The Democratic Party Platform Is an Insult

By refusing to include it in the party platform or even entertain the possibility of ratifying Medicare for All, Joe Biden and the Democrats are exhibiting poor political and practical sense. (Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

“We don’t have red lines—we have values.”

So said veteran lawmaker Steny Hoyer recently in a CNN interview, echoing the sentiments of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on whether $600 weekly payments to supplement unemployment insurance should be extended. Evidently, the Democrats are willing to negotiate—or capitulate, depending on your viewpoint—on the final figure.

This position of Democratic leadership comes amid gridlock in the Senate regarding an extension of federal unemployment benefits. Whereas House Democrats passed a bill in May that would have guaranteed the extension of $600 per week, Senate Republican leadership has balked at that figure, offering a counter-proposal of $200/wk. while states come up with a plan to satisfy their constituents’ needs with a mix of their own funds and federal dollars.

That Hoyer and other Dems have left the door open to compromise with the GOP is vaguely troubling, especially since Hoyer in that same interview parroted Republican talking points by expressing concern that people who receive a more robust stimulus check might not want to go back to work. It also renders Hoyer’s statement gobbledygook. “We don’t have red lines—we have values.” Right, but when “red lines” can be used to communicate one’s values, what is that even supposed to mean? It’s an illogical and unnecessary potshot at the Left.

In a similar vein, the recent reveal of the Democratic Party platform for the Democratic National Convention casts doubt on the party’s principles leading inexorably toward November. Upon its unveiling, the Democratic National Committee’s platform committee co-chair Denis McDonough referred to the Democratic 2020 party platform as the “boldest Democratic platform in American history.”

Progressives would beg to differ, meanwhile. John Nichols, national affairs correspondent for The Nation, underscores how without Medicare for All, McDonough’s assertion neither matches the substance of the platform as drafted nor matches this moment in history.

As an untold number of advertisements will tell you, we live in “extraordinary” or “challenging” times. It’s their way of saying we’re living in a global pandemic and people all over the world are getting sick and dying, but in a PR-speak kind of way where the actual problem isn’t mentioned as if refusing to utter the name of the disease either saps it of its power or prevents it from rearing its ugly head.

This is the moment in history to which I’m referring, and with it has come significant job loss and thus access to “affordable” health care. At a time when a safety net is needed (or three or four), being forced to worry about being plunged into medical debt is brutal, if not unconscionable.

As such, from a purely moral standpoint, the hour calls for single-payer healthcare. Beyond this, though, as Nichols explains, it’s not good political strategy to bar it from the party platform. For one, COVID-19 (gasp, he said it!) is disproportionately killing people of color, a reality about which patent refusal to entertain the mere possibility of M4A sends a bad message to a key portion of the Democrats’ base.

In addition, Medicare for All is popular with Democrats and non-Democrats alike. People, you know, generally like having healthcare and being able to afford it without having to mortgage property or sacrifice an internal organ. As Winnie Wong, former senior adviser to Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, is cited in Nichols’ piece, the Dems are “making a fatal mistake by turning their backs on Medicare for All.”

To this effect, some 700 delegates have signed a pledge refusing to back the party platform without M4A on it. At the very least, this show of opposition is a bad look for a Democratic Party touting its supposed party unity and counting on turnout from progressives to help push Joe Biden over the top in the presidential election.

We would be remiss if we were to say that the entire platform as drafted is without merit, a notion Nichols explicitly highlights. There are a number of elements within the party platform which might appeal to progressive voters and almost certainly reflect the input of progressive activists, notably a call for a $15 minimum wage and clear goals for climate change remediation. That said, historically speaking, these tenets do not in them of themselves make the platform the boldest on record and certainly are not to be lauded as uniquely courageous.

In short, the Democratic party platform as it is presently constructed is a mixed bag. What seems significant, however, is that not only are some of its recommendations rather tepid, but other provisions appear to be specifically designed to alienate progressives. The party voted against including marijuana legalization in the platform, for one.

There’s also nothing about ending qualified immunity for police officers, nothing about expressly condemning Israeli expansion/occupation in the West Bank, and no commitment to a climate change plan as comprehensive as the Green New Deal. In a game of party platform Bingo, progressives are struggling to fill one row or column, let alone the entire board.

By now, the Democrats’ agenda in advance of the general election is no surprise. As is their custom, they’re playing it safe and trying not to offend any big donors or moneyed interests in the process. The unique set of circumstances at work in 2020 might yet be enough to propel Joe Biden to victory in spite of, well, Joe Biden.

Possible short-term electoral success and fundraising goals achieved notwithstanding, encouraging antipathy from the party’s burgeoning leftist wing is quite a price to pay in service of these objectives. It’s one thing to enjoy winning or to be able to breathe a sigh of relief in avoiding four more years of President Donald Trump. It’s another to poke progressives in the eye and expect them to show their loyalty while you do it.


As it should be emphasized, for progressives critical of the 2020 party platform, while Medicare of All is a glaring omission, there is ample room for commentary. Patrisse Cullors, activist and Black Lives Matter co-founder, reportedly proposed about 10 amendments on various issues primarily impacting the black community and other communities of color which were rejected without a vote. If Cullors feels like less of an ally or a member of a party with principles, can you blame her? We’ve seen ordinary people protesting en masse IN THE MIDST OF A PANDEMIC to bring attention to and demand change to combat systemic racism in our society. How can this platform possibly be construed to meet this historic moment?

Another criticism of the platform is that it underestimates both the durability and magnitude of COVID-19’s impact. In a separate article for The Nation by Emma Galbraith and James K. Galbraith, the authors outline how the Democratic party platform falls short in several areas related to coronavirus.

In addition to, as mentioned, not embracing single-payer healthcare at a time when this pandemic has exacerbated a healthcare crisis, the platform insufficiently addresses our oil surplus, it undersells the blow dealt to the services and construction industries (among others), it offers minimal relief to renters and others facing homelessness, and it doesn’t fully comprehend the lack of trust America’s disastrous response to COVID-19 has engendered in its inhabitants. After all, faith in our political institutions was relatively low even before we started seeing cases in the States. Now? Memes about guillotines are on the rise, and while we’re yet on the level of dark humor, I feel like today’s politicians and others more removed from the struggles of everyday Americans shouldn’t push it.

I’ve heard it said that the DNC has effectively taken a victory lap with its elaboration of the party platform, an analogy I consider to be apt in how it reflects the dynamic between centrist establishment forces and progressives trying to reform the Democratic Party from the inside. What’s especially on the nose about this comparison, meanwhile, is that it resembles the attitude Democratic supporters had in 2016, which we all know was an ill-fated confidence. 2020 is already different in any number of ways and at this writing, things look good for Joe Biden. Very good. Just the same, the Dems would be well served not to press their luck. If anyone knows about losing winnable elections, it’s them.

Not everything is bad about the Democratic Party’s platform this election cycle. That said, it could be dramatically better, and furthermore, even if Biden wins, the U.S. will face huge structural issues that the policy positions enumerated within the platform won’t begin to fully address. Progressives will be holding Biden’s feet to the fire in that case. Democratic leadership better be ready for it.

The Democrats Can’t—and Shouldn’t—Rely on “Never Trump” Republicans

This is how I felt when I heard the Democrats were inviting former Ohio governor and Republican(!) John Kasich to speak at the Democratic National Convention. (Photo Credit: Marc Nozell/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Reportedly, former Ohio governor John Kasich is slated to speak at the Democratic National Convention next month. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s a Republican speaking at a gathering designed to prepare the Democrats for the looming presidential election.

Does anyone else see a problem here?

Clearly, I am not alone in having reservations. In a piece for The Nation, Elie Mystal expresses his mystified incredulity at Joe Biden’s and Co.’s choice. From the jump, there’s the matter of some of Kasich’s values, which seem patently incompatible with Democratic Party values in 2020. Kasich is anti-abortion, pro-gun, opposed anti-LGBTQ discrimination laws during his tenure, and supported legislation that labor and its advocates reviled as a “union-busting attack.” This appears largely out of step with the values of a significant segment of the left-leaning electorate.

What makes the decision to feature Kasich especially egregious, though, is that it isn’t a one-off either. Kasich’s elevation is emblematic of a pattern of behavior and thinking within Democratic circles that by accruing endorsements from more “reasonable” GOP figures (at least compared to Donald Trump), they’ll win the ever-coveted working-class white vote. The problem? At least in the short term, that’s not going to happen.

Instead, Kasich’s endorsement of Biden will not only fail to capture that sought-after voting bloc, but it won’t appeal to any others, be it people of color, women voters, or both. Kasich’s speaking time, moreover, would be better served giving a platform to Democratic candidates on the rise within the party ranks or otherwise actively trying to unseat a Republican incumbent. Kasich’s inclusion is, on multiple levels, unproductive.

As Mystal believes or is starting to believe, that may be design on the part of the right and the center-right. The involvement in Democratic circles by Kasich, the Lincoln Project, and other “Never Trump” Republicans is not about doing the right thing, but rather propping up a centrist candidate whose power likely will already be circumscribed by a Republican-controlled Senate.

