Thoughts on the Brooklyn Democratic Debate

Now that the dust has settled on the ninth Democratic debate, the distinctions between the candidates have become clearer than at any point previously in this election cycle.  On the surface, that can only be an aide in helping each of us to make our decisions.  But those same distinctions are what in all probability will fracture the party, perhaps irreparably. 

In the interest of transparency (and to anyone who has not read any of this site’s earlier articles), I am a Bernie Sanders supporter.  In good conscience, I can not vote for Hillary Clinton to be our next President.  From my vantage point, there is far too much baggage and not enough “there” there.  That being said, and while I truly believe that Bernie Sanders is a once in a lifetime candidate, he too is not above criticism and his campaign will only do better if he shores up a few weak areas and learns to strike while the iron is hot.  His performance on Thursday evening was strong and on point, but he might be the first to admit that he let Hillary off the hook, and that might yet cost him the state.

All campaigns, even those run with the least amount of negativity, share a basic duality.  The candidate must present his or her platform in the most positive of lights, while demonstrating the failings of the opponent or the opponent’s platform.  The balancing act that this becomes is what allows the voter to see a candidate as positive or negative in their campaign style. 

In this case, both candidates have taken shots at each other.  But, on the whole, it would be my contention that Bernie Sanders has focused to a greater extent on the benefits to the country his programs would bring, and on Hillary’s shortcomings to a lesser extent.  Where he has taken his shots, he has chosen his target carefully.  By this time, we all realize that it is within Hillary’s own power to set her record straight; yet she chooses not to do so.  We are all left to make a decision to wonder why or to dismiss her silence as unimportant.

On the other side of the dais, the general lack of enthusiasm evinced by her supporters for her agenda of incremental progress has led Hillary to go more into an attack mode, whether she is focusing on Bernie’s voting record on guns or his health care or college tuition proposals.  Clearly, it is her intent to disqualify Bernie in the eyes of the voters, and, to her detriment, she has opted to cling to a line of half truths in the hope that the voters will look no further than the cheering section of the debate for their answers.  Her campaign has really become one of asking us to settle for pragmatism, for incrementalism, when what most of us crave is the outcome of progressivism.  She has an uphill battle on that front, and as a strategy now attempts to rally voters in dismissing as whimsy her opponent’s idealism.

On to the critique.

Simply stated, Bernie needs to spell it out.  In the debate Thursday as in each of the prior debates, he has missed the opportunity to silence his critics (Hillary and the Republicans) when they assert that his plans are unworkable.  At the Brooklyn Navy Yard, there were three areas where he could have done a much better job of drawing distinctions between his proposals and the characterizations of them by Mrs. Clinton.

Health Care

First, to say that universal health care is some manner of pipe dream is ludicrous.  The rest of the industrialized world has implemented it, and with demonstrably better outcomes than our own health care system while at a fraction of the cost.  To allow Hillary to make that same tired allegation is to continue to allow her to cast shade on Bernie’s entire campaign. 

This is the distinction he needs to be making:  the fundamental difference between the candidates’ approach to health care involves the status of the insurer as a for-profit or not-for-profit entity.  When Hillary asserts that she wants to build upon Obamacare and its reliance on private health insurance companies, while reaching toward 100% coverage of American citizens, she is stating unequivocally that she wants us to continue to pay more in rising insurance rates to for-profit corporations, while expecting lesser coverage, greater deductibles and out of pocket expenses, higher co-pays and increased costs for pharmaceutical products.  We have already been experiencing that reality for decades and it is not working.

Bernie’s program follows more closely the models used in Europe where the health care is either provided directly through the government via taxation or through private insurance companies who provide health insurance on a not-for-profit basis (Germany is an example of this).  Those same companies also provide auto and homeowners’ insurance, and make their profit there.  By taking the profit margin out of the equation, you are left with the true cost of providing the service, and it is on that number that Americans would be taxed to pay for their health care.  Because taking the staggering profit margin out of necessity lowers the actual cost of health care or health insurance, the premiums could substantially decrease.  If the money is coming out of income taxes and you have no job, you have no income to tax.  The health care would come to you at no cost.  Yes, the rest of us are picking up the tab, but we are still saving between one half and two thirds on what we are now paying.  One of Bernie’s core positions is that we, as a nation, need to do what we know to be morally right.  How can we morally and ethically justify turning a profit off the misfortune and misery of other people who are in dire need of medical attention?

