could say the American public has gotten so accustomed to being advertised to by 24/7 infotainment media, with star pundits, they can no longer tell an authentic personality from an ersatz one, at this point. This is how the poison of big money sponsors of our politics has done it's work. Thus 'reality show' is an apt phrase, with Trump as it's star. Thus our most authoritative paper, NYT, can get away with dissing Sanders and Omalley's common sense, by hardly even reporting it. And they're the only ones responding to majority needs---the whole purpose of voting at all.

Meredith NYC said...

Why keep repeating 'the donald' ...ugh....his wife's phrase? Trump (shrump) or better yet DT.

annenigma said...

Martin O'Malley honestly and courageously accused the DNC of creating a "rigged process" to limit the number of debates. Unfortunately, Bernie Sanders softened his position today on CNN stating "I think that rigging is a strong word," he said. "However, I would like to see more debates." Pretty please with sugar on top?

Bernie the Sheepdog thinks rigged is too strong a word because he wants to maintain his place as a political insider. The DNC has him trained and he's willing to obey their dog whistles to herd the sheep into the Party pen. He's also pledged his support to Hillary when she wins the nomination. They've been fine with that arrangement when they were sure he'd have a beneficial effect, but now that his appeal is increasing at the expense of Hillary's, he's going to have to shift his tone a bit. He must not hurt her chances in the general election, even inadvertently.

Admittedly, Bernie is honest and wholeheartedly believes in his message. He realizes that playing by the DNC's rules is the only way to get his message out there, but he isn't about to buck the system and bite the hand that feeds him. They allow him to run as a candidate in their Party as a quid pro quo to get the folks "all fired up and ready to go" as registered Democrats, convertible voters for Hillary. He's not exactly selling his soul to the devil, but he is pawning it. Actually, Bernie is right. Rigged might be too strong a word. 'Staged' is more like it but I don't expect him to use that word either. He knows his script and will stick to it tightly, unlike Donald Trump.

Voters though are really quite fed up with mealy mouthed, pussyfooting politicians who play the same old rigged game within the same old rigged system. Like it or not, Donald Trump plays his own game and, being true to his name, he trumps political parties like the wildcard that he is. In other words, he's an exceptional candidate, brash and bold, with exceptional wealth, and he can't/won't be bought because his ego wouldn't allow it. Therefore he could actually become President of the Most Exceptional Nation on Earth. He is the personification of the American Dream and displays the essence of being an (Ugly) American.

Actually, I'd rather see Trump get elected over any of the establishment candidates of either party. He will shake things up - like an earthquake.

Meredith NYC said...

Absolutely amazing that they had 27! debates in 08. The Gop debates are now dominating the media. We see the shutting down of democracy.

Jimmy Carter’s illness was announced just as he made a significant statement uncovered by main media as a quick google search shows----that the US is "an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting nominated for president".
My search in the NYT still found nothing and the op ed about Carter left it out. But my comment said that I’m waiting for some courageous big media to interview Carter on Oligarchy

Karen as you say.....They don't want us to see arguments between centrist Dems and leftist Dems. And this is avoided in every Krugman column too.
Hillary and Debbie will push neo lib free market solutions for the 1 pct, with maybe a few trivial modifications to confuse the gullible, and leave far behind Sanders’ democratic socialism for the majority.
By running as a Dem, Sanders shows up his stark contrast to the party.

I forced myself to watch Hillary’s speech out of curiosity to compare the audience reactions to her lines vs those to Sanders and OMalley. They sure seemed more subdued for her. My reaction-- she’s one of the most calculating and manipulative politicians who ever made a speech. Unpleasant to watch.

Now krugman’s columns are showing a similar air of calculation and artificiality. Real liberals don’t have to label their blog The Conscience of a Liberal. So Times readers aren’t getting the full range of political ideas by a long shot. The op ed conservatives do outweigh the liberals.

As for Simone Weil and political parties, I don’t know enough to comment, but another angle is that the political culture can corrupt parties.

We have to compare to other democracies now, with multi parties, given free media time, in short campaigns with public funds, and strict limits on any private donors. Their billionaires have to get investment returns in other ways apparently. The millions of citizens have health care, worker protections, low cost college, and more humane, rational prison/justice systems. The examples are out there for contrast and models for the future. (if only Chelsea Clinton doesn’t run for pres in 20 years.)

