One of the things I’m trying to learn, spiritually and politically, is that thinking in either-or binaries hobbles us unnecessarily and can prevent us from reaching our goals. Case in point: I don’t think working within the current system will get us where we want to go, but I support whatever progressive political actions others believe in and take. Being as informed as possible can help us choose good strategies, and to be informed I go to sources I trust. Jeffrey St. Clair, editor-in-chief of Counterpunch (counterpunch.org) is one of them. Below are my notes on his latest book, Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes from A Failed Revolution (2016). He’s also written on environmental issues, links between the CIA and the drug trade, and Obama and “the politics of illusion,” and has a book coming out next month on climate change. Bernie and the Sandernistas covers the 2016 presidential campaign up to and including the Democratic Convention.
St. Clair believes the Clintons, “the chief architects of the neoliberal takeover of the Democratic Party, stand for everything Sanders claim[ed] to be against. They push austerity programs at home and abroad, while giving Wall Street traders the keys to the treasury. They slashed banking regulations and weakened environmental and food safety laws. They’ve rammed through job-killing trade pacts, from NAFTA to GATT and the WTO. They’ve supported interventionist wars in Kosovo, Colombia, Iraq, and Libya. They gutted welfare, expanded the drug war, and institutionalized the federal death penalty. Clintonian pragmatism only runs in one direction: to the right.”
St. Clair says the so-called Sanders revolution “was over before it started, the moment Sanders decided to run in the Democratic Party primaries, instead of as an independent, where he might have proved a real menace to the neoliberal establishment. Sanders even pledged to support HRC in the general election. But he was never interested in a real revolution. He’s more Hubert Humphrey than Che Guevara: a timid reformer, an old-time liberal ranting in the antechambers of a party that’s long since made its Faustian bargain with the agents of austerity. Left and right, the sour mood of the country burns for a true political and economic revolution, and it may well happen. But look for it on the streets, not in the hollow rituals of these elections.
Both Clinton and Sanders are seasoned interventionists. Sanders supported Bill Clinton’s war on Serbia, voted for the 2001 Authorization Unilateral Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF), which pretty much allowed Bush to wage war wherever he wanted, backed Obama’s Libyan debacle, and supports an expanded US role in the Syrian civil war. More problematic for the senator in Birkenstocks is the little-known fact that he voted twice in support of regime change in Iraq – first in favor of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which said: “It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.” Later that same year, Sanders backed a another similar resolution. These measures gave congressional backing for the CIA’s covert plan to overthrow Saddam, as well as the tightening of an economic sanctions regime that may have killed as many as 500,000 Iraqi children. They also gave the green light to” extensive bombing campaigns. “On the rare occasions when Sanders has been confronted about these votes, he’s casually dismissed them as being ‘almost unanimous.’ In fact, many anti-war members of Congress voted against the Iraq regime change measures. Even though Sanders markets himself as an ‘independent socialist,’ he’s rarely dissented against the Democratic Party orthodoxy, especially when it comes to military intervention.
A reformer, not a radical, Bernie’s goal is to refashion the Democratic Party from the inside. He’s been in elected office since 1981, tweaking at the gears instead of monkey-wrenching the machine. If Sanders now seems like a radical, it’s only a measure of how far to the right the Democrats have migrated since the rise of the neoliberals. Sanders may be as good as a Democrat gets (aside from Barbara Lee), but how good is that? And what will it get you?
Clinton’s top economic advisor, Alan Blinder, has publicly assured his Wall Street pals that Clinton will not under any circumstances break up the big banks and neither will she seek to reanimate Glass-Steagall, the Depression-era regulatory measure whose exsanguination by her husband enabled the financial looting by firms like Goldman and Lehman Brothers that spurred the global economic collapse of 2008. The lavish fee from Goldman for Hillary’s speeches was both a gratuity for past loyalty and a down payment on future services. Goldman’s ties to the Clintons date back to 1985, when Goldman executives began pumping money into the newly formed Democratic Leadership Council, a kind of proto-SuperPac for the advancement of neoliberalism. Behind its ‘third-way’ smokescreen, the DLC was shaking down corporations and Wall Street financiers to fund the campaigns of business-friendly ‘New’ Democrats such as Al Gore and Bill Clinton. The DLC served as the political launching pad for the Clintons, boosting them out of the obscurity of the Arkansas dog-patch into the rarified orbit of the Georgetown cocktail circuit and the Wall Street money movers.”
