Last night’s Democratic debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in Milwaukee hit the usual notes for these two candidates (the transcript is here). Clinton is all about competence and being ready on “day one” in the Oval office, whereas Bernie seeks a political revolution to galvanize the people. But a few telling items came up, mostly toward the end of the debate.
1. Hillary accused Bernie of being too critical of President Obama, of not supporting him, of suggesting he was “weak,” and of not respecting Obama’s legacy of results, especially the Affordable Care Act. This was a “low blow” for Bernie, who explained that he fully supported Obama, considered him to be a friend, and that he did indeed respect the president’s accomplishments. Besides that, Bernie noted, “one of us ran against Barack Obama [in 2008]. I was not that candidate.”
2. Bernie actually dared to suggest the Defense Department’s budget had to be given careful scrutiny, noting that the DoD has yet to pass an audit. In these days of issuing blank checks to the Pentagon, it was a significant moment.
3. Bernie took Hillary to task, successfully I believe, for her cozy relationship with Henry Kissinger. In my view, this was the most important moment of the night. With respect to U.S. foreign policy, Hillary promises continuity with neo-conservative principles of American interventionism and preemptive war. Bernie, even as he promises to crush the Islamic State, is far less enamored with neo-con agendas and peace through aggression.
Here is what Bernie had to say about Kissinger:
“I happen to believe that Henry Kissinger was one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country. I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend. I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger. And in fact, Kissinger’s actions in Cambodia, when the United States bombed that country, overthrew Prince Sihanouk, created the instability for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge to come in, who then butchered some 3 million innocent people, one of the worst genocides in the history of the world. So count me in as somebody who will not be listening to Henry Kissinger…”
“Kissinger was one of those people during the Vietnam era who talked about the domino theory. Not everybody remembers that. You do. I do. The domino theory, you know, if Vietnam goes, China, da, da, da, da, da, da, da. That’s what he talked about, the great threat of China.”
“And then, after the war, this is the guy who, in fact, yes, you’re right, he opened up relations with China, and now pushed various type of trade agreements, resulting in American workers losing their jobs as corporations moved to China.”
“The terrible, authoritarian, Communist dictatorship he warned us about, now he’s urging companies to shut down and move to China. Not my kind of guy.”
Hillary defended her relationship with Kissinger, just as she defended herself from suggestions she’d be influenced by big money donors. In both cases, she came across as the establishment candidate, one who is most comfortable in the corridors of power, schmoozing with other power brokers and players.
In sum, even as Hillary attempts to appropriate some of Bernie’s anti-establishment rhetoric, her actions demonstrate how much she’s ensconced within the establishment camp, especially when it comes to U.S. foreign policy.
For voters looking for change in November, Hillary promises only an amped up version of more of the same.