Thursday, October 15, 2015

Alas, the Bern, no longer so hot

In January, I went to a "Run, Warren, Run" organizational meeting. I have voted Republican most of my life, but my party has been hijacked by wingnuts and yahoos, and I am alarmed by the lack of accountability for powerful financiers. Of course, Warren didn't run, so many in the group turned their hopes to Bernie Sanders, as I did. As I see it, Bernie, no doubt out of noble motives, effectively ended his candidacy the other night when he cut off discussion about Hillary's e-mails.

This evening, I got an e-mail from a member of the "Run, Warren, Run" group, repeating the viewpoint of some in focus groups that Bernie was the real winner the other night. I wrote the following reply:

"This will be my valedictory message to the group. I'm the lifelong Republican who showed up at the Warren meeting, was sorry Warren decided not to run, and was prepared to vote for Bernie. Obviously, I don't agree with him on everything, but in a country where a man can be sentenced to 28 years for selling tainted peanuts but not one banker spends one night in jail over wrecking the economy, something is wrong. Bernie is strong medicine, which the country needs. Moreover, the candidates of my former party are either insane or forced to give a convincing imitation of it.

"I wanted Bernie to win the other night and then to go from strength to strength. Hillary is a thoroughly contemptible person, in my opinion, and I fervently hoped Tuesday night would be her Waterloo.

"That was not the outcome. Hillary won, and won big. Let's remember the difference between winning morally and winning a debate. Socrates, Jesus, Lincoln, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King all won the moral sweepstakes but didn't make out so well in worldly terms. Neither did Bernie the other night. He won the justice sweepstakes, not the debate. I say that, in part, as a long-ago college debater.

"This happened, in part, because of things Hillary did and said and things Bernie did and said. She helped herself, and he helped her, but he didn't really help Bernie. Among the shoals he foundered on were:

"1. Bernie said 'The gun bill was big and complicated,' to which Hillary replied, 'It wasn't that complicated to me, and I voted against it.' Hillary wins.

"2. Bernie said 'I come from a rural state,' to which Hillary replied 'So only gun manufacturers escape accountability?' and, more to the point, O'Malley said 'We have a hunting tradition in Maryland, but we still passed a gun bill, without pandering to the NRA.' O'Malley does his bit, and Hillary wins again. (The other issue was, what nobody actually said, 'Bernie, the country isn't rural any more; we live in an urban and suburban society, and the question is whether you are prepared to govern who we are today, not who we were 100 years ago.')

"3. Bernie said 'We need to learn from Denmark,' to which Hillary replied 'I love Denmark, but we're not Denmark--we're the United States.' Again, in debating terms, Hillary wins.

"4. Bernie criticized predatory capitalism but gave no evidence of distinguishing between J.P. Morgan Chase and the Jiffy Lube on the corner. Both are manifestations of capitalism. Hillary's position was more nuanced: 'Sometimes, we need to save capitalism from itself.' I understand Bernie agrees with this, but Hillary articulated the more balanced view. Hillary wins.

"5. Bernie semi-shouted the whole evening, which made his characterization of Hillary as shouting a little ironic. As The Economist said, if I remember correctly, 'Mr. Sanders seemed unaware that he had a microphone.' Hillary modulated her voice, for the most part, and seemed more calm and poised, while still engaged. Hillary wins.

"6. Bernie failed to press the advantage with regard to Hillary's close ties to Wall Street. When she told her little Pollyanna story that 'I went to the Wall Street bankers and said 'Guys, you've got to stop doing that bad stuff, got to stop the foreclosures,' etc.' Bernie (or anyone else) needed to have said 'Yes? And? That somehow stopped the financial crisis or mitigated its effects? You personally going into a room full of bankers and telling them to stop? If what happened afterward is a measure of your effectiveness as a persuader, what can we expect from you when you confront Putin?' But he didn't say that. He called her 'A little naïve' in passing but really didn't press the point. Hillary wins--by Bernie's omission.

"7. Bernie had a point about the possibility of Putin's Syrian escapade eventually blowing up in his face in his own country and making him withdraw, and that could happen, but the immediate question had to do with a President's willingness to use either military force or forceful diplomacy with characters like Putin to begin with. Bernie did not show that he was prepared for this. It's almost as if his thinking was 'Is Putin a Wall St. banker? No? Then why are we even talking about him?'

"8. Finally, Bernie's greatest moral gesture of the evening also amounted to a kind of hara kiri. Let's look at the situation we have. The Secretary of State is fourth in line of succession to the Presidency. By the very nature of the office, the incumbent goes in knowing he or she will handle matters of a highly sensitive nature and that such material ought to be secured. Knowing this full well, Hillary kept official business on a private server, failed to turn it over to the government upon leaving office, as required, and, when confronted about it later, airily replied 'I opted for convenience.' By the most generous construction, such fatuous self-complacency on the part of anyone disqualifies him or her from being county court clerk, let alone one of the highest officers of state for the most powerful nation in the world. And we haven't even gotten to the question of whether she knew at the time that some of the materials were classified.

"So what happened the other night? Anderson Cooper said, quite accurately, that Obama himself had referred to Hillary's actions as 'a mistake' and that the FBI is investigating her. A candidate for President owes the country a serious answer for his or her incredible lack of judgment on such a point and what it says about his or her fitness for the country's highest office. Hillary's airy impudence on this point ('Did I wipe my server? What you mean with a cloth?') is a walking attack ad for the GOP.

"Now Bernie may have felt that strategically, he didn't care to be the one to take a meat cleaver to Hillary on this point. Fine. He could have said, what he in fact did say after the debate, that the FBI would do their investigation and events would take their course. Fine.

"Instead, he forcefully intervened to dismiss the whole issue! That can't possibly be because a man of his intelligence is unacquainted with, or indifferent to, the simplest common sense requirements of handling state papers, but because, being Bernie, he wants to excoriate Wall Street bankers, and he wanted to get back to that point.

"That's fine, Bernie. Wall Street bankers are a huge problem, but not our only problem. Hillary's dishonesty is another (as in her lying her backside off about her 'gold standard' comments about the Trans-Pacific partnership). And cyber-warfare and China flexing its muscles in the South China Sea are also problems (as I recall, only Jim Webb seemed concerned about either of those problems).

"Anyway, as to Bernie's intervention on behalf of Hillary, in a way, it was a noble thing to do. And the moment he did it, Bernie might as well have said 'And now, friends, farewell,' and walked off the stage. His raison d'etre, as an alternative to Hillary, had now ended, and by his own hand.

"Hillary won, Jack. The people in those focus groups who thought otherwise were stoned, or might as well have been. Bernie is now a noble might-have-been. Hillary will be the nominee, unless she shows up in a video beheading someone for ISIS.

"I know that many reading this will emphatically disagree, and that's fine, and I can only say that I will always cherish admiration for Bernie and what he wanted to accomplish in reining in the wild excesses of Wall Street and holding predatory bankers accountable. I trust that his effort, like that of Howard Dean before him, will galvanize like-minded people of good will and that the movement will be the beginning of real, positive change in our society. My best wishes to all who work toward that end."

© Michael Huggins, 2015. All rights reserved.

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