America’s Two Party Political System is Rigged

by Bud Meyers, published June 2, 2015

A cycle of “lesser-evil” voting in the U.S. has been well established.

Hillary Clinton is scheduled to speak at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park. In a prepared statement, a campaign spokesperson said: “Throughout her career, Hillary Clinton has been inspired by FDR’s belief that America is stronger when we summon the work and talents of all Americans and has long admired Eleanor Roosevelt as a role model.”

I knew FDR (not). And Hillary Clinton is no FDR. I resent that she is trying to come off as a “Person of the People”, when for decades, she has been more favorable to the Clinton’s corporate backers.

I have no problem at all voting for a woman if I thought she had credibility — and thought she could be trusted (and wasn’t just an opportunistic carpetbagger) — and if I believed she would truly represent American workers’ best interests.

But I won’t vote for a woman JUST BECAUSE she is a women. Sure, the novelty of having the first woman in the White House would be interesting (just like having her husband as “First Man” would be unique); just as having Obama as the first black President was a new political phenomena. But I wouldn’t vote for ANY candidate just because they are “the first” of anything either.

I would love to see Elizabeth Warren run, more so than Bernie Sanders (my second choice), but only because I believe Liz might stir up more excitement within the progressive and liberal base than Bernie might.

But I wouldn’t vote for Elizabeth Warren JUST BECAUSE she is a women. No more than I would vote for Bernie Sanders JUST BECAUSE he’s a man. And why wasn’t HE also summoned to the Clinton mansion last year for “consultations” the same way Elizabeth Warren was? (Some think Hillary just wanted to “neutralize” Elizabeth and gain her endorsement.)

The Boston Globe wrote, “[Hillary’s] praise for Warren, who has a fervent following for her outspoken stances on Wall Street, is an extension of Clinton’s stretch to the left as she tries to shed the appearance of a cozy relationship with bankers and Corporate America …Wall Street largely reacted with a yawn to Clinton’s populist appeals, with her supporters in Manhattan chalking it up to politics.”

And if Elizabeth Warren stays out of the president race, will she endorse Clinton or Sanders? I would be very hard-pressed to explain why she would endorse Hillary, when Bernie has just as good a chance of beating any GOP candidate in the 2016 election. According to the latest polling, Bernie’s presidential campaign has more support than the campaign of media favorites Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and every other Republican candidate.

I will vote against Hillary Clinton (not JUST because I don’t trust her new found phony “populism”), but also because I don’t believe in political dynasties in a democracy. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (who just announced he’s also running) said it best: “Let’s be honest here. The presidency of the United States is not some crown to be passed between two families.”

But unfortunately, the political game in America is rigged. We will get Hillary Clinton as the Democratic presidential contender in 2016 whether we want her or not — because supposedly, according to unwritten political etiquette, it’s Hillary’s “turn” to be the Democratic nominee (excluding the fact she was and lost in 2008); and because she loyally served the “Third Way” Democratic party machine, and so therefore, she has some imaginary “right” to be next in line for the presidential throne.

Imagine a game of ping pong where only two players are allowed to play the game (a Republican and a Democrat), even if it means leaving a more qualified or more popular player (an Independent) stuck on the sidelines as a causal observer. Power is constantly passed back and forth, and only the winner of the game changes from one election to the next, with no notable changes in the game. Only the party in charge at the time (the winner of any particular game) changes from one election to the next. That’s American political system. And the players of the game are determined by their political party’s corporate sponsors.

ping-pong-players

And the corporate media has the most to do with shaping our opinions. “Give them bread and circuses” — extravagant entertainment, offered as an expedient means of pacifying discontent or diverting attention from a source of grievance — like “reality” TV shows or professional sports, the way the ancient Romans used the Colosseum. And of all the political candidates — the media usually depicts “independents” as far from “the center” (as thought they are somehow “radical” and “extremist”); so the major mainstream media (both on the left and the right) usually supports these so-called “moderate” candidates — those in either the Democratic or Republican party (which are all really “Third Way” or pro-corporate politicians.).

