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The DNC Tried to Be Neutral. Now It Looks Biased.

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Senator Elizabeth Warren delivers remarks on the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, on July 28th, 2016, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Last Friday, the Democratic National Committee announced the line-ups for next week’s two presidential primary debates. Their efforts to appear neutral—setting transparent requirements to qualify, randomizing which candidates would appear which night—ended up producing alleged winners and losers, as pretty much always happens when a party organization plays a role in a contest.

Party attempts to appear unbiased, historically, have had a self-defeating nature to them. Political scientist Julia Azari and I have been working on a project for a while now about the development of democracy within political parties and the increasing expectation that party leadership is supposed to be a neutral arbiter. Arguments about party decisions needing to be democratic go back at least to the 1924 Democratic presidential nomination, when Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo ran in a dozen presidential primaries, came up short of the nomination, and excoriated the party for preventing him from fulfilling “the mandate of the people.” Hillary Clinton used similar sentiments when her expected nomination in 2008 didn’t materialize. And, of course, Bernie Sanders embraced the language of internal party democracy in 2016. Even when it was clear his nomination wasn’t going to happen, he said that calls for him to leave the race were “outrageously undemocratic.”

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