A Surprise Winner in the Democratic Presidential Debates for 2020

Bernie and Tulsi: the only candidates willing to call out the military-industrial complex

W.J. Astore

I watched the two Democratic debates this week.  Media outlets treat them as a horse race, announcing winners and losers.  So perhaps you heard Kamala Harris scored big-time against Joe Biden.  Or perhaps you heard Elizabeth Warren did well, or that Tulsi Gabbard generated lots of post-debate interest (Google searches and the like).  I will say that Beto O’Rourke was clearly unprepared (or over-prepared) and unable to speak clearly and meaningfully, so count him as a “loser.”

All that said, the clear winner wasn’t on the stage; it wasn’t even among the 20 debate participants.  The name of that clear winner: America’s military-industrial complex and its perpetual wars.

Sure, there was some criticism of the Afghan and Iraq wars, especially by candidates like Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard.  But there was no criticism of enormous “defense” budgets ($750 billion and rising, with true outlays exceeding a trillion a year), and virtually no mention of Saudi Arabia and the war in Yemen.  (Tulsi briefly mentioned the Saudis and was shut down; Bernie mentioned the war in Yemen and was ignored.)

The only direct mention of the military-industrial complex that I recall hearing was by Bernie Sanders.  Otherwise, the tacit assumption was that soaring defense budgets are appropriate and, at least in these debates, unassailable.

Bernie and Tulsi also mentioned the threat of nuclear war, with Bernie making a passing reference to the estimated cost of nuclear forces modernization (possibly as high as $1.7 trillion).  Again, he had no time to follow up on this point.

NBC’s talking heads asked the questions, so blame them in part for no questions on the MI Complex and the enormous costs of building world-ending nuclear weapons.  Indeed, the talking heads were much more concerned with “gotcha” questions against Bernie, which attempted to paint him as a tax-and-spend socialist who doesn’t care about diversity.  Yes, that really was NBC’s agenda.

Always, Democrats are asked, “How will you pay for that?”  You know: “extravagances” like more affordable education, better health care, a tax cut that helps workers, or investments in job training programs and infrastructure.  But when it comes to wars and weapons, there are never any questions about money.  The sky’s the limit.

A reminder to Democrats: Donald Trump won in 2016 in part because he was willing to denounce America’s wasteful wars and to challenge defense spending (even though he’s done nothing as president to back up his campaign critique).  We need true Peace Democrats with spine, so I remain bullish on candidates like Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard.

Hopefully, in future debates Bernie, Tulsi, and others will call for major reforms of our military and major cuts to our bloated Pentagon budget.  But don’t count on that issue being raised by the mainstream media’s talking heads.

Bonus Winner: I can’t recall a single mention of Israel and the Palestinians, not even in the context of framing a peace plan.  No mention of America’s role in Venezuela either.  The imperial and aggressive neo-con agenda on foreign policy went almost unchallenged, but kudos to Tulsi Gabbard for calling out the “chickenhawks” (her word, and the right one) in the Trump administration.

13 thoughts on “A Surprise Winner in the Democratic Presidential Debates for 2020

  1. Election funding is the #1 issue because it is behind the fact that we the people have so little influence on what our government does when legislation is ruled by those who “invest” in lobbyists to monitor it 24/7, ready to appear instantly in any legislator’s office when any detail is not to their liking, and even to write bills wherever possible. The MIC is only part, though a big one, of this corrupt system.

    All the big ideas will go nowhere if this is not changed. No Republican that I know of has ever spoken a word against our corrupt campaign financing system and except for Gillibrand no one in the debates said a word about it (though I didn’t hear the public question sections)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “During the intervals between elections the political existence of the citizenry is relegated to a shadow citizenship of virtual participation. Instead of participating in power, the virtual citizen is invited to have ‘opinions’: measurable responses to questions predesigned to elicit them.” — Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism

    Or, as I observed in a terza rima sonnet seven years ago:

    The Circus that Wouldn’t Leave Town

    From time to time, the circus once arrived,
    Quadrennial in its appointed rounds.
    Yet somehow it has artfully contrived

    To never leave — bombarding us with sounds
    And sights so lurid and insistent that
    Whatever tripe The Candidate expounds

    Begins to clog the arteries with fat,
    Inducing aneurisms in the soul
    Through endless touting of a puerile spat.

    Consultants endlessly conduct a poll
    Which tells us what they wish for us to hear:
    That folks like us will play our scripted role.

    Commercial ads have made that crystal clear.
    If only fright were all we had to fear

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2012


    1. Your poem, Mr Murry, “The Circus that Wouldn’t Leave Town”, is absolutely brilliant.


  3. I didn’t watch either of the so-called “debates” because I knew in advance that Tulsi Gabbard would only get a few minutes to make the case for her (at-least-marginally) anti-war candidacy. Furthermore, I doubted that she would get even a single minute to castigate the US “legal” system for its despicable treatment of Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning. So, I await future debates wherein she might get enough time to elaborate upon her principled positions. Personally, though, I think she will have to build her following on alternative-media platforms so as to circumvent the concentrated corporate media’s predictable strategy of simply ignoring her and the subject of predatory corporate imperialism entirely.

