Sunday, February 14, 2016
A debate with Jeanette Baust over the movement for Bernie
This was a post on Brother Jeff’s facebook page by my friend and fellow activist Jeanette Baust (extended by another friend, Carroll Watkins Ali). I offer her account of Hillary/discounting of Bernie in full, and offer some strongly contrary thoughts. There is a great movement now unfolding for Bernie; I and my wife were at a stunning rally of at least 20,000 people for Bernie – electrified by his honesty and straightforwardness about many burning issues – yesterday at the Denver Convention Center. Despite the corporate media and the corporate Democratic apparatus, this movement will not be stopped.
I hear the Bernie hype. I hear the bashing on Hillary. I believe in many of Bernie's ideas, but think he'd make a better organizer and cheerleader than commander in chief and executive leader. Why?
1) He has zero foreign policy, other than don't nation build or do war? Huh?
2) He's not put forward a real economic fiscal policy or told us who his advisors will be [great strategy if you don't want to be vetted for your actual plan]. (I think he has 8 pages on collapsing our insurance companies & creating Medicare for all, and 4 pages on reforming banking. Seriously?
3) Bernie has worked for 30 years in the US Senate, & he is hardly an outsider, though he paints Hillary as "the inside.". That said, all but a couple of Bernie's long term Congressional colleagues, who know him and his work for decades, have endorsed Hillary Clinton, including some of the most progressive like Sherrod Brown and Al Franken.
Also Elizabeth Warren and 12 other women Senators in a letter asked Hillary Clinton to run for President & Warren refused to run against her. (In respect of her friend Bernie, she hasn't formally endorsed either.)
4) Hillary has a list of accomplishments that Bernie cannot match including: a) getting the CHIP program passed bringing money for food to millions of children, b) significant education reform for poor schools in Arkansas when nobody knew her and no one was watching, c) changed the culture and prioritized the concerns about women worldwide in every US embassy. I have heard the reports of some who have said, "If not for Hillary Clinton, I'd be dead or in prison," d) worked her butt off in the 90s to create what essentially morphed into the Affordable Care Act, which added in the past 5 years 19 million more people to our health care rolls, many of those people Black, Brown, poor, single women with kids ... e) Worked on pro-choice, equal pay for equal work, affordable birth control, health and safety for women & children not just recently, but ever since she graduated from college
f) Has changed over time when information and sensibilities changed. I don't care if she once didn't support gay marriage. I didn't either, and I'm gay. I did care that she supported the first attempts to overturn military discrimination, job discrimination, & ultimately did support gay partnerships and marriage. It's no secret that the Human Rights Campaign for lgbtq people has endorsed her and that Planned Parenthood has (their first endorsement in 100 years) g) Along with many in Congress, including some from the Congressional Black Caucus, which just endorsed her, like John Lewis, she and Bill Clinton worked for civil rights laws and issues for years. h) Has backed labor union laws for years and has the endorsement of many of the country's largest unions.
5) Hillary has been pummeled and vetted and truthfully for decades, but the country and Republicans have not even turned their attention to Bernie. In a country where 50% of the people have been told to be suspicious of government, he's going to have to explain a government run insurance system and how his socialism works. In addition, he calls himself a secular Jew. When questioned, he says this means "we're all in this together." This country has a belief in God ratio of as high as 80%. I do not believe that much of middle America will be okay that this Jewish candidate is secular, meaning he does not believe in God, in any way close to what they do. This hasn't come up, because the GOP think they're running against Hillary, but I believe if Bernie gets the nomination, these two things could bury him in the general, If not many other things I've already mentioned.
There is a whole list of many more, but I'll end with this,
I could give a long treatise in response to Cornell West or Michelle Alexander. I love academics. I love radicals. Many days that's where my time is spent, with organizers on marginal issues. But people who think this nation will go from the extreme drag to the right we've been in for 30 years to radical, socialist rule, I think are smokin' something, or more likely are traveling around with people who think exactly as they do. The President has to be everybody's ... The corporate CEO, the soldier in Iraq, the evangelical Christian, the atheist humanist scientist, the Muslim cleric and pro-Israel rabbi, etc.,
The smear campaign against Hillary has been her entire career. I've heard it all. And I hear Bernie people now too often treating her like FOX news and I find it often mean-spirited and frequently inaccurate factually.