Free College Tuition

This is a no-brainer (pardon the pun) as well.  In a prior article, (http://johnqsviews.com/putting-some-perspective-on-income-inequality) I broke down one way in which a tax on the wealthiest fifteen people in America could provide free tuition to over eight million college students each year.  While that was an exercise in basic mathematics, and not intended as a justification for levying a huge tax on just fifteen people, the simple point of it is that there is an unspeakably large amount of money stashed in the pockets of the top 1% to 10% of our nation’s earners, which could be taxed in a line more consistent with tax rates as recent as the 1980’s (50% on the highest income bracket, up from the 28-29% the top earners actually pay today) and which would send all American college students to school, tuition free. 

Similarly, the argument that smarter, more capable young Americans make for a smarter, more capable workforce, is undeniable.  The question remains; whom does it serve to have less intelligent, less capable citizens?  I will argue in another article that there is a segment of our society that wants exactly that.

Energy

Again, I fear that Bernie missed the boat here.  Hillary’s actions as Secretary of State to promote fracking on a global scale (with American technology courtesy of Halliburton, no doubt), and her incrementalist approach to coping with the reality of climate change, make her an easy and open target for the Sanders campaign.  They only half-heartedly took the shot.  Yes, climate change is real (google recent articles on the impact of the shrinking ice sheet in Greenland).  Yes, we are still pumping too much carbon onto the atmosphere.  And yes, the United States remains one of the leading contributors to those same carbon emissions. 

These are all compelling reasons for immediate (as in yesterday) change.  But in making that argument, you are asking the majority of Americans to make a choice now to benefit their future, somewhere down the line.  And Americans, by and large I am sorry to say, do not think like that.  We are an immediate gratification culture.  So, how is it going to benefit us right now to get off the fossil fuel bus? 

We can look at that answer in terms of our economy at home and our foreign policy.  At home, a switch to clean, renewable energy is not just a boon to the environment and an effort to counter the effects of climate change, the process of developing the technology creates new jobs and also benefits all of our industrial facilities  by removing one of the key sources of pollution which factories must minimize (at substantial cost) in order to comply with the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.  In our foreign policy, we continue to deal with an unstable middle east and with the posturing of Vladimir Putin in Russia.  The economies of each of those parts of the world are propped up on fossil fuels.  If we cut dramatically our use of oil and natural gas, we cut the demand for the product on the global market and its value falls.  In a case such as ISIS, take away their income, and you diminish their abilities to pay their own fighters or cause problems for us.  Money is the head of the snake.  Kill the head and the body dies.

How to pay for it?  Stop sending our young people to fight senseless wars in the middle east and trim the Pentagon’s budget by 10%.  That would be a great start.

But there is not enough time in a debate format to explain this!

True enough.  But this is an opportunity for Bernie to look Hillary in the eye and ask her to put her money where her mouth is.  We saw repeatedly in the debate on Thursday that she could not answer simple yes or no questions.  She was asked three times whether or not she would release her transcripts and would not answer.  She was asked three times whether or not she would remove the cap on Social Security taxation and would not answer that either.  If, for example, she wanted to make the claim that Bernie’s health care proposal could not be paid for, he could ask her, “Would you be willing to cede me the time right here, right now, to explain just how it could?”  If she said, “yes,” Bernie has a platform to make his pitch and explain it to a nation-wide audience.  If she said, “no,” Bernie has the freedom to look puzzled and ask, “What are you afraid of?”  Any other response from Hillary would simply demonstrate that she knows her allegations are insupportable.

Other Observations

There are a few other areas where Bernie could make his point more forcefully.  First, he has often pointed toward Hillary’s vote on the war in Iraq as evidence of her poor judgement.  But it isn’t just the case that she voted for the war; she argued for the war.  That argument is all a matter of public record and can be found on YouTube, any day of the week.  Hillary wants to call into question whether or not Bernie is even a Democrat.  Yet, at every opportunity to do so, she has argued for the use of military force and turned the State Department into a global wholesaler of arms and armaments.  Folks, she is a war hawk.  If it walks like a duck, squawks like a duck and hops in bed with Wall Street, Big-Pharma and now, the NRA, it’s a Republican.

In the first or second debate, Bernie famously made the comment that he was sick and tired of hearing about Hillary’s “damn emails.”  He has not raised them as an issue again (though they won’t go away, will they?).  In a similar vein, he can now say to Hillary, “We don’t need to see those transcripts.  We know what is in them.” 

