Dan Payne in this morning’s Boston Globe has stolen my thunder in his campaign warp up, no matter how it turns out this election is the nail in the coffin of process liberalism. Thus a hasty re-write.
First and most importantly, if Barack Obama had chosen public financing he would be guaranteed to lose this election. It would already be over and we would know that much of the result. That he has a good chance of winning is due largely to his grass roots* fund-raising which has brought him an unprecedented ability to run a national campaign. His decision to forego public financing was criticized early on by some of the professional process liberals but it was absolutely the right decision. If you need any proof of that you can hear the echoing, outraged disappointment of Republicans that he has beaten them in fund-raising and not done what a good Democrat is supposed to do, accept a preordained defeat on principle. There is, of course, a major difference between grass roots fund raising and the traditional plunge into the deep pockets. Running a campaign on average contributions of $85 isn’t selling access, it’s funding the effort to elect a less corruption prone government.
Process reform as a strategy was flawed at its inception, taking it as a given that the courts would place an egalitarian, honest, representative government at the fore front of those rights The People fully possess. Instead they got the doctrine that money equals speech. What that really meant under the prevailing conditions was that money buys air time to lie the most corruptible politicians into office where they can hand everything over to their owners. Which is what we got, mostly from Republicans with a few Democrats joining in. The spectacle of the Reagan and Bush administrations, objectively the most corrupt in our history when measured by convictions and incompetence, has not moved the Justices off of their stare decisis in order to save the country. We can’t wait for them to see the light or to die off, if we don’t get better politicians in office those anti-democratic Justices are replaced by even worse. Clearly the process reformers are barking up the wrong tree if they think the present day Supreme Court is going to do anything that risks more democracy happening.
Another part of this stumbling over the process, was the Michigan, Florida primary situation. The primary calendar is firmly out of the hands of the parties, except in so far as they can game things through a willing state legislature. In Michigan and Florida, Republican state legislatures set a trap for Democrats and it was only through last minute negotiations that the damage from those was kept to a minimum. The Rules Committee of the DNC has got to be taken out of the hands of people more interested in rules and gaming them for their own advantage than in the Democratic candidates winning elections. I’d clean it out and start anew, dumping the scheming and those addled by abstract theories for those who know that winning elections is the only reason for the party to exist.
The rules lawyers have a lot in common with those trying to figure out how to game the process, their first loyalty clearly isn’t to The People and their ability to govern.
As Payne points out, the long season, far from depleting the funds necessary to run in the general election, gave us a candidate who had the enthusiasm of a far larger number of people. Obama became a stronger and better candidate through the long trial by ordeal.
We’ve got to give up the notion that we are going to be able to change the process at the rules and laws level, the corruptions they are meant to address run deeper, through the unmentionable flaws in our federal system and the anti-democratic rulings of Supreme Courts. Short of amending or changing the Constitution, repairing that level of the system is beyond our reach. We’ve got to work with what we’ve got.
It’s not surprising that the elite insiders in DC and other centers of power can’t understand that going directly to The People, thorough grass roots organizing on a national basis, asking them for their volunteer time and small contributions, is the logical way for The Peoples’ party to get on with things. It’s no surprise that they didn’t get the internet**.
I strongly suspect that in the aftermath of this election one of the things that will be clear is that Hillary Clinton’s connections to the connected ended up being a burden to her. How they lost such an excellent candidate so many opportunities has to be studied to identify examples of what not to do again. A lot of the people involved in her and other losing campaigns should be kept at a distance from future campaigns.
This is mighty serious business, electing our government. When conducting The Peoples' business, we can’t allow personal friendships, personal loyalties or insider status to allow the incompetent or inflexible the ability to ruin our chances to win elections.
We also can’t let those who insist on an unrealistic and unavailable ideal to hobble our candidates. That kind of sentimental idealism is a sham. It is the kind of thing that is just barely tolerable as a personal scruple to be preened over in self-congratulation, it is immoral in politics. A political principle which doesn’t get a more egalitarian, democratic and competent government into office is a failed principle. In politics, as in life, it is the results that justify the principle and determine their ultimate morality.
* Howard Dean and his 50 State Strategy and a number of other changes he made have also been incalculably important to changing Democrats prospects.
** The internet is an important part of Obama’s campaign, it’s a permanent and enormously powerful political entity from now on. It is, as this campaing has revealed, one that has inherent problems and dangers of its own. Democrats have to study those dangers and come up with effective means of dealing with them even as they are powerless to eliminate them.
P.S. The absurd idea that the country exists for The Constitution, instead of The Constitution existing for and gaining its legitimacy from The People is something that must be overturned. Unfortunately, that necessary safe guard is in the hands of the legal establishment for now. If we are lucky and he is our next president, we should remind Barack Obama, the former law professor of this generally forgotten fact.