Before the ruling was announced, TRNN spoke with Norman Solomon and Marcus Ferrell about how the split between establishment Democrats and progressives could help hand Trump the November election.
This interview was recorded prior to the ruling reinstating Bernie Sanders on the New York primary election ballot.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Marc Steiner: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner. Good to have you all with us. New York has canceled its primary election, forcing Bernie Sanders’ name off the ballot. Sanders in a statement has called this a blow to democracy. And California seems to be changing the rules, and even though Sanders won the vote, he may not get the majority of the delegates to the convention in Milwaukee. Part of the Sanders strategy was to have a huge delegate presence to push the progressive agenda, which is popular with most Democrats and Americans in general. How might this affect the November election? Will this rift widen between Biden and Sanders, between the establishment Democrats and the progressives? In the midst of this pandemic so badly handled by Trump, are Democrats with little effective public response and feuding internally handing this election right over to the right wing to transform our country?
Well, we’re going to talk about that. We’re joined by Norman Solomon. He was co-founder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org, the founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, and Marcus Farrell, former African American outreach director for Bernie Sanders in 2016, former deputy campaign manager for Stacey Abrams, former chief of staff of the New Georgia Project, and currently a political consultant and now becoming a frequent guest like Norman on The Real News. Good to have you both with us. Welcome.
Norman Solomon: Hey, thank you.
Marcus Farrell: Nice to be here.
Marc Steiner: Let me start, Norman, with you since you’re in California where some of the latest news came out. What the hell is happening here? I mean, what do you think the dynamic is going on, both of you, that New York has canceled its election and California is debating on what’s counted in the delegates. Politically, what do you think is going on internally?
Norman Solomon: Well, the way it rolls out with delegates is very murky, but I think it comes under the general heading of the victor gets the spoils. And so while in the last month since Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign, there’s been quite a few pats on the head from Joe Biden and rhetorical flourishes in a progressive direction, we’re pretty much having a consolidation of control over the prospective nomination from the Biden forces and those economic and political powers that he represents. It’s really a time of churning, of turmoil, and I think a lot of progressives are trying to find new footing over this new terrain.
And just to sort of sum up, we have as usual, but with a heightened acuity, this dual responsibility to fight the right wing, the racists, the misogynists, the nativists, and so forth, so ably represented and viciously implemented by the Trump administration. And on the other hand, to really fight for and advance a progressive agenda, which requires combat, nonviolent but vehement combat, with corporate Democrats. I think a lot of progressives are looking for the best ways forward to thread both of those needles at the same time.
Marc Steiner: Marcus, how do you read this? You’ve been in the middle of all of this, this campaign for a while.
Marcus Farrell: Listen, when they talk about voting in the presidential election, one thing that folks typically bring up is how you need to vote down-ballot. I compare voting down-ballot also to being involved in local and state parties also, right? People think it’s only the DNC that might have sort of an agenda to make sure that progressives don’t have their voice heard. It’s more than just the DNC. It goes all the way down to your city party. There are people in this country who are Democrats, who fundamentally hate the idea of a progressive America. Half of them don’t even know why they hate the idea of a progressive America. It’s more so a cult of personality, and our friends are our friends and your friends aren’t your friends. If you supported Bernie Sanders in 2016 and 2020, that means that you’re a bad person.
So we have to fight to make sure that our down-ballot down-statewide parties are infiltrated by progressive people to make sure that there are fair actions across the board. This is a muting of a progressive platform and, and it’s a very obvious thing that when Milwaukee comes around, and hopefully Milwaukee doesn’t come around, hopefully they do something virtually because I don’t want you all bringing you all coronavirus-having asses to a black city and giving more of my people your little whatever you got, right? But when that moment happens, this is to make sure that the numbers and the pressure is not there.
What we’re seeing is as a progressive, and I’ll speak as a black progressive, what we’re seeing is a dual phase approach to subvert voters. First you have the DNC subverting, I guess not the DNC but powers that be, subverting the will of more progressive folks. And you also have a Trump administration who’s opening up the country right now at the same time, to aggressively almost attack black and brown communities who they know are going to show up in droves in November. So it’s a very interesting place.
