Bernie and Biden: The Debate

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Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden in 2019

W.J. Astore

In last night’s debate, Joe Biden ran away from his own record.  Suddenly, Biden is against fracking.  He’s for Elizabeth Warren’s education plan.  He’s against subsidies for fossil fuels.  He’s for a $15 minimum wage.  He’s against Super PACs and for public funding of elections.  He’s never tried to cut social security.  Just about the only progressive policy he remains against is Medicare for All, which he says is simply too expensive to countenance.

Biden also wanted to drive the narrative by saying he was picking a woman as vice president and a black female as the next justice to the Supreme Court (Anita Hill, perhaps?).  I’m not sure why Biden thought a female VP-candidate was such a big deal; Walter Mondale picked Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, and of course Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2016.  Months ago, I foresaw Biden/Kamala Harris as the DNC dream ticket.  Older white guy, younger black woman, perfect!  Except that they’re both establishment tools whose views are safely unprogressive.

Joe Biden was so eager to claim he agreed with Bernie Sanders that my wife quipped, “He’s a #MeToo candidate!”  Along with his new “me too” tactic, Biden also likes to say, “I’m the guy,” as in “I’m the guy who supported gay marriage publicly” or “I’m the guy who engineered the Paris Climate Accords.”  To Biden, being present at or near the creation of something means that he created it.

Biden’s new strategy was obvious; it was essentially the same one Hillary adopted in 2016 to neutralize Bernie.  FAKE LEFT, RUN RIGHT.

Biden is now faking that he’s sensitive to progressive concerns.  But like Hillary he’ll run to the right if he wins the nomination.  And, like Hillary, he’ll lose to Trump.

Of course, much of the debate focused on the coronavirus and the government’s response to it, and both men said reasonable things.  Watching as much of the CNN post-debate coverage I could stomach (not much), all the “journalists” on the panel saluted Joe Biden for his fine performance.  Indeed, there wasn’t a single progressive on the panel.  No one took Bernie’s side.

Naturally, there was no discussion in this debate of America’s wars or its colossal military budget.  The military-industrial complex went unnoticed and unchallenged.  Indeed, Biden suggested that the military is somehow going to ride to the rescue by erecting tent cities during the coronavirus crisis.

Biden kept mentioning all the time he’d spent in the White House Situation Room, so much so that “Situation Room Biden” could be his new handle.  All talk of Biden’s “gaffes,” i.e. signs of cognitive decline, was banished, but of course CNN reminded its viewers that Bernie had recently suffered a mild heart attack.  Biden, naturally, asserted he had a clean bill of health.

And so it went.  Overall, by running away from his own record and lying consistently through his blindingly white teeth, Joe Biden probably fooled enough people to vote for him while handing the Democratic establishment the victory they crave most of all: keeping the progressive base powerless and firmly in its place.

A Joe Biden Thought Experiment

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He’s a cool dude.  He’s still got it.  Right?

W.J. Astore

What if Joe Biden had decided to run for president in 2016 — and won?

And what if, while in office during his first term, he started showing signs of cognitive decline like the ones he’s shown on the campaign trail in 2019-20?

Wouldn’t many, if not most, people have advised Joe Biden to step aside, to be a one-term president?  Because we know the demands of the presidency are tough enough on men (I say “men” because all our presidents, so far, have been men) in their forties and fifties, let alone a man in his late seventies, a man who’s had two cerebral aneurysms, and (again) a man who’s shown signs of confused speech, among other difficulties.

I think this is a reasonable conclusion.  President Joe Biden may well have stepped aside in 2020, perhaps to allow his vice president to run.  And in this thought experiment, I’m guessing Hillary Clinton would have been the loudest person advocating that he step aside “for the good of the party and the country,” i.e. so that Hillary could take his place and run yet again.

But of course today’s reality is vastly different.  Biden didn’t run in 2016.  Hillary lost.  We got Donald Trump.  And now Biden is already being anointed by the DNC as the last best hope of defeating Trump in November.

