Democracy’s Descent

I’ve noticed an interesting line of democratic descent in the last two decades. It used to be that you weren’t allowed to criticize your nation’s leaders during wartime. Then it became, after the Nader fiasco of 2000, that you weren’t allowed to criticize the Democratic Party nominee during a general election. Now it’s become, with the rise of Hillary Clinton and the prospect of candidate Trump, that you aren’t allowed to criticize the likely party nominee during a primary campaign, lest you so tarnish the likely nominee that she becomes, in your eyes, illegitimate. Given the rightward drift of the GOP, which shows no signs of abating, I assume the next step will be that you aren’t allowed to criticize whoever the media anoints as the party front-runner a full four years before the campaign has even begun. Which leads to the question: amid this steady winnowing of democracy’s time and space, where and when is actual debate about the country’s direction and its leadership supposed to happen?


  1. Phil Perspective December 22, 2015 at 2:24 pm | #

    Which leads to the question: amid this steady winnowing of democracy’s time and space, where and when is actual debate about the country’s direction and its leadership supposed to happen?

    Never!! So shaddup about it!!

  2. jonnybutter December 22, 2015 at 2:39 pm | #

    I know you’re asking a rhetorical question, but of course there’s an answer anyway, and the true question it answers is: how do you want your democratic decent to proceed? In a measured, rationalized way, or in a crazy thumpy way?

    Here in America, we have freedom of choice. Coke OR Pepsi; Schlitz OR Bud; Country OR Western; Reactionary OR conservative. Vote for those increasingly vulgar Republicans and our democratic and economic decent might happen in big, chaotic, crashing chunks. So we have the choice to vote for the Nice Democrats, who will manage our descent in a thoughtful, process-oriented way.

    • Fred Herring December 23, 2015 at 8:09 pm | #

      Well said, Johnny Butter. I love the aesthetic language for what has essentially become an aesthetic rather than political experience.

  3. Brad DeLong December 22, 2015 at 3:06 pm | #

    Working to elect George W. Bush rather than Al Gore because “[in] a choice between a provocateur and an ‘anesthetizer’, I’d rather have a provocateur. It would mobilize us…” is not anything that I see as a contribution to a functioning democracy.

    If that’s your definition of a functioning democracy, you need to get a clue. Badly…


    Brad DeLong

    • Will G-R December 22, 2015 at 4:54 pm | #

      @ Brad DeLong: And what if, as Corey is inquiring in the first place, this “functioning democracy” is on an inexorable slide toward providing little to nothing but meaningless bread and circuses? If the inexorable future of democracy under capitalism looks less like ancient Athens and more like modern Singapore, perhaps the only remaining utility of electoral politics is as a PR vehicle for changes happening apart from and in spite of it. And if views like those are simply to be dismissed out of hand, what does that say in turn about the pretense of free, vibrant, multifaceted political discourse?

    • jonnybutter December 22, 2015 at 8:56 pm | #

      Of course the problem, Brad D., is the duopoly effect, which I’m sure you don’t need laid out for you. Being forever on the defensive is easy, lucrative business for some political people, but it’s not so effective in the long run, because your opponent controls the terms of debate, and…well, you know this stuff.

      If we aren’t allowed to have an actual debate on the left hand side of the Great Binary, then what’s the point of the exercise? We’re getting the “If we have a debate, the terrorists win!” argument from the HRC borg – same basic argument we’ve been hearing for decades.

      Democrats’ strategy is like pushing on a piece of string. Everything drifts to the right, and the cycle begins again:TED CRUZ! SCOTUS!

      I’m sick of it. If Tail Gunner Ted or Trump were the GOP nominees, and my state was contested, I couldn’t be neutral. But I have had it with the Dems. *Both* parties need an enema, or more.

  4. MF December 22, 2015 at 3:07 pm | #

    Have you seen this from Matt ? Asking a very similar question:

  5. G Hiatt December 22, 2015 at 3:27 pm | #

    “…when is actual debate about the country’s direction and its leadership supposed to happen?”

    Ahhh … You’re adorable

    *goes shopping

  6. Roquentin December 22, 2015 at 3:53 pm | #

    It’s hard for me to describe how much I want to see Sanders pull off the upset and put Clinton and the Democratic party machine in its place. In the last debate, she talked as if she had already won and it was time to talk about the general election. So did ABC in its coverage, but that’s no surprise. And this bullshit with the DNC cutting of Sanders’ access to the voter database….. They’ve done everything except hand it to Clinton on a silver platter. This is not coincidental, the biggest appeal of Clinton and the Democratic party in general is that there is no alternative. If you take that away, they have nothing. This is why they don’t want any criticism, it is of paramount importance that they make it seem like all the popular support is emanating from them. It’s kind of like what Adorno says about “pseudo-individuation.” This sort of manufactured free choice where it simultaneously requires that you want exactly the same things everyone else does.

    I don’t even care if Sanders accomplishes half of what he says he will, it’d be worth it just to see them beat. The Rubinite wing of the party has run show unchallenged for far too long. I haven’t lived in Iowa for more than a decade, but no one was really too keen on Hillary back then and I doubt they are now. I see these polls and I can’t figure out where all of these Hillary voters are coming from. Almost all the likely Democrat voters I know are solid supporters of Bernie.

