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Henry Giroux and Paul Jay discuss why ‘lesser evilism’ is the wrong way to frame why who wins in November will matter for working people

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Source: 1-hgiroux0809lesserevil_PGM.mp3 Server: Basecamp Transcript PAUL JAY: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. There’s been a lot of discussion and debate in progressive circles, what that word progressive means these days is a little harder to say. Hillary Clinton calls herself a progressive, so it’s a pretty broad term. At any rate, it’s a lot of debate about is Trump the greater evil? Is Hillary Clinton the lesser evil? And I’m actually asking, is that really the right way to frame the question? Now joining me to talk about this is Henry Giroux. Henry is a professor for scholarship and public interests at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He’s author of the book, Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle, and an often contributor to truth out. Thanks very much for joining us Henry. HENRY GIROUX: It’s a pleasure to be here. JAY: So I’ve been kind of getting at in some of these interviews that this idea of lesser evil is not the way to look at the issue. And of course if you go on the Real News comments I keep getting accused of believing in lesser evilism, and frankly I don’t mind. I’m kind of with Chomsky on the idea of what is wrong with a lesser evil than a greater evil. But I get people that are interested in building a third party and in fact in the long run, I don’t there’s any question without a viable third party, there won’t be any transformative change. Never mind trans–there won’t be modest change in this country. But I think the question is how do you get to that? How do you get to that viable third party and I think the better way to frame the question is not, is Hillary Clinton the lesser evil or not? I think the real question facing us is what is in the strategic interests of building an independent people’s movement. And I think that’s the question I would ask you. GIROUX: I’m with you all the way. I think the real question is around questions around long term and short term strategy. What is the greatest threat facing the United States at the moment? How can we deal with that in the most immediate sense but at the same time how do we lay the conditions to be building a third party that could talk about the possibility of the democratic socialism? I mean what we recognize is that system is entirely broken. Nobody wants to basically reform neoliberal capitalism. But the real issue is under what circumstances do we need to be realistic about the kind of threat that we’re facing. Particularly people of color. Particularly dissidence. A whole range of people who rely on provisions given the fact that Trump represents the hypothesis of a kind of neo fascism at the moment and really not only puts many people in danger but puts the world in danger. This guy doesn’t believe in climate change. He believes that basically nuclear weapons are acceptable and should be used if necessary. So I think there’s a miss recognition and a misrepresentation of people who are saying ‘hey, look Trump has to be defeated and we have to do everything that we can to create the conditions for a third party and be able to mobilize people around issues in which they can identify and recognize that they’re part of those issues and that they need to generate their anger towards collective organizations. JAY: Yea and I think that it’s important in distinguishing the different sections of the elites and how they see the interests of the empire, of imperialism if you want, global hegemony. There’s very serious differences on how to achieve the maintaining of America’s global power. I mean if President Obama had been president post 9/11, I think you can say the same thing for Gore but you know I think Gore more represented the section of capital that was more bellicose than Obama. But I doubt there’s any reason to think there would’ve been an invasion of Iraq. Not because Obama doesn’t believe in American global power. When he opposed the Iraq War at the time, he made it clear he was no peacenik. He just thought it was a stupid war. It wouldn’t help maintain America’s power and in fact, according to John Kiriakou who was in the CIA at the time when I interviewed him, he told me that there was a morning phone call of the heads of the Pentagon. The heads of all the intelligence agencies. All the major agencies and branches in the American military. Every morning, and this phone call was shared by Dick Chaney which was in itself remarkable that a Vice President would play that role. And Chaney-Bush steered the United States toward the invasion of Iraq, according to Kiriakou, the heads of every agency were opposed to it. All the professionals saw this in a way that would weaken American power not strengthen it. And Chaney told them all to shut up or they would be fired. So there are different ways they look at this issue. They being the elites. And I don’t think anyone can argue that the world wouldn’t have been better off without the Iraq War. Certainly a million dead Iraqis would think so and the complete