This article looks at polling data from the point of view of an Independent plurality which favors Bernie Sanders by 36% over Clinton, making him in turn a likely winner against any Republican, while leaving Clinton only a toss-up chance in November. It is risky for a party that shares only 30% of the electorate to ignore the decisive role that Independents play in choosing Presidents. The Democratic Party's own shrinking base gives it features of a third party in need of coalition with the larger "party" of Independents that Bernie Sanders brings to the table.
Meanwhile, due to their partisan resistance to understanding President Obama's deepest flaws, Democrats fundamentally misunderstand what the rest of the country seeks in a 2016 candidate. Polls show misinformed Democrats failing to form a coalition for these reasons.
This article warns that Democratic voters flirt at their peril with using their control over primaries at the front end of a defective run-off process to deny victory in November to the nation's preferred choice, Sanders. Democrats thereby play a similar role today that they labeled "spoiler" in the past when they complained that a third party denied victory to the nation's preferred choice, thereby allowing the reviled minority candidate Bush II to take power and inflict permanent damage on the country.
To win in 2016, Democratic primary voters need to vote strategically, based upon reliable information, in favor of the alliance with Independents that Sanders offers them. This alliance would join voters across the line now separating those who accept systemic political corruption as a lesser evil than electing a Republican, on one side, and a growing majority that does not, on the other.
The polls' most optimistic message can be summarized in the mathematics of the Democratic primary. With 30 percent of the electorate expected to vote 2:1 for Clinton, Democrats provide Sanders half the votes he needs to win the primary. But since he leads Clinton by 36% among Independents, who are 43% of the electorate, he can gain another 14% if his Independent supporters will only deign to contaminate themselves by participating in the primary of the Democrats they otherwise disdain. This would deliver Sanders a 24-20% victory over Clinton in the primary. If he wins the primary, again with the support of Independents, Sanders is a slam dunk to win the general election against any Republican. This would change the Democratic Party as we know it to be, a network for corruption.
1. Government by the wealthy.
2. A country or society governed in this way.
Last week the highly trusted Quinnipiac University National Poll ("Q-Poll") delivered both bad news and good news for Bernie Sanders.
The unpromising lead is: Sanders polls 30% behind Clinton, among Democrats.
This bad news might be best explained by the Democrats' even more lopsided answer to the big "electability" question, as well as questions that explore perceived Clinton qualifications. Unfortunately, the Q-Poll shows that 38% more Democrats think Clinton "would have a good chance of defeating the Republican nominee" than would Sanders (87% to 49%), while also suggesting that she would bring stronger leadership and better experience to the general election, if not the presidency,
Part I. Electability?
1. Whose Electability?
The good news for Sanders is to be found in the details of what the pollsters actually demonstrate to be true about his electability. The Q-Poll disproves the conventional opinion of most Democrats with evidence from direct match-ups of each of the two Democrats against each of the four Republican contenders who have more than single digit support. This polling substitutes for the lack of an effective run-off election system.
The Q-Poll findings: "Sanders does just as well [as Clinton against Rubio], or even better, against [the other] top Republicans [Trump, Carson,and Cruz]." Against each of the latter three, Sanders' winning margin exceeds Clinton's by an additional 2%, 3% and 5% respectively, compared to a survey margin of error of +/- 2.6%.
It is by just such narrow margins that modern elections are won or lost. For example Slate opines it to be "a sign of how accustomed we've become to razor-thin margins of victory that Obama's 2.3-percent popular-vote victory [in 2012] seems almost like a rout...[T]hree out of four of our last elections have been decided by a popular-vote margin of less than 3 percent" which, the author observes, "best resembles the Gilded Age" when choice was similarly limited to pluto-Dum and pluto-Dem candidates.
Sanders' additional margin of safety places him beyond the margin of polling error around which Clinton's fluctuating numbers for her Republican match-ups are more commonly found. Sanders' numbers also seem "almost like a rout" compared to a toss-up for Clinton.
Democratic voters therefore have it exactly backwards. It is Sanders that should be attracting their near certain (87%) confidence of victory next November now accorded Clinton, while their doubts about a Sanders toss-up (49%) should properly attach to Clinton. Democrats are not just misinformed, but grossly misinformed, about the key issue of whether Clinton or Sanders will more likely win against Republicans. On labor leader argues that the cause is the well-funded' effort to "consciously mislead" Democrats into believing "that [Sanders] cannot win," what she calls the "gaslight" strategy of persuading people they must be crazy to think that the most popular candidate could actually win the election.
The larger 38% margin of polled Democrats who erroneously rank Clinton as the more electable, a virtual shoo-in, candidate probably does explain a good deal of the margin of support among Democrats for Clinton over Sanders (30%). But not all Clinton supporters are using electability as their main criterion for preferring her in opinion polls. A possible alternative would be if there is something about Clinton that is so importantly preferable to voters so as to transcend their desire to win.