As evidence of this, Mystal points to all the times in recent memory Republicans, you know, failed to do the right thing by holding up a recklessly conservative agenda. There are numerous examples cited within the article—backing the likes of Brett Kavanaugh, George W. Bush, and Sarah Palin chief among them. By showcasing reality-show “talent” like Palin and staying silent when a conservative majority in the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, the GOP have fueled the sort of conditions that gave rise to Trump in the first place. That they’ve somehow learned their lesson or weren’t already being somewhat disingenuous in appearing more moderate is therefore ludicrous.

Consequently, that some Democrats can’t see through this speaks either to their incompetence or their misguidedly slavish devotion to the idea they can hope to thrive on white working-class males at the potential expense of people of color and/or women, the essence of their base as it is right now. To this effect, Mystal highlights how Sherrod Brown, who won going away against his Republican challenger in 2018, did so not on the backs of whites without a college degree, but on the strength of his advantages with women and black voters. Such is why Brown would be a more natural fit for the Convention than Kasich, not to mention the fact that Brown is an actual bleeping Democrat.

Mystal closes with these thoughts:

Joe Biden is not going to win white men in Ohio in 2020. He’s not going to win them nationally, either. Unless John Kasich has some plan to inspire women and Black people to vote for Biden, neither he nor any Never Trump Republican is going to be all that helpful in the upcoming election. The sooner Democrats accept that the uneducated white man is not coming back to the party, the better their chances of defeating Donald Trump.

Certainly, a Democratic Party that appeals to working-class voters of all make and model is the long-term goal for the Democratic Party establishment and progressives alike. In the interim, however, with an election to win against a dangerously unhinged incumbent, it’s best to play to the Dems’ existing strengths and natural appeal to the Latinx/youth vote as opposed to trying to cajole or convert disaffected Republicans. Mere months away from the general election, that Democratic operatives don’t understand this is disconcerting to say the least.


As referenced earlier, what’s particularly problematic about John Kasich’s sanctification at the hands of the Biden campaign and the DNC is that it is one in a growing line of Republicans propped up at the expense of exposure to members of the Democratic Party and despite misgivings about their records. When John McCain died, Democratic Party figures tripped over themselves to commemorate his life and service to his country, conveniently leaving out that he was an unrepentant war hawk and that he only sometimes criticized Donald Trump. The rest of the time, he voted in line with a Republican agenda. Evidently, not folding completely to Trump and his supporters is to be considered a major achievement these days.

Similarly, bestowing hagiographic treatment on George W. Bush because of his relative civility (as with McCain standing up to Trump, again, low bar to clear) is a nauseating exercise in whitewashing his tenure as president. When not appearing downright incompetent, Bush, flanked by the soulless Dick Cheney, manufactured a war in Iraq based on fabricated intelligence, yet another costly conflict the United States willing threw itself into marked by rampant human rights abuses. He certainly shouldn’t be celebrated by Democrats—nor should he and Cheney be venerated even by Republicans as they are better considered war criminals.

Listen—John Kasich was by many accounts the most agreeable candidate running for the Republican Party nomination in 2016. That ain’t saying much, though. Regardless of his standing in the GOP, for a party in the Democrats facing a rapidly changing electorate and a vocal progressive contingent hungry for real progress, Kasich is a terrible choice for the Democratic National Convention and one of limited electoral advantage, to boot.

The Dems can’t—and shouldn’t—try to rely on “Never Trump” Republicans in 2020 and beyond. If they can’t fill a convention speaking slate or generate excitement with their own brand, how are we supposed to have confidence in and enthusiasm for them heading into November?

I Voted for Bernie and All I Got Was This Stupid Task Force

Bruh, I know how you feel. (Photo Credit: Steven Pisano/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

I will always feel indebted to Bernie Sanders for how he inspired me to become involved with politics. But damn if I’m not disappointed with the way the Democratic Party presidential primaries turned out—and super disappointed now that all progressives have to show for their efforts in 2020 at the highest level is the Joe Biden-Bernie Sanders task force.

At this writing, Biden has well surpassed the requisite tally to clinch the nomination, garnering 2,575 pledged delegates, 584 more than the minimum needed. Bernie stands at 1,047 after dropping out in April. All other candidates who won delegates amassed but 142 delegates. What’s the significance, beyond Joe running up the score?

By now, nothing. Had Bernie reached 1,200 delegates, there might’ve been a discussion to be had, albeit a relatively short one given that the nomination has long since been locked up. At this juncture, however, that is essentially impossible, if not mathematically certain to be so. Moreover, it comes on the heels of a drive by the Sanders campaign and supporting organizations that by most accounts would be described as tepid—at best.

In an article for The Intercept from April, Rachel M. Cohen detailed how while Bernie was staying on the ballot in an effort to earn more delegates, the investment to get him to 1,200 pledged delegates—the necessary number by which he and his campaign would be able to influence the Democratic National Convention/party platform—hasn’t been much of an investment.

As a function of exiting the presidential race, the Sanders campaign stopped advertising and the man himself got behind his onetime rival, endorsing Biden and vowing to campaign for him against the wishes of Larry Cohen, chair of Our Revolution. And while OR still prioritized getting out the vote for Bernie, other Bernie-sympathetic organizations shifted their focus to down-ballot races (which, to be fair, need(ed) their share of attention) or simply lack the bandwidth to make a dent in Biden grabbing the lion’s share of the delegate haul.

So, yes, we can forget about that drive, which leaves us now with the aforementioned join task force. In fairness, this “show of unity” between the two campaigns is not altogether discouraging when considering some of the dramatis personae, esp. on the Sanders side. Among the high-profile names representing Bernie’s faction are Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Climate Change), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (Health Care), and former Michigan gubernatorial candidate Dr. Abdul El-Sayed (Health Care).

As to what they’ve come up with a month and change before the convention, though? From a progressive perspective, it’s not all that and a bag of chips (note: please excuse my use of ultra-modern sayings).

To be clear, and as with the roster for the task force itself, the recommendations for the party platform are not completely devoid of encouragement, as reports Ella Nilsen for Vox, citing a 100+-page report on the Biden campaign official website.

Elements of the set of recommended directives include the creation of a postal banking system to expand banking access for low-income families; a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions national goal for all new buildings in 2030; universal pre-K for three- and four-year olds; a ban on for-profit charter schools; decriminalization of marijuana at the state level and legalization at the federal; ending the use of private prisons and detention centers; and terminating the Trump administration travel ban.

What these recommendations don’t do, meanwhile, is advocate for Medicare for All (instead, the bid is for a “public option” administered by Medicare), nor do they even mention the Green New Deal. There is no appeal for a cancellation of all student debt. These progressive priorities are largely side-stepped for the sake of this nebulous concept of party “unity.”

On the subject of Medicare, too, the task force calls for a lowering of the enrollment age from 65 to 60. For younger voters in particular, that’s small potatoes, especially when Hillary Clinton, on several counts a better candidate than Biden, was offering enrollment at the age of 55. On such a critical issue as healthcare in a time of political upheaval and amid a global health crisis, that we’re moving backwards, not forwards is frustrating—and that may be putting it mildly.

Similarly, there’s no mandate to defund the police. Sure, this is a “charged” issue, with some fearful voters equating defunding police forces with abolishing them outright and not even Bernie supporting the defunding movement; if anything he wants to give police departments more money, albeit with strings attached (still not a great take, by the by). That said, for young adults from communities of color that have been disproportionately and negatively impacted by increasingly militaristic policing, to not take a firmer stand on defunding is less likely to draw their attention and generate excitement for the Biden campaign.

In all, Biden and Co. appear to be banking on the suburban “swing mom” vote, all but ignoring the youth vote, the Latinx vote, Black Lives Matter’s larger aims, and every intersection betwixt and between. Generally speaking, and with a nod to the “insurgent” wing of the Democratic Party desperately hungry for substantive change, it’s a rather disheartening collection of platform priorities, notably because it is yet one more instance of establishment Democrats playing it safe with a critical election on the line.


Did Bernie Sanders betray progressives by dropping out so early with few to no concessions from Joe Biden and his camp re the party platform? It depends on who you ask, but as far as I’m concerned, no, Bernie hasn’t betrayed progressives. As a member of the Senate, Sanders has continued and will continue to champion progressive causes like M4A and the GND. Concerning the former, lest we forget and as Bernie growled in a memorable debate exchange, he wrote the damn bill. Thus, while he may have laid it down to Biden, he didn’t abandon his principles like other so-called progressives in the race (cough, Elizabeth Warren, cough).

Nevertheless, lay it down Bernie did, and this notion is still something I wrestle with as one of his supporters. I get that Bernie pledged he would support the eventual winner of the Democratic Party nomination as he did in 2016. He may be a rabble-rouser, but he’s not a complete asshole and he understands the threat that a second(!) term of President Donald Trump presents.

This aside, when it came to the lone heads-up debate with Joe Biden, where was the killer instinct his supporters were looking for? I know, I know, Bernie—Joe is your “friend.” He’s not my friend, though, not with his litany of bad policy positions and votes. With that, I don’t know if he rescued you from a burning building or what, but the way you threw in the towel, it felt less like a strategic maneuver and more like something done out of obligation or duress. Watching Bernie’s endorsement of Biden, I felt like shouting at the screen for him to tug on his right ear if he were being held hostage. Three months removed from that moment, that this theory remains among my top explanations for what happened is vaguely alarming.