With all this in mind, I’ve been reading about Biden’s preparations for the upcoming debate this Sunday.  I see where there’s talk of allowing him to sit (lack of endurance).  I see where he’s being advised to keep his answers short and simple (because his train of thought tends to derail when he attempts to string sentences together).  And I think to myself, does this make any sense for a man preparing for four tough years as the next president of the United States?  The next leader of the free world, as we used to say and sometimes still do?

If we were electing a man (or woman for that matter) to our local school board, and if he were pushing 80 and becoming less articulate, and various “handlers” for this candidate were trying to limit his public exposure, we’d probably vote for a different candidate.  Not because of ageism but because we know public service is demanding and even unforgiving, and not all are capable of meeting those demands.

I’d add something else as well.  What if Joe Biden was Josephine Biden, approaching 80, and having difficulty speaking.  Would we be willing to give this woman the benefit of the doubt, or would we dismiss her as “dotty,” as an old biddy, as well past her “sell buy” date?  I owe these questions to my wife, who pointed out, quite accurately I think, that Joe Biden is getting a pass in part because he’s male.  Sure, he’s getting older, but he’s still got it, the old buck!  But do we really believe this?

To show I’m not so young myself, I was watching “Gunsmoke” today and one of the characters had a memorable line.  He said the law can’t protect an old man from playing the fool.  And I thought of Joe Biden and whether certain powerful elements are allowing him to play the fool for their own reasons.

What say you, readers?

P.S.  Readers of “Bracing Views” know I support Bernie Sanders, who is a vigorous 78 years of age.  This is not about age.

Smearing Bernie Sanders

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W.J. Astore

Just before Tulsi Gabbard announced her candidacy for the presidency as a Democrat, NBC ran a smear piece that suggested Vladimir Putin and the Russians loved her.  This smear was then repeated and amplified by Hillary Clinton, who suggested Gabbard was being groomed by the Kremlin to run as a third-party candidate, thereby ensuring Trump’s reelection in 2020.  There was no evidence for any of these claims — none.  Yet Gabbard was put on the defensive and her campaign (still ongoing) has been essentially redlined by the mainstream media.

Now it’s Bernie Sanders’s turn.  Bernie is much better known than Tulsi with a much larger movement behind him, so the DNC and the mainstream media have a modified tactic: rather than smearing Bernie as a Putin puppet, they’re suggesting the Russians are boosting his candidacy without his knowledge — the end game, naturally, is Trump’s reelection.  This was reported yesterday by the Washington Post and echoed today by the New York Times and other media outlets.  Here’s how NBC News put it today:

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., excoriated Russia on Friday after being briefed that the Kremlin is attempting to help his presidential campaign as part of an effort to interfere with the Democratic primary and the 2020 election.

“The intelligence community has been very clear about it — whether Trump recognizes it not, or acknowledges it or not, they did interfere in 2016,” Sanders told reporters. “The intelligence community is telling us they are interfering in this campaign right now in 2020. What I say to Mr. Putin: If elected president, trust me, you will not be interfering in American elections.”

The Washington Post reported on Friday U.S officials have briefed President Trump, other lawmakers on Capitol Hill and Sanders, who has recently become the frontrunner in the Democratic contest, that Russians are helping his campaign. The Post cited people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

When you look further into these claims, the so-called Intelligence Community (IC) is not telling us specifically how the Russians are allegedly helping Bernie.  They just are.

This puts Bernie on the defensive.  Already known as a “socialist” who, we’re told, visited Moscow on his honeymoon, Bernie is being forced to issue denials as well as statements against Putin.  And this pleases the IC and the DNC to no end.  Get Bernie talking about Russia and Putin!  Force him to disavow Russian “support,” no matter how nebulous or false that support is.  Associate his name with the “bad guys,” the communists, just as Mayor Bloomberg linked Bernie to communism during the last debate.  “Cheap shot,” Bernie replied, but the cheap people are desperate and will do anything to win.

