Summary of the workings of the American political system: Republicans take over in the 90’s, Democrats start taking Big-$$, => a Catch-22, Hillary loses.
This page summarizes the workings of the American political system. Detailed posts are in the Political Systems category.
How Republicans Won in the 1990’s
Long the party of corporations, Republicans began to made particularly astute use of corporate money in the 1980’s, which set them up for a long streak of wins in the 1990’s, as shown in the following diagram:
Everything begins with the recognition of the important bubbles at the bottom of the diagram: Voting Districts are determined by state legislatures.
Restricting occurs every 10 years, in theory on the basis of the population census. But if you control a state’s legislature when it happens, you can make sure that the redistricting crams all of the opposition’s voters into a small number of districts, leaving your voters in charge in the majority of districts. The result, known as gerrymandering, ensures that your party stays in power in that state — and ensures that your electoral college votes go to your Presidential candidate of choice.
Computers made it that much easier to do restricting in whatever way suits you. One of the more extreme examples includes a Jesus district where part of the district is on one side of a lake, and the remainder is on the other side, with nothing between the parts but water. An even more extreme example is the shotgun district, where houses are picked individually. There you can be in a different district from the house across the street from you, the houses on either side, and the house behind you!
The trick of course, was to garner sufficient control of the state legislature to be in control of the redistricting process. And that’s where Republicans displayed particular brilliance. Realizing that national candidates get the largest campaign contributions, the party siphoned off money from national candidates who were sure to win (long time incumbents), and funneled it — not to national elections which were in doubt (which had been the practice heretofore) — but instead to state races, to ensure victories there.
Of course, the strategy was made possible by all of spending records and polling capabilities they had their disposal, to make sure they did not jeopardize a race that was considered “safe”. But they had plenty of excess money at their disposal. After all, large corporate conglomerates were spending a fortune at the national level, to ensure that Congressmen would pay attention to their lobbyists and give them a favorable hearing.
That money was far in excess of what an established incumbent really needed, and it was many times more than it took to win a state race. So the money corporations were spending to get one friend at the national level could be used by the party to elect several candidates, at the state level.
To say the strategy was successful was an understatement. In the 1990’s, the Republicans began to acquire significant control.
Democrats Take Money to Compete
Once the Democrats wised up to what was going on, they realized that they needed corporate money to compete. So they revised their charter to allow it. That strategy was partially successful. But it created a new problem: The Democratic party was no just another wing of the Big-$$ Party funded by corporate conglomerates.
As a result, the Democratic party more and more began to favor corporations, and the deregulation that produced even greater profits. The party remained liberal on social issues, but they were equally complicit in the deregulation of Wall Street and the banking industry that led to the housing bubble, the market crash of 2008 — none of which endeared them to middle America, where both homes and jobs were lost in record numbers.
Catch 22: How Hillary Lost to Trump
As explained in 2004: How the Democrats Lost the Heartland of America, Democrats can’t win middle America on social issues. That means they have to make an economic argument. But doing that means trampling on the toes of the agribusiness corporations, and the conglomerates they’re part of. Doing that, of course, dries up their funding!
So they’re damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. If they make an economic argument, corporate money disappears, and they can’t get the word out. If they don’t, they lose middle America, as they did again in 2016, when Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump.
The fact that the Democrats were now in bed with giant corporations was never evidenced more clearly than when Hillary had secret meetings with Wall Street. It was then, in my view, that she lost middle America. It was abundantly clear at that point that she was not on the side of Main Street. So on the day of the election, her voters stayed home. Others thought that at least Trump gave them a chance. (Who could blame them? Besides, what alternative was there?)
In retrospect, of course, that election was a disaster for the country. But again, what was the alternative?
The choice that would have made sense for the country was Bernie Sanders — a populist who understood the problems middle America was facing, who understood that the cause of those problems was corporate pandering, and whose proposals represented a serious and potentially viable sea change in American politics — all of which would have been as good for the country as FDR had been after the Great Depression.
But recall that the Democratic party was taking corporate money! The Democratic National Committee (DNC), was therefore loath to endorse a candidate who threatened to rock the boat. And rather than merely not endorsing him, they did everything in their power to ensure that Hillary got the nomination.
So in the end, Hillary was in a position to lose as a result of the DNC’s commitment to corporate money, and she lost in end because she was clearly on the side of corporate money, rather than on the side of average Americans.
- See How Hillary Lost to Trump for a quick-reference list of the points on this page.
- See the Political Systems category for detailed posts on the workings of the American political system.
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