We may never know what was discussed behind closed doors between Biden and Sanders, or for that matter, Sanders and Barack Obama. Maybe Bernie is just too nice or too much of an optimist. (By proxy, I might be a cold-hearted cynic and a jerk.) In terms of leverage, however, any pull Bernie and his backers had died when his bid for at least a quarter of the delegate share did. If nothing else, it’s aggravating to have Biden backers and dyed-in-the-wool Democrats popping off and telling progressives to “kiss the ring” or “bend the knee.” This is supposed to be American democracy, not a g-d Game of Thrones situation.

Even the act of withholding one’s vote or not committing to Biden until the general election nears has been undermined in part by—you guessed it—Bernie Sanders, taking a more scolding tone this election cycle and suggesting it would be “irresponsible” for his adherents to sit this election out. As is always the case with vote shaming, however, the directionality is warped. In all but a handful of “swing” states, “rogue” Bernie supporters are unlikely to make a significant impact on the outcome. Either way, it’s ultimately Joe Biden’s job to make the case for Joe Biden, not Bernie or Briahna Joy Gray or David Sirota or anyone else affiliated with the Sanders campaign. As I feel it should be stressed, Bernie backers are not a cult. They have real concerns about real issues and should be talked to, not talked at accordingly.

As Bernie himself recently put forward, Joe Biden has a chance to be “the most progressive president since FDR” if he commits to the recommendations outlined by the joint task force. Meanwhile, these are purely recommendations and from what we know of Biden and his profile as a lawmaker, a more centrist and less inspiring outcome is more probable. I hope the Biden campaign ultimately surprises progressives en route to a decisive victory over Donald Trump, I really do. At the same time, I’m not exactly holding my breath either.

Follow the Money: Presidential Election Edition

the_truth_shall_set_you_freamon
As Lester Freamon himself put it, “You start to follow the money, and you don’t know where the f**k it’s gonna take you.” (Image Source: HBO)

Concerning television dramas to come out in the last 20 years or so, there is always room for debate with respect to which series is #1. If we measure purely by IMDb rating, the tie at the top goes to Band of Brothers and Planet Earth. If we go by pure popularity, and consider the breadth of a program’s fan base as well as the scope of the content itself, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead might also be in the mix. Meanwhile, if we focus on character-driven dramas and the darkness within each of us as represented by its leading figures, Breaking Bad and The Sopranos might top many people’s lists. For my part, though, the show that received due critical acclaim in its initial run and backed it up most consistently with tightly constructed character-driven stories, while still giving due weight to the big-picture issues that color the world in which the various individuals integral to the plot find themselves, is The Wire. Like a number of fans, I did not really appreciate David Simon’s highly-regarded ode to the city of Baltimore until after the fact, but retrospectively, the series continues to resonate with me and illuminate the kinds of conflicts we still see within communities and on a larger scale today.

In Season One of The Wire, the primary focus is on the intersection between the Baltimore police and the drug dealers of the city’s streets. In investigating Avon Barksdale’s outfit, members of a task force known as the Major Crimes Unit begin to find that pursuing one of Baltimore’s most powerful gangs is more dangerous and bigger than they might have otherwise anticipated. Not only do bodies quickly pile up in the course of the Barksdale crew’s affairs, but so too do apparent connections, through allocations of cash and real estate, to prominent businessmen and politicians. Lester Freamon, a forgotten man within the Baltimore PD ranks for running afoul of a higher-up once upon a time, through his instincts and investigative savvy, begins to make himself into a valued member of the Major Crimes Unit. As he explains the connection between crime, money and power, “You follow drugs, you get drug addicts and drug dealers. But you start to follow the money, and you don’t know where the f**k it’s gonna take you.”

Follow the money. It’s the very refrain heard in All the President’s Men, the 1976 film based on the nonfiction work of the same name. The book, written by Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, chronicles their investigation of the Watergate scandal all the way through the revelation of the existence of the Nixon tapes. The phrase “follow the money” does not actually appear in Bernstein and Woodward’s book, and appears to be a device of the screenplay penned by William Goldman. It comes in a clandestine meeting in a parking garage between Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and his confidential government source, known only as “Deep Throat” (Hal Holbrook). The latter only offers so much help to Woodward, speaking guardedly and cryptically in his comments, but urges him to follow the money, saying this about what potentially could be found down the proverbial rabbit hole: “Forget the myths the media’s created about the White House. The truth is: these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand.”

Follow the money. The more one repeats it, the more it sounds like a rallying cry of sorts. The events of The Wire may be fictional, but as a show rooted in realism, we can appreciate the plausibility of the widespread illegality for the subjects of the investigation and of the plot’s development—black or white, rich or poor, those without a badge and those wearing one. The film version of All the President’s Men, though fictionalized, evokes an actual real-world scandal in Watergate. Accordingly, there would appear to be every bit of value to applying this mantra to current events, especially those that involve money and political influence.

Speaking of guys who aren’t very bright, Donald Trump’s business and personal finances have consistently become a point of scrutiny for his critics. Which makes sense, you know, because, besides banning Muslims from entering the United States and building walls to keep out Mexicans who aren’t overrunning our country the way he and his ilk would depict it, this is pretty much his favorite topic of conversation—his considerable wealth and business acumen. Scores of people taking a good, hard look at Trump’s boasts about his net worth have cast aspersions on the veracity of his statements, which is only fair because 1) Donald is running for President of the United States, and thus should be vetted before possibly taking the reins of the top office in the country, and 2) the man lies like a rug. For one, Donald Trump’s claims of philanthropy, notably those concerning his purported donations to organizations supporting American veterans, by many accounts are all talk and no action, with concerns that the Trump Foundation is little more than a slush fund which masquerades as a meritorious charity. Even more than this, however, Trump has been accused of dramatically overstating his personal wealth as an extension of his brand. What certainly does not help the self-professed sole author of The Art of the Deal in his assertions is that his own assessments of his net worth over the years have proven amorphous and variable.

Much of the confusion surrounding what, if anything, Donald Trump has donated to veterans’ charities, how exactly his income factors into his net worth, whether or not he has business ties to Russian interests, whether or not he actually pays taxes owing to loopholes and other breaks, and other pertinent questions involving his finances, could be spelled out or at least made clearer if the man were to release his tax returns. It’s not as if this is an odd request either, as most GOP nominees since the 1970s have honored this tradition. Trump, however, has flatly refused to acquiesce on this point, and even semi-famously quipped that his tax rate is “none of your business.” The absence of the information from those returns has lent itself to rampant speculation as to why the Republican Party nominee has ducked and dodged the repeated calls to show his tax records. Some think it’s because his effective tax rate is zero, a reality which would fly in the face of the image he is trying to cultivate as the voice of the little guy, or a “blue-collar billionaire,” as some have stupidly tried to call him. Some believe it’s because of those alleged business ties to Russia, which also conflicts with the depiction of Trump as the All-American strongman. “The Donald,” for his part, has also tried to claim that, since he is being audited by the Internal Revenue Service, he can’t oblige with the request for his tax returns. According to the IRS, though, this is complete bullshit, with everyone’s favorite CEO and genius investor Warren Buffett chiming in with the information that he, too, is being audited by the IRS, joking that he’d be perfectly willing to share his returns with Donald Trump.

Why do I believe Trump won’t release his tax returns? I think, worse than anything else from his perspective, it would convey to the rest of Planet Earth that he doesn’t have as much money as he says he does. The essence of Donald Trump is style over substance, the projection of success to any and all who will listen. For anyone to even suggest that he is not everything he claims to be, the situation is liable to end up with a lawsuit against that detractor, as well as censure and ridicule on Twitter from thin-skinned man-baby Trump himself. When Donald Trump was roasted by Comedy Central, pretty much everything was fair game—his business failures, his casinos (also business failures), his hair, his multiple marriages, his privilege, his relationships with models, his (ahem) uncomfortable relationship with his daughter, Ivanka—but anything which alluded to the man not being as rich as he tells the world he is was off-limits. That was the cardinal sin.

For Trump, his presidential run is one big vanity play, as well as an exercise in how easily millions of Americans can be conned into believing he is anything but a blowhard, idiot, racist and fraud. In relation to those supporters who are either unaware of Donald Trump’s business-oriented misdeeds, or actively choose to suppress this knowledge because they enjoy some of his ideas and/or how he’s “not a politician” (though by now, I think he’s had enough practice to be considered one), it is an obvious irony that he labors on calling his political rival “Crooked Hillary.” On the flim-flam operation that is Trump University alone, the Republican Party nominee merits a serious investigation for having his name on an enterprise that appears to have bilked hard-w0rking people putting their faith in his professed business know-how out of serious amounts of money. According to a May article in The New York Times by Michael Barbaro and Steve Eder, citing the testimony of former Trump University managers, the school is “an unscrupulous business that relied on high-pressure sales tactics, employed unqualified instructors, made deceptive claims and exploited vulnerable students willing to pay tens of thousands for Mr. Trump’s insights.” Indeed, though Trump’s name is front and center in this dubious institution, he apparently has had little to do with how it is run, though this certainly does not exonerate him. Lawsuits have been numerous against Trump University, LLC from those who have been victimized by its false promises, including in the state of California, prompting the abhorrent situation of Trump insinuating that Judge Gonzalo Curiel couldn’t be trusted to be impartial in his handling of any case involving him because he is of Mexican descent.

