Kamau Franklin says Sanders has brought the concerns of social movements into the Democratic presidential primary.
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Recent polls of the Democratic presidential candidates are showing Hillary Clinton with a lead over Bernie Sanders. In a CNN poll from November 6, Clinton led Sanders in Iowa by 18 percent, while a poll from Tuesday, November 10 shows Clinton beating Sanders by 54 percent in the South Carolina primary. As election season continues, many progressives continue to argue for citizens to throw their support behind Sanders, saying that self-described democratic socialism is the best option we have on issues such as Wall Street, healthcare, and other public policy. In a recent Rolling Stone article titled The Case for Bernie Sanders by Matt Taibbi, says Sanders is a clear outlier in a generation that has forgotten what it means to be a public servant. More than any other politician in recent memory, Bernie Sanders is focused on reality. It’s the rest of us who are lost, it says. Now joining us from Atlanta to discuss all of this is Kamau Franklin. He’s an organizer, attorney, and director of the Chokwe Lumumba mayoral campaign, and now an organizer with American Friends Service Committee. Thank you so much for joining us, Kamau. KAMAU FRANKLIN: Thank you for having me. PERIES: Kamau, one thing that Sanders is criticized for by the left and independents like Ralph Nader is that he is killing public debate and the possibility of building a third party, which they argue has historically sparked reforms such as women’s rights and an end to slavery and even capitalism, by way of the New Deal. Do you think he’s killing public debate? FRANKLIN: Well, what Bernie Sanders does represent is an opportunity for broader conversation in what’s currently happening in the United States. I think Bernie Sanders in some ways represents, say, a top-down view of how to have this discussion, is something like in the recent past Occupy might have represented a bottom-up view of how to have a discussion around economic disparities in America. I think some of the ways in which America has changed has not necessarily been through third parties, but through social justice movements. And I don’t think those things are necessarily being blocked out because of Bernie Sanders. In fact, I think during this time even Bernie Sanders has been forced to change some of his rhetoric because of things like the Black Lives Matter movement, the $15 wage movement, and Occupy in the past. So I think some of these things are having an effect on all the candidates, but again I think that Bernie Sanders allows us to have a deeper conversation around economic inequality, even if there’s no chance of them winning, whether as a third party candidate or as an outlier within the Democratic party. PERIES: And let’s take up how his positions have changed as a result of this dialog with the Black Lives Matter. Describe what that looks like. FRANKLIN: Well, I think prior to people disrupting his campaign speeches and events, he didn’t even have a platform on what, on racial issues around black people and other folks of color within the United States. And I think that forced his hand. Again, it was good that you had a candidate who was really open to it. Then you had the rest of the Democratic party that decided that we too better jump on this and make this a part of our platform. Because again, it seemed like it was an outside insurgence that could take place and jeopardize sort of a constituency the Democratic party continuously sees as loyal to everything that it stands for, I guess. So I think Bernie Sanders opened up to that. I think Hillary Clinton opened up to it. And it might just be rhetoric, of course. So at this early stage these things become rhetorical devices to say I’m solidifying my base and so I support whatever platform that you have. The real issue is whether or not anyone can hold their feet to the fire once they’re elected to office, particularly when they counter a proposition as Wall Street money, sort of corporate stay-as-you-go and don’t rock the boat type of sentiment usually takes over once these candidates get into office. PERIES: Now, one of the things that Bernie Sanders has successfully done is really sparked a debate on the left on some of the more progressive issues. And it is actually dividing the left. So you have on one hand people like Noam Chomsky and Cornel West, and even our next Systems Project advocate, Gar Alperovitz, who argued that we need something, a different kind of system, that is different from capitalism and different kind of economy. Now, on one hand. Then on the other hand we have the Ralph Naders and Chris Hedges and others arguing that this is really, that Sanders’ candidacy is killing public debate and the possibility of a third party evolving in this country. Let’s actually–one of the issues that this has also raised is that the fact that Bernie Sanders has actually said on television and publicly that if he does not succeed as the Democratic party candidate for the president that he will support the candidate that the Democratic party will choose at its convention. Now, let’s have first a look at what Cornel West had said. CORNEL WEST: Well, I love brother Bernie. He tells the truth about Wall Street. He really does. I resonate deeply with it. I’m not a Hillary Clinton fan at all. So if he uses his power to hand it over to her I’ll be deeply, deeply upset. PERIES: And now let’s look at Bernie Sanders actually indicating where he would throw his support. MODERATOR: So if you lose in this nomination fight, will you support the Democratic nominee? BERNIE SANDERS: Yes. I have in the past [inaud.]