Democrats Voting On Eliminating Superdelegates This Week–Will They Vote For Or Against Democracy?

A political party which uses superdelegates should not be able to use Democratic in its name. This week we will see if the Democratic Party continues to oppose democracy as the DNC votes on a proposal to eliminate superdelegates at their meeting in Chicago.

There have been proposals to eliminate superdelegates for years, including a recommendation by the Democratic Change Commission in 2009. More recently the Unity Commission recommended reducing the number of superdelegates. This has been expanded to a proposal which would remove the ability of superdelegates to vote for the presidential nominee on the first ballot, but they would still be able to vote on convention rules.

In 2016, the DNC worked to clear the field for Hillary Clinton early in the race. When Bernie Sanders did subsequently attempt to run against her, he was faced with the news media broadcasting delegate counts showing him to be way behind before a single vote was cast, playing into Clinton’s strategy of inevitability.

The proposal to prevent superdelegates from voting on the first ballot would make it much harder for a candidate with the support of superdelegates to take advantage of this, assuming recent trends hold and the nomination is decided on the first ballot.

Of course many establishment Democrats oppose this threat to their power. Not unexpectedly, some even see this change as a Russian plot (demonstrating  one of many reasons why we desperately need new leadership in the Democratic Party).

Norman Solomon, author of Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis, points out the irony of this vote taking place in Chicago:

The 1968 Democratic National Convention remains notorious mainly because of bloody clashes in the streets of downtown Chicago, where thousands of antiwar protesters encountered what a federal commission later called a “police riot.” Passions were also fraught inside the convention hall. From the podium, Sen. Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut denounced “Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago.”

But it’s less well known today that much of the mayhem in the streets and the angry dissent inside the amphitheater a half-century ago stemmed from the well-grounded belief that the Democratic establishment had rigged the nominating process for its candidate, Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Many of the delegates for the two antiwar contenders at the convention, Sens. Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern, were incensed at the party’s disregard for the will of the voters.

About 70 percent of the votes in the presidential primaries had gone to antiwar candidates, including Sen. Robert Kennedy, who was assassinated the night of his election victory in the California primary in early June. Yet the party conferred its nomination on Humphrey, a supporter of the still-escalating Vietnam War who had stayed out of the primaries ― but still ended up with more than two-thirds of the delegates at the national convention. The undemocratic process deepened the divisions inside the party and weakened public support for its ticket, aiding Richard Nixon’s narrow victory in the November 1968 election.

In other words, the Democratic establishment candidate lost in both 1968 and 2016 due to rigging the nomination for unpopular candidates as opposed to giving the nomination to the types of candidate who could win in fair primary system.

Eliminating superdelegates is an important step towards supporting democracy, but just one of many important steps. We also need to have the Democrats eliminate their other rules which help them rig their nominations, including front-loading primaries in southern states, and changing fund-raising rules and the debate schedule as in 2016.

It is an even worse attack on democratic principles when the democratic party both works to keep out true liberal and progressive views, while working with Republicans to limit the influence of third parties. The Intercept recently looked at a bill which was introduced by Democrats, although with limited support,which would help to promote real choice in elections:

In 2017, a group of House Democrats, led by Virginia Rep. Don Beyer, introduced H.R. 3057, the Fair Representation Act, which would require every congressional district in America to use ranked-choice voting. It would also require districts to be redrawn by independent redistricting committees, which would diminish the effects of partisan gerrymandering, and it would require the installation of multimember districts — a reform that would allow voters in each district to elect multiple lawmakers instead of just one, so that more people would be represented.

…advocates of ranked-choice voting raised the benefits of alternative voting schemes when, after Michigan’s recent governor’s race, the results suggested that if the third place candidate, who branded himself as a progressive, had been reallocated in a ranked-choice system, Abdul El-Sayed, a genuine progressive, might have come within arm’s reach of winning.

Europe provides several examples of other voting alternatives. French President Emmanuel Macron, for instance, ran on introducing greater proportional representation in the French legislature, and is slowly making good on that promise. Under proportional representation, parties are allotted seats based on the total percentage of the vote they get. Under that system, if Democrats were to receive 51 percent of the vote, Republicans 44 percent, and Greens 5 percent, they’d each get that percentage of seats in Congress.

Proportional representation is how elections are run in countries like Sweden, Germany, and Israel. It’s no surprise that legislatures in these countries often have seven or eight different political parties with significant clout, which then work together in coalitions on legislation, offering far more choices to voters.

By contrast, American political parties tend not to offer third-party voters any sort of election reform plans — even to win over their votes.

Ideally, if we are successful in reducing the influence of superdelegates, the long-term goal should be to both totally eliminate superdelegates and to institute these other reforms.

Ecuador Might Be Preparing To Turn Julian Assange Over To Authorities–Will This Lead To Prosecution By The US?