To the DNC, IC, and MSM, it doesn’t matter if these accusations of Russian interference are believed.  What matters is shifting the narrative and thereby weakening the credibility of candidates like Tulsi Gabbard and Bernie Sanders.

Anyone who criticizes or threatens the power and privileges of the military-industrial complex, the IC, and the MSM must be attacked and defeated.  There are literally trillions of dollars at stake here.  This is why other candidates issue no criticisms of these powerful entities.  Can you recall Mayor Pete, or Joe Biden, or Amy Klobuchar, or even Elizabeth Warren saying anything truly critical about the MIC, the IC, and MSM?  For the acronym-wary, that’s the military-industrial complex, the intelligence community, and the mainstream media.

Again, judge the candidates by the enemies they make.  The more the powerful smear Tulsi and Bernie, the more you know they are the candidates with principles and integrity.

Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, and the Democratic Party

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Tulsi Gabbard in NH.  Yes, she can snowboard

W.J. Astore

In 2016, Bernie Sanders had a winning message and Hillary Clinton didn’t.  But Bernie’s message favored the working classes, not Democratic donors, so he was blocked and then sidelined.  Even so, Bernie loyally campaigned for Clinton, who lost to a political novice, celebrity TV host, and lifelong con man.

In 2020, Bernie Sanders has a winning message and the other leading candidates (Biden, Warren, Buttigieg) don’t.  Bernie’s message still favors the working classes, not the Democratic donors, so efforts are underway to block him again.

Consider Tom Perez, head of the DNC, and his selections for various committees for the convention.  They are the usual suspects: Clintonites, Obama followers, members of the military-industrial complex, big pharma and insurance companies, and so on.  Here’s a useful and funny video from Jimmy Dore that breaks it down:

 

Polls project that Bernie will win Iowa (Feb. 3) and New Hampshire (Feb. 11).  What will the DNC do next to torpedo Bernie’s chances?

Small wonder Bernie advocates for a political revolution.  But we’re not going to have one of those in America, not with the Democratic-Republican Party in charge.

A few more items.  Consider these two articles at Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR):

Corporate Media Are the Real ‘Sanders Attack Machine,’ by Julie Hollar

It’s Media—Not Bernie Sanders—That Have an Antisemitism Problem, by Alan MacLeod

The latter article details the mainstream media’s efforts to paint Bernie Sanders — who, if elected, would be America’s first Jewish president — as an anti-Semite!  Here’s an excerpt:

Have you heard the news? Democratic presidential frontrunner Bernie Sanders is antisemitic. Yes, yes, he’s Jewish, and has a long history of anti-racist activism—but that doesn’t matter.

So goes the story in several prominent media outlets, who accuse him of leading “the most antisemitic [campaign] in decades” (Washington Examiner, 12/13/19). While unable to point to Sanders’ own actions or words, the national press has associated him with hatred of Jews by attacking those around him. Throughout 2019, for example, Sanders supporter Rep. Ilhan Omar was constantly labeled antisemitic across the media for comments she made about the undue influence of the US/Israeli lobbying group AIPAC on American politics (e.g., New York Times, 3/7/19; Wall Street Journal, 7/12/19; Washington Post, 8/20/19).

Fox News (1/9/20) claimed Sanders would be “the most anti-Israel” president ever, conflating criticism of Israel and/or the Netanyahu administration with antisemitism.

Of course, corporate Democrats aren’t just against Bernie Sanders.  They’re against any candidate that threatens their privileges and power.  This includes Tulsi Gabbard, who is being boycotted by CNN even though she’s polling well in New Hampshire.  Consider the following:

NORTH CONWAY, N.H. — Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii says she’s still waiting to hear from CNN about why she wasn’t invited to take part in a series of town halls the cable news network is holding next week in the state that holds the first primary in the race for the White House.

