In this post, I detailed how the ever-consolidating corporate media has contributed to the slow, steady decline in productive political discourse.
This election cycle was no exception to the trend. But in truth, the media is just a mouthpiece for political machines.
An eyeroll-inducing phrase, the use of “political machines” is considered derogatory “because it suggests that the interest of the organization are placed before those of the general public…machines are criticized as undemocratic and inevitably encouraging corruption.”, according to Safire’s Political Dictionary.
An interconnected apparatus of spoils systems, private interests, mega-donors, party elites, and of course, the media – political machines (if you think of a better or more amenable phrase, let me know) wield significant control and influence in our democratic process. Indeed, one need only observe the current white house occupant. His rise to and consolidation of power has been made possible by the powerful, sophisticated GOP machine.
Indeed, The Koch-funded GOP machine is taking – over – state – legislatures across the country. They are shutting down voting stations in minority areas, purging voters, engaging in extreme gerrymandering and disenfranchising voters, blocking students from voting, and changing the rules of governance to make their control permanent and legal while blasting lies across a vast, multinational propaganda network and…
Wait, wait…I’m getting ahead of myself. More on the orange man and the GOP machine later. For now, let’s first focus on the command center of the Democratic machine – the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Flashing back to 2016, the DNC was caught red-handed, via email leaks, in blatant collusion with the Clinton campaign and in direct contrast to their self-chartered impartiality.
From the leaks, we learned that, early in the campaign cycle, then-DNC chief Debbie Wasserman-Schultz called the Bernie Sanders campaign “a silly story, he’s never going to be President”. Once the silly story became more of a threat, the DNC became heavy-handed in their scale-tipping.
As more revelations surfaced, we discovered that the DNC had been actively discussing and deploying measures to hamstring the Bernie campaign. Attacking his faith, reducing polling sites in Sanders-supported areas, reducing the number of debates, providing debate questions to the Clinton campaign, etc, etc.
Then, more damning revelations: the Joint Fund-Raising Agreement between the DNC, the Hillary Victory Fund, and Hillary for America, was brought to light. The leaked emails revealed the Clinton campaign was grabbing money from state parties for its own purposes, leaving the states with very little to support down-ballot races.
The agreement, established just months after Clinton declared her nomination, is detailed in a damning Politico op-ed published by former interim chair of the DNC chair, Donna Brazile:
“The agreement […] specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings.”
Brazile then proceeds to describe her conversation with Bernie, in which she revealed Clinton’s systematic takeover of the DNC:
“I told Bernie I had found Hillary’s Joint Fundraising Agreement. I explained that the cancer was that she had exerted this control of the party long before she became its nominee.
Bernie took this stoically. He did not yell or express outrage. Instead he asked me what I thought Hillary’s chances were. The polls were unanimous in her winning but what, he wanted to know, was my own assessment?
I had to be frank with him. I did not trust the polls, I said. I told him I had visited states around the country and I found a lack of enthusiasm for her everywhere. I was concerned about the Obama coalition and about millennials.”
After Hillary’s loss in the 2016 election, the DNC saw a mass staffing exodus. Now headed by Tom Perez, in 2020 the DNC has trended toward more of the same, stacking their convention committee rosters with a veritable who’s-who of long entrenched establishment elites, and quite literally no progressive representation.
One featured player is centrist mainstay and top-dollar breadwinner John Podesta, who famously quoted in a leaked email as being “not opposed” to “grinding Sanders to a pulp […] where would you stick the knife in?”.
There are no such leaked emails to sift through this cycle, but the concerted effort by the DNC and Democratic machine to stymy the progressive wing is still apparent, and shameful.
Shame on the machine for doing everything they could to orchestrate subversion and throw their weight behind their darling candidate, again.
Biden’s epic rise to frontrunner status was cast as organic across media outlets, but as an unlikely article published in the NYT post-Super Tuesday, touched on, the media itself has played a heavy hand in propping him up:
“The events of the past week have validated much of his criticism of the media, the subject of a 1988 town hall with Mr. Sanders (The video is a trip, and worth the click.)
His main point: ‘The media itself is as important a political issue as exists.’
Mr. Sanders is right about that, and about two other big things: that much of the U.S. media still covers elections as if they’re sporting events and that the affluent New Yorkers who run and appear on television networks are not inclined to like him. The narrative of Joe Biden’s comeback was an irresistible story to the media — one that often eclipsed the coronavirus, never mind discussion of health care or poverty”
While refreshing, the article is too little, too late, and does not come nearly as close to the core grievances that many weathered progressives have with corporate-owned media. In my next post, we’ll dive once more anew into mass media’s role in, dare I say, manufacturing consent. For now, let’s stick to the salient points.
Throughout the early months of 2020, as Bernie began amassing delegates, becoming the first ever presidential candidate from either political party to win the popular vote in each of the first three state contests, the media began an all-out assault on him and his supporters (well documented in this article and this video, and see this post of mine for more examples of unfair treatment in the months prior)
From Bloomberg (the media outlet, in this case) undermining his wins, to WaPo’s consistent, tired trope of likening him to Trump, to MSNBC’s epic distaste with Latino voters caucusing for him during his Nevada win, to this infamous moment of a widely criticized CNN debate:
Debate moderator Abby Phillip: “I do want to be clear here. You’re saying that you never told Senator Warren that a woman could not win the election?”