Glenn Greenwald reports at The Intercept that Ecuador is preparing to turn Julian Assange over to UK authorities. He writes:

A source close to the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry and the President’s office, unauthorized to speak publicly, has confirmed to the Intercept that Moreno is close to finalizing, if he has not already finalized, an agreement to hand over Assange to the UK within the next several weeks. The withdrawal of asylum and physical ejection of Assange could come as early as this week. On Friday, RT reported that Ecuador was preparing to enter into such an agreement…

The central oddity of Assange’s case – that he has been effectively imprisoned for eight years despite never having been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime – is virtually certain to be prolonged once Ecuador hands him over to the U.K. Even under the best-case scenario, it appears highly likely that Assange will continue to be imprisoned by British authorities.

The only known criminal proceeding Assange currently faces is a pending 2012 arrest warrant for “failure to surrender” – basically a minor bail violation charge that arose when he obtained asylum from Ecuador rather than complying with bail conditions by returning to court for a hearing on his attempt to resist extradition to Sweden.

That charge carries a prison term of three months and a fine, though it is possible that the time Assange has already spent in prison in the UK could be counted against that sentence. In 2010, Assange was imprisoned in Wandsworth Prison, kept in isolation, for 10 days until he was released on bail; he was then under house arrest for 550 days at the home of a supporter…

THE FAR MORE IMPORTANT question that will determine Assange’s future is what the U.S. Government intends to do. The Obama administration was eager to prosecute Assange and WikiLeaks for publishing hundreds of thousands of classified documents, but ultimately concluded that there was no way to do so without either also prosecuting newspapers such as the New York Times and the Guardian which published the same documents, or create precedents that would enable the criminal prosecution of media outlets in the future.

Indeed, it is technically a crime under U.S. law for anyone – including a media outlet – to publish certain types of classified information. Under U.S. law, for instance, it was a felony for the Washington Post’s David Ignatius to report on the contents of telephone calls, intercepted by the NSA, between then National Security Adviser nominee Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, even though such reporting was clearly in the public interest since it proved Flynn lied when he denied such contacts…

But the U.S. Justice Department has never wanted to indict and prosecute anyone for the crime of publishing such material, contenting themselves instead to prosecuting the government sources who leak it. Their reluctance has been due to two reasons: first, media outlets would argue that any attempts to criminalize the mere publication of classified or stolen documents is barred by the press freedom guarantee of the First Amendment, a proposition the DOJ has never wanted to test; second, no DOJ has wanted as part of its legacy the creation of a precedent that allows the U.S. Government to criminally prosecute journalists and media outlets for reporting classified documents.

But the Trump administration has made clear that they have no such concerns. Quite the contrary: last April, Trump’s then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, now his Secretary of State, delivered a deranged, rambling, highly threatening broadside against WikiLeaks. Without citing any evidence, Pompeo decreed that WikiLeaks is “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” and thus declared: “we have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.”..

But there seems little question that, as Sessions surely knows, large numbers of U.S. journalists – along with many, perhaps most, Democrats – would actually support the Trump DOJ in prosecuting Assange for publishing documents. After all, the DNC sued WikiLeaks in April for publishing documents – a serious, obvious threat to press freedom – and few objected.

And it was Democratic Senators such as Dianne Feinstein who, during the Obama years, were urging the prosecution of WikiLeaks, with the support of numerous GOP Senators. There is no doubt that, after 2016, support among both journalists and Democrats for imprisoning Assange for publishing documents would be higher than ever.

Greenwald added on Twitter: “It should take only the tiniest amount of rationality to understand the dangers to journalists from having the DOJ prosecute Assange for publishing classified or stolen documents. From the Pentagon Papers to the Snowden reporting to daily leaks, media outlets do that every day.”

Kevin Drum does not think there would be  much support for prosecution among journalists or Democrats:

I don’t have any independent knowledge of what will happen to Assange next, or whether he will indeed eventually be extradited to the United States. But I will say this. If the case brought against him is a fairly ordinary one of publishing classified material, I expect, contra Greenwald, that virtually no Democrats and absolutely no journalists will support the government’s case.¹ There would, unfortunately, probably be a few Democratic politicians who would cheer his prosecution, but even there I think (or hope, anyway) that their numbers would be small. If this case goes forward, I suppose it will be a good test of whose level of cynicism is currently best calibrated to the current mood of the American public.

¹The exceptions are likely to be nutballs like Breitbart or folks like that. Even Fox News would probably defend him against a straight-up publishing charge.

I agree that serious journalists will not support prosecution, but am not so sure about the Democrats. Again, as Greenwald pointed out, the DNC has already sued WikiLeaks for publishing documents obtained by others. Again, as Greenwald points out, this is a serious, obvious treat to press freedom.

Establishment Democrats Taking Wrong Lessons From Indictments Of Russian Agents

The announcement of the indictment of twelve Russian agents by Robert Mueller yesterday changes little with regards to what was already known, but establishment Democrats are taking all the wrong lessons, and making claims which they never would have made if not for the perceived political benefits. Finding ways to justify the fact that Hillary Clinton was unable to beat a candidate as dreadful as Donald Trump has become top priority.

