Matt Stoller is a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. You can follow him at https://twitter.com/matthewstoller and he can be reached at stoller at gmail.com.
Even authoritarian systems require legitimacy to retain the support of the governed, and the new authoritarian America is no exception. Since 2004, the brilliant public journalism advocate Jay Rosen has been asking, what is the point of a political convention? No news is made, yet over 15,000 journalists show up, ostensibly to cover the pomp. But everyone knows that coverage isn’t so much the point; these conventions trade shows for the political class, where party insiders, journalists, politicians, celebrities, corporate types, and lobbyists mingle to organize political hierarchies. The public is simply irrelevant, a mass of jeering and cheering message imbibers or apathetic and cynical former citizens, people who are unseen behind their TV screens. The only fresh elements are protesters, and they are met by a police state, lest they disrupt the insider deal-making.
In fact, elections, over the past few years, have become mechanisms for sustaining the legitimacy of this political class, not contests designed to be won by either side. Neither side would ever admit to not trying to win, at least publicly. Privately, political consultants will count their winnings happily after each election, regardless of the outcome. So the way to see the lack of competitiveness now is to examine the moves that both parties are not making.
The Republicans have a clear strategy to win, which they are not using. Obama is liked but unpopular, seen as a pseudo-honest lightweight who can’t govern, even as the GOP are considered more competent but downright evil. In politics, you have to get more votes than the other guy; you don’t have to prove you’re an angel. You can even change the voting universe,