Norman Solomon: Bernie Sanders Is Trying to Save the Democratic Party From Itself
The movement that has grown around Sen. Bernie Sanders has become a political force to reckon with in the 2020 presidential election. Part of its strength is the many intersections it has with other progressive movements, some of which have been around for many years, others which stemmed from his 2016 primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. Sanders’ campaign has been endorsed by or includes members from Black Lives Matter and the Sunrise Movement, among many others, and from its inception was made up of activists.
One such movement that stemmed from Sanders’ first presidential bid was founded by a 2016 Sanders delegate, Norman Solomon. Solomon, whose columns are regularly featured at Truthdig, is also the founder of online initiative RootsAction. The writer and activist joined Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer last week in the run-up to Super Tuesday to discuss Sanders’ 2020 campaign and the socioeconomic conditions that led to the democratic socialist’s rise.
Speaking at a time in which Sanders was the clear front-runner in the Democratic race, Solomon, who has witnessed firsthand how the Democratic Party worked to undermine Sanders in 2016, warned that the worst is yet to come. His words, of course, proved prophetic as in the moments before the March 3 primaries in 14 states, corporate Democrats rallied around Joe Biden in an effort to impede the Vermont senator’s path to the presidential nomination.
“We’re at an extraordinary moment as we come into the spring of 2020 [with] the Bernie Sanders campaign because of the grassroots strength and the fact that he has always been part of a movement, even with the contradictions of being in Congress,” the progressive organizer explains. “For instance, this is an upsurge of progressive populism with a strength in electoral arenas that I never would have anticipated.
“So now we’re operating at a level of who’s going to gain state power, and the amount of backlash, the amount of viciousness that we’ve already seen this year, 2020 is just a prelude to pulling out all the stops to try to block Bernie Sanders and the movement that he’s part of.”
The movement, the two acknowledge, is built on ideas of class that Americans for many years did not hear discussed in media, let alone in the halls of Congress and other institutions. To Scheer, the oppression of the working class and the many betrayals it suffered at the hands of Democrats such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, as well as Biden, led to Sanders’ unexpected success both in 2016 and now.
“The way [media harps on], you would think it’s Bernie that started class war or the people around them or young people,” says Scheer. “That’s not the way I see this history that I’ve lived through.”
Scheer delves into this personal history to provide a context for what he views as Sanders’ true predecessor, a wealthy U.S. president who wasn’t trying to implement socialism but rather save capitalism years ago.
“I was born in 1936. My father lost his job the day I was born,” recalls the Truthdig editor in chief. “Roosevelt was the hero in our house. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Why? Because the ruling class in our country, the robber barons, the rich people — and he was from a rich family — they undermined their own system. They were so consumed with greed and short-term profit and swindling, the market and everything else that they forgot about stability in society.”
Continuing on the thread of systemic change that needs to take place in the U.S., Solomon recalls a crucial lesson from Martin Luther King Jr. of which he believes Sanders and his movement are well aware.
“I ran across in an essay and then the last book that Martin Luther King wrote, ‘Where We Go From Here,’ where he talked about power and he talked about love and he said, ‘Power without love is cruel, it’s abusive and so forth.’ He says, ‘but love without power is ineffectual and anemic.’
“There hasn’t been a focus [on the American left] on gaining power tangibly,” laments Solomon. “And that has to include government electoral power as much as we might wish that the electoral system as it now exists was something we never need to deal with because [it’s] so awful and tacky and uh, dominated by money. And what Bernie is saying and the movement is saying is much in sync with what Martin Luther King was saying. If you want to effectuate love toward human beings as social policy, you need power. And if you don’t have power, you’re going to be anemic.”
In the media player above, listen to the full discussion between Solomon and Scheer as the two discuss the forgotten history of progressive movements in the U.S. and what the results of the nail-biting Democratic primary may be. You can also read a transcript of the interview below the credits.
Natasha Hakimi Zapata
Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. In this case it’s Norman Solomon, who I’ve known for many years as a — as an everything, as a media watchdog. I associated him with FAIR, and a guy named Jeff Cohen that I did a podcast with, great people trying to keep the media straight. He’s involved with RootsAction, a grassroots organization. He’s the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. But the reason I wanted to talk to him now is that everybody’s dumping on Bernie Sanders — not everybody, but the party bosses, and the mostly hacks; I’ll exempt Elizabeth Warren. But I’ll let my own prejudice show, I was really offended by the so-called, the panel debate that they had on the eve of the South Carolina primary, when everybody decided to attack Bernie. And I found it really deplorable, the red-baiting and so forth. So there, I’ve got it out. And I wanted to talk to Norman Solomon because the real last encounter I had had with him was at the Democratic Convention in 2016. So welcome.