When it comes to economic issues, these “moderate” Democrats and “moderate” Republicans are more the same than they are different — and many are close friends, and many only put on a show of resistance for public consumption (We’ve heard about “tax reform” for decades, but nothing ever really changes). These D.C. politicos all belong to the same exclusive club, and many pal around together at elitist events such as the White House Correspondents Dinner — where their “media partners” (represented by the media talking heads) and they get together to hobnob with the top 0.01%, famous musicians, comedians, fashion models and Hollywood movie stars. Most of them live in a bubble, and don’t even relate to the real problems that average Americans actually face.

From a Gallop poll last year:

“Forty-two percent of Americans, on average, identified as political independents in 2013, the highest Gallup has measured since it began conducting interviews by telephone 25 years ago. Meanwhile, Republican identification fell to 25%, the lowest over that time span. At 31%, Democratic identification is unchanged from the last four years but down from 36% in 2008.”

That sounds like we are missing a major political party — a third party, or an Independent Party. But we only have two major political parties, and the “powers that be” (those who financially support these parties) want to keep it that way — to keep themselves in power (helped by the parties who nominated the Supreme Court justices, who obliges them with decisions such as Citizens United).

An article from last March at Truth Out (before Bernie Sanders officially announced running for President) tells us there is a much-needed debate about the relationship for the people who are working on behalf of progressive change, and what that should be with the Democratic Party. Referencing Senator Bernie Sanders’ then-potential run for president, they write:

We view this as an important opportunity to help many Americans realize that we need to escape from the two-party trap … We must build a mass movement that is independent of the two parties, especially the Democratic Party, because their agenda is too corrupted by the rule of money. We recognize that what is considered to be politically acceptable does not challenge the current system and therefore fails to actually solve the problems we face.

The rule of money has become so deep in US government that the menu at the political table is very limited. The real solutions to the multiple economic and environmental crises we face are supported by the majority of the public but are not allowed in the political discussion.

US democracy has developed into a rigged electoral system – a “managed democracy.” People who want real change will not get it by selecting between two pre-approved candidates who are both supported by the money of transnational corporations, Wall Street banks and other big-business interests. The most important aspects of political participation are outside of this managed democracy.

Third parties have changed the political direction of the country even without winning elections by putting new issues on the political agenda. This history is missed in the debate on electoral strategy. There is power in putting forward new issues that gain electoral support and thereby force issues onto the agenda.

The history of third parties has affected a wide array of issues, including the eight-hour work day, ending child labor, collective bargaining and New Deal policies. All of these were rooted in campaigns that never won the presidency, but third parties put them on the agenda, showed political support and forced one of the two major parties to adopt their views. This has consistently been the way progressives have put issues that were “off the political agenda” onto the agenda through electoral politics.

The lesson for the two parties is that when a movement shows electoral support in third-party campaigns, it has two choices. First, it can follow the path of the Whigs and resist the movement and become extinct. Second, it can adopt the issues of the movement by advocating for them and grow. Either path serves the movement’s goal of creating transformative change.

The socialist-turned-independent candidate [Bernie Sanders] is facing a challenging decision in our rigged electoral system. In truth, insurgent Democrats and third-party candidates have a very hard electoral path in this managed democracy. On balance, we come out in favor of running independently of the two parties.

People in the [populist] movement and growing percentages of Americans are turned off by the two major parties, with a record 46 percent defining themselves as independents. This number has grown by almost 10 percent in one year. The system is stacked against [Senator Bernie Sanders] as it is for any insurgent who challenges the foundation of the Democrats’ funding in Wall Street and big business.

How does running as a Democrat play out? First, as we have seen in other primaries, candidates will be asked in debates, “Will you support whoever is the Democratic nominee?” This is a deadly question for a critic of the Democratic Party. If Sanders says yes, he will have lost all of his integrity in the eyes of voters. The likely lasix oral nominee at this stage is Hillary Clinton [so] Sanders will be endorsing someone who can fairly be described as a Wall Street militarist. His role in the election will be to run in the primaries, keep progressives, independents and radicals in the party for his campaign and then endorse a Wall Street Democrat. He will undermine the building of a movement by pulling people into the Democratic Party.