Donald Trump’s history as an executive of questionable integrity and knowledge, however, runs far beyond his farcical “university.” Kurt Eichenwald, in a piece for Newsweek, provides a comprehensive guide on Trump’s ruinous track record in his business dealings. I recommend reading the piece in its entirety to get the full effect, because his failures are just about too numerous to list here. Among his “achievements”: alienating Native American Indians and losing management agreements to rival casino owners; massive personal losses owing to failed real estate partnerships and interest owed to lenders, necessitating financial rescue from Daddy; running casinos in direct competition with one another, effectually cannibalizing a number of them and forcing declarations of bankruptcy; authorizing the failed endeavor of Trump Shuttle; defaulting on all sorts of loans; putting his name on the ill-fated projects Trump Mortgage, GoTrump.com, Trump Vodka, and Trump Steaks; and licensing deals on disastrous Trump properties that have prompted accusations of fraud. In all, Donald Trump owes his fortune and his stature to a combination of his father’s financial support—the likes of which few Americans could ever hope to be able to rely upon—proverbial smoke and mirrors of the Trump myth which have duped countless investors and voters, and when all else fails, litigating the opposition into silent submission.


Cassidy-TrumpUniversityItsWorseThanYouThink-690
If you go to Trump University, you will probably lose a lot of money and gain very little. You might read a book, though, which is likely more than its namesake can say. (Photo Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s missteps, characterized by unflappable arrogance, incendiary racist rhetoric, and utter incompetence, should be enough to disqualify him from running a Taco Bell, let alone the country. However, owing to his rich father’s patronage, the provisions of bankruptcy law, an army of lawyers as a safeguard in numerous legal disputes, and America’s obsession with celebrity—alongside, let’s be honest, an almost-historically-weak Republican primary field—Trump finds himself in the championship round, if you will, of the 2016 presidential race. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, who faced a robust challenge for the Democratic Party nomination from Bernie Sanders, and who has a decided advantage in political experience, the more developed party platform, and—yes, the campaign donation infrastructure—should be poised to obliterate her major-party competitor. Indeed, Clinton currently leads in most polls, despite what Michael Cohen, executive VP of the Trump Foundation and special counsel to “the Donald” might question.

And yet, it is Hillary’s own complicated history with donations and other monies which inspire doubt from a majority of Americans, such that any lead in pre-election surveys Clinton might possess, in spite of Donald Trump’s recent spate of blunders—the likes of which have Michael Moore and others convinced Trump is intentionally throwing the election—feels tenuous, at best. Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine both recently released their latest tax returns, which would appear to put them leaps and bounds ahead of Donald “The Artless Dodger” Trump. Especially since it shows, at least on the surface, the Clintons as payers of more than their fair share of taxes—recompensing Uncle Sam at an effective rate upwards of 40%. According to their returns, they also give nearly 10% of their adjusted gross income back to charity. Clinton and Kaine—the model of financial transparency!

Whoa—let’s slow it down a bit first. For critics of Hillary’s, especially those who were fervent supporters of Bernie Sanders’ during the primary season, the notion that Bill and Hill made most of their money last year through fees for delivering speeches recalls the controversy over the latter’s speeches to Goldman Sachs that netted HRC several hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop. The Clinton campaign defended their candidate’s acceptance of large sums for her appearances, averring that a) Goldman Sachs and other companies were the ones to offer her that much, so you can’t blame her on that end, and b) that a quid pro quo on matters of policy can’t be assumed from this sort of arrangement. To a certain extent, I agree; in the absence of any proverbial smoking gun, you can’t prove Clinton would necessarily go easy on Wall Street, big banks, and other power players. All the same, despite repeated requests from Sanders himself, Hillary Clinton has patently refused to release the transcripts of her speeches, making it all the more curious what is so g-d good that Goldman et al. would throw all that dough her way. To put it another way, if she has nothing to hide within the contents of those addresses, there’s no reason she should keep them such a guarded secret. After all, she is a paragon of transparency, right?

It’s more than just the speeches, though. The sources of funding for Hillary’s campaign contributions and charitable donations has raised the suspicion of agencies and individuals, regardless of political affiliation. In particular, the workings of the Clinton Foundation and the Hillary Victory Fund have raised concerns about whether or not ethical, moral and even legal considerations were violated by HRC and her surrogates. Clinton’s most die-hard advocates have criticized the attempts of Republican lawmakers and other politicians over the years to knock her and her husband down a peg, and to be sure, any merit to be found in criticism of her handling of matters of foreign policy such as the Benghazi debacle (as far as I’m concerned, Hillary should have been more aware of the deteriorating situation in Libya, or at least its possibility, after the deposition of Muammar Gaddafi) has tended to get lost in her questioning at the hands of Congress, who have made what could be construed as a legitimate inquiry feel more like an unabashed witch hunt.

With respect to potential wrongdoing related to the Clinton Foundation, on the other hand, it is not a partisan team bent on political assassination, but rather the Internal Revenue Service—that same friendly agency supposedly in the midst of auditing Donald Trump—who is leading the investigation. According to State Department E-mails obtained by Judicial Watch as a result of a lawsuit filed by the latter under the Freedom of Information Act, top Clinton Foundation donors were given special consideration, potentially even in the form of government positions, for their contributions, suggesting a “pay-to-play” rewards system was in effect during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, and at the very least, that Clinton Foundation business and State Department time was intertwined, despite any inherent conflicts of interest. What’s more, key Foundation donors are regarded, shall we say, highly skeptically on an international wavelength, chief among them Gilbert Chagoury, who was convicted in 2000 in Switzerland for money laundering in Nigeria. Essentially, then, it is not outrageous to think the Clinton Foundation, originally conceived by Bill, has become a haven for cronyism and loose ethics/morals. Perhaps this is why, according to the Clinton campaign, the Clinton Foundation will stop accepting corporate and foreign donations—that is, if she wins. To me, though, this sounds like the addict or career criminal saying he or she will quit after one last score or hurrah. Right, Hillary. We’ll believe it when we see it.

And then there’s the Hillary Victory Fund. The fundraising vehicle, which is supposed to be a joint committee comprised by the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee and 32 state party committees that share in the proceeds from donations apparently doesn’t share them all well—at least not in a way that keeps the money in the state committees’ coffers. Per Kenneth Vogel and Isaac Arnsdorf, writing for Politico, as of May 2016, less than 1% of the $61 million generated by the Fund has remained with state fundraising efforts, with roughly 88% of what has been transferred to the states being funneled right on to the DNC. This means the bulk of the money has gone to—surprise!—the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, which, as we know from the DNC leaks, is basically just another way of saying the Clinton campaign and the Clinton campaign. From the article:

The victory fund has transferred $15.4 million to Clinton’s campaign and $5.7 million to the DNC, which will work closely with Clinton’s campaign if and when she becomes the party’s nominee. And most of the $23.3 million spent directly by the victory fund has gone toward expenses that appear to have directly benefited Clinton’s campaign, including $2.8 million for “salary and overhead” and $8.6 million for web advertising that mostly looks indistinguishable from Clinton campaign ads and that has helped Clinton build a network of small donors who will be critical in a general election expected to cost each side well in excess of $1 billion.

The arrangement has sparked concerns among campaign finance watchdogs and allies of Clinton’s Democratic rival Bernie Sanders. They see it as a circumvention of campaign contribution limits by a national party apparatus intent on doing whatever it takes to help Clinton defeat Sanders during the party’s primary, and then win the White House.

But it is perhaps more notable that the arrangement has prompted concerns among some participating state party officials and their allies. They grumble privately that Clinton is merely using them to subsidize her own operation, while her allies overstate her support for their parties and knock Sanders for not doing enough to help the party.

Though Hillary certainly has since clinched the Democratic Party nomination and now has the full backing of Bernie Sanders in an effort to defeat Donald Trump, once more, in a wry sort of way, we can appreciate the irony; much as Trump calling Clinton “crooked” is a pot-kettle situation, the Clinton campaign attacking Sanders for not being a “true” Democrat and for not doing his part to help Democrats seems more than a bit disingenuous. As with the promise to stop taking foreign and corporate donations if she wins, Hillary Clinton speaking to the need to overturn the ruling of Citizens United v. FEC—when she has been involved in some of the most embarrassingly excessive fundraising events in recent memory—smacks of duplicity. Do as I say, not as I do. Don’t worry—things will magically change once I am Madam President. That Giorgio Armani jacket was totally necessary.