Norman Solomon: Thank you. Thanks, Bob.
RS: And you were — I was there covering it as a journalist, and I’ve covered many conventions of both parties going back to, well, Chicago in 1956, I guess it was. I was a young activist for Estes Kefauver, believe it or not, against Adlai Stevenson; I thought he was more of a populist, college activist. But I’ve been at a lot of these conventions, and I found what you did at this last Democratic convention to be really interesting. I don’t know what the technical name of it [is]. You were a Bernie Sanders delegate, and you along with Jeff Cohen and other people put together a kind of progressive caucus, of delegates mostly, right? And you had speakers, you had debates, discussions. And it was one of the healthier things. I mean, it wasn’t as healthy and as exciting as the challenge over the Mississippi delegation at the ’64 convention —
NS: There was no Fannie Lou Hamer there, yeah.
RS: Yeah, and it wasn’t the ’68 convention, where we mostly were in the streets, and even some delegates. But it was really quite exciting. The tenor of the debate, the people who were there, mostly Sanders supporters, but others. So just tell me, what was your role there at the 2016 Democratic Convention in Philadelphia?
NS: As an elected Bernie Sanders delegate, I worked with other delegates to set up what we call the Bernie Delegates Network. And back then, as the spring unfolded and it became clear that Hillary Clinton had enough delegates, we really felt that there needed to be an independent entity that brought together Bernie delegates. That of course we were warm toward the Bernie Sanders official campaign, but we felt that there needed to be some autonomy and some mutual communication. Because God help us, if we were only thinking what other delegates were thinking, because of the mass media narrative, we wouldn’t know what each other was thinking. So we set up a mechanism through its RootsAction.org, which we co-sponsored with Progressive Democrats of America, to be able to have sort of lateral communication. We were able to, for instance, survey one person, one vote of the Bernie delegates in the weeks before and then during the convention.
So we had ultimately two-thirds of all the Bernie Sanders delegates in this independent Bernie Delegates Network, and we learned a lot of stuff. For instance, we surveyed: What are the most important issues to you? And the two of them were, stop the TPP — the corporate-friendly trade pact — and also Medicare for All. And keep in mind, this is 2016. So that’s what we helped to push up with daily news conferences, which you know, included a live one on C-SPAN, etc., etc. And the other element was, for instance, when it was clear there was about to be a vice presidential pick, we had a list of a dozen names that were being bandied about.
And we asked the Bernie delegates — and we had several hundred instantly respond with their individual votes — who do you favor for vice presidential candidate? And Tim Kaine came up with like 1%. Nobody wanted this guy! And of course, Hillary Clinton chose him — I mean, if anything, to her right, which is saying a lot. You know, corporate just enmeshed person, about as exciting as drying paint. But reassuring Wall Street, which of course she was doing all the time, and trying to do, and enervating what was left of progressive enthusiasm for her. So anyway, that’s what we were doing, and actually in the work now, 10 years of RootsAction, we’ve tried to — have been working with others in coalition to be an independent force.
RS: OK, but I just want to capture this moment in time, because Bernie Sanders came from nowhere to really run this very strong campaign. And even though he didn’t get it, it kind of upset the whole inevitability about Hillary Clinton — which should have been a warning for her to run a more populist, progressive campaign. She didn’t do that, and I think she has the main responsibility for her loss in the electoral votes. But what was interesting about it — first of all, let me give my own prejudice about Sanders’ campaign. I’ve always liked him, I like what he does. But I thought — and I have, like I say, my only grievance with Bernie Sanders is that he’s from Brooklyn — you know, forget the Vermont stuff — and I’m from the Bronx. So that really is the–
NS: [Laughs] Is this a Yankees-Dodgers thing, or —?
RS: No, no, just the two boroughs, and Brooklyn got all the attention, and the Bronx was real people. I don’t have to go through that nostalgia, but I actually thought he was going to get a couple of percent of the vote. Protest candidate, and so forth. Bernie, to Bernie’s credit, took off, you know; [he] was real to people, tapped into the great alienation and anger and frustration that’s out there. And we’re seeing it now in this election. And I learned about it — we’re doing this recording from the University of Southern California, not a hotbed of leftism. You know, this is not Berkeley. Which is not any longer, really, a hotbed. But I learned about Bernie Sanders in 2016 from my students. Had very large classes, and they would open their laptop and I saw ”1-2-3 Bernie” stickers. By the time we had a primary, almost everyone had a Bernie sticker, and I never saw a Hillary Clinton sticker. So you know, I said, wow — and plenty of these kids, their parents were Republican or conservative. You know, I don’t want to type, and we got a great student body. But you know, and now I’ve seen it again, and the polling backs it up. And this is what has happened in the early primary states and so forth. This old — you know, and again, no one’s even talking about the fact that he’s the first Jewish candidate to have a shot at the White House. You know, he didn’t get any points for that, because he doesn’t line up as a hawk on Israel, dares to say something about the Palestinians.