If he answers that he will not necessarily support the Democratic nominee, then he risks being excluded from debates. This has happened before, and with Sanders’ more than 40-year history of not being a Democrat, partisans have more than enough ammunition to keep him out of debates. If this is the path that is taken, Sanders’ voice will be muted.

Finally, running as a Democrat means that his voice will be heard only in the primaries not in the general election. Most Americans, who are not closely tied to either party, do not pay attention to the primary season but get involved in elections only when the nominations are complete. His message will be heard by partisans, not by the broader public.

Truth Out noted that the debate began with an article in Harper’s criticizing how the Democratic Party has limited the agenda of the left. That story was followed by articles in The New Republic and in the American Prospect, who took the view that the “left” needs to work within the Democratic Party. Campaign for America’s Future published an article that said this debate was long overdue and concluded that the left must not limit itself to the Democratic Party agenda.

We have two dominant parties that are backed by and represent Wall Street which work together to exclude non-Wall Street candidates. The cycle of “lesser-evil” voting in the U.S. has been well established.

In a recent article by Howie Hawkins at www.socialistworker.org (reprinted at Popular Resistance) he explains why Bernie Sanders’ campaign, which has excited some on the left, will fail to bring needed change — and clearly defines the vast differences between Senator Bernie Sanders and Eugene Debs (one of the best-known socialists in the United States) and says Bernie Sanders is no Eugene Debs. Meaning, real Socialists say Bernie Sanders NOT a real Socialist. (Technically speaking, Sanders might be defined as a Social Democrat.)

Below are excerpt from Hawkins’ post:

Bernie Sanders’ entry into the Democratic presidential primaries should be seen as his final decisive step away from the democratic socialism he professes to support. He will raise some progressive demands in the primaries and then endorse the corporate Democrat, Hillary Clinton. Nothing changes.

The Democratic Party in the U.S. today [is] a party that poses as the champion of working people, but serves business interests. Sanders has now gone into coalition with the billionaire class he professes to oppose and that finances the Democratic party. Sanders won’t see the billionaire’s money. But he has made it crystal clear that he will support their candidate by promising to support the winner of the Democratic presidential nomination.

Too many self-professed socialists in the U.S. have abandoned the socialist principle of independent political action. They argue instead that whether or not to support a Democrat or an independent candidate is a question of tactics, not principle.

[In the] past Populist era, the Socialist Party of America put into its constitution a ban against endorsing the candidates of the capitalist parties. In his opening campaign speech as the party’s 1904 presidential candidate, Eugene Debs said:

“The Republican and Democratic parties, or, to be more exact, the Republican-Democratic party, represent the capitalist class in the class struggle. They are the political wings of the capitalist system and such differences as arise between them relate to spoils and not to principles. With either of those parties in power, one thing is always certain, and that is that the capitalist class is in the saddle and the working class under the saddle.”

By choosing to run for president in the Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders [as an Independent from Vermont] has shown he is no Eugene Debs. By entering the Democratic
primaries with the promise of supporting Clinton as the lesser evil to the Republicans, Sanders is not helping the working class to organize, speak and act for itself.

With the collapse of Populism into the Democratic Party [historical background redacted for length in this post, but is here at Popular Resistance] the unions and the Popular Front policy led most of labor and the left into the Democratic Party’s New Deal Coalition in 1936 — from which they never emerged afterward in a major way.

By failing to act on its own and speak for itself in U.S. elections, the left committed political suicide. It lost its independent voice and its platform from which to be heard. The public doesn’t hear from the left in elections. They only hear from pro-capitalist Democrats, who most of “the left” promotes as the lesser evil to the Republicans.

It has been 80 years — 20 presidential election cycles — since the left largely disappeared itself into the Democratic Party [actually, since after FDR]. It is way past time to draw the lesson of this experience: the left won’t regain power and public significance until it breaks with the Democrats and acts independently for itself.

