Counterpunch, May 27, 2016
any Bernie Sanders activists and supporters are understandably disgusted by the contemptuous mistreatment they and their candidate have received from the corporate-Clintonite Democratic Party and its numerous media allies. The examples of this disrespect and abuse include:
The discourteous rapid-fire inquisition that the New York Daily News editorial board conducted with Sanders and then released as an interview transcript prior to the New York Democratic presidential primary last April.
Hillary Clinton telling MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough that the Daily News grilling “raise[d] a lot of questions” about Sanders’ qualification for the presidency.
Bill Clinton in New Hampshire calling Sanders and his team “hermetically sealed” purists, hypocrites, and thieves and mocking Sanders as “the champion of all things small and the enemy of all things big.”
Hillary “proving that there is nothing and no one she won’t sacrifice on the altar of her political ambition” (Mark Finkelstein) by sending her daughter Chelsea out to absurdly charge that Sanders’ single-payer health care plan would “strip millions and millions and millions of people of their health insurance.”
Former top John Kerry and Obama communications strategist David Wade using his perch at the widely read online political journal Politico to call Sanders “the zombie candidate” – a “doomed” challenger at risk of “becom[ing] Trump’s best ghost-writer for the general election” and a de facto “Nader” who will destroy his party’s nominee with “friendly fire attacks” (establishment Democrats cling to the self-serving myth Ralph Nader is to be blamed for George W. Bush’s victory over the listless corporate Democrat Al Gore in 2000)
Hillary’s prizefighter Paul Krugman viciously and absurdly likening Sanders’ common-sense and majority-backed health insurance proposal to “a standard Republican tax-cut plan” and accusing Sanders of “deep voodoo economics” and “unicorn politics.” (Krugman likes to call Sanders’ supporters “dead-enders.”)
The fake-progressive feminist icon Gloria Steinem’s curious claim that young women were voting for Sanders because “when you’re [a] young [woman], you’re thinking ‘where are the boys?’ The boys are with Bernie.”
The repeated suggestion by Hillary and her surrogates, staffers, and allies that Sanders’ moderately progressive domestic policy proposals are “impractical” and excessively idealistic – relevant only to silly young people who need to learn to trust more balanced and down-to-earth elites (people like the dollar-drenched neoliberals Bill and Hillary Clinton) who to use the standard fake-progressive Democratic Party mantra) “know how get things done” (make policy with right-wing Republicans, that is) in Washington.
The ludicrous, power-worshipping Rolling Stone publisher Jan S. Wenner (the man who took childish fake-progressive ObamaLust to frightening new heights in 2008) insultingly and inaccurately describing Sanders as just “a candidate of anger.” (“But it is not enough to be a candidate of anger. Anger is not a plan…”)
The endless stream of establishment “liberal” talking heads and pundits (with Krugman as the leader of the pack) across “mainstream” (corporate) U.S. media who have treated Sanders’ neo-New Deal agenda as a radically outlandish pipedream beyond the pale of serious discussion.
The constantly repeated claim that Sanders’ lacks Hillary’s ability to defeat Trump despite one match up poll after another showing Bernie doing substantially better than Mrs. Clinton against The Donald.
The repeated false charge that Sanders’ supporters at the Nevada state Democratic Party conventions became a raging mob of “chair-throwing” thugs on par with the worst hooligans at Donald Trump’s rallies.
Clintons’ refusal to debate Bernie in California, a clear statement that “Zombie” Sanders no longer merits the time of day as far as she and the party establishment are concerned.
It hasn’t just been about insults, put-downs, and smears. There’s also the Clinton-captive Democratic Party’s systematic and authoritarian distortion and, yes, rigging of the primary nomination process at the local, state, and national levels. There are abundant reasons to believe that Hillary has benefitted from electoral and administrative shenanigans across the (seemingly endless) primary season. The fixing process was evident in Las Vegas recently, when the Nevada Democratic Party chair “shut down debate behind a screen of uniformed police” after the party excluded 58 Sanders delegates with sudden “rules changes” clearly made to block Sanders’ rightful claim to have won Nevada. No wonder a Sanders delegate grabbed a chair and thought about tossing it.
How openly perverse a mockery of democracy is it that a significant portion of Hillary’s convention delegate lead over Sanders – enough to give her the nomination without a contest on the convention floor – derives from the 525 explicitly unelected and so-called superdelegates pledged to her before Sanders even declared his candidacy?