Bernie: “That is correct.”
The next logical question is to turn to Warren and ask, “Senator Warren, did Senator Sanders ever tell you that?”
Instead, in a jaw-dropping moment, Phillip asked Warren, “Senator Warren, what did you think when Senator Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?”
In the words of a journalism think-tank, the Poynter Institute, CNN’s treatment of Bernie was “stunning in its ineptness and stunning in its unprofessionalism”. Shame on them.
It seems like a lifetime ago, but remember “nobody likes him” back in January? Yep, they brought back Hillary for one more punch-down at her former opponent, as he was building significant momentum and rising in the polls. Shame on her.
Shame on the machine for trotting out talking heads like James Carville across the airways for him to brand Bernie as a “communist”, and pejoratively label us as his “cult,” and warn of the “end of days,” if Sanders were to win the Democratic nomination.
Shame on the machine for calling us “brownshirts” and likening our movement to Nazi-Germany. Our candidate is Jewish, and he had relatives perish in the Holocaust. Shame on you, and good riddance, Chris Matthews.
Shame on the DNC for embracing Michael Bloomberg’s entrance, for taking his coin and changing the debate rules to enable his inclusion. As Politico reported, Bloomberg was privately lobbying Democratic Party officials and donors allied with his moderate opponents to flip their allegiance to him, and block Bernie Sanders, while utilizing his endless war-chest to pull voters toward the moderate position.
A shrewd investor, Bloomberg knew that even in spending the largest sum ever in a presidential primarily to block Bernie, even if he lost, that investment would still yield him great ROI in a non-Bernie presidency. As if his 100-day, $1,000,000,000 Bernie-blocking vanity campaign isn’t itself evidence that the .01% can, without breaking a sweat, fund the social programs that we’re calling for.
Bloomberg has since invested a small fraction of what he did in his campaign into the COVID-19 response. Shame on him.
In the days leading up to Super Tuesday, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg (who had more delegates than Biden at the time), exited the race, and along with Beto O’Rourke, endorsed Biden, and the media did the rest. The run-up to Super Tuesday ended up being a three-day, $70 million earned media tsunami for the eventual nominee, with overwhelmingly positive coverage. Obama aides now concede that he played a role in coalescing candidates around Biden.
To really stack the deck, the primary’s largest dark money PAC propped up the Elizabeth Warren campaign, flooding it with cash despite it being on life support, just weeks from folding, if only to dilute the progressive coalition.
The machine’s media-driven efforts undoubtably tipped the scales, as huge swaths of the Super Tuesday electorate decided on their candidate within the final two days, and those voters overwhelmingly broke for Biden. Operation #Joementum worked when it needed to – a massive, unthinkable 34% gain in polling from mid-February to early March – despite a still staggering enthusiasm gap, especially when compared to the President’s.
A personal example of the machine propping up their preferred candidate unfolded in front of my eyes the weekend prior to Super Tuesday, when I flew down to the Mexican border to both canvas for Bernie Sanders and join a grassroots campaign seeking to unseat “Trump’s Favorite Democrat”.
Henry Cuellar is a pro-ICE, pro-life, anti-gun control, anti-union, anti-environment, 7-term incumbent Democratic congressman who votes alongside Trump nearly 70% of the time, including in favor of a border wall.
One would expect he’d be serving a conservative district, but no, TX-28 is solidly 75% Democrat. It’s a district that Hillary won in 2016 by 20 points, Beto O’Rourke won in 2018 (beating Ted Cruz by 20 points), and Bernie won in 2020. Cuellar had slouched his way to DC unchallenged for 15 years.
Cuellar’s primary challenger, Jessica Cisneros, is a first generation, 26 year-old, progressive immigration and human rights attorney born and raised in Laredo, TX. She is a pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-union, pro-immigrant rights, brown woman from the ever-contentious US-Mexico border. As someone who can speak to the plights of immigrants and the horrors of detention centers, her voice and her fight are in line with everything the Democratic party represents (or claims to).
A few months prior to the primary, I met Jessica at a fundraising event when she visited DC. I was immediately drawn to her vision to take her district back from the moneyed interests and regressive stances that have been emblematic of Cuellar’s fifteen-year reign. Seeking to become the youngest ever congressperson elected, the former intern for Cuellar, had a unique lens through which to view her opponent.
“What stood out the most when I was interning with Rep. Cuellar was that, in addition to seeing him very silent on all these issues that affect south Texans, he knew that I was from the district and he never once asked me what I thought the district needed.”
Instead, Cuellar was asking his biggest campaign contributors what they needed, and enacting their preferred agenda into legislation while in Washington.
Big oil, big pharma, other big business lobbies like the US Chamber of Commerce, Private Prison lobby, and the NRA, all pumped money into Cuellar’s re-election bid. Hundreds of thousands in dark money flowed in, including the first ever investment in a Democrat from Americans for Prosperity Action – a Super PAC founded by billionaire Charles Koch (yes, the very same).