But I must say, for me, as a longtime observer of American politics, I was shocked in 2016, and even more so now. Because along with many people in the media, I thought well, he had his time, and now it’s going to be, if it’s a progressive it’ll probably be Elizabeth Warren, or so forth. Meanwhile, the establishment will chew him up, and so forth. And as we’re talking now, after the Nevada primary and just days before South Carolina, it looks–I mean, Bernie is being called a frontrunner. I think my own pessimism indicates to me that they will–they, the powers that be, and the Democratic Party will destroy him.
NS: They will try.
RS: Well, you know. But it is a phenomena, just like Trump on the other side was this phenomena, discounted by the Republican Party, and he chews up every single candidate in the Republican Party. Not because he’s a particularly effective demagogue — I’m not going to take away his effectiveness as a demagogue on the right, because I think progressive populism on the right involves being a demagogue; you’re not really going to take on the corporations. I think Bernie is the real thing on the progressive left side, where you’re willing to take on the corporations; that’s his great appeal. But the fact is, both of them are speaking to the pain out there. Both of them are coming up with a view of that pain out there —
NS: Warren and Bernie, yeah.
RS: Yeah. Well, and so to my mind, this is an incredible moment in American politics. And what we’re seeing, as happened on the other side, there’s an establishment that I feel is both Republican and Democrat, that’s responsible for what has happened over the last, certainly 40 years of growing income inequality, the loss of decent jobs, the great unhappiness where so many people realize they’re not going to live the American dream, or get a shot at it. Many of our students here are graduating in debt, wondering about what jobs they’ll have.
So I think this is actually an extremely healthy development in America. And what I wanted to ask you about, as the kind of political pro that you are — in the sense of knowledge, and you’ve been around the block, you’ve seen these people — and I watched you at the convention, and you were conversant with the delegates. And by the way, being at that convention was quite depressing, because it started with the Bernie people being acknowledged by the party, and they’re as significant — and they were a great cross-section of population. Many of these delegates that I interviewed were in politics for the first time, they had lives in their own communities of connection with people, and so forth. And suddenly they were rudely shunted aside. They even had, were pressured to give up their seats at the convention so others could move in and cheer lustily for Hillary. It was all staged, it was quite depressing there.
And so I want a preview from you: what do you think is going to happen now? How vicious is it going to get? And what are they going to do to Bernie?
NS: In terms of mass corporate media, as bad as it’s gotten, I fear we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Because as Frederick Douglass said, power does not concede without a struggle. It never did, it never will. And we sometimes, I think, even though we know that, there’s a tendency to forget it. Which, the flip side of that is we always have to gain, we always have to organize, otherwise we’re going to get nothing. And I just see the Democratic Party as part of the corporate system, so therefore anything we’re going to accomplish is going to be in direct conflict–that ”in,” and then the next word, ”direct” conflict. And the way to overcome it is organizing from the bottom up. And four years ago, I felt it was wrong to say there was a Bernie Sanders movement. I think there is now. Or another way to put it, there’s a confluence of so many movements that are full-throated, shoulder-to-the-wheel, behind the Bernie 2020 campaign. I think you alluded a few minutes ago, Bob, to being shocked or surprised or whatever, and I think that’s a very important point. Because I would not have anticipated a strong, genuine —
RS: Shocked at his success, four years ago and now, yes.
NS: Absolutely. And it reminds me of something that I read I.F. Stone once said, that he could never understand why his colleagues in the journalistic profession like to act as though they would never be surprised by anything. You know, it’s a sort of an affect that sometimes even comes in on the left.
RS: It’s their stock-and-trade.
NS: Yeah, it’s like oh, we are not surprised about anything that has happened, is happening now, or ever will. And I think that as the great Howard Zinn, who we miss very much, was fond of saying, you don’t know what can be achieved. We have our hopes. We have reasons to be in dire mental depression sometimes, politically. But who would have anticipated — and there’s a long litany, whether it’s Nelson Mandela being president of South Africa, or whatever. And now we are — and I fully agree — we’re at an extraordinary moment as we come into the spring of 2020. The Bernie Sanders campaign, because of the grassroots strength, and the fact that he has always been part of a movement — even with the contradictions of being in Congress, for instance — this is an upsurge of progressive populism with a strength in electoral arenas that I never would have anticipated. So now we’re operating at a level of who’s going to gain state power. And the amount of backlash, the amount of viciousness that we’ve already seen this year, 2020, is just a prelude to pulling out all the stops to try to block Bernie Sanders and the movement that he’s part of.
