In a digital era, however, when secretive online campaigns using mega data driven by algorithms can potentially manipulate election outcomes, the threat to our democracy comes from a new and far more dangerous direction. (Photo by Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images)
Over the years much has made about the lobbyists and advisors who prowl the corridors of power in Washington D.C. Many seek publicity profiles in the hope it will convince potential clients and countries that they have high-level "access." Others cultivate their cable news appearances as pundits and commentators, relishing the limelight.
Yet what we have come to learn over time that the greater the media exposure, the less these individuals play a role in actually affecting the nation's policies and politics.
Consider the role of Michael Podhorzer.
According to published reports, Mr. Podhorzer is a long time senior advisor to the president of the AFL-CIO, one of the most powerful labor federations in the nation. There are some 57 unions under its umbrella and they represent some 12.5 million people. His fellow Democrats are reputed to call him a "wizard" for his skill in leveraging technology on behalf of the union's public policy agenda as well as their chosen candidates. Marry that communication technology with a field force of millions of union men and women and Mr. Podhorzer has a potent national weapon to wield in determining who will implement America's foreign and domestic policies and who might even be trying to undermine our Constitution (here, here and here).
Until a recent Time magazine exposé, he was very much out of sight, and deliberately so, as he provided strategic direction to the union. According to the Time profile he was also a key member of a group that applied enormous organizational and computing power to the task of electing their preferred candidates.
Over time, it would become obvious that former President Donald J. Trump was not their preferred candidate.
In our democracy, it is neither unusual nor inappropriate to create campaigns on behalf of a favored political party, public policies or individual candidates. Correctly, efforts have made to confront "dark money," where large amounts of cash are put into campaigns by individuals cloaked in deliberate anonymity. Dark Money, according to The New York Times, "is notoriously hard to track. Dark money is driving a privatization of politics, funding ads, voter turnout and lawsuits — things once left to campaigns and parties. One entity on the left, the Sixteen Thirty Fund, spent $410 million in 2020 — more than the Democratic National Committee. " [Emphasis in the original]
In a digital era, however, when secretive online campaigns using mega data driven by algorithms can potentially manipulate election outcomes, the threat to our democracy comes from a new and far more dangerous direction.
The Time expose' regarding the role of Mr. Podhorzer suggests a calculated strategy to ensure that Joe Biden would win on Election Day. Far removed from oversight, or the give and take of traditional American democracy, the article speaks to his skillful ability to apply massive computer power for the purpose of affecting voter behavior. Working in coordination with others who shared his goal, the Time report applies sunlight to his strategy, participants, and objectives. It reveals a skilled professional working far from public scrutiny. The current occupant of the White House underscores just how effective he and his colleagues were in 2020. One can only imagine their plans for the mid-terms.
Much has been written about the role of hostile nations seeking to influence American public policy through the use of social media, and masquerading as Americans questioning our values and national direction. Without firing a shot or launching a missile, our enemies seek to apply online digital strategies to unravel the fabric of our democracy. Our response has been to aggressively "out" those efforts and confront those who troll the American electorate. Yet the Time profile is a stunning reminder that the far bigger threat to our democratic future and our Constitution might lie within our own borders.
As Shakespeare suggested in the play Julius Caesar, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves..."
Lawrence Kadish serves on the Board of Governors of Gatestone Institute.