. MODERATOR: Not going to run as an independent. SANDERS: No. Absolutely not. I’ve been very clear about that. PERIES: So where does this leave us? If those progressives on the left end up like Bernie Sanders, but we’re going to end up actually voting for and supporting Hillary Clinton? FRANKLIN: Well, I think it’s interesting that people would be surprised at Sanders, would come out and say he would support Clinton. So again, he’s not taken the stance of I’m going to run from the outside. He’s taken a stance of I’m going to run within a Democratic party. And part of that is, I think for him, is to be relevant post- the nomination system. So I think he wants to do–it’s going to be a similar outcome, I think, to Jesse Jackson when he ran in the presidency. I think Jesse Jackson obviously spoke to economic interests. He spoke to issues of race and class. But when he came down to it Jesse Jackson did not take his rainbow coalition outside of the Democratic party. He included it in. And he got some trinkets for what he did. Those trinkets included being a speaker at the Democratic Party Convention, and I think Sanders will have the same. And I think that’s what Sanders will look for and to be somewhat rewarded, maybe post-election, as being a more respected senator within a party system. And maybe even some nomination for some cabinet position, you don’t know. But I think it’s obvious that, from the beginning, that he was not going to sort of run rampant over the Democratic party and do something separate and different. So I’m surprised by those who would expect anything different from that. PERIES: So Kamau, what this actually means is that Bernie Sanders isn’t even positioning himself to be able to negotiate with the Clinton campaign when it comes to this option of throwing his supporters behind Hillary Clinton. He’s not positioning himself in terms of issues, he’s not positioning himself in terms of a position within the Democratic party successful cabinet. So all this is at the moment assumption. If he’s actually planning to do that wouldn’t he be running a better campaign in terms of positioning himself to be able to have a significant role in the [inaud.]. FRANKLIN: Yeah, I think if Bernie was itching for a fight he would say, he would say at this stage, that I’ve not decided to support the Democratic party nominee, and maybe I will do a third party candidacy if this candidacy has the excitement and the enthusiasm behind it that it may be showing. I mean, Bernie Sanders is getting thousands of people coming out to his speaking engagements. He’s raising millions of dollars in small money through the internet. So there is obviously a section of the electorate that is really excited about Bernie’s candidacy. And I think Bernie Sanders is sincere in his, particularly his domestic policy outcomes of being somebody who is progressive, left-leaning. But I don’t think he is willing to, as much as he may lead some people to believe, to challenge the structures of the American capitalist system. I think he’s basically providing left, liberal rhetoric, populist rhetoric, populist policy prescriptions. But I don’t think he’s going anything further than that. In fact, as Bernie Sanders in a clip has said, that he and Hillary Clinton disagree on most things. And he later on said that, you know, maybe not most things. Hillary Clinton shot back, oh no. me and Bernie Sanders agree on most things. And she rattled off a bunch of policy prescriptions that they both described, that they [own]. So I don’t think he’s rocking the system as much as a lot of us would hope. But again, I think that he offers an opportunity for some good discussions, for a leftward shift within the Democratic party up to a degree. And I think that’s important in a limited sense. It’s not the beginning or burgeoning of a third party, necessarily. But I think post-recession these openings matter, and they are important opportunities to have a larger and a more important dialog. PERIES: And lastly, Kamau, Ralph Nader went as far as saying that Bernie Sanders is actually giving Hillary Clinton talking points, and her political positioning so that she could garner more votes from his supporters. Do you think that’s happening? FRANKLIN: I mean, I think obviously that he is pulling her left, right? But I think whether or not–if he was a third party candidate, he still would probably pull her left, and she would feel the need to shift her rhetoric towards the left. I think the problem, as I see it I guess, in the analysis that Nader may be offering, that I don’t think that a national third party, unfortunately within the U.S. political system currently, has enough legs to stand and to challenge both the Democratic and Republican parties for primacy within the electoral system. I think there may be some local channels and avenues that we can pursue that would offer us more success. But I think Nader, unfortunately, is a cautionary tale within himself. Because even though he, his campaign was fantastic from a sense of the policy prescriptions that he offered. But you know, ten, fifteen years out from when he ran it’s not as if he’s been able to build a independent party himself with allies. And that’s because of the strength of a system that he talks about himself, and shutting that kind of thing down. So I think it’s a much more local approach that we need in the long term, that will get us someplace where we want to go when it comes to national politics. PERIES: All right, Kamau. Thank you so much for joining us today. FRANKLIN: Thank you for having me. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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