Under the heading “The Once and Future Sandernistas,” St. Clair says Sanders’ campaign “ended the way it began, with Sanders drawing huge energetic crowds and winning few votes from blacks and Hispanics. Sanders could never connect with the most vulnerable voters in the country. That fact alone doomed his campaign. The dream campaign came to an abrupt end with Sanders’s crushing defeat in California, where demographics and the party establishment were aligned against him. He lost by more than 400,000 votes, a humiliating margin that can’t be written off to voter suppression or hacked machines.
Running as an economic revolutionary, Sanders spent most of his time in the cozy milieu of college campuses instead of in desolate urban landscapes or working-class suburbs. It’s hard to earn the trust of poor people when you don’t spend much time in their company. And, he never satisfactorily explained his vote for the Clinton Crime Bill, which launched a 20-year long war on America’s blacks and Hispanics. Of course, his anemic appeal to black Democratic voters could have liberated Sanderds to attack Obama’s and Hillary’s dismal records. His curious timidity against confronting Obama’s policies, from drone warfare to the president’s bailout of the insurance industry (AKA ObamaCare), hobbled Sanders from the starting gate. Obama and Hillary Clinton are both neoliberals, who’ve betrayed organized labor and pushed job-killing trade pacts. Both are beholden to the energy cartels, backing widespread oil drilling, fracking and nuclear power. Both are military interventionists, pursuing wars on at least 12 different fronts, from Afghanistan to Yemen. But Sanders proved singularly incapable of targeting the imperialist ideology of the Obama/Clinton era. In fact, the senator is visibly uncomfortable when forced to talk about foreign policy. Even after the assassination of Goldman Prize winner Berta Cáceres by thugs associated with the Honduran regime, Sanders refused to press Clinton on her backing of the Honduran coup that put Cácere’s killers into power.”
St. Clair thinks the Democrats were “gratified to have Sanders drawing attention to a dull and lifeless party that would otherwise have been totally eclipsed by the Trump media blitzkrieg. He served the valuable function of energizing and registering on the Democratic Party rolls tens of thousands of new voters, who otherwise would have been content to stay at home. The biggest threat Sanders posed to the Democratic machine was his ability to raise lots of independent money ($212 million or more) outside of the party’s control – mostly from small online donors. But most of that money went to consultants,” who, St. Clair states, later stabbed Sanders in the back. “Real political revolutions (as opposed to rhetorical ones) begin after the futility of the ballot box has been proven, and they’re driven by issues, not personalities. Sometimes you have to bust your idols for kindling to get things ignited. Your move, Sandernistas.”
Covering the Democratic Convention, St. Clair wrote, “Bernie Sanders is getting shouted down by his own delegates this morning for pushing Hillary & Kaine down their throats.” He then notes that “after a supposedly disastrous, widely ridiculed convention, Trump was up 5%. He might well be up 10 after the Democrats finish theirs. They continue to ignore working class issues and the rising public animus toward interventionist wars. Pre-convention, independents split 34% Clinton to 31% Trump, with sizable numbers behind Johnson (22%) and Stein (10%). Now, 46% say they back Trump, 28% Clinton, 15% Johnson and 4% Stein. Both of the third party candidates are drawing more votes from Clinton than from Trump.
Nancy Pelosi was booed as she addressed her own California delegation. Who wants to be the next Democratic power broker to step up to the microphone? Chuck Schumer, stop hiding behind the curtains, you’ve never been shy before! Benediction booed. Barney Frank booed. Marcia Fudge booed. Next? This convention could be fun, after all! After waiting three days to apologize to Sanders for rigging the democratic process against his campaign, Democratic leaders now urge the Sandernistas to be ‘respectful’ of the ‘democratic process’! Sanders just texted his delegates to sit back and take it in silence: ‘I ask you as a personal courtesy to me to not engage in any kind of protest on the floor.’ What a monumental failure of nerve on his part! The DNC, with the help of the hired Sanders flacks, also just pushed through the platform on a voice vote, steamrolling efforts by the Sandernistas and Labor to get a floor vote on the TPP.
Listening to Clinton’s campaign guru Robby Mook mewl about possible Russian meddling in US elections is like listening to Trump whine about income tax rates when he apparently pays nothing. Shall we recall HRC’s direct intervention in the Russian elections? Her financing of the opposition in the Venezuelan elections? Her role in the Honduran coup? That’s essentially the job description of the Secretary of State, isn’t it? What goes around comes around, Hillary. (If it proves, in fact, to be the case that the hackers were Russians.) Warren’s encomiums for Hillary on economic justice and trade fell flat, with the crowd chanting “Goldman Sachs! Goldman Sachs!”