“We have reached out, I think, more than once, and we received no explanation. I don’t even think we’ve gotten a response to date about why they’re excluding the first female combat veteran ever to run for president, the only woman of color in the race,” the four-term congresswoman and Iraq War veteran said Tuesday in an interview with Fox News.

Could it be any more obvious?  The fix is already in.  It’s always in.  The Democrats will do anything and everything in their power to block real change.

I know it’s unlikely, but I would love to see Bernie/Tulsi create a third party and run against Trump and whichever corporate tool the Democrats nominate.  Please, Bernie, if the DNC screws you again, don’t be a “team player.”  Give us a real choice — and pick Tulsi or someone like her as your running mate.

The Smearing of Tulsi Gabbard

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Tulsi Gabbard and her most infamous accuser

W.J. Astore

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is a compelling choice for president in 2020.  She’s principled, she’s against America’s disastrous regimen of regime-change wars, and she’s got the guts to criticize her own party for being too closely aligned with rich and powerful interests.  She’s also a military veteran who enlisted in the Army National Guard in Hawaii after the 9/11 attacks (she currently serves as a major and deployed overseas to Iraq during that war).

What’s not to like about a female veteran who oozes intelligence and independence, a woman who represents diversity (she’s a practicing Hindu and a Samoan-American), an early supporter of Bernie Sanders who called out the DNC for its favoritism toward Hillary Clinton …

Aha!  There you have it.  Back in February 2016, Gabbard resigned her position as vice-chair of the DNC to endorse Sanders, and the DNC, controlled by establishment centrists like the Clintons as well as Barack Obama, have never forgiven her.  Recently, Hillary Clinton smeared her (as well as Jill Stein, Green Party candidate from 2016) as a Russian asset, and various mainstream networks and news shows, such as “The View” and NBC, have suggested (with no evidence) she’s the favored candidate of Russia and Vladimir Putin.

Think about that.  Hillary Clinton and much of the mainstream media are accusing a serving major in the U.S. military of being an asset to a foreign power.  It’s an accusation bordering on a charge of treason — a charge that is libelous and recklessly irresponsible.

A reminder: Tulsi Gabbard enlisted in the military to serve her country in the aftermath of 9/11.  What did Hillary Clinton do?  Can you imagine Hillary going through basic training as a private, or serving in the military in a war zone?  (Hillary did falsely claim that she came under sniper fire in Bosnia, but that’s a story for another day.)

Tulsi Gabbard is her own person.  She’s willing to buck the system and has shown compassion and commitment on the campaign trail.  She may be a long shot, but she deserves a long look for the presidency, especially when you consider the (low) quality of the enemies she’s made.

Healthcare in America: No Pony for Us

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Wise up, America!  Only the richest little girls get ponies (Scene from “Gone with the Wind”)

W.J. Astore

The comedian and political commentator Jimmy Dore has a great sketch about Americans not getting a pony.  The “pony” in question is taxpayer-funded, single-payer health care.  Only the most naive or gullible or spoiled Americans could possibly believe they deserve such a pony — this is an argument advanced by Democratic sages like Hillary Clinton, among many others, like Nancy Pelosi.  She’s supported today by “sensible centrists” like Joe Biden and “Mayor Pete” Buttigieg, who argue that Medicare for All is wildly impractical and crazily expensive.

As my wife quipped, for “sensible centrists” and their ilk, we don’t get a pony — but we do get to pony up.

Yes, Americans get to pony up — and up — and up, in the form of high insurance costs, deductibles, co-pays, and the like.  And let’s not forget the high cost of life-giving prescriptions, such as insulin, which under our wonderful private systems have soared in price.

Those who attempt to sell Medicare for All in America, like Elizabeth Warren this weekend, are dismissed as delusional.  Take this headline at Reuters: Republicans, Democrats, ‘SNL’ attack Warren’s U.S. ‘Medicare for All’ plan.

