Rigged from the Start

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Bernie Sanders just declared war on the Democratic establishment (Washington Post)

I remember the 1976 Democratic presidential primaries very well. I don’t mean that I was there — in fact, I was busy being born that winter, so that kind of kept my eyes off of politics for a while — but it’s an interesting case study of the machinations of Democratic party politics and the primary process that I’ve studied time and time again. This was the first primary after the McGovern debacle, which itself came from the first primary following the historic chaos of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, which meant that it was the first Democratic primary where we had those people known as superdelegates affecting the process. Superdelegates have certainly remained a hot issue to this day — perhaps now more than ever — but there’s another aspect of the 1976 Democratic primary that should be on people’s minds as we look at how this year’s contest is going.

There were a lot of Democrats running in that year’s primary, which shouldn’t have been surprising given how unpopular President Ford was, not to mention the fracturing within the Republican Party as Ronald Reagan mounted an insurgent campaign against Ford in the GOP primary. Then as now, though, a lot of early primaries took place in the Deep South, and a fairly unknown but very savvy governor from Georgia named Jimmy Carter was able to take advantage of his “favourite son” status down there to mount an early lead in the primary contest, sweeping all but three of those states by appealing to the more conservative Democrats down there (you know, the kind that voted for George “segregation forever” Wallace in those other three states) and projecting an image as “the inevitable candidate,” which is just what he became. A lot of the more liberal Democrats elsewhere in the country weren’t happy, but it wasn’t like a Mo Udall or a Jerry Brown had the skill to assemble a coalition to combat Carter’s early success. Carter went on to barely beat Ford that November, and we all know how successful Democrats were after that election.

The next Democrat to actually go on to win the presidency, Bill Clinton, followed a similar strategy to Carter’s; after surviving the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary in 1992, and implanting that “comeback kid” earworm in the press, he racked up a lot of wins in the south that a Paul Tsongas or a Jerry Brown (again?) couldn’t surmount later on. With Clinton and his Democratic Leadership Conference in full command of the Democratic Party, the more liberal  members of the party soon found their voices silenced as moderate-to-conservative policies became the backbone of the party platform. Sure, there were still true left-wingers in the Democratic Party like Paul Wellstone and Dennis Kucinich, but the party as a whole not only abandoned its progressive roots, but made a very public show of throwing them on the ground and spitting on them. It wasn’t until 2008 that a more left-leaning Democrat won the party’s presidential nomination and the DLC lost its stranglehold on power, although it still maintained a healthy membership of such paragons of virtue as Rahm Emmanuel and Anthony “Carlos Danger” Weiner.

Watching the tumult that erupted as Nevada Democrats convened a couple of weekends ago, and the finger-pointing that’s followed, in some respects it’s hard to know what to think. Some things, like the threats made against the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Nevada, are clearly indefencible and need to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Other points of contention, such as how party rules were constructed and followed, and how the violence started, are still difficult to figure out after looking at all the videos and reading all the eyewitness accounts. What is clear is that Democrats have a lot of issues that they need to work out in a hurry, especially when recent polls have shown that Donald Trump could very easily become the next president despite his well-documented personal negatives.

As to whether or not any individual action in Nevada “proves” an anti-Bernie Sanders bias among the Democratic Party establishment, I don’t really know if I feel qualified enough to say, even after consuming so many news stories this past week and researching  online to get further knowledge. When it comes to their general treatment of actual liberals in their ranks, though, there’s no doubt that the party has it out for them, and not only has that been the case since before Sanders’ youngest voters were even born, but it’s not like they’ve even tried to hide it that much in the past, especially when it comes to us liberals who have made a new home for ourselves in the Green Party. (The “Ralph Nader spoiled the 2000 election” piffle, despite being thoroughly debunked ages ago, continues to be spewed by Democrats to this day, especially when talking about the possibility of Sanders mounting a third-party or independent campaign for the November election.)

Carter and Clinton both benefited from so many early Democratic primaries being in southern states, but both of them won their first nominations by such substantial margins that you could easily argue that they would have won regardless of what order the states went in. Looking at how close Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are this late into the primaries, though, there’s an awfully good case to be made that if the early primaries had been tilted more towards Sanders-friendly states, or even just less towards the south, that Sanders would have gotten the early momentum and carried that on to a pledged delegate lead (no matter how small) at this point in the contest. That, to me, is the most obvious example of how the moderate and conservative elements within the Democratic Party tilt the playing field to give southern Democrats a built-in advantage in the presidential nomination process.

If you need an additional example of how Democrats are trying to shut up not just the liberals in their own party, but American liberalism in general, just look at what’s happening in Pennsylvania. Ten years ago, Democrats in the state launched an all-out assault on the Green Party’s candidate for Senate that year, taking advantage of the state’s ridiculous laws regarding third-party ballot access (and their army of lawyers) to squash liberal Pennsylvanians’ hopes for having a Senate candidate they could feel good about voting for in November, and sticking the would-be Green Party candidate with a seven-figure bill in the process. Those ballot access laws have since been struck down, but the state’s Democratic party is now allegedly ignoring this in order to preserve the two-party duopoly on state ballots this year. The Democratic Party eased up on its attacks on the Green Party during the Obama years, but now they seem to be more vicious than ever when it comes to attacks from their left, displaying the kind of vigilance and nastiness that might actually get liberals to vote for them if they just went after Republicans like that.

I’ve followed Bernie Sanders since he was in the House of Representatives, and I like a lot about him both personally and politically. His decision to run for the Democrats’ presidential nomination was encouraging, but I knew from the start that I just couldn’t get behind him. Not only do I have significant disagreements with some of his politics, but I don’t believe that the Democratic Party can be moved significantly to the left from within, at least not during my lifetime. Barack Obama’s presidency was probably the best chance that any of us will ever see of that happening, and he squandered the opportunity he had to yank this country out of its right-wing fog when he chose to govern as a centrist after taking the oath of office. Even if Sanders is “the future of the Democratic Party,” as some are attempting to claim right now, that future isn’t going to come soon enough for me, let alone all the Americans who will suffer under either a Clinton or a Trump presidency.

If Sanders chooses to endorse Hillary Clinton after the primary then there’s really nothing that can be done about that; he is a politician, and he has his reasons for making whatever endorsements he makes. What bothers me is that so many of Sanders’ supporters, who talk like they’re behind his ideas and not just the man himself, sound like they’re either going to follow him to Camp Clinton or, worse yet, vote for Trump because they believe he’s the only “anti-establishment” choice that they have. People who believe in Sanders’ positions have a much better fit in Jill Stein, and she’s damn sure got my vote in November, but most Americans couldn’t pick Jill Stein out of a lineup because mainstream journalism, aided and abetted by the two major parties, have made so many people think that the Democrats and Republicans are the only two choices that they have, no matter how toxic both parties become.

The Democratic Party is no home for liberals, and there are plenty of examples, outside of what happened recently in Nevada, of how the party works to silence liberalism within its ranks, and also in the Green Party and other progressive movements. The way to defeat that kind of nonsense, if the system is so rigged that it can’t be beaten from within, is to construct a new system to defeat the old system, and that’s just what Jill Stein and other Green Party members like me are doing. Staying home in November — or, worse yet, voting for Trump just to “stick it to Hillary” — will only reinforce the kind of thinking that’s led to the Democratic Party becoming so wretched, and America becoming so dysfunctional.

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