Establishment Democrats seem oblivious to the fact that an indictment is not proof. No evidence accompanied the indictments and, as it is unlikely that the Russians will ever appear in court, it is possible that no evidence of these accusations will ever be presented. This provides no further proof than the retracted (but still repeated) claim of seventeen intelligence agencies agreeing that Russia hacked the DNC.

I have remained an agnostic as to whether the email was released by a hack or by a leak, and question if we will ever know for certain considering how the DNC refused to allow the FBI to investigate their servers. My personal opinion has been that a hack was the more likely explanation, but this is not definite. While I personally have never taken the Seth Rich theory seriously, there is nothing new here to disprove the view of those who do believe this.

For the sake of further discussion here, I will assume that the claims in Mueller’s indictment are true, again noting that this is not proven. Assuming that the accusations are true, establishment Democrats are still naively living in a pre-Gary Powers world, ignoring the realities of the situation.

Francis Gary Powers was an American spy who was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 while engaging in espionage. The United States claimed that he was studying weather patterns for NASA, but it was ultimately made clear that he was a spy. The United States was forced to admit that it had been conducting such spy  missions over the Soviet Union for several years, ending any pretense that the United States did not engage in such actions. It was no longer possible to see the United States as purely the victim of Russian espionage, but Democrats have suddenly returned to this mindset.

Such espionage is commonplace, and is rather benign compared to the practice of influencing elections in other countries–along with the outright overthrowing of foreign governments. Despite a long history of the United States meddling in the elections in other countries, establishment Democrats act as if the hack of email from the DNC and Hillary Clinton is somehow a unique attack on the United States, with many even comparing it to an act of war. Russia has meddled in American politics for decades, just as the United States has meddled in Russia, and both have meddled in many other countries. Russia did not suddenly attack the United States for the first time to attempt to stop Hillary Clinton–although that might be understandable considering Clinton’s history of belligerence towards Russia, and her propensity to support war.

While establishment Democrats have increasingly been following the neocon line on Russia, believing claims from the same people who sold the country on going to war over nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, avoiding unnecessary war should be a high priority. Instead many Democrats opposed the recent talks with North Korea, and are now using this as an argument to cancel the talks between Trump and Putin.

There are valid reasons to question these talks, but in a time of escalating tensions with a nuclear power, there is far more compelling reason to continue with summits, including potential talks on nuclear weapons. Trump’s plan to meet with Putin alone is of concern, I think it is far more likely that if Trump has any secretive goals it is more to promote a future Trump Tower Moscow than to engage in any electoral conspiracies. To date there is no evidence of any real collusion occurring, even if the Trump Tower meeting did show a willingness to obtain information from Russia if it existed. While Mueller may or may not present evidence of this in the future, there certainly has been no evidence while establishment Democrats have been trying to pass this off as fact.

While I do not condone the hacking of any Americans by the Russian government, if this was foreign meddling in an election, it was probably the most benign meddling in the history of election meddling. The released email provided the American people with truthful and accurate information which exposed corruption and dishonesty by top politicians in this country.

It certainly makes no sense for Clinton apologists to use the hacked email as an excuse for Clinton losing. If Clinton and the Democratic Party lost because of the American people finding out the truth about their corruption, the blame for the loss falls on the politicians exposed, not those who exposed them. To argue that the email posted by Wikileaks caused Clinton to lose only means that I was right (and Clinton supporters wrong) during all those months I was writing that Clinton should not be the Democratic nominee.

The fact remains that, while Mueller has shown evidence of money laundering and other financial crimes, along with crimes by some Russians, there has been no evidence of any actions which altered the election results. There is no evidence that the voting systems were hacked or that a single vote was changed, despite erroneous reports from Clinton supporters on MSNBC. The evidence obtained in the Congressional hearings showed that Russian ads and other activities on social media were a minuscule amount of traffic,  unlikely to affect the vote.

The actual threat to American democracy comes from the Democratic and Republican Parties. This includes attempt at disenfranchisement of voters by Republicans, and the efforts exposed by the Democratic Party to rig the 2016 nomination and keep out progressive viewpoints. I find the actions by the Democrats especially offensive when the Democratic establishment simultaneously works to restrict the ability of third parties to run, and for those with different viewpoints to effectively run within the Democratic Party. Instead of supporting democratic values and allowing for different viewpoints, many Democrats totally reject opposing views, holding a false belief that differences in opinion with them are based upon falling for Russian propaganda.

To the degree that Russia might be engaging in activities to meddle in our elections, the proper responses are clear. We need to enhance election security, including maintaining a paper trail. If the DNC and other Democrats fell for the hacking attempts described in the indictment, further education is needed to limit this risk in the future.

There are also wrong ways to react. This includes arguing against diplomacy and increasing the risk of war, along with the McCarthyism and support for censorship of opposing viewpoints coming from some Democrats.

