Some person or group, likely aligned with Russia, hacked and leaked emails (and now voicemails) from the DNC. When WikiLeaks, which has been posting comments widely viewed as supporting racists and antisemites, released the documents, #DNCLeaks quickly began to trend on social media. Many people are using the documents to argue that the DNC rigged the nomination process for Hillary, stealing it from Bernie, and claim that this breakdown of democracy means one shouldn’t vote for Hillary. This is missing the forest for the trees.
As an initial matter, the evidence of rigging is, um, thin. Many articles proclaiming that the stolen emails prove rigging don’t even quote the emails, which is odd for purported smoking-gun evidence of rigging an election, or show quotes that don’t show evidence of rigging. For example, this article in the Observer includes: “One email from DNC Deputy Communications Director Erik Walker to several DNC staffers cites two news articles showing Sanders leading in Rhode Island and the limited number of polling locations in the state: ‘If she outperforms this polling, the Bernie camp will go nuts and allege misconduct. They’ll probably complain regardless, actually.'” How this possibly indicates rigging an election beyond me. It shows that the DNC may have been sensitive to criticism from Bernie’s campaign, likely because the campaign had already accused the DNC of ” actively attempting to undermine [his] campaign.” In 2015, Bernie’s campaign manager, after Bernie’s campaign was accused of accessing proprietary information belonging to Hillary’s campaign, said that the DNC was trying to “sabotage” his campaign. And the actual result in Rhode Island? Bernie won by nearly twelve points. If the DNC was going to rig Rhode Island for Hillary, they sure did a shitty job.
Another email, from May 18, 2016, shows the DNC’s communications director emailing with Chuck Todd asking him to show some facts to his colleagues, including that the DNC Chair “has repeatedly said that on the air and otherwise that it’s not her job to tell either candidate to get out and has never called for anyone to get out of the race” and “that there are actually LESS [sic] unpledged ‘super’ delegates” compared to 2008. The Observer claims that this shows that the DNC and Chuck Todd were “discussing how to discredit MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski’s call for Wasserman Schultz to resign.” In reality, the email chain is asking that Chuck Todd give Mika information (“I’d appreciate it if you passed along the following information to the Morning Joe team”), possibly set up a call with her (“You think the call is a good idea?”), and acknowledges that the DNC communications chair “understand[s] Joe and Mika will say whatever they’re going to say in terms of opinions, but at a minimum they should consider the facts on some of the key allegations they’re making.” So, the Observer mischaracterizes the email chain and the chain itself shows no evidence of rigging. It shows the DNC communications director communicating with a television personality about how the DNC Chair and DNC is being portrayed on that television personality’s TV station and provides links to articles about the underlying facts being discussed. *Oh the horror.*
Other articles point to different emails as being the most damaging, such as this one from the Washington Post. A commonly discussed email is one from this May in which DNC officials appear to be discussing Bernie’s religion, or lack thereof, as a potential way to discredit him. Although Bernie is not named in the email, it seems most likely that the email refers to him. Using a candidate’s religion as a potential attack is abhorrent and against the ideals on which the United States was founded. But it doesn’t indicate the race was rigged. Why? Well, first there was no action taken. A conspiracy needs an overt act. If the DNC was attempting to conspire for HRC they didn’t succeed because nobody (thankfully) actually did anything that was discussed in the email chain. And it was from May 5, 2016. Here’s excerpts from a FiveThirtyEight.com live chat that occurred two days earlier about the state of the race then: “Clinton will have an elected delegate lead by the end of the evening of around 280 to 285 delegates. In order to catch Clinton in the elected delegate count, Sanders would need to win over 65 percent of the remaining elected delegates … It looks like Clinton and Trump are going to be the nominees of their party.” A full article that appeared on the same website on May 5, 2016, was about whether Bernie staying the race would hurt Hillary; it took for granted that Hillary was going to be the nominee. If the DNC was set to rig the election against Bernie, it’s odd that the most damaging email was about a potential plan that was never acted on and that was sent after Hillary had such a big lead that the race was already essentially over.
The same Washington Post article states that the second most damaging email is one in which now-resigned DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz called Sanders campaign chair Jeff Weaver a “damn liar” after he reiterated complaints of Bernie supporters about issues relating to the Nevada caucuses. It’s not a good look for the DNC Chair and I, like many others, are glad that she resigned, but it’s probably relevant to note that Politifact investigated Weaver’s claims and called them false. So the second most damaging email appears to have been a fairly accurate statement relating to people who had a contentious relationship. And it shows no indications of rigging anything.
Another “damaging” email from May is one in which a lawyer for Hillary’s campaign gives advice to the DNC after the Sanders campaign alleged Hillary’s campaign and the DNC of wrongdoing. The advice: “put out a statement saying that the accusations the [sic] Sanders campaign are not true” and analogized the situation to previous campaigns and what was going on in the Republican campaign. A few things: it’s common for two groups accused of wrongdoing to discuss (or have their lawyers discuss) how to respond. The advice isn’t exactly earth shattering or controversial. It’s not odd that the DNC would want to protect its image. It’s not odd that the Hillary campaign, then well on its way to victory, would also want to protect the image of the political party of which she was about to become the standard bearer.
I could go on but, frankly, most of the emails are neither particularly damaging or interesting. They show that individuals at the HRC appear to have preferred Hillary’s campaign to Bernie’s. Because most of the “worst” emails are fairly recent, it’s hard to tell if those in the DNC always disliked Bernie’s campaign or if the dislike only arose after his campaign’s many insults and lawsuit against the DNC. Even if people in the DNC liked Hillary more than Sanders from the beginning that wouldn’t be much of a surprise. Why? Hillary has been a Democrat for decades. Her husband was a Democratic president, and a popular one. After she lost to Obama in 2008, she gave a rousing endorsement of him at the DNC Convention (much as Bernie has done this year). During Bernie’s long career, he’s made numerous negative statements about Democrats and the DNC. It’s not a shock that people in the DNC would prefer someone who has spent her adult life fighting for the DNC rather than someone who insulted the DNC and had to switch party affiliations in order to run as a Democrat.
Now, absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. But it must be acknowledged what wasn’t found in the leaks of an organization that supposedly rigged an election: (1) emails between Hillary and the DNC, (2) emails about changing votes, (3) emails about discouraging Sanders votes, (4) emails about purging voter lists, or (5) really anything about changing the outcome of any of the many primaries or caucuses.
I’m not the only person who doesn’t think the DNC rigged the contest. Here’s the former Sanders national press secretary on the issue: “let me be clear – NO ONE STOLE THIS ELECTION! Team Sanders we did AMAZING WORK. But we lost. It’s a hard reality for some. It was a hard reality for me. Because I fought hard. Now, we won some great battles, but the reality is the system didn’t cheat us.”
Also, if the DNC could rig elections, here are some questions to ponder: (1) Why didn’t the DNC rig the election for Hillary in 2008? (2) Why wouldn’t the DNC rig general elections (see, e.g., W as president (twice) and the horrible showing for Democrats in 2010 and 2014)? (3) How is that the DNC managed to rig primaries in states run by Republicans (like, allegedly, Arizona) but not caucuses run by state Democratic parties?
Now this isn’t to say that what was uncovered by the leaks was good. There was some stuff in the emails that shouldn’t have been written. And it’s a good thing that the ineffective and loathed Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned. But pointing to the leaks as evidence that one shouldn’t vote for Hillary (or any Democrat) because the DNC undermined democracy is ridiculous.
First, rewarding a foreign nation that has a history, including a recent history, of annexing territory from democratically elected governments for hacking an American political party is backwards.
Second, rewarding Republicans because the DNC is supposedly undemocratic is, frankly, nauseating. And let’s be honest and rational: any votes going away from Hillary and other Democrats directly benefits Trump and Republicans.
It’s important to remember that the RNC has consistently sought to disenfranchise voters, especially in general elections (you know, the ones that actually elect our politicians). It’s in their party platform: “we support legislation to require proof of citizenship when registering to vote and secure photo ID when voting.” Despite the lack of evidence of voter fraud and because the voters most likely to be affected by such laws are also likely to be Democrats, Republicans have been doing their best to disenfranchise poor and minority voters. Here’s but one of many articles on the issue. It notes that: “Voter ID laws have all been sponsored by Republicans and passed overwhelmingly by Republican legislatures. A conservative U.S. circuit judge, Richard Posner, in a recent scathing critique of these laws, calling the expressed concern about fraud a ‘a mere fig leaf’ and that they instead ‘appear to be aimed at limiting voting by minorities, particularly blacks.'” In Texas, a student ID (even one from a state-run university) isn’t a sufficient photo ID to vote, but a concealed handgun license is. The Texas law came on the heels of a controversial Supreme Court case, Shelby County v. Holder, that effectively gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The majority opinion was written by Chief Justice Roberts and was joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito, all of whom were nominated by Republican presidents.
Voter ID laws aren’t the only way that Republicans are trying to favor undermine democracy. They’ve been gerrymandering voting districts to significant (and horrific) effect. This article from the New Yorker is equal parts important, illuminating, and disgusting. Some low-lights in case you don’t want to click the link:
- Regarding Pennsylvania: “So skillfully were the lines drawn that in 2012—when President Obama carried Pennsylvania by three hundred thousand votes and the state’s Democratic congressional candidates collectively outpolled their G.O.P. rivals by nearly a hundred thousand votes—Republicans still won thirteen of Pennsylvania’s eighteen seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
- Regarding Michigan: “‘The 2012 election was a huge success for Democrats at the statewide level in Michigan,’ [a Republican strategy group] wrote. ‘Voters elected a Democratic U.S. Senator by more than 20 points and reelected President Obama by almost 10 points.’ Still, Republicans ended up with the lion’s share of the state’s congressional seats—nine, to the Democrats’ five.”
- Nationally: “In House races in 2012, 1.7 million more votes were cast for Democrats than for Republicans. And still, thanks to the way those votes were packed and cracked, Republicans came away with thirty-three more congressional seats.”
So, with all due respect, if you’re concerned about the future of little-D democracy in the United States, you’re crazy if you think electing Republicans will help. And let’s be clear: in almost every national race (including and especially the presidential race) there are only two potential winners–a Democrat and a Republican. Donald or Hillary will be the next president of the United States of America. If you’re concerned about democracy, you shouldn’t vote for the candidate who praises Putin, Saddam Hussein’s killing of terrorists, and Kim Jong-Un’s killing of relatives to consolidate power. If you’re worried about democracy, you should probably be less concerned about a candidate who stored emails on a private server and more concerned about someone who said he wishes he had the power to hack political opponents. Guess what. If he wins, he’ll have that power and I’ll have to delete half of my blog posts. If you’re worried about the freedom of the press, you should probably be less worried about the candidate who will give interviews but doesn’t like press conferences and be more worried about the candidate who bans news outlets when he doesn’t like their coverage of him and will have reporters forcibly removed from press conferences when he doesn’t like their questions.
If you follow politics in the United States and think the problem with democracy is Hillary Clinton and the DNC you are missing the big picture. And if you don’t vote for Democrats you’re helping a party that has been doing its best to systematically disenfranchise its opponents and consolidate power despite a shrinking number of supporters.*
*This in no way is a comprehensive argument for why one should vote for Hillary and not vote for Trump. Such an argument would include, but not be limited to, that Trump is an antisemite-supporting, racist, uninformed, misogynistic pathological liar who is utterly lacking in the temperament, knowledge, and abilities to be the leader of the free world and whose few plans, if implemented, would likely cause significant harm to the United States, if not lead to a world war.