People said of George Bush, "They wanted to have a beer with him." Of Bernie I hear, "He's real, I like that." Really? This is the presidency of the country. It takes a way bigger resumé than "He's authentic, he hates corporate greed, and he'll stand against the establishment." Wow. Really? Barack Obama to this day is called a socialist by at least a 3rd of the country ... and he's no where near this. What do people think the nation in the general election will do with a secular socialist?
Hillary's earned it.
Bernie is nice, but hasn't.
Whichever wins, I'll work for them and vote for them. But I believe there is a very formidable, very well financed force coming and it's as close to fascism as we've seen for a long time, & I hope those who want a purist candidate, and a politically exciting, passionate ideologue, understand the danger in trashing either Hillary or Bernie. Let's be careful who we dismember out of our various contempts, because we may be dismembering ourselves in Nov.
You asked, Jeff.
Carroll Watkins Ali Jeanette Baust. Thank you for taking the time to lay your argument out. I thought "Whew, how am I going to break it down?" I agree with you whole heartedly point for point, including your comments about the academics (Michele Alexander and Cornel West)--such a limited scope. As an African American woman who is an academic and who has lived the history, I will also say that I hope Black folks don't fall for the Bernie hype--sounds good but he cannot begin to get the job done. I have, however appreciated the depth of the dialogue between the two; the issues are clearly in front of us. I don't have a lot of faith in anyone, but I am betting on Hillary in this instance and expecting Black peoples to hold her feet to the fire, if Black folks deliver the election to the Democrats again.
And here is what I responded:
“Jeanette, you are someone I much admire, since the hunger strike at Iliff you led many years ago. And I agree with you that fascism is a danger here. And I think Hillary Clinton has fought importantly on the oppression of women and done some major things, and would be happy to see a woman President. But I and my wife waited for 2 hours with at least 20,000 people, many of them young (talked with three high school women in the line) at the Convention Center tonight and heard Bernie’s powerful speech, one which said the truth about many domestic issues, which brought tears to people’s eyes (at least mine) and were registered in fierce, electric applause. This is a great movement which came out of nowhere but Sanders beginning to speak out about these things, whited out in the mass media and by the Democratic National Committee; thousands of young people have been going to his rallies since last April; he raises more money than Hillary now through small contributions and has come from 40 points behind to tie or best her in caucus and primary states. People are thankful to hear the truth spoken plainly (what Bernie has done for years…). This movement is the proverbial awakened sleeping giant and Hillary, and her operatives and the New York Times, in trying to suppress it, will not make her a strong or winning candidate (they tried to ignore and suppress his candidacy; and now depend on professional “superdelegates” to limp through to a nomination, with young people mostly turned away – bad move…).
You raise many issues, but let’s take Hillary on foreign policy. First, she has pledged herself to defend Netanyahu who pursues ugly racist/fascist policies toward the Palestinians. I speak as a Jew who went to Palestine, on a civil rights delegation with Dorothy Cotton and Vincent Harding, and has seen Israeli ethnic cleansing and nonviolent Palestinian resistance up close. The way Israel deals with the occupied territories is analogous to the treatment of Native Americans and blacks by the American regime. Sanders is not strong on this issue, but back to the Jesse Jackson campaign, he has been concerned about the Palestinians and is nowhere close to Hillary.
Second, Hillary’s view of Iran is pro-Netanyahu and hostile to working toward resolutions through diplomacy. She supports Israel and Saudi Arabia (who are particularly reactionary forces in the Middle East) which would tie the US further and very destructively - with the most reactionary forces in the Middle East – Saudi Arabian Wahhabism bred Bin Laden and ISIL; Israeli oppression of the Palestinians - and strengthen ISIL.
Sanders spoke strongly for further diplomacy with the Iranians over time – talking with enemies as he put it – though, in the context of arguing with her, he shared her vitriol toward the Iranians. The Shia – Iran and Iraq – are only 10% of Muslims; despite Israeli/American phony panic, they are no threat to conquer the Middle East...And the terrorists who strike against Americans – Al Qaeda and ISIL – are Sunni. Both Hillary and Bernie were badly wrong (along with the American media) about the dangers here. A central feature of the Iran deal, to Obama’s great credit, was an opening for the US to try to pursue a more balanced policy in the Middle East, i.e. not just to be dependent on Saudi Arabia and Israel - and exert some pressure on Israel to settle with rather than committing ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians. Only one of these candidates, Sanders, is intent on this far wiser alternative.