After all, we do know what is in them.  As has been pointed out elsewhere, Hillary received $675,000  from Goldman Sachs for three speeches.  If she had said anything to them that they did not want to hear in the first or even the second speech, she never would have been able to give a third.  She has been telling them exactly what they want to hear and has more importantly been acting in their best interests for decades.  From Goldwater Girl to Goldman Girl, Hillary is not the girl she wants us to believe she is. 

Her contention is that no one can point to a political position or piece of legislation she has endorsed which exemplify her favoritism toward Wall Street.  I would allow for “perhaps,” though Bill Moyer’s interview of Elizabeth Warren demonstrates otherwise.  But this is a two-way street.  We also can not point to a political position or piece of legislation she has endorsed which run counter to the vested interests of Wall Street, either.  It is like fixing a basketball game; you can pay the player to miss the shot or just not take it.  The result is the same.

Now, as she moves into late April against an opponent she thought would have been gone by February, Hillary is feeling nervous.  Her lifetime in politics has been defined by political expediency.  If there was anything in those speeches which would solidify her base going into these big primary states, she would release them in a heartbeat.  There isn’t.  What is in those transcripts would much more likely destroy her remaining support and end her campaign.  You know it, I know it, and the rest of the country knows it.  However, some of us remain content to cover our ears and yell, “Waaaahhhh!”

A related and much more telling point, and again, one on which Bernie failed to capitalize, is the contempt in which she holds all of the voters.  In this I refer to her recent speech in Colorado, where a “white noise” machine was employed to prohibit news people from hearing that speech as they stood across the street from the tent under which she gave it. 

When we look at the mistake that the Goldman Sachs speeches were, just in terms of the bad publicity they have provided her, we focus on her unwillingness to make available to the prospective voters, just what she is promising to Wall Street.  It is a cover up worthy of Richard Nixon.  But, instead of learning from this mistake, she replicates it, thumbing her nose at all of the little people in the process.  Twice now, she has looked us in the eye and asked for our support, but clearly does not trust us to give it if we knew the content and context of what she is promising to her wealthy friends and to Wall Street.  Fool me once shame on you.  Fool me twice….  Americans have learned to tolerate and even rationalize being lied to.  But we hate being held in contempt by someone who positions him or herself as out of our class.  This missed opportunity by Bernie could well have been the final dagger in Hillary’s campaign.

The Strain is Showing

To give Hillary her due, she remains a very capable politician.  In my view, she was well prepared, polished in her rehearsed statements, forceful and monopolized the time element of the debate, always running well over her allotted time and into Bernie’s.  One knock on her though, has always been that she does not exude any real human warmth.  Whether she is actually a rather shy individual or, frankly, cold hearted, it can come off the same way on camera. 

What is troubling is the way she clings to and reiterates half truths or flat out lies, despite them having previously been disproven.  Her claims that Vermont was a chief exporter of guns used in violent crimes in New York are not just laughable, they made her look that much more desperate to find something wrong with her opponent.  Her claims that Bernie had cast votes for the removal of Gaddafi when he had actually cast a vote in favor of democracy in Libya reflect a legalistic parsing of words with which many of us are all too familiar from the last Clinton administration.  Similarly, her claim that she has always fought for the $15 minimum wage was a lie, plain and simple.  In earlier debates, she argued for $12 an hour, which we would reach by 2020.  This one isn’t even close.  At times, I’d like to hear Bernie turn to her and in that flat, unemotional way that John Wayne always did, say to her, “That’s a lie.”  And just leave it at that.  Her reaction would speak volumes.

What the Debate Tells Us About Us

For all the criticism of Hillary, we must acknowledge that she is a highly intelligent person, with a deep understanding of the campaign process.  As an establishment candidate, she has the full support of an enormous political machine, and they do not miss much.  I have to believe that they have researched the voters in the same way a trial lawyer researches the jury pool.  They know how the majority of us think.  And the truth is, to the majority of us, facts don’t really matter.  The overwhelming majority of Americans will not take the time to fact check what a politician says.  The closest they will come is to tune into a main stream media outlet for verification.  So, if you can buy the support of the main stream media…….

