• Latest News
  • Pitch a Story
  • Work with a Journalist
  • Join the Blog Squad
  • Afghanistan
  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Baltimore
  • Canada
  • Egypt
  • Europe
  • Latin America
  • Middle East
  • Russia
  • Economy
  • Environment
  • Health Care
  • Military
  • Occupy
  • Organize This
  • Reality Asserts Itself
  • US Politics
  • Should Progressives Vote for Obama?

    Phyllis Bennis: Both parties represent big capital and corporations, but Romney will be even more aggressive against working people -   October 24, 2012
    Members don't see ads. If you are a member, and you're seeing this appeal, click here


    Share to Facebook Share to Twitter

    The Real News is a vital answer to The New York Times, the house organ of the oligarchs. - Al Salzman
    Log in and tell us why you support TRNN


    Should Progressives Vote for Obama?PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.

    There's a debate taking place on the left of the political spectrum about whether or not there's really that much of a difference between President Obama and candidate Romney. It kind of goes that even in swing states, why vote for the lesser evil; it'd be better to vote for third parties, for example the Green Party or the Peace and Justice Party. The debate goes that there's just not a significant enough difference between the two to kind of give credence to the fact that the leadership of the Democratic Party isn't also representing Wall Street interests and such. Now, in foreign policy, is there enough of a difference to choose between the two?

    Now joining us to have that discussion is Phyllis Bennis. Phyllis is a fellow and director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. She's the author of the book Before and After: U.S. Foreign Policy and the War on Terrorism. Thanks for joining us, Phyllis.


    JAY: So, I mean, I know you're—as a U.S. citizen, you're as much interested in the domestic issues, so if you want to go there, go there, but your preoccupation is with foreign policy issues, and it's hard to see in what little we've heard so far of foreign policy debate between Romney and Obama—but certainly in terms of their public positions, it's hard to see a heck of a lot of difference between them. And so what's your take on that?

    BENNIS: Well, I think that there are differences.

    Before I get to that, I think we have to start with what elections are and are not. Elections are not the embodiment of a real democracy in this country. Elections are not our turf. They're not our team. They're not our people. They're not our choices. That's not what's presented to us for elections. So when we get to people saying both parties are controlled by the corporations, it's like, yeah, and what's your point? Because to me, that imagines an illusory world where we get to choose, we the people at large somehow get to choose the candidates and choose the issues and make real choices. That's not what U.S. presidential elections have ever been.

    JAY: Yeah. I think one of the people that put that best was actually George Will, the conservative columnist, who—I've quoted this a hundred times on The Real News and I will a hundred more times—on the Stephanopoulos show he lost his temper once and he said, let's not get sentimental about democracy; you don't get to choose whether the elite rules, you get to choose which part of the elite rules.

    BENNIS: He's absolutely right. And that has consequences. One of the consequences is that small differences matter. You know, there's an old saying that if you're drowning and the water is over your mouth, that last half inch to your nose is the difference between life and death. So, yes, small differences matter.

    In this case, I think there are differences that are not small. The question of who gets appointed to the Supreme Court is the choice between whether we get a conservative centrist, which will be the likely choice of a second Obama term, or a right-wing extremist, which is the likely choice of a Romney presidency. That matters. It matters for women's rights, it matters for the environment, it matters for labor. It matters whether things like Citizens United that gives corporations so much more power than they even dreamed of will be expanded or might be contracted. So for me, the issue of Supreme Court appointments alone would be enough.

    On the question of foreign policy, clearly you're right, Paul, that there are not major differences between the two parties. That's part of the reason why I think we can expect that the debate over foreign policy is going to be a little bit tricky, because it's going to be much more about rhetoric than about actual policies.

    But let me start with where there is a real policy difference, and that's on the question of Iran. Where they don't differ is, between the two parties, both have established the idea of a, quote, "red line", at which point they would be willing to use force against Iran. That's a disaster. It's a disaster when you set red lines, because it undermines any possibility that diplomacy is going to happen. But it doesn't mean that all disasters are as bad or as soon or as likely as others. So if we look at the Obama administration's red line, their red line has always been the same for U.S. administrations in the past: we will not allow Iran to get, to obtain, to have a nuclear weapon. Now, that's disastrous, to assert that, as I said, but that's way in the future. Nobody thinks that's going to happen any time in the next several years.

