President Richard Nixon, thinking ahead to his 1972 re-election bid, was worried about southern populist George Wallace, the governor of Alabama. Wallace’s third party law-and-order campaign in 1968, using thinly veiled racist appeals, had claimed several Southern states, and Nixon was concerned that a repeat of that campaign in 1972 might win enough Republican-leaning states to cost him the election. The solution, Nixon believed, was to get Wallace to run as a Democrat rather than as an independent.
This wasn’t Wallace’s preferred approach — he knew he could make some noise in the Democratic primaries but probably not be a national force. But Nixon had an ace in the hole. He had directed the Internal Revenue Service to investigate Wallace and his brother, Gerald, who had profited off his political influence. As described in PBS’s excellent biography of George Wallace, Nixon met with the governor in 1971, and, “seven months later, the Justice Department dropped its investigation of the Wallaces. And George Wallace announced he would run as a Democrat and not as a third party candidate.”
That is a rigged system. It involves abuse of power and political pressure designed to deprive people of their choices in an election long before they’re even paying attention to it. And, while somewhat extreme, it’s hardly unique in American political history. Party machines like Mayor Richard Daley’s organization in Chicago and Tammany Hall in New York City made a practice of deciding who would and would not appear on which ballots and rewarding friends and punishing enemies with public resources. And quite often these schemes served some positive ends, such as picking good nominees for office and introducing the franchise to an economically and racially diverse set of new voters. But yes, it was most definitely rigged.
We need to recognize the challenges of expecting a party to impartially manage a contest in which it clearly has preferred outcomes.
I bring these examples up in light of the new WikiLeaks revelations about staffers of the Democratic National Committee and their attitudes toward this year’s Democratic nomination race. The disclosed e-mails have been depicted as showing a rigged system that systematically undermined Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign.
But even if you believe the worst interpretations of these e-mails, the evidence is pretty mild. What we see is DNC staffers trying to spin the media in favor ofHillary Clinton and to complain to each other about Sanders. One certainly does not get the impression that the DNC staff was impartial between Clinton and Sanders — they appear biased and unprofessional — but there’s hardly evidence they materially manipulated the contest.
Read the full article here.