Marc Steiner: It is. So let me take it from that point that both of you just said. I’ve just read on the news before we went on the air together here that Trump is looking to end his coronavirus task force by sometime in May, at the end of May. And the way this administration has handled this pandemic has been absurd. It’s been like a clown show, except for the few people around him like Fauci and others were at least trying to do something to stem the tide of this pandemic. Given that, and given the polls that show many Americans, most Americans are just fed up with Trump at a larger scale. They call themselves moderates, liberals, or libertarians or on the left, whoever they are. But it seems to me that what’s under this internal feud that allows this moment that could take down the right wing to be divided so that they actually can win a victory, because people get so internally divided that you cannot win an election.
Marcus Farrell: Pride and ego.
Marc Steiner: Pardon?
Marcus Farrell: Pride and ego. I mean, let’s start there. We want to win the way that we want to win. We want to bring it back to normal so our donors can start getting their money across and we can continue to do things like neglected progressive voices. So the question is, do we want to have common sense as a Democratic Party? I’m a 20-year Democrat, I’m a Southern black voter, I live in Atlanta, Georgia right now. And if you look around, and the state just dropped a poll I think last week saying that over 60% of people in the state actually think that the governor’s handling of the coronavirus is bad. And that’s the same thing with the American polls when it comes down to Donald Trump.
But the internal divide comes from a place of, we still fundamentally want capitalism to happen after this is over with. We just want our brand of it. And at the end of the day, it’s as simple as it can get. It’s an unfortunate place, because I have a funny feeling that we have a good chance of losing this election because of it.
Norman Solomon: Well, we’re very much in danger of losing this election to another four years of Donald Trump. Certainly, what Marcus is saying rings true to me, and this is somebody who’s run for office, has been working outside as an activist outside the Democratic Party for decades and also had some toes into it as well. I think that in terms of party operatives and people very involved and office holders and circles around them, there is this dynamic. It’s interpersonal, it’s like a bad high school and all sorts of power struggles and so forth. The broader constituency, though, is just often buffeted by the mass media, the sort of corporate Democratic messaging that comes from a place like MSNBC, which after all is owned by Comcast. And anybody who thinks that doesn’t matter should think about does it matter that Rupert Murdoch has owned Fox? Yeah, I think so, in terms of messaging and content.
And then beyond that, historically, if you look back to 1980 or 2000, we have other examples of where small, but it turned out significant, parts of the left went third party in a presidential election, and the results of those elections at the presidential level were disastrous. We’re still suffering from eight years of Reagan in the White House. We’re still suffering from eight years of George W. Bush in the White House. All that is perhaps surprisingly still in place now in 2020 despite just the, in some ways unprecedented in some ways not, horrific characteristics of the Trump presidency.
One would think that the urgency of evicting Trump from office would just carry forward just a tremendous, if not unanimity at least enormous agreement among vast numbers of progressives at the base that hey, if you’re in a swing state, you may not like Biden, you might despise Biden, but we’re able to differentiate between Biden and Trump and more broadly between Democratic and Republican president. Just look at the Supreme Court. It’s empirical. You don’t have to theorize about it.
And so at the same time, there’s so much revulsion at Biden’s record that we do have this uncertainty. I just sort of sum up by saying that USA Today published a poll a few days ago, 22% of Bernie Sanders supporters said they’re not committed to voting for Biden. That ought to set off alarm bells in the Biden campaign.
Marc Steiner: Let’s pick up that point. I mean, this is what we just talked about here. If you look at what you were just describing, Norman, the history here of politics in America in the last 50 years, people will say, well look, what do you mean? Bill Clinton is the one who started locking up all black and brown people in America. He’s the one who started this neo kind of liberal, conservative bent. Hillary Clinton, you were for the war in Iraq. Joe Biden, his record’s right there. And so people are saying, what are you trying to convince me of here and how do you do it? I’ll make this very personal. As I said to you, Norm, before we went on the air, and Marcus, I may have said this to you before, with two of my daughters I’m having this conversation. They’re saying, “I’m not sure I can vote for Biden. I’m not sure what to do,” because of who he represents to them. The divide is that deep.