disaster and chaos that has followed in Iraq. We’re seeing a similar division right now on a very critical question. And while a lot of people that are pointing to Trump’s language as being sort of off the official page of American militarism, you know he’s saying Putin’s not such a bad guy. He’s even mentioned that Crimea shouldn’t be raised to such a level as it is. There should be less aggression towards Russia. And he’s made comments in denouncing regime change in Libya, although he supported sending troops into Libya at the time. A lot of that is rhetoric, I think. Because I think the critical point where Trump is very clear is he wants to rip up the agreement with Iran. And his alliances are people who want war with Iran. He’s got–apparently it’s been reported Sheldon Adelson wants to give him, has pledged $25 million dollars. His foreign policy allies are all in the camp of Netanyahu and Likud and of course the Saudis, who still want to see a violent regime change led by the United States and Iran. Rudy Giuliani speaks at the convention, Republican Convention, and accuses Iran of being the source of financing the terrorists who want to come attack America which is clearly the role of Saudis if its anybody. And on that point in how they see the long term interests of US hegemony, the professionals and including at least so far Hillary Clinton, even though on Iran she’s far more bellicose in her language towards Iran than Obama, she does defend the Iran agreement. I don’t think this is a small difference between these two camps. GIROUX: I’m with you. I think that the Iraq War [inaud.] war in Afghanistan is the perfect example. In the most immediate sense you’re telling me what the depth of 1.5 million people. Sorry, that matters. I mean to simply eliminate that as an abstraction in terms of strategy, or immediate strategy, based on the most extreme faction of the Republican Party is still in all reality. I mean not to recognize that these groups basically are fractured around some very, very important issues. One is going to war. The other is how they want to handle the economy. The other is about how they want to handle dissent. The other is around whether they want to expand their militarization of everyday life. I mean, when you get a guy like Kagan who says that the Republican Party basically is a party of racists, they’ve created a Frankenstein monster. I mean there is a moment where the interventions can be made to basically produce reforms that can save people’s lives and I think that we have to recognize that in those fractured moments in these parties, democrat and republican, there are interventions to be made that are enormously fruitful in the most immediate sense because they save lives. They help people. I mean when I hear people say we need for the contradictions to become so bad, that people will wake up and basically stop mobilizing. That’s about the stupidest form of political intervention that I’ve ever heard of. Because it’s usually made by white middle class people who don’t recognize that the people who are going to suffer the most as a result of those kinds of interventions are poor people. Are poor blacks, poor minorities, poor whites, immigrants, refugees. And so these abstractions have no bearings on reality and they don’t capture the complexity of these political registers in the way that you’re talking about. JAY: Yea I would go back again to add another example. If Obama had lost and McCain had won, let’s not forget that McCain is the guy who sang the song bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. I don’t think we would’ve seen agreement with Iran. I think it would be very likely that McCain would’ve collaborated with Netanyahu and there could’ve been some kind of war against Iran. This ain’t a small thing. GIROUX: Not if he had been assassinated. Then who would’ve been president? I mean that’s unimaginable. Sara Palin as president? That’s even more unimaginable than Trump as president. JAY: McCain’s scary enough. Never mind that. Now I’m not saying in any way that Obama, according to his own words, is any kind of peacenik. Obama represents a whole vision of the world that sees American dominance as good for the world. I assume he believes this stuff. That he can rationalize that an American hegemony keeps the peace and makes America prosperous. I don’t know. Whatever they do to make themselves look in the mirror, he does. But yes he has no problem using military force. And using drones and violating international law. I mean they are also militarist but there is a difference. GIROUX: I mean I think that what you’re getting at is look, if you just paint Obama with these homogeneous breast strokes, then you’ve failed to realize what policies have been implemented, particularly on a domestic front, even Obamacare, that in some ways saved the lives of millions of people. And that just doesn’t go far enough. I think that people like Clinton and people like Obama are really even more vulnerable to criticisms on the left and by progressives because there’s an enormous contradiction between the ideals that they somehow give credence too and the policies and practices that they implement. Whereas in the Republican Party at least at the