Sunday, March 06, 2016

The Superdelegate Sham

As a "Bernie Bro," I was feeling rather down-in-the-dumps after Super Tuesday, even though Bernie did much better than many polls were predicting. (A Star Tribune/Mason-Dixon poll in January had Hillary winning Minnesota by 34%. Bernie won by 23.4%. They should probably check their methodology.) Websites kept showing Hillary with over 1,000 delegates and Bernie with 400-something. I figured it was over.

Until I saw the front page of the aforementioned Star Tribune (or "Strib") later that week. They showed Hillary with fewer than 600 delegates and Bernie still with 400+. That perked me up considerably. Unlike all those other media outlets, the Strib only showed "pledged" delegates, leaving out the "superdelegates" and actually noting their absence. The websites I checked made no mention of superdelegates, just throwing them in, willy-nilly, with the pledged delegates.

Do I think their oversight was a coincidence? Not at all. The mainstream media are absurdly biased in the current Democratic presidential race, just as they are biased on most topics. Yahoo! had an informative piece this weekend entitled "Bernie Sanders' tax plan is hopeless." I didn't bother to read that, but I did check out their explanation of superdelegates.

It was part of Katie Couric's "Now I Get It" series, which sounds about as enlightening as a G.I. Joe PSA. This installment justified my contempt. The author, whose name (Kaye Foley) induced me to read the article, writes that superdelegates are Democratic "elected officials, like members of Congress, notable members of the party, like President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, and members of the Democratic National Committee."

Foley goes on to explain the origin of superdelegates: "The system was developed in the early 1980s as a way for party leaders to provide some guidance to voters when it came to nominating candidates who could hold their own against Republicans in the general election." Well, that's awfully nice of them! I'm glad there are people in charge of the party who know better than us plebeians.

With a bit more research on Wikipedia (which should also be taken with a grain of salt), I discovered the Democrats created superdelegates in the 80's after the party rank-and-file disobeyed orders in the 70's, nominating George McGovern and Jimmy Carter (twice!). Superdelegates are the prevailing cooler heads who make sure we don't go Fruit Loops again and nominate any more cuckoo-for-Cocoa-Puffs candidates.

Now, this may seem like a silly question, but have superdelegates ever overturned the will of the Democratic voters?  Apparently not: "...since superdelegates were created, the votes they cast have never actually changed the course of a presidential race." Well, that's a relief! It's good to know they're there, just in case, but I'd hate to think we all caucused and primaried for nothing!

If I may snap back out of character now, I'd like to politely disagree with my fellow Foley. Judging by my reaction to those unlabeled delegate counts, it's a safe bet that the superdelegates have influenced the Democratic presidential race many times. Maybe they haven't directly determined who the nominee will be, but their mere presence in the delegate tallies (especially when unnoted) has an effect on how people think about the race. If I were a "Bernie Bro" in a state with an upcoming primary, I might assume his campaign is doomed and stay home.

It seems a bit ironic that the Democrats have the less democratic nominating process. Shouldn't we be more democratic than the Republicans instead of less? Granted, the GOP may not be around much longer, but this is one area in which they have us beaten.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Ascetic Aesthetics

As I gazed upon Bernie Sanders’ rumpled visage at Roy Wilkins Auditorium, I was struck by something: his utter average-ness. He didn’t look like he’d been chosen by God to lead us to the Promised Land. There was no heavenly corona surrounding a beatific head, no transcendent beauty to mark him as one of God’s elect, no soaring oratory that would lead one to believe he was channeling a higher power. At best, he looked like he might have “bingo.”

He’s no JFK or Reagan or Obama, i.e., a slick, handsome marionette to distract us while the Establishment foists its agenda upon us. He just seemed like a regular guy who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Apparently, Fate has chosen this Average Joe to take his turn across the stage of History. (Not Fate, really, just kitchen-sink dramas, the frustrations of the working class and the petty bourgeoisie.)

Bernie is an apt representative of the ascetic aesthetics of the Left. If you’ve ever attended a Leftist demonstration, you know what I’m talking about: the repetitive chants, the draining anger or sadness, the thrift-store decorations. It’s as if your loyalty to the cause is being tested instead of reinforced. Are you committed enough to stick around through all this anti-entertainment?

Noam Chomsky openly rejects any attempt to polish his coma-inducing delivery. He has said that he doesn’t want to convince people with rhetoric and theatrics, only the facts. We’re not supposed to be swayed by flashy gimmicks; the truth of the message should shine through.

I’ve often (inwardly) bemoaned this resistance to refinement. But it may have finally come into vogue. We may be witnessing the triumph of substance over style. Of course, this victory is limited in scope and likely to be brief, but we shouldn’t let that discourage us. En masse, people seem to be turning away from the slick, polished mainstream candidates and turning toward the straight-shootin’, rough-around-the-edges “outsiders.”

Bernie’s average-looking-ness defies the strictly stage-managed, unattainably attractive world of television. He sticks out like a sore thumb amidst all that spray-tanned, muscle-toned, teeth-bleached sound stage fauna. His unkempt, white hair and inability to transport his audience via transcendent public speaking skills (a la Obama) brand him a “radical” as much as his platform (which most Americans support, actually). 

In fact, he puts in stark relief TV’s growing obsession with physical beauty. Maybe I’m just getting older and more insecure about my looks and socioeconomic status, but the people on TV news seem to be getting prettier and prettier. Apparently, among women, only those who look like they’ve stepped out of the pages of Maxim can grasp the complexities of meteorology. (Luckily for us men, the physical/intellectual requirements aren’t as demanding.)

