Why Clinton’s Pandering Matters


David Dayen’s recent piece, what you might call a primary on primaries, makes some good points on why Clinton’s opposition to the TPP is a Good Thing even if it is “pandering” to a populist/progressive movement.

What’s wrong with pandering? Our system of government, as it has evolved, offers precious few opportunities for ordinary people to get into the national conversation. Big Money has a tight grip on governance through insistent lobbying, and for the most part they fund national elections.

For once, the Democratic nominating fight, and the emergence of Bernie Sanders, has given public interest groups a voice, a rare channel to impact the political system. We shouldn’t roll our eyes at that; we should respect it. National leaders should have to listen to their constituents and earn their support. Primaries are one of the only moments that allow such an opportunity.

Had Mr Dayen written this piece 10 years ago – even 5 – I would be cheering. After all, I’ve been saying for at least a decade, ever since liberal Dems started blaming Nader for Gore’s 2000 defeat, that a push from a third party looked to be the only way to force an increasingly conservative Democratic party back to its root liberalism. The party had been captured by Third Way cons – the so-called neoliberals – and needed a challenge from the left to move them back toward the center.

So Clinton’s reaction to Bernie Sanders’ FDR-style pitch was predictable and would have been welcome but for one thing, and I can encapsulate the problem in two words: Citizen’s United.

Mr Dayen seems a shade behind the times. “Big money” not only “has a tight grip on governance”, CU has given it a pretty tight grip on campaign finances. Mr Dayen argues:

But here’s what we know from political science…: Politicians typically keep their campaign promises. Presidents may not fulfill them, but that has more to do with Congressional obstruction than a flip-flop.

In other words, locking in a particular endorsement in a primary has real lingering effects. That makes the process some call pandering, which I would call paying attention to your political base, all the more important. If you can move a candidate on an issue you care about, you can keep them in that position for a long time.

Yes, that’s the way primaries ought to work and I’ve made the same point myself in the past. But CU has changed the game. The injection of the “money is free speech” doctrine into election fundraising means that the richest campaign will be the winning campaign, which in turn means that candidates can say virtually anything to get elected and the only promises they have to keep are the ones they make to their funders.

The GOP has been running on this model for 30 years, and winning. They made lots of promises they had no intention of keeping – and didn’t – yet because their massive war chests allowed them to buy election after election, they kept on winning. It has taken three decades – DECADES – for this policy to catch up with them. Their base is in full revolt, fueled by 30 years of lies, but in the meantime they have controlled Congress and the presidency for more than half that period.

This lesson cannot have escaped the Democrats, especially the conservative/neoliberal wing. As long as candidates keep their promises to Big Money, they can lie their asses off to the electorate with few if any consequences. The electorate is now just part of the kabuki, and they will have even less influence as time goes by. Elections are becoming propaganda battles as Big Money hustles both parties into puppeteering. What all of this adds up to makes whether nor not a candidate is “pandering” a lot more important, even critical in terms of understanding what a candidate will actually do if elected.

IOW, which set of promises is a candidate going to keep? The ones she makes her BIG Money donors, or the ones she makes the electorate? Because she sure as hell isn’t going to be able to keep both.

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One response to “Why Clinton’s Pandering Matters

  1. But tonight she went farther left than I would have thought possible. Lying, mostly, I’m sure, but I’m thrilled that Bernie’s already had so much impact.

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