Why Hillary Won the Debate (Even Though She Didn’t)

CNN and Facebook co-sponsored last week’s Democratic presidential frontrunners’ “debate.” After the event, CNN conducted a poll. “Who won the debate?” it asked. The result: 83% Bernie Sanders; 12% Hillary Clinton.

Facebook also took a poll. “Who do you think won?” Over 79% responded, “Bernie Sanders.”


Slate conducted a poll. “Who won the presidential debate?” asked the magazine. 75% of respondents said Bernie Sanders; 18% gave it to Hillary Clinton.

“Hillary Clinton won,” reported Slate “senior writer” Josh Vorhees exuberantly. “She just needed to be solid in the debate. Instead, she was spectacular.”

Spectacular! with 18% of Slate’s own polling numbers. Go figure.

“Who do you think won?” asked Time Magazine. The response?  Bernie Sanders: 70%, Hillary Clinton 16%.

The Time headline: “CLINTON IN CONTROL.”

Are you disgusted yet? This goes far beyond distortion, and far beyond the tampering with facts that characterized Soviet-style reporting in Izvestia and Pravda in the decade before the USSR collapsed. This is in-your-face rejection of empirical reality, to say nothing of an insult to the viewers polled. The entire mainstream news media is complicit.

Imagine if the “free” press—free to publish whatever its corporate editors want, including even the truth, at their discretion—had sought to spin this story differently.

“POLLS SHOW BIG WIN FOR SANDERS,” CNN might have proclaimed, between commercials.

“A great night for Sanders,” Slate might have announced.

“SANDERS TROUNCES CLINTON,” Time might have acknowledged.

But no, and this is par for the course. The TV cable news anchors took ages to concede that, well, yes, maybe Jeb Bush—despite his solid RNC support and Wall Street’s firm endorsement—is not the inevitable GOP candidate. They’ve had to acknowledge that (for whatever reasons) Donald Trump’s actually striking a much deeper chord than warmonger Dubya’s little brother among likely voters.

But they’re stubbornly refusing to recognize some things they don’t want to see—things that don’t follow their script.

They don’t understand that people in their twenties who constitute the 75-year-old Sanders’ support base have no problem with “socialism” but rather have lots of problems with Wall Street. These “millenials” are even—horrors!—increasingly inclined to question the national god of capitalism itself. It has fewer positive connotations to them than it did for their parents who grew up during the Cold War and were subjected its particular brainwashing agenda.

That’s the sort of brainwashing that allows Trump, a demagogue preying on the most abjectly ignorant to tell cheering crowds that he calls Sanders “a ‘socialist, slash, communist,’ okay? ‘Cause that’s what he is!”

‘Cause that’s what he is! Sanders is a communist. End of story. End of rational thought.

I myself am not a Sanders supporter. He’s nowhere nearly left enough for me. But then I’m not a supporter of the whole bogus, skewed, money-driven two-party electoral system itself, which seems designed to hoodwink people, channel their energies into itself, and then produce disillusionment soon after the election, as the elected official reneges on promises and proves to be something other than a real harbinger of “change.”

The system is wired to then hoodwink people again, re-channel their energies (again back into itself), bouncing people back and forth between two hopelessly corrupt parties that are really two factions of a single corporate party. Lots of energy expended. Lots of convictions about “civic responsibility” exploited. You spin your wheels and nothing changes; that’s the whole point. Wall Street along with the political class in general laughs at you.

The system tells us, “If you don’t vote, you have nothing to say” and reduces political involvement to endorsing one of its (always safe) choices. It excludes from the debate stage the merest discussion of needed radical change. (And if such comes up unexpectedly in a live interview, expect the TV station to cut to a break.)


The electoral process is designed to keep you out of the street (where history is really made) and lead you into a box, like a confessional booth (or a porno video cubicle)—a private space in which you’re touched by something greater than yourself and leave with a sense of gratification. You were a good citizen, like you were taught in school to be! You exercised your precious right to VOTE and did your part!

Casting that ballot in private is supposed to make you feel good about yourself, as a participant in the state. It’s supposed to make you think that, since you actually participated in the construction of the existing polity, when you talk about what it does, you can accept personal responsibility for its crimes.

For example, you might say: “We shouldn’t have invaded Iraq.” In doing so you implicitly include yourself—despite your disagreement—among those who actually did the vicious deed. I prefer to say, “Leave me out of that ‘we,’ since I had nothing to do with it. I fought against it, tooth and nail, attending every anti-war demonstration I could and railing against it to all who would listen.”

“Well, our government did it,” you might correct yourself. “We voted for it.” But I will reply I didn’t; I stayed at home on election day, 2000. It’s like I was invited to a party that day, and disliking all who’d be there, I politely declined to attend.

When you vote, you vote not so much for a person as for the system itself, validating it and the rules surrounding the procedure. Casting the ballot is the state’s highest ritual, the individual’s most intimate connection with the system. It makes you feel one with the matrix. It’s rather like taking the Holy Communion at mass. You’re swallowing something, and making a statement of faith: I believe in this system!

This (corporate) system you vote for, every time you vote at all, commands the (corporate) media to such an extent that it can do what we see in the reportage cited above. It can turn reality on its head and get away with it, whether it’s shaping public opinion about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, a Russian invasion of Ukraine, U.S. successes against the Taliban in Afghanistan, Syrian “moderates” gaining against Assad, or victory in a farcical televised debate.

Whatever you think about Sanders, is it not outrageous that the mass media can obscure his plain victory in that exercise as a triumph for Hillary Clinton? Even a “spectacular” win? Isn’t it clear that she was pronounced the victor not because she actually won out over Sanders but because powerful people steering the “free” press needed her to do so?

As PR/disinformation master Karl Rove once put it (and this should be repeated as often as we repeat that wonderful quote from the imprisoned Goering at Nuremberg about using fear to build mass support for war): “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”

It’s not a sentiment unique to Republicans. Recall how, during the 2012 Democratic national convention, the crowd clearly voted down the inclusion of a line supporting Jerusalem as the eternal, undivided capital of Israel in its platform. The change required a two-thirds majority of the vote, according to party rules. At least half the delegates voted against it.

Still, the convention chairman to the outrage of many present announced (after some hushed consultation) that the “Ayes” carried the day. So much for democracy at the “Democratic” Party’s convention.

The mainstream press, by and large, wants Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic nominee for president. Wall Street’s leading candidates are Jeb Bush and Clinton; both are beloved of big money and either one will do. Sanders (even though in office he would likely buckle to their will, the same way Greece’s “socialist” Alexis Tsipras buckled to the IMF and European Central Bank) is anathema to Wall Street. And the connections between Wall Street, the Washington power elite, and the press are—to use the Chinese expression—as close as lips and teeth.

Finance capital rules the world and will do so until the “millions and millions” Bernie keeps talking about find some way to effectively challenge it.

Thus Sanders could not win the debate, even though he did. And Hillary was destined to win the debate, even though she didn’t. Get it? And isn’t it great you have the right to vote? To vote for her?

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Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

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