Op-­Ed: Presidential Primaries & The Cost of Indifference

Lily Gordon, ‘17

“Do not enter that world of despair,” warned Senator Bernie Sanders several months ago to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Senator Sanders, his button­down shirt rolled up to his elbows, emphasized to a packed Union Hall full of attentive working and middle class supporters, “Freedom is never given to you; it has to be fought for.”

Sanders’ message has remained constant throughout his campaign: despite the tremendous footholds that billionaires like the Koch brothers have in the United States government, real political change takes place when youth, minorities, working class, the middle class and other neglected social groups choose to vote. “When millions of people stand up and fight, we win. That’s it. And when people do not stand up and fight, we lose.” This quote is now a main feature in one of Sanders’ grassroots campaign ads— a testament to how his every representation has come from individual struggling Americans, not corporations.

Sanders’ campaign is run completely by grassroots organizations. His average donation is about $33. According to CNBC reporter Mark Fahey, Hillary Clinton, in contrast to Sanders, has received more donations from CEOs than any 2016 Republican candidate. As the Republican party is known for being the party of business, Secretary Clinton’s source of funding is noteworthy because of how it highlights a flaw that occurs across the board in politics: it is money, not actions, that speaks louder than words.

Hillary, throughout her campaign, has defended herself against claims that she will be swayed in her policy­-making decisions by big money special interest groups. She claimed that, despite donations from Wall Street and hundreds of thousands of dollars from groups like the Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs, she never let money affect her politics.

However, there are numerous examples that suggest something contrary to what the Secretary has stated. In April 2015, the New York Times published an article on a suspicious overlap between a multi-­million dollar donation from uranium investors to the Clinton Foundation and when Mrs. Clinton signed off on the transfer of Uranium One to Russia, giving Russia of the control of the United States’ uranium supply and allowing Mr. Putin to become one huge step closer to holding a monopoly on global uranium supply (a crucial asset in nuclear energy).

Similarly, in 2004, Elizabeth Warren explained in an interview with PBS the evolution of Mrs. Clinton’s policy decisions on a bit of recurring bankruptcy legislation. The bankruptcy bill was profitable to credit card companies because it would restrict the number of families who could file for bankruptcy (Warren said this was analogous to hospitals locking their doors and claiming nobody was sick). Senator Warren had written an op-­ed piece about the potential hardships of the bill on working mothers in the 1990s. Mrs. Clinton, who was the first lady at the time, met with Senator Warren to learn more about the bill. Senator Warren said, “I never had a smarter student” and claimed that after their meeting, Mrs. Clinton said, “Professor Warren, we’ve got to stop this awful bill.” Mrs. Clinton took credit in her autobiology for how she helped reverse the course of the bill when President Clinton vetoed it under her advisement. When Mrs. Clinton later became Senator Clinton and the bill came up again, however, she voted in favor of it. Professor Warren explained that the pressures were different for her as a senator and described the political power of a “well­-financed industry.” Consumer credit card companies give some of the greatest amounts of money to Washington in return for political favors. Senator Warren explained that Mrs. Clinton takes money from these groups and “worries about them as a constituency.”

Although big money is rampant across all of politics, the Koch brothers take the cake for their infamous contributions to candidates in order to protect the fossil fuel industry. At the 2015 Correspondent’s Dinner and in the rise of the presidential race, President Obama took a comedic critique at the role of big money in presidential contests. Mr. Obama jabbed, “I, for one, cannot wait to see who the Koch brothers pick.” To the laughter of the audience, Obama continued, “who will finally get that red rose?” That “red rose” comprises nothing short of a billion dollars to “get folks to like one of these people.”

In the February 24, 2016 Huffington Post article, writer Tim Suttle noted that the Koch brothers may be one step closer toward deciding who gets that billion dollar “red rose.” Their top political advisor Marc Short was just hired by Marco Rubio’s campaign team, meaning that Mr. Rubio now has the backing of Koch money and, more importantly, Koch political data. This sort of money and information will be invaluable for fighting against Mr. Trump, who currently has an impressive lead in the primaries.

Since the Nevada primaries, Mr. Trump is in the lead of the Republican Party with a grand total of 82 delegates. At the time of writing, Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz are neck and neck with a mere 17 delegates each, Mr. Kasich has 6 delegates, and Dr. Carson has 4 delegates. As for the Democrats, Senator Clinton has 503 delegates and Senator Sanders has 70 delegates.

The problem with primaries is, well, everything: the incorporation of superdelegates (delegates who are automatically seated for the Democratic and Republican National Conventions and can vote for whomever they wish for the presidential nomination), the amount of big money, lobbyists, and corporate interests that finance these candidates, the strange translation of percent of vote to number of delegates, the biases of the media, and all of the subtle forces that insidiously play a role in how Americans vote.