Since Clinton is not one to inspire great enthusiasm, what obviously comes to mind is gender. But the polls do not consistently support that theory. Any gender bias seems to be canceled out by the persistent gender gap which has persisted since the beginning of women's suffrage. Women seem more progressive than men, and it is the more conservative Democrats, naturally, who give Clinton her widest margin of support. In any event Sanders should have a solution available to him for any lingering gender issue: her name is Elizabeth Warren. At his age, the wise selection of a Vice President will be an important test.
Discussed here in Part 2 is a theory that Democrats' grossly erroneous belief about electability is compounded by how a questionable assessment of President Obama likely affects voters. These two factors, both based on misunderstandings, seem to account for the Democratic voters' lopsided but misplaced preference for Clinton.
On both counts it would be useful for these misled Democrats, when casting their primary votes over the next several months, to consider not just the fact that, but also the reason why, Sanders consistently outperforms Clinton against Republicans. They should remember that it is independent voters, not narrowly divided party loyalists, who generally determine the outcome of typically close general elections. Much current polling of Republican match-ups shows Clinton finishing, win or lose, in or about the poll's margin of error. If Democrats really want to risk losing the 2016 election, with Supreme Court appointments, climate change policy and the myriad of equally important unresolved issues at stake, they should by all means choose a partisan candidate that Independents reject. The Q-Poll shows Clinton fits that job description like a glove.
Other good polling news for Sanders of late is one showing him still solidly ahead of Clinton in his neighboring state of New Hampshire, along with historically high favorability margins over Clinton there (30%). Another poll shows Sanders losing New Hampshire Democrats but winning Independents by an equal margin, while holding on to a 20% favorability advantage over Clinton, even among moderates. Sanders' remarkable favorability advantage could communicate to other Americans that his neighbors, who know him best, do like Bernie exceptionally well, as much as any major elected official in the country.
Also in the good news category is another poll with a 6% error value that had Sanders only 20% behind Clinton nationally, roughly the same as Obama in 2008 at the same point in the campaign. But this news was balanced by a recent poll showing Sanders as far behind in Iowa as he is in the rest of the country. Winning Iowa, plus New Hampshire, is key to shifting Sanders' momentum before super Tuesday. The redeeming flip side of the bad news from Iowa is explained by the NYT pollmeister Nate Cohn, who argues that these Iowa poll numbers do not fairly account for Bernie's unusually large lead with Iowa Independents. An earlier Q-poll confirmed that view by showing a narrowing 9% spread between Clinton and Sanders in Iowa.
Notwithstanding mention of this background, the purpose of this article is not to attempt a meta-analysis of all available recent polls. Some with smaller samples may be inconsistent or not directly comparable with the independent academic-based Q-poll. The purpose here is rather to extract useful meaning about electability and the key role of Independents primarily from the detailed data of a single broad-ranging and historically reliable poll which is based on a statistically large sample, and is clearly no outlier.
2. Whose Centrist?
Theoretically, in a democratic two party system the more centrist Democrat should normally appeal most to independents. But that is not the end of the story. Many Clinton supporters may have missed the memo from the Democrats' only living former president who they can trust, Jimmy Carter. He tells us: "America has no functioning democracy at this moment." Though many who still vote are persuaded otherwise by the plutocracy's own media, the US has become a full-fledged plutocracy due to the line of typically 5-4 Supreme Court "money is speech" decisions, culminating in those notorious Roberts Court travesties of constitutional interpretation, Citizens United (2010) and McCutcheon (2014). These cases removed the last minimal restraints on political spending. Therefore the conventional wisdom about how democracies normally operate does not hold true for the free market, open US election of 2016.
For those Democrats concerned about electability to hew to the more centrist candidate is misguided for two reasons.
First, a policy position in a plutocracy is "centrist" not because it is supported by a majority of voters distributed around the bulge of the bell curve between two narrower extremes on a policy axis sometimes described as left to right. In a plutocracy centrist policy falls within the overlapping domain of concerns for which politicians are paid on a bipartisan basis to satisfy plutocrats. The plutocratic "center" occupied in common by two plutocratic parties actually lies at a point on a different political axis at the far opposite extreme from democracy.
This bipartisan "plutocratic center" to which Clinton sticks like a magnet defines those safe positions that will not be undermined by unanswerable quantities of paid bipartisan campaign propaganda, and either attacks from or deliberate neglect by a plutocratic mass media.
Unlike Clinton, Sanders consistently rejects policy positions that are centrist in this plutocratic sense. But it would be wrong to conclude, as many Democrats do, that his positions are therefore extreme. Sanders advocates virtually all majoritarian positions, scaling the top of that bell curve of voters far above Clinton's proposals, which remain mired in her debt to special interest investors.
Sanders challenges the defining feature of the systemically corrupt politics of a plutocracy where majority opinion does not matter because there is usually no alternative to the plutocratic parties on offer. Both parties are paid well to foreclose any alternatives. The money minority had already decided that in 2016 Americans were supposed to get a "choice" between its reliable Bush and Clinton dynasties. Sanders is breaking this mold by giving voice to the majority. Many of Sanders' proposals, like on inequality, financial regulation, tax and campaign reform, are supported by large bipartisan majorities. Clinton by contrast has created a dubious montage of Sanders' positions modified, one might say distorted, so as to be unthreatening to plutocrats.
