Friday, July 29, 2016

The DNC Still Just Doesn't Get It

The Real Significance of DNC Emails
[A] man is not independent, and cannot afford views which might interfere with his bread and butter.

-- Mark Twain, "Corn-pone Opinions," (1901)

Update on polls: They vary, both over time and between pollsters. The only one that really matters, because it is definitive, is the one that counts voters' ballots on November 8, 2016. Meanwhile, here is what The New York Times "National Polling Average" reported on July 30, 2016: Hillary Clinton 42.6%, Donald Trump 42.1% -- in other words, a toss-up. Of the 5 polls averaged, among the 3 putting Clinton ahead they range from 43-42% to 40-35%; the two favoring Trump are 48-45% and 44-40%. Results for 11 swing states show Clinton leading in 9, by 0.2% (Ohio) and 1.3% (Florida) to 4.5% (Virginia) and 7.0% (Wisconsin). Trump leads in Georgia by 3.3% and Missouri by 8.2%. "2016 Election Polls; National Polling Average," New York Times, July 30, 2016.


The Convention

The Morning After

How the Democratic Party of 2016 Has Become the Republican Party of the 1940s and '50s

Why The DNC Still Just Doesn't Get It

The Growing Cancer of Campaign Finance

Why Sanders is Not Just a Candidate, and His Followers Are Not Just Campaign Supporters

Things Worth Losing an Election For


On Monday of this week [July 25] I wrote:
Today [Monday, July 25, 2016] before watching any of the Democratic National Convention, or reading any of the news reports coming from Philadelphia, I'm going to write about some of the reasons for my discouragement. Later this week, once the Convention is concluded, I plan to write on the same subject once again to see what impact the Convention has had on my thinking.
"Why Trump May Win," July 25, 2016. Now that the Convention is over, here are my thoughts.

The Convention

The Convention got off to a bit of a bumpy start. Senator Sanders' "Revolution" had been mollified earlier, somewhat, with a party platform incorporating most of Sanders' proposals. But the DNC's and party establishment's disdain remained, and was confirmed with the revelation of DNC emails confirming what Sanders had complained of from the beginning (e.g., the number and scheduling of debates to favor Secretary Clinton, joint fundraising by the DNC and Clinton campaign, and emailed discussions of how best to set back the efforts of Sanders' followers). See, Aaron Blake, "Here Are the Latest, Most Damaging Things in the DNC's Leaked Emails," Washington Post, July 25, 2016.

Monday morning DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was booed so loudly by her own Florida delegation that, in an effort to minimize the booing in the full Convention hall, it was decided to relieve her of the normal DNC Chair role of opening and closing the Convention. Nonetheless, the Sanders' backers continued with booing every time Clinton's name was mentioned by a speaker.

Tuesday through Thursday, with Sanders' appeals to his followers, and full-throated support for the election of Secretary Clinton, the booing subsided somewhat and a rumored walk out Thursday evening did not occur -- although Sanders' flip left many of his followers with a sense of betrayal, and some in tears.

I won't review them all here, but I thought many of the speeches throughout the week were excellent and even moving (see, e.g., Philip Bump, "The Father of Muslim Soldier Killed in Action Just Delivered a Brutal Repudiation of Donald Trump," Washington Post, July 28, 2016). However, the media seem to have given Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech mixed reviews. The PBS panel, including David Brooks, seemed to think her speech text and delivery to be no better than just "acceptable." But even a couple New York Times' folks whose evaluation of the speech was a little snarky, had to acknowledge that their fact check of her assertions found them mostly 100% accurate. Michael D. Shear and Thomas Kaplan, "Fact-Checking Hillary Clinton's Acceptance Speech," New York Times (online), July 29, 2016.

If you haven't read her speech text I urge you to do so. "Hillary Clinton's DNC speech: Full Text," CNN Politics, updated July 29, 2016, 1:14 a.m. ET (with 59:22 video). Frankly, I liked it -- from the perspective of what she needed to say, and wanted to say, and did say.

