Bernie in the Deep Shit: Dismal Dem Debate Reflections

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Unfettered Capitalism

To anyone who watched the latest Democratic presidential candidate circus (“debate”) without a right-leaning bias last Tuesday, there was a clear winner: the social democrat Bernie Sanders. Smiling and confident in the wake of his recent mild heart attack, the progressive Senator from Vermont spoke eloquently against American economic inequality so extreme that three obscenely rich U.S.-Americans possess more wealth between them than the nation’s bottom fifty percent. Sanders elegantly advanced his call for universal Medicare for All, progressive taxation, and a Green New Deal. He rightly called out other Democratic candidates for their cringing service to the nation’s parasitic insurance and drug corporations. Along the way, Bernie got in a memorable riff against the “unfettered capitalism” that is epitomized by Big Pharma’s opioid crisis and the Ecocide inflicted by Big Carbon:

“Let’s take a deep breath. Take a look at this opioid epidemic. You have executives, CEOs of major pharmaceutical companies, making tens of millions of dollars a year. And in this particular case with the opioids, they knew that they were selling a product to communities all over this country which were addicting people and killing them. And last year, the top 10 drug companies made $69 billion in profit. This is what unfettered capitalism is doing to this country. And it’s not just the drug companies. Right now, the CEOs in the fossil fuel industry know full well that their product is destroying this world. And they continue to make huge profits.”

No, the self-described “socialist” Bernie – supporter of the absurdly expensive F-35 fighter jet program and a champion of the criminal U.S. bombing of Serbia two decades ago – wasn’t honest and/or radical enough to admit that we’ll have to take down the Pentagon System to seriously advance social justice and environmental sanity. He didn’t retract his past insulting description of Hugo Chavez as a “dead communist dictator” or his disturbing attacks on the Maduro government. He fail to mention Cuba’s eco-socialist environmental triumphs. He didn’t acknowledge that we need a social revolution, not just a political one – or that socialism properly understood means workers’ control.

Still, Sanders performed well and about as far to the portside as is possible within the inherently constricted framework of the hopelessly bourgeois U.S. two party system, wherein the reigning political organizations function as two wings of the same bird of corporate and imperialist prey. It’s not for nothing that Sanders has run for the presidency with essentially no Big Business backing and in the face of blatant corporate media condescension and neglect.

Mosquitos Buzzing Around the Ass of a War Horse

You wouldn’t know how well Sanders did unless you made yourself sit through the tedious, three-hour CNN-New York Times “debate,” held on an absurdly overcrowded stage where most of the candidates were neoliberal and imperialist shills with small support bases in the Democrats’ primarily progressive base. So what if the progressive war horse Sanders damn-near defeated the dismal, dollar-drenched DNC-Clinton machine (and would have trounced neofascist Malignant Orange) in 2016? He is expected to politely share equal time and space with comparative moral mosquitos like Pete Butiggieg (a proud War on/of Terror military veteran and a former staffer in the arch corporate-globalist consulting firm McKinsey and Company), Kamala Harris (a mass-incarcerationist former prosecutor who has opposed government payouts to falsely convicted ex-prisoners and who likes to mock progressives who want to shift public resources from prisons to schools), Amy Klobuchar (who boasts of her support from Midwestern whites “frightened” by “radical” programs like Canadian-style health insurance), Cory Booker (a notorious Big Pharma friend), and Beto-O’Rourke (who missed his calling when the Talking Heads retired).

Imperialist Idiocy

Also up on the scaffold was a neoliberal shill who clings to sadly significant but thankfully declining public support – the ridiculous right-wing racist and imperialist corporate Democrat Joe Biden. The practically incoherent, recurrently ranting Biden showed himself completely defenseless before Trump when confronted with an opening debate-night question about his goofball son Hunter’s unseemly presence on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company (Burisma) when Biden was Vice President. (More on Joe below.)