See, here’s the thing. For all of Hillary Clinton’s promises about what she will do if given the keys to the White House, the warning signs are such to give progressives pause. Much ridicule was heaped on the Sanders delegates and other dissenters who made their presence felt at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July, with the others trying to celebrate Hillary’s coronation more or less treating them as babies and sore losers (recall Sarah Silverman’s “you’re being ridiculous” line), but if this report from the Convention by Nicholas Confessore and Amy Chozick is true to reality, the fears of those objectors may be justified. As Nick and Amy set the scene:

After a wrenching yearlong nominating battle with searing debates over the influence of Wall Street and the ability of ordinary citizens to be heard over the din of dollars changing hands, the party’s moneyed elite returned to the fore this week, undeterred and mostly unabashed.

While protesters marched in the streets and blocked traffic, Democratic donors congregated in a few reserved hotels and shuttled between private receptions with A-list elected officials. If the talk onstage at the Wells Fargo Center was about reducing inequality and breaking down barriers, Center City Philadelphia evoked the world as it still often is: a stratified society with privilege and access determined by wealth.

For someone like Robert Reich who “felt the Bern” but now supports Hillary Clinton, like Bernie, because he believes Donald Trump can’t win the election, this makes him worry that HRC really doesn’t “get it.” What seems to elude Clinton and numerous political analysts about this frustration of the American people with establishment politics and the need to reclaim our democracy from moneyed interests is that this demand for “revolution” and freedom from a rigged system that perpetuates and widens the gap between the super-wealthy and the rest of the country is apt to be more than just a flash in the pan if trends toward increasing inequality continue. Lest Hillary’s winning the nomination be regarded as some sort of mandate of the general public, as Pew Research finds, only 29% of eligible voters participated in either the Democratic or Republican primaries. While it’s possible Clinton could’ve upended Bernie Sanders by an even larger margin with higher turnout, with aspects of the primary process conspiring to act against independents and working people, it’s hard to know who or what truly is indicative of the voting populace.


12LIPTAK-jumbo
A meeting in a dark parking garage with Deep Throat. Which is a scene from All The President’s Men, and quite possibly, one or more extramarital encounters Bill Clinton had while as President. (Image Credit: Warner Bros.)

As someone who supported Bernie Sanders until his campaign was officially kaput, and who supports him now in his quest to help America “take back” democracy, I fully acknowledge that my judgment and opinions are grounded in a certain way of thinking. This notwithstanding, knowing what we know about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, that so many people are willing to cast these considerations aside and readily endorse/vote for one of them boggles my mind. With all due respect, I don’t understand either why so many people would readily watch The Real Housewives of [INSERT LOCATION], or would wait in line for hours just to get an iPhone or Shake Shack, just to give you some perspective on my lack thereof.

Still, let’s review. Trump is more or less a celebrity con man who has been directly responsible for scores of business failures, and whose Trump University and countless licensing deals have swindled folks out of their life’s savings. On top of the notion he is a bigot, climate change denier, racist, sexist, xenophobe, and all-around asshole. Clinton, meanwhile, has accepted huge sums of money from corporations and wealthy investors both inside and outside the United States, likely violating election laws and ethics in the process. Not to mention she is/has been the subject of investigations by both the FBI and the IRS, as well as a Special Committee related to Benghazi, such that New Hampshire governor Maggie Hassan, professed Hillary supporter, could not state that her candidate of choice is honest—even when asked directly three times. According to a recent Economist/YouGov poll, only 28% of voters think Hillary Clinton is “honest and trustworthy,” a mere percentage point—less than the survey’s margin of error—higher than Donald Trump’s rating. Meanwhile, on the subject of favorability, per the most recent Gallup polling data, Hillary manages only a 38% Favorable rating—with 57% of respondents rating her Unfavorable—and Trump, worse, at a clip of 32%, with 62% giving him a thumbs-down. (Compare, for example, with Bernie Sanders’ 53%/37% Favorable/Unfavorable split, or even John Kasich’s 37%/28% approval/disapproval level). Shouldn’t we like our candidates more than we dislike them? Or, at the very least, shouldn’t we be able to trust either of them?

Not long ago, I discussed the leaked DNC E-mails, which show collusion among the DNC ranks to work against the Bernie Sanders campaign despite officials’ stated neutrality, with my brother, someone who I consider to be a reasonably intelligent man. I, of course, fumed about the whole situation, and like Bernie, though not surprised, was disappointed by what the leak revealed. My brother, meanwhile, who is pro-Hillary, insinuated that if Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her flunkies believed undermining Sanders and elevating Hillary Clinton was the best way to defeat Donald Trump, maybe they should have done so. And this, this is where I have my gravest concerns regarding the electoral process in the United States today. In our winner-takes-all format, victory at any and all cost seems to be order of the day, with any collateral damage in misappropriating donations or inciting hatred to be swept under the rug for the sake of earning the W. But the process, the journey leading to the destination, matters—or it should, at any rate. Candidates for public office, especially those running for President of the United States, should have to adhere to ethical, legal and moral guidelines. They should have to earn our vote, rather than assuming we’ll “fall in line” and choose either the Democrat or Republican on the ballot. Without this much, for all our bombast about this being the greatest nation in the world and the home of modern democracy, we’re really no better than the lot of “lesser” nations we look down upon.

Follow the money. If you do, you’ll find those politicians who have fallen in love with it will do anything to keep it and make more of it—with little or no regard for the American people and doing the right thing in the process.

Everybody Loves Hillary, Or, You Spoiled Brats, Stop Ruining Our Narrative!

920x920 (2)
Hillary Clinton has a lot of balloons and confetti at her disposal, as well as the admiration of Hollywood and women across the country. But the first-woman narrative belies the notion that she and Donald Trump are too close to call in the polls, and that there are a number of unhappy campers and warning signs right within her own party. (Photo retrieved from chron.com.)

It’s official: Hillary Rodham Clinton is the Democratic Party nominee for President of the United States. As I saw numerous people opine on Twitter, “Well, love her or hate her, you gotta admit this moment is historic.” Yes, sure, but if we’re taking the term very broadly, if I eat a sandwich and write an article about it, that too is historic.

I get what they mean, though, and what this moment means to so many Americans, especially women and girls, young and old. Truth be told, the U.S. is long overdue for a woman to be a major-party nominee for POTUS. CNN recently put together a list of 60+ countries who have elected female leaders (either presidents or prime ministers) before America. I’m sure you’re familiar, even slightly, with a number of the names on their tally. Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Isabel Perón, Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto, Angela Merkel, Julia Gillard, Dilma Rousseff—and these are just a sampling of the notables. What’s more, it’s not like these nations with women as heads of state are all major players on the international scene. For crying out loud, Mauritius beat us to the punch! Mauritius, I say!

Now that we’ve established Hillary’s place in history—or herstory, as some would have it—and having surveyed the indelible crack which has been made in that proverbial but all-too-real glass ceiling, it’s time to talk turkey regarding the polls and whether or not the would-be Madam President can seal the deal come November. As much as some of us would insist it just has to happen, the reality is that the race for the top office in the country is pretty much a dead heat. In the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, Donald Trump actually leads by two points, though as the accompanying article indicates, the so-called “credibility interval” for this data is 4%, meaning Clinton and Trump are essentially tied. A coin-flip over whether or not Hillary Clinton becomes President, and perhaps over the fate of the country itself? Democrats, do you feel lucky?

Bearing in mind that Hillary’s standing in the polls may yet see a bump owing to a “convention effect” of sorts after making her closing speech from Philadelphia, but regardless, the margin is too close for either the Democrats or the Republicans to take for granted. And this is where Bernie Sanders and his stupid supporters come into play. Wait—I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter. Does that mean I’m stupid? I guess so. Because the bulk of the reaction to Sanders delegates and supporters/Democratic National Convention protestors, at least within the Democratic Party, seems to be one of exasperation and irritation. “Guys, you lost—get over it!” “We need to unify—move on!” “Kids, it’s time for the adults to take over. We’re going to need you to fall in line already.”

Uh-oh. You didn’t just say fall in line to the “Bernie or Bust” crowd, did you? Yeah, um, they tend not to respond well to that, especially considering that a number of them may be voting for the first time or may simply be new to the Democratic Party (and therefore don’t remember how Hillary threw her support behind Barack Obama in 2008). So, asking people you’re trying to win over to stop being “sore losers” and to “get with the program” may be a bit of a self-defeating proposition when they haven’t been part of the Party or the political process itself for very long. Especially just a few hours after their idol finally was mathematically eliminated from competition, if you will, and mere days after leaked DNC E-mails proved that key Committee figures essentially worked for the Clinton campaign and against Sanders, and with the help of members of the mainstream media, no less. Sheesh, give them time to mourn!

Instead, those Hillary Clinton supporters and others looking forward to the general election treated the lead-up to the deciding roll call vote at the Democratic National Convention like a coronation for Hillary rather than the democratic process that is meant to occur at party conventions. Accordingly, that Bernie or Busters and other Clinton protestors would voice their displeasure was met with contempt. Sarah Silverman, who supported Bernie in the primaries but now is #WithHer, scored big points among audiences in the arena and at home by calling the Bernie or Bust contingent “ridiculous.” Now, after the fact of Hillary Clinton securing the party nomination outright, other social critics have taken to chastising the #NeverHillary stance. Seth Meyers, for one, though his point about the danger of electing a “racist demagogue” is well noted, reflecting a sense of impatient annoyance, addressed the #HillNo movement by insisting “we don’t have time” for their shenanigans, and suggesting that Sanders supporters must have skipped History class to attend a Bernie rally in their failure to recognize the dangers of a Trump presidency based on similar examples. When comedians and other personalities aren’t “taking down” Sanders’ more vocal supporters, the news is picking up the slack. Philip Bump of The Washington Post points to Pew research which finds that nine out of 10 “unwavering” Bernie backers support Clinton in the general election, thus delegitimizing the Bernie or Bust position. You can’t argue with that survey! It’s scientific!