Adding more insult to insult and injury, Hillary plays the timeworn elite Democratic game of fake-progressive and pseudo-populist posing, trying to steal Sanders’ rhetorical thunder on her left while smilingly knifing him in the back.
The Hate Goes Back
Bernie supporters are right to be upset by the malicious and dirty ways that their candidate, and his campaign have been treated by the Clintons and others atop the dismal dollar-drenched and deeply conservative Democratic Party – and by the Clintons’ many friends in the dominant U.S. corporate and commercial media. At the same time, younger Sanders supporters above all need to understand that this is nothing new. It’s all just the latest reflection of the bottomless hatred that deeply conservative establishment and neoliberal Democrats have long had for left-leaning, “very liberal” (the pollsters’ term), and progressive/social-democratic Democrats. The atrocious and explicitly anti-democratic “superdelegates” were created by party elites precisely to prevent someone like Sanders – an actual progressive Democrat – from getting the party’s presidential nomination. It was an authoritarian party response to the left-leaning and antiwar George McGovern presidential campaign of 1972.
Democratic National Committee operatives and funders have long and regularly worked to marginalize progressive and seriously antiwar candidates in the party’s primaries. Doing that was one of Congressman and future Obama White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel’s top jobs in 2006.
Two years earlier, conservative Democratic Party operatives forbade the open expression of anti-Iraq War sentiment on the part of delegates to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, where John “Reporting for Duty” Kerry pledged to conduct the criminal occupation of Mesopotamia more effectively than George W. Bush. Prior to the convention, Kerry gave a nice raised middle figure to progressives in his party by announcing at a New York City fundraiser that “I am not a redistribution Democrat.”
One of Emmanuel’s jobs as Obama’s top assistant was to occasionally attend regular Tuesday night gatherings of Washington’s “progressive [liberal] movement” leaders. Big Brother Rhambo would scream and curse at the labor, environmentalist, human rights, and civil rights chieftains who dared to target conservative Congressional Democrats. “Anyone who went after Democrats,” Emmanuel said, was “fucking stupid.”
Hurting the People Who Voted Them In: Obama and the First Two Clinton Terms
When tens of thousands of progressive Democrats and others swarmed to protest the arch-Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union legislation in late February and early March of 2011, the mainstream Democrat Barack Obama did not deign to issue one word of support for their cause. Wisconsin’s Democratic Party leadership dismantled the protest movement and channeled its energies into a doomed campaign to recall Walker and replace him with a lame business Democrat (the listless Tommy Barret) who Walker had already trounced two years earlier.
Plenty of progressive Democrats joined actual anti-capitalists (like myself) and others in the many hundreds of Occupy Wall Street camps that were shut down with police state force by local Democratic Party-run governments across with the country. The repression was conducted with assistance from Obama’s Department of Homeland of Security, working in tandem with the nation’s leading financial institutions in the fall and early winter of 2011. As Naomi Wolff noted in The Guardian one year later, citing documents discovered by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, “the violent crackdown on Occupy last fall – so mystifying at the time – was not just coordinated at the level of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and local police. The crackdown, which involved, as you may recall, violent arrests, group disruption, canister missiles to the skulls of protesters, people held in handcuffs so tight they were injured, people held in bondage till they were forced to wet or soil themselves – was coordinated with the big banks themselves.”
Speaking of Obama and the financial elite, Obama held an interesting gathering with some of his rich friends at an event called The Wall Street Journal CEO Council a year after using Occupy’s rhetoric (among other things) to trounce Mitt “Mr. 1%” Romney. “When you go to other countries,” Obama said, “the political divisions are so much more stark and wider. Here in America, the difference between Democrats and Republicans–we’re fighting inside the 40-yard lines…People call me a socialist sometimes. But no, you’ve got to meet real socialists. (Laughter.)…I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health care reform is based on the private marketplace.”
That was (among other things) yet another raised corporate Democratic middle finger aimed at progressive Democrats and everyone to their left. Now Obama hopes to cap his fake-progressive presidency and seal his “legacy” by securing post-election lame duck Congressional passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a secretive, richly corporatist 12-nation Pacific “free trade” (investor rights) agreement that promises to badly undermine wages, job security, environmental protections, and popular governance at home and abroad.