RS: Well, let’s examine this movement, because it’s not a simple movement. But then again, movements rarely are, and certainly populist-based movements aren’t. But let’s take this word that they’re trying to wrap around his neck, the two words of democratic socialist. And that’s really the big dirty trick here, OK. It’s, first of all, it’s red-baiting without reds. I mean, you know, Bernie Sanders — first of all, democratic socialism is the norm in most industrialized countries. It’s what helped Germany develop after World War II; the Social Democratic Party, Willy Brandt, all these people were democratic socialist, very proudly so. Even Tony Blair, [laughs] who supported Bush on the Iraq War, was the leader of a party that certainly had very strong democratic socialist origins, labor origins and so forth. Most of the American labor movement was certainly run by people who were; the auto industry, right on down the line.
But what happened in America is the mythology of a classless society, which is very convenient, into an advanced capitalist society, is to convince everyone that we are really without class, and we’re just at different stages of life, and everyone’s going to hit the jackpot. And what happened in this last 20-, 30-year period, maybe even 40-year period, is that it’s laughable to assert that. And the odd thing about this whole controversy about Bernie Sanders is that the label ”democratic socialist” still has some effectiveness in strangling someone. But billionaire capitalists — no. That’s a good thing. They can bankroll the party, they can win everyone over, they’re charitable, they do philanthropy, they have great people, almost by definition, right? And so the prevailing myth of America has become a caricature now. You know, kick the democratic socialist to the curb, but elevate, you know, the billionaire.
NS: The venture capitalist, whatever. Yeah.
RS: Yeah. And it’s really startling. And the fact is, it’s not playing well.
NS: The demographics are so pronounced, where you go to people — well, my age; I’m in my late 60a — but 60s, 70s, 80s. And that red-baiting, as you said, without the reds as targets, to some degree it’s really resonating. And then the opportunistic corporate politicians and their cohorts in the news media, they’re playing it and banging on the drum for all they can. But for people in their twenties and thirties and forties, it has very little resonance, and the demographics point that out. Bernie is doing so phenomenally well with people under 40. And I think for good and bad, mostly for good, the awful history of McCarthyism and post-McCarthyism in the U.S. McCarthyiteism, the terrible Russia-baiting that’s gone on under the guise of Russiagate that’s coming back to bite progressives, predictably. That’s something that goes to the lack of historical knowledge among younger generations.
And I’ll give you an example, Bob. I was in, for RootsAction, New Hampshire in the week before the New Hampshire primary. And I wrote an article, which Truthdig published, about the young people who were organizing in New Hampshire. And keep in mind, it’s such a small state there are only two congressional districts. The group called New Hampshire Youth Movement had organized 10,000 people to sign that they would vote; then the organization endorsed Bernie Sanders and got out the vote, and was probably responsible for the victory. And I think that was phenomenal. They were so committed to Bernie, about climate, about class, about getting rid of this horrendous student debt, and so many other reasons. And I was chatting with one — I was interviewing for the piece, I ended up not including it — but I said, well, do you see any parallels with the Eugene McCarthy campaign in 1968 in New Hampshire, which was also youth-driven? And the answer was, ”I’m not familiar. What was that?”
And I think that, of course, is an indictment of the mass media, and the educational system, such as it is, but also to some degree tells us as progressives that we have not done a great job of conveying the history of progressive politics and grassroots organizing to the next generations.
RS: Well you know, in a way, it doesn’t matter. Because at the end, facts and logic matters. You know, in organizing, in what sways people, and so forth. You can only keep up the myth for so long. But, you know, if a young person has graduated from college, a fine college like ours, and is now driving a Lyft or an Uber — and I’m not putting them down, I know they’re doing what they have to do get by — or they’re still doing some unpaid internship, you know. Or they’re figuring out what was it all about, and they still have this student debt. They’re up against an objective reality that is difficult to negotiate or spin. It’s a reality, OK?
And for instance, so the question of Medicare for All — a lot of those older voters, they assume their social security, which after all was branded as a socialist invention; they assume Medicare, which was derided as a socialist invention. Everything, all the things that allow older people in this country to have some security — it used to be the oldest population was also the most impoverished, and if they didn’t have a relative or if they hadn’t been wealthy themselves, they were hurting. Thanks to what was derided as the socialist inventions, going back to the New Deal — of unemployment insurance, of social security, of housing subsidy, go right down the list, OK — we took a whole category of population, seniors, and basically lifted them out of poverty. They were assumed to be, OK.
