American Political Tomfoolery, Part 2: Democratic Shenanigans
The race for the Democratic nominee for the 2016 Presidential election has begun in earnest. So far, there are five announced candidates, with former First Lady, New York Senator and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton currently leading the national polls by a substantial, though not insurmountable percentage. She has been leading all polls since the 2012 election was decided, though Independent US Senator Bernie Sanders has gained substantially since announcing his candidacy earlier this year. Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, former Rhode Island Senator and Governor Lincoln Chafee (who also has not always run as a Democrat) and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb currently register in single-digits in the polls.
While the Democrats have thus far avoided the clown car, carnival atmosphere of the Republican primary process (involving at least 17 candidates, with real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump leading the way while seemingly insulting virtually every voting block except for aging white males), the road to the nomination is proving to be anything but smooth. Republicans in Congress have continued to spend an inordinate amount of time and money investigating Clinton’s conduct while she was Secretary of State, trying to make a case against her for her handling of the situation which resulted in the deaths of Americans in Libya to an email irregularity which they insist on keeping in the media spotlight.
The process for the Democrats differs from that of the Republicans, but many features are held in common. The virtual elimination of campaign finance regulations embraced by the Supreme Court in its Citizens United decision has allowed big money and corporate donors the ability to anonymously contribute enormous sums to Super Political Action Committees (PACs) which can then spend them as they see fit to support the candidate of their choosing, so long as they don’t coordinate directly with the candidate’s campaign. The result is that campaign war chests have escalated in size to a scale far in excess of previous campaigns. So far, the only one refusing huge corporate and/or sugar daddy donations has been Bernie Sanders, who has had considerable success raising donations from relatively small individual grassroots contributions. As is typically the case, Republicans are seen to be amassing considerably larger coffers than Democrats, but Clinton’s efforts have not been insignificant.
The two-party stranglehold over our national elections has become stronger than ever with the advent of the increasing importance of money in the campaigns. Lack of ability to raise sufficient money to wage a vigorous media campaign has become more important than ever before. How the money gets used to inform or misinform voters has become more important than actual policy recommendations. Mudslinging that feeds off the fears, misconceptions and bigotry of voters has come to replace reasoned intellectual debate as the preferred campaign modus operandi. So far, this has seemed to prevail predominantly among the GOP candidates (first and foremost by Trump, but increasingly by Bush and others as well).
Pre-primary/caucus debates face different problems depending on the party. The GOP have many more candidates and schedule more debates to give their voters a better chance to weigh their options in the limited time allotted. This makes sense, if they actually discuss issues more than personalities, but the one debate they’ve held so far makes that doubtful at best. The sheer number of candidates and the nature of some of their personalities seems to make it difficult for some of them to even be heard, which sort of defeats the purpose of the free airtime for some of the less well-known candidates to become more familiar to voters.
The Democrats seem to be playing a different game with their debate scheduling and delegate selection process. They are scheduling less than half as many debates as the GOP. This provides candidates with far less free airtime for exposure of their ideas. Clinton, who by virtue of her long-term high profile public exposure has far more national name recognition than the other four candidates combined, stands to maintain her edge in that department, especially as it has helped make it easier for her to raise campaign funds to buy more airtime. Some complaining has already been in evidence – aimed primarily at the Democratic Nation Committee, which made the debate schedule then expressly forbidding the candidates from participating in any additional debates.
Perhaps the biggest problem the procedures both parties use for determining their nominees is also the one that makes the whole process less democratic than it should be. By using state laws that close primary/caucus voting to all but voters who are registered party members, a significant and growing number of eligible and even registered voters have no voice in whose names will be placed on the November ballot. Independent voters such as myself, or members of smaller parties have no vote until the November election. This makes it very difficult if not impossible for either party to claim that their candidate is the choice of the voters. Remember the Tea Party candidates for the Senate back in 2010 and 2012 who failed miserably when their shortcomings became evident after their primary wins?
Democrats have an added problem in proving their nominee to be a popular choice, as they have a significant number of delegates (known as Super Delegates) who are not chosen by the voters in either primaries or caucuses. They are prominent party members/elected officials who are made delegates by virtue of their office rather than being elected for that purpose. It is thus possible for a candidate to amass more delegates while receiving fewer votes in the primaries than some of their opponents.
States also erect barriers which make it difficult for third party and independent candidates to be included on the ballot. Fifty states have fifty different set of criteria, making it difficult for any newcomer or new party to gain access to enough to make it even possible for them to have a chance nationally. Electing people through the use of write-in ballots or as independents is extremely rare even at the state level, let alone nationally. Should the major parties be allowed to pick who will fill their (usually) automatic ballot lines? Absolutely, but there needs to be a mechanism to make it easier to gain ballot access for others. Inclusion of third party and non-partisan candidates in general election debates should also become more widespread.
As long as the two major parties maintain what amounts to a duopoly on ballot access and free airtime for their candidates, our Presidential selection process will fail to a greater or lesser degree to represent the true will of the people as a whole. Bernie Sanders should not be running for the Democratic nomination, but he has absolutely zero chance of being heard nationally without at least trying to gain it. Just ask Ralph Nader or any other third party candidate in recent or distant memory. You shouldn’t need to be a billionaire or the sycophant of a billionaire to be elected President. Nor should being one give you automatic access to political power in the absence of any other redeeming qualities. There is no way any of the current crop of Republican candidates can be depended upon to represent the interests of a majority of the people living in this country, but the reality of our political system as it currently exists makes the possibility that one will be elected more than just a remote possibility. The same could be said of the Democratic candidates, as neither party possesses a majority of registered voters.
The process needs to become more egalitarian, less dependent on the influence of individual and corporate wealth, and more able to elect people with ideas that will help to empower all people rather than maintaining the undue influence, power and wealth of a privileged few who have become more akin to Old World style monarchies and aristocracies than honest-to-goodness democracies. Money is not speech and corporations are not people. Put the people in charge for a change and see how society can run if we govern ourselves rather than merely allow others to subjugate us to their will in their own interests.
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