by John Halle
May 20, 2015
Notes on Spoiling
For a decade and half, the spoiler factor has been a third rail of progressive politics.
Some of those who have raised the issue are genuinely concerned with the prospect of a third party candidate enabling a far right victory.
But others are Democratic Party hacks who, in Matt Taibbi’s phrase “would triangulate their own mothers” to maintain their lock on power. Spoiling for them is a bad faith exercise in maintaining electoral politics as a bipartisan gated community from which left, populist candidates are excluded.
Fortunately, there are signs that its effects are beginning to wear off.
One factor has to do with Obama’s valedictory lurches to the right, drilling in the ANWR, attacking Elizabeth Warren for her opposition to the TPP as well as Seymour Hersh’s revelations of some of the most extravagant lies in the history of the presidency. These have shown that there’s very little left to spoil.
And so Democratic loyalists have to make ever more extravagant and ridiculous gestures to apply the spoiler label to those challenging the party’s three decades long neoliberal drift.
A good indication is a recent posting on the blandly illiterate Forward Progressives website which urges us to focus on “Sanders’ entrance into the presidential race (which) is already making it more likely that Republicans could win the White House in 2016.”
Worth noting here is the slippage in the definition of the concept “spoiler”. A decade ago, it applied to a candidate endangering the front runner by competing in swing states. Very quickly it would apply to competing even in safe states.
Now we have reached the point that those daring to compete in the primaries are “spoilers”. Soon it will apply to those guilty of suggesting a possible alternative candidate to whoever the DP leadership anoints and eventually to any criticism of the “dear leader” at all-those doing so reflexively denounced as “Naderites.”
All this would be comical if it didn’t serve the underlying purpose of obscuring precisely what the Dems don’t want us to see.
And that is that the real spoilers are not those running third party campaigns, but the Democrats themselves. Again and again, they have shown that they care relatively little about winning elections when doing so would upset the business as usual in which they are comfortable operating.
This became apparent in the weeks before the 2000 election which found Jesse Jackson to our great surprise campaigning for local candidates in New Haven, as well as in New York, Boston and Chicago. He was everywhere but in Florida which was known to be a toss up and where his presence could have-and, as it turned out-would have mattered. But the Democrats chose instead to deploy him to drive down the Nader vote in states which Gore had already locked up rather than work to achieve a victory for their own candidate.
Another example relevant to the 2000 election was the Democratic legislature in Florida having some years before passed mandatory disenfranchisement of ex-felons, almost all poor, working class, and/or minority, hence disproportionately likely to vote Democratic. The result was the loss of 1.5 million potential voters, a factor never mentioned in the Florida debacle as doing so would shine a light on Democrats’ direct complicity in their own defeat.
A third example also involves New Haven and other cities where local Democratic machines make little effort to register voters. That is particularly the case in African American neighborhoods, where often less than 30 percent of potential voters are on the rolls, the overwhelming majority of whom would reliably vote Democratic. The absence of serious voter registration drives is due to the Democrats’ preference for low turn out as this makes their control of a few voting blocks (most notably the African American churches) disproportionately significant. So they are willing to sacrifice large numbers of voters and ultimately lose to the Republicans in state and national races rather than have to deal with a possible threat to their control which might emerge from greater participation.
Of course, the best known indication of Democrats’ blasé attitude to their own defeat was their having failed to contest the Republican theft of the election in Florida. But that could be attributed to fecklessness and incompetence, not cynicism and bad faith. It is the latter that defines the Democratic Party more so than the former.
The Democrats are more aware than anyone that the goods they have been selling for generations have passed their “sell by” date. They will continue in business only for as long as they are able enforce their monopoly. The spoiler charge is their main weapon in maintaining it. It is high time that the left recognize the spoiler charge for the exercise in empty sloganeering which it has long since become.
John Halle blogs at Outrages and Interludes.