Glen Ford and Jeff Cohen agree that the exclusion of third parties left the “non-partisan” debate with candidates who have “very little light between them,” but disagree about strategic voting and the danger of Trump’s neo-fascism
PAUL JAY, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. During feudal times, lords would rally peasants to go fight other lords for wealth and territory. Whoever had more money and could better invoke god and king and country, and love thereof could get peasants to go and fight for them. Certainly if they paid more and whoever had more money to hire more soldiers would usually win. Lords would fight each other, basically let the peasants go off and do the fighting. Well, today’s lords, the one percenters, billionaire class, whatever terminology you want to use, they invoke very similar ideology, country and patriotism and or sometimes xenophobia and hatred of the other. But mostly promises of more jobs and better economic well-being and of course it’s all sold through television commercials and the big TV commercial on Monday night was the first Presidential debate where those vying to be controller of the White House of the federal state in collaboration with or in the service of one set of lords versus another fought it out to see who the peasants would vote for. Now joining us to talk about this exercise in democracy. First of all, joining us from is Plainfield, New Jersey is Glen Ford. Glen is cofounder and executive editor of Black Agenda Report. Jeff Cohen is media critic and lecturer, is founding director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College where he’s an associate professor of journalism and cofounder of Net Roots Action. Thanks very much for joining us gentlemen. GLEN FORD: Thank you for the opportunity. JAY: So Jeff what were you left with at the end of this debate? JEFF COHEN: Dispirited. We had for months and months a very exciting candidate and millions of people supporting him, Bernie Sanders who wanted to at least radically change the US domestic agenda. Now we’re left with as you say Paul with these two candidates that are pretty much representative of the status quo. The guy who pretends to be an agent of serious change for the working many, at least the white working man is Trump. I think he was unmasked today. Aside from trade in this debate, he was giving us just classic right wing republicanism. Deregulate big corporations. Help the rich so they can provide us all with jobs. Cut the corporate taxes. He was rallying around his union support meaning the police unions, the border guard unions, and I don’t know how many times he used the word law and order in about 90 seconds space. So as a traditional right wing Republican, ten he’s up against the soft corporatist Hillary Clinton. It’s just very disparaging. All this talk about will the candidates be fact checked. Well you had the moderator, Lester Holt who began the whole debate with a big lie saying that the commission on the presidential debates was no partisan. Indeed, it’s quite partisan. Bipartisan. Excludes all minor parties even when the masses overwhelmingly wanted libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party Jill Stein, Green Party candidate included in this debate. And he begins the whole thing with this is sponsored by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates. That isn’t even true. So I was hoping that there might be a disruption. I was hoping someone from the Green Party, a student at Hofstra would get up and say why is this debate restricted to two candidates who are breaking all records for unpopularity? Why are the television networks going along with this charade? That unfortunately didn’t happen. I found it disparaging. JAY: Glen what was your take away? FORD: Oh yea it could drain the last bit of energy out of you and it shows what the lesser evil philosophy really comes down to. To an argument among the billionaires. Which one is the soft billionaire and which is the hard billionaire. But it’s the same conversation. So even when it comes to criminal justice and I’m sure there’s a lot of black folks out there who are going to give Hillary points for saying the words, systemic racism and prison reform and mentioning something about sentences. That really, there’s no program there. We really miss Jill Stein’s presence here so that we could have a really talk about a criminal justice system. Jill Stein calls for release of all prisoners for nonviolent drug crimes, which is a big chunk of the population. That’s the only way that there’s going to be any real reduction, any significant reduction in the prison population by releasing or shortening drastically the sentences of whole categories of prisoners. We have a situation in which just to get down to the level of incarceration of 1972, 4 out of 5 of today’s inmates would have to be set free. So we can’t make a dent in the end result of mass incarceration of this criminal justice system which is mass incarceration, unless we’re talking about categorical releases. But we don’t get that kind of conversation in this so called debate. Donald Trump, I had hoped that he would at least show his one redeeming grace and that is to be against regime change. But we didn’t even hear that in today’s conversation. So one would come away with the impression that Hillary, the great warmonger of our time was actually just a pussycat because she wasn’t being challenged in any way in terms of her war like policies in the Middle East. All that Donald Trump said in terms of basically US strategy, imperial strategy is that we had wasted 6 trillion dollars in the Middle East and we could’ve rebuilt the United States twice for that kind of money. We didn’t have a Jill Stein to talk about healthcare by mentioning the premier issue in healthcare for people in the United States, and that is the lack of a single payer system which really boils down to a lack of civilizations since all the other rich countries have some kind of single payer. But that wasn’t even mentioned in this debate. Even though majorities of Americans favor single payer. So this debate was not even relevant to the long standing wishes of Americans in terms of as basic an issue as healthcare. What are we getting out of this? We are seeing that even when people pitch the contest here as one that is right and clear and between an extreme that is Trump or the right and someone who poses as a progressive, there’s really very, very little light between them. At least not enough to nourish any kind of healthy political conversation, much less get people worked up about voting. JAY: Jeff what do you make of that? COHEN: I agree with almost everything he said. It was a dispiriting exercise when it came to, if Glen is hoping that Trump’s going to come out against regime change, I mean Trump was for the invasion of Iraq. Trump had spoken of getting rid of Gadhafi. At this debate Trump talked about how