No speech can erase her ties to Wall Street billionaires and refusal to share with us the texts of what she told them in $650,000 speeches, or her support of costly, unnecessary wars of choice that have diminished, rather than enhanced, our national security, or whatever else has produced negative opinions of her that are the second highest of all those who have ever been presidential candidates. (Trump's are the highest negatives.) But in the speech she embraced the Sanders' Revolution. ("Your cause is our cause. Our country needs your ideas, energy, and passion. That's the only way we can turn our progressive platform into real change for America. We wrote it together -- now let's go out there and make it happen together.") She provided a State-of-the-Union-style list of what she wanted to do as president, along with how she intended to pay for it. She made an effort to accommodate her advisers' urging that she try to make herself more human (with references to Chelsea and Bill Clinton, her mother and grandmother). I could go on with all the other bases she touched on her way to bringing it home. But you can come to your own judgment about that.

Only time, and continuous polling, will tell what impact it had.

As for general impressions of the Convention, I thought it was professionally well produced and for the most part smoothly executed -- a real contrast with the Republican Convention and Trump performances the prior week.

The Morning After

Because this morning [Friday, July 29, 2016], as I stretched, wiped the sleep seeds out of my eyes, and ground the coffee beans, I realized that we are now, at best, back where we were on Monday morning, July 18 -- before the Republican Convention.

She came into the Democratic Party Convention well behind Trump in the polls, nationally and in the states she must carry: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, among others. Trump's performances in Iowa Thursday [July 28] afternoon and evening stole some of the media attention and poll bounce she otherwise would have received. He was back to calling her "Crooked Hillary." And Secretary Clinton had done herself, and the Democratic Party, no favors by going out of her way to honor the disgraced, and overtly anti-Sanders, former DNC Chair with the title of Honorary Chair of her campaign! At a minimum, this does nothing to refute the suspicion that she was complicit with Schultz's efforts to turn the DNC's resources to helping Clinton and defeating Sanders.

Her selection of Senator Tim Kaine as her vice president -- for all his virtues in that role for her -- only added to the disappointment among members of what the late Senator Paul Wellstone used to call "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" that the Party establishment was offering them just the same-old, same-old.

How the Democratic Party of 2016 Has Become the Republican Party of the 1940s and '50s

Yet Senator Kaine, perhaps inadvertently but clearly ill-advisedly, provided one of the most revealing assessments of his party during his acceptance speech when he said:
"Any party that would nominate Donald Trump for president has moved too far away from [the Republican] party of Lincoln. And I’ll tell you [disaffected Republicans], if any of you are looking for that party of Lincoln, we have got a home for you right here in the Democratic Party."
Will Drabold, "Read Tim Kaine’s Speech at the Democratic Convention," TIME, July 27, 2016

As I and others have earlier observed, the Democratic Party today (as distinguished from, say, the Democratic Party of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, or Lyndon Johnson) most closely resembles the Republican Party of Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, George H.W. Bush, and presidential candidate Nelson Rockefeller.

Alabama Governor George Wallace used to say, "There's not a dime's worth of difference" between the Democratic and Republican parties. That's not true. One has to evaluate the differences issue by issue. Then there is a dime's worth of difference, especially with regard to some social issues (e.g., abortion and gay marriage). But when it comes to capitulation to the demands of Wall Street, Big Pharma, Big Oil, large corporations, major donors generally, the NRA and other special interests, it is very difficult to make the case that those earning less that the median income (say, $50,000 a year) are better off with Democrats than Republicans.

Indeed, one of the most shameful and revealing bits of information in the DNC emails were the workings of the DNC in their relationships with major donors -- the provision of special perks and benefits, up to and including government jobs. Nicholas Confessore and Steve Eder, "In Hacked D.N.C. Emails, a Glimpse of How Big Money Works," New York Times, July 25, 2016, and Aaron Blake, "Here Are the Latest, Most Damaging Things in the DNC's Leaked Emails," Washington Post, July 25, 2016 (see "10) Flippant Chatter About Donors"). For an independent, professional, detailed and coherent report of a single event to explain this horrifying process, see Nicholas Confessore and Amy Chozick, "After Lying Low, Deep-Pocketed Clinton Donors Return to the Fore," New York Times, July 29, 2016, p. A1 (e.g., "While protesters marched in the streets and blocked traffic, Democratic donors congregated in a few reserved hotels and shuttled between private receptions with A-list elected officials. If the talk onstage at the Wells Fargo Center was about reducing inequality and breaking down barriers, Center City Philadelphia evoked the world as it still often is: a stratified society with privilege and access determined by wealth. . . . 'It’s business as usual,' said Libby Watson, who monitored lobbying events in Philadelphia on behalf of the Sunlight Foundation, a group devoted to government transparency.")