Independent voters who decide general elections are bell curve centrists, not plutocratic centrists, and are therefore inclined to prefer a Sanders, when allowed the choice, provided that Sanders can continue to get his issue-driven message out to them.
Second, Sanders' principal campaign message about political inequality, and the economic inequality that it generates, defines a second fault line between Independents and the two parties. As Independents grow, this fault line is emerging to be as important politically as the differences separating the two plutocratic parties that have caused the inequality. There are thus two significant political axes operating today, which is highly unusual for the two-party system inherent to the United States' first-past-the-post single-member-district non-Parliamentary electoral system. The closest previous example of this duality reaching the point of instability is the election of 1860, though this instability arose again at the height of the Progressive Era, in 1912, The first destroyed one of the two parties, the other led eventually to the suppression of the progressive movement,
One axis is the conventional one that separates the parties roughly between issues of community and issues of security so innate to a normal distribution of human psychology that parties tend to divide evenly around them. The other axis defined by Independents, and represented by Sanders could be identified with the survival of the democratic polity itself.
The principal thrust of Sanders' campaign is his promise to fight the same special interests who are Clinton's campaign contributors the only way possible, with an electoral revolution in the Progressive tradition. Large majorities regularly report their desire to change the corrupt system in which the Clinton family has prospered. The 84% of all Americans who complained recently to pollsters that "money has too much influence" in campaigns included the same portion of Independents holding that view.
Independents are at least as critical of political corruption as are partisans, with 59% possessing the basic functional understanding of US plutocracy that, most of the time, politicians "promote policies that directly help the people and groups who donated money to their campaigns." It's not rocket science. Even though Independents include roughly an equal number who lean Republican, traditionally the more openly plutocratic party, slightly fewer partisan Democrats, only 53%, share this view of a government for sale in which one or both of the two parties serve as brokers on most issues.
One reason increasing numbers of voters identify as Independent is their disgust with the systemic political corruption managed by the two-party condominium. That does not necessarily mean they are all or even mostly either moderate or confused where they stand on issues along what we can call the "policy axis" which divides the parties. It does reflect that a majority of Americans "are increasingly declaring independence from the political parties," finding that both parties occupy an equally unsavory position in the pockets of plutocrats along what we can call the "polity axis." But other polls show that few people are persuaded there exists any effective solution to the problem of restoring the country's democratic heritage, even at the modest level achieved prior to 1976. It is this doubt that primarily prevents the political world from reorientation around the polity axis that Sanders represents.
Sanders is the only candidate offering the plurality of voters on his side of this fault line a credible alternative to a party candidate, irrespective of where those voters may stand on the policy issues that divide the two parties. Until Independents clean up the systemic corruption of the two parties, the parties' supporters will not be allowed much in the way of what they want from government by the ruling plutocrats anyway.
3. Independents' Day
For these two reasons that involve a complex reconfiguration of American politics along the two axes, it is no surprise, then, that the Quinnipiac poll shows that more Independents think Sanders shares their values compared to Clinton by 47-33%; more Independents think Sanders authentically "cares about the needs and problems of people like" them, compared to Clinton, by 59-40%; and vastly (38%) more Independents, 64% to 26% - and even a further corroborating margin of Republicans, 39% to 7% - think Sanders "is honest and trustworthy," compared to Clinton. It should be no surprise because on the end of the polity axis where Sanders operates, democracy, honesty and authenticity are as closely connected as are plutocracy, propaganda and cynical manipulation on the other end.
The only important issue in the 2016 campaign is which candidate can honestly be trusted to act effectively to start rescuing our former democracy from the deadening grip of the corruption on all levels of government that, in myriad ways, is driving economic inequality to record levels. No important policy opposed by plutocrats, like any measure that might slow the current upward redistribution of wealth to them, can be accomplished until their political investments are outlawed again. Nor can any of the increasingly dysfunctional policies that plutocrats support be stopped, such as the job- and democracy-killing so-called trade agreements.
Government will not serve the majority until private money is eliminated from politics by systemic reforms, such as ethics recusal requirements and Supreme Court jurisdiction stripping, that go well beyond the pretextual piecemeal proposals now on offer by operators along the policy axis. This leaves for effective partisan contest just a few issues of identity politics and religion for which plutocrats have not yet discovered a profit angle worth the price of influence. Since they both serve a system that disserves majorities, the two parties cannot serve their only legitimate function of channeling the consent of the governed while at the same time they join together in protecting the corrupt system from reform. The two corrupt parties are now the principal obstacle to consent of the governed, as Madison and the framers expected they would become.