Third, the Middle East is totally destabilized by US arming of reactionaries like the Egyptian military and its series of invasions in the area. The name of these policies going back 50 years is regime-change. Bernie Sanders has named this – alone among candidates for the Presidency in the last 50 years, from Iran and Guatemala to Libya – and wisely opposes it. This is the most important innovation that an American President could make – one fiercely opposed by militarists. Hillary is effectively a neo-con who believes in regime change, and advocated not only the American aggression in Iraq but intervention in Libya, a mistake by Barack, which took out Qaddafi, but left chaos and Al-Qaeda. I, too, hope Hillary has learned something (you suggested this on my facebook page), but I can’t for the life of me see why, even about the Iran treaty, which she surrounds with immediate belligerence against Iran, you think she has. This is the woman of the “3:am phone call” and would have bombed Iran in contrast to the cooler Barack.
Fourth, Hillary does say she wouldn’t send American troops – except special forces, but aren’t they, too, American soldiers? – into conflict against ISIL. I wouldn’t bet on it.
Fifth, domestically, Hillary is a relentless defender of the police state (NSA surveillance of all of us), of militarism, and of the privatization of the military. At least Bernie pointed to the Pentagon budget – roughly $1.7 trillion in real terms – as something to be cut. And Bernie opposed the Patriot Act on both occasions (Hillary was a supporter).
So I find the casualness with which you endorse Hillary in these matters, refusing to speak to her dangerousness, and dismiss Bernie remarkable.
Two other points. First, Vincent Harding brought Michelle Alexander to speak about The New Jim Crow here. He told me she is the new Ida B. Wells. I have used the book and have gotten to know Alexander and I think so, too. All the candidates for DA in Colorado were forced to read it by the organizers of a recent debate, and began to speak to these issues. The casualness with which you dismiss Alexander – the most important scholar/activist against the prison-industrial complex along with Angela Davis – is also remarkable. I note: Michelle did not endorse Bernie (as Ta-Nehisi Coates did). She speaks for something more revolutionary (I don’t think we will get real change without mass nonviolent resistance and think Black Lives Matter is the hope of the future). But sadly, she is right about Hillary and Bill.
And just as a note, Bernie on political revolution and why the movement is important is not good enough in the sense of just being electoral, but in mobilizing all these new and fired up folks, with deep and apt grievances around a program, he is doing a lot to build the movement. And all these people turning out to vote, especially if they are joined and better led, as Killer Mike and many others have urged so eloquently, by the black community, are likely to win an election. And Bernie has a program that appeals to poor whites as well, and as an independent, quite a lot of attraction (he won the votes with “under $50,000 a year in income” in New Hampshire 60%-40%). Yes, he will be attacked, but how effective will the attacks be? Trump opposes a minimum wage hike: how much demonizing of Bernie will it take to sell that program? Unfortunately, Hillary is often tone-deaf, not to say brazen, about what people will think of her as her speaking fees from Goldman Sachs over the past year – she knew she was going to run for President, why do it? - or her choice to run State Department emails through a private server show. No candidate will have a picnic in the fall…
And in contrast to Bernie, Hillary is defending her candidacy against what every one who is enthused about Bernie would like to fight for (ask yourself whether, given the struggle for $15 an hour minimum wage by workers all over the country, Hillary’s proposal of $12 an hour over 5 years is going to bring out enthusiastic support. Yes, being scared of racist, self-aggrandizing imbeciles like Trump (except on the Iraq War last night) or the shady and ugly Ted Cruz (the slippery, pseudo-Christian, soft porn cheat) or Rubio or Bush will get many of us to vote for Hillary unenthusiastically, but will it be enough to win?
Now Bernie says that black youth unemployment is 51% (among white high school grads, 33%, Chicanos 36%). He proposes to provide a works program to rebuild Flint and other American cities financed by a tax on Wall Street speculation. That, as you omit, is a Keynsian proposal that could get the economy going again, provide decent jobs and income to ordinary people and a stronger basis for self-respect (unemployment eats at the soul…). He explicitly links unemployment to mass incarceration. He calls for free public universities for all. At best, Hillary is not explicit about these figures and connections if she understands them (her financial ties to Wall Street – she often speaks for the elite – are way too strong). In contrast to Hillary, what Bernie is proposing has a serious chance of getting people to work, to school and out of prison. When people give Bernie a chance, they are very impressed (latest poll from Nevada today: a tie, 45% each…). Jeff, I urge you and others to give him a chance, and Jeanette and Carroll, I hope you will reconsider.