And then you have, well, it gets to the second point, which is about the establishment Democrats fearful of the progressives, which is why they’re trying to shut Sanders down and what that could mean. Let’s just take it from the progressive side. How do you organize that? How do you strategically make the argument that you were making to convince people that what we’re facing is an abyss?
Marcus Farrell: I honestly think that we have to make the argument with more pressure on the Biden campaign. It’s not on progressives anymore. The day and age where we’re going to blame black people for not showing up to the polls, the day and age we’re going to blame progressives for not showing up to the polls when we are seeing messaging that literally says more of nothing, and I’m pretty sure we might even get into the black plan that Biden just came out with. But I mean, are these things enough? And to be honest with you, what we see right now is sort of a smug, “You got to come our direction or you’re going to destroy the country” talking point that is not going to turn out young black voters that aren’t super voters in the South, that were a part of the Obama coalition or could be a part of what’s considered the Obama coalition.
You’re not going to get white progressives who are already saying, “I’m going to sit home or I’m going to vote third party” if you don’t address their issues. So how do you sell it? Well, you sell it by adopting the policy. And listen, one thing that I find interesting is I always hear this from some of my colleagues, moderation and incremental change. Even moderation and incremental change, when it comes down to progressive policies, the Biden campaign is really not doing that at a level where it should even be considered acceptable. Lowering Medicare for All from 65 to 60 is not going to get that 20% of progressives who are like, “How about you just give us Medicare for All, and then maybe we’ll bend on college for all right now, maybe we’ll bend on some of these things.” It’s not going far enough.
And to be honest with you, when it comes down to black voters, and I’m talking about non-super voting African Americans who don’t show up in the primary, America, then guess what? They’re not going to be impressed with a campaign, with a candidate that refuses to even acknowledge the reason why their brothers, sisters, uncles, cousins were put in jail. So I mean, we got a long way to go, and I’m hoping that the Biden campaign adjusts, but as of right now the adjustment is not there.
Norman Solomon: Well, I agree with that. And by the way, RootsAction distributed thousands of flyers in South Carolina before the primary there this year, documenting Biden’s record in helping pave the way for mass incarceration through his championing of the now notorious crime bill in 1994. So when we look, though, at it at the same time, I got to say that after a 40-year record in politics, changing his rhetoric is not going to do a lot. Even if Biden says he’s going to do X, Y, and Z, the fact is, there’s only one decision he’s going to make between now and November that isn’t reversible and that he couldn’t easily backtrack on and blow off, and that’s the vice presidential pick. Everything else, like so often has happened when politicians have run for office, they try to pander to the base, and Democrats in office quite often just blow off the base. Frankly, Clinton and Obama did that to a large extent once they got to the White House.
So a practical progressive will look at Biden and say whatever he puts in his program when he’s running is not too convincing. I agree it would be good for him to endorse Medicare for All. We should pressure him to do that. It’s not our fault as progressives that he’s not making the sale. It’s his fault because of his record and the way he’s running this really zombie campaign at this point. I just get back to the fact that the VP pick is very important and that at the end of the day progressives and everybody need to look at what’s in it for us. It’s not about him ultimately. It’s about what happens to the people in this country and the suffering that will result if we get another four years of Trump.
Marc Steiner: Quick question for both of you, then I’m going to conclude with a larger question. You mentioned vice president. Who do you think the vice president should be with Biden? Do you have an idea?
Marcus Farrell: I wrote an article on it in theGrio and everybody attacked me for it. I believe strongly that Stacey Abrams is the pick, followed by Warren followed by, as a matter of fact in a tie between second is Warren and Kamala Harris. First you need a woman, of course, to be honest with you. This is all about how you decide to slice the apple, right? One thing that you need, and the only person that’s being considered or throwing their hat out there that has actually turned out black people at a rate almost higher than Barack Obama in the South is Stacey Abrams. And also you can motivate a whole black community with the mistakes, because again, I go back to the general election versus the primary. You’re not going to get the same kind of turnout. We saw this with Hillary Clinton in 2016.
