The Democratic Debates, Part 10: Goin’ to Carolina

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Before things got ugly

W.J. Astore

Last night’s debate from South Carolina had much sound and fury, signifying nothing.  Early on, the moderators lost control, and the candidates (or “contestants,” as Bloomberg called them) interrupted and shouted over each other most of the night.  The overall impression was a Democratic Party without a core message; the overall winner was Donald Trump, who was hardly criticized (and indeed he was praised by Bloomberg for allegedly rebuilding the military).

As usual, the mainstream media (MSM), this time CBS, came off poorly.  As an old friend quipped to me, the MSM is clearly a Russian asset.  The usual “gotcha” questions were aimed at Bernie: Why does Russia support you; Why do you criticize Israel — the implication being that Bernie is a self-hating Jew; Will your programs bankrupt America; Is America ready to elect a socialist; and so on.

The so-called moderates like Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg were given plenty of time to make their case, and no “gotcha” questions were aimed at them.  Still, no candidate stood out in a positive light, which overall is a win for the front-runner, Bernie Sanders.

In fact, Bernie had a moment of courage (at least for this crowd) when he dared to criticize American foreign policy for its one-sided support of Israel as well as past interventions on the behalf of authoritarian dictators in places like Chile in 1973 as well as Iran in 1953.  Naturally, he had little time to make his points, and his critique of the Saudis and their authoritarian record was drowned out.  But, again, he alone of the candidates on that stage was willing to speak some unpopular truths to the American people, so kudos to him.

All night long, Bernie’s fellow “contestants” tried to paint him as a radical red.  But, as Bernie himself said, what’s so radical about single-payer health care, a higher minimum wage, and free college tuition in state schools?  It’s not like Bernie is calling for a government takeover of the means of production, i.e. real socialism.  However, the debate moderators were not about to make any fine distinctions, or any distinctions at all, between Bernie’s sensible calls for moderate reforms to crony capitalism and rabid communism.  And so the debate went nowhere.

Anyway, here’s a quick take on the seven candidates contestants:

Joe Biden: Once again, Biden came off as angry.  His message, such as it is, was that we need to return to the good old days of Obama.

Mike Bloomberg: Smug, arrogant, and dishonest, Bloomberg almost blurted out that he’d bought the new 2018 Democratic class in Congress.  It was his most honest moment of the night.

Pete Buttigieg: Smug, arrogant, and dishonest, Mayor Pete is a fresh-faced Ted Cruz.  Lyin’ Ted — meet Lyin’ Pete.

Amy Klobuchar: She said the biggest misconception about her was that she’s boring.  I’m not sure that’s a misconception.

Bernie Sanders: Passionate as ever, you can tell Bernie is fed up with these so-called debates.

Tom Steyer: The billionaire with a heart — compared to Bloomberg, at least.  Steyer tried to attack Trump and mentioned climate change, but issues didn’t matter in this sad debate.

Elizabeth Warren: Once again, she nailed Bloomberg for his racism, sexism, and his failure to disclose his tax returns.  She tried to position herself as the reasonable alternative to Bernie for progressive-minded Democrats, but it’s hard to see her surviving Super Tuesday.

If you missed this “debate,” count yourself fortunate.

The Democratic Debates, Part 9: Special Bloomberg Edition

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Look at the billionaire wanting to be called on

W.J. Astore

Feeling my own pain, I watched last night’s Democratic debate from Nevada, which I have to say sparkled in the first hour as Elizabeth Warren tore into Mike Bloomberg for his racism and sexism.  Indeed, all our regulars took their shots at the billionaire, but I thought Warren landed the most telling ones.  Throughout the proceedings, Bloomberg largely looked bored; perhaps he was mentally counting the billions he’d saved under Trump’s tax rebate for the richest.

Anyhow, I somehow endured the entire two hours, though the dishonest questioning of Bernie Sanders by the panel put me on edge.  Basically, they hinted he was an un-American socialist-communist who’d soon collapse from another heart attack.  It was that bad.