Bernie Sanders Congratulates Progressive Winners Last Night–Wins For The Left Even More Important With The Retirement Of Anthony Kennedy

Despite efforts of the Democratic establishment to fight progressive candidates, there have been some major victories for the left, including the surprise upset of  Joseph Crowley in New York. Perhaps this will give Cynthia Nixon some momentum in her primary campaign against  Andrew Cuomo. Bernie Sanders has congratulated two of the progressives who won last night.

Sanders had this to say about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who beat Crowley, who was previously considered as a possible successor to Nancy Pelosi: “She took on the entire local Democratic establishment in her district and won a very strong victory. She demonstrated once again what progressive grassroots politics can do.”

Sanders also congratulated Ben Jealous, who won the Democratic nomination for governor in Maryland:

“Ben showed that running a progressive, issue-oriented campaign can bring all working people together in the fight for justice,” Sanders said in the statement. “That’s what Ben has done in the primary and that is what a united Democratic Party will do in the general election.”

“What the people of Maryland understand is that we can most effectively oppose Donald Trump’s extremism with strong progressive leadership at the state and local level — and there are few progressives stronger than Ben,” he added.

The importance of having more true liberals and progressives in state governments and Congress was highlighted by the announcement that Anthony Kennedy is retiring from the Supreme Court, giving Donald Trump a second Court pick. While we cannot understate the significance of the Supreme Court moving further to the right, we must also keep in mind that the Court’s function is to interpret the law. The strongest defense we have now is to increase the number of true liberal and progressives in Congress and state governments, as opposed to Republicans and establishment Democrats, to influence the laws which are written.

The one positive outcome of a Trump presidency is that this does give Democrats a chance to win in Congressional and state elections after a decade of losing, while a Clinton presidency would have led to a continuation of this trend. Democratic victories will only be meaningful if Democrats are willing to stand for something other than being just a little less crazy than the Republicans, as in recent years.  This will take victories by the grassroots over the establishment, as we saw last night.

Democrats Consider Reforms Over Objections Of Party Establishment

The Democratic National Committee is talking about reforms, but it is not clear how real these reforms will be, and whether the party establishment will really allow them. In response to loss of support after the Democratic Party rigged its 2016 nomination for Hillary Clinton, a candidate so terrible that she could not even beat Donald Trump, a unity commission made recommendations for reform. Their recommendations were far too little, such as reducing but not eliminating the role of superdelegates. During a meeting last week, Democrats made some mixed recommendations, with no final decisions made.

The biggest problem with superdelegates in recent years has not been their actual votes but the manner in which they influence the overall race. Inevitability was a major component of Hillary Clinton’s strategy in 2016, which was strongly promoted by news media delegate counts which showed her with a huge lead from the start of the primaries by including the superdelegates.

The most interesting proposal, supported by Tom Perez, would prohibit superdelegates from voting until a second ballot. As the nomination has been settled on the first ballot in recent years, this could be a back-door method of eliminating superdelegates. Many Democratic leaders are upset about this proposal, seeing it as a loss of power. Of course, if they could get beyond their sense of entitlement, they could show more respect for democracy and run to be regular delegates as others do.

Opponents of reform have made a number of irrational arguments, including a claim from DNC member Bob Mulholland that this is a Russian plot, as reported by Huffington Post:

Mulholland, a DNC member and longtime key player in California Democratic politics, sent an email Friday to other DNC members from the Golden State that implied Russian President Vladimir Putin might be behind the reform effort.

The basis for his claim? An activist from West Virginia promoting the changes, who he had seen at two national party gatherings, admitted to him that she was a Green Party member and had voted for its nominee, Jill Stein, in the 2016 election.

“I concluded someone is picking up her expenses but there she and others are, demanding we change our Rules,” Mulholland wrote. “The Putin operation is still active.”

Contacted by HuffPost on Sunday, Mulholland conceded he had no evidence the woman, who he did not name, was bankrolled by Putin.

As we have seen far too often since the 2016 election, too many establishment Democrats, anything which limits their own power to subvert democracy is a Russian plot.

For those who claim that superdelegates are needed in order to prevent a fiasco such as the nomination of another Donald Trump,  keep in mind that in 2016 the Democratic  superdelegates overwhelmingly supported a candidate who was both unelectable and as bad as Donald Trump.

There are potential problems with this proposal. Superdelegates would still be able to vote on matters other than the nomination on the first ballot. This could give them a disproportional influence on matters such as convention rules, including seating of delegates, which could influence the winner. The party establishment might be tempted to circumvent this with rules which would increase the chances of a vote going to the second ballot, such as returning to requiring a super-majority to win the nomination. They might also be dissuaded from doing so due to the tendency in the past for candidates who received the nomination following contested conventions to be less likely to win the general election.

Eliminating superdelegates would not solve all of the problems. Superdelegates are just one of many ways in which the Democratic Party rigs who can win the nomination. I would also like to see an end to front loading Southern states to help more conservative candidates. We would also need an end to many of the other actions seen in 2015-6 including restricting debates, giving one candidate effective control of the Party as they did with Clinton, games like Harry Reid played in Nevada, changing fund raising rules to help Clinton, and restricting who can vote or making it hard to register to help the establishment candidate.