As a movement without a dime of corporate money, Jessica had an uphill climb. I wasn’t alone in deciding to join the fight. Support and endorsements flowed in from Emily’s List, the Sunrise Movement, Julian Castro, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders. She had overwhelming union support, and a movement powered by hundreds of grassroots volunteers and thousands of small money donations averaging just $23.
The race garnered significant national attention and outside spending. As election day approached, Jessica gained momentum and narrowed her polling gap against Cuellar. Being in the thick of it, I can attest to the feverish passion and hope felt both within the campaign, and in the poor and working class communities we were mobilizing.
Over a three day period I knocked hundreds of doors. Many told me they had never been visited by a campaign – Cuellar had long neglected the low-income communities that comprise the vast majority of his district. In hearing Jessica and Bernie’s message, many flipped, decided to vote when they weren’t going to, or decided to vote for the first time. We animated a volunteer network to transport the poor, disabled, and elderly, to the polls. We had a shot.
The Democratic machine just wasn’t going to have that. Not only did the party’s standard-bearer and most powerful member endorse Cuellar, she went out of her way to fly down ten days prior to election day to stump for him.
“We want this to be not only a victory, but a resounding victory for Henry Cuellar”
Nancy Pelosi had a choice to make. She could have stood with Planned Parenthood, gun-control groups, climate activists, unions, and a movement led by poor and working class people. Instead, she and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) sided with the anti-choice, anti-gun control, big-oil, big pharma, and private prison lobbies.
Ultimately, my efforts and those of thousands of young, poor, and working class people were not enough to topple the combined efforts of the Democratic and Republican machines. Though Cuellar did not enjoy the “resounding victory” that Pelosi called for (Jessica lost by 3%, a mere 3,000 votes), they did just enough to keep us at bay.
What scares Nancy Pelosi, the DCCC, party elites, left-leaning media, and the private interests that bankroll them all, more than a pro-life, anti-union, anti-environment, pro-border wall, Trump supporting, NRA- and Koch-backed Democrat?
Answer: a young, progressive woman of color un-beholden to private interests leading a working-class challenge to their power. Shame on her, and shame on them.
Last but not least, shame on the machine – the DNC and Biden himself, especially – for encouraging primaries to continue amidst a pandemic, and even threatening states with delegate penalties for suspending their elections.
Of course, the DNC and Democratic machine at-large are perfectly within their legal right to subvert our movement, conduct backdoor (or public) progressive-suppressing orchestration, change rules as they see fit, align with the GOP machine, foment their preferred media narrative, and give citizens the choice between exposure to a deadly virus or exercising their right to vote.
Indeed, as described in a court order dismissing a class-action lawsuit against the DNC over election-rigging in 2016:
“For their part, the DNC and Wasserman-Schultz have characterized the DNC charter’s promise of ‘impartiality and evenhandedness’ as a mere political promise—political rhetoric that is not enforceable in federal courts. The Court does not accept this trivialization of the DNC’s governing principles. While it may be true in the abstract that the DNC has the right to have its delegates ‘go into back rooms like they used to and smoke cigars and pick the candidate that way,’ the DNC, through its charter, has committed itself to a higher principle.”
The DNC is a private corporation. Like the candidates they bolster, and the machine they operate within, they are beholden to private interests. They continue to act shamefully, but not illegally.
Some might scoff at my anger here, and in preceding posts, seeing my words and couching them as just a hateful, spiteful millennial who can’t take a loss. Try to understand that my anger is not out of hatred, or spite. It’s out of just that – anger…and, yeah, maybe a hint of reciprocation.
Being cast as a cult, as radicals, communists, and Nazis, hearing that nobody likes our candidate, seeing no representation in the inner circle or on the airways, seeing huge money and punditry and party elites lining up against us, against all the time we spent, small donations we made, stories of poverty, race, and class discrimination we lifted up, the truth we purveyed on big money’s heavy hand on both sides of the aisle, for all the new energy and ideas we breathed into the Democratic party, to go up against the machine and lose in the same way, again, is devastating.
My anger is not mine alone. If you have a progressive in your life, know that their anger is part the alienation that I’ve detailed here, part the shared pain that we’re all feeling, by proxy or otherwise, from the young, the debt-ridden, the poor, the working class, and marginalized communities we’ve been a part of and/or spent a huge part of our lives thinking about (their plights), feeling (their suffering), understanding (what they need), and taking bold action on (changing the systems that beget their plights).
When we see the machine at-large – the DNC, state parties, mega-donors, private interests, big business lobbies, party elites, billionaires, former candidates, the media – when all of these forces are animated and aligned against our movement of regular people, against values the party is supposed to stand for, especially after they realize we actually have broad support, it feels bad. It feels like oppression.
When every cog in the Democratic machine is working against us, it feels like we don’t belong in it.
Shame on the machine for alienating a movement of young, poor, and working class people, twice, in order to drag their preferred, corporate-friendly candidates and interests into the general election.