Monday, November 18, 2019

The Iron Law of Institutions: What You Need to Know About Voting in the 2020 Primary


Bernie Sanders, making Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer cry

by Thomas Neuburger

"The head of Third Way, the corporate wing of the Democratic Party, said, 'Bernie Sanders is an existential threat to the Democratic Party.' I agree with him. I am. I want to convert the Democratic Party, to break its dependency on big money and corporate interests, and make it a party of working-class people, of young people, of all people who believe in justice."
—Bernie Sanders, October 28, 2019

In an absolutely brilliant and much quoted piece, "Democrats and the Iron Law of Institutions," Jonathan Schwarz wrote this in 2007:
Democrats operate according to the Iron Law of Institutions. The Iron Law of Institutions is: the people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution "fail" while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to "succeed" if that requires them to lose power within the institution.

This is true for all human institutions, from elementary schools up to the United States of America. If history shows anything, it's that this cannot be changed.
This fully explains a phenomenon that's became more than obvious during the 2016 election — that Democrats, or those in control of the Party, would rather lose with Clinton, who will keep them in power, than win with Sanders, who will work to remove them if they don't support his agenda.

Put more simply: Current Democratic leaders would rather lose to Trump and stay in power than lose to Sanders and be replaced.

George McGovern and the 1972 Election

Schwarz provides several examples, including this telling (and pertinent) one from the 1970s:
Probably the best writing about this at the political party level was done by the late Walter Karp. Karp points out in Buried Alive that before the 1972 elections there was a huge influx of new people and energy into the Democratic party from the anti-war and civil rights movements. This was enough to get McGovern nominated. But here's what happened then, as Karp describes it:

As soon as McGovern was nominated, party leaders began systematically slurring and belittling him, while the trade union chieftains refused to endorse him on the pretense that this mild Mr. Pliant was a being wild and dangerous. A congressional investigation of Watergate was put off for several months to deprive McGovern's candidacy of its benefits. As an indiscreet Chicago ward heeler predicted in the fall of 1972, McGovern is "gonna lose because we're gonna make sure he's gonna lose"...So deftly did party leaders "cut the top of the ticket" that while Richard Nixon won in a "landslide," the Democrats gained two Senate seats.

Could McGovern have won if he'd been fully supported by the status quo powers with the Democratic party? Impossible to say. But they didn't want to take any chances: they preferred to make sure he lost the election, because his winning it would have meant newcomers would dilute their power within the party. That's the Iron Law of Institutions in action.
With a vibrant anti-Vietnam war movement alive in the nation, a movement that propelled McGovern — a World War II hero, let's not forget — to the nomination, Democratic Party leaders and their supporting ecosystem chose to undercut their own nominee, preferring to lose to Richard Nixon than lose to all the new faces the Party was attracting.

In that, they succeeded, just as they succeeded in 2016.

Would Party leaders have preferred to win against Nixon and Trump? Of course, but not if it cost them control of the Party itself.

What Can Be Done About This?

This problem — what to do about a party whose goals are not your own, but whose enemy is worse than they are — produces a first-rate blackmail situation, a variation on the old threat, "Vote for us or the kid gets it" — the "kid" in this case being the whole rest of the nation, and "it" being Republican rule.

Shorter Dem leaders: "Vote for our evil or the nation gets a worse one."

Schwarz suggests a way out, one I've been advocating as well. Put simply, go to the source of the problem and remove the leaders. Schwarz (bolded emphasis mine):
So what does this mean for John Caruso's (and everyone's) frustration with the Democrats today? A lot of things, such as:

1. The voting booth is by no means "the only place that Democrats care about what you do." In fact, from their perspective, by the time you get to the general election much of the game is over. Withholding your November vote from candidates they like but you don't will, at most, make them a little sad. Often they'd prefer it, if that's the price of keeping you out of their hair the rest of the time. That's why they don't try to appeal to the ~50% of Americans who don't vote.

2. If you want to motivate powerful Democrats, attempt to threaten their power within the party, not the well-being of the party overall. Of course, this is easier said than done, particularly because much of the power within the party is (as Karp would put it) an unelected Democratic oligarchy. For instance, Pelosi's status as Speaker can be challenged straightforwardly. Getting at the source of the party oligarchy's power, which is money and institutions outside of electoral politics, is much more difficult.

3. Any serious attempt to transform the Democratic party would include a conscious attempt to change its culture, into one that celebrates different people: organizers rather than elected officials and donors. Culture only seems like a weak reed. It's in fact the most powerful motivation people have. If people are celebrated for acting for the good of the whole rather than just themselves, they'll act for the good of the whole. Likewise, a better culture would humble the "leaders," to discourage those with individualistic motivations from seeking the positions. A Democratic party that worked would require Charles Schumer and Steny Hoyer and anyone who donated over $5000 a year to clean the Capitol toilets.

4. If you don't believe the Democratic party is redeemable, don't get your hopes up that another party would end up being much better. Any other party would also be subject to the Iron Law of Institutions. It thus would be quickly just as dreadful as the Democrats...unless people put in the same amount of work as would be required to clean out the Democrats' Augean stables.

