Wednesday, August 19, 2015

GOP Giving Away 2016 Election?

GOP Giving Away 2016?
P. Schultz
August 19, 2015

            Below is an article entitled, “Did the Republicans just give away the 2016 election by raising birthright citizenship?” This opinion piece was in the NY Times, dated August 18, 2015. The author proceeds to analyze how much of the Hispanic vote would be necessary for the Republicans to win the presidency in 2016 and concludes that this will be nearly impossible to achieve and that by arguing that part of the 14th amendment to the US Constitution should be repealed, the Republicans have not helped themselves.

            Now, this is an interesting article and argument and the author has done an impressive amount of work regarding Hispanics and their participation rates in previous presidential elections. However, what I would like to focus on, briefly, is the implied message that giving away a presidential election is something quite unusual and would only be done by any political party mistakenly.

            This is one of most cherished pieces of the conventional wisdom surrounding the American political arena, viz., that political parties are committed to winning each and every election. But while it is cherished, it is also untrue. There are several elections, even presidential elections, that may be said to have been deliberately lost, beginning with the 1996 election in which Bob Dole ran against Bill Clinton and during which the Republicans or at least many of them did little to help Dole win. I would also argue that the Republican Party also deliberately conceded the election of 1964, following JFK’s assassination, when it nominated Barry Goldwater for the presidency. And I would also argue that LBJ was quite content that Richard Nixon bested Hubert Humphrey in the election of 1968.

            What lies behind such arguments that makes them seem less weird than they otherwise would is the fact that any political party, like any political organization, has an “establishment” within it and that, at times, this “establishment” looks to protect itself from those who may be called “insurgents” seeking to overthrow them. Further, at times the best way to do this is to lose an election because winning it would result in a new “establishment” taking control of the party.

            So why would the Republican Party, i.e., the current “establishment” within the Republican Party, think it wise to lose in 2016? Perhaps because the “insurgents” in that party, represented by the likes of Scott Walker, Rand Paul, and now Donald Trump, if successful in gaining the presidency, would displace Republicans like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner in positions of leadership and, thereby, take over the Republican Party. From this viewpoint, the best result for the current Republican “establishment” would be to allow one of these “insurgents” to be nominated, lose to Hillary Clinton or another Democrat, and thereby preserve their control of the Republican Party. And after the loss, these “establishment” types could then argue: “See, Americans don’t like extreme politicians or extreme policy positions like those advocated by Trump, Walker, or Rand.”

            And in this way, that is, by throwing the election to the Democrats, the Republicans help to preserve the status quo in terms of both domestic and foreign policy, as well as their own power and status. Sure, they are the ”minority party” but they still have their power and perks within the Republican Party and they can comfort themselves with the knowledge that they have helped preserve the status quo in the nation. They remain empowered patriots.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Real Campaign of 2015-2016

The Real Campaign of 2015-2016
P. Schultz
August 6, 2015

            What’s with all these Republicans – and an increasing number of Democrats – seeking the nomination for president? What’s with Donald Trump and is “craziness”? It all might seem kind of weird, or like “the train has gone off the tracks” accidently. But it is anything but an accident.

            That it is not an accident so long as one recognizes that politicians and political parties view elections as potentially “dangerous” events, i.e., events that could “realign” the prevailing power arrangements [the “regime”] and displace the prevailing politicians. From this vantage point, the current “circus,” involving multiple candidates, saying really strange stuff, is merely another phase in the current campaign of voter suppression.

            This phase supplements the more formal phase of this campaign – and this is the real campaign right now – in which some states have passed laws whose effects will be voter suppression. And the method of the current phase is pretty simple: Make the political process look like a “joke” or a “circus,” thereby turning people off and making them less likely to vote. The “Trump phenomenon” helps accomplish this, as does such campaign ads as Ted Cruz’s “machine gun bacon” ad! And, of course, as our comedians play up these things, their effects are fortified. And some of those who see themselves as challenging the status quo are actually fortifying it.

            An additional plus to this “circus” is that it makes it seem that those who are angry or irate about our current situation can be dismissed as they gravitate toward those allegedly “loose cannons” running for president. This serves the established political class well because it not only dismisses these people but it disses their anger as well, making it seem unwarranted or a product of some personal “quirk.” It is as if the message is: “Obviously, things aren’t so bad as these people claim they are. So ‘Stay Calm and Carry On,’ as the saying has it.”

