Last Monday, the New York Times carried what has to be one of the most ludicrous, Orwellian pieces of propaganda in recent memory. The title sums it up: “Is the Democratic Party Becoming too Democratic?”
First, a Little Background
This op-ed didn’t appear in a vacuum. The Party’s Unity Reform Commission adjourned on December 9th after seven months of deliberations, and led by progressives, issued a series of recommendations that would take some limited measures to democratize the Democratic Party.
Among the key changes the Commission recommended were proposals to reduce the number of Super Delegates by 60 percent, make participation in caucuses less difficult, provide incentives and penalties designed to encourage states to open up the primary process, and make the Party’s financial transactions more transparent. Progressives on the Commission won a hard-fought battle to include an Ombudsman Council responsible for assuring transparency and accountability in the Party’s financial transactions.
The Unity Commission’s recommendations will not become effective until the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee approves them. But DNC Chair Tom Perez removed the Sanders supporters from the Committee two months ago, decreasing the likelihood that the Committee would approve these measures.
So while progressives won some changes in the Unity Commission, the war for the heart and soul of the Party is still raging. And clearly, the neoliberals are loath to let go of the reins. This article, written by two academics who clearly belong to what Thomas Frank referred to as the liberal elite, is the first salvo in the establishment’s battle against the democratization of the Democratic Party.
Welcome to the Orwellian World of the Liberal Elite
The article is so poorly argued that it wouldn’t be worth acknowledging if it weren’t for the fact that it stems from the war for control of the Democratic Party, and the stakes for the people, the party and the country couldn’t be higher. If the neoliberals win this war, many voters—denied a real choice once again—will continue to stay home on election day, allowing extreme right wing candidates to continue winning elections with a relatively small percentage of eligible voters.
Let’s look at Professors Azari and Masket’s key arguments since they reveal the indefensible assumptions the neoliberals are using to retain control of the party.
We Know Best: After giving a brief summary of the history of selecting candidates from the days of smoke-filled rooms filled with Party bosses and apparatchiks, they detail the increasing democratization of candidate selection, before suggesting it’s gone too far.
To use their own words:
Part of the problem for parties is our insistence that they be run democratically. That turns out not to be a very realistic concept. Yes, we can hold elections within parties, but party leaders will always have vastly more information about candidates — their strengths and flaws, their ability to govern and work with Congress, their backing among various interest groups and coalitions — than voters and caucusgoers do.
Really? Besides sounding like a rationalization one could find in Pravda in the 1960’s, there’s the fact that these same Party leaders just managed to lose to Trump -- the most disliked and distrusted candidate in the history of polling. If that’s what their inside knowledge buys us, then we need new leaders.
But the fact is, the real reason Democrats lost and have been losing for decades, is that their dependence upon corporations and the ultra-rich to fund campaigns has made it all but impossible for them to back policies that reverse the exploding crisis of income and wealth disparity, or to take stands on climate change that go beyond cynical cosmetics, or to take actions to rein in big banks and Wall Street. As a result, the biggest block of voters has been the no-shows for several decades now. This is what left the way open for the passionately ignorant minority to elect an idiot like Trump.
Back to the article: the authors acknowledge that transparency and democratization helps create legitimacy and voter buy-in, then they note that there is a crisis of faith in the two party system. Their solution for Democrats? Reverse the trends that would increase faith in the system, apparently.
It’s Bernie’s Fault: So, having dispatched transparency and democratization as solutions to the widespread sense that the Democratic Party is corrupt and the sense of illegitimacy that breeds for the candidates it fields, they need to come up with a reason for that illegitimacy.
They resort to the neoliberal’s favorite fantasy … that Hillary lost because Sanders undermined her in the campaign, and Sanders supporters refused to close ranks around Clinton once her nomination was certain. But here again, people have been bailing on the Democratic Party for decades now, and it’s because the party refuses to back candidates who represent the people’s interests.
Blaming the voter for not backing your flawed—and pre-selected—candidate is just plain stupid. If the party wants to have folks turn out and support their candidates they should nominate candidates who don’t have a record of backing policies that are anathema to the people’s interests. As Trump’s own pollster acknowledged, had Sanders won the nomination, he would have trounced Trump, and turnout is the reason.
The good professors also ignore the fact that Sanders campaigned tirelessly and arguably more effectively for Clinton than anyone, including Hillary herself.
This article is exhibit A of the war the neoliberals are waging against a more democratic means of selecting candidates. The corporatist wing of the Democratic Party wants control, more than they want to win. The Rules and Bylaws Committee has six months to consider the changes proposed by the Unity Commission.
Establishment Democrats have not done a good job telling people about their internal deliberations, preferring to operate in secret. In the days, weeks and months ahead, we the people must be vigilant and diligent and work to ensure that the Rules Committee approves the Commission’s changes.
The alternative is more candidates of, by, and for the oligarchy, and more victories for Republicans.