The comparative ratings of Sanders and Clinton discussed above reflect the diminishing legitimacy of the two corrupt parties. They help explain why only 38% of Independents have an overall favorable opinion of Clinton while 56% have an unfavorable opinion of her. (Only 5% have no opinion, leaving virtually no room for improvement in her negative numbers without an unlikely change of by now fairly hardened perceptions of her.) Independents by a large margin apparently believe Sanders, but not Clinton, has the integrity to keep his campaign promise to fight the bipartisan plutocracy, and also to level with them about how the fight is proceeding.
It is almost impossible for a Democrat to win a general election with the 18% net unfavorability rating that Clinton has among Independents, unless Republicans choose an opponent so repugnant as to force them to hold their nose and vote for her anyway. Independents are now the plurality "party," averaging about 43% of the electorate (in Sept 2015), compared to Democrats at about 30%. Fluctuations in the appeal of Independents can now easily shift Democrats into third "party" status.
By stark contrast, Sanders exactly reverses Clinton's Independent deficit by scoring an 18% positive favorability margin among Independents (47%-29%). Since 24% of Independents still "haven't ... heard enough about him" to form an opinion, Sanders would, in a general election, almost certainly enlarge significantly upon his already-sufficient margin. That increase would likely go vertical about the time that he gains national attention by winning the New Hampshire primary, provided he first does well in Iowa. These residual Independents could be the key factor in achieving the mandate-conferring landslide that Sanders and the country need to start his electoral "revolution" against plutocracy.
Sanders is, of course, the Independents' favorite candidate irrespective of party affiliation. You could say that Sanders, a lifelong Independent and longest serving Independent in Congress ever, is the leader of the Independents' "party" whose day has come, much as the abolitionists day came in 1860. Clinton is an icon of the Democratic Party establishment (serving plutocracy like Stephen Douglas served slavery). Therefore she is the Independents' least favorite candidate, aside from Bush and Trump who narrowly pass her in that race to the bottom for reasons that are respectively similar and different.
Trump represents an unusual Oz moment of transparency when the most media friendly celebrity plutocrat available, such as it is, has stepped through the curtain to undertake the nasty but necessary assignment of publicly reconsolidating the essential but frayed Republican alliance between Mammon and the current Tea Party manifestation of the lingering heritage of Southern and doughface racist, sexist and generally anti-democratic politics that is the country's burden. This coalition of money with the religious and "New" right was first forged in the late 1970's after plutocratic corruption was legalized in Buckley v Valeo (1976). The coalition has been key to Republican success since the realignment of the parties during the civil rights era, when Northern voters forced the Democrats to abandon their institutional support for Jim Crow.
Unlike Trump, Clinton originates from the public side of the curtain behind which plutocrats normally exercise their control.
Sanders spoke uniquely for Independents when he asked the kind of question about Clinton never heard from a partisan platform: "Let's not be naive about it. Why, over her political career has Wall Street been a major campaign contributor to Hillary Clinton? Maybe they're dumb, and they don't know what they're going to get. But I don't think so... Why do they make millions of dollars of campaign contributions? They expect to get something. Everybody knows that." Sanders could say the same of every Republican but Trump.
In head-to-head polling of Independents Sanders, far more comfortably than Clinton, beats every Republican candidate, with statistically significant margins from 16% over Trump to 7% over Carson, at the time the second favorite candidate of Independents. Using the terminology leveled by revanchist Democrats against the Green Party after the 2000 election, one could say that in 2016 it is the Democrats themselves who threaten to be the "spoilers" by using their control of the defective election machinery of the run-off process to deny Sanders the chance to win a landslide of these proportions. A spoiler is one who rejects formation of a majority electoral coalition with the result of enabling a minority government.
Sanders made a very conscious strategic choice, for which he was criticized by practicing non-strategists, to invite Independents to take over the Democratic primary process rather than to invent a third party of their own. Ralph Nader did the country the favor of demonstrating how even the dream third Party ticket could not overcome the strategic handicap that third parties confront in two-party first-past-the-post voting systems.
Barring attention spans beyond current capacities, third parties are not sustainable in the US electoral system. The remedy for this defect is the primary system created by Progressives and which Sanders has properly selected as the battleground for his electoral revolution. He has to defeat Democratic plutocrats on their home court before he can sail to his victory over Republican plutocrats.
Sanders' strategic choice to avoid proving the same point Nader already proves provides Democratic voters an opportunity to recharge while decontaminating their corrupted party label with an epochal progressive victory. To do so will require them to make a strategic alliance with the larger plurality "party" of Independents just like Democrats advised Greens should do with them. Or Democrats can risk defeat as spoilers by insisting upon their own "donor-driven" candidate, who, in reality, effectively represents, on the decisive issues of concern to them, a plutocratic demographic little different in size from the Green vote.
This 36% favorability advantage with Independents that Sanders has over Clinton defines the actual margin by which Sanders is more likely to win a general election than Clinton. According to Q-poll, both candidates will attract roughly the same number of Democrats in the general election. The Independents' 36% spread provides a clearly more reliable number than the Democrat's current totally mistaken guesstimate about who they think is the more electable candidate.
