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Algorithm and Blues: Why Hillary’s Moneyball Strategy Failed

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Photo by Veni | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Veni | CC BY 2.0

 

When I wrote on election night that the Clinton campaign had forsaken class politics for “politics by algorithm,” I had no idea that they really had such an “app” or that they had named it after Lord Byron’s daughter, the brilliant Ada Lovelace, the real brains behind the first computer. (Ada would have run a better campaign.) Apparently, Clinton campaign gameboy Robbie Mook ran 500,000 simulations of the election on his Xbox. How many of them had 90,000 Michigan voters leaving their choice for president blank? How many results showed her losing the white women vote by 10 percent? How many showed the vote in union households split nearly 50-50?

As we know from the Wikileaks dumps, Clintonian paranoia extended far beyond her decision to set up a private email server and began to infect the campaign itself. Nargiza Gafurova was an analytics specialist for one of the database companies doing contract work for the Clinton campaign. “Our company worked with her campaign on their data needs – they’ve been extremely secretive about the data and algorithms they use,” Gafurova told me. “Secrecy was so deep that we couldn’t help them effectively as they didn’t even tell us who they want to target.”

The Clinton brain trust made a fatal decision three years ago to run a campaign based on identity politics powered by deep demographic analytics and an almost unlimited reservoir of money from Wall Street and Silicon Valley elites. How could they lose. This wasn’t a case of the data being corrupt, but of the campaign programmers, from Bill Clinton to John Podesta, being biased. Illusions in, delusions out.

What Mook and company still can’t fathom is that almost every national election is ultimately about economics or, more properly, how people feel about their economic security. Here the writing was on the wall and only politicians, like the Clintons, who stubbornly live in their own virtual reality could have missed it. For decades there has been one key chart that seasoned political observers have used as a kind of Ouija board to commune with the mood of the electorate. It’s called Wrong Track/Right Direction. On the eve of the 2016 elections, the Wrong Track number stood at a lethal 65.2 percent. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both registered the sour mood of the country and the darkening economic malaise afflicting most Americans, regardless of race or gender: stagnant wages, rising home foreclosures, crippling
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550-e1477943826411consumer and student loan debt, vanishing manufacturing jobs. By contrast, only 29 percent of eligible voters felt the country was moving in the right direction, a sure sign the Democrats were going down in flames. Hillary blindly shackled herself to Obama’s failed neoliberal economic policies and paid the ultimate price.

Of course, it is common wisdom now on the Left to blame the Clintons for selling the Democratic Party out to Wall Street in 1992. But that is another kind of scapegoating that only serves to occlude the real systemic problems that have led working class people to abandon the Democrats over the last 30 years. The Party was put on the neoliberal futures market during the Carter administration. By the time the Clintons came along it was already being openly traded on the political equivalent of the NASDAQ exchange.

There’s certainly no evidence that the Democrats have learned anything from this debacle. Instead, they are doubling down on their big money strategy. Wall Street bag man Chuck Schumer has been tapped to lead the Democrats in the senate, replacing the retiring Harry Reid (the last working class senator). Here’s the smug Schumer on the eve of the Democratic Convention, gloating at running blue collar people out of the party: “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in Western Pennsylvania, we pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs. And you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.” Is it any wonder they lost?

A week after Trump’s triumph, these professional losers continued their political Death March, leaving the wounded behind on the battlefield, by rushing to billionaires George Soros and Tom Steyer with a desperate pitch to replenish their coffers in order to “take back power.” Protests, protests everywhere, except where they’d do the most good: DNC HQ.

It could have been different. I look to my home turf of Indiana, a rust belt state more conservative than Ohio. Still Obama carried Indiana in 2008, captivating voters by campaigning against the Iraq war and NAFTA, which had pulverized manufacturing and farm-related jobs across the state. Hillary supported both and Obama ended neither. People don’t forget. Look at Vigo County, along the Wabash River, in western Indiana. The home of the great socialist Eugene Debs, the returns from Vigo County have predicted every election since 1956. Obama carried Vigo County by 16 points in 2008 and 328 votes in 2012. Trump slaughtered Hillary here by 14 percentage points.

The results in Vigo County have nothing to do with sexism or racism. They are a fierce rejection of the politics of economic betrayal. And perhaps one more factor: Mike Pence. Most of my fellow Hoosiers would have done almost anything to evict Pence from the governor’s mansion, though inflicting him on the rest of the nation was a rather extreme solution.

Best Books of 2016

Nonfiction

America’s War for the Greater Middle East: a Military History
by Andrew Bacevich

At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Others
by Sarah Bakewell

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
by Matthew Desmond

Menagerie: a History of Exotic Animals in England
by Caroline Grigson

White Trash: the 400-Year Untold History of Class in America
by Nancy Isenberg

Grand Hotel Abyss: Lives of the Frankfort School
by Stuart Jeffries

They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement
by Wesley Lowery

Fiction

The Regional Office is Under Attack!
by Manuel Gonzalez

Seeing Red
by Lena Meruane

Dodgers
by Bill Beverly

Poetry

Falling Awake
by Alice Oswald

Bestiary
by Donika Kelly

 

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

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