So now you try to take — you got this old guy, Bernie Sanders, he says hey, it’s a pretty good system, let’s extend it to young people. Then these smart alecks at MSNBC who work for Comcast, you know, which is determined to mess up our internet freedom —
NS: And is the most hated, according to one major survey — Comcast, the most hated corporation in the country, yeah.
RS: OK, but it wasn’t any better when they were working for defense contractor General Electric that used to own NBC, and exported two out of three jobs abroad. And, you know, not the old GE, progress. But the fact of the matter is, certain facts are just, you can’t push them away, you know. And then they say, well, how are you going to pay for medicine — well, how do we pay for medicine now? OK, so you know, they say Bernie doesn’t have the specifics — and I was really disappointed that Elizabeth Warren ran away from Medicare for All after embracing it. Because the accounting is garbage. The fact of the matter is we spend, as Bernie points out, much more than anybody else does on medical. I happen to be, by the way, much older than you. I am 83 years old, and I am working here at the University of Southern California. And you know what? I can’t use Medicare, you know, because I have a health plan that I’m paying for here, and is available. My doctors all tell me they wish I were on Medicare, because this great private care that I’m paying for in part with the university, they don’t like as much; they don’t get paid as quickly, OK.
So these seniors are being hypocritical when they say, oh, don’t let young people have it. In fact, it’s much easier to extend to young people. They don’t get sick as often, and so forth; they’re not as much a pressure on the system. So it’s a garbage-in, garbage-out argument that you can’t expand Medicare. Yes, you can, OK. And you can also have a lot of choice. You can have alternative plans, you can subsidize it, you can do a lot of things with Medicare to make it work for you if you have more money. But what it does is it takes the basic insecurity that people have about their health care and their family health care off the table. Therefore, by the way, if they were smart about the advancement of technology, that would also remove one of the concerns about robotics, or where the jobs are, or more efficient ways of producing. You know, the same thing with good public education that you don’t have to pay for, so you don’t get hung up with the tuition indebtedness for the rest of your life.
All of these things are ways of saying to a younger population: You can do meaningful work. You don’t have to be frightened out of your mind about international trade and all these trade agreements. The fact is, the basics of life will be guaranteed to you, because it’s a human right to have shelter, have medical, and so forth. So Bernie’s message is actually, basically, a way of conserving capitalism. It’s actually what the New Deal represented. Everybody forgets the New Deal saved capitalism, it didn’t destroy it, OK? And why not a single reporter or commentator on MSNBC, let alone Fox — why they don’t know that, these ideas that have given us stability, when we used to have bonus marches and veterans storming the streets. You know, I’m old enough to remember the insecurity, I was born in the Depression. And all of these things now that are derided as socialist, whether they’re done in France or they’re done in England, and not as much here, were all designed by a former millionaire–he now would be considered a billionaire, Franklin Delano Roosevelt — not to eliminate capitalism, but to save it from its excesses, OK.
Now, if Bernie Sanders says that–and he says something like that — he will be considered, as in Trump’s words, crazy Bernie. But it’s actually the most accurate way to look at the American dilemma. You know, it’s not a question of getting rid of the market economy and getting rid of capital; you’re not going to do that very quickly. You know, the fact is, you’re talking about taming it; you’re talking about making it more responsible for its own good. That is really the argument in this election.
Now, in the ’16 election, when you were working for Bernie, the obvious fact — so we should stop for a minute and consider it. The obvious fact is that Hillary Clinton didn’t get it, OK. Now, maybe deep in the recesses of her brain she did. But the fact of the matter is that Bill Clinton, and Hillary Clinton at his side from the very beginning, were actually involved in freeing capitalism to be more irresponsible, rather than doing what Roosevelt did, containing capitalism to be more responsible. And they eliminated — the main achievement, so-called, of the Clinton era was the elimination of the New Deal restraints on finance, capital, and the protection of housing. That’s the main thing. The Financial Services Modernization Act, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, what they did is they destroyed not just the Glass-Steagall prevention, but all of the basic restraints on Wall Street that the New Deal had put in. They betrayed the Democratic Party, they betrayed capitalism, OK. So it seems to me what we’re really talking about here is, are you going to have adults watching the store?