extremist level, there are no contradictions. And I think when we can seize upon the contradictions and make clear that they are not in the interests of democracy, I think then you create the basis for educating people for the needs to recognize that these reforms while interesting just don’t go far enough, that we need a third party. That the system is broken. We don’t need a warmonger who can embrace a form of lawlessness where people can be killed without judicial accountability as someone we can look up to, to be the president of the United States. At the same time, we can say there were elements of this policy that need to be taken further that we need to recognize work, at least in the most immediate sense. That’s precisely the point. He has these larger issues that invalidate this stuff. Meaning that we need to go far beyond Obama. So this is, there’s a difference between recognizing what he’s done that seems relevant and important and what he’s done that is dreadful and operates in the interests of warmongering. JAY: Yea and I would add to what I was saying about Clinton. Obama both in terms of who he is as an individual and his alliances and the kind of forces he represents and Clinton aren’t quite the same. I think I don’t know. I think there’s enough evidence to think that if Clinton hadn’t pushed the Libya intervention the way she did, that it seems Obama might not have done it. He seems to have been a reluctant leader of that policy. So Clinton, I think is more militarist. She’s more aggressive. But still she represents a section of capital that is not looking to have a war with Iran. You can kind of dig into that more but that’s again, that ain’t a small thing. GIROUX: But she also represents something else that you’ve talked about. She represents a faction of the Democratic Party that wants to be reelected and is haunted by the Bernie Sanders left. JAY: Yea that’s very important. GIROUX: She’s got to have an enemy. That enemy can’t be somebody who basically at least on economic issues alone, appears to be more radical than she is. And I think there is a–as these movements develop and basically push her to become, to move away from the center right, there is at least the possibility of that happens. Where it seems to me that with a Trump presidency that’s completely out of the question. JAY: Yea I think I said this before. If she in 2020 is primaried and there’s a lot of people already talking and working, actually organizing with that in mind to make Hillary a one term president. If she has a Sanders-esque kind of opponent who’s black, say a Nina Turner for example, loses that black vote during the democratic primary or loses a bulk of it in the south that could be a game changer. So she’s already got to have that in mind. GIROUX: See that’s interesting right? Because there is a political attentiveness on the part of the more progressive factions of the Democratic Party then to basically be able to expand their base, they’ve got to expand their base. And if they don’t do that they’re going to lose. But more than that they’re going to be seen as an establishment party which is where the real divisions are in American politics. It’s not between simply conservatives and democrats. It’s between those people who basically following the establishment line and those who are not. And she like anybody else recognizes that the political discourse on her part, on her party’s part has to change. And I think that one of the things the left can do, a progressive can do is to push that change to the limits. And then to recognize there are certain limits that they will never cross around what it means to live in a neoliberal governing society. JAY: Well I’m hoping Sanders is–I’m hoping, I don’t have any insider information on this, but I’m hoping Sanders whether you agree or disagree with this. I hope Sanders is doing is a temporary truce in what really needs to be an unfolding civil war within the Democratic Party. GIROUX: Yea I think that in the best of all worlds what Sanders will see, as soon as she’s elected, that he should now become the forerunner or join with Jill Stein. You know he’ll be able to say hey, look I did something in the short term that had to be done. I did not want Trump elected. But now that Hillary’s elected and she’s not doing what we want, we need a third party. And I think that would be the best of all worlds for Sanders. I see that as a possibility. I mean, he’s a decent man. He has a sense of integrity. He’s mobilized the youth vote in a way we haven’t seen since you have of course 2008. There’s a real possibility here and I think Jill Stein is a wonderful person politically. Has all the right things. We just need, we need a new party. We don’t need a Green Party. That’s–the very title is too limiting. We need a party for the national defense of radical democracy. That’s what we need. JAY: Alright, thanks for joining us Henry. GIROUX: Okay, thank you Paul. JAY: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Henry A. Giroux is the Professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest at McMaster University and author. His latest books are "The Public In Peril," and "American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism."