Posts Tagged ‘Obama’


The game is rigged—and Americans damn well know it.

As Emily Blazon explains, the idea that the game is rigged has a long history in the United States.

In its current usage, “rigged” exposes a structure that is rotten to the core and lights a match to burn it down. Dating back to the 19th century, the word “rig” has meant “a trick, a scheme”; it also carries an association of expert hands setting up equipment or tinkering with machinery. To rig a fleet (or jury-­rig another conveyance) connotes competence and pluck. But the “rigging” Sanders and Trump have in mind involves a swindle, and it has been deployed in American politics at several points over the last century, including in the Great Depression. Calling for an inquiry into the stock market in The Washington Post in 1932, a Republican senator attributed its gyrations to “a rigged game of crooked gambling pools.” In the wake of Watergate in the 1970s, “rigged” appeared frequently in the press. Liberal leaders, some newly elected after the scandal, attacked not only Nixon but also campaign finance, the primary process and government agencies as being controlled by corporate and political elites.

Right now, as in the past, many Americans believe the game—in both politics and economics—is rigged.


According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, about half of American voters believe that the system U.S. political parties use to pick their candidates for the White House is “rigged,” and more than two-thirds want to see the process changed


At the same time, according to a Pew Research Center poll, a substantial majority of Americans (65 percent) say the economic system in the United States “unfairly favors powerful interests.” Fewer than one third (31 percent) say the system “is generally fair to most Americans.”

And given the mutual influence of politics and economics—those at the top of the economy who have an inordinate influence on political issues and candidates, while the rules of the economic game are set and reinforced by political elites—it’s reasonable to conclude that the game as a whole is rigged.

President Obama demonstrated he was acutely aware of the problem in his 2016 State of the Union address:

democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.

And that’s why the rich, the powerful, and the special interests who benefit from the current system are spending so much time these days, as they have throughout the history of U.S. capitalism, trying to convince the rest of the people the game is not rigged.


President Obama has finally come out in favor of expanding Social Security benefits:

It’s time we finally made Social Security more generous and increased its benefits so today’s retirees and future generations get the dignified retirement that they have earned.

Clearly, the ground has shifted—within the Democratic Party and, in particular, with Obama, who as late as 2012 was willing to cut Social Security (as part of an ill-fated attempt at “entitlement reform”).

As Daniel Marans, Arthur Delaney, and Ryan Grim explain, there were many progressive groups involved in fighting against attacks on Social Security—in the midst of Bowles-Simpson austerity fever and the progress made by Third Way advocates inside the Democratic Party—which then turned to expanding Social Security benefits.

Elizabeth Warren played an important role in shifting the discourse on Social Security.

So has the success of Bernie Sanders’s campaign for president.

Although the discourse on Social Security had been moving left for some time, it is impossible to ignore the role that the current presidential election cycle likely played in Obama’s timing.

The presidential race has been characterized by waves of economic populism in both major parties. Even presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump claims he will not cut Social Security benefits.

On the Democratic side, Sanders has made his career-long devotion to Social Security a centerpiece of his campaign. The Vermont progressive touts legislationhe first introduced in March 2015 to enact an across-the-board expansion of benefits.

Hillary Clinton expressed support for targeted increases in Social Security benefits rather than across-the-board expansion. Sanders and progressive groups demanded she clarify that this included ruling out benefit cuts of any kind, since some bipartisan reform plans — including that of the Bowles-Simpson commission — couple major benefit cuts with modest increases for poor and vulnerable groups. . .

“Bernie has marshaled millions of people against cuts and for expansion and showed the power of those people in the Democratic Party,” said Neil Sroka, communications director of Democracy for America, another key progressive group in the Social Security fight.


At least on this issue, in the face of pressure from Warren and in response to the Sanders campaign, Obama and the rest of the Democratic Party have finally caught up with the overwhelming majority (85 percent) of Americans who (according to a recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll [pdf]) believe protecting the future of Social Security is extremely or very important for the next administration.

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It’s virtually impossible, at this point, for Bernie Sanders to win enough delegates in the remaining primary contests to beat Hillary Clinton to the Democratic nomination.

However. . .


In the midst of all the number-crunching, there is one calculation I haven’t seen mentioned: primary wins that matter. Let’s define “matter” in relation to the states Barack Obama won during the 2012 presidential election.

According to my calculations, of Clinton’s 12 primary wins thus far, only 4 (Iowa, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Virginia) have come in states Obama carried in 2012. Sanders, in contrast, has come out ahead in 9 states, 6 of which are states where Obama was victorious.*

Why are these numbers significant? It’s unlikely the Democratic nominee in 2016 will carry any state Obama did not win in 2012. While it won’t change the final delegate count, one can argue that some wins (in states Obama carried in 2012) are more important than wins elsewhere (e.g., in the Deep South, which the Democratic nominee, regardless of who they are, has little chance of carrying in 2016).


*If we consider 2 states toss-ups (Iowa and Massachusetts), and award a half point to each candidate, the difference is even more dramatic: 3 out of 12 for Clinton, 7 of 11 for Sanders.