    JAY: Which is what Biden more or less said—not more or less—did say during the vice presidential debate.

    BENNIS: Which is what Biden said. And President Obama has said that on numerous occasions as well.

    Now, the position of the Romney team (it was said most explicitly by Ryan, but Romney has said it over and over again, and his staff—when Romney has pulled back from it, his staff has reasserted it) is the Israeli red line, which is that we will use force to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapons capability—that's the key word. Now, capability is not a concept that exists with a clear definition in international law. It's widely assumed to mean a combination of the ability to enrich uranium, which every country that manufactures its own uranium fuel for a nuclear power program like Iran's has, as well as scientific know-how, which Iran mostly has—and they did even more before the assassination of five scientists in their nuclear power program. But the point is that when you say that the red line is nuclear capability, what you're saying is, we can choose when to define that moment, and we could define it as today, we could define it as next week. That's way more dangerous.

    JAY: So I asked Chris Hedges this question, and Chris Hedges is someone who says don't vote for Romney or Ryan—I mean Obama or Romney. And he says these decisions aren't really going to be made that way anyway; it's the Pentagon, it's the foreign-policy establishment. And it doesn't matter the kind of rhetoric Romney uses, the real decision-making won't be there, and that the Pentagon, as it stands now, doesn't want war with Iran, and that's going to be the more determining factor.

    BENNIS: I think that's true, as far as it goes. But I think that to ignore the real power of the presidency, which is the bully pulpit, is a specious argument. It really denies how power gets exercised in this country. The rhetorical differences actually matter.

    So when you have a president that comes into office saying, we want to remake our relationship with the Arab world, with the Muslim world, with the rest of the world, who want to have a new relationship based on international law and the United Nations, etc., that gives you something to hold up as a goal, to hold a president, a party, a congressperson, a senator accountable. It's something that you can make them accountable for if we build up our movements—this is where the role of social movements is fundamental. At the same time, if you have a president who's elected whose official position is, I am going to reclaim our position in the world, being able to create history, we are going to determine history, we are going to tell other countries what they can and cannot do, which is essentially the public position of the Romney campaign, you're in a much more difficult position to even try to hold politicians accountable.

    And it matters what that rhetoric is, what people understand to be the national interest. If you have people that are listening to a presidency that is, with one voice, saying—and I don't pretend that anybody running for office right now is going to say this, but if you had a presidency that is speaking with one voice saying, we are going to build a foreign policy based on international law and human rights and equality for all, as opposed to what our foreign policy has been in the past—.

    JAY: Yeah, but you don't have that with President Obama.

    BENNIS: You don't have that. You do—that's right. But you do have someone who's saying, our foreign policy is based on ending wars that are stupid. Now, then you get into the debate of why is only Iraq the stupid war when 68 percent of the American people say that the war in Afghanistan is not a war worth fighting, you can have the basis of saying that the drone expansion, the drone war—there's a basis for fighting it, for saying that's not how you rebuild our relationship with the Arab world, the Muslim world, the rest of the world, that's not how it works. If you have—if you elect a government who is committed to the assertion of power in its rawest force, it's much harder to mobilize. It's not because they represent peace and justice [crosstalk]

    JAY: Well, the argument goes the other way, though. Like, you hear arguments from people like Glen Ford, who says that Obama actually can sell some of these policies in a way that a Republican couldn't sell.

    BENNIS: Yes, that's a danger. That's how—.

    JAY: And that you also have this issue of Obama taking the wind out of the movement amongst the African-American community, but, even more broadly, amongst large sections that might oppose such things.

    BENNIS: I don't think Obama took the wind out of anybody's movement. I think our movements made some wrong decisions collectively about how to respond to a new political moment. If there's a new political moment, you can't keep doing the same things and think they're going to work. You know?