NS: There’s a through line where, of course, there are so many different issues that Bernie has tackled, and he’s much stronger on a multiplicity of them now than he was four years ago. And yet I think the through line is class war. If you look at why the news media revile him so much, the corporate news media — and I include NPR and PBS, “All Things Considered,” “Morning Edition,” “PBS News Hour” — it’s because he’s unrelenting. And that has been portrayed routinely as, oh, he just is the same old record, he says the same thing over and over again. And that’s why so many people love him, because he doesn’t blow with the wind. He’s not a sock puppet of corporate capital, he’s not a windsock. He’s just being real about what is facing people — and I think it’s very related to what you were saying, Bob — the opportunities that so many young people face are so circumscribed by the power of corporate capitalism. And at this point, unless there is, as Bernie has said, an uprising from the grassroots, it’s predictable that the same problem will continue.
I was very struck by one of the early debates in 2019, when you know, there’s a minute left for each candidate. And it’s the usual ”I’m so great, I’ve been so great, I’d be a great president.” Bernie didn’t use his minute that way. He said, ”Unless millions and tens of millions of people rise up and insist on a change in this system, where corruption and corporate power is maintained, none of these issues are going to improve appreciably.” And I think that signifies how much he is part of social movements, and social movements are part of his campaign. I think it’s very both symbolic and politically historic that when, as usual, corporate media and corporate candidates try to drive a wedge through the working-class base by saying, if you’re in the culinary union you’re going to lose your benefits for Medicare for All — that’s what the hierarchy of the union kept saying. And the rank and file, even the corporate media acknowledged in retrospect, totally ignored that line. They voted for Bernie at the caucuses. And that, as somebody said who I heard interviewed afterward — ”We’ve got brothers, we’ve got sisters, we’ve got aunts and uncles. We don’t know if we’ll be in this job forever. It’s not just about us.” And I think that really is in sync with the Bernie theme: not me, us. And that is, on the one hand it can be seen as a platitude, but when it’s hitched to the plow of grassroots organizing that says, we’re going to take power because we need to improve the lives of everybody, not just a few, that is really powerful.
And one thing I want to mention is I ran across in an essay, and then the last book that he wrote, Martin Luther King, “Where Do We Go From Here,” he talked about power, and he talked about love. And he said, power without love is cruel, it’s abusive, and so forth. He says, but love without power is ineffectual and anemic. And a lot of the sort of religious left, a lot of the witnessing left, a lot of the doctrinaire ideological left, rhetoric aside, for all of their virtues, there hasn’t been a focus on gaining power tangibly. And that has to include government electoral power, as much as we might wish that the electoral system as it now exists was something we’d never need to deal with, because it’s so awful and tacky and dominated by money. And what Bernie’s saying and the movement is saying is much in sync with what Martin Luther King was saying. If you want to effectuate love towards human beings as social policy, you need power; and if you don’t have power, you’re going to be anemic.
RS: So, it’s time for a break. I’ve been talking to Norman Solomon, and we’ll let any stations that want to use this, or others, identify themselves, and we’ll be right back. [omission for station break] I’m back with Norman Solomon, who has had a lifetime of experience of organizing progressive movements, and he was a Bernie delegate, and that’s why I wanted to do a podcast, he was at the 2016 convention. Which I think was a moment of incredible clarity, at least for me as a journalist covering it, and I’ve been at most of these, just about almost all of the political parties’ conventions, republican, democrat, since 1956 when I was a kid. And I was a member of Eleanor Roosevelt’s group, Americans for Democratic Action, the student wing. And we supported, our student wing supported Estes Kefauver, a populist from Tennessee, against Adlai Stevenson; the adult group supported Adlai Stevenson. So I started out with this.
But what I want to pick up for what remains of our podcast, I want to discuss this question of class war. And the way you put it before, you would think it’s Bernie that started class war, or the people around him, or young people. That’s not the way I see this history that I’ve lived through. I was born in 1936. My father lost his job the day I was born, OK? And Roosevelt was the hero in our house, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Why? Because the ruling class in our country, the robber barons, the rich people — and he was from a rich family, you know — they undermined their own system. They were so consumed with greed and short-term profit and swindling the market and everything else, that they forgot about stability in society. They forgot about what de Tocqueville praised America for, some kind of solid middle class emerging and gaining power, and so forth. Accountability — from my students here, I hear all the time about Bernie: he’s real, you know, he’s authentic. There’s accountability. They like his saying the same thing, [laughs] because it shows he really has a message that he believes in. They don’t want him all over the map.