Similarly, truth is less important than posture.  We have seen that first hand in the success of the Trump campaign.  The most recent fact check on Trump suggests that he only ever tells the truth by accident.  It doesn’t matter.  He exudes confidence and out-hollers his opponents.  This is the by product of a reality TV watching culture.  The most outrageous characters are the most entertaining and who doesn’t want to be entertained?  Hillary’s clinging to baseless allegations and twistings of reality, couched in carefully scripted anthemic moments (and punctuated with Bill’s infamous thumb capped fist poke) are orchestrated “high points” without any real substance.  Supporters cheer because the moment is structured to elicit a cheer, not because there is anything worth cheering about. 

The Fallout

As I wrote at the beginning of this article, the distinctions between the candidates are clearer now than they have ever been.  In the end, we have a nuanced politician running against a humanitarian.  Hillary would have us believe that the world is a very complex place where a certain equilibrium is only achieved through a willingness to play all sides against the other.  Shifting loyalties and priorities are the norm and we have to put on our big-girl pants and own up to that reality.  Bernie is trying to show us that there  is another way, one in which we take our stand on what is defensible as morally right.  It approaches complex problems (like Israel and the Palestinians) from the simpler perspective of recognizing the equality and working to meet the needs of all, even if that means we have to acknowledge our own previous shortcomings.  In doing so, we risk that forgiveness will not be granted us.  But we also create the possibility of starting with a clean slate and building upon a solid foundation.

Now, it is all over but the voting.  We will soon see just who supports whom.  Bernie’s supporters are well defined in much the same way that his message is clear and unequivocal.  They have consistently been represented primarily as people under the age of 45, heavily stacked with younger voters, from the true progressives of the Democratic party and Independents, many of whom are prepared to make their stand on issues of civil rights, the environment, and ending corporate domination of the American political system.  Polling of late also suggests that many minority voters who had supported Hillary’s campaign are moving toward Bernie’s, possibly in response to a greater understanding of the evil of Bill Clinton’s Crime Bill and the economic struggles they have faced in the wake of a series of terrible trade agreements for which Secretary Clinton has inevitably advocated.  Women too, are moving toward Bernie’s campaign.  While the desire for our first female president remains strong, examples like Elizabeth Warren have demonstrated that Hillary is not the best choice.  In the end, Hillary is a willing political foot-soldier, not a commander in chief.

In Hillary’s camp, I believe that her supporters are often as nuanced as her own brand of politics.  On the one hand, if you are willing to consider that taking millions from Wall Street and from large corporations just might cause a candidate to not rock those boats, if you are able to see that she is indefensibly hiding from the voters her transcripts and her white noise protected speeches to the American aristocracy, and if you can accept that her policies bear a stronger resemblance to Richard Nixon than to JFK, you should come to terms with the reality that she is not a trustworthy liberal.  She is a war hawking moderate Republican.  So, why would you continue to support her?  Why would you continue to vote against your best interests?  It is my belief that many of her supporters are actually ex-Republicans for whom their own party has drifted too far to the right, and Hillary represents exactly their best interests.  They are also a more middle aged group who have reached the pinnacle of their own economic ladder and fear both being toppled from above and being undermined from below.  In her incremental pragmatism, they seek a kind of stasis, a respite from a storm which will not blow over.  Just give us four more years of the same.

The Moment of Truth

Yet to be written is just how history will view this moment, for an historical moment it is.  This contentious primary season has been rife with allegations and evidence of election rigging, all of which has pointed to a corrupt DNC with an agenda that does not reflect the espoused will of the voters.  As the calendar works its way toward the convention in Philadelphia, the tension between the two camps and their supporters is rising.  This is a campaign pitting not Bernie against Hillary, but people against money.  Right now, money has the inside track.

If it is close, and if money wins, the people will have two choices: surrender the ideals which have simmered in their hearts since the late 1960’s, or walk their talk.  As the saying goes, when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.  Money made the mistake of leaving too many of us with nothing and we have nothing to lose by walking. 

Whatever else may happen, we need to find ourselves on the right side of history.  There are ideals which make us American and upon which we have taken our stand time and again.  When we know what is right, we have to do what is right.  Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “It is never the wrong time to do the right thing.”  It is up to us.  We can have the country that embraces the idealism of Lady Liberty in new York Harbor, or we can sell our souls for a key to the executive washroom.  In my lifetime, the chance to make a real change in the direction of our country has never been so close at hand.  If we blow it now, the institutions of wealth and power will work to ensure that we never get this chance again. 

So what is it to be?  Will we sign a lease on four more years of establishment politics, corporate greed and a widening class war in America?  Or will we take the road less traveled and make the difference?  One might leave us with a sense of investment in the familiar, but it leads to our moral bankruptcy.

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