The 2016 Democratic nomination race
The following article represents my personal opinions about the election based on my intuition and the cited evidence. I do not regard them to be 100% accurate, fair or factual. Feel free to agree, disagree or engage me in a conversation about what struck you the most.
For me, this campaign has been one of the most shocking, surprising, revolting and entertaining presidential campaigns that I’ve seen. The Republicans started it all off with 17 candidates vying for the party’s nominations while the Democrats had 6. Of the many independent candidates, the most notable were Libertarian Party nominee Gary E. Johnson and Green Party nominee Dr. Jill E. Stein. The sheer numbers provided lots of different viewpoints about the direction America needs to take to improve. As a consequence, TV anchors, pundits and comedians had so much material to work off of, so much so that comedian Stephen Colbert even had a “Hungry for Power games” segment where he satirized the campaign by comparing the candidates to “tributes” from The Hunger Games book /film series. I was amazed by how the “greatest nation on earth” chose its next leader using a process that is best described as a frenzy more than anything else. I reassured myself by repeating over and over that, “It’s only just the beginning. Once the campaign gains steam, things will get more serious.” I was wrong.
The Democratic Primary was a contest between the 67th U.S Secretary of State, former New York Senator and former First Lady Hillary R. Clinton and Vermont Senator and former Mayor Bernard “Bernie” Sanders. From the onset, the contest was labelled an open and shut case as most people expected the popular and vastly experienced Mrs. Clinton to easily vanquish the virtually unknown “Senator from Vermont”. Many dismissed Bernie’s bid for President, including CNN lead anchor Wolf Blitzer who described Bernie as “a long-shot” and “unusual”. Some criticized him for his self-proclaimed socialist beliefs. They all couldn’t have been more wrong. Bernie’s message caught on with a lot of progressives and young Americans, turning the race for the Democratic nomination into a bitter contest. To me, what Bernie said made sense, politicians need to start serving the people first instead of special interests. The resulting race and debates produced a mostly issue-oriented discussion where the 2 candidates expressed their views on what needs to be done in America.
My biggest takeaway from the Democratic race was how biased it was against Bernie Sanders. The main stream media had already dismissed Sanders as a viable candidate before people even knew what his campaign stood for. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) intentionally tried to sabotage his bid for the nomination, as revealed by the leaked WikiLeaks emails sent amongst members of the DNC leadership. They contributed to the mass criticism of Sanders that was circulating in the media, calling him “unqualified” because he had never held an executive government position like Clinton. They also said that his proposals for free education, cheaper healthcare and reduced income inequality were too ambitious and would never make it past Congress. It surprised me how a country built on ambition and ingenuity suddenly thought that ideals that even Scandinavian countries have mastered are too ambitious for the United States Despite the odds, Sanders managed to win 24 primaries/caucuses and 43.2% of the 27.8 million votes cast in all the primaries. That was very impressive for an “unusual” and “long-shot” candidate going up against an establishment politician. In light of the recent developments in the Presidential campaign, there are some lessons I think should be learned from the Democratic nomination race:-
1. Bernie Sanders had more supporters than Hillary Clinton.
Although Bernie Sanders lost the nomination, it doesn’t mean he lacked support. The restrictive rules of the DNC that only allowed pre-registered Democratic voters to participate in the primaries stopped a good portion of Bernie’s supporters from voting for him. Part of Bernie’s support base was young people, most of them being college students/grads voting for the first time in their life. Another part was Independents (largest block of voters in the United States) who are neither traditional Democratic or Republican members (unaffiliated voters) but vote one way or the other depending on the candidates on each side. Both these groups were unable to participate in the primaries and vote for their candidate because in most states, the Democratic Party set ridiculous deadlines for unaffiliated voters to change their affiliation to “Democrat” in order to participate in their primaries. An example is New York, that had an October 9, 2015 deadline— more than six months before the election happened. New York’s October deadline is the earliest change-of-party deadline in America. As a result, millions of would-be voters couldn’t vote, most of whom were going to vote for Bernie. Further evidence is how Bernie pummeled Clinton in open primaries like Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Utah and Idaho where independents voted (All of which Clinton lost in the general election).
2. Superdelegates disenfranchise voters, they need to go.
One unique characteristic of the Democratic Party is the superdelegates. Unlike the pledged delegates that are chosen based on the results of a primary election, superdelegates are free to vote for the candidate they want regardless of the results of the primaries. Superdelegates are made up of elected DNC leaders, Democratic governors, Democratic members of Congress and “distinguished” party leaders – basically the Democratic establishment. There are 714 of them, roughly 30% of the 2,383 delegates needed to secure the Democratic nomination. Their only perceivable purpose is to ensure that grassroots candidates lose Democratic primaries. The argument that superdelegates only vote for the candidate with the highest number of pledged delegates is flawed because in the case of the 2016 primary, more that 500 of them announced their support for Hillary Clinton before the race even officially began. When Bernie Sanders finally announced that he was running, he was already behind by about 25% of the winning delegate count. If that is not bias, then I do not know what is. Superdelegates are the electoral college of the Democratic Party and they are a barrier to true democracy. They need to be completely removed from the nomination process.