But I think about this idea of class war, and what I’ve witnessed in my life in America, my parents were both — my father was a machinist on knitting machines, and my mother was a garment worker, sewing machines and so forth. I grew up in that kind of background. And all my life — yes, I’ve engaged in the meritocracy; I went to City College, the whole thing —but all my life I’ve seen a relentless class war, after the Second World War, to reverse what Franklin Delano Roosevelt did. Because out of that period of the Great Depression and then the wartime boom, we had victories for trade unions. We had strong industrial trade unions, you came out of the war, you had the auto workers, the steel workers, the coal miners, the electrical workers, big industrial unions with political power and clout. And then you had the Taft Hartley law to undermine that; the Republicans led that fight, but many Democrats, including the Dixiecrats in the South, supported it. So the class war that I’ve observed, as a young person and then as a journalist, analyzing it, writing books and so forth, has been ruthless. And it’s not to gain power for the dispossessed or working people, it’s been to take it away. Unions have been crushed, the industrial unions were undermined by corporate control of government, you know. So there’s been a class war all along. The power of the press has been concentrated in wealthier and wealthier hands, the coming of television increased that and so forth, you know.
And the problem is with their excessive power. At some point they got greedy again, as they had done in the ’20s, the roaring ’20s and so forth. And they began to go excessively in the direction of short-term gain, fattening their own thing, using hedge funds, everything else. And you get to a point when Bill Clinton comes in, and that is the turning point in modern history. Because Bill Clinton, who claimed to have the poor-boy roots there in Hope and so forth, in Arkansas, one of the poorest states and everything, had the promise of a populism. And he betrayed it almost instantly, in part because he had only — Ross Perot was in the race, he didn’t have a majority of votes; he had, you know, roughly what, 40% or 35%, something like that, maybe a little more. And the fact of the matter is, almost from the first days of the Clinton administration, he betrayed the most vulnerable people in this society.
NS: And carrying that thread forward —
RS: But let me just give some specifics for listeners, maybe don’t know that. But for instance, we’re here in Los Angeles, where we have a lot of homeless people. We have a lot of people who are dependent upon some kind of government assistance. And it was Bill Clinton who destroyed the federal, main federal anti-poverty program, which the Democrats under Lyndon Johnson has supported, but that was started by Roosevelt, the Aid to Families with Dependent Children. And so, you know, and that was mostly women with children, and they were cut off!
NS: Right. Five years and you’re out.
RS: Yeah. And then you can go right down the line, the Telecommunications Act that empowered the concentration of wealth in the control of communications. And you had the ones I mentioned before, the freeing of Wall Street to go further than the savings and loan scandal under Ronald Reagan. So the Democratic Party really presided — in alliance with the Republicans, Phil Gramm and others, but they couldn’t do it on their own — under Bill Clinton. And this is why we now are with Bernie Sanders, OK. And that under, starting with Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party allied with Wall Street. And that’s why, by the way — no one mentions it — Barack Obama was the first presidential candidate to turn down campaign finance. John McCain was still accepting it. You know, and the argument is, well, he’s got a hard row here, we’ll go turn to Wall Street. And Barack Obama betrayed that commitment, because he started out, when he was running against Hillary Clinton, he attacked the Clinton freeing of Wall Street, but then what did he do? He has Lawrence Summers come in, who was one of the architects under Clinton of doing it.
He brings in — and the telling moment — and I’ll shut up after and let you take the rest of the time. But what really kills me is Julian Assange somehow is the bad guy in all this, and WikiLeaks, and told us, what — what did he do? What was the great interference in the 2016 election, and the Russians are tied to that, and everything else? The great interference, the only thing that really affected that election, was not, you know, playing with voting machines or bots on the internet or false sites; all of that accounts for very little. The main impact on that election is that through WikiLeaks and whoever, however you got that information, he told us what Hillary Clinton said when she was sitting next to Lloyd Blankfein at Goldman Sachs, who had given her three quarters of a million dollars for her speeches. And she said there, we need the smart people here to come with me to Washington and fix this problem. And it was Goldman Sachs, more than any other company, that had created the problem.
And now, fast forward, it’s Lloyd Blankfein who says, said that he would have a hard time voting for Bernie Sanders against Donald Trump. OK. That’s the man who was behind Hillary Clinton. The other thing we learned from those leaks was that Podesta and the head of the Democratic National Committee undermined Bernie Sanders, and did everything they could to undermine his campaign. So the main interference from WikiLeaks, for which Julian Assange is now imprisoned in London under horrible conditions, is to tell American voters how the Democratic establishment and how Hillary Clinton had betrayed what they claim was — what she claimed, and they claimed — was their commitment to ordinary Americans in favor of Wall Street.
NS: Those were certainly inconvenient facts that were revealed. I think of a photograph that’s symbolic — actually a series of them — when in the White House, Barack Obama would meet up with the two former Democratic presidents, right. So there’s Barack Obama, there’s Bill Clinton, and there’s Jimmy Carter. And it’s very consistent in those photos that Obama is huddling closely with Bill Clinton, they’re yucking it up, they’re very warm. And Obama and Clinton are leaving aside Jimmy Carter, who’s certainly a much better ex-president than he was a president. And to me, it embodies what you’re talking about, Bob. Because Obama continued what Bill Clinton started —
RS: When we say Obama, it’s Obama-Biden.
