The late and formerly Left provocateur Christopher Hitchens once usefully described “the essence of American politics” as “the manipulation of populism by elitism”: the cloaking of plutocratic agendas, of service to the rich and powerful, in the false rebels’ clothing of popular rebellion; the hidden and “unelected dictatorship of money” (Edward S. Herman and David Peterson) masquerading in the false rebels’ clothes of the common people. “That elite is most successful,” Hitchens added in his study of the classically neoliberal Clinton presidency, “which can claim the heartiest allegiance of the fickle crowd; can present itself as most ‘in touch’ with popular concerns; can anticipate the tides and pulses of public opinion; can, in short, be the least apparently ‘elitist.’ It is no great distance from Huey Long’s robust cry of ‘Every man a king’ to the insipid ‘inclusiveness’ of [Bill Clinton’s slogan] ‘Putting People First,’ but the smarter elite managers have learned in the interlude that solid, measurable pledges have to be distinguished by a reserve’ tag that earmarks them for the bankrollers and backers.”
The Democrats have no monopoly on such manipulation in the two-party system. The Republicans have long practiced their own noxious version. Still, the division of labor between the two dominant corporate and imperial political entities in the US party system assigns the greater role to the Democrats when it comes to posing as the political arm of the working class majority, the poor, women, and minorities at the bottom of the nation’s steep and interrelated hierarchies of class, race, gender, ethnicity, and nationality. For the system-serving task of shutting down, containing, and co-opting popular social movements and channeling popular energies into the nation’s corporate-managed, narrow-spectrum, major-party, big money, and candidate centered electoral system, the Democrats are by far and away “the more effective evil” (Glen Ford’s phrase).