If one needs more illustration of the inequality created, and then ignored, by both major parties, one need look no further than the contrast between the Convention delegates' $600-a-night rooms (arranged by the DNC) with the 650-a-night homeless sleeping on the streets of Philadelphia while delegates ate, slept, partied, and met in comfort. ("[T]here are more than 500,000 homeless people in the United States. Out of all of them, 31 percent are living on the streets . . .. Philadelphia alone has more than 13,000 homeless people, both living on the streets and involved in programs and shelters. Approximately 650 homeless individuals sleep on the streets of Philadelphia on any given night." "South Philadelphia: Homeless People Are Struggling To Survive In The City," Philadelphia Neighborhoods, July 15, 2015.) Who spoke for them, let alone did anything?

Bluntly put, the Democratic Party has lost its soul, where access to power is gladly exchanged for access to money, and elected officials (not to mention DNC staff) spend up to half of every working day "dialing for dollars" rather than legislating.

Why The DNC Still Just Doesn't Get It

The afternoon of September 7, 2015, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley stopped by the Iowa City Federation of Labor's Annual Labor Day Picnic, held in the usual City Park Shelter #3. There were then five Democratic candidates in the race in addition to O'Malley: Lincoln Chafee, Hillary Clinton, Larry Lessig, Bernie Sanders, and Jim Webb. During my visit with Governor O'Malley he asked me who I was supporting. I explained that I was solidly behind Bernie Sanders, but that he, O'Malley, was my second choice. Given the field of competitors, rather than expressing disappointment he indicated that he was quite delighted to be my second choice.

And why was he my second choice? Because from among the conventional candidates he scored highest on my checklist: range of experience, accomplishments, values, and political/social skills; that is, both elect-ability and capacity to function as president. As it turned out, few primary and caucus-going Democrats seemed to share my assessment.

So why am I writing about Martin O'Malley in a race that narrowed to Clinton and Sanders and stayed on track at the Democratic National Convention to select Hillary Clinton?

Because I need an example of what I mean by a "conventional candidate" to explain the three examples of why it is I think "the DNC still just doesn't get it."

The DNC (and Party establishment) has failed to recognize and embrace what Sanders was offering them. And I don't mean his candidacy. They could be thankful for his gifts to them and still decide that, for whatever reasons, they believed someone else would make a better candidate. (Although given that most of the polls indicated he would run stronger against Trump than Clinton, elect-ability could not have been among the reasons.)

Why was what Sanders was offering of value to the Party?

Americans are increasingly unwilling to give their unwavering, lifetime loyalty and trust to major institutions, whether government, corporations (as employers or suppliers), or traditional organized religions.

Not surprisingly, they are also falling away from political party identification, which Gallup reports is now at all-time lows. Nearly a half of all voters (42%) now identify as "independents;" only 29% are still Democrats, and 26% say they are Republicans.

There are many ways to increase party identification and membership, but the long-term most efficient may be to focus on (1) the young (Robert Kennedy used to "campaign" among high school students too young to vote) and (2) that 42% who are independent. Senator Sanders was dramatically successful with both groups.