NS: Yes, indeed, as Biden keeps trying to tell us. Hobart Rowen, the late economics correspondent for the Washington Post, when Bill Clinton was first elected said it was a combination of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism. And I think Obama in practice, as a president, kept that thread going. So we had 16 years with Obama and Clinton before him, the combination of, yes, some good liberal social policies, some decent economic policies, earned income tax credit or whatever. But on the whole, as you’re spelling out, turning the Treasury Department over to, I mean, people like Lloyd Bentsen you can go back to, wasn’t that under Clinton, etc., etc. — turned it all over —
RS: Well, Robert Rubin, who came straight from Goldman Sachs to the Treasury Department under Clinton to preside over ending all the New Deal restraints on Wall Street, in effect. And then after doing this, he goes to work for Citigroup, the bank that he made whole by reversing Glass-Steagall, and Lawrence Summers took over in the tail end, Lawrence Summers came back with Obama. You can’t make this up. And by the way, Elizabeth Warren deserves a great deal of credit, both as a consumer advocate and as a senator, in exposing this. She does, you know. But the rest of the party, with the exception of Bernie Sanders in this debate, they forget it.
NS: It’s sort of a sum-up, in a way, that we’ve had these last two Democratic presidents who have created a new normal for the hierarchy and so-called leadership of the National Democratic Party. And it is the Bernie Sanders campaign that is saying, this normal is unacceptable; the rich corporate elites have been winning the class war; and it’s time for the working class to win that war, because we’re sick of losing.
RS: Well, that’s a good way to summarize. But I want to add, I want to just throw in another idea here. Because the attack on Bernie is the attack from the pundit class. By the way, if you get to be a big talking head, you probably got a pretty good bank account these days. Everybody forgets that. You know, making three, four hundred thousand dollars is considered chump change in that world, OK, so they don’t really share the plight of, you know, most Americans. But they try to brand Bernie — this is the thing — oh, it’s old politics. It is old politics! Precisely because you brought us back to the roaring ’20s. That’s why, yes, you have to talk about a higher minimum wage. You have to talk about union organizing, service employee unions, unions that are active in Nevada, you know, on a more militant basis, you know. Yes, you have to talk about exploitation of workers, you have to talk about something Richard Nixon even talked about, the guaranteed annual income, you know. You know, expanding protection of Americans.
And that is a modern idea now, because that’s the only way you’re going to get scientific advancement. And yes, we’d all like to have robots do boring, horrible work that human beings now do. I worked at various points on assembly lines, there was no glory in it, you know. But the fact of the matter is, you’re not going to get that kind of modernization of technology through computers or anything else, and the benefits of international trade, if you don’t guarantee a decent standard of living for the home population. Because otherwise they will rise up.
That’s the moment we’re at. And Bernie Sanders really has a very timely — I’m not trying to turn this into a pitch for him — I would have to say Elizabeth Warren has a very strong economic message, which she has articulated, to be fair. And, but the rest of the pack that survive there now, they’re talking as if we have no problems.
NS: The rest of the pack to me is dismal, very dismal. It’s back to the future, the same mess that got us here in the first place. I want to mention that on the night that Bernie won the Nevada caucus in his victory speech, he thanked the rank-and-file union members in Nevada. He didn’t thank the leaders of the union, he thanked — he used the phrase, ”rank-and-file,” and that says a lot about where his strength is coming from.
RS: OK, well, that’s a good positive note on which to end this. I have been talking to Norman Solomon, who has a lifetime of working in grassroots organizations. And I must say, you don’t deserve the credit all alone, but you are one of the people that really had a lot to do with keeping some of these great ideas about accountability to ordinary people alive, and creating the grassroots, helping create the grassroots for a Bernie Sanders campaign. So that’s why I particularly wanted to talk to you today.
And I want to thank Sebastian Grubaugh here, our producer at the University of Southern California, the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, which has helped us get this program going. Natasha Hakimi Zapata, who writes the great intros for Scheer Intelligence, and who by the way wrote a terrific piece making the point on the Nevada caucus, because she’s very familiar with the Latinx community. And she recorded in real time early on a revolt among younger Latinos and Latinas over the established view that they would just go with the Democratic Party. We’re seeing that in the black community. And so she was very early to record that. And I must say Scheer Intelligence is a product of two Scheers, Joshua Scheer who is our producer, and I’m Robert Scheer. And we’ll see you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.