            Overall, then, what we are witnessing is part of the 2015-2016 campaign. But that campaign is not only – not even primarily – about electing a new, unblack president. It is also about preserving the established social and political order in the face of a clear case that the established governing class has failed over and over during the last twenty or thirty years. There is, as many like to say, “A method to their madness.”


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Elections, Political Parties, and Politicians

Elections, Political Parties, and Politicians
P. Schultz
August 1, 2015

            There is an unspoken assumption that popular elections and political parties go together like a horse and carriage or like love and marriage. That is, it is assumed that they belong together.

            But, for a few moments, entertain another presumption, viz., that political parties and their leading politicians view elections as sailors view shoals and reefs, i.e., as dangerous and potentially destructive phenomena. Hence, elections must be navigated so “the ship of state,” with its political parties and politicians on board, will not run aground or even sink.

            We have, we are told, two major political parties, both of which are embedded in our political system, but which might be more accurately seen as shipmates on a “ship of state,” navigating an often unpredictable political sea, a sea which is unsettled every few years by popular elections. As a result, both parties have a mutual interest in steadying the ship of state in order to ensure that it does not run aground or sink.

            From this viewpoint, elections are always events that must be controlled, must be managed, must be navigated, and this is especially so in time of widespread popular discontent and anger. It might even be said, in fact it has been said, that the two parties collude in order to navigate such seas in the face of popular elections.

            Recently, I have been reading about the presidential election of 1896, in which William McKinley, the Republican, defeated William Jennings Bryan, the Democrat, a result which many say ushered in a period of “national unity,” a period which left behind decades of “depression, divisiveness, and flashing movement.” In sum, it was a time when, “if all went well . . . would carry McKinley and the nation triumphantly into the twentieth century.” [p. 156, Realigning America: McKinley, Bryan, and the Remarkable Election of 1896, by R. Hal Williams]

            Usually, this election and its alleged results are seen as the result of two party competition, a competition which pitted the “gold coated” Republicans against the “silver tongued” Democrats, a competition which is presented as offering the American people a stark choice between two radically different political and economic alternatives. However, one interesting aspect of this view is that it was not the view of many who were involved in politics at that time. In fact, for many, the election of 1896 had been “constructed” in such a way that any radically different alternative politics would not and could not win.

            In the years preceding 1896, due to depression and other phenomena, a third party arose called either the “People’s Party” or the “Populists.” The adherents to this party sought wholesale changes in the U.S. such as free silver, an income tax, public ownership of the railroads and telegraph companies, and protections for laborers, a category that was understood to include farmers. Obviously, such an agenda threatened, to say the least, the status quo and, therewith, both of the major parties. Hence, ways needed to be devised to ensure the demise of this party and its agenda. Interestingly, in light of this need, the political debate in the nation came to focus on the issue of silver, i.e., whether silver should be used along with gold as the basis of money, thereby increasing the money that could be in circulation and making life bearable for the common people. How this came about is not as important as that it did come about, with the result that silver became the focal point of political debates and political distinctions.

            As a result, the Populist party was split between those who rejected this focus on silver – they thought and said that the silver question was of minor importance to the well being of the nation and its producers, the laborers - and those who embraced it, the latter for the sake of joining the Democrats – a process called “fusion” – in order to make possible a victory in 1896. The issue was whether to maintain what some call “party purity” or to compromise, “fuse,” and thereby win the presidency with the Democrat Bryan. So the choice was presented but it was a false choice.

            “On the eve of their own convention, the Populists were in trouble, and they knew it. At the beginning of 1896, they had staked everything on the assumption that neither party would endorse silver. The Republicans seemed safe for gold . . . and surely Grover Cleveland . . . could keep a silver plank out of the Democratic platform. As it turned out, the Populists guessed right about the Republicans, wrong about the Democrats . . . . After Chicago [the Democratic national convention] the Populists faced a painful choice: nominate and independent ticket and risk splitting the silver reform forces or nominate Bryan and give up a good deal of their identity as a party. Either way, they were certain to lose. ‘If we fuse,’ as one of them said plaintively, ‘we are sunk; if we don’t fuse, all the silver men we have will leave us for the more powerful Democrats.” [pp. 110 & 113]

            Now, it should be noted that the radical agenda of the Populists had, by the time the election of 1896 occurred, been shut out of the process. “Either way, they were certain to lose.” Which is to say that their agenda was bound to lose either way, i.e., whether McKinley won or whether Bryan won! It can even be said that they had already lost by the time the election occurred. This is what is called managing or navigating an allegedly popular election.