Another proposal of concern is one that requires that candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination must be registered Democrats and must “run and serve” as Democrats. Bernie Sanders reportedly would still be allowed to run due to rules in Vermont which treat him as a Democrat on the state and federal level.  Even if this rule does not interfere with Bernie Sanders running, it does narrow the range of potential candidates. While the election of Donald Trump might have soured any desire for a candidate outside of politics, the limited support for true liberal and progressive ideas in the current Democratic Party shows a need to allow new blood.

The Rules and Bylaws Committee has until June 30 to decide upon these recommendations, and a decision is to be made at the next DNC meeting in August.

Former Ambassador To Soviet Union Warns Of The Dangers Of Russiagate Hysteria

Jack F. Matlock Jr., ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1987 to 1991, writes in The Nation that, “We must end this Russophobic insanity.” Many Democrats continue to spread hysteria about Russia as opposed to accepting the reality that they lost the 2016 election by running a terrible candidate who should never have been a major party candidate for president. Matlock countered the false narrative we are often hearing by reviewing the facts. Matlock had the following seven points:

  1. It is a fact that some Russians paid people to act as online trolls and bought advertisements on Facebook during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. Most of these were taken from elsewhere, and they comprised a tiny fraction of all the advertisements purchased on Facebook during this period. This continued after the election and included organizing a demonstration against President-elect Trump.
  2. It is a fact that e-mails in the memory of the Democratic National Committee’s computer were furnished to Wikileaks. The US intelligence agencies that issued the January 2017 report were confident that Russians hacked the e-mails and supplied them to Wikileaks, but offered no evidence to substantiate their claim. Even if one accepts that Russians were the perpetrators, however, the e-mails were genuine, as the US intelligence report certified. I have always thought that the truth was supposed to make us free, not degrade our democracy.
  3. It is a fact that the Russian government established a sophisticated television service (RT) that purveyed entertainment, news, and—yes—propaganda to foreign audiences, including those in the United States. Its audience is several magnitudes smaller than that of Fox News. Basically, its task is to picture Russia in a more favorable light than has been available in Western media. There has been no analysis of its effect, if any, on voting in the United States. The January 2017 US intelligence report states at the outset, “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.” Nevertheless, that report has been cited repeatedly by politicians and the media as having done so.
  4. It is a fact that many senior Russian officials (though not all, by any means) expressed a preference for Trump’s candidacy. After all, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had compared President Putin to Hitler and had urged more active US military intervention abroad, while Trump had said it would be better to cooperate with Russia than to treat it as an enemy. It should not require the judgment of professional analysts to understand why many Russians would find Trump’s statements more congenial than Clinton’s. On a personal level, most of my Russian friends and contacts were dubious of Trump, but all resented Clinton’s Russophobic tone, as well as statements made by Obama from 2014 onward. They considered Obama’s public comment that “Russia doesn’t make anything” a gratuitous insult (which it was), and were alarmed by Clinton’s expressed desire to provide additional military support to the “moderates” in Syria. But the average Russian, and certainly the typical Putin administration official, understood Trump’s comments as favoring improved relations, which they definitely favored.
  5. There is no evidence that Russian leaders thought Trump would win or that they could have a direct influence on the outcome. This is an allegation that has not been substantiated. The January 2017 report from the intelligence community actually states that Russian leaders, like most others, thought Clinton would be elected.
  6. There is no evidence that Russian activities had any tangible impact on the outcome of the election. Nobody seems to have done even a superficial study of the effect Russian actions actually had on the vote. The intelligence-community report, however, states explicitly that “the types of systems we observed Russian actors targeting or compromising are not involved in vote tallying.” Also both former FBI director James Comey and NSA director Mike Rogers have testified that there is no proof Russian activities had an effect on the vote count.
  7. There is also no evidence that there was direct coordination between the Trump campaign (hardly a well-organized effort) and Russian officials. The indictments brought by the special prosecutor so far are either for lying to the FBI or for offenses unrelated to the campaign such as money laundering or not registering as a foreign agent.

Matlock agrees that the election of Trump was a disaster, but also criticizes the false narrative as to why he was elected. He discussed both the problems with blaming Russia, and noted that the Democrats most likely would have won if they had nominated anyone other than Hillary Clinton:

I did not personally vote for Trump, but I consider the charges that Russian actions interfered in the election, or—for that matter—damaged the quality of our democracy ludicrous, pathetic, and shameful.

“Ludicrous” because there is no logical reason to think that anything that the Russians did affected how people voted. In the past, when Soviet leaders tried to influence American elections, it backfired—as foreign interference usually does everywhere. In 1984, Yuri Andropov, the Soviet leader then, made preventing Ronald Reagan’s reelection the second-most-important task of the KGB. (The first was to detect US plans for a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union.) Everything the Soviets did—in painting Reagan out to be a warmonger while Andropov refused to negotiate on nuclear weapons—helped Reagan win 49 out of 50 states.