  7. J. Otto Pohl December 22, 2015 at 4:55 pm | #

    Well you could always go back to the true and tried method of the left of establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat through a vanguard party like under Stalin, Mao, and Kim Il Sung and forget this bourgois democracy stuff. After all even Sanders is a captialist.

  8. Catherine Rudder December 22, 2015 at 5:20 pm | #

    Good question.

  9. Raven on the Hill December 22, 2015 at 9:36 pm | #

    A few years back, I wrote: “Must all criticism of a sitting President be treated as lèse majesté? Following on that, this thought: if one treats all criticism of a ruler as a result of personal animosity, there is no need to engage the substance of any criticisms.”

  10. Larry Powell December 22, 2015 at 9:37 pm | #

    Really, you think America’s political and wealth elites are going to invite real debate? You don’t think that a significant majority of white people are running for their lives, scared to death, lining up with Cruz or Trump or some other POS? I’ve been living in American for 65 years and there has never been freedom here, just less oppression for white people. A good deal of American people, especially those who are white, are ready to rise up and install racism. You think they want to debate about this? Oy vay!

    • Larry Powell December 22, 2015 at 9:38 pm | #

      I menat install facism.

  11. Mike Zeldin December 23, 2015 at 1:04 am | #

    Robin provides no evidence of strictures on dissent. He may be confusing current American disinterest in the primaries (except for “activists”,paid advocates, and the press which have to sell something) with interest/concern thwarted. From the local level, I can report unease, concern, and lack of confidence voiced often,clearly, from folks regardless of party affiliation. At the moment, it is “none of the above” as far as candidates are concerned or ” is he/she kidding?”. I suggest embarrasment over the poor quality of the “candidates” arrayed against the issues plays a far larger role.

  12. djw172 December 23, 2015 at 12:10 pm | #

    “Then it became, after the Nader fiasco of 2000, that you weren’t allowed to criticize the Democratic Party nominee during a general election.”

    This phrasing both makes your statement wrong, and is misleading about what the “Nader fiasco” actually was. In 2004, 2008, and 2012, many people (including, at times, myself), including people on the left openly criticized the Democratic nominee without suffering notable backlash or ostracization. I’m confident this will happen again in 2016. If Nader had merely spent 2000 criticizing Al Gore’s political positions, nobody would be talking about “the Nader fiasco” 15 years later.

  13. Charlie the American Canadian December 24, 2015 at 12:03 am | #

    Why is the Left in the U.S. so caught up in the race(s) for the presidency? What happened to the Left’s engagement with grass roots politics? Time to run for local office and raise issues near home. With a global perspective of course.

    • Steve Wilkerson December 26, 2015 at 3:40 pm | #

      I wholeheartedly endorse what you are saying. With legislatures, governors and local officials lie the “keys to the kingdom” and, after awhile, the national “kingdom.” They are where government takes place. For so long as Democrats and liberals focus only on national, senatorial and House politicians, without building local constituencies for the laws and values they support, the GOP will dominate our politics and government. I sometimes think that the Democrats, ironically, given their name, just find doing the hard, local, and state work, too damn boring. They regret ALEC and do little or nothing to build its counter organization, to cite one example.

  14. Jean Paul Polis December 24, 2015 at 4:06 pm | #

    C’mon Corey, be serious.

    As Sheldon Wollin reminds, United States of America has been projected to let the elites free from the power of the people (Democracy Incorporated, Princeton, N.Y., 2008).

    You Americans live in a world that does not exist except in Hollywood’s propaganda.

    I reflected about your Trump’s “reductio ad Hitlerum”: wake up Americans!

    Hitler was not the worse: IG Farben and all German capitalism was worse.

    Nazism was not the “most evil”: British liberal imperialism was worse then Nazism, fascism and Stalinism.

    What’s the “absolute Evil”?

    If you give a look to data, from Hiroshima to Afghanistan and Irak, we have a champion of Evil.

    USA: United Corporations of politically correct.

    Do will you answer like Germans about American Holocaust in Africa and Middle East (…and Europe, now)?

    Certainly, you will answer: « We didn’t know…»

    Merry Christmas

  15. jonnybutter December 24, 2015 at 8:29 pm | #

    Thanks Fred Herring. That is a good way to put it.

    A young person (mid 20s) in my family recently argued with me at length from the Rand/Ron Paul playbook (ah, the holidays.). He eventually summed up, saying “Rand Paul: he’s my JAM!”. Choosing a political POV for him is about what it most entertaining in a weird, rather decadent way. Cultural products – e.g. political candidates/programs – are designed to flatter certain audiences rather than grapple with problems. It’s shockingly arbitrary.

  16. ronanfitz December 24, 2015 at 8:40 pm | #

    Jesus Christ, Corey. Come down off the cross. Who’s saying you cant criticise the Dem candidate? You’d swear you were living in Saddam’s Iraq, not offering your opinion vociferously to a large audience with pretty limited pushback.

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