    Anyway, as regards the first corporate-sponsored cattle call, I found the following Internet article of possible interest to Tulsi Gabbard supporters. Tulsi Gabbard’s date with history: Can Aloha State oddball lead Dems to reckon with war and peace?, by Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com (June 27, 2019).

    Article Subheading: “Gabbard’s a peculiar character who will never be president. But she might have just done her party a huge favor.”

    Concluding Paragraph: “So in a sense Gabbard just did the Democratic Party a huge favor by exposing one of its worst internal failings. No one besides her in the 2020 field is likely to talk about war-and-peace issues unless they have to — and as Tim Ryan made clear, whenever they do it’s likely to go south fast. But if the Aloha State oddball’s moment of internet fame compels the party to confront the fact that the old foreign-policy orthodoxy of soft-focus imperialism and ever-widening secret war is massively unpopular, morally bankrupt and financially ruinous — and that there’s no way to create a more just world without changing that — she may have done more for human history than anyone else on that stage.”

    As for the second of these vapid and meaningless exercises in Shrek-and-Donkey “Pick Me! Pick Me!” contrived swamp-ownership fairy tales, that will take more time, and so I’ll defer discussion of that to another comment.


  4. As promised (or threatened) see the following take on the second Democratic party dog-and-pony show by my favorite Australian rogue journalist: Kamala Harris Is An Oligarch’s Wet DreamBy Caitlin Johnstone, caitlinjohnstone.com (June 28, 2019).

    Key synopsis:

    Harris won the debate despite fully exposing herself for the corporate imperialist she is in the midst of that very debate. While answering a question about climate change she took the opportunity to attack Trump on foreign policy, not for his insane and dangerous hawkishness but for not being hawkish enough, on both North Korea and Russia.

    If I recall correctly, the previous Democratic party candidate for President tried that same run-to-the-right-of-the-Republicans thing and it resulted in the Republican candidate, political rookie Donald Trump, running to the left (back towards the true center of the country) and winning. But the corporate Democratic party sell-outs — like Senator Harris — simply cannot cease from doubling down on the most stupid political strategy that I’ve ever witnessed in my seven decades of life upon Planet Earth. As Caitlin Johnstone continues, quoting the “winner” of the night’s mud-wrestling extravaganza:

    “You asked what is the greatest national-security threat to the United States. It’s Donald Trump,” Harris said. “You want to talk about North Korea, a real threat in terms of its nuclear arsenal. But what does he do? He embraces Kim Jong Un, a dictator, for the sake of a photo op. Putin. You want to talk about Russia? He takes the word of the Russian president over the word of the American intelligence community when it comes to a threat to our democracy and our elections.”

    Harris is everything the US empire’s unelected power establishment wants in a politician: charismatic, commanding, and completely unprincipled. In that sense she’s like Obama, only better.

    This gets worse, much worse (or better and better for he whose parents named him Donald Trump), but I’ll have to elaborate on that in other supportive comments.


    1. When I said that it gets worse for the right-wing corporate Democrats and better for the right-wing (but talking “jobs” and stuff to the working class) Republican, Donald Trump, I meant incredible blunders like this:

      Carter drinks the cool aid – Former Pres. Jimmy Carter calls President Trump an “Illegitimate President”, By C-Span Posted June 28, 2019.

      ‘He was put into office because the Russians interfered on his behalf,’ Carter said.

      “I think a full investigation would show that Trump didn’t actually win the election in 2016. He lost the election, and he was put into office because the Russians interfered on his behalf,” the former president, who served between 1977 and 1981, said at a panel hosted by the Carter Center in Leesburg, Va.

      I used to have some respect for former President Carter, but this unmitigated horse shit about “the Russians” has disabused me of that charitable opinion. I mean, to think that those evil “Russians” forced the undemocratic electoral college on poor stupid Americans back towards the end of the eighteenth century, why, that just makes my aspirin-thinned blood boil. And when even more of those nefarious “Russians” hypnotized laid-off American workers into loathing the very name “Clinton” because of NAFTA and other livelihood-destroying corporatist policies, well, that indicates a level of political sophistication regarding the United States that experienced Democratic politicians named Clinton and Obama could only wish that they possessed.

      But this gets still worse (as I will detail in another comment) — only not for President Trump who owed his first election to corrupt Democratic party arrogance and will most likely owe his re-election to the same demented demographic — excuse me, I meant “Russians.”


      1. I missed the debased and depressing “debates” mentioned in this article because my wife only allows me a daily five-minute bullshit ration from CNN International. So I mostly did some reading to pass the time: especially Michael Parenti’s <The Face of Imperialism, Arthur M. Schlesinger’s The Imperial Presidency, and Alexis de Toqueville’s Democracy in America (Volume One of which I discovered in a Goodwill store in Portland, Oregon, for $3.99).

        But another day came around and, sure enough, President Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 conference in Osaka, Japan, horrifying the talking heads at CNN’s New Day program (June 28, 2019). See transcript here.