“Pathetic” because it is clear that the Democratic Party lost the election. Yes, it won the popular vote, but presidents are not elected by popular vote. To blame someone else for one’s own mistakes is a pathetic case of self-deception.

“Shameful” because it is an evasion of responsibility. It prevents the Democrats, and those Republicans who want responsible, fact-based government in Washington, from concentrating on practical ways to reduce the threat the Trump presidency poses to our political values and even to our future existence. After all, Trump would not be president if the Republican Party had not nominated him. He also is most unlikely to have won the Electoral College if the Democrats had nominated someone—almost anyone—other than the candidate they chose, or if that candidate had run a more competent campaign. I don’t argue that any of this was fair, or rational, but then who is so naive as to assume that American politics are either fair or rational?

Matlock added that falsely blaming the election on Russia is also dangerous:

I should add “dangerous” to those three adjectives. “Dangerous” because making an enemy of Russia, the other nuclear superpower—yes, there are still two—comes as close to political insanity as anything I can think of. Denying global warming may rank up there too in the long run, but only nuclear weapons pose, by their very existence in the quantities that are on station in Russia and the United States, an immediate threat to mankind—not just to the United States and Russia and not just to “civilization.” The sad, frequently forgotten fact is that, since the creation of nuclear weapons, mankind has the capacity to destroy itself and join other extinct species…

We must desist from our current Russophobic insanity and encourage Presidents Trump and Putin to restore cooperation in issues of nuclear safety, non-proliferation, control of nuclear materials, and nuclear-arms reduction. This is in the vital interest of both the United States and Russia. That is the central issue on which sane governments, and sane publics, would focus their attention.

Related:

The Nation Debunks Russiagate Conspiracy “Fantasyland” And Irresponsible Media Coverage

Democrats Need The Right Policies, Not Just A New Slogan

Despite a decade of losing while standing for little other than being slightly more moderate than Republicans, Democrats have concentrated on cosmetic changes such as seeking the right slogan. Their latest, rather unoriginal, idea for a slogan is to “drain the swamp.” In contrast to relying on slogans, Samuel Moyn  professor of law and history at Yale, has written that Democrats need to look at the right policies.

Writing in The Guardian, Moyn noted an op-ed in The New York Times saying liberals “come off as judgmental scolds” and alienating potential voters. Remedying this is only part of the solution:

…policy matters much more than politeness. The trouble with American liberalism is not the rhetoric, the selling or the advertising; it is not even the product to sell, as if politics were marketing. Rather, liberals need to forge policies that allow Americans to identify or imagine common interests. The problem is not the bait chosen to lure voters but the whole idea of politics as fishing – as if voters across the country are suckers to be lured into one camp or another. Perhaps liberals, searching for a path forward into the hearts and minds of voters, need to pay heed to Missouri’s state motto: not “rule me more nicely”, but “show me”.

In looking for the “right policies,” Moyn mentions income inequality, as well as another which I have often noted has been receiving far too little attention, “ending the endless war on terror.”

The last two presidents of the United States have each been elected as antiwar candidates, even though each went on to govern militaristically. An antiwar coalition in the making – starting with proposals to drastically reduce America’s counterproductive use of force abroad – is likely to be powerful in future elections too. But liberals will have to give up their concessions to the national security state and their fears of coming off as unpatriotic in order to exploit this opportunity.

Rather than nominating an anti-war candidate, the Democrats nominated one of the most hawkish politicians in recent history in 2016, with one analysis showing that this did hurt Clinton in the general election. While well below the vote of the major party candidates, Jill Stein (Green Party) and Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party) received around twice as many votes as their parties received four years previously. Others do not vote as they do not see either major political party as being worht voting for. A major party which took up an anti-war platform could likely pull in many voters who are reluctant to vote for either party at present.

I am pleased to see Moyn recommend ending the war on terror, but I also have one other wish. Liberals need to concentrate more on fundamental liberal principles of individual liberty, and keeping the government out of the private lives of individuals. We currently have a huge contradiction in our politics with the Republicans claiming to be the party of freedom and limited government, while frequently advocating policies of greater government intrusion in the private lives of individuals. This is largely because of an inconsistency on the part of Democrats. Republican voters might be more willing to accept support for reproductive rights if described as part of an overall platform of supporting individual liberty. Of course this only works if Democrats are consistent and avoid nanny state policies, or a health care plan dependent upon an individual mandate, which was one reason for Democratic losses in recent years.

Democratic Leaders Aren’t Really Pragmatists–They Just Prefer Moderates

This year we have seen conflicts in the Democratic Party as the party establishment has intervened in primary races to back more moderate or conservative candidates over more progressive candidates. As I have noted previously, the arguments that more moderate candidates are more electable have not held up, with this view being a major reason why Democrats have lost control of the White House, both Houses of Congress, and around one thousand seats in state legislatures.

