One can’t mention the Green New Deal without a chorus of people asking, “How will we pay for it?” But when it comes to a crowded field of more than 20 Democratic presidential contenders, few bother to ask, “Who’s footing the bill for this horse race?”
That’s because the reason is obvious. With a few exceptions, large donors and Wall Street interests back nearly every contender.
In a time when democratic values and policies are shredded daily, will the unprecedented Democratic strategy of crowding the field and the upcoming debate stage with a surplus of largely Wall Street-funded candidates really deliver defeat to Trump?
True, the number of personalities available may briefly enliven voters beaten down into learned helplessness through following the daily Trumpian barrage of horrors, which is only worsened by the Democratic leadership’s inert responses.
Meanwhile, given the narrowing window for effective climate action, helping voters to identify any candidates beholden to fossil fuel money will ultimately determine the outcome of the climate crisis, as well as the future of U.S. democracy. Although less obvious from the outset, the Democratic Party’s strategy to run a wide array of candidates may be less small “d” democratic than initially appeared.
This becomes most obvious when we think ahead to the upcoming debates.
Rather than host a meaningful discussion among the top contenders to help Americans focus on the few climate-active candidates with a strong likelihood of defeating Trump, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has chosen to crowd the field — and therefore the debate stage — two nights with 13 candidates each. Watching a parade of different personalities will confuse priorities and obscure choice. Picture 26 people, each in turn accorded under 10 minutes to generate a rapid-fire response to a “gotcha” or softball question. Less like democratic discourse and more like speed dating, it’s actually “speed debating.”
As in a TV game show, speed debating automatically prefers snappy over substantive answers. Candidates can readily use climate as a buzzword, even as their campaign funding leaves them beholden to fossil fuel money.
To make matters worse, the DNC has refused to host a climate debate and announced that it will bar from the debate stage any candidates participating in one in another venue. In censoring a serious discussion of climate, the DNC aligns itself with President Trump’s anti-climate agenda.
Shopping for Candidates
The parade of candidates — some of whom target their appeal to a specific but limited demographic — is an artifact of marketing research and consumerism. This strategy keeps people flattered and distracted with pseudo-choice within a seemingly dazzling (but in fact quite limited) array of options. There are only a mere handful of truly climate-activated candidates, as most merely deliver lip service.
Yet well-intentioned people come to believe that the surplus of candidates somehow signifies a robust democracy. Seeing the array of options feels empowering until one recalls that Wall Street investors hedge their bets by investing in multiple competitors to assure access, whoever wins. Meanwhile, with climate explicitly excluded from the conversation, the DNC acts to defeat our ability to use the last vestiges of a failing democratic process to protect life on Earth.
The low poll numbers of most of the candidates makes “shopping” for candidates a divisive maneuver rather than a unifying strategy. While polls show that issues like the popular Medicare for All and the Green New Deal can unite voters around a candidate, the DNC rejects these universal favorites for the self-promoting mantra of “Any blue will do.” In other words, after we’ve shopped for candidates, we must vow to abdicate our decision-making right by voting for whomever ultimately is awarded the nomination in the DNC-orchestrated contest — whether or not that candidate will address voters’ top priorities or even be able to win. Guilt-thrusting others about their vote is a strategy for blame and loss, not victory.
It is no coincidence that top-down enforced bloc-voting was freely used in 2016 to force DNC and Clinton-appointed delegates to vote down all but one climate-related plank from the Democratic Party platform. The authoritarian management style — which recruits our friends, relatives and neighbors to police our votes — may be acceptable to centrist Democrats, but is a big turn-off to both progressives and to the 38 percent of the population not affiliated with the two main political parties. And it’s hard to imagine that such a tactic would have strong appeal to disaffected Trump voters either.
Is Wall Street Sponsoring This Game Show?
The two leading Democratic contenders are Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden. Nevertheless, as the array of corporate-funded, low-polling contestants cherry-pick slivers of Sanders’s progressive policies (or else completely fail to mention their actual plans), let’s not forget what has always happened to past campaign promises delivered by “empty suit candidates” — those well-spoken, mediagenic politicians whose post-election policies will be dictated by Wall Street: Those promises evaporate.
Today, the uber-wealthy have more money to influence elections than ever before. Backstage, Wall Street covers costs for the Democratic Party’s marketing research to determine which candidate will front for its chosen agenda — which, as per the Clinton and Biden platforms, includes ongoing commitment to fossil fuels, new brand names for outdated energy policies, and weak (or no) action on climate. In this context, it’s hypocritical to claim concern for climate while celebrating the parade of “empty suit candidates” whose “I’ll-tell-you-later” policies, funded and dictated by Wall Street, will perpetuate the industries that destroy climate.
Even as Trump’s presence in office daily delivers a mounting death threat to all of humanity, in order to obey these Wall Street donors, the Democrats prefer to risk losing to him by deflecting time, focus and money into shopping for candidates rather than unifying behind a climate-realistic leader, with a pre-existing and sizable movement capable of defeating Trump.
Why People Don’t Vote
Organizations which study fair elections rank the U.S. lower than other developed countries, a Harvard study found. Beyond the narrow (and declining) zone of the comfortable meritocracy, people hit by economic hardship have also defected in great numbers from a two-party system that fails to address their concerns.
As a recent study by Thomas Piketty shows, Independent voters only come out to vote for a candidate that counters this system. The Democrats’ deployment of the cavalcade of low-margin candidates will therefore alienate millions of voters, while tempting others into complacency about the real choices we face.
Despite the merits of some candidates, the DNC’s crowded format seduces voters into a personality-based popularity contest — to be judged according to the criteria of competitive Q + A game shows like “Jeopardy” or “Wheel of Fortune.” Forcing experienced elected officials to act like game show contestants, jostling for airtime, subject to the show host’s buzzer, diminishes them — and undermines the seriousness of this election.
Who benefits? The original game show host himself. Trump will automatically be rendered more presidential, by not being subject to the indignity foisted upon the Democratic candidates.
While the opposition speed debates, he’ll have ample uninterrupted airtime to reengage his constituency. The misbegotten DNC strategy amplifies his voice above the fray.
The DNC’s strategy is not to defeat Trump, but progressive and disaffected voters across the political spectrum — the candidate and the people, who are the only ones who can defeat Trump.
Rather than divert attention to this parade of candidates, concerned citizens must focus on the essential: building a powerful policy-based movement helmed by leadership committed to addressing climate and transforming the system for everyone.