        I didn’t even get to my allowable bullshit dosage of 5 minutes before switching to the movie channel. Better a few minutes of “The Avengers” or “Transformers” or “Star Trek” than what came over the airwaves as “news” from the United States. In particular, the smug anchor hosts of the program, Alisyn Camerota and John Berman, along with some raving loon named Michael Smerconish made even Donald Trump look sane and reasonable by comparison. Hard to do that, but they managed. These people have no idea what lunatics they look like to intelligent people looking at the United States from abroad.

        At any rate, since I had mentioned Senator Kamala Harris and her reported Nixon/McCarthy red-baiting impersonation during the second “debate,” I went back over the CNN program transcript later to see how far concentrated corporate media would go in peddling complete nonsense about “Russians” of absolutely no interest to working Americans struggling with (sometimes multiple) low-paying jobs, mountains of debt, and lousy health care. The hook from the cunning, evil Russians and their dupe Donald Trump to the Democratic party’s “survivor” game-show imitation came as follows:

        SMERCONISH: “The best line, perhaps the only memorable line from Andrew Yang last night at the debate is the line in which he said that the Russians are laughing their asses off after having hacked our election. Well, Andrew Yang was half right because it’s both Putin and Trump who are laughing their asses off at what happened in 2016, and that’s an outrage.”

        Pathetic. Weak. Lame. This program and its coverage of the “news” plays right into President Trump’s anti-media-witch-hunt argument. The cynic in me suspects that the corporate Democrats fully expect to lose in 2020 and have already begun preparing the same narrative excuses that they trotted out after propelling Donald Trump to victory in 2016. The corporate Democrats don’t really care if they win, as long as they get paid: by the same billionaire donor class that buys the Republicans first before renting them as an afterthought.

        But Dumb keeps getting dumber with the corrupt corporate Democrats, as discussed by Alex Christoforou and Alexander Mercouris of The Duran. See: Peak Stupidity! Democrats Subpoena Robert Mueller (Video), The Duran Quick Take: Episode 220 (June 28, 2019). Further developments as they develop, fellow Crimestoppers. As they say aboard ships at sea in a high swell: “The plot sickens”


    2. Mike: My wife and I have been talking about where the corporate DNC Dems will turn as Biden implodes. We’re thinking Kamala Harris or Cory Booker. Of course, you can count out Bernie, Tulsi, and Lizzie. The corporate Dems will never turn to a true Progressive.

      A Harris/Booker ticket might be a dream for the DNC, showcasing “diversity” optically but not in policy. Together they’ll fake left and run right, same as ever.


  5. I would be interested in learning how many millions of other Americans fully agree with Mr Astore’s blog on the television “debates”. Concerning the process of selecting a candidate for public office, it seems to be an unwritten law of American politics that the more urgently a phenomenon is in need of reform, the less likely it is ever to be reformed.


  6. I just caught this at the Moon of Alabama web site (June 28, 2019). Here you have the explanation of the Democratic party’s 2016 electoral losses, Senator Harris, CNN “News,” and Michael Smerconish, straight from President Vladimir Putin’s own political life, experiences, and observations:

    Putin explains why U.S. President Donald Trump was elected:

    Has anyone ever given a thought to who actually benefited and what benefits were gained from globalisation, the development of which we have been observing and participating in over the past 25 years, since the 1990s?

    China has made use of globalisation, in particular, to pull millions of Chinese out of poverty.

    What happened in the US, and how did it happen? In the US, the leading US companies — the companies, their managers, shareholders and partners — made use of these benefits. [..] The middle class in the US has not benefited from globalisation; it was left out when this pie was divided up.

    The Trump team sensed this very keenly and clearly, and they used this in the election campaign. It is where you should look for reasons behind Trump’s victory, rather than in any alleged foreign interference.

    How clear. How sensible. How true. It sounds very much like what Chinese billionaire Jack Ma said at Davos, Switzerland, a year or two ago. American corporations made tons of money shipping American jobs to China. They just didn’t distribute any of those profits to the American people. They kept everything for themselves. So, as the lawyers say: Cui Bono? Who benefits? Ask and answer that question and the bankruptcy of the American political/economic system becomes hardly debatable at all.


    1. Apologies. The italics quoting President Putin’s observations should have ended after “… foreign interference.” The final paragraph should begin with “How clear” and continue in regular type-face.


  7. Remember when people laughed at Ann Coulter when she said Trump would be the Republican nominee in 2016? She’s not always crazy; consider her words here:

    Right-wing commentator Ann Coulter, who tweeted “Go Tulsi!” after Gabbard tussled with Ryan over Afghanistan onstage during the debate, said she watched the debate with a liberal and a moderate on Wednesday and all three preferred Gabbard over the rest of the field. “It’s really astounding that Tulsi is the only Democrat running frontally and unambiguously as anti-war,” Coulter wrote in an email, calling the Democrats “as relentless a war party as the Republicans at their worst. Only more feckless.” Asked if she would consider voting for Gabbard either during the Democratic primary or even in the general election against President Trump if she won the nomination, Coulter replied “possibly both.”



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