The Sandernistas are crying as Bernie takes the stage. What a strange magnetism he has, especially his appeal to younger women, who were the backbone of his campaign. Is it a longing for the lost grandfather? The appeal is almost mystical. Patrick Flaherty suggested that it was ‘a longing for a sincere, strong, open-hearted male, which is all too rare in popular culture.’ But look where he led them: right into the arms of the Wicked Stepmother. The boos began the moment Bernie began his refrain: ‘Hillary understands…’ Bernie’s vouching for Hillary, the Secretary of Fracking, on climate change also rang pretty hollow, especially when she doubled-down with Tim ‘Offshore Drilling’ Kaine. What’s worse? Someone who dismisses the science and supports the oil, gas and coal industry or someone, like Clinton and Kaine, who understands the science and still gives the fossil fuel lobby all they want? Bernie kept repeating the withered platitude that ‘We’re stronger when we stand together.’ But together with whom? For what? Perhaps all the tears were for the ragged spectacle of Sanders humiliating himself for 50 straight minutes on behalf of a ticket which has only contempt for him and his followers. The cognitive dissonance of this convention is at its max. How else can you explain how demurely Sanders just delivered his movement to the machine that represents everything he was allegedly waging war against: bailing out the banks, destruction of Glass-Steagall, fracking on a global scale, abandonment of organized labor, trade pacts from NAFTA to WTO to TPP, the death penalty, continuation of the drug war, the gutting of welfare, interventionist wars from Iraq to Syria, fealty to Wall Street money, vindictive and racist criminal justice policies, inaction on climate change, and blind loyalty to Israel? Most of the Sandernistas walked out after Bernie transferred (without consent) their votes to Hillary and had a sit-in outside of the convention center, where nobody saw them or cared. What kind of civil disobedience is that? Why not protest inside the hall, where the cameras and the action are? A last blown opportunity to shake the establishment.
I misted up during the testimonials of the Mothers of the Murdered, especially when Travyon Martin’s mother said that she was “an unwilling participant in this movement. I would not have signed up for this. I’m here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who’s in heaven.” Too bad this heavy ceremony was diluted and demeaned by giving an hour to the Incarcerator-in-Chief, Bill Clinton, whose Crime Bill put 100,000 new cops on the streets. Since the passage of that infamous law in 1994, police have killed at least 20,460 civilians.
An odd short film tried to sell everything that Bill Clinton did for poor people, but neglected to mention his destruction of welfare…Jane Fonda. Once she went to Hanoi to stop a war. Now she’s appearing in a music video for a war criminal. Jesse Jackson, too, is a hollow shell of his former self: a hired gun for the elites. In a strange cinematic interlude, the big screen behind the stage just aired a surreal film warning that Trump couldn’t be trusted with the ‘nuclear button,’ which was partially narrated by the nuclear bomber himself, Harry Truman! Leon Panetta, the CIA’s master of drones, is now being shouted down with ‘No war, No drone!’ chants, most of them coming from the Oregon and Washington state delegations. Play on, Sandernistas! Leon Panetta sniveling about Russian hacking is the best laugh of the night. Didn’t his own hackers, working with their cohorts in Mossad, unleash the malicious Stuxnet worm on Iran? The floor managers are in crisis mode. They’ve given all of the delegates on the floor ‘Stronger America’ placards, which they’re waving with patriotic vigor as they shout ‘USA! USA!’ to drown out the anti-war protesters. Did they import these people from the Trump rally in Scranton? They cut the lights on the protesters’ section, who are using the flashlight apps on their cellphones. Right on cue, Rachel Maddow denounced what another MS-DNC hack called the ‘lunatic left’ for heckling Panetta.
Optimism is the word from the O-Man, which means things must be worse than we think. Obama: ‘There are pockets of this country that never recovered from factory closings.’ Pockets? They’re big enough to shoplift the Great Lakes. Now he’s quoting Reagan. Truman and Reagan have been quoted more frequently than any other figures at this convention. In fact, Obama’s speech is played in the key of Reagan. He’s said that he sees himself as a ‘transitional figure’ like Reagan. Obama could sell Trump Steaks to a vegan. He swears that Hillary’s the ‘most qualified person ever to run for president.’ Perhaps. But she’s qualified in all the wrong areas. Obama possesses so many scintillating skills, perhaps more skills than any other political figure of the modern era. Yet he put those gifts to such meager, timid and often brutal uses. What a waste. His is the tragedy of a squandered presidency.
This was a night dominated by the hollow men of the Democratic Party: Panetta, Kaine, Biden, and Obama. The theme was liberal virility, strength, and managerial efficiency. Missing was any empathy for the homeless and the hungry, the poor and the downtrodden. It was a frontal embrace of the neoliberal order, a demonstration that the Democrats have the competency and toughness to manage the imperial order in a time of severe internal and external stress. Bernie sat passively in the imperial box seats with Jane squirming at his side, watching it all unfold.”