Two peak debate moments of imperialist idiocy came when Klobuchar sickeningly described the racist apartheid terror state of Israel a beacon of democracy and Biden strung enough understandable words together to call Trump’s recent greenlighting of Turkish strongman Recep Erdogan’s assault on the Syrian Kurds “the most shameful foreign policy action of any president in my lifetime.” Trump’s move was shameful, of course, but does Sleepy Joe seriously not recall George. W. Bush’s mass-murderous and monumentally criminal invasion of Iraq (an illegal occupation that killed at least 1 million people)? How about JFK, LBJ and Nixon’s crucifixion of Southeast Asia (for which body counts range from 2 to 5 million)? Nixon and Kissinger’s insidious overthrow of the Salvadore Allende regime in Chile? Kissinger and Ford’s greenlighting of Indonesia’s genocidal assault on East Timor? Reagan’s Central American wars? Obama’s destruction of Libya? Harry Truman’s criminal and unnecessary atom-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (which Biden no doubt applauded as a three-year-old)? As the U.S. Senator from MBNA, poor old “rusty chain” Joe voted for authorizing the evangelical lunatic George W. Bush to invade Iraq if want to (he did), by the way.

My favorite real-time “debate” observation came from the left historian and journalist Terry Thomas:

“I had to turn it off and take a short break…to clean off my shoes because the shit had gotten a little too thick, especially after everyone on the stage acted like they were out there championing working people and the poor against the depredations of the super-rich. Every one of them, with the exception of Sanders and maybe Warren, would gladly bend over if so ordered by large campaign donors. The most disgusting shill is Butiggieg, who is doing his best updated JFK imitation. Biden is spewing out incoherent facts again that he desperately tried to memorize before the debate…Biden, when offered the opportunity, went off on an incoherent rant, apparently intended to defend Obomber’s blood-soaked Middle East policy as something every American should be proud of. He was just waiting for that opportunity. Looked like a hungry dog just offered some red meat.”

Buttigieg jumped into the fetid foreign affairs feeding frenzy too. He stood up to defend the inherently noble American Empire against Hindu nationalist Tulsi Gabbard’s awkwardly delivered critique of endless U.S. “regime-change wars.” (Tulsi found a more welcoming audience for her alleged anti-imperialism on fellow peacenik Tucker Carlson’s Trump Television show the next night).

Mayor Pete is Wall Street’s Insurance Policy

Many of the “contenders” (Butiggieg, Harris, Klobuchar, Booker, and O’Rourke) in the “second tier” (beneath bold Bernie, liberal Liz, and Hapless, not-so Jolt’n Joe) continue to hold down outsized “debate” and media coverage space despite their minor and in some cases miniscule levels of support. This is for three basic reasons:

+ their lust for political celebrity-status and greater viability in future presidential campaigns – and perhaps for vice presidential or other positions in the next White House.

+ the determination of elite corporate funders and the corporate media to keep the progressive- populist “socialist” Sanders and the somewhat leftish liberal self-declared “capitalist” Elizabeth Warren at bay by flooding the national political telescreen with neoliberal corporatists well to the right of the Democratic Party’s base. Sanders is obviously too left for the Democratic Party’s big financial bankrollers, but even the avowed “capitalist” (“in my bones”)Warren is too “radical” for them, thanks to her anti-trust and regulatory financial schemes and her formal embrace of Single Payer and a wealth tax.

+ The determination of elite funders and media to have a reliable center-right corporatist (a Rockefeller-Eisenhower-Clinton-Obama Democrat) around to move up if and when the doomed coot Biden falls completely out of the running with his fading, reactionary, and racist brains draining out of his ears. The man needs Assisted Living, not the White House. (All too sadly close to reality is the following Biden parody I sent out to friends last Wednesday morning: “Asked what he was trying to say during the debate last night, Biden’s neck bulged. His eyes blazed and his bright white dental implants shined as he loudly explained: ‘For the next to last time, Cornpop never once called me ‘boy.’ Got it? People, let’s get serious. Get off that diving board with that stuff in your hair. Come on! Turn on the television, I mean record player. Barack Obama brought a rusty chain to Iraq, I mean Afghanistan not Syria. He’s clean I’m telling you. This is just common sense! Ya with me? Do you just want a physical revolution or do you want to get things done? Where are we, folks? When I say what time is it, I mean it, people. This is life. Son of a bitch, don’t bring a straight razor to an impeachment or the Middle East. Follow me buckaroos? I love Tulsi, but she’s got something in her hair that smells pretty damn good. Let’s go!’).

