Hillary Clinton doesn't deserve all the blame for Democrats' failure

Authors: 'Hillary Clinton didn't grasp populism'
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Story highlights

  • Tasini says a new book stirring conversation about Clinton's campaign mistakes obscures the real problem
  • He says Clinton botched the campaign and opened door to a Trump presidency, but the decline of Democrats began far earlier, he says

Jonathan Tasini (@jonathantasini) is the author of "The Essential Bernie Sanders and His Vision for America," president of the Economic Future Group and the host of the "Working Life" podcast. His book, "Resist and Rebel: The Peoples' Uprising in America" will be published in the fall. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

(CNN)The psychodrama of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign chronicled in campaign accounts now coming to light has a fascinating parallel to the obsession over Vladimir Putin's real or imagined election role. Specifically, it's a distraction from a deeper, systemic weakness of the Democratic Party.

Aside from the titillating internal campaign anecdotes, nothing revealed in the new book, "Shattered," surprised anyone closely engaged in the 2016 elections, particularly those of us who publicly supported Bernie Sanders.
Jonathan Tasini
It is clear that an arrogant, incompetent campaign royally blew an election, handing the Oval Office to an unhinged, unqualified, dishonest man. A retread coterie of pollsters, consultants and insiders tried to sell an out-of-touch, elitist candidate to voters who were in full-scale revolt. It was a campaign so clueless that, during the general election, it could not find Wisconsin on the map.
Yet, let me offer a backhanded defense of the Clinton campaign: too much is being made of the failure of one candidate, and the alleged influence of foreign powers, because the demise of the Democratic party has been in the making for many years. One campaign did not hand the Republican Party two-thirds of the state legislatures, a solid majority in the House and control of the Senate before losing the White House. You had to screw up for a very long time to amass that track record.

Failure is not disqualifying

The deeper party crisis boils down to two related problems. First, there exists a permanent "Liberal-Progressive Edifice Complex" that has corroded the party. This "complex" is a circle of people and organizations -- inside the Democratic Party itself, as well as non-profit organizations, lobbyists, consultants of very stripes and individual self-promoters -- who work mightily to maintain an iron grip on power and prestige.
This complex is run by well-paid operatives and professional non-profit leaders -- who, funded by rich people and foundations, often earn significant six-figure salaries and benefits that put them firmly in the one percent, and sometimes even in a better station.
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Within the complex, failure does not disqualify people from future positions. Senior operatives who spend millions of dollars in losing campaigns, time and again, still get the call to do it all over again. Nothing new to say? C'mon out to speak at our umpteenth, useless conference to "Take Back America." Selling your personal brand on TV and demanding big bucks for a speaking fee? The complex anoints you and celebrates you, even when you lavish praise on Donald Trump simply for not embarrassing himself in his State of the Union speech.
The Democratic Party is essentially a legal money-laundering entity for individual and corporate donors, especially in presidential years when the party's nominee dictates the flow of money. Big donors don't care about party-building at the local level; they care about being attached to national brands. Astonishingly, at a time when people abhor the buying of elections by the rich, the party at its recent national meeting approved taking in large corporate donations.
A long-time Democratic operative who worked on the 2016 campaign recently told me that when the Clinton campaign was told it needed to invest in local grassroots efforts, which support down-ballot races, it was hostile to the idea. Republicans, by contrast, have assiduously funded local efforts.

Myth of American Exceptionalism

Second, beyond campaign mechanics and candidates, the Democratic Party has promoted, and continues to embrace, the great bi-partisan myth of American exceptionalism. Like all effective myths, it is powerful because it is repeated year after year. However, for many people who long for a real alternative, the reality behind the myth casts an ominous shadow.
To start, Democrats routinely embrace the celebration of the "free market" and the American "dynamic economy," even though our abysmal economic model is run increasingly like a kleptocracy, which drains the wealth from millions of average people.
American exceptionalism trumpets to the world that we have a spectacular model of justice built on a set of values that Democrats say Donald Trump is violating. That is an utterly empty claim if you are black or poor. The rule of law or the idea of equality under the law is the province of the privileged, the rich and the powerful who, when they steal from us, rarely face justice.
The idea of American exceptionalism has meant being the largest, by far, seller of weapons around the world -- including to regimes likes Saudi Arabia, which treat women as second-class citizens. It has meant we have the biggest military in the world, justifying endless war for economic benefit, including interventions, overthrows and the manipulation of elections going back long before Vladimir Putin was even born.
From conservatives and liberals alike, we hear the boast that we have the "best workers in the world," an inherently racist view that questions the quality and worthiness of workers everywhere. This sets up a narrative of "us versus them" competition among workers. It, then, stirs voters' fears about their economic desperation and prompts them to blame phony enemies -- immigrants, for example.

The resistance?

When you hear some voices in the party urging "unity" and scolding people from replaying the 2016 party primary, be vigilant. Too often those are the same people who have failed for a very long time, who are hitting up donors and churning out mountains of warmed-over position papers. Amusingly, a few are branding their organizations as the "resistance," even when their boards of directors include corporate lobbyists, billionaires and proud purveyors of American exceptionalism.
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Democrats should be voicing clearly that the real threat to people is the power of big corporations racing across the globe, plundering the planet and exploiting people of all races. Hillary Clinton was not that voice, allowing Donald Trump, a man who has used the broken economic system to defraud thousands of regular people, to seize the populist megaphone.
If the party fails to embrace a different vision of America, and a different idea about the country's place in the world, Democrats will not win -- and they should not win.