Initially, the Democratic Party was only scheduled to run six debates, although later on the candidates agreed to add on 4 additional debates. The Democratic National Committee scheduled one of the initial debates in November at the same time as a major football game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Writer Brendan Bordelon from the National Review argued that these were intentional choices geared toward protecting the Democratic forerunner at the time Hillary Clinton. Several other debates were scheduled on Saturdays, which tend to receive record low viewership, and during other time frames where potential voters would likely be preoccupied and unable to watch. The logic behind these scheduling decisions was that the less discourse Americans could hear about the Democratic candidates, the less likely they were to stray from the already well­-known and predetermined choice.

When the Democratic candidates finally got a chance to debate with each other, the moderators showed incredibly obvious bias toward the candidate with the most sensationalism and toward the candidates they most liked or saw as viable. The same is true for the Republican debates. For instance, Mr. Trump received a disproportionately great number of questions right off the bat, likely due to his provocative anti­-everyone rhetoric, whereas Mr. O’Malley typically received a tiny fraction of the attention that his peers received—not because of his merit as a speaker or politician, but simply because of the selectivity of the moderators and their ability to edge out candidates simply by using silence.

One interviewee of the National Review stated that it was absolutely “Machiavellian” the way that the DNC set up the debates. Thus it is not only money, but the party conventions and the media we must be wary of as well.

When Bernie Sanders said in his speech to the IBEW at Texas that people are capable of demanding and acquiring change when they stand up, unite, and go out to vote, he speaks to the incredible amount of power that we as citizens have in the political sphere. Yes, we must speak up to be heard over the sound of billionaires, of bigotry, of news channels, of gerrymandering and superdelegates and bipartisan division and peer pressure, but the most important thing we must speak up against is our own indifference.

Senator Sanders was right when he said that we lose when we have poor voter turnout. If politics is going to be about more than super pacs and more than a “red rose”—more than an endorsement from a select handful of families with more wealth than the majority of Americans who are being crushed under an unjust political system tipped entirely against their favor—if politics is going to be more than all of that, then we have got to vote.

Less than 16% of eligible voters turned out for the Iowa caucus, just over 50% came out in New Hampshire, and Nevada (this is really sad) had only just over 8% of voters turn out to the polls. These primaries are crucial, yet they are excessively understated. From the results of these primaries, we will have our nominated candidates from each party. When such a small pool of citizens goes out to vote, that is no better than a small pool of oligarchic billionaires controlling our government. So the question is, why are people so indifferent?

Well, it all comes back to scheduling. For instance, the Nevada caucus shut out observant Jews due to its overlap with Sabbath (a day of rest). There are numerous other reasons why people could not afford to come, but what is crucial to understand is that people with more radicalized viewpoints, people who care a lot about politics (for good or for ill) tend to make it out to the polls more often than do more moderate voters. As a result, our candidates tend to represent the sentiments of the most extreme ends of our political spectrum.

These first several primaries are incredibly important, which is ironic considering how few people actually vote and how little their voices can be heard. The reason these primaries matter is because they are the first ones of the race and generally receive some of the most amounts of public attention. New Hampshire was especially important, according to Lindsey Cook from US News, because underdogs often stand more of a chance, while forerunners can sometimes receive crumbling blows to their campaigns.

Indeed, Bernie Sanders won in New Hampshire by over 20% more votes than Hillary Clinton. The relationship between percent of voter support and number of delegates just goes to show how rigged the primaries are. Even though Secretary Clinton won in Iowa and in Nevada, the difference in voter support was quite minimal: Secretary Clinton got 0.3% more than Senator Sanders in Iowa and just over 5% more than Sanders in Nevada. Yet Secretary Clinton has 503 delegates, while Senator Sanders only has 70.

Furthermore, according to NY Times writer Nate Cohn, a “virtual tie” in Iowa is actually better for Hillary Clinton than for Bernie Sanders. Senator Sander’s philosophy on momentum as key to political revolution does not seem to be panning out as much as he had promised it would— at least for the time being. Even though Bernie Sanders has the support of people from age 17-­29, people who earn less than $50,000 a year, and highly liberal voters, Hillary Clinton has the backing of more established and more secured older voters, as well as more moderate Democrats, and more affluent voters.

If politics is a game, however, then the game has just begun. The question that remains is whether voters will overcome indifference and demonstrate the amount of passion that is necessary to overcome the corrupt bureaucracy and moneyed immorality of politics to make this election representative of the majority, not just a handful of corporations and not just a handful of voters with the means and interest to cast their ballot.

 

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