3. Independent votes matter, open up the primaries to them.
According to Pew (2014 data), 39% of Americans identify as independents, 32% as Democrats and 23% as Republicans. Among these Independents, 48% either identify as Democrats or lean Democratic while 39% identify as Republicans or lean Republican. From this data, it is evident that Independents matter the most in most tight elections. One would expect that in this election, Democrats made an extensive attempt to get Independents on board, particularly the young progressives who were getting involved in the electoral process for the first time. One, however, would be wrong. The Democratic Party maintained a restrictive attitude towards the group during the primaries. Some members of the DNC even referred to them as “hippies wanting to hijack the Democratic nominating process”. The danger and repercussions of this arrogance was later revealed in the General Election. According to CNN exit polls for the General Election, Independents made up roughly 31% of the electorate and 48% of them voted against the Democrats as opposed to the 42% that voted for the Democrats. This is almost a reversal of their leanings before the election. Voter turnout as a percentage of the total eligible voters hit a 20-year low in 2016 at 55.4% as compared to 63.7% and 60% in 2008 and 2012 respectively when Obama ran. This shows that Independents either stayed home or went to the polls and voted against the Democrats. The Democratic Party lost the independents with its arrogance and it paid the ultimate price for it.
4. The last thing America needed in this election was another establishment candidate.
One of the most recurring themes of this election, on both sides of the isle, was the anti-establishment rhetoric. Political underdogs and novices who professed to be against the establishment fared well with voters and gained a lot of popularity and ultimately, lots of votes. The underlying cause of this is what many perceived as the political deadlock that had taken over Washington. Many people felt that politicians were often playing politics with special interests instead of serving the people rightfully. As a result, America has very high income and wealth inequality which has been steadily rising for the past 60 years. In 2007, a financial crisis that crippled the American economy but little to no justice was served to any of the individuals directly responsible because the politicians responsible for delivering said justice were inextricably linked to them financially. Lobbyists have an unprecedented amount of power of the legislation that passes congress because they fund most politicians’ re-election bids. There is also the infamous “revolving door”, whereby retired politicians return to Washington as lobbyists to influence policy-making and some eventually get elected back into office after that. Americans were tired of the establishment and they made it clear by voting for “outsiders” as a way to both bring about needed change and send a blunt message to members of the establishment. For the Democrats, the establishment candidate was Mrs. Clinton and Sanders was the outsider. The Democratic Party chose to ignore the anti-establishment theme, choosing to go with the “It’s her turn” theme. I guess we all know how that turned out in the end.
Make no mistake, I was rooting for Mrs. Clinton to win and break the glass ceiling but that had to happen on the people’s terms, not the Democratic Party’s. America is a democracy and the only opinion or theme that will matter at the end of the day is that of the people. It sounds like a crude thing to say, especially about someone who could have been the first female President of the United States, however, it still needs to be said.
5. Control of the D.N.C should now be handed over to true progressives who will respect the will of the people because the establishment has failed dismally.
As the Democrats mourn their loss, one obvious and important task on their very long to-do list is restructuring the DNC in order to re-engage and expand their voting base. At this point, we can all agree that people like Deborah W. Schultz, Donna Brazile, Howard Dean, John Podesta and the rest of the DNC top brass must resign. Their defeat was monumental in scale and anything but their departure would be an even bigger failure. As of today, different Democrats have declared their bids for Chair of the DNC. Bernie Sanders and other progressive leaders and groups have thrown their full weight behind Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison to take over the DNC. Ellison was the first Muslim to be elected to U.S Congress and the first African-American to represent Minnesota in Congress. His known record thus far backs up his progressive beliefs and many seem to think he is the right person for the job. For those of you who might argue against his bid because he is “unknown, “unusual” or “too tough of a sell for conservatives”, recognize that my entire article has been about getting the Democratic Party to start relying solely on the voice and the will of the people and nothing else. This nation is “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Only the people can win an election and the Democratic Party simply needs to elect leadership that will invite all the people into their fold, let them voice their opinion and respect that opinion to the fullest. A Democratic Party that cares only about its people will always be a winning party.
“If we know who is responsible, I have enough faith in the American people to demand performance from those responsible. If we don’t know, we will stay away from the polls. We will not demand it. And the day will come when somebody will come forward and we and the government will in effect say, ‘Take the ball and run with it. Do what you have to do.’” – Former U.S Supreme Court Justice David Souter (2012, N.H interview)