You’re going to need someone who actually understands how to do a couple of things. The reason why I’m behind Stacey so hard is this. She already has fought against Republican gerrymandering and Republican fights when it comes down to protecting the vote. She has a organization called Fair Fight that literally does the work. Yes, I used to work for her, but more importantly, I think she’s prepared to handle the onslaught of voter suppression tactics that are about to happen come November. That’s pretty much the main reason why you need to have that kind of leadership, and also the Southern turnout of black folks to actually get you across [inaudible 00:17:30] .
Marc Steiner: Norman?
Norman Solomon: Yeah, there’s no doubt that the gubernatorial campaign that Stacey Abrams ran was inspiring and got the vote out and is a model for what needs to happen with leadership around the country. There’s no doubt that the fight that she has helped lead across the country now against voter suppression and for voting rights has been superb. I have a question, which is, in December 2018, Stacy Abrams joined the board of directors of the Center for American Progress, and not only did that but issued a public statement praising the Center for American Progress to the skies as a wonderful leader for a progressive future. And she named Neera Tanden, one of the most notorious attackers of Bernie Sanders in Washington, as a model for progressives. I’d love to hear your explanation.
Marcus Farrell: I don’t have to have an explanation. You know the reason why, is because she’s a black woman politician. And I’m not sitting up here saying that she’s bought, because to be honest with you, there are a bunch of corporate interests folks that happened. Now once we start having numbers for black politicians in the South that actually get donations to organizations in the same way that Bernie Sanders has them, then we can have a different conversation. She endorsed my campaign too, and she might’ve been endorsed Neera Tanden, but she also endorsed one of the most progressive African Americans that you will ever meet in my campaign.
So what I’ll say is this right here, political expediency might be one thing, but also look at resources, look at actually who’s filling the coffers so you can employ over 200 African Americans in the South to run your campaign. The notion, because I think the premise of this question is, is she a neoliberal? Is she a moderate? And to be honest with you, I think she’s a pragmatist. And also, I think that if we’re talking about getting Trump out of the office and we already have Joe Biden has pretty much secured the nomination, I want to win an election.
The last thing I will say, and I will repeat this, black politicians don’t get a million $2.70 donations to their campaigns. Black politicians in the South don’t get a numerous amount. So what comes first, the chicken or the egg? I’m a progressive, but I also understand that funding when you’re trying to beat someone like Brian Kemp, when you’re trying to beat someone like Jaime Harrison in South Carolina, do we have millions and millions of people who are giving small dollar donations? No, we got to figure out where the money comes from, and to be honest with you, sometimes these decisions are compromised.
But I’d rather look at what a person proposed, and I’ve seen Stacey Abrams doing her work, and I’m going to back her up because I know for a fact having conversations with her that she would much rather be the progressive candidate that we need and fight for the issues that we need when she gets in, instead of being someone who kowtows to Wall Street. And I’ve never seen her do it before, and none of her actions has she done it, and I don’t think she’ll do it as vice president.
Norman Solomon: Just so I understand, are you saying you think it was okay for her to praise this notorious anti-progressive Neera Tanden and a notorious anti-progressive organization, Center for American Progress? You think under the circumstances that made sense?
Marcus Farrell: I mean, listen, if we’re looking for perfection, the devil’s in the detail. She also endorsed Impact. She also endorsed the NAACP. So I mean, here’s the thing. If we’re going to take one endorsement from a person, then I can look at a lot of things. Bernie Sanders didn’t put money in black communities in the South when he should have been campaigning there. Does that make him a racist?
Norman Solomon: No, I don’t want to belabor the point.
Marcus Farrell: I guess what I’m saying is-
Marc Steiner: Let me ask you both a question.