Here’s how I see the candidates and their performances, post-debate and in alphabetical order:

Joe Biden: I think he profits the most from Bloomberg being on the stage, because Uncle Joe no longer has the worst record.  As the other candidates went after Bloomberg, Biden could wax nostalgically about the good old days under Obama.  He did OK.

Mike Bloomberg: Mayor Mike is a mega-rich old white guy consumed by his own ego and smugness.  He didn’t even bother trying to connect with people.  Money is his connection.

Pete Buttigieg: Mayor Pete is mega-poor young white guy consumed by his own ego and smugness.  As he got into a few tussles with Amy Klobuchar, I found myself rooting for Amy.

Amy Klobuchar: She’s good when she’s delivering prepared lines, but she faltered when asked about her inability to name the president of Mexico.  She was both defensive and disingenuous, not the best combination.

Bernie Sanders: Bernie is always Bernie.  Consistent passion on behalf of workers is his sweet spot.  He hit a home run as he talked about socialism for the rich and rugged individualism for the poor.

Elizabeth Warren: Something about the presence of Bloomberg lit a fire under Warren.  She had someone to torch, and she hit the target.  She also brought her remarks back to people of color on several occasions.  Perhaps her best debate performance yet.

As usual, the mainstream media was awful.  Did you know capitalism is the religion of America?  Apart from Bernie, the candidates professed their belief in capitalism as if the almighty god of America is Mammon.  Then again, our money says “In [this] God We Trust.”  In all seriousness, there’s something truly unseemly about all the money-grubbing in these debates.

Of course, you already know what was missing in this debate.  There were no questions on foreign policy.  None on America’s wars.  None on the military-industrial complex.  None on Iran or North Korea or Venezuela.  There were questions on trade that involved China and Mexico, but that was about it.  But at least climate change was discussed.

Most revealingly of all, the candidates were asked if the candidate with the most delegates should be the party’s nominee, even if that candidate lacked the requisite number for a first ballot win.  All the candidates said, “let the [rigged] process play out,” meaning let the establishment’s super-delegates determine the winner, except for Bernie, who is likely to be the candidate with the most delegates who gets screwed by the DNC this summer.

And there you have it.  Time for a third party and a true political revolution, Bernie.

The Democratic Debate for 2020, Part 5

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Booker, Gabbard, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and Warren

W.J. Astore

Last night was the fifth Democratic debate featuring the top ten candidates for the presidency.  These are more “meet and greets” than debates, given the short time for responses and the sheer number of candidates, but they can be revealing.  Rather than focusing on who “won” (here’s a typical “Who won?” article) or the best applause lines, I’d like to summarize each candidate in as few words as possible.  Here goes (in alphabetical order):

1. Joe Biden: Fading.  Biden often misspeaks and relies far too heavily on the dubious legacy of the Obama years.  He has no apparent vision for the future.

2. Cory Booker: Wide-eyed.  Booker tries to convey enthusiasm and optimism, but somehow it hasn’t worked for him.  There’s a growing sense of desperation about his candidacy.

3. Pete Buttigieg:  Salesman.  To me, Mayor Pete looks like he should be going door-to-door, selling Bibles.  The face of young milquetoast moderation within the Democratic party; unsurprisingly, he’s attracted a lot of establishment money.

4. Tulsi Gabbard: Composed.  Tulsi is rarely flustered.  Her poise and sense of calm come through in interviews and on the campaign trail, but doesn’t translate as well in debates.

5. Kamala Harris: Affected.  Harris, a former “top tier” candidate (her words), has watched her support dwindle.  Maybe that’s because there’s something scripted about her.

6. Amy Klobuchar: Establishment.  She has positioned herself as a sensible centrist, which is another way of saying her positions are predictable half-measures that threaten no one in power.

7. Bernie Sanders: Passionate.  Bernie has lost none of his outrage at a rigged system.  He’s still calling for a political revolution.  Good for him.

8. Tom Steyer: Billionaire.  It’s interesting to see a rich guy espouse progressive ideas while vowing to attack climate change.  I don’t think he has a chance, but he’s not your typical politician.

9. Elizabeth Warren: Prepared.  Warren has a plan for everything.  But will her professorial manner translate in a general election?  Her crossover appeal seems limited.