The quick and widespread antipathy to Bernie Sanders’ die-hard supporters, I believe, stems from conceptions held by these outsiders about Bernie backers’ identity, which may, after all, be misconceptions and/or subject to the tendency of Clinton and other leaders within the Democratic Party to treat blocs of people as wholly homogeneous groups (remember Hillary’s Southern “firewall” among blacks?). Throughout the campaign season, Hillary supporters and the media alike have evidently tried to characterize Bernie Sanders’ faithful as one or more of the following:

  • Impractical, imprudent idealists
  • Mindless Bernie followers
  • People who really, really don’t like Hillary Clinton and other “establishment” candidates
  • Spoiled brats who only want “free stuff”
  • White undergraduate students

OK, let me address each of these points/characterizations on their own merit:

1) When exactly did it become a bad thing to be an idealist? Have eight years of Barack Obama’s platform of “hope and change” and failures on some aspects of that platform hardened us to the extent we must categorically dismiss optimism in favor of cold pragmatism, or worse, cynicism? Joe Biden somewhat chided critics of Bernie Sanders’ a while back when going after his (Bernie’s) “unrealistic” policy goals, inferring that the Democrats and we as a country need to think big in terms of we aim to accomplish, and only then work backwards or down from there. That is to say that touting one’s identity as a “progressive who gets things done” might be judged as preemptive capitulation toward moderates for the sake of merely incremental progress, not to mention that with a Republican-controlled Congress, any Democrat would be likely to have difficulty passing his or her intended initiatives, regardless of how “left-leaning” he or she is.

I think Sanders’ political movement, perhaps unfairly, gets conflated with the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was too unfocused to be very durable. If his stump speeches have hammered one thing home, it’s that Bernie’s agenda has definite direction with respect to getting money out of politics, shrinking the widening income and wealth gap between top earners and low- to middle-class earners, and bringing workers and young people into the fold.

2) I don’t think Bernie’s supporters will do whatever they tell him to do, as evidenced by the boos Bernie Sanders himself received when telling convention-goers amendable to his cause that Hillary Clinton must be elected the next President of the United States so as to defeat Donald Trump. I also don’t believe he would’ve asked his delegates to walk out of the Convention, and yet many of them did, escaping—if only temporarily—the Hillary Clinton love-fest inside the venue. If the events of this past week have indicated one thing, it’s that it’s not as if Bernie cracks the whip and his supporters follow. Numerous pundits and writers have commented on this situation as Sanders “losing control” of his crowd, somewhat akin to Dr. Frankenstein losing control of his creation. This implies, however, that these voters are meant to be controlled or corralled, when really, they are free to have independent thoughts and viewpoints. For those of us hoping Donald Trump never ascends to the land’s highest office, we would hope they would choose anyone but him, but let’s respect that their vote counts just as much as anyone else’s.

3) Perhaps unfairly for Hillary Clinton’s sake, the woman of a thousand pantsuits is a symbol of a political establishment that represents what so many Americans dislike about politicians: the catering to moneyed interests (real or perceived), the pandering, the umpteen policy changes which manifest in the span of just a campaign cycle. As Clinton and her campaign have been keen to mention, too, the former Secretary of State has faced unique challenges in trying to ascend in an area traditionally dominated by men, within a deeply patriarchal society, no less.

These notions aside, people still really don’t like Hillary, for various reasons. Of course, Republicans have wanted to knock her down a peg for some time now, though this appears to be largely the byproduct of her relationship with Bill. On elements of policy and decision-making during her tenure at Secretary of State (Benghazi and her E-mails, at the top of the list), meanwhile, criticisms are more than fair, as are reservations about how Hillary has gotten her funding—personally and politically. For all the obstacles she has faced, Hillary Clinton is not above reproach or above the laws of our country—nor should she or anyone else in her position be.

4) “Why in my day, we paid to go to school! And we loved it! WE LOVED IT!” Except for the notion that it’s getting harder and harder to pay for college, owing to rising administrative costs and other factors. Economists refer to the national student debt as a “crisis” rather aptly, because even conservative estimates put the total upwards of $1 trillion. While we’re on the subject of “free stuff,” let’s discuss why universal healthcare is a vital topic of conversation. Tens of millions of Americans each year have difficulty paying for medical treatments, possess some level of medical debt, or simply forgo insurance/treatment to avoid the costs. Access to viable healthcare should be a right, not a privilege. At least that’s what Bernie Sanders, myself, and others in this country believe. And, famously, the entire country of Canada. But what do those happy, hockey-loving hosers know?

5) It’s no secret: Bernie Sanders, throughout the primary season, enjoyed a sizable advantage over Hillary Clinton among college graduates/students and other millennials, and tended to perform better in states with relatively low populations of minorities—his home state of Vermont, a prime example. That said, the diversity among Sanders’ surrogates and delegates demonstrated that it wasn’t just a bunch of white kids in Bernie’s corner. Ben Jealous, Cornel West, Killer Mike, Rosario Dawson, Nina Turner, Tulsi Gabbard—these are all counterexamples to the observed trend which resist the desire to put people narrowly into labeled boxes by their race, education level or other demographic characteristic. (Either way, still more inclusive than your average Trump rally.)

As to the “Bernie or Bust” crowd in particular, which perhaps in the severest of popular challenges is accused of suffering from a serious case of white privilege, let’s explore this charge. Shane Ryan, in a piece for Paste Magazine, pushes back against the assertion that progressives who don’t wish to vote for Hillary Clinton in the general election (and presumably are whiter than a Bichon Frise in a blizzard) necessarily don’t care about those Americans who stand to be primarily disadvantaged by a Donald Trump presidency. As he writes, for supporters of a “status quo” candidate like Hillary Clinton to accuse die-hard Bernie backers of not giving a shit about Americans who are increasingly disenfranchised by economic and political systems that reward the wealthy is “a dirty trick that would make Karl Rove proud.”

Ryan goes on to address the notion of whether or not Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump would be worse as President, and his answer—which you likely will dismiss as crazy talk—is that Clinton is not automatically the better choice. Before you ready your tomatoes to hurl at the screen, hear Shane out. The argument is this: an awful Trump presidency has a good chance of spurring a wave of progressive influence in politics and helping lead back to a Democratic reclamation of Congress, while Clinton could not only invite a conservative backlash, but voting for her stands to reinforce the belief of establishment Dems that they can ignore the little guys and girls among us and get away with it. By this logic, Shane Ryan asks rhetorically, “Why should we make any decision that would simultaneously undercut our growing power and subject us to total Republican domination in four years’ time?” Then again, Donald Trump could just get us all blown to smithereens, so take all this for what it’s worth.


Of course, this line of thinking doesn’t make for a nice narrative.

“THE FIRST WOMAN NOMINEE! EVERYONE LOVES HILLARY!”

“But wait, what about all those protestors outside the gates, and all those boos on the first day, and all those delegates who walked out after the roll call vote?”

“THEY’RE A FRINGE GROUP! WE DIDN’T SEE THEM ON TV!”

“Right, because they didn’t show it on the television news shows. But it happened.”

“NO ONE CARES! HILLARY JUST SHATTERED THE GLASS CEILING! SHE IS POISED TO BECOME THE FIRST FEMALE AMERICAN PRESIDENT!”

“If she beats Trump. But that’s no guarantee. Especially after the revelations about the DNC as part of Wikileaks’ E-mail dump. She’s been the subject of numerous investigations lately, and now the IRS is reportedly looking into the workings of the Clinton Foundation.”

“REPUBLICAN BALDERDASH AND RUSSIAN TRICKERY! PUTIN IS TRYING TO HELP TRUMP WIN!”

“Maybe. Maybe not. It still doesn’t change what occurred in those E-mails, though. And there are other concerns some of us have about Clinton’s policies and allegiances.”

“OH YEAH? LIKE WHAT?”

Well, for one, rumor has it that Ms. Clinton will switch her preference to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership if elected president.”

“DON’T LISTEN TO THAT! TERRY MCAULIFFE IS A F**KING MORON!”

“Wow. OK. Moving right along,  this story in The New York Times—”

“LISTEN, IF IT’S ABOUT THE HILLARY VICTORY FUND AGAIN—”

“Would you let me finish, please? This story by Nicholas Confessore and Amy Chozick talks about how big-money Clinton donors are living it up at the Democratic National Convention. Drug companies. Health insurance companies. Lobbyists. Yes, even Wall Street. Gatherings at the Ritz-Carlton, made possible by people in suits and with expensive handbags, who arrived in fancy cars and limousines. How is this getting money out of politics? How does this evidence the notion Hillary Clinton’s values aren’t compromised by money and that she won’t turn her back on progressives if she wins? I mean, is she trying to lose the election?”

