The academic footpeople show up
About forty-five years ago a book was published, courtesy of the Trilateral Commission: The Crisis of Democracy. In it, all sorts of pleasing-sounding words were said, especially by the French and Japanese contributors. The American contributor, Samuel P. Huntington (he of the "clash of civilizations"), argued a blunt message: society is too democratic, and so the masses need to chill out while the elites consolidate their rule. Or he said something like that. Well, that was then. The Trilateral Commission was just starting out, having been founded only two years earlier, and so there had to be a volume put out to commemorate the new basis for order (as described in Michael Hudson's Super Imperialism).
Today, you have the elite panic over Bernie Sanders, and so you have Julia Azari, writing in yesterday's Washington Post: It’s time to switch to preference primaries. So this is what the hoped-for commemoration of the new order looks like today.
The point of this article is given at the top:
Julia Azari is an associate professor and assistant chair in the Department of Political Science at Marquette University. This is the third op-ed in a series about how to improve the presidential nominating process.
So let's ask the academic what to think and do, while she speaks to the Democratic Party about how properly to design the primary process. What does she say? Azari starts by arguing that the process is in some sort of disarray, mentioning a few facts about the current Presidential primary. Then she suggests:
A better primary system would empower elites to bargain and make decisions, instructed by voters.
So is that what elites do? Another perspective is that what elites do is that they get together to discuss things with their own kind, in organizations such as the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg Group, the World Economic Forum, the G20, and so on, and then they go off and make decisions, ignoring the popular will entirely. Azari is basically arguing for a return to the smoke-filled rooms in which candidates were selected without reference to the popular will. Maybe she wants a phony democracy added to the smoke-filled room -- but who is going to care?
One lesson from the 2020 and 2016 election cycles is that a lot of candidates, many of whom are highly qualified and attract substantial followings, will inevitably enter the race.
Really? The lesson of 2016 was that everyone was asked to support Hillary Clinton, and then Bernie Sanders showed up to disrupt that tidy formula. The lesson of 2020 is that a candidate's ability to stay in the race depends upon her or his ability to attract funding from billionaires, unless he or she has a prior mass following (e.g. Bernie Sanders). Azari continues:
A process in which intermediate representatives — elected delegates who understand the priorities of their constituents — can bargain without being bound to specific candidates might actually produce nominees that better reflect what voters want.
Is there some problem finding the will of the majority in the current process? The current process involves lots of elections, some of which could easily be fairer, and lots of polls. The accuracy of these processes is not going to be improved by freeing up the delegates to pick and choose candidates.
At this point in her essay, Azari wants to sketch out the historical context for why she argues as she does. This tactic is fair enough. So we read this:
The reforms that created the modern primary system in the 1970s opened the door to too much uncertainty — and to divisive nominees such as George McGovern in 1972.
What precisely was "divisive" about George McGovern? An alternative opinion is offered in the New Republic: "the Democrats’ fear of McGovernism is misplaced. McGovern didn’t lose because he was too far to the left. He lost because he was facing a popular incumbent presiding over a booming economy." They just like picking on McGovern, in short, because the party invented the system of "superdelegates" after he lost.
Azari then shifts back to a critique of process:
Reforms to the process should try to make that guessing a bit more informed.
Is the problem with the Democratic primaries that they aren't "informed" enough? Or is it that the "information" is bad? The idea of "information" needs to be interrogated. The computer scientists had a slogan back in the day: garbage in, garbage out. Political scientists have a word that reflects what the computer scientists discovered ages ago: ideology. Political processes are informed by ideologies, which reflect the class interests of those in power. Too bad this word "ideology" isn't used in Azari's article.
Azari, of course, can't spell out the ideology she wants, because that would spoil the fun. Instead, fairly enough, she specifies the reforms she wants:
The quality of the system can’t be measured solely in terms of the kinds of nominees it produces. Instead, we should think about how it reflects the preference and values of the different components of the party coalition.
Is THAT why we elect politicians? Silly me. I had thought that we elected politicians to deliver on policies, and that, to do this, we needed a system to reflect the best possible policies, so that we can get those policies. What we have instead is the Coalition of the Billionaires and Their Clients. Does that coalition work? Azari does not want to know. In the end, she suggests that everything be left up to the party elites: "The results would be public but not binding; a way to inform elites about voter preferences." Such a system would allow the elites to be as free as they pleased in winning elections here, losing elections there, and making sure the wills of their billionaire patrons were well-enforced.
I want to conclude with some notes about academia, and especially academia in the social sciences. The point of creating hierarchies of tenured professors has nothing to do with meritocracy; there are plenty of qualified academic scholars who are completely left out of the academy simply because the universities have no jobs to offer them. Rather, the point of creating hierarchies of tenured professors is so that academic reasoning can continue within a series of bubbles, nice well-salaried places where the professors who have risen to the top of the hierarchies can conduct their thought-experiments oblivious to the pressures of the real world. These thought-experiments are written for audiences of elites because that's the way to get ahead under capitalism. These academic people guide real-world policies in ways you can't, and don't want to, imagine.