Social movements making demands on the system are simply lobbying the Democrats in the absence of an independent left electoral alternative. An independent left party is
needed so the Democrats are forced to respond to movement demands or lose votes to the left.

There is no way that Sanders will break with the Democrats on the presidential race. We should take him at his word: he’s backing the Democratic candidate. Sanders has a long
record of supporting Democrats for president, including Gore, Kerry and Obama, while harshly criticizing independent challengers on the left like Ralph Nader.

The INDEPENDENT left should be talking to progressives who have decided to support Sanders. We should talk about why independent politics is the best way to build
progressive power, about the Democratic Party as the historic graveyard of progressive movements, and about the need in 2016 for a progressive alternative when Sanders folds and endorses Clinton.

While the Debs [Socialist] supporters of a century ago were clear about their independence from the Democratic Party, they were also clear about wanting to draw progressives in the Democratic Party into the Socialist Party. As Debs stated in that 1904 campaign speech:

“Where but to the Socialist Party can these progressive people turn? They are now without a party and the only genuine Democratic Party in the field is the Socialist Party, and every true Democrat should thank Wall Street for driving him out of a party that is democratic in name only, and into one that is democratic in fact.”

Progressives in the Democratic Party are going to need a “Plan B” after Bernie Sanders throws his support to Clinton in about 10 months, after the March primaries seal the
nomination for her. We should be building a Plan B now.

In part, that article by Hawkins cites another article by Bruce Dixon, who wrote:

Vermont senator and ostensible socialist Bernie Sanders is playing the sheepdog candidate for Hillary Clinton this year. Bernie’s job is to warm up the crowd for Hillary, herding activist energies and the disaffected left back into the Democratic fold one more time. Bernie aims to tie up activist energies and resources till the summer of 2016 when the only remaining choice will be the usual lesser of two evils.

Bernie Sanders is this election’s Democratic sheepdog. The sheepdog is a card the Democratic party plays every presidential primary season when there’s no White House
Democrat running for re-election. The sheepdog is a presidential candidate running ostensibly to the left of the establishment Democrat to whom the billionaires will award the nomination. Sheepdogs are herders, and the sheepdog candidate is charged with herding activists and voters back into the Democratic fold who might otherwise drift leftward and outside of the Democratic party, either staying home or trying to build something outside the two party box.

When the sheepdog inevitably folds in the late spring or early summer before a November election, there’s no time remaining to win ballot access for alternative parties or candidates, no time to raise money or organize any effective challenge to the two capitalist parties.

At that point, with all the alternatives foreclosed, the narrative shifts to the familiar “lesser of two evils.” Every sheepdog candidate surrenders the shreds of his credibility to the Democratic nominee in time for the November election. This is how the Bernie Sanders show ends, as the left-leaning warm-up act for Hillary Clinton.

Bernie’s candidacy is a blast toward the past, an invitation to herd and be herded like sheep back into the Democratic fold, to fundraise and canvass and recruit and mobilize for Bernie, as he warms up the crowd for Hillary. Bernie is a sheepdog. The question is, are we sheep?

Electoral politics in the U.S. are much more difficult to change than in other countries because our system is controlled by wealth. A report from Open Secrets shows that the top 1% of the wealthiest 1% is donating the most to election campaigns— and that this trend is worsening — and that’s why we always end up with a pro-corporate Democrat or a Republican (who are always pro-corporate).

And do you know why? Many times being a member of Congress is really like a apprenticeship job for becoming a lobbyist when they leave office. Whoever does the best job favoring large corporations while in office gets the best and highest paying lobbying jobs after they leave office. (Officers in the military also become lobbyists). The political game is rigged from top to bottom.

Third party politicians (who TRULY represent the vast majority of working Americans) are always left out of the political process, with only crumbs being tossed in their direction by the Democrats and Republicans (depending who’s in power at the time). But both parties treat us like expendable ping-pong balls.