It is a number that many Democrats need to study and learn at risk of helping to elect a Republican in 2016, should they reject coalition with Independents and insist on nominating Clinton. Spoilers, incapable of forging a strategic alliance, have only the single issue of corrupt plutocracy standing in the way of forging a winning coalition.
4. Experienced Leader vs Honest Authenticity
The Quinnipiac poll also identifies other questionable beliefs of Democrats who support Clinton which beliefs also tend to skew their electability calculations against Sanders.
The most startling difference between Clinton supporters and Sanders supporters is that, by 81% to 6%, more Clinton supporters think the "right experience" and, by 70%-24%, that being a "strong leader," is an important attribute for a presidential candidate in this election. Lower ratios of Clinton supporters compared to Sanders' think attributes like values, honesty, and authentic "caring" about the majority are important.
It seems to be irrelevant to her supporters that Clinton's attributed advantage on the scale of experience (96% to 68%) and leadership (91% to 68%) neglects the reality that Sanders, without exaggerating his resume, has far more actual on-the-ground experience in more government offices than Clinton; that he has won countless elections compared to Clinton's two practically uncontested dynastic coronations as Senator from the safe Democratic seat of New York; and that he was a successful mayor compared to Clinton's total lack of elected executive experience. By all accounts, which could become a factor in the general election, Clinton was an unsuccessful Secretary of State. This was her only "leadership" job to date (where she led primarily in the field of frequent flying, often to visit new friends and funders of Bill), aside from leading the healthcare reform effort to defeat during the "feculent decade" of the Clinton presidency.
Fact-checking these preconceived differences is important for fairly making an assessment of the comparative risk of unanticipated weaknesses of the candidates that could arise after the nomination to affect their electability. These are intangible factors that polls do not capture well. As a highly seasoned campaigner, Sanders is unlikely to make major mistakes. Given the number and frequency of his numerous election contests it is unlikely that Sanders has any skeletons left in a closet somewhere likely to surprise the Party after it is too late for them to change horses. He is not a Carson, Cruz or Rubio fresh on the scene, inveigling us to take another chance on appearances, as Obama succeeded in doing. Nor is Clinton. But she has major corruption scandals percolating just beneath the current agenda of the mass media. And unlike Clinton, Sanders certainly has no unpredictable spousal issues likely to erupt all over his campaign without warning. As a Sanders supporter put it, "Bernie lacks the baggage that Clinton has been dragging around with her."
The only real outstanding campaign issues facing Sanders are substantive: whether he will be able to persuade his natural ally, the still uncommitted Elizabeth Warren, to join his campaign, if not his ticket, and whether the media will begin to tell the truth about his being significantly more electable than Clinton due to his appeal to Independents. Sanders himself describes the anti-democratic conduct of the plutocratic media after repeal of fairness regulation. "ABC's news program has spent 81 minutes on Trump and only 20 seconds talking about us. NBC Nightly News only spent 2.9 minutes covering our campaign. CBS? They spent six minutes. The point is: our political revolution certainly will not be televised." That the leading candidate in the polls cannot get heard on the public's own airwaves is a scandal that should cause FCC licenses (pdf) to be revoked or at least modified,
Well, that is not the entire list. There is that other emerging question about Sanders' lack of a precise credible strategy for getting money out of politics, or as one prominent writer charged that he has "no idea what really needs to be done" about plutocracy. But that is a question for another day. (See forthcoming The Amendment Diversion: How Clinton, the Democrats, and Even Sanders Distract Attention from Effective Strategies for Too Much Money in Politics by Promoting Futile Remedies).
The complaint from the strategically-challenged left that Sanders has not diverted his energies to directly fight the most invincible conduits of money in politics, AIPAC and the NRA, rather than focusing energies on draining the swamp of systemic corruption in which they all swim, carries little weight.
Part 2. The Obama Factor
1. The Referendum Theory
A traditional theory is that presidential elections are referenda on the incumbent. If the President is comparatively unpopular like Obama has been, then voters are motivated to correct for his perceived deficiencies in their selection of a successor. Bush was dumb; Obama is smart.
This tendency to vote against an unpopular president on his way out the door is the political counterpart of the axiom that the military always fights the last war. In Clinton's case this might be compounded by a dash of buyer's remorse. As Obama's progressive promise went almost fully unredeemed in action, some might wonder if things might have gone differently had the Clinton option been taken in 2008. Does she have qualities Obama lacks that would have made a difference? Whether it is about war or a president, sound analysis of what actually did go wrong is a first step toward perfecting strategy for a different outcome,
Under this referendum theory, the emphasis of Clinton supporters on her fictional experience and leadership skills suggests a close match with a popular but flawed understanding of Obama. Those same voters who are proven to have grossly misjudged Sanders' electability may also wrongly attribute Obama's "poor" performance to weak leadership and inexperience. The general public ranks Obama lowest in ability to get things done" (45%) and leadership (49%) and highest in "standing up for his beliefs" (69%). The attributes that get the lowest ratings seem to have stuck most in the public mind, since these ratings approximately match Obama's overall low favorability rankings which hover in the mid to high 40's decile.