Wow!  Everyone is against her — even liberal comedians at Saturday Night Live (SNL).  No pony for us!

Yet, as Jimmy Dore pointed out in his skit, other countries and peoples get ponies.  The Canadians do.  The British do.  The Germans.  The French.  The Italians.  The Japanese.  And so on.

Want a pony, America?  Better move to Finland.  Or Hong Kong.  Or Greece.  Or New Zealand.  Or Tara.  Because you’re not getting a “pony” here.

America’s Senior Generals Find No Exits From Endless War

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This is supposed to be a funny and “wise” symbol, but only if you’re talking about the “peace” of the grave.  We must put an end to these forever wars.

W.J. Astore

In my latest for TomDispatch.com, I examine the price of America’s wars and why senior U.S. military men learn all the wrong lessons from them.  Here’s an extract from my article:

Veni, Vidi, Vici,” boasted Julius Caesar, one of history’s great military captains. “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed that famed saying when summing up the Obama administration’s military intervention in Libya in 2011 — with a small alteration. “We came, we saw, he died,” she said with a laugh about the killing of Muammar Gaddafi, that country’s autocratic leader. Note what she left out, though: the “vici” or victory part. And how right she was to do so, since Washington’s invasions, occupations, and interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere in this century have never produced anything faintly like a single decisive and lasting victory.

“Failure is not an option” was the stirring 1995 movie catchphrase for the dramatic 1970 rescue of the Apollo 13 moon mission and crew, but were such a movie to be made about America’s wars and their less-than-vici-esque results today, the phrase would have to be corrected in Clintonian fashion to read “We came, we saw, we failed.”

Wars are risky, destructive, unpredictable endeavors, so it would hardly be surprising if America’s military and civilian leaders failed occasionally in their endless martial endeavors, despite the overwhelming superiority in firepower of “the world’s greatest military.” Here’s the question, though: Why have all the American wars of this century gone down in flames and what in the world have those leaders learned from such repetitive failures?

The evidence before our eyes suggests that, when it comes to our senior military leaders at least, the answer would be: nothing at all.

Let’s begin with General David Petraeus, he of “the surge” fame in the Iraq War. Of course, he would briefly fall from grace in 2012, while director of the CIA, thanks to an affair with his biographer with whom he inappropriately shared highly classified information. When riding high in Iraq in 2007, however, “King David” (as he was then dubbed) was widely considered an example of America’s best and brightest. He was a soldier-scholar with a doctorate from Princeton, an “insurgent” general with the perfect way — a revival of Vietnam-era counterinsurgency techniques — to stabilize invaded and occupied Iraq. He was the man to snatch victory from the jaws of looming defeat. (Talk about a fable not worthy of Aesop!)

Though retired from the military since 2011, Petraeus somehow remains a bellwether for conventional thinking about America’s wars at the Pentagon, as well as inside the Washington Beltway. And despite the quagmire in Afghanistan (that he had a significant hand in deepening), despite the widespread destruction in Iraq (for which he would hold some responsibility), despite the failed-state chaos in Libya, he continues to relentlessly plug the idea of pursuing a “sustainable” forever war against global terrorism; in other words, yet more of the same.

Here’s how he typically put it in a recent interview:

“I would contend that the fight against Islamist extremists is not one that we’re going to see the end of in our lifetimes probably. I think this is a generational struggle, which requires you to have a sustained commitment. But of course you can only sustain it if it’s sustainable in terms of the expenditure of blood and treasure.”

His comment brings to mind a World War II quip about General George S. Patton, also known as “old blood and guts.” Some of his troops responded to that nickname this way: yes, his guts, but our blood. When men like Petraeus measure the supposed sustainability of their wars in terms of blood and treasure, the first question should be: Whose blood, whose treasure?

When it comes to Washington’s Afghan War, now in its 18th year and looking ever more like a demoralizing defeat, Petraeus admits that U.S. forces “never had an exit strategy.” What they did have, he claims, “was a strategy to allow us to continue to achieve our objectives… with the reduced expenditure in blood and treasure.”