“SECURITY!”

As great as it is that a woman is (finally) a major-party nominee, and as infinitely more inspiring in tone the Democratic National Convention was compared with its Republican counterpart, through the excitement and pageantry, important questions remain about the Democratic Party nominee, and I think it’s wrong to pretend like the dissenters and dissent don’t exist, or otherwise try to badger, insult and shame them into voting submission. Whomever is the next President of the United States, he or she will preside over a nation that faces many challenges and problems; the list is a long one.

Thus, for all the warm fuzzies that abounded inside the Wells Fargo Center this past week, the raucous protests which unfolded inside and outside the arena tell a more nuanced tale. Accordingly, for as quick as pro-Clinton types are to deride Bernie’s supporters, and while they might be right that the unwavering Sanders faithful will “come around” or “get in line,” you better believe that Donald Trump, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein are lobbying hard for their votes, and what’s more, they are really listening to this frustrated group of people. If Hillary and the Democratic Party don’t change their tune fast, the first-woman narrative will likely lose its luster when Trump takes the general election.

If You “Felt the Bern,” Then Hold Hillary’s Feet to the Fire

Cassidy-BernieSanderssFulsomeEndorsementofHillaryClinton-1200
We get it: Hillary Clinton is part of the 1% and Bernie Sanders is a sell-out. But the threat of Donald Trump presidency is something Bernie takes very seriously, and explains to a yuuuuge extent why he made his endorsement, and now. (Photo Credit: Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonquist/Bloomberg via Getty Images) 

Well, it finally happened. Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. I can’t say I’m surprised, though I am obviously sad that it’s officially over for his campaign, and a little disappointed that he did it this soon, not taking it all the way to the Democratic National Convention. After all, he had earned the right to stay in the race, and it would have given more meaning to the upcoming meeting in Philadelphia. Still, Bernie almost certainly saw the writing on the wall with respect to how the delegates would vote, and likely felt he had made as great a contribution to the official Democratic Party platform as he could. Logistically, there may not have been a better time to do it than Tuesday, July 12, 2016.

Many fellow Bernie Sanders supporters probably share my mix of emotions right now. There is bound to be grief, though after a primary season that saw a months-long uphill battle for the senator from Vermont, it may be muted to some extent. There is also likely residual anger at Hillary Clinton, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other establishment Democrats for doing their part to make that battle all the more onerous for Sanders. Believe me, I feel it, especially when it comes to issues that failed to break Bernie’s way with respect to the platform, notably that of failing to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

For a good percentage of Bernie backers, meanwhile, there is a sense of betrayal experienced with Sanders’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton, or “Shillary,” as some might prefer. For them, HRC represents everything that is wrong with today’s political system in America. Beyond Clinton’s identity as the first female to be a presidential nominee for a major party in United States history, I can’t say I’m all that enthusiastic myself. As far as I’m concerned, Hillary Clinton is lucky to have evaded a federal indictment, or if not lucky per se, then well-connected enough to make it possible, and she still might not be completely in the clear. To boot, Hillary and her delegates have only recently begun to embrace more progressive policy aspects, so as with any politician, the strength of her conviction is fodder for scrutiny, as perhaps it should be. In particular, her commitment to getting money out of politics—a rather hard sell if you note her big-ticket donations throughout the campaign and if you believe the rap about the Clinton Foundation’s sources and use of funds—is questionable, at best. Critics both inside and outside the Democratic Party may deride the “Never Hillary” crowd, but I can’t pretend like Clinton hasn’t, at least in part, invited their dislike.

Accordingly, for Bernie Sanders to back someone in Hillary Clinton that, for months he has campaigned against and whose pointed critiques have highlighted a number of her weaknesses as a candidate, is tantamount to a betrayal for some. In the immediate aftermath of the announcement from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Sanders was hit hard on social media, and by two notable figures from the presidential race. Because seemingly nothing can escape his asinine judgment as filtered through Twitter, Donald J. Trump saw fit to weigh in on the announcement:

donald_on_bernie

A note on a politician staying true to himself, coming from a man with a 2% True rating from PolitiFact. As always, in the world of political discourse, it’s not necessarily about saying what is true—it’s about saying it enough times that the more easily-led among voters believe it. Trump is clearly trying to make a bid for Bernie Sanders supporters, in particular, those who have an ax to grind against Clinton. In this respect, he might as well make a push for those prospective voters he hasn’t already alienated by insulting them.

Donald Trump’s pontification on everything from Common Core to taco bowls is nothing new, and speaking to Sanders supporters from across the ideological divide on a number of topics, he may not have the right stuff in terms of the issues to authentically appeal to them. Though, then again, in their idealistic indignation, the “Bernie or Bust” crowd may not be willing to see reason—or in Trump’s case, the absence of reason. In the case of Dr. Jill Stein, however, whose system of values as the leader of the Green Party in the U.S. hits closer to true progressivism than “the Donald” ever could, the commentary hits that much harder. Stein, who has reached out to Bernie Sanders over the years in trying to foster a political movement outside of the two-party system, broke the news to her supporters with an appropriate use of emoji. Nice touch, Dr. Stein!

jill_stein_1

This Tweet, while timely and age-appropriate, at least as far as millennials are concerned, doesn’t tell us much, though. In the Tweet storm to follow, however, Jill Stein would make her position abundantly clear. Here are a few choice excerpts:

jill_stein_2

jill_stein_3

jill_stein_4

On the first count, um, yeah, the Democratic Party should “feel the Bern.” As much as Bernie points to areas where he and Hillary align on the issues, when Hillary’s authenticity is a cause of some skepticism among voters—and increasingly so outside Democratic ranks—it will be a hard sell to someone who finds the Clintons singularly loathsome that she will honor the commitments the party has made within its official platform. On the second count, Dr. Stein’s argument is a little bit of a simplification, though I think it’s fair to concede that Bill Clinton’s enjoyment of a robust economy during his tenure as President of the United States was largely outside of his influence, and what’s more, the deregulation of financial markets and provisions for businesses that spurred them to seek short-term gains marking that tenure did help pave the way to the kind of collapse experienced during the Great Recession. And on the third count, after Bernie dared voters to demand sweeping change now, and his more influential supporters talked him up as a “once-in-a-lifetime” candidate, Jill Stein does strike a nerve with voters who are tired of settling. I don’t care if you’re 25 or 75—the trope about “the lesser of two evils” is a long-standing frustration for Americans across the political spectrum. How else to explain the rise of hopefuls like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump? Or even, for that matter, the knowledge of the existence of Gary Johnson as the Libertarian Party candidate?

For Sanders supporters who seek a non-Clintonian option this November and who recognize that Donald Trump is a man-baby with small hands and no real plan for how to “fix” the country, the words of the face of the American Green Party carry definite weight. In an election led by two highly unpopular candidates in “Crooked Hillary” and “Sleazy Donald,” candidates like Johnson and Stein might make a difference among voters who feel the Democrats and Republicans collectively have let their constituents down. Then again, heck, some Bernie supporters might just wish to stick it to the establishment and vote Trump to blow the whole system up! Down with the status quo! It’s a revolution! Susan Sarandon, are you with us?!?

Younger, more impressionable voters and haughty “Hillbot” Democrats alike may not fear Donald Trump, but Elizabeth Warren certainly took her relative influence within the Democratic Party and the threat of a Trump presidency seriously enough that she endorsed Hillary Clinton seemingly quickly alongside Barack Obama and Joe Biden. That Bernie Sanders would suspend his campaign and do the same before the Democratic National Convention perhaps indicates that he felt similarly about what Trump in the Oval Office could mean for the country. In addition to working to make the Democratic Party a more progressive party and inspiring tomorrow’s leaders to become more involved in public service, Sanders has emphasized the need to defeat Donald Trump badly in November and avoid the “disaster” to which he believes a Trump presidency would equate. There’s a clear personal dimension to Bernie’s repudiation of “the Donald,” too, which gives an additional, salient context to his denunciation. In the Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan, Bernie Sanders had this to say about Donald Trump’s brand of rhetoric:

I am very proud to be Jewish, and being Jewish is so much of what I am. Look, my father’s family was wiped out by Hitler in the Holocaust. I know about what crazy and radical, and extremist politics mean.

Time and again, the pundits of the world have downplayed the Trump-Hitler comparison, but with notions existing of Donald Trump as a demagogue who plays fast and loose with Nazi symbolism, the parallels are not as extreme as one might expect. Given Trump’s lingering support among voters in spite of his initial apparent improbability to become his party’s nominee, Bernie Sanders sees the importance of making a stand against the “madman from Manhattan,” as I like to call him. Thinking in these terms, Bernie probably felt as if he had no choice at all but to endorse Hillary in the name of a unified front.

In a lengthy message to his supporters entitled “Forever forward,” Bernie Sanders readily acknowledged the anticipated backlash from his endorsement of Hillary Clinton, but once more hammered home the immediate goal of the Democratic Party. From the letter:

To have all of the work we have done in elevating our progressive ideals be dashed away by a complete Republican takeover of Washington – a takeover headed by a candidate that demonizes Latinos, Muslims, women, African Americans, veterans, and others – would be unthinkable.

