A Surprise Winner in the Democratic Presidential Debates for 2020

ticket
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

bernie
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.

 

Hillary Clinton to Edward Snowden: Face the Music

Edward Snowden: Face the music -- or perhaps a firing squad
Edward Snowden: Face the music — or perhaps a firing squad

W.J. Astore

A revealing question and answer came in this week’s presidential debate among the Democratic candidates.  They were asked if Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who revealed illegal spying by the NSA and the U.S. government, should be considered a hero or traitor.

Hillary Clinton’s answer was revealing of who she is and what she stands for; here it is in full:

CLINTON: He broke the laws of the United States. He could have been a whistleblower. He could have gotten all of the protections of being a whistleblower. He could have raised all the issues that he has raised. And I think there would have been a positive response to that.

COOPER: Should he do jail time?

ClINTON: In addition — in addition, he stole very important information that has unfortunately fallen into a lot of the wrong hands. So I don’t think he should be brought home without facing the music.

According to Hillary, Snowden is not officially a whistleblower, since he failed to apply for such status within the government. If he had, she suggests he would have been given a fair hearing.  (Right!  Just like the “positive response” Hillary Clinton’s State Department gave Peter Van Buren, who for his honesty about Iraq reconstruction was outcast and hounded into retirement.) She also suggests that Snowden’s revelations have “fallen into a lot of the wrong hands,” by which I think she means not foreign terrorists but the American people — what she terms “everyday” people to distinguish them from people like her.

But, finally, this sentence is the killer: I don’t think he should be brought home without facing the music.

Facing the music: Do you know what that potentially means for Edward Snowden?  Accused of treason (his information having fallen into all those “wrong hands“), he would face the possibility of execution by the U.S. government.  Facing the music in this case may mean facing a firing squad.  At the very least, we’re talking about a LONG jail sentence, doubtless in a maximum security federal penitentiary.

By comparison to Hillary, the other candidates showed measures of compassion.  Lincoln Chaffee said he wanted to bring Snowden home: that he deserved praise for revealing illegal activities by the U.S. government.  Martin O’Malley essentially agreed with Clinton but without the ominous warning about the need to face the music.  Bernie Sanders applauded Snowden for his role in educating the people about their dishonest and abusive government; he said that important service should be taken into account if and when Snowden returns for trial.  Jim Webb punted the question to “the legal system” but he also highlighted the dangers of uncontrolled surveillance and how such power can be used for undemocratic purposes: “We’ve got a vast data bank of information that is ripe for people with bad intentions to be able to use,” Webb said.  Of course, we truly wouldn’t know the full extent of this without the revelations provided by Snowden.

Following on from what Webb said, the conclusion is obvious: Edward Snowden is a hero.  He should be brought back to the United States and praised for his courage in revealing how our government has spied illegally, not only on the American people but on much of the world.  Untrammeled spying is not making us safer; it’s people like Snowden, those who still have integrity and who believe in the ideals of democracy, who are making us safer.

On the question of Snowden, hero or traitor, all the candidates disappointed. But in calling for Snowden to face the music, Hillary Clinton’s answer represented the deepest bow to the National Security State.

If I were Snowden, I wouldn’t plan on returning to the USA if Clinton is elected president.