Scarecrows & Tweed: The Fabric of Democracy

Updated: Jul 3

In this article, a sort of spiritual follow-up to my previous piece, I’ll be taking a look at the concept of Tweedism, Scarecrow Democracy & who decides elections, policy and the candidates the electorate can vote on.

Before we begin, I would like to outline that, whilst the introduction to this piece sounds a bit ‘Info Wars’, it’s not – I promise! The concept of Tweedism is a legitimate area of political academic thought and this article is, I hope, a nice entry into that sphere of thinking.

If we cast our minds, initially, over to the Orient; specifically, towards Hong-Kong and China. The recent, and currently ongoing riots in Hong Kong, as well as a series of others (including the Umbrella Movement of 2014), had been, to varying extents, caused by the Chinese government’s interference with Hong Kongese politics. In particular, China’s direct influence over the Hong Kong elections.

The 2014 Umbrella Movement

To very briefly explain, instead of having free and fair elections for the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, the small nation elects their leader through a 1,200-member body known as the Election Committee. The Election Committee is elected but is done so with candidates coming from a variety of backgrounds – the largest of which are business leaders. These business leaders are inherently tied to Beijing and are thus, directed to vote in Beijing’s interests.

You may have read all that and feel a little confused. I was too, don’t worry. You don’t have to understand it.

…and that’s sort of the point.

Not to make it so difficult to understand that people don’t bother, but to severely dilute the power of the vote.

To paraphrase Larry Lessig, a chief academic on Tweedism, Hong Kong’s voting process is an election by election committee. An election committee, might I add, that offers little in the way of genuine representation of Hong Kong’s society, its classes or its interests. It more broadly represents that of the inner Chinese Communist Party.

A very Chinese invention

Tweedism is not called as such because of a confident Chinese thinker’s penchant for cheviot, but for America’s most infamous villain William “Boss” Tweed.

Tweed’s wealth and notoriety in 19th Century New York City gave him vested interests in politics. As a result, he once famously said: “I don’t care who does the electing, as long as I do the nominating”.

What was clear to Tweed, is that as long as you’re comfortable with whose name is on the ballot paper, you’ll be comfortable with the result.

Tweedism in Action

So, what’s clear is that Tweedism aims to create a political response to the needs of the Tweeds (i.e. the people with vested interests). Until now, this whole article’s been very abstract – very theoretical. Let’s take a look at Tweedism in, what was perceived at the time to be a functioning democracy.

Texas, 1923; the Democratic Party passed a statute declaring that only whites could vote in the state primary. Non-whites, of course, could vote in the Presidential election – anything less would be undemocratic – but they could not choose the nominee.

Now, it doesn’t take any sort of genius to work out what happens when a certain section of the electorate does not vote; their needs are not met politically. At the time, the Democratic Party were the only party in Texas, and therefore, when the Democrat’s nominee was not responsive to non-white voters, Tweedism had worked. It had cut off the non-white voters in Texas.

When taken at face value, looking at Texas in 1923, you would find that whites and non-whites had equal suffrage come elections. Only when knowing that non-whites had no influence over who was nominated for the election, do you find that equal suffrage between the two groups was merely an illusion.

Thank goodness we don’t have any of that going on today!

Well, hold your horses…

Cast your mind back to when that swathe of candidates announced their run for the Democratic nomination in the winter of 2016/2017; my count is 29. Compare that to the number that actually made it to the Iowa Caucus; 11.

Why on earth did 18 candidates drop out before a single ballot was cast? What would compel somebody to run for President, only to drop out before a single cross is penned next to their name?

In the words of Roger Waters: “Money!”.

If you don’t raise enough money, regardless of whether a vote has been cast or not, you’re not getting onto the ballot. In actual fact, the Democratic Party instituted minimum quotas for donations that candidates had to meet before being allowed onto a debate stage.

…and to make money, you often need to flaunt your politics to the rich, before the poor.

Unfortunately, the donations stage of a Presidential race is the primary before the primary. It’s the hurdle candidates have to jump, in order to get to onto the ballot. You require the wealthy’s endorsement of your candidacy before you get to the electorate.

Of course, in this primary cycle, we were treated to both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who both pledged not to take donations from ‘big money’ and special interest groups, but let’s be under no illusions; they’re outliers.