Norman Solomon: I do want to say that this was a superlative praise. It wasn’t just going on the board of directors, it was a superlative praise of Neera Tanden and Center for American Progress. That’s all I’m saying.
Marc Steiner: Let me put out this. I mean, we’re not going to resolve this right now, but I think it’s an important dialogue the two of you just had. So let me conclude with this. I think that that made me pause when I looked at that, the Center for American Progress. I remember when that happened. It also gave me pause when I saw how badly Bernie organized in the black community and just didn’t do the work that needed to be done around the country in this campaign. I think that’s very real as well. And the numbers show that. So the question is, in terms of the [inaudible 00:22:04] passion the two of you just had, what does this portend for November?
I mean, there’s already this vibe where 20-some percent of Sanders voters do not want to vote for Biden. You have the reality that the establishment Democrats are trying to circumvent any power that the Sanders movement might bring to Milwaukee. And you’ve got a real battle over which woman will be the vice presidential candidate. And if there’s also this internal feud even among progressions around this, I don’t want to leave this on a negative note, but I just want to explore this for a minute before we go, which is, where do you think this takes us? I’ll stop there. I could riff for hours on this, but I won’t now.
Norman Solomon: I think the gist, I’m going to speak for myself, is that we’ve got to beat Trump, and that doesn’t change the fact that there is a critique that must be sustained about what corporate Democrats and the DNC and, as Marcus pointed out, so many local, regional, state Democratic parties have continued to do, which is to entrench the already entrenched and to lock out those who are already locked out. I think it’s a dual struggle, and yes, there’s divisions among progressives, but I hope that we can wage those battles at the same time.
Marc Steiner: Marcus, quickly, what’s your thinking?
Marcus Farrell: I think that defeating Trump is the number one answer. I think that we need to have the most strategic way of beating Trump as possible. I think that there’s two routes to take. I think that there’s a white progressive route, I think that there is a black Midwestern and Southern turnout route. And I also think that it doesn’t have to be a either-or. It could a both if the Biden campaign decided to make the decisions policy-wise and also make it easy for Elizabeth Warren to come onboard and produce her economic solutions for America. Make it easy for Stacey Abrams to come onboard and say, “We’re going to engage African Americans in the way that you’ve never done before, DNC.” Because me and Norman just had a back and forth, and I want to acknowledge this. That’s a good back and forth, right?
And if we don’t have these conversations, then the problem is, is that the Biden campaign is just going to say, “You know what? Let’s get a moderate white man from the Midwest. Let’s go from there.” And then we have a serious problem and Trump gets elected for the next four years, because Trump is not going to care, right? I’m very careful about our conversations during this moment right now, and if we don’t have them, I think it’s going to be a problem. So I mean, the way we solve it is we keep yelling at each other on our side to make sure that we project together to the Biden campaign that we need certain things.
Norman Solomon: That’s right, yeah.
Marc Steiner: I think this is an important conversation, and what I’d like to end with is that this should be the beginning of a series of conversations we’re doing on Real News to really help develop this and be part of that strategy to figure out how we respond to what we’re facing and not to allow the white supremacist mob that loves Trump and the neoconservative establishment elite who’s transforming our government by making all the court judges and everything else. So this is a hugely important time for us. I want to thank you both, Norm Solomon and Marcus Farrell, both for the work you’ve done in trying to change our society for the better and joining us here on The Real News. Let’s pick this conversation up together in about a week and see where we are and keep on going and get some other people in the conversation so we can really push this out there and make something positive happen. I appreciate both your time and your work.
Norman Solomon: Hey, thanks to you both.
Marcus Farrell: Thank you, guys. Appreciate you all.
Marc Steiner: As always. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. I really want to hear what you think, so write to us, let us know what you think, what do you think about this general campaign, where it should be going? Want to hear your ideas. We can incorporate them in upcoming episodes and conversations and videos that we produce, so please let us know. And stay home, stay safe, stay healthy. I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Take care.
Production: Genevieve Montinar, Bababtunde Ogunfolaju, Andrew Corkery
Studio: Bababtunde Ogunfolaju