By Richard (RJ) Eskow
February 05, 2020 "Information
Clearing House" - This
failure casts a shadow on the party’s ability to
carry out its basic responsibilities. Worse, it
suggests that its leaders care more about helping
their friends than serving the public interest.
It’s no exaggeration to call this a crisis of
legitimacy. Like the GOP, the Democratic Party holds
a position that is unique among democracies. It is,
in effect, one half of a state-sponsored duopoly
that controls electoral politics. That kind of
unaccountable power is detrimental to democracy. As
long as it exists, however, it confer an obligation
to serve the interests of democracy.
The Republicans have made it clear they couldn’t
care less. But the GOP’s abdication places an even
heavier burden on Democrats to uphold basic
democratic standards: by rejecting cronyism and
oligarchy, promoting transparency, and ensuring that
every person’s vote counts.
They failed to uphold this burden in Iowa, and not
for the first time.
This kind of behavior undercuts Democrats
politically. To put it in today’s corporatized
vocabulary, “democracy” is the party’s brand — and
lately they’ve been trashing it.
On its face, the level of incompetence leading up to
the Iowa fiasco seems almost incomprehensible:
First, a party that has spent the last three years
talking about data hacking took a manual process and
shifted it onto on one of the most hackable devices
in the world: a cell phone.
Then, having created a vulnerability where there had
been none, it spent more money protecting itself
from this self-created vulnerability.
The technology in question was then rushed into
production without proper training for its users,
when the stakes for democracy were high — and the
whole world was watching.
Crazy, right? Actually, no.
It all makes perfect sense — once you realized that
the software was only a secondary concern for the
Max Blumenthal reports that Shadow Inc, the
software company that produced the app, had ties to
the Buttigieg campaign both as a contractor and
(through its top funder) as a donor. ( “Shadow Inc”?
Really? Were all the best evil names taken, like
“Spectre” and “Hydra?”)
Shadow Inc’s website says that its employees are
veterans of the Clinton and Obama campaigns, as well
as the DNC — although, like the Men in Black, it
refuses to identify its operatives by name. This
reinforces the sense of an insider clique with an
interest in the caucus results, rather than a team
of the most qualified tech experts.
As Blumenthal observes, “the conspiracy theories
The technology failed, but the deal-making worked
just fine. Its underlying purpose wasn’t to produce
an app, or any other product. The deal
was the product. The app was
merely the residue of an agreed-upon cash transfer
among insiders. Its functionality was a secondary
Not that this was necessarily a conscious choice. I
keep hearing that many of the people involved in
these deals are good folks: nice, decent, friendly,
likable. I don’t doubt it. You can be all those
things and still be part of a culture with misguided
priorities and broken values. But the longer you’re
part of that culture, the more likely you are to
lose sight of your own basic values — or, worse, to
delude yourself into thinking you’re still living by
Nice or not, they take care of their own. What else
explains Iowa’s hiring of Robby Mook, the manager of
Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 campaign, as a cyber
security consultant? Mook is widely considered one
of the nice guys (I’ve never met him). But his
flawed data analysis is seen as playing a major role
in her loss. Later, he even
misattributed the actions of Macedonian
teenagers to Russian government operatives. That
doesn’t suggest an excess of cybersecurity talent.
That, too, is secondary. The party establishment
runs itself as a private fiefdom, one whose primary
purpose is to take care of its centrist allies.
Think of it as a Jobs Guarantee for people who are
against a Jobs Guarantee for anyone else.
The Democrats may present themselves as the party of
meritocracy — a neoliberal notion that can be found
in its longstanding rhetoric about a “level playing
field” and “giving everyone a fair chance.” Within
the party itself, however, merit often takes a
backseat to connections and cronyism. The centrist
Democratic belief that competition breeds excellence
— a variant of what Thomas Frank called “the
ideology of professionalism” — doesn’t seem to apply
to its own operations.
Sure, most political machines take care of their
own. But even the most corrupt, like Boss Tweed’s in
New York, also managed to do things with at least a
modicum of efficiency. If you handed your alderman a
few bucks and told him the sewers on your street
needed fixing, he’d take your money. But the sewers
would get fixed. This machine takes your cash and
hires consultants. Maybe the sewers get fixed, maybe
not. It doesn’t matter much either way, as long as
the right people get the gig.
That’s why so many Democratic campaign managers run
one failed campaign after another, and keep getting
hired anyway. There’s nothing wrong with letting
consultants make a decent living (as long as they
don’t get greedy and make millions doing ad buys).
But shouldn’t they earn these important jobs with a
record of accomplishment? Where’s that “level
playing field” we’ve heard so much about?
The Worst Worst-Case Scenario
New York Times reported last month that Mook’s
firm ran a “drill of worst-case scenarios” on
cybersecurity for Iowa’s Democratic and Republican
parties. “We ran them through the ringer and pushed
them really hard,” Mook was quoted as saying.
By consulting on cybersecurity threats, Mook was
cashing in on a wave of exaggerated fear he played
an major role in creating. And while everyone
focused on cybersecurity, the Democrats neglected
basic functionality. Some reports said that party
officials didn’t even want anyone to download the
app or be trained on it until the very last minute,
because they were so worried about
That seems like a metaphor for the last three years:
Democrats focused on outside threats while
overlooking their own job duties.
It’s not that they’re indifferent to those duties —
like winning elections, or crafting policies that
serve the majority’s interests. On balance, most
insiders would undoubtedly prefer winning to losing.
And they’d probably rather accomplish good things
for the electorate than not. It’s not that they’re
indifferent to these things. They just don’t let
them interfere with their self-interest.
Democratic activist Nomiki Konst, who knows a lot
about the party’s operations,
tweeted that “All roads lead to budget oversight
and conflicts of interest … Who signed the contract
for this app? And what bidding was there?”
She’s right, and
rules changes like the ones she proposes are
urgently needed. But that’s only part of the
solution. The Democratic Party must confront this
crisis of legitimacy by changing an insider culture
that serves it, and the public interest, poorly. If
it doesn’t do that, and soon, the result may well be
another victory for Trump and his party.
They may deserve that, but we don’t.
Richard (RJ) Eskow -
Writer; host, The Zero Hour (radio,
television, digital); former lead writer,
Bernie 2016; Senior Advisor, Social Security
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