The Iowa fiasco and the Democrats’ shadowy plot to stop Bernie | Opinion | Chicago Reader

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The Iowa fiasco and the Democrats’ shadowy plot to stop Bernie

The party is using different tools to achieve the same goal as 2016—sidelining Sanders.

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PAUL WEAVER / FLICKR
  • Paul Weaver / FLICKR

Leonard C. Goodman is a Chicago criminal defense attorney and co-owner of the newly independent Reader.

Yogi Berra, the great Yankees catcher, had the memorable line, "It's like deja vu all over again."

Bernie Sanders supporters might have been thinking the same thing after the fiasco of the Iowa caucuses.

It was just four years ago that the corporate hacks who run the Democratic Party rigged the 2016 primary election process to favor Hillary Clinton and stop Sanders: The Democratic National Committee, which is supposed to stay neutral in a primary, secretly funneled party funds to Hillary's campaign, fed Hillary debate questions before a CNN town hall, and selected superdelegates who pledged their votes to Hillary before the first primary votes were even cast.

This time around, Democratic Party insiders appear to be playing the same game. Throughout 2019, corporate Democrats and their media allies disparaged and minimized Bernie's campaign, asserting that it had little chance of winning the nomination. But these tactics didn't work. In late December, Sanders was leading in polling in Iowa, New Hampshire, and nationwide, and was close to the lead or within the margin of error in other important primary states like South Carolina, Nevada, California, and Texas.

I imagine that the forces of corporate greed feared that if Sanders could claim victory in the Iowa caucuses, he might gain momentum that would make him impossible to stop. To the rescue came a company called Shadow.

Shadow is one of these Democratic Party consulting operations stuffed with former staffers of Hillary Clinton's failed 2016 presidential campaign. Shadow used its leverage with high-level Democratic donors to secure a contract with the Iowa Democratic Party to count the votes. And it completely bungled the job. The company tried to report results in the caucuses through an untested app slapped together in a few months. The app prevented precinct chairs from reporting the vote totals on caucus night, throwing the entire process into chaos, humiliating the Democratic Party, and demoralizing the Iowa voters who took the time to come out and caucus. It also denied Sanders the opportunity to make a victory speech, although he won the popular vote and at least tied the pledged delegate allocation.

The dark money group that launched Shadow was cofounded by Tara McGowan, a veteran of Obama's reelection campaign, and the wife of a senior strategist with the Pete Buttigieg campaign, which paid Shadow $42,500 last July for digital services. These conflicts of interest apparently failed to raise any alarm bells at party headquarters.

Buttigieg's investment in Shadow paid off big when Iowa officials announced partial results that allowed him to claim victory. Moreover, by paying Shadow for data services, Buttigieg signaled to the Democratic Party operatives—a loose alliance of consultants, corporate lobbyists, and pundits—that if elected, he will keep the money flowing to these bandits, despite their terminal corruption and incompetence. It's no wonder that he's a favorite of the party establishment and Wall Street donors. Sanders, on the other hand, is a mortal threat to this consultant class and to their business model of collecting checks for doing horrible work.

The corporate donors to the Democratic Party fear and loathe Sanders because he is not in their pockets. Unlike the so-called "centrist" Democrats, Sanders does not accept corporate contributions, and he does not do fund-raisers with high-dollar contributors. Instead he relies on a large army of small donors. This makes him incredibly dangerous to the corporate elite.

In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton pivoted the Democratic Party into partnership with Wall Street and with the same corporate donors funding the Republican Party. In effect, the Democratic Party sold its soul for corporate dollars. As a result, the Democrats have become a faux opposition party, taking on Republicans only in areas where their corporate patrons don't have a stake, like abortion rights and gay rights. But when it comes to bank bailouts, forever wars, fossil fuel extraction, and for-profit health care, the Democrats are all in.

You don't have to take my word for this. Numerous academic studies have confirmed that corporate interests get their way, no matter which party holds power. The comprehensive 2017 study Democracy in America? by political scientists Benjamin Page and Martin Gilens posits that "the wishes of ordinary Americans [have] little or no impact on the making of federal government policy."

To cite just one recent example, last February, ExxonMobil announced the discovery of a gas field off the coast of Cyprus that's one of the largest found in recent years. This December, members of Congress came together quietly, without hearings or debate, to provide military assistance in the development of this gas field. The winner, of course, is corporate America. ExxonMobil profits from the gas extraction, and a private company called General Atomics benefits from the drone fleet that will be maintained in the region to protect the operation. The losers, as always, are the American people, who will pay for all the military operations while all the profits from the drilling go to private corporations—a blatant form of corporate welfare. The other big loser is the environment. Tapping into another gas field will speed the destruction of the planet. Plus, offshore gas drilling produces methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide when emitted.

Sanders is a threat to this bipartisan business-as-usual model of corporate profits over the needs of ordinary Americans. If elected, Sanders has pledged to pursue policies that benefit people over corporations, like free college, Medicare for all, and a green new deal.

The forces of corporate greed and the military-industrial complex seem prepared to stop Sanders at all costs. As Biden fades from contention, they are putting their money on Mayor Pete. If he stumbles, the party is prepared to install Michael Bloomberg at a brokered convention. Bloomberg, the world's eighth richest man, has $61.9 billion at his disposal to influence the Democratic Party. The DNC has already changed its rules to allow Bloomberg to qualify for the debates. That, coupled with the Iowa caucus fiasco, have fueled calls for the resignation of DNC head Tom Perez.

The Democratic Party's embrace of Bloomberg puts the lie to the excuse that Sanders should not be nominated because he is not sufficiently loyal to the Democratic Party. Until just recently, Bloomberg was a Republican. In 2004, Bloomberg endorsed George W. Bush, praising his decision to invade Iraq.

The chaos of recent weeks might give Sanders supporters their most potent argument yet. The Democratic Party has become so corrupt and dysfunctional that it can't even perform the most basic function of a democracy: counting the votes. It is time to turn to new leadership. Or we can stick with the corporate Democrats and blame the Russians again when we lose to Trump.   v

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