5. Generally speaking, don't expect too much from political parties, and certainly don't expect them to change much in less than a generation. And in any case, keep in mind much of the power in society lies elsewhere.
A comment about his fourth and fifth points: First, he's right about third party challenges. All parties are subject to the Iron Law, and reforming a different, and much smaller, party offers the same challenges as reforming the (massively corrupt at the leadership level) Democratic Party does. In addition, given the structural challenges faced by any third party in our rigged-for-two-parties system, the effort would be wasted and wasted completely.

Second, we don't have a generation in which to do this. The next generation is lost if we don't succeed now. The current generation of Americans is the absolute last one with a chance to significantly mitigate the twin disasters sitting at our door — the rebellion from both the left and the right against billionaire control of the nation; and the coming, complete and global chaos that a radically changed climate will cause.

Massive yearly fires in California is just the appetizer. The main course is much more dramatic, deadly and universal. Consider Florida for just one local instance; now consider what happens in the entire U.S. when all Florida real estate goes to zero in value — in a week — thanks to a Hurricane Haiyan–like event. Just as fires in California are not outliers, stories like that won't be outliers either.

The Solution Is Obvious

Of course the answer to this problem is obvious — remove from power Democratic leaders who don't "change their ways" at the earliest opportunity and the fastest possible rate. The price for not doing that — or at least attempting it — is the quality of life, if they have one at all, of our children and grandchildren.

Would Democratic leaders like Schumer and Pelosi sacrifice your grandchildren for their power? They would say no, of course, but their actions say something different.

Which leads us to the 2020 election, in particular the Democratic primary, and in further particular, to the three leading candidates:
  • Bernie Sanders, who has declared he's an existential threat to the culture of the Democratic Party and is hated for it
  • Elizabeth Warren, who has signaled she will work for strong progressive change within the existing Party structure
  • Joe Biden, who embodies in his personal past and present the existing Party structure and culture
The choice is ours.

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At 12:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Of course the answer to this problem is obvious — remove from power Democratic leaders who don't "change their ways" at the earliest opportunity and the fastest possible rate. "

And just how is this supposed to happen, Gaius? The dirty tricks and media blackout are already underway against Bernie. Liz Warren has been set up nicely to have the rug pulled out from under her just as soon as someone -even Biden- is trustworthy to deliver a corporatist victory. Anyone who is't supporting an incumbent DINOcrat is going to be blacklisted by the Party forevermore. Keith Ellison was sidelined before he could take control of the DNC to protect the very people we (you & me at the very least) want removed soonest and fastest. Tulsi Gabbard will soon be forced out of the Party altogether now that she's handed them her political head on a platter.

Considering how Clinton and obamanation both ruled like Republicans and got us involved in some incredible messes, there isn't much which separates them from Real Republicans. We can also see just how much influence Republicans still have over DINOcrats in the way that the "impeachment inquiry" is being mishandled to benefit the GOP.

Based on reports of Los Angeles beginning to establish unverifiable voting machines, We the People can no longer be certain that our votes will even be counted, much less correctly. This means that both so-called parties are going to steal the vote, and the better thief will win.

You don't advocate third party voting, but there is no other strategy that you offer that can even send the criminals leading the respective parties that they will understand.

To stay within the strictures of the two-party scam can only mean that Gilens & Page were more right than they knew, only the legislative lockout of the public will now extend to the actual voting.

At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A fine column that is 35 years too little and too late. You're trying to educate infants here. can't be done.

wrt McGovern, coupla things:
1) he would not have won anyway. The nation in '72 featured everyone from sentience to 30-years old that was vehemently anti-war. But not all that many of them could vote. The rest of the nation seemed, to me, to be either passively ambivalent or rabidly pro-VN-war, due mostly to still being religiously russophobic and in dread of communism.

2) after the McGovern fiasco, the democratic party put in place safeguards for the future should the idiot voters pick someone the party did not want. This evolved into the 2016 "superdelegate" vote fraud and continues to this day. Because voters are fucking morons, they decided to activate the "superdelegates" only after a first ballot, meaning all the DNC needs to do is ratfuck Berine and Elizabeth out of a majority for the first ballot. They and the corporate media are conspiring by another Bernie Blackout, an Elizabeth smear campaign and a nakedly fraudulent promotion of biden and mckinsey. Polling shows, as always, that voters are dumber than shit and are being influenced exactly as designed.

It needs to be noted that the party of FDR and McGovern became the democrap party in only a few years, due to McGovern, but mostly due to the DLC corrupting the party for corporate money.

I've often posited that throwing money can corrupt almost immediately. The DE-corrupting of an institution, absent putting everyone in jail, cannot be done. Greed must be superseded by some form of reason. But after 2 generations of Darwinian selection FOR greed, it would be delusion to think that they could suddenly realize their own evil and either change or step aside.

The ONLY way would be to kill the party and replace it with something that at least starts out progressive and liberal and not corrupt.

If the iron law applies inexorably, then, of course, mankind is doomed to self-immolate and all this is an academic exercise.

It's all academic anyway. American voters do not have the potential to affect anything useful anyway. During that same 2 generations of Darwinian selection for the parties, American people have been selected for stupidity, gullibility and evil, in some order.

At 5:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great column. With respect to the originator of the "Iron Law of Institutions", I believe it's Jon Schwarz (no "t").

At 1:21 PM, Blogger Gaius Publius said...

Thanks Anon @5:02. Corrected.



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