    There was a lot of debate in the peace movement, for instance, whether what we needed was to continue what we had been doing, do it more, do it harder, do it stronger, do it better. That didn't really work. It was based on the primacy of showing our strength through street actions, street demonstrations. The problem is, at a certain point we didn't have strength to demonstrate, so what we were doing was demonstrating weakness.

    The other alternative would have been—and plenty of organizations and social forces are already doing this—is to bring the issue of military spending, the need to end the war in Afghanistan, the need to fully end the war in Iraq, the need for reparations and compensation, the need to end the drone war, etc., to bring those issues to the movements that were already rising against the ravages of the economic crisis, the movements that were working on housing, that were working on schools—that were working on jobs, most especially.

    JAY: So just as a final question, so—I think I can see where the answer is, but I'm asking everybody the same question. So if you're in a swing state, how do you vote?

    BENNIS: I work for a nonprofit, and we don't do campaigning for candidates. I vote on the basis of understanding what elections are all about. If you want to call it lesser evil, you can call it lesser evil. I call it using one tactic to avoid the worst options coming to more power. I would rather have the less-worst options coming to power.

    JAY: So you vote Obama.

    BENNIS: People will have different judgments about which candidate represent a lesser evil. If I were in a swing state, that's how I would vote.

    JAY: Okay. Thanks very much for joining us, Phyllis.

    BENNIS: Thank you. Always a pleasure.

    JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


    DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


    Our automatic spam filter blocks comments with multiple links and multiple users using the same IP address. Please make thoughtful comments with minimal links using only one user name. If you think your comment has been mistakenly removed please email us at