That Clinton's supporters hopefully expect that she would pretty much reverse Obama's numbers in this regard is probably not solely attributable to the referendum theory. Some of this 70% and 81% who value such attributes as experience in getting things done and leadership qualities, and the 91% and 96% who think she has them, might be foreign policy hawks. They might appreciate Clinton's neocon warmongering aggressiveness, compared to Sanders. For some these postures can be interpreted as strong leadership. A deeper view is that over-reliance on force shows weakness, not strength. But try telling that to consumers of the most effective warmongering propaganda system in the history of the world.
Clinton's bellicose posture has been designed to help her more in the general election where she has to deal with higher concentrations of such consumers, though it can't hurt her with the well-endowed MIC faction of plutocrats. Democrats and Independent leaners toward them report 3 to 1 more interest in the economy and other domestic affairs than in the set of foreign policy/terrorism/immigration issues used to stir up insecurity fears more on the Republican side. So any adjustment of the referendum theory - that Clinton wins approval as a perceived antidote for Obama's perceived weaknesses - in order to account for this neocon factor would necessarily be modest.
The leading progressive public intellectual of our times, who is both a recovered Obama supporter and a current Sanders endorser and campaigner, Professor Cornel West, disagrees with the conventional understanding of Obama's "weakness." Instead West describes Obama as a "counterfeit" who "posed as if he was a kind of Lincoln." It need not be mentioned that the pose was enormously successful, both with West and numerous others of his caliber. Far from being weak and inexperienced, Obama turned out to be like the consummate political operator, Bill Clinton. "Another neoliberal opportunist," or as West identifies Obama's connections more pointedly a "mascot of the Wall Street oligarchs" and a "puppet of corporate plutocrats" whose greatest rewards from those sources, like Bill Clinton's, likely lie ahead.
Pursuing this theory of Obama's continued relevance in 2016 to its conclusion, it is possible that the Democratic nomination could be determined, at least in part, by whether or not the informed historical judgment of Professor West, and many other similarly close observers, about Obama will prevail during the primary season or whether the supposedly "sincerely well-intentioned but hapless" President of the Democratic apologists' will remain the dominant meme.
If primary voters had a different view of Obama, they might well also have a different view of the relative importance of their current set of preferred presidential attributes that they have found to reside in Clinton. That Clinton does not excel on those attributes is discussed above in Part 1, Sec.4. The point addressed here is how the, albeit unfounded, fears of the presumed weaker leadership, or lesser experience in "how to get things done," of Sanders could give way to greater appreciation of his clear and unquestioned advantage on measures of honesty, values, and authenticity.
What would be the effect of changing Democrats' understanding that Obama does not stand up for his beliefs, but normally "stands up" to conjure a PR smokescreen to hide his lack of progressive action that might back up those professed beliefs? What if it were more broadly understood that Obama disguises and dissimulates what he does act on most effectively, because it is routinely the opposite of the progressive values he advocates when he stands up? Since his effectiveness and leadership for plutocracy takes place behind a curtain, the people do not see it. The ineptness they do see is a deliberate lie designed to excuse his failure to advance the progressive agenda he lip serves. This is the actual Obama problem for which Sanders, not Clinton, is all but universally perceived to be the clear antidote.
For example, with respect to Sanders' principal campaign issue, there is no conceivable reason to believe that Clinton would fulfill any campaign promises that might be effective in reforming the corrupt plutocracy that has sustained her family any more than Obama did. Obama violated his campaign promises on this issue in order to instead, in 2014, cleverly lead Democrats to vastly multiply the scope for political corruption to new historic levels in Washington. Democrats do not know that because there was no protest, or even recognition of what had happened, by the allied professional activists who Democratic voters widely depend upon for political information. At the same time Obama refused, and continues to refuse, to make simple, modest, piecemeal executive branch reforms, an issue which has received some considerable attention, as discussed in the next section below.
The reason confidence in politicians is particularly lacking in this era is the widening difference between what they must promise to appeal to voters and what they must do to reward their investors. Clinton occupies the very same position within this contradiction as Obama. Stronger leadership skills or more experience in operating this corrupt system will not make it yield better results, except for plutocrats. It is most likely due to their sugar-coated view of Obama's actual genius that Democrats take a different view, hoping that such attributes as leadership and experience will make a difference to policy outcomes. Only rigorous integrity at the top can make the slightest dent in the pervasive corruption of US politics.
As his final year in office approaches, this unresolved question of Obama's actual legacy is still under serious discussion. Solid new evidence is being marshalled and publicized about Obama's actions and inactions that directly conflict with the images floated on his lofty words, and political ruses.
2. Obama's True Genius for the Job
Obama worked in the professional activist sector. He knows how it works. The activists who have supported him carry part of the responsibility for misinforming Democratic voters. Now, before he leaves office, they need Obama to throw them some bone they can market as a victory. Obama knows that in response to his delay, the activists will gnaw that bone until there is no policy meat left on it of any real consequence. Consequences are not an important concern of soundbitten politics so long as there is an appearance of substance to be sold to donors. When all the meat is finally chewed away by competing activists is where Obama comes in. When he finally responds to the crescendo of demands it will appear that Obama must have done something important, without him delivering more than a soundbite. It is in the interest of professional activists to market that soundbite as true.