Today, I endorsed Hillary Clinton to be our next president. I know that some of you will be disappointed with that decision. But I believe that, at this moment, our country, our values, and our common vision for a transformed America, are best served by the defeat of Donald Trump and the election of Hillary Clinton.

For all you suddenly disillusioned Bernie Sanders supporters, feel free to vote Green or Libertarian. I can’t stop you, and at least you’ll be voting for a candidate rather than against one. Or don’t vote at all. I mean, it would be a waste of effort to follow the presidential race up to this point and forsake this privilege, but it’s your prerogative. Don’t vote Donald Trump, though. Simply put, he doesn’t deserve your vote. And don’t denigrate Bernie for ending his campaign in this way. I get it—it hurts. Well, it’s supposed to. When you like someone and it doesn’t work out, it sucks. It’s no different with politics. Bernie made us passionate about this race. We put ourselves out there. We made ourselves vulnerable. Shit, we gave money to the Bernie Sanders campaign! This doesn’t mean it was all for nothing, though. So, for you crushed revolutionaries asking for your money back and labeling Bernie Sanders a sell-out, understand that your support was always a gamble, and besides, if Bernie hadn’t aroused such fervent dedication, you probably wouldn’t have given half a shit anyway. Not merely to be an apologist, but from where I stand, you should be thanking him, not demonizing him.

When it comes down to it, I think the anger and frustration felt by many Sanders supporters are misplaced remnants of a personal devotion to their chosen candidate and, maybe even more so, a rejection of what Hillary Clinton represents to them. That fire, used constructively, meanwhile, is not a bad thing. As Bernie himself communicates, his campaign was not merely about him, but about starting a political revolution. In this respect, his endorsement is not an end, bur rather a beginning. Furthermore, if you have been in Bernie Sanders’ corner and you really do seek to scrutinize Hillary Clinton and hold her accountable, make sure she stands by her campaign promises. As stated, keeping Donald Trump out of office is the first step, but the real heavy lifting comes in the months and years after. If you feel or have “felt the Bern,” prepare to hold Hillary’s feet to the fire. Washington needs to work for the American people, and it’s our job to ensure they do.

The Roadmap to Progress, Progressive Style

f_sanders_speech_160616.video_1067x600
Yes, Bernie wants to beat Trump. But he also wants to move the Democratic Party in a truly progressive direction, one that welcomes working people, young people and encourages like-minded individuals to get involved in making the country better for all.

 

By now, even Bernie Sanders understands he, in all likelihood, will not be the Democratic Party nominee in 2016. Bernie has been accused by more than one of his critics of being “disconnected from reality,” and repeatedly, Clinton supporters and other dissenters seeking his exit from the presidential race have pointed to the delegate counts, all but stammering, but as supposedly crazy as the senator from Vermont and his policies are purported to be, he does get it. As the calendar counts down to the Democratic National Convention, with Hillary Clinton all but certain to be the party’s representative, more and more pundits are taking to commending Bernie Sanders for running a well-intentioned campaign and raising important issues. After all, his point was never to win, but to start a political revolution, right?

Sigh. Spare me your “moral victory” nonsense. Of course Bernie wants to win! He wouldn’t have competed all the way through the primary season if he didn’t, and he’s still technically in the race! Dude won 22 states between primaries and caucuses, so let’s show him a bit more respect beyond regarding him as some sort of “cute” nobody who dared to roar against the Clinton political juggernaut. Even after decisive victories by Hillary in key primary states, at rallies across the country, tens of thousands of people from all walks of life came to hear Bernie Sanders speak at a number of his political rallies. An awful lot of enthusiasm for a guy who isn’t in it for the W, hmm?

Still, the writing is on the wall with respect to the nomination, which is why Sanders recently streamed a live message to his supporters regarding the priorities for his campaign and for his political movement. First off, there’s Donald Trump. He’s an asshole. You probably knew that, though. It would be a monumental disgrace for the American people to elect Trump, quite simply, so his complete and utter political destruction is the most immediate priority.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, Bernie talks about where the political revolution ultimately needs to be heading. It’s about involvement by energetic, high-quality candidates as part of a 50-state approach for the Democratic Party, one that challenges for offices no matter if they reside in “red” or “blue” states and at all levels of governmentincluding state, county and local. In this respect, certainly, the inclusion of young people interested in politics either as a candidate or a prospective voter and advocate is critical to this design, but anyone with a mind toward progressive policy is desired for this purpose. Sanders actually closes with this call to action, and rightly so, but my concern is with the particulars of the platform of progressivism that he and those of his ilk insist on pushing.

The meat, if you will, of the progressive sandwich that Bernie Sanders outlined in his speech was an enumeration of key points in an agenda that he intends on bringing to the Democratic National Convention, backed by 1,900 or so delegates. This is the same agenda he claims he is “looking forward” to working on with Hillary Clinton to strengthen the credentials of the Democratic Party as a party built on the strength of working and young people. Though let’s be frank—who really looks forward to working with Hillary? OK, I’m projecting a bit, but I can’t imagine trying to work with her alongside her ego is that easy. Anyhoo, here’s the laundry list of demands:

  • Take on Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry, the fossil fuel industry, and other special interests. Bernie didn’t mention Big Agriculture, or “Big Ag,” by name, but this special interest group, led by the likes of multinationals like Monsanto, is also a big player in the pay-to-play world of American politics. Sen. Sanders notes in the video how he and Secretary Clinton see eye-to-eye on most issues, though they do disagree on a few important issues, and this, seemingly, is one of them.
  • Raise the federal minimum wage to $15 and commit to rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure.
  • Fight for equal pay for women and men.
  • Protect the right of women to control their own bodies.
  • Fight for marriage equality for the LGBT community in all 50 states.
  • Ban the sale and distribution of assault weapons, end the gun show loophole, and expand instant background checks.
  • Defeat the TPP and work against other bad trade deals.
  • Resist cuts for Social Security and expand benefits for our seniors and disabled veterans.
  • Pass a modern-day Glass-Steagall Act and break up “too big to fail” institutions.
  • Combat climate change, move toward sustainable energy practices, and impose a tax on carbon.
  • Ban fracking.
  • Make public colleges and universities tuition-free, and substantially reduce student debt.
  • Guarantee healthcare as a right, not a privilege.
  • Move toward criminal justice reform at the federal, state and local levels in an effort to tackle the problem of mass incarceration.
  • Pass comprehensive immigration reform and provide a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants in this country.
  • Examine and cut down on instances of waste and cost overruns in all branches of government, especially within the Department of Defense.
  • Stop putting our young men and women in harm’s way as a function of perpetual warfare in the Middle East and other world regions.

Bernie Sanders just recently has said in interviews that he would vote for Hillary Clinton, though he has come short of fully endorsing her, wanting to see instead how she plans to incorporate elements of progressive policy with her own agenda if she were to become president. As for what Clinton has said she plans to accomplish upon first entering office, according to this post by Heather Long for CNN, she has these reforms in mind:

  • Create jobs with a big government investment in infrastructure.
  • Make college debt-free for all.
  • Encourage companies to share profits with their employees. 
  • Make the rich (and Wall Street) pay more in taxes. 
  • Put “families first” in the economy by raising the minimum wage, enacting paid family leave and expanding preschool for all.

According to the piece, a $275 billion infrastructure investment plan will be at the heart of HRC’s agenda, though some economists suggest the true amount needed to address our failing infrastructure is more likely in trillions of dollars. In terms of taxes, Hillary has vowed not to raise taxes on those with incomes under $250,000, instead saying she would raise taxes on the wealthy in line with the so-called “Buffett Rule” as a means of funding her intended initiatives. On paper, it all looks good.

At the same time, however, some would say, even within this bloc of “progressive” ideas, what Hillary Clinton calls for doesn’t go far enough in standing up for the poorest Americans and the middle class. She believes college should be “debt-free,” but this is not the same as free tuition. She believes the minimum wage should be raised only as high as $12, not $15. Moreover, in terms of Bernie’s agenda that he laid out in painstaking detail in his message, there is no mention of substantive policy to fight climate change, or to limit military spending, or to expand Social Security and Medicare. These are legitimate concerns of voters across parties, notably younger voters, and especially among Sanders supporters.

In the minds of some voters, Hillary Clinton is a corporate shill who will say anything to get elected, so it is unlikely she can say much at this point to win their support. Some likely will feel betrayed by Bernie Sanders for saying he would vote for her strategically to defeat Donald Trump. For those who are, shall we say, more pragmatic about things, though, and for the independent voters and other individuals who are on the fence about what they will do and whom they will choose come November, the 17 separate bullet points referenced by Sanders in his call to action are more than just talking points—they are a roadmap to real progress. Hillary keeps repeating the line that she is a “progressive who gets things done,” but unless she runs on a more authentically progressive platform, these will yet come across as more hollow words. There’s a path to progress for Clinton to follow, but time will tell if she’s truly ready to walk the walk.