Obama’s time in the White House office has been a big wet kiss to the super-rich and powerful (whose wealth has concentrated yet further under his presidency) combined with a raised middle finger pointed in the direction of the party’s progressives and the nation’s working class majority. As the investigative researcher Eric Zuesse noted last summer, “Under Presidents G.W. Bush and Barack Obama, economic inequality in America has been more extreme, for more years, than under any Presidents in all of the previous U.S. history. But, at least, Bush didn’t pretend to care about it. Obama does. He pretended to a concern for justice which he never really had; he was always merely faking liberalism.”
Faking liberalism while serving the wealthy few was also a defining aspect of Bill and Hillary’s first two terms as co-presidents. During their first eight years atop the executive branch, the Clintons advanced the neoliberal agenda beneath faux-progressive cover in ways that no Republican president could have pulled off. Channeling Ronald Reagan by declaring that “the era of big government is over,” Bill Clinton collaborated with the right wing Congress of his time to end poor families’ entitlement to basic minimal family cash assistance. Hillary backed this vicious welfare “reform” (elimination), which has proved disastrous for millions of disadvantaged Americans.
Mr. Clinton earned the gratitude of Wall Street and corporate America by passing the arch-global-corporatist North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), by repealing the Glass-Steagall Act (which had mandated a necessary separation between commercial deposit and investment banking), and by de-regulating the burgeoning super-risky and high-stakes financial derivatives sector. He knew the score from day one of his presidency. As the famed Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward noted in his 1994 book The Agenda, Clinton said the following just weeks after winning the 1992 election: “we’re Eisenhower Republicans here…. We stand for lower deficits, free trade, and the bond market. Isn’t that great?” Clinton added that his post-election policy direction would “help the bond market” and “hurt the people who voted us in.”
The Clintons certainly do know how to get things done.
Hillary took the lead role in the White House’s efforts to pass a corporate-friendly version of “health reform.” Along with the big insurance companies the Clintons deceptively railed against, the “co-presidents” decided from the start to exclude the popular health care alternative – single payer – from the national health care “discussion.” (Obama would do the same thing in 2009.)
“David, tell me something interesting.” That was then First Lady Hillary Clinton’s weary and exasperated response – as head of the White House’s health reform initiative – to Harvard medical professor David Himmelstein in 1993. Himmelstein was head of Physicians for a National Health Program. He had just told her about the remarkable possibilities of a comprehensive, single-payer “Canadian style” health plan, supported by more than two-thirds of the U.S. public. Beyond backing by a citizen super-majority, Himmelstein noted, single-payer would provide comprehensive coverage to the nation’s 40 million uninsured while retaining free choice in doctor selection and being certified by the Congressional Budget Office as “the most cost-effective plan on offer.”
Anti-Progressive Neoliberal Trailblazers
There was no dishonesty in Hillary’s dismissive remark. Consistent with her neoliberal DLC world view, she really was bored and irritated by Himmelstein’s pitch. What the First Lady advanced instead of the Canadian system that bored her was a hopelessly complex and secretly developed system called “managed competition.” (It would be left to Obama to get fake-progressive, corporate- and “market”-friendly health insurance reform done.)
The contempt that Hillary shares with Bill, Rahm, and countless other top corporate Democrats for progressives in “their” party’s ranks should not be underestimated. In 1964, when Mrs. Clinton was 18, she worked for the arch-conservative Republican Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign. Asked about that high school episode on National Public Radio (NPR) in 1996, then First Lady Hillary said “That’s right. And I feel like my political beliefs are rooted in the conservatism that I was raised with. I don’t recognize this new brand of Republicanism that is afoot now, which I consider to be very reactionary, not conservative in many respects. I am very proud that I was a Goldwater girl.”
It was a telling reflection. The First Lady acknowledged that her ideological world view was still rooted in the anti-progressive conservatism of her family of origin. Her problem with the reactionary Republicanism afoot in the U.S. during the middle 1990s was that it was “not conservative in many respects.” This was the language of the Democratic Leadership Conference (DLC) – the right-wing Eisenhower Republican (at leftmost) tendency that worked to push the Democratic Party further to the Big Business-friendly right and away from its progressive base. Bill and Hillary helped trail-blaze that plutocratic “New Democrat” turn in Arkansas during the late 1970s and 1980.
Hillary can pretend to be against the TPP for vote-getting (and progressive Democrat-pleasing) purposes in the primary season. Top corporate lobbyists know that this is just populism-manipulating politics as usual and that she can be counted on to advance the “free trade” agenda once she gets back into the White House. As Secretary of State (2009-2013), Hillary repeatedly voiced strong support of the TPP. In Australia in November of 2012, she said that “TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements for open free, transparent, [and]fair trade…” She has already suggested that she will put the arch-neoliberal Goldman Sachs Democrat Bill Clinton in charge of White House economic policy once she returns.