With increased polarization, the number of persuadable voters has decreased, and elections are frequently won based upon a party’s ability to motivate its potential voters to turn out to vote. Despite growing evidence that their strategy does not work, the Democratic establishment remains resistant to change. The Intercept recently reviewed evidence that this might be because party leaders simply prefer moderates. They reviewed data showing that, even in safe races, party leaders preferred more moderate candidates:

A paper in this month’s edition of the peer-reviewed Legislative Studies Quarterly analyzes a decade’s worth of federal elections, finding that party organizations boost moderate candidates across the board, whether the general election is expected to be competitive or a long shot. In other words, party support for moderates does not appear to be strategic, but sincere. “They’re not doing this to have a better shot at winning elections,” said the paper’s author Hans Hassell, assistant professor of politics at Cornell College in Iowa.

The evidence points more to the conclusion that party elites “have strong incentives to prefer loyalists who can be trusted to implement its preferred policies after the nomination,” Hassell writes.

The study not only breaks with other political science findings, but decades of rhetoric from party leaders. It’s obvious from the most casual survey of primary elections that parties support moderates, but the races that observers tend to watch closely are competitive contests in swing states, so it stands to reason that a moderate in such a district may indeed be the smarter strategic play. Indeed, in a series of high-profile battles with progressive activists, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has consistently positioned itself as being pragmatic, willing to bend on its progressive principles if doing so can lead to victory.

Hassell’s work expanded the field of vision, looking at races in which the Democratic nominee is likely to cruise to victory. The full scope of the research indicates that party leaders are actually committed to elevating candidates with a narrow range of beliefs.

If party elites were merely strategic actors, the data would show higher support for moderate candidates in swing races, while not showing as much support in seats that were either safe or out of reach. That’s not the case. In Hassell’s findings, parties consistently supported the more moderate primary candidate, regardless of the expected outcome of the general election. Even after excluding incumbents — which party committees almost always support — support for moderates holds. It’s also consistent regardless of party. And while this data set used Senate races, for his book Hassell also measured House races, finding the same result.

I wonder to what degree this is a consequence of a sincere view supporting moderate positions among party leaders as opposed to holding views to please their donors. Hassell leans towards sincerity on the party of party leaders, but this would be difficult to prove. Hassell also had one possibly favorable finding for progressives–views of party leaders have not remained static over time. On the one hand the establishment is not fixed. On the other hand, the establishment now dominated by Clinton-style “New Democrats.”

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Despite Their Gestures, Democratic Candidates Continue To Take Corporate Money

Democratic candidates  increasingly feel like they must swear off corporate contributions, but Zaid Jilani at The Intercept shows that this might just be a cheap gesture. He writes:

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, D-Calif., became the latest lawmaker to swear off all donations from corporate political action committees, telling a radio host in mid-April that she made the move after being asked about it at a town hall by a constituent.

Harris joins five other senators who have vowed not to take corporate PAC contributions: Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. …

Swearing off corporate PAC money can be one positive step a lawmaker can take towards reducing the corrupting influence of money on politics. But it’s far from enough.

The reason is that money from PACs – corporate or otherwise — comprises a relatively insignificant portion of these senators’ campaign contributions, raising the question of whether curtailing donations from corporate PACs will really make a difference. Critics think it doesn’t, noting that the bigger threat of influence comes from wealthy donors who don’t funnel their cash through PACs. But for politicians looking to seize on public discontent with the influence of money on politics, the decision makes for an effective messaging ploy.

Michael J. Malbin, a campaign finance researcher at Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, pointed out to The Intercept that Harris has received only a small amount of her total campaign funding from PACs. “However, she also received many of her itemized contributions from individuals whose income is derived from their work as corporate executives,” he said.

Benjamin Page, a long-time researcher of political decision-making at Northwestern University, agreed. “Refusing to take corporate PAC money makes a nice symbol, and I suppose we should give it some credit.  But far more money comes from wealthy individuals,” he wrote in an email. “That is much more important, and I believe it tends to corrupt both the Republican and the Democratic party.”

OpenSecrets, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics, tracked and categorized PAC donations between 2013 and 2018. The data reveals that most of the senators who’ve sworn off corporate PAC money received more from large individual donors — donors giving $200 or more, who can be regular people but also corporate executives and lobbyists — than from PACs in that time period.

  • Cory Booker: 10.37 percent of Booker’s campaign funding has come from PACs, 76.40 percent of which is from business PACs. By contrast, 72.12 percent of Booker’s campaign funding is from large individual donors.
  • Maria Cantwell: Just 0.62 percent of Cantwell’s campaign funding has come from PACs of any kind. In contrast, 73.61 percent of her campaign funding has come from large donors.
  • Kirsten Gillibrand:6.95 percent of Gillibrand’s campaign funding has come from PACs. Of this proportion, 65.73 percent is from business PACs. Meanwhile, 62.15 percent of her fundraising has come from large individual donors.
  • Kamala Harris: 4.89 percent of Harris’s campaign fundraising has been through PACs; 41.07 percent of this total has been from business PACs. By contrast, 64.99 percent of her campaign funding has come from large donors. (Though the OpenSecrets analysis covered a five-year period, in Harris’s case, it only goes back to 2015, when she first ran for U.S. Senate.)
  • Bernie Sanders:1.73 percent of Sanders’s funding has come from PACs. Of that, 7.27 percent is from business PACs. 17.70 percent of his funding has come from large individual contributors.
  • Elizabeth Warren: Just 1.4 percent of Warren’s campaign money has come from PACs. Of that, 12.91 percent is from business PACs. Large individual donors made up 29.72 percent of her campaign funding.