Think of this formulation as an upside-down version of the notorious “body count” of the Vietnam War. Instead of attempting to maximize enemy dead, as General William Westmoreland sought to do from 1965 to 1968, Petraeus is suggesting that the U.S. seek to keep the American body count to a minimum (translating into minimal attention back home), while minimizing the “treasure” spent. By keeping American bucks and body bags down (Afghans be damned), the war, he insists, can be sustained not just for a few more years but generationally. (He cites 70-year troop commitments to NATO and South Korea as reasonable models.)

Talk about lacking an exit strategy! And he also speaks of a persistent “industrial-strength” Afghan insurgency without noting that U.S. military actions, including drone strikes and an increasing relianceon air power, result in ever more dead civilians, which only feed that same insurgency. For him, Afghanistan is little more than a “platform” for regional counterterror operations and so anything must be done to prevent the greatest horror of all: withdrawing American troops too quickly.

In fact, he suggests that American-trained and supplied Iraqi forces collapsed in 2014, when attacked by relatively small groups of ISIS militants, exactly because U.S. troops had been withdrawn too quickly. The same, he has no doubt, will happen if President Trump repeats this “mistake” in Afghanistan. (Poor showings by U.S.-trained forces are never, of course, evidence of a bankrupt approach in Washington, but of the need to “stay the course.”)

Petraeus’s critique is, in fact, a subtle version of the stab-in-the-back myth. Its underlying premise: that the U.S. military is always on the generational cusp of success, whether in Vietnam in 1971, Iraq in 2011, or Afghanistan in 2019, if only the rug weren’t pulled out from under the U.S. military by irresolute commanders-in-chief.

Of course, this is all nonsense. Commanded by none other than General David Petraeus, the Afghan surge of 2009-2010 proved a dismal failure as, in the end, had his Iraq surge of 2007. U.S. efforts to train reliable indigenous forces (no matter where in the embattled Greater Middle East and Africa) have also consistently failed. Yet Petraeus’s answer is always more of the same: more U.S. troops and advisers, training, bombing, and killing, all to be repeated at “sustainable” levels for generations to come.

The alternative, he suggests, is too awful to contemplate:

“You have to do something about [Islamic extremism] because otherwise they’re going to spew violence, extremism, instability, and a tsunami of refugees not just into neighboring countries but… into our western European allies, undermining their domestic political situations.”

No mention here of how the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq spread destruction and, in the end, a “tsunami of refugees” throughout the region. No mention of how U.S. interventions and bombing in Libya, Syria, Somalia, and elsewhere help “spew” violence and generate a series of failed states.

And amazingly enough, despite his lack of “vici” moments, the American media still sees King David as the go-to guy for advice on how to fight and win the wars he’s had such a hand in losing. And just in case you want to start worrying a little, he’s now offering such advice on even more dangerous matters. He’s started to comment on the new “cold war” that now has Washington abuzz, a coming era — as he puts it — of “renewed great power rivalries” with China and Russia, an era, in fact, of “multi-domain warfare” that could prove far more challenging than “the asymmetric abilities of the terrorists and extremists and insurgents that we’ve countered in Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan and a variety of other places, particularly since 9/11.”

For Petraeus, even if Islamic terrorism disappeared tomorrow and not generations from now, the U.S. military would still be engaged with the supercharged threat of China and Russia. I can already hear Pentagon cash registers going ka-ching!

And here, in the end, is what’s most striking about Petraeus’s war lessons: no concept of peace even exists in his version of the future. Instead, whether via Islamic terrorism or rival great powers, America faces intractable threats into a distant future. Give him credit for one thing: if adopted, his vision could keep the national security state funded in the staggering fashion it’s come to expect for generations, or at least until the money runs out and the U.S. empire collapses.

Please read the rest of my article here at TomDispatch.com.