Why are the Hillary campaign and its allies in the DNC so arrogantly disrespectful towards Sanders and his followers, even as the Senator from Vermont continues to rack up primary victories and come in with more than 40 percent of the vote? Don’t they worry that their contempt will make it more difficult for them to garner votes from Bernie’s millions of followers in the general election? (By some polling estimates, close to a third of Bernie’s backers won’t vote for her). “Unless Clinton is able to convince a large proportion of Sanders supporters to vote for her,” a progressive Democrat writes in the liberal weekly The Nation, “she’s unlikely to win in November.”
The Clintonites are calculating, I think, that identity politics and Trump’s related high negatives will hold the day. They expect The Donald to be so toxic to female, nonwhite, and immigrant voters as to make his victory impossible. They are banking also on lots of crossover votes and funding from Republicans who can’t stand Trump. They are counting on enough Bernie supporters acting in accord with Sanders’ advance promise to deliver his voters to the party’s eventual nominee (Hillary) in the name of blocking the horrible Republican Party (recently described by Noam Chomsky as possibly “the most dangerous organization in human history”) – a promise they expect Sanders to deliver on soon and during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this summer. And they expect the ugliness they’ve spewed at Sanders and his supporters and the related hostility that many progressive Democrats feel for the Clintons and the DNC to slip down Orwell’s memory hole once the quadrennial extravaganza boils down to either Hillary or Donald (two of the most widely disliked people in the nation and on Earth).
Don’t Forget the Hate – and Return It
But don’t forget the hate – the sheer unmitigated contempt that elite corporate Democrats from the Clintons on down feel for progressives in the ranks of “their” party, and indeed for anyone who challenges their superior wisdom and right to rule. As Ron Fournier noted in The Atlantic last February, “there has always been a [dark] side of the Clintons. They can’t fathom why anybody would challenge their motives, doubt their veracity, or criticize their policies. The Clintons’ self-conceptions are yoked to their sense of public service and joint commitment to making lives better—and they believe their ends justify their means…If you’re not for them, you’re not just an opponent—you’re beneath contempt.”
(Making lives better? As the economist Robert Pollin noted in the progressive Democratic journal The Nation earlier this year: “Clintonomics was a disaster for most Americans…Under Bill Clinton, Wall Street created a ruinous bubble, while workers lost wages and power… Bill Clinton’s presidency accomplished almost nothing to improve conditions for working people and the poor on a sustained basis. Gestures to the poor and working class were slight and back-handed, while wages for the majority remained below their level of a generation prior. Wealth at the top exploded with the Wall Street bubble. But the stratospheric rise in stock prices and the debt-financed consumption and investment booms produced a mortgaged legacy. The financial unraveling began even as Clinton was basking in praise for his economic stewardship.”)
I sensed the hate – and left the Democratic Party – decades ago. I wouldn’t vote for a “right-wing fanatic” (Arun Gupta) like Hillary Clinton – an arch-imperial war-mongering enemy of workers and friend of Wall Street – for less than $ 225,000 (the price of just one of Hillary’s Goldman Sachs speeches in 2013), four-fifths of which I would give away to radical working class and environmentalist activists. Personally, I recommend that young Sanders supporters return the contempt and refuse to act on Sanders’ forthcoming call for them to play the game of Lesser Evils. That toxic, viciously circular, and self-fulfilling game is part of how to we got in current big tangle of a situation wherein the top 1 percent owns more than 90 percent of the nation’s wealth along with most of government and the media while their soulless and cancerous profits system (capitalism) pushes humans and other living things over the edge of economic, military, authoritarian, racist, sexist and (last but not least) ecological catastrophe. “If voting changed anything,” the great American anarchist Emma Goldman once said, “they’d make it illegal.”
That said, there’s nothing wrong with lodging a Left protest vote, without electoral illusion, beyond the Democrats and Republicans, once aptly described by Upton Sinclair as “two wings of the same bird of prey.” Walk into that “coffin of class consciousness” (Alan Dawley) called the American voting booth and vote as if it might give life, not death (it would take a major and overdue Constitutional overhaul for that to happen) if you want. Be my guest. It takes all of two minutes. Then walk back out and turn to the real and more urgent politics of radical grassroots movement-building and revolutionary disruption. That’s every day work. One thing is clear: we will not vote ourselves out of this mess. You can take that to the bank.