    Latest Stories

    The Resegregation of American Schools
    University Sit-In Targets World's Largest Private Coal Company
    The Modern History of Venezuela and the Need for a Post-Oil Economy - Edgardo Lander on RAI (6/9)
    Can Johns Hopkins Afford to Pay A Living Wage? (1/2)
    One Percent of Environmentalists Killings Lead to Convictions
    Investigation Finds Former Ukraine President Not Responsible For Sniper Attack on Protestors
    The Modern History of Venezuela from 1973 to the Caracazo Massacre - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (3/9)
    Ukraine Transitional Gov't Moves Militarily To Reclaim Seized Buildings
    IPCC Report Flawed By Narrow Focus on Carbon Emissions
    The Modern History of Venezuela: The Bolivarian Revolution - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (5/9)
    Obama Signs Directives to Reduce the Gender Wage Gap
    Eastern Ukraine Lacks Political Representation in Kiev
    Demystifying the Role of Mitigation in the Most Recent IPCC Report
    Hypersurveillance State Won't Prevent Another Boston Marathon Bombing
    The Modern History of Venezuela from 1973 to the Caracazo Massacre - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (3/9)
    Univ. of Maine Faculty Reinstated After Students Protest Against Cuts
    The Modern History of Venezuela from 1908 to 1973 - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (2/9)
    IMF Will Address Global Inequality, Says Managing Director Christine Lagarde
    Raising Big Banks' Leverage Ratio Good, But Not Nearly Enough
    TRNN Replay: Austerity Road to 19th Century
    Has Palestinian Maneuvering Revived Peace Talks?
    Late Jackson Mayor Lumumba's Son Wins Primary to Replace His Father, Runoff Election Ahead
    Quebecers Reject PQ and Elect a Liberal Government Representing Big Business
    TRNN Debate: Decriminalization vs. Legalization
    The Beginning of the Chavez Era - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (4/9)
    "Off With His Head": Court Upholds Obama's Power to Kill
    Workers at Nation's Top Hospital Strike For Fair Wages
    From Exile to Radicalization in Venezuela - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (1/9)
    Rwanda 20 Years Later: Genocide, Western Plunder of Congo, and President Kagame
    Ukrainian Protesters in the East Demand More Autonomy From Kiev Government
    Hunger Strikers Demand President Obama Halt His Record 2 Million Deportations
    Indian Parliamentary Elections - A Primer With Vijay Prashad
    West Looks to Carve Up Ukraine & Privatize Industries Held by Kleptocrats
    Where Are Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations Headed?
    The Multiple Kingdoms of Saudi Arabia (5/5)
    Do the Afghan Presidential Elections Signify Progress?
    Republican Presidential Hopefuls Pay Homage to Billionaire Casino Tycoon Sheldon Adelson
    Will Extremist Lieberman Become Israel's Next Prime Minister?
    Why do the Saudis Want the US to Attack Iran? (4/5)
    Immigrant Advocates and Families Tell President Obama 'Not One More'
    Elections, Pipelines, and Protests - The Canada Panel
    Chris Hedges on "Israel's War on American Universities"
    Baltimore Residents Decry Lack of Affordable Housing
    Yellen Talks the Talk But Will She Walk the Walk?
    Hopkins Hospital Workers Speak Out against "Poverty Wages"
    Will Venezuela's New Floating Exchange Rate Curb Inflation?
    The European Central Bank's War on Wages is Pushing Europe's Economy to the Brink
    Supreme Court Decision Opens Floodgates for More Campaign Cash
    Charles Keating, the Financier Behind the Savings and Loan Scandal, Dies at 90
    Saudi Arabia and the al-Qaeda Monster (3/5)
    Maryland Residents Voice Opposition to Natural Gas Fracking Export Facility
    Supreme Court Ruling Gives Wealthy Individuals More Influence Over Elections
    What are the Saudis Afraid Of? - Madawi Al-Rasheed (2/5)
    Baltimore's MICA Adjunct Professors Set to Vote on Unionization
    Boycott of Israel Moving to Next Level?
    Hypocrisy Dressed Up as "Realism" Justifies American Alliance with Saudi Dictatorship
    Immigration Reform in the Shadows of Cesar Chavez's Legacy
    Leaked Senate Report Shows Use of Torture As "Ineffective"
    UN Report Says Climate Change Will Threaten Food Production Worldwide
    The Hypocrisy of US Calling for Enforcement of International Law
    How the Ecuadorian Economy Grew in a Global Recession
    'Shadows of Liberty' Trailer
    Kristina Borjesson on Why CBS Shut Down Her investigation into Flight 800 (2/8)
    Glen Ford on Racism in the American Media (3/8)
    Paul Jay on What Drives Corporate Media and What Drive The Real News (4/8)
    Creating a New Media Paradigm After Citizens United (5/8)
    Should The Left Engage with the Mainstream Media? (6/8)
    What Is the Financial Backing For The Real News? (7/8)
    Standing up to Character Assassination (8/8)
    Oligarchs, Fascists and the People's Protest in Ukraine
    TRNN Debate: Is Obamacare In the Interest of Workers?
