Democracy or Fascism: Which is the Bigger Threat to Capital?
The dilemma of those on the left — hold one’s nose and vote for Hillary Clinton or vote one’s “conscience” and allow a possible fascist and probable rapist to become president — is the subject of hot debate since Bernie Sanders conceded and endorsed Clinton. The choice is being treated as either/or — vote for a candidate you can stomach or lose the United States and its promise of a free, pluralistic society to a nationalistic strongman. But this relies on an assumption, that the way to win national elections is by capturing the undecided center, that is in fact false. It may be hard to believe for those on the left, but in this case we should be able to have our cake and eat it too.
Before I explain how, I want to point out some puzzling occurrences in this election. Conventional wisdom holds that during a party’s primary upstart candidates have only marginal chances of getting the nomination but can sometimes manage to pull a sizable enough fraction of the vote to get some concessions from the frontrunner. Then, during the general campaign, the nominee tacks toward the center to attract moderate and independent votes. Despite the wildly popular Sanders campaign, Hillary Clinton’s campaign began its centrist drift during the primary, scoffing at the feasibility of single payer healthcare (despite her supporting it as First Lady) and painting free college tuition as a giveaway to the wealthy. We now know, in a narrative promoted from conspiracy theory to fact thanks to leaked emails, that the Democratic National Convention coordinated extensively with the Clinton campaign and the media, giving Clinton cover so she could avoid a slide to the left. And, Clinton and surrogates relied on the presumption, as well as a ludicrous smearing of Sanders supporters as “BernieBros,” that all the votes to be gained are in the center, casting Clinton as the best hope against Trump even as polls suggested otherwise.
But there’s the thing: winning elections for a left of center party in a national election is not rocket science. It doesn’t require compromising on a centrist, pro-life running mate. Democrats need to do one thing to win votes: increase turnout. That’s it. Republicans know it, and that’s why they put up barriers to voting every chance they get. If we’re getting real sophisticated, the votes that are really in play in our backwards electoral college system are independents in swing states. In each of these, Bernie wins more independents than Clinton by significant margins. Nationally Sanders pulls a 31 point margin over Clinton. The treasure trove of untapped votes are not in the center but on the left.
A recent poll found that 58% of all US voters favor a single payer healthcare system. 58% support breaking up the banks. 74% believe that Wall Street benefited more from the bailouts than the average taxpayer. 59% support raising the minimum wage to $12/hour. Among Democratic voters those numbers jump to supermajorities.
So what did the Democrats do to court these votes and increase turnout? In a move from the Republican playbook, Democrats required registration for New York’s closed primary months before voting day, and even then turned away scores of properly registered voters at the polls. In Arizona many voters felt their votes were not counted due to insufficiently few and disorganized polling locations. While it appears unlikely that this was coordinated to benefit the Clinton campaign, the suspicion of shenanigans remains in the minds of voters. This can only have a discouraging effect on the turnout of likely Democratic voters.
So here’s the puzzle: if Trump really is an existential threat to the USA and this election is the only thing that can stop his rise to fascist power, why would the Clinton camp risk losing the votes of Sanders supporters by actively denigrating them and refusing to even pay lip service to his platform? Why wouldn’t Clinton try to reach out to the independents that Sanders attracted to the Democratic polls? Why not get voters invested through open, well-organized primaries? Why is the party not revolting against the candidate that in the last year has been at the center of two scandals that paint her as entitled and manipulative, one of which raised the specter of an FBI indictment?
Maybe the concern is that Clinton is a safer bet to energize the party’s base, something which is arguable in light of the impassioned Sanders supporters at this week’s convention. Or maybe the party has concerns about a self-described socialist running in the general election. But Clinton is battling a 55% national unfavorable rating, and, after all, Democrats could use the biggest cudgel in the Clinton playbook — that she’s not Trump — equally as well for Sanders.
I posit as the answer to these questions the largely uncontroversial thesis that a campaign is most beholden to its biggest donors, and the industry that has given the most to Clinton’s camp is securities and investment. (As for the donor list to the DNC, it’s under wraps until after the convention.) These donors are very unfriendly to Sanders’ theme of a rigged economy, for obvious reasons. These are the same people who whined to the media that President Obama was hurting their feelings when passing the toothless Dodd-Frank. It’s not difficult to imagine that Clinton’s donors drew a red line to the left of Clinton. (Her one concession to the left was a vow to overturn Citizens United, an effort which would require a constitutional amendment or an appeal to the Supreme Court. It’s a campaign promise easily defeated and quickly forgotten.) We can’t be sure, though, to what extent Clinton reassured banks like Goldman Sachs in her well-compensated speeches until she releases the transcripts.
Assuming, as I do, that Clinton’s donors hold sway and have put the brakes on any kind of leftward slide, this means that they are more comfortable getting within a hair’s breadth of electing an egomaniac who has done nothing to reassure his critics that he won’t go full fascist. To be sure, capital doesn’t like Trump’s stances on protectionism and closed borders. But apparently they fear democratic participation more.