Russians are modernizing their nuclear weapons and we aren’t. I mean it’s just–we left Iraq too soon? I mean clearly we needed other voices in the debate for it to be something that could be called a debate. It’s an exercise in shrinking alternatives. It’s like an exercise in lowering expectations. What’s interesting is because there’s such dissatisfaction with the status quo and there’s so much fear of the insurgent candidate “Trump” the polls of the mainstream media keep counting Gary Johnson as 8, 9, 10%. Jill Stein 3, 4, 5%. The TV networks are using those two in the polls. I saw them on NBC nightly news tonight. And then we get to a debate and there’s just the two candidates again. It’s indefensible and again the TV networks working with the two party system and their corporate masters of both. The corporate masters of the TV networks are not dissimilar to the corporate masters of the major parties and that’s why we end up with a farce like this. JAY: But what do you make of Glen’s point that this lesser evil theory, this is what it is that you see that there’s no difference. He says there’s really no light between the two of them. There’s no difference. What do you make of that? COHEN: I think he said there’s not a lot of light between the two of them. And there’s not. I think if Bernie Sanders had not been in the race, we would not be hearing Hillary Clinton tonight saying that she somehow is against the Trans Pacific Partnership. It was very halfhearted but you wouldn’t even have had that. And she did speak out for infrastructure jobs, green energy jobs, raising the minimum wage. I think a lot of that is the influence of Bernie and he’s gone. You really needed other people on the stage. Now if we’re talking about the tactic of what I think people should do on the election day, if they live in a swing state, I would hold my nose and vote for Hillary Clinton as Noam Chomsky and many others have suggested. But it’s not a key issue. To me the issue is do we tell the truth about the political system we have. Do we tell the truth about the media system we have and the farcical nature of what happened in the debate where the word poverty was not mentioned? In 9 democratic debates this year, the word poverty was not mention. In this debate between Clinton and Trump, no one talked about and no one was asked about do corporations have too much power over the economy? Over politics? Didn’t come up. Goldman Sachs didn’t even come up. I thought Trump at least was going to bring it up when Hillary was saying why aren’t you revealing your tax records. Which is horrible. He’s obviously hiding something but so was Hillary regarding Goldman Sachs and the speeches. So yes it’s a dispiriting exercise. The key thing I think for progressives is to keep forming independent organizations. RootsAction.org has grown because of the Bernie insurgency and we’re making strategy whoever the president is, for anti-war campaigning to go on in the next 6 months. No matter who wins in November and who takes office in January. So I think a key lesson of an exercise like what happened at the debate is that progressives have to keep independent organizing going. Keep forming organizations, building more organizations. Stay independent of the two major parties. But if you’re asking me if I lived, by the way I live in New York. I voted for Jill Stein 4 years ago. I’ll vote for her again in November. If I lived in Ohio, when it was close, I could see myself holding my nose and voting for Clinton. JAY: Glen? FORD: Now you build the independent political parties and of course these social movements. You build these parties however by voting for them. We will get the same result for years from now if we make these compromises with either with the duopoly in whichever form it’s going to be. I don’t know what the next four years is going to bring but I know there’s going to be a white man’s party and I know whether it’s called the Republican party or not, whether there’s a Trump in it or not, and I know that the folks who go to the debate will be the ruling class’s party. We’ll have the same conversation all over again. You know in terms of this being a ruling class billionaire’s conversation, even what is a lie or not, depends upon what your income bracket is. Hillary Clinton said that when she took over the job with Secretary of State, Iran was 3 weeks from assembling a nuclear bomb. Well that was 2009. What is certainly is in the public record and every legitimate reporter should know was that in 2007 and again in 2010, all of the US intelligent agencies, all 16 of them unanimously agreed that Iran had no nuclear program at all. They said that in 2007 and appear to have headed off a military action by the United States against Iran by the Bush-Cheney regime. Then they said it again in 2010. When Hillary Clinton had been Secretary of State for about a year. So she was straight up lying tonight as she has done about the same subject many, many times in saying that she and her president stopped the Iranians from assembling a nuclear weapon, when even her own spooks said there was no such program. Lies like these are not stopped by the New York Times and the Boston Globe and such. Even though I’m looking at a New York Times article from 2012 that talks about what I was relating to you. JAY: I think there’s no doubt that the facts are clear on that. The national intelligence estimates said what you just said they said. But to my mind there’s two critical difference that are significant and it’s not about who Hillary his and it’s not just about who Donald is. It’s about the alliances and the sections of capital that they represent. There is a difference both in terms of the extent to which they want to intensify the exploitation of American workers. The extent to which they want to break up unions. It’s not about whether to do it but there is some differences on how intensely to exploit. Somewhat for electoral reasons, the democrats depend on working Americans to vote for them. The republicans depend more on rural and smaller town sections of the working class and other sections of the population. The law and order rhetoric. It’s not without meaning. When he has Sherriff Clark, the Sherriff from Milwaukee County who spoke at the Republican Convention and Giuliani who both essentially accused the leaders of black lives matter for implicit in the murder and the assassination of police in Dallas. The Iran deal, I think is significant. In spite of her hawkishness and in spite of her taking credit for a deal which I think perhaps she wasn’t all that much in support of actually, I think it’s clear she supports it now. And there is an alliance of forces including people like Netanyahu and Sheldon Adelson in the United States who gave Trump 25 million dollars. And Trump himself that said he would rip up the Iran agreement. There’s some differences that are of significance. If you go back to the election