These figures make clear that the senators are giving up relatively little money by swearing off donations from corporate PACs — it just isn’t a very big portion of their overall campaign funding. Which raises the question: Is it really possible that the system is being corrupted by sums of money this small? If not, then politicians — and the voters they’re looking to win over — need to look closer at how big money is corrupting Washington.

There are further examples of how corporate influence is not diminished by this gesture, with Kirsten Gillibrand being just one example:

UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS Boston professor emeritus Thomas Ferguson is one of America’s leading academics who studies the influence of money in politics; he is the brain behind “the investment theory of party competition,” which says that politicians are essentially driven by donors, their true political base.

He doesn’t think much of senators disavowing corporate PAC money. “It’s an absolutely cheap gesture that means nothing, that’s why they do it,” Ferguson said in an interview. He pointed out that corporations can also run their money through the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and that these senators haven’t disavowed the comittee’s backing.

A close look at Gillibrand’s and Booker’s top donors makes clear just how little it matters when senators swear off corporate PAC money. Gillibrand’s 11th-largest donor is Morgan Stanley, which did not give a penny of its money to Gillibrand through a PAC. Instead, Morgan Stanley employees donated $40,425 to her campaign committee as individuals. Of the $814,463 that she has received from the securities and investment industry, just $70,500 came from PACs.

Gillibrand was one of the Democratic senators who voted down an amendment that would have broken up Wall Street’s largest banks in May 2010. Jeff Connaughton, an aide to then-Sen. Ted Kaufman, D-Del., who co-wrote the amendment, noted dryly in his book that an Obama administration Treasury official later boasted that if the administration had supported the amendment, it would have passed, but because they didn’t, it didn’t. Speaking about the amendment four years later, Warren noted that it “had bipartisan support, and it might have passed, but it ran into powerful opposition from an alliance between Wall Streeters on Wall Street and Wall Streeters who held powerful government jobs. They teamed up and blocked the move to break up the banks.”

This was contrasted with how Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have raised money:

A better path to limiting the influence of big money is for senators to simply develop a small donor base that supplants large donors of any sort, Ferguson said. “Let them say they won’t take money over, you know, a particular limit — $500, $750, whatever you like,” he suggested.

Page agreed. “What we really need from candidates is reliance on small donations, if possible, as was done by Bernie Sanders and (to a lesser extent) Barack Obama,” he wrote to us.

In that regard, Warren and Sanders deserve an honorable mention, as they are the only senators in this group of six who got the majority of their campaign funding from small individual contributors since 2013. Nobody else comes close.

It’s easy to imagine lawmakers getting swayed by a pool of donors from a big bank or fracking company who give them $2,000 donations; it’s less easy to imagine that if the politicians build a donor base of people throwing in relatively small amounts, that they’d fall under pernicious influence.

(The Onion had an amusing article on this topic in 2016, with the headline: “Bernie Sanders Clearly In Pocket Of High-Rolling Teacher Who Donated $300 To His Campaign.”)

Why Don’t We Hear Messages Like This From The Party Of The Resistance?

The Democratic Party has struggled to come up with a response to Donald Trump on Syria. While some disagree, they cannot come up with a unified opposition to the air strikes or intervention, so they limit their opposition to complaining that Trump failed to get Congressional approval. This is no surprise considering that their last presidential candidate had advocated far greater military interventionism than Trump, and previously attacked Obama for not pursing greater intervention based upon an extremely irrational argument.

While anti-war voices are rare, here is an example of a conservative who is making far more sense than most of the Democrats:

The U.S. military presence in Syria is illegal, and the same would be true of any occupying force provided by U.S. clients. Instead of looking for a substitute occupation force or maintaining one of our own, the U.S. should accept that controlling any part of Syria is not worth the costs and risks that go along with it. The U.S. has no business fighting in Syria, and it has no authority to keep its forces there, so a complete withdrawal from Syria is the only appropriate and legal course of action open to the U.S.

Unfortunately this is from a conservative blogger (Daniel Larison), and not someone who represents the policy of either political party. He wrote this in concluding a post on how Trump’s idea of having other countries replace US troops is not working.

Shouldn’t we be hearing more like this from the party which is supposedly the opposition party in Congress? We hear virtually noting from the party which claims to be “the resistance.” Instead the “opposition party” is being led by cowards who prefer to keep any real opposition voices from running.