He walked away with the youth vote. "In the Democratic primaries and caucuses overall, Mr Sanders won 70% of the under-30 vote . . .." "Young v Old Votes for Bernie and Hillary in the 2016 Primaries," The Economist, April 27, 2016. And Nate Silver 538 has explained Sanders' attraction to independents:
Sanders does much better among independents than among Democrats. In New Hampshire, for instance, Sanders won Democrats by 4 percentage points while winning independents by nearly 50 percentage points, a split we’ve seen repeatedly since then. Some of Sanders’s strongest performances in primaries have come in places such as New Hampshire, Michigan and Wisconsin, states whose rules allow independents to vote in either primary. In fact, to date Sanders has compiled an unexpected record, performing very well in caucuses but having won just a single closed primary (Oklahoma’s). So why is Sanders doing so well among independents? It appears to be driven not by their ideology so much as their dislike of partisan politics.
Dan Hopkins, "Why Sanders Does Better With Independents; It's Not Because They're More Moderate Than Democrats,", April 18, 2016.

The Growing Cancer of Campaign Finance

The number one political concern for overwhelming majorities of Americans is the corrupting influence of money. Even 80% of Republicans oppose the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court opinion. A New York Times/CBS poll revealed that 85% of Americans believe we need fundamental changes to our campaign finance system. Another found 72% preferred small-donor financing of campaigns as a solution. A Des Moines Register poll of Iowa's caucus-goers revealed that 91% of Republicans and 94% of Democrats were somewhere between "unsatisfied" and "mad as hell" about money in politics. Jeff Robinson, "There's Nothing Naive About Wanting To Change Our Broken System," Every Voice, January 20, 2016.

Needless to say, campaign finance is the elephant in the political living room when it comes to building party membership and winning elections -- even for those benefiting from the system who see no ethical or moral problems with a democracy choosing legislation based on the size of campaign contributions.

Indeed, as mentioned above, one of the most embarrassing revelations to come from the 20,000 DNC emails revealed by Wikileaks has to do with what they explain about how the DNC trades benefits, and even government jobs, for the biggest political contributions.

When challenged, most professional politicians come back with resigned explanations regarding the costs of electioneering, and how PACs and large donations from corporations and the top 1/10 of 1% are really just the only way they can pay for the process.

Well, Bernie Sanders has just shown them how he could run a very successful and well-funded campaign with roughly 8 million donors contributing an average of $27 to what became a $200 million campaign.

Trump may be despicable, but he has figured it out. So had Bernie Sanders. The DNC has not.

Americans are angry; only 24% believe the country is headed in the right direction. "Right Direction or Wrong Track; 24% Say U.S. Heading in Right Direction," Rasmussen Reports, July 25, 2016. Over 90% want a change in campaign finance. Young people are less interested in committing themselves to traditional, 20th Century political parties. The fastest growing American "political party" are independents.

Senator Sanders offered the DNC an example of how to cure their woes -- how to generate enthusiasm instead of disdain, how to appeal to the new, young voters and independents, and how to eliminate the crippling burden of multi-million-dollar fundraising from the wealthy. Like Swiss watchmakers ignoring the growing market for digital watches, or Kodak rejecting the opportunity to develop videotape and the Xerox process, the DNC turned its back on what Sanders was not only advocating, but demonstrating by example was possible.

Not only did the DNC ignore him, worse still it actively opposed his efforts. It bulled ahead with its 20th Century notion that the Democratic Party could win a national election all by itself, using nothing but what we called in Texas "yellow dog Democrats" (those who would vote a straight ticket for Democrats even if a candidate was a yellow dog). It assumed it could once more ignore the overwhelming public opposition to the way it finances its operations. It got behind a quintessentially establishment presidential candidate (and then vice president) who would enhance, rather than suppress, its ability to raise money. And it did everything in its power to prevent Sanders' success.

Why Sanders is Not Just a Candidate, and His Followers Are Not Just Campaign Supporters

All of which brings me back to Governor Martin O'Malley and Senator Bernie Sanders.

If you've noticed, as far as I know there has not been a peep out of Governor O'Malley, or any of his supporters, objecting to the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. By contrast, although most of the Sanders supporters say that if they are in a toss-up state they will hold their nose and vote for Clinton (though they are unlikely to contribute money or work in the campaign), they also say that if they are in a state that is overwhelmingly either pro-Trump or Clinton they will stay home, or vote Green or Libertarian.

Why are the Sanders supporters so upset? What's the difference between them and the O'Malley supporters?