The Wall Street election investors who care about beating Trump (some surely do) know very well that Biden is not up to snuff anymore, if he ever was. Thomas’s observation about how the cable news talking heads reviewed the “debate” is dead-on:

“A couple of things were clear by the time it was over, and the post-game ‘analysis’ began (these are actually treated like sporting events, with pre-games and post-games on winners and losers, and all that). Both CNN and MSNBC, neoliberal beacons, made it clear that they, and their overseers, are looking for potential replacements for SleepyCreepy Joe, should he continue to falter, and at least for the moment they are pushing Mayor Pete and even Klobuchar. They actually said it in the post-game. Given the threat of capital flight should Warren win the nomination, they need an insurance policy, someone who plays the game, is articulate, and says mostly nothing but says it well. That would be Mayor Pete, who is already envisioning what America will look like on the day after Trump. They were even predicting in the pregame that Mayor Pete would begin the dismantling of Warren, whose ‘plans’ all of the sudden have become too expensive and unrealistic. They are now going after her big time.”

(Yes, even the strangely overwrought Klobuchar, who the liberal networks are now transparently trying to boost.)

That’s no joke about the threat of capital flight – and/or capital fight. Several top Democratic Party campaign bankrollers are ready, CNBC reported three weeks ago, to back the revolting neo-fascist Trump not just over the Sanders but even over Warren. And Biden doesn’t have what it takes. Neither does Kamala Harris, who has surprised many observers (myself included) by proving unable to take serious advantage of her “progressive neoliberal” identity assets. That leaves the dark horse late-surge door open for Butiggieg, a gayer version of Tony Blair and Barack Obama and a fierce champion of global capital and its military empire. Beto and Booker can only dream. Yang is having fun. Klobuchar is running for Vice President. Harris is vying for Attorney General.

You wouldn’t know that Sanders won the “debate” by watching the nation’s supposedly left cable news network MSDNC (MSNBC) the following day. The fake-progressive channel’s talking heads were all and absurdly agog over Pete and Amy K, hailed as “rational” and “moderate” alternatives to the “extreme left” represented by the frothing Marxist-Leninist Sanders and his Maoist rival Liz “Shining Path” Warren.

Butiggieg got morning-after cable news talking head as a reward for beating back “radical” Beto’s big bad call for the mandatory buy-back of assault weapons and for attacking Single Payer as “impractical.” What the chattering telescreen skulls liked most about Butiggieg’s performance was his charge that Sanders and Warren would “increase middle-class taxes” to pay for universal health care as a human right. The cable news bobble-heads joined Butiggieg and Biden in failing to acknowledge that Bernie offered a simple and smart answer to the critique: the tax burden for Single Payer will fall on the wealthy Few and middle-class people will save money from abolished co-pays and premiums, reduced drug prices, bureaucratic streamlining, and the overall elimination of the parasitic profit motive under Single Payer.

Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse at CNN and MSDNC

One neat moment came early when Sanders fended off corporate media hack Erin Burnett’s effort to paint him out as too old and sick for the presidency with a simple “I’m feeling great, thanks for asking.” Before Burnett could even finish her age and health question, Sanders answered her with the quotation given at the beginning of this essay. Here is some interesting career background on Ms. Burnett courtesy of Wikipedia:

“Burnett began her career as a financial analyst for Goldman Sachs in their investment banking division, where she worked on mergers and acquisitions and corporate finance. While working as an investment-banking analyst, Burnett was offered a position at CNN as a writer and booker for CNN’s Moneyline with Stuart Varney, Willow Bay, and Lou Dobbs. She left the position to serve as vice president of Citigroup’s digital media group, CitiMedia…Following Citigroup, Burnett joined Bloomberg Television as Stocks Editor and anchor. From 2005 to 2011 Burnett was the host of CNBC’s Street Signs and co-anchor of Squawk on the Street with Mark Haines….Following more than five years with CNBC, Burnett left the network on May 6, 2011, and joined rival news outlet CNN beginning October 3, 2011. There she began headlining her own prime-time news program, called Erin Burnett OutFront, which films at CNN’s New York City studios.”

MSDNC morning host Stephanie Ruhle (who drips with disdain for Sanders) also came out of global finance. She was a trans-Atlantic derivatives trader for Credit Suisse and a hedge fund sales leader for Deutsche Bank UBS for many years prior to joining the (neo-)”liberal media.”

I’m guessing there’s more where Burnett and Ruhle came from in the chattering skull-o-sphere. Some “deep state” theoretician needs to investigate Wall Street’s success in placing global finance operatives in the “fake news.”

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).