10. Andrew Yang: Different.  Yang thinks for himself and has an eye on the future.  His out-of-the-box thinking adds some intellectual excitement to these often stale “debates.”

Of the ten candidates, Sanders and Warren are identified by the media as the “radical” progressives, whereas Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, and Klobuchar are seen as moderates or centrists.  Gabbard and Yang are non-conformists but in different ways, and Steyer is anomalous in terms of his wealth.

For me, Bernie Sanders remains the clear choice for 2020.

A Surprise Winner in the Democratic Presidential Debates for 2020

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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.

Hillary’s Clinching of the Nomination

Yet another selfie
Yet another selfie

W.J. Astore

Well, she’s won.  Hillary Clinton’s victories in last night’s presidential primaries have clearly put her over the top, clinching the Democratic nomination. Facing the loudmouthed bigotry and ignorant blustering of Donald Trump this fall, Hillary has an excellent chance of being elected as America’s first female president.

I’ve already written a lot of articles at this site on why I find both Hillary and The Donald to be poor choices as president. I won’t repeat those arguments here.  But I do want to talk about Hillary’s campaign, and what it says about her candidacy.

I remember the first commercial Hillary made, the announcement of her candidacy.  A tedious spot, it focused on her grandmotherly qualities.  It had no vision, no bite, and little hope.  It was about trying to make us feel comfortable with Hillary.  Hey, she’s a mom and a grandma!  Other women like her!  She’s just like us!

It went downhill from there.  Hillary’s campaign has been carefully scripted and modulated, the opposite of impassioned.  Vapidness replaced vision.  That’s why a democratic socialist Jew from Vermont via Brooklyn gave her a run for her money, because she had no passion or vision and he did (and does).

For me, the defining moment of their debates came when Bernie argued strongly for a $15.00 minimum wage for workers and Hillary was content with offering workers a $12.00 wage. (More than enough, peasants!)  Combine that moment with her infamous statement about the gobs of money she made in three speeches to Goldman Sachs (“Well, that’s what they offered”) and you get a clear sense of who she is and what she’s about.

A quick note: A nursing aide making Hillary’s generous $12.00 hourly wage at 40 hours a week would take 28 years to earn the $675,000 that Clinton “earned” in a few short hours giving those speeches.

Her campaign claims she’s “fighting for us.”  But I see Hillary as fighting for herself — and her circle of privileged cronies.  There’s nothing new about this in American politics, of course.  It’s just terribly disappointing for America that two narcissists, two voices of the privileged, will be vying for the presidency this fall.

One thing I would like to see (and it won’t happen): I’d like to see Trump and Hillary debate with Green and Libertarian candidates.  I’d like to hear some real alternative views and how the “major” candidates respond to them.  But even though the media found room for up to seventeen Republican primary candidates on the stage, you can bet the house that Trump and Hillary will share a stage alone together.

Alone together — get ready for gratuitous insults and sound bites, America. One thing is certain: neither candidate is fighting for us, and both are not about making America great again.

Bernie is More Generous to Workers than Hillary

Bernie

Last night’s town hall in Nevada revealed a crucial difference between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.  Bernie came out strongly for a $15 per hour minimum wage.  A living wage, as he called it.  Hillary demurred, suggesting that $12 per hour was sufficient, though she mentioned municipalities with higher minimums (places like San Francisco, which have a very high cost of living).

An extra $3.00 and hour, for 40 hours a week, for 50 weeks a year, is an extra $6000 in the pockets of workers (before taxes, of course).  For many working families, that’s the difference between struggling in poverty and making enough to live with a modicum of security.

Hillary went unchallenged on her $12 per hour figure.  But let’s remind ourselves that Hillary made $675,000 for three speeches to Goldman Sachs.  A person working for Hillary’s “generous” $12 wage would need 28 years to match what she made in three speeches that took her all of a few hours to make.

Indeed, Hillary’s “minimum wage” for her speeches to big banks and Wall Street is in the neighborhood of $100,000 to $200,000 per hour.  “Hey, that’s what they offered,” Hillary said.  And so Hillary is offering you, sales associate at Walmart, $12 per hour.  Are you not entertained?