St. Clair heads his coverage of day four “She Stoops to Conquer,” beginning with an apology “to the Sandernistas for any impolite things I may have written about you in the past 10 months. I especially want to apologize to those of you who rose up after your leader abandoned you and sat passively as your brave chants of ‘No More Drones!’ were drowned out by the fascist war-cry of ‘USA! USA!’ I want to apologize for doubting your resolve. You didn’t cry when Bernie betrayed you – at least, not for long. You marched right back into the Wells Fargo Center intent on spoiling the party. You made this squalid affair fun for a few precious hours. Somewhere Abbie Hoffman is cracking a smile.
Trump took to Twitter early this morning, as his hair was being plastered into place, and denounced last night’s all-star lineup at the Democratic Convention as an orgy of ‘empty rhetoric.’ He wasn’t wrong. The whole affair had the feel of one of those rock concerts featuring bands from the 1970s. The first few phrases were thrilling, then it all started to fade into a nostalgic stream of familiar hooks and licks you’ve heard a thousand times before on classic rock radio. All played very well with magnificent staging and a dazzling light show, yet utterly antiseptic.
Expect flood warnings as the tears begin to flow when the nation celebrates its own enlightenment in finally nominating a woman for president. The rest of the world will view this ‘historic moment’ as something of a participation trophy, however. Eighty-five women from 54 different nations have already been elected or appointed as heads of government, starting in 1960 with Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka. Women have led governments in India, Israel, Central African Republic, UK, Portugal, Dominica, Norway, Pakistan, Lithuania, Bangladesh, France, Poland, Turkey, Canada, Burundi, Rwanda, Bulgaria, Haiti, Guyana, New Zealand, Mongolia, Northern Cyprus, Senegal, South Korea, Sao Tome and Principe, Finland, Peru, Mozambique, Macedonia, Ukraine, Liberia, Bahamas, Germany, Jamaica, Moldova, Iceland, Croatia, Madagascar, Trinidad and Tobago, Australia, Slovakia, Mali, Thailand, Denmark, the Philippines, Guinea-Bissau, Slovenia, Latvia, Transnistria, Namibia, Greece, and Myanmar. Terry O’Neill, head of NOW, was asked about the tardiness of the US in relation to the rest of the world in electing a female head of state. Her response was a strange, almost misogynistic putdown of other women leaders: ‘Many of them weren’t feminists. Hillary was a born feminist. It was a harder road for her. USA! USA!
Yet another cop at the mic, a moment of silence for the fallen police and speeches from the relatives of dead officers. The Democrats have featured more cops as prime time speakers than the GOP, all of them lecturing about how ‘violence isn’t the solution’ to anything. Since January 1st of this year, 668 civilians have been killed by police. Two parties, both proto-fascist. How to choose?
Mission impossible: Chelsea trying to humanize her mother. She says her mother lost the fight for ‘universal health care.’ Not true. Her plan was for another market-oriented scheme called ‘Managed Competition,’ and she failed to get it passed because of incompetence and hubris, setting back the single-payer cause by a generation.
Hillary looks and sounds more and more like Cersei Lannister with each new speech. I’m getting a weird vibe that they might actually bring out Qaddafi’s head on a pike. She says she loves to talk about her ‘plans.’ Has she started yet? I haven’t heard one specific plan. Maybe she’s talking about her invasion plans. Oh, yes, she’s getting around to that now. Pledge fealty to Israel. Check. Defend NATO. Check. Bash Russia. Check. Destroy ISIS. Check. Praise the Generals. Check. Hail our military (and its defense contractors) as a national treasure. Check. Salute the troops. Check. America is great. Check. America is good. Check. America is not a bully. Check. Manifest Destiny. Check. God bless America. Check. Unlike Hillary’s idol Ronald Reagan, she gave no pledge to eliminate nuclear weapons, just a vow to have a more stable hand on the button than Trump. Like Harry Truman. Duck and cover.
How appropriate that it all ends with Hillary and Kaine standing before a golden (or is it Goldman?) shower raining down on America! As a final blessing, Hillary’s preacher has come out to confirm at last what we’ve long suspected: there’s a Methodism to her madness. All Sandernistas should leave the Wells Fargo Center before they lock the exits. (See Red Wedding episode of ‘Game of Thrones’). Hillary’s the authentic Queen of Chaos, and when she stoops, she stoops to conquer.