This may have something to do with the expanding gulf between reality and the version TV presents. As the medium becomes more vapid and detached from the everyday experience of the masses, the fa├žade becomes flashier to keep people glued to their sets in lieu of relevant information. Increasingly, the talking heads’ appearance reflects the content of their shows: vacuous, artificial, deceptive.

Of course, one could argue that TV has always been shallow and populated with gorgeously shallow people. Why have we chosen now to become disenchanted with these “pretty little liars?” I believe it’s because the number of formerly middle-class Americans in dire economic straits has reached critical mass. The flickering cube is no longer enough to distract us from our worsening plight. 

Perhaps the aspirational period of American politics has ended, and we’re entering a more grim, sober and, frankly, resentful period. We’re no longer dreaming of “movin’ on up” to the penthouse; we’re just hoping not to slide into the gutter. If so, I welcome the embrace of substance over style. But I worry about how ugly things could get.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Feeling the Bern

As part of my continuing support for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, I attended his rally at RiverCentre in downtown St. Paul last night. I drove there, which was not really in keeping with the environmental theme of the movement, but I had many accomplices in that heresy.

There were lines snaking through the skyway into RiverCentre. I parked several blocks away and walked to the eastern end of the center, next to the Ordway on Rice Park. The queue at that end wound around the corner and stretched west for about two blocks. 

In classic Minnesota style, I thought about asking if this was the Bernie line but didn’t. I just went to the end of the line and picked up from the conversations that it was, in fact, the Bernie line. Breaking out of my Minnesota habits, I spoke up when a girl behind me said she hoped Trump’s candidacy was just a media stunt. I said that was probably “wishful thinking,” although it did feel like a “terrible dream.”

The line lurched forward a few times, but, like the girl said, we didn’t know if anyone was in charge or if they would tell us whether the place was full and they had stopped letting people in. The girl was a college girl studying singing at McNally Smith. I answered her questions about how caucuses work, based solely on the Bernie campaign training session I’d attended a month before.

We eventually filtered in through the doors and headed for The Legendary Roy Wilkins Auditorium. People were streaming in to the main floor or climbing stairs to the balcony. A young woman in a lanyard and Bernie t-shirt briefly shouted instructions for us, which was the extent of the crowd control I saw. This was a very well-behaved Minnesota crowd though, so no draconian tactics were called for.

I went to the main floor and found, luckily, a lot of room to move around. There were tons of people sitting in the balcony. Somebody said this was the overflow room, which was pretty impressive. I’m horrible at guesstimating, but they said it was 5,000 in Roy Wilkins and 10,000 in the main hall. I can buy that.

It was already 7:45 by then, but before the stroke of 8 Bernie showed up in the Roy unexpectedly. A rock concert-like scream rose up from the mostly college-aged crowd, alerting us to his arrival. Keith Ellison took the stage, followed by Bernie and his wife. “This is the overflow?” Bernie asked incredulously to a roar of approval. He favored us with a few remarks before moving on to the main hall.

The official program started with a five-minute speech from a Somali-American college girl wearing a hijab. Then came a brief intro by Keith Ellison before we got to the main course.

There was nothing incendiary in Bernie’s speech (unless you belong to the Mainstream Media, or “MSM,” as I like to write). There was no palpable anger in the crowd, aside from the occasional, emphatic exhortation from a lone person punctuating some of Bernie’s more “radical” opinions. There were many smiles on the faces of the people there and laughter originating thence. 

Yet still, as Bernie launched into his spiel, I had a sense of foreboding, as if I were attending just another political rally, just another group session of yearning for someone to save us from ourselves. I couldn’t help but think: “This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. This isn’t how democracy works. We’re not supposed to wait for a savior to bring a preordained platform down from Sinai for us to rubber-stamp. He’s just a politician; he’s not an avatar of our hopes and dreams whose soaring oratory can lift us above this mortal coil to an astral plane.”

It also kinda felt like a late-era Roman emperor promising to keep the barbarian hordes at bay for a little while longer. We’ve listened as the Republicans’ rhetoric has become monstrous in its ignorance, violence and hatred. Perhaps we’re finally reaping the harvest grown from the seeds of death and destruction we’ve sown around the world. How much longer can we hold back the blood-dimmed tide?

My anxiety was eventually eased by Bernie’s repeated calls for a mass movement to enact his platform. As he kept saying, millions of us will have to “stand up” and “come together” to implement the social democratic (not technically “socialist”) policies he’s proposed. The Washington Consensus, funded by the wealthy and constantly reinforced by the MSM, considers these ideas radical and even dangerous, and the Establishment will fight tooth and nail to keep them off the table.

There was a big sign waving in front of the stage that had a painting of Bernie with fire for hair. It was a fitting tribute to this man whose hair often seems to be on fire. I'm sure that's central to his appeal in these days of fear, anger and economic insecurity. 

The crowd cheered and booed at the appropriate times, although we sometimes cheered for lines that sounded like boo lines, which I found a bit confusing. I clapped, “whoo”-ed and booed a fair amount; he was, after all, saying things I agree with. He went on for about an hour and managed to keep it pretty interesting without coming off like an “angry old man.” 

After it was over, we exited to the strains of David Bowie’s “Starman,” an apropos tribute to the recently deceased musician. It reinforced my perception of this as a typical political rally, but I was too encouraged by the happy college kids surrounding me and my fondness for the song to worry anymore. 

On the walk back to my car, I overheard a woman saying that she felt an opportunity to really engage people that night had been lost. I had to agree with her as 15,000 like-minded people returned to our daily routines. If we want this night to mean anything, we’d better take Bernie’s message to heart and stop treating politics like a spectator sport.