    Too-Big-To-Fail Advantage Remains Intact For Big Banks
    Obama and the Saudi Agenda
    TRNN Replay: Investigating the Saudi Government's 9/11 Connection and the Path to Disilliusionment - Sen. Graham on Reality Asserts Itself pt 1
    The Iraq War's Real Legacy
    Petitions with 100,000+ Signatures Call for Snowden's Passport to be Reinstated
    We Need to Harness People Power - Andy Shallal on Reality Asserts Itself (4/4)
    BC Pipeline Fight and Quebec Elections - The Canada Panel
    Jonathan Schell - 1943-2014: Board Member of TRNN on Why We Need The Real News
    Teachers on Strike from the UK to Argentina
    Connecticut Poised to Become First State with $10.10 Minimum Wage
    Oil Spill Threatens Wildlife and Local Economy
    DC School Test Scores Up, But Poor Black Kids Are Doing Worse - Andy Shallal on RAI (3/4)
    Obama's Proposal To End NSA Bulk Data Collection Won't Protect Privacy
    How Google, Apple & The Biggest Tech Companies Colluded to Fix Workers' Wages
    An American Should be One that Questions Their Government - Andy Shallal on RAI (2/4)
    What's Driving Putin & Obama's Posturing on Ukraine?
    Hundreds of Students & Faculty Occupy College Campus to Fight Cuts to Public Higher Ed
    Due Process 'Impossible' In Harsh Death Sentencing Of Over 500 Muslim Brotherhood Members
    Has Anglo-American Capitalism Run Out of Steam?
    Being the "Other" in America - Andy Shallal on Reality Asserts Itself (1/4)
    TRNN Debate: Should Baltimore 'Ban The Box'?
    How Fallujah Became the Iraqi Government's New Battleground
    Why I Decided to Blow the Whistle on the NSA
    NASA Climate Predictions Show Serious Threat To Humanity
    Professor Who Teaches Israel-Palestine Conflict Accuses College of Violating His Academic Freedom
    CIA and NSA Wrongdoing Requires Independent Investigation, Says Former Church Committee Staff
    Are Tuition Breaks Enough To Combat High Student Debt And Low Graduation Rates?
    Industries Across the U.S. Are Stealing Wages From Their Lowest Paid Workers
    Who In Ukraine Will Benefit From An IMF Bailout?
    NSA Recording All International Calls From U.S.
    Israel "Making Lives Miserable" for Africans, Hoping They 'Self-Deport' (2/2)
    BP Gets Green Light to Drill in Gulf, But Has Safety Improved?
    Residents Still Not Drinking Tap Water Two Months After West Virginia Spill (1/2)
    Libya's Descent Into Turmoil Three Years After NATO Intervention
    From Pipelines to Peladeau - Canadian Report
    Israel "Making Lives Miserable" for Africans, Hoping They 'Self-Deport' (1/2)
    Congressional Progressive Caucus Budget Strikes Back Against Austerity
    Libya Three Years Later - Chaos and Partition
    Why Was Gaddafi Overthrown?
    Should Ukraine and West Accept De Facto Crimea Joining Russia? (2/2)
    Tony Benn Saw Socialism as the Culmination of Democratization
    Why Didn't Bush/Cheney Attack Iran and Can Obama Make and Sell a Deal? - Gareth Porter on Reality Asserts Itself (3/3)
    After Late Mayor Lumumba is Laid to Rest, What's Next for Jackson, Mississippi? (2/2)
    Crimea Referendum: Self Determination or Big Power Manipulation? (1/2)
    Sen. Graham: President Must Side with Openness About CIA and 9/11
    Manufacturing a Narrative for War - Gareth Porter on Reality Asserts Itself (2/3)
    Protesters Hit the Streets of Brooklyn to Demand $15 Minimum Wage
    Hammer: 'Moral Bankruptcy' Behind Massive GM Recall
    White House Withholds Thousands of Documents from Senate CIA Probe
    I Grew Up Believing in Time Magazine's Version of America - Gareth Porter on RAI (1/3)
    Western European Banks Vulnerable to Ukrainian Sovereign Debt Crisis
    TRNN Debate: What's Driving Inflation in Venezuela? (2/2)
    CIA vs. Senate: Who Is Obama Protecting?
    Will Tipped Workers Get Excluded Again From Minimum Wage Hike?
    TRNN Debate: What's Driving Inflation in Venezuela? (1/2)
    After Late Mayor Lumumba is Laid to Rest, What's Next for Jackson, Mississippi?(1/2)
    TRNN Replay: A Look at Who's Poised to Become No.2 at the Fed
    How Right-Wing Nationalism Rose to Influence in Ukraine (2/2)
    Netanyahu Attacks Boycott As Campaign Enters New Phase
    Moving Towards a Police State - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (7/7)
    Fighting Reagan's Secret, Illegal Wars - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (6/7)
    Puerto Rican Independence Movement and Cuba Further Radicalized Me - Michael Ratner on RAI (5/7)
    The Butcher of Attica - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (4/7)
    MLK and a Radicalizing Moment in American History - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (3/7), Real News Network, Real News, Real News For Real People, IWT are trademarks and service marks of IWT.TV inc. "The Real News" is the flagship show of IWT and Real News Network.

    All original content on this site is copyright of The Real News Network.  Click here for more

    Problems with this site? Please let us know

    Linux VPS Hosting by Star Dot Hosting