If it weren’t for Warren and Sanders’ name recognition, the growing tide of progressives in the United States and the soft radicalisation (Liberalism to Democratic Socialism) of American youth, they wouldn’t have made it onto the debate stage either. They both gained massive amounts of money from grassroots support.

Pete Buttigieg: Courted Big Money Interests

That said, candidates like Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Joe Biden all made moves towards big corporate donors to fund their campaigns. They passed the ‘preliminary primary’ the old-fashioned way.

I would argue, this is much of the reason that Sanders was labelled ‘unelectable’; he was not willing to flirt with big money for campaign success.

In short, there were concerns that the Republican machine would hoover up all the big donors, as well as Trump’s own war chest, and outspend the Democrats in the election.

In the same way that Democratic hopefuls in 1920s Texas would pitch to the white vote, modern Democratic hopefuls must pitch to the affluent vote. Thus, the corporatisation of the American left. When, in order to succeed, your campaign platform must be palatable to the wealthy, it’s unlikely to be anything radically left.

Democracy Awakening: Against Big Money Tweedism

What’s more, there is empirical data to back up this hypothesis. In a study carried out by Gilens and Page, it was found that policies proposals more favoured by the elite and special interest groups had a higher probability of passing into law. Likewise, those policy proposals viewed as unfavourable by the two groups had a lower probability of passing into law.

For the average voter, there is no correlation between favourability of policy and the likelihood of that policy becoming law.

The early primary process functions in such a way that the moniker of ‘the Ruling Class’ has never felt so aptly used.

A 1903 Cartoon Representation of the Democrats Keeping Bryan Out of the Nomination Field

Where do the scarecrows come into it?

So, Scarecrow Democracy is a similar concept to Tweedism, though not entirely the same.

The term was coined after a 1903 political cartoon caused a real hoot in the United States. William Jennings Bryan, a populist and fairly radical left-wing candidate attempted to run for the Democratic nomination, only to be conspired against by the party establishment.

As a result, the above cartoon was drawn, showing Bryan as a crow, with a scarecrow covered in states, and a farmer, symbolising the Democratic Party, carrying a shotgun, presumably ready to ‘remove’ the crow.

In effect, scarecrow democracy is the effect of Tweedism when run by party elites. I’ve written extensively about how undemocratic the Democratic Party actually is, especially by their use of ‘superdelegates’. In many ways, this was a precursor to the party’s later descent into undemocratic practices.

Ultimately, Tweedism and Scarecrow Democracy are two sides of the same coin; that it’s not about who the electorate choose, as long as you give them a choice that, regardless of the outcome, you’re content with.

Jeremy Corbyn & Tom Watson

At this point, it would be remiss of me not to mention the recent Labour Party leaks, in which it is alleged that certain Labour Party officials actively conspired against the party leadership in the run-up to the 2017 General Election, as well as deflecting the anti-Semitism claims onto Jeremy Corbyn, as opposed to the genuine culprits.

When party insiders plot to remove a leader, the fabric of the party's democracy is impaired. Too, the wider democracy that the party functions within is also undermined.

There can be no doubt, the actions of the inner Labour Party form a perfect example of Scarecrow Democracy and Tweedism. A faction of party bureaucrats made a concerted effort to undermine the leader, in order for him to be removed from the electoral field. In the same manner with which the Democrats nullified Willian Jennings Bryan, the Labour Party nullified Jeremy Corbyn. The only difference between the two was that the Democrats removed Bryan before the election took place, whereas the Labour Party undermined Corbyn throughout two elections. Whichever way you slice it, they both constitute Scarecrow Democracy.

Boss Tweed would be looking down fondly on those in the inner circle of the Labour Party right now…

In summary, the true evil of Tweedism and Scarecrow Democracy is that it contaminates healthy political processes and causes them to malfunction. Whether that be by failing to offer voters a direct choice in their leader, presenting a candidate for approval from one class before another, or conspiring to purge bothersome leaders from political authority, it hides in plain sight.

Tweedism in all forms is like a deadly virus; it has a long incubation period, in which it can be present, causing unremitting ruin without clear sign – but once its presence is revealed, the damage is already done.

The Politician Independent Newspaper, created in 2020