Restoring Democracy

Just after the 2016 election, I dared to hope “that I may never be obliged to write the name ‘Clinton’ again.” I often mix up “lay” and “lie,” and sometimes my English-major math shows up when I’m writing about economic policy, but I rarely make errors related to optimism.

Oops.

So the Clintons have been involved in something dirty and self-serving. Dog bites man. The sun also rises. A is A. Julianne Moore is starring in a movie that nobody wants to see. Keith Olbermann said something stupid.

Muppet News Flash.

Americans at large seemed to have lost their passion for the Clintons in 2016, when Herself went down in ignominious defeat (to my great surprise) in a race against a content-free game-show host with a lighthearted attitude toward sexual battery and a cv full of bankruptcies. But Democrats had not lost their love for Clan Clinton, and no amount of scandal — dodgy cattle-futures trading, law-firm records that modulate electron-like between localized and delocalized states, intern diddling and perjury about intern-diddling and suborning perjury about intern-diddling, Whitewater, travel-office shenanigans, Gennifer Flowers, using state troopers as pimps, Chi-Com fundraisers, pardons for politically connected dirt-bags, ill-gotten gains for the Clinton Foundation, Benghazi and lies about Benghazi, email shenanigans — was ever going to change their mind.

Until it did.

(Maybe.)

Donna Brazile, a longtime Clinton henchwoman who is crooked as a barrel of snakes, has shocked and appalled such Democrats as are capable of being shocked and appalled (or, in the case of serial impersonator Elizabeth Warren, capable of doing a good imitation of being shocked and appalled — which is considerably better than her Cherokee bit) by revealing that the Democratic National Committee in effect turned over its management to the Clinton campaign before the primary, becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of Clinton Inc. Politico tells the tale:

Brazile writes that the DNC signed a joint fundraising agreement document with the Hillary Victory Fund and Hillary for America. It had been signed in August 2015, four months after Clinton announced her candidacy and a year before she officially secured the nomination over Sanders.

“The agreement — signed by Amy Dacey, the former CEO of the DNC, and Robby Mook with a copy to Marc Elias — specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised,” Brazile wrote. “Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff.”

Senator Warren has come around to Donald Trump’s view: The Democratic primary was, in fact, rigged.

It is very likely that some laws were broken along the way.

But set aside, for a moment, the chicanery: This is how political parties should work.

The Democratic party had an excellent reason to exclude Senator Bernie Sanders, the same reason the Republican party had to exclude Donald Trump: He wasn’t a member of the party. Sanders is a socialist independent who briefly joined the Democratic party for reasons of pure political utility. Donald Trump is a . . . whatever in tarnation he is . . . who joined the Republican party for the same reason. Trump, a sometime Democrat and Hillary Clinton donor who had been aligned with the politically insignificant Reform party, knew that he needed the GOP’s machinery to win the presidency, or to even get close, and Sanders knew that his influence and power would grow from running in the Democratic primary rather than as a U.S. affiliate of the Monster Raving Loony party. (I miss Screaming Lord Sutch.) Sanders is no fool: His lakeside dachas aren’t going to pay for themselves, and there’s no money in third-party presidential campaigns — that’s just an expensive hobby. Ask David Koch.

There is a contradiction within American progressivism, which seeks to make the political process more democratic while pushing the policymaking process in a less democratic direction. For a century, progressives have championed more open primary elections and open primaries, popular ballot measures, referendum and recall processes, and wider voter participation. At the same time, progressives, particularly those of a Wilsonian bent, have sought to remove the substance of policymaking from democratically accountable elected representatives and entrust it to unelected, unaccountable bureaucracies in the belief that panels of experts immune from ordinary democratic oversight could make hard decisions based on reason and evidence rather than on short-term political necessity and popular passions. They regarded the political parties and their infamous smoke-filled rooms as embodiments of corruption and old-fashioned wheeler-dealer politics at odds with the brave new centrally planned world they imagined themselves to be building.

As it turns out, political parties are — like churches, civic groups, unions, trade groups, lobbyists, pressure groups, and business associations — part of the secret sauce of civil society. In much the same way as our senators — in their original, unelected role — were expected to provide a sober brake on the passions of the members of the more democratic House of Representatives, political parties exercised a soft veto that helped to keep extremism and demagoguery in check. Anybody can run for president — but not just anybody can run as the candidate of the Republican party or the Democratic party. Third parties face an uphill battle, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot prevail: The Republican party was a very successful third party, displacing the moribund Whigs.

The denuded political parties provide an important fund-raising and administrative apparatus — along with a tribal identity that is arguably more important — but they do not offer much more than that. Instead, we have relatively little in the way of mediating institutions between candidates and the public at large. If Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are your idea of great political leaders, then you probably don’t see a problem with that. You’re a fool, but you’re a fool who is likely to get his way in the coming years. The difference between a republic and a democracy is that republics put up more roadblocks between fools and their desires.

The project to make the Democratic party an instrument of the Clinton campaign in order to prevent Bernie Sanders from making it an instrument of his own ambitions was dishonest, corrupt, and possibly illegal.

It was also exactly what political parties are supposed to do. A little democracy, like a little whiskey, is a good thing — too much and you end up with Ted Kennedy.

If the Republicans had any sense, they’d be looking to enact reforms that allow them to do legally and openly what the Democrats did shame-facedly and left-handedly. But Donald Trump was right about one thing: Winning is the great narcotic. Give them that, and they’ll be content. If Herself had won in 2016, we would not be hearing a peep about any of this, least of all from Donna Brazile, who would be enjoying some comfortable White House sinecure instead of hawking books. Republicans won in 2016.

I wonder how it will go when they don’t.

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