The relentless proselytization, rigid dogmatism, and hyper-partisanship of the Trumpish Age have exposed our susceptibility to crude propaganda, and our distasteful appreciation for the same. Lost is our basic expectation of political neutrality in the popular press: after many decades of skeptical criticism of these informative institutions, we have joyously abandoned our search for objectivity and have pursued reassurance. Generally, this is reassurance of our infallible accuracy in all of our own assumptions and judgments; more specifically, it is confirmation of the moral and intellectual perfection of our favorite politicians. Our beloved representatives cannot do wrong—such, at least, is the implicit message of our trusted journalists, who write in the service of, rather than about, the representatives of their political party. Because we believe that these politicians and these writers are working toward the same desirable goal, we think nothing of their incestuous bond—perhaps literally, as the relationship itself tends to escape our notice.
Only in an age of shameless partiality could Ryan Lizza write in defense of Barack Obama, whose role in tilting the Democratic Party presidential primaries was finally exposed in a piece published by Politico. Truly one of the more astonishing essays written in this unfinished year, it is chillingly titled “Barack Obama Wins the Democratic Primary”, and it explains how Obama broke his own promise to remain neutral in this contest, now effectively settled. Despite continuously declaring, despite repeatedly lying, that he wouldn’t interfere in the primaries, many of Obama’s “aides now concede that behind the scenes Obama played a role in nudging things in Biden’s direction”. This “nudge”, as they humbly describe it, included personal phone calls to Buttigieg and Klobuchar to persuade them to endorse Biden instead of Bernie Sanders. Presumably, these conversations were more cordial than his discussion with Debbie Wasserman Schultz in the summer of 2016, when he ordered her to resign from the Democratic National Committee.
Schultz needed to step down, of course, lest the Democratic Party face enduring (and convincing) accusations of cronyism and field-tilting. Obama’s aforementioned aides appear to understand this, explaining to Lizza that “Sanders and his supporters had reason to believe the party put the thumb on the scale for Hillary in 2016 and [Obama] wanted to avoid that.” A definition of “that” would be helpful: did Obama want to prevent the DNC from sabotaging Sanders? If so, then why was he “nudging things in Biden’s direction” and actively lying about his own role in doing so? Perhaps he had no qualm about the “nudging”, but—and this is the more plausible meaning—he was very understandably concerned about Sanders and his supporters having proof of this nudging. In other words, he didn’t want them to have “reason to believe the party put the thumb on the scale”, hence his obligation to willfully conceal his involvement and guilt in an intraparty conspiracy. He is less bashful about his next task, which is to convince Sanders’s supporters—the same who were denied representation in these primaries—to vote for Biden, whose most remarkable quality is his disdain for everything Sanders believes.
Three questions remain: did Obama mastermind this scheme or merely participate in it; why was he supportive of it; and why has Lizza revealed his culpability?
The first question, I cannot answer, not with my lamentably limited information about the internal operations and external influences of the DNC. To answer this question, we need a whistleblower, that rare specimen of remarkable courage—and the creature most loathed by Obama himself. We are in need of an organization like WikiLeaks, to whom we are thankful for providing us a window into the world of the DNC as it existed four years ago. WikiLeaks, without whom Sanders and his supporters would lack proof that “the party put the thumb on the scale for Hillary in 2016”, is not mentioned in Lizza’s article, and neither is Schultz, or any of the abundant evidence herein reduced to “reason to believe”. My own unlettered belief is that Obama was a secondary player in both of these intrigues, but it is only an uneducated guess.
Fortunately, we do not require additional information to understand why Obama was drawn to an antidemocratic scheme such as this. Obama reinvigorated that fascistic ideology of neoliberalism, characterized by corporate subterfuge and superficial change. He promoted right-wing extremism with a progressive exterior, and in his cavalier refusal to address the elemental dysfunction of our political institutions, he fostered a purer right-wing extremism, unconcealed and unvarnished. His life’s work is threatened—intellectually, but not existentially—by Bernie Sanders, whose rhetoric raises unpleasant questions about the priorities and values of our government and our economy. If these questions are carried to their proper culmination, then we shall eventually become skeptical of our national institutions; and if we become skeptical, then we may someday become critical, as well. The American people cannot undergo this intellectual transformation overnight, and probably not within the timeline of a single presidency, but the risk of escalation is serious enough for right-wing extremists in government, industry, and the Democratic Party to take preventive measures.
None of these people, including former President Obama, deny having taken preventive measures to halt the process Sanders inadvertently portends. Their only disagreement with what I’ve written here is the intention that I have ascribed to them: if you were to ask them, they would tell you that they undermined Sanders because he faces incredibly long odds of defeating Trump in the general election. This is demonstrably true, but only because these same powerful proponents of hardcore conservatism would expend even greater sums of energy and finance on defeating Sanders, or any other progressive figure, if he were to become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. Mike Gravel explained as much to me in our conversation, and one can only imagine the obstacles that Obama and his contemporaries would have established, had Sanders moved on to the final round.
He has not, of course, and the tendentious interference of the Democratic elite is justified, possibly even welcomed, as a noble action taken for the good of the party. We have transcended the notion of voting for people or even ideologies. Now we vote for parties, for one of the two almighty and insurmountable parties that have seized and cemented control of the American political process. Is this recent emphasis on party loyalty, or party submission, a reflection of the remarkable gains the Green Party and the Libertarian Party made in 2016? We will answer this question in a separate essay. For now, we will answer the third and final question introduced above: Lizza is allowed to reveal Obama’s role in vanquishing Sanders’s supporters, and his shameless intention to lure them back into the confines of the Democratic Party, because this information confirms the Democratic Party’s irresistible strength. This information is frightening, dystopian, and profoundly infuriating, which is precisely why it makes for such effective propaganda.
You can read Ryan Lizza’s original story here.