Pearl said...

I was disturbed by Annenigma's comments about Bernie Sanders which were similar to the general press reports about him, I think he is a very smart politician who knows how to get his message across and fully aware of the problems within the Democratic party. Any friendliness toward Debby, etc. does not indicate the selling out of his mission but is a decent way to keep connected with others in order to get his message across without further acrimony.
Of course, time will tell how things turn out as Karen mentioned, but I think he deserves our hopeful support meanwhile.
Meredith's following comment is closer to the issues and I feel that Bernie deserves our trust in what he is trying to accomplish. His record speaks well for him and divisiveness among us can be destructive and play into the hands of people like Krugman who reap confusion deliberately.
I think Annenigma's comment about voting for Trump is disturbing.

Meredith NYC said...

Pearl...... I agree. Bernie is blunt and uncompromising in his analysis of and remedies for our problems---where the frank truth counts. He can do that and still be civil to his colleagues. Or at least not rude. He's a very civilized man while he pulls no punches on his principals.

Of course, right now, if I were him, I'd be tempted to throw a bucket of water on Debbie W's head--and watch all her super-curls wilt and drip. Is there another woman in public life with such an overdone hair do? Ah, the fantasy.

annenigma said...

@Pearl (if you're still reading this thread)

"I think Annenigma's comment about voting for Trump is disturbing".

Sorry you were disturbed, but I didn't say anything about voting for Trump, nor did I encourage anyone else to. I simply said "Actually, I'd rather see Trump get elected over any of the establishment candidates of either party. He will shake things up - like an earthquake."

The key word was ESTABLISHMENT. Hillary is definitely Establishment but I didn't actually place Bernie in that category, although his admitting that he ALWAYS supports the Democratic candidate for President makes the case. I consider him more of an Independent-in-Name-Only or a Common Law Democrat 'living in sin' with the Democratic Party. I'm an Independent too but I've voted third party on occasion (Ralph Nader and Jill Stein come to mind) unlike Bernie who admittedly NEVER has, and he's been around a lot longer than I have.

The only thing I'm certain of is that I could NEVER support or vote for Hillary Clinton under any circumstances.

Bernie will though, and THAT really disturbs ME!

Hopeful Pearl said...

Some More Thoughts while dinner cooks:

The concerns about the history of political parties in the U.S. and their undemocratic ways of working are legitimate (the concerns that is). It is obvious that Bernie is well aware of this by becoming a Senator in order to have some power to influence and change things within the Senate. Were he to represent a third party, it would go nowhere under the present political atmosphere in the nation.
Friday, he and O'Malley startled the audience at the 'summer debate" by strongly criticizing the debate situation which was supported by many including hundreds of responses in the NYTimes by readers.
I think they were waiting in this way to introduce the concept of Party changes that needed revamping and I believe that this an area that Bernie will address more fully when the time is ripe.
He is a man of big ideas and concepts and needs the power of supporters to create a democratic Democratic party that he will be able to support fully and mean it when he states that he will support whomever wins the nomination. Hoping of course that Hillary will disappear due to his efforts.

His main job now is to create a very strong voting base and slowly educate them to realities that can be accomplished by more cooperation between many of the progressive and true liberal organizations and Independents and disillusioned citizens by resolving differences along the way.
I am sure he is aware of the concerns that have appeared among us that we are trying to understand and struggle with and I predict this will be addressed before too long.

It IS possible to have a political party that represents the people in a nation - look at our New Democratic Party in Canada that is about to come into power and hopefully do a decent job.
However party history in the U.S. does not have this example, but a true political revolution should involve change within parties. Voting regulations alone need revamping and I am sure getting rid of Citizens united is in the forecast for change. Many articles are appearing more and more about abolishing this stupid Supreme Court ruling.

It is our responsibility to support changes that may become possible and criticize fairly when things don't add up. Bernie has emphasized that the battle is not to get him into office so much as to organize for basic change among all the destructive areas that exist. I predict that you may well hear some continuing inspiring ideology from Bernie's camp, that may continue to draw more voters into the ranks. And we must hold him to his and our dreams of the future without rancor.

There has never been a better or more necessary time in U.S. history when this has become so pressing and possible. Karen you touched on this in your column