Conventional political campaigns are kind of like a game. Indeed, the media is sometimes criticized for treating them like "a horse race" -- poll results, money raised, and crowd size. That doesn't mean they aren't hard fought, or that there aren't often bruised feelings that take a long time to heal. But the attitude among what we call "political people" is kind of like what I imagine the attitude among professional football players must be.

Pro football is rough and tumble. Games are hard fought. There are lots of injuries, and an occasional death, or lifetime consequences from too many concussions. At the end of a game there is a winner and a loser -- with financial rewards for the winner. But there are rules, and there will be another game next week, or next season. Players are traded from team to team. There is a kind of camaraderie among players, given their similar backgrounds, experiences and lives.

Politics is kind of like that. Going in, the candidates, staff and consultants know there will be winners and losers. There's a rough sense of the rules, and how the game will be played, and admiration for one's more skilled adversaries -- with whom one may work in the future. There is an understanding and acceptance of the role of big money in politics (as they say, "money is the mother's milk of politics"). No matter who wins they will probably have more in common with their opponent than differences -- like football players, due to their similar backgrounds, experiences and lives. Even if the election is stolen, there's a certain admiration for someone who can "steal it fair and square." It's a game played out within a closed system. You live to run another day.

Bernie Sanders "campaign" was not like that at all. He was, after all, not even a member of the Democratic Party (although he became one for purposes of the primaries). He was a Democratic Socialist. He had virtually no national name identification. He had virtually no money. He had no powerful, or wealthy, political friends, fans, or armies of followers. He did not agree with the golden rule of politics that "those who have the gold make the rules." He was, in every sense, an outsider, one of the least likely persons to be thought a serious presidential candidate. No, Bernie Sanders did not have a "campaign" to get himself nominated (though it had that appearance). He had a "revolution" in nearly every sense, and acknowledged it as much. (His continuing efforts now bear the name, "Our Revolution.")

He did not think campaigns should benefit, or be paid for by, the wealthy (later paid back on their "investment"). He thought they should include all demographic groups, including former non-voters, not just the older, regular voters. He believed that governments' primary responsibilities were to those without a voice, rather than those with the megaphones of modern media.

When Bernie Sanders did not win the nomination, when he was rebuffed and actively opposed by the DNC, it had almost no similarity to the significance of Governor O'Malley not getting the nomination. It was the defeat of a political revolution, the rebuff of an effort to democratize both the process and the public benefits that would flow from such changes. The closer analogy would be if those wishing to break from England in 1776 lost a vote, and those opposing the separation then asked them to please join in supporting their candidate for the Virginia House of Burgesses.

When Clinton seeks the support of Sanders' supporters (as distinguished from O'Malley supporters) she is not just asking them to switch from the candidate who lost to the candidate who won. It is as if Bill Maher was appealing to devout Catholics to abandon their faith and join in his campaign for president of an atheist organization. She is asking them to abandon their beliefs, their motives, what brought them into politics in the first place; she is asking them to suddenly switch from opposition to everything they hate about the present Democratic Party, and her, and work to perpetuate it.

Things Worth Losing an Election For

Then-Senator Joe Biden once told me, "Nick, there are some things worth losing an election for."

I don't know if he still believes that. I'd like to think he does. But if so, it would put him in a very small minority amongst today's professional politicians. Well over 90% of those in the U.S. House now have things so rigged that if they want to be reelected they will be. And they want to be reelected. There is, in the minds of many of them, no thing worth losing an election for. Like football coaches of old proclaimed, "winning is not the most important thing, winning is the only thing." Some are neither show horses nor work horses. They're not even sleeping in the barn. They spend their days raising money, and then paying back the donors at ratios of 1000-to-one to 2000-to-one. See, Nicholas Johnson, "Campaigns: You Pay $4 or $4000," Des Moines Register, July 21, 1996. For what? To keep their job. Because, they believe, "there's nothing worth losing an election for."

As I started this blog entry, it turns out that Mark Twain was right over 100 years ago when he observed, "[A] man is not independent, and cannot afford views which might interfere with his bread and butter."

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