An organization tied to Prof. Larry Lessig, who has wasted millions of donated dollars on a series of "unhelpful" and downright "absurd" strategies, has surprisingly issued an incomplete but still useful report revealing Obama as a highly effective fraud, not an ineffective idealist. For one narrow subset of piecemeal campaign finance reforms, mainly focused on the recently popular demand for disclosure of "dark money," this report catalogs Obama's litany of broken promises, reversals, buck passing, empty diversionary rhetoric, and appointments of functionaries for whom use of existing executive authority for anti-corruption purposes was "not a priority," although Obama's campaign promised it would be.
Disclosure is the bare bone of a soundbite strategy that activists in this silo market to the public as if it would do a job that it cannot. Disclosure of dark money is not an effective remedy where corruption is so systemic that all politicians are on the take. Disclosing that fact does not empower voters. They already know it, but have been guided to no effective strategy to deal with it by the Lessigs of the world.
The report from Lessig's organization about Obama's refusal to even throw the activists this small bone, with a pat on the head they could market, refrains from using any variants of the word "lie." But it does demonstrate that Obama's blame of Republicans for his own executive inaction is a deliberate pretext to evade his own direct responsibility for the significant worsening on his watch of both the future scope for and the current fact of systemic, legalized, political corruption.
Obama's pattern is not limited to the issue of money in politics. On numerous issues the expert verdict returned after analysts penetrate the PR fog around such matters as the Obama surveillance state, government transparency, food safety, and so forth to get to the reality of his actions is repeatedly: "worse than Bush." Obama exemplifies the finding of researchers that Democrats give more bang for the plutocrat's buck. See Cooper, et al., Corporate Political Contributions and Stock Returns. By disarming Democrats, it turns out, he can get more done for plutocrats than Republicans can by inciting them to opposition.
Another recent example of interest was wrongly praised by the head of a Lessig organization to flatteringly contrast the "dark money" betrayal described in the above-mentioned report with Obama's otherwise "principled" and "bold executive action" on other issues. This example is the Keystone XL Pipeline controversy. Obama very publicly vetoed an element of Keystone XL with great fanfare. It was heralded as an epic victory by the various professional activists who have been working and raising money within that particular non-profit silo.
What did not get fanfare was the fact that the Alberta tar sands Pipeline to the Gulf Coast had already been largely built under Obama's unpublicized executive orders, and was already operative when he announced his veto of an inessential Keystone XL component of the pipeline infrastructure. An expert on the issue reports that "gamblers in this casino we call the oil and gas industry have already largely won this [Keystone] fight, even as activists have declared what Obama nixed to be a major victory." One might wonder what table stakes produced these gamblers' winnings, and if there was a surcharge by the house to hide their victory from the public.
This is just one more example of Obama deception that confirms West's general "counterfeit" verdict and what Glen Ford has called not the lesser but "the more effective evil." The Obama pattern of deception has been long understood, even prior to such early book length indictments like Roger D. Hodge, Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism (2010). But the Keystone XL story is also an example of another similar mechanism of contemporary politics: how professional activists peddle disinformation for money, such as in this case by pretending they won some soundbite campaign which was so shallow in substance that the activists either never noticed they had actually lost or just went right on raising money anyway after it was all but over.
What the pipeline expert refers to as "the folklore version" of Obama's actions, is "bad news being PR-pitched as good news." Folklore on this as on many other issues has secured Obama uncritical attention he does not deserve for standing up for his beliefs. Democratic funded activists again served Obama's interests in appearing to have the right intentions, timed for the very moment that the mass media was intensely focused on the issue of climate change.
Obama's actual conduct will only be shown to be the opposite of what this manipulated first impression purveyed to the public when the folklorists are forced to either admit that tar sands oil is reaching the Gulf Coast right now at record levels through existing pipelines approved by Obama, or they just move on to their next fundraising project with a collective "never mind." The media will not be reporting in either event, and the big lie will prevail that Obama stood up for his belief in global survival when it counted.
The dishonest hyping of Obama's pipeline theatrics demonstrates how soundbite activists help provide political cover for "a president who has allowed more domestic drilling and more pipelines to be laid and permitted across the United States than perhaps any other in U.S. history and certainly in modern U.S. history." Here is found yet another of those many informed verdicts of "worse than Bush." Obama knows that systemically corrupt professional activists who prioritize their business plans will help him tout his gesture as a significant "victory" for climate change so that they can claim efficacy in their fundraising pitches. Concludes the expert, "it's cynicism at its finest."
The same pattern occurred when the activist organizations let Obama off the hook by pursuing a futile and ineffective constitutional amendment for years as the only solution for political corruption, until they didn't. Obama was allowed for this whole period to get away with a few offhanded, meaningless, but well-publicized weasel words about how he would "love to see some constitutional process that would allow us to actually regulate campaign spending the way we used to," while his actions did worse than nothing to achieve that goal. Certainly worse than Bush who actually signed McCain-Feingold, whereas Obama both worked for and signed the corrupt 2014 "CRomnibus Act."
It would be wrong to blame this cynicism on some rare hidden character flaw in Obama. Actually, he effortlessly excels in the Machiavellian genius that is required to succeed, especially on the Democratic side of this systemically corrupt plutocracy. Obama has demonstrated excellent leadership and effectiveness in managing and even expanding the plutocratic system, as did Bill Clinton before him and Hillary Clinton hopes to do after him.
Bush II demonstrated that for the denial-of-reality form of lying that works for their constituents, the Republican job description does not include genius. Indeed, the less the better for achieving that essential verisimilitude of clueless credibility that seems to appeal to Republicans. But consistently gaining the support and apologetics of voters who are demanding a set of policies which are the opposite of what plutocrats have ordered and paid for does require a rare genius for deception.
In the Orwellian world of plutocracy, such genius is not weakness. Plutocrats, like organized crime, do not pay to get deceived. They do the deceiving. Deception of the public must and does pervade the whole corrupt system. Obama's genius in managing that deception is a mere symptom of the system, but shows him to be the best at what he does. If the system were not corrupt Obama might just as easily turned his skills to succeed in that system too.
It is either a tribute to his skill that public opinion is mostly oblivious to the fact that Obama "stands up" commonly for the opposite of what he does, or a tribute to the highly evolved propaganda system that helps him disguise that fact. Either way, the price Obama pays for his success in the corrupt system that actually exists is a public perception of high-minded weakness and inexperience, rather than an appreciation which he deserves of his true genius.
Obama's genius actually seems to present the most extreme case of outright campaign fraud since Woodrow Wilson, who like Obama covered behind a veneer of progressive intentions bad deeds like Jim Crow re-segregation of the federal government, warmongering, political repression, and a state propaganda system. Wilson, a Wall Street-backed southern Democrat in an equally plutocratic era as the one Obama has helped create, was also elevated quickly to the presidency with the help of Wall Street money after a shorter experience in elective office than Obama. One historian's description of Wilson precisely fits Obama: he "was very adroit in conveying the sense of empathy for ideals while holding off from adopting the methods that would be required to implement the objectives."
If, as a result of this experience with Obama, honesty and authenticity were to be seen, as it should be, as the main issue in 2016, then Sanders would win both the nomination and the election.
As a decisive number of Independents, among others including many Republicans, believe, and Cornel West clearly tells us, "only Bernie has authenticity and integrity." Q-Poll reports "Sanders gets the best honesty grades among top candidates" while "voters say 60 - 36 percent that Clinton is not honest and trustworthy." Clinton's net negative spread ties Trump's.
Let's hope then that Prof. West, and others of us who value democracy, can persuade enough primary voters of Sanders' relevant qualities, of course, but perhaps more importantly of Obama's lack of the same. Otherwise in this complex three-way race between an Independent and two plutocratic parties, along two political axes, but where the plutocratic parties control the dated primary run-off process, "spoiler Democrats" may throw the general election to Republicans. That is the risk of nominating - in a year characterized by populist demand for authenticity - another "donor-driven" centrist who, like Obama, "pose[s] as a progressive and turn[s] out to be a counterfeit." As another writer says, "Nominating an establishment candidate during this profoundly populist moment could prove to be a very risky 'safe' bet."
Clinton lacks even a credible covering legend to absolve those Democrats who are about to be fooled again. She is a Clinton, after all, not an obscure but charismatic former community organizer, academic, and partial term Senator, with the oratorical chops to fool even Cornel West.
The Q-poll shows that Sanders presents these Democratic voters with the clear existential choice of attempting to at least start digging out of the corrupt plutocracy by endorsing the public's choice, Sanders, or instead burrowing in even deeper behind another Clinton. Neither defense of playing it "safe" against the feared Republican nor ignorance of Clinton is available to Democrats this time. Democratic choice of a Republican-lite risks losing to a Republican-heavy if the election turns on the resolution by Independent voters of the gnostic enigma of whether a Trump (Cruz/Rubio?) or Clinton is likely be more hospitable to the reigning plutocrats. As the broader public understands, Sanders is the only safe choice. But spoiler Democrats, using a defective run-off system, may deny the public that choice.
* This is a revised and expanded version of an article published at Counterpunch , Truthout and NOC and republished by Alternet
Rob Hager, a Harvard Law graduate, is a public interest litigator [Agent Orange, Bhopal Disaster, Three Mile Island, Silkwood, Joe Harding, Parks Twp., Avirgan v. Hull. (am'd. compl. & mot. to dis. only), etc.] who filed amicus briefs in the Montana sequel to Citizens United and has worked as an international consultant on anti-corruption policy and legislation with the United Nations' and other international development agencies.