When asked if she’d release transcripts of her speeches to the Wall Street banks and investment houses, Hillary essentially said no.  Of course, she didn’t say “no” because that would be honest.  Instead, she said she’d release her transcripts if all the other candidates did the same.  She knows that’s not happening, so her answer is no.

Perhaps Hillary could contact Goldman Sachs and ask them to start inviting workers to give speeches at her going rate.  A lot of American working families would deeply appreciate making $225,000 for a couple of hours of sharing their hard-won experiences with Wall Street bankers and investors.

 

Bernie Sanders Won Last Night’s Democratic Debate

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Bernie Sanders makes a point to Anderson Cooper during last night’s debate

W.J. Astore

Last night, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton separately took questions from a “town hall” in Derry, New Hampshire with Anderson Cooper moderating.  Overall, both candidates did well, though I give the edge to Sanders (more on why in a moment).

Sanders came across as passionate on the issues and concerned for ordinary Americans.  He continues to speak of a political revolution, which to him doesn’t mean tumbrels to the guillotine.  It means getting more people involved in the political process, especially youth and the disadvantaged.  He spoke eloquently of helping others.  Memorable to me was his work to desegregate housing owned by the University of Chicago when Sanders was a student.  When asked why he fought against racist policies, Sanders said he’s always hated a bully – and always fought for fairness and equality.  He came across, in short, as an honest and decent man, a man of integrity, which is the word his wife used to describe him (she was sitting in the audience, and was asked to describe her husband with a single word).

Hillary came across as determined and competent and informed.  She tended to meander during her answers, coming across as somewhat of a policy wonk or a technocrat.  She rejected Sanders’ talk of a revolution, preferring to build on President Obama’s (and her own) legacy.  For example, she wants to put the finishing touches to Obamacare, rather than going for Sanders’ idea of a single-payer, “Medicare for all” system.  She spoke briefly of breaking the ultimate glass ceiling for women – her gaining the office of the presidency – and how that would inspire women of all ages.  She took her usual hardline on U.S. foreign policy, making no promises that she would reduce wars or for that matter spending on defense.

In sum, if you’re happy with the status quo, you’ll get plenty of that with Clinton.  If you want change, if you’re tired of a “rigged” economy and a corrupt political process, Sanders is far more likely to act in your favor.

Where I thought Hillary fell down was in her posturing as a progressive.  The millions of dollars she has accepted in speaking fees from banks and investment houses, she suggested, would have no impact on her policy decisions, which is simply implausible.  Powerful organizations don’t give political candidates big money without strings attached to it, and of course Clinton knows this.  It also seemed implausible when Clinton suggested she had not decided to run for president when she accepted those speaking fees.  As if her “doubts” about running absolved her of responsibility for taking big money from Wall Street.  It was all frankly unconvincing.

Hillary Clinton is a fighter.  She came across best when she spoke of the Republican right-wing attacks she’d had to endure over the last 25 years, and what they’d taught her about the political process.  Her footing was less secure when she had to relate to other people.  For example, a man suffering from advanced-stage cancer asked her about dying with dignity.  Bill Clinton, the “natural” as Hillary called him, would have turned this into an empathetic “I feel your pain” moment.  But Hillary got lost in the details, saying she would have to study up on the ethics of terminal care, the laws, the role of medical professionals, what other countries are doing (she mentioned The Netherlands), and so on.  As she tackled the problem in a wonkish way, she seemed to forget the person standing in front her.

In sum, Bernie Sanders is driving the narrative, not Hillary Clinton.  It’s Bernie who’s been talking about a rigged system, about economic fairness, about working for unions, about justice and prison reform, and it’s Hillary who’s been put on the defensive.  So lately Hillary’s been borrowing liberally from Bernie’s script.  She’s now talking about “the deck being stacked” against ordinary people, and how she’s going to fight for workers, and how much Wall Street is supposedly against her candidacy.

As Bernie has gained in the polls, as his message has begun to resonate, Hillary has responded by trying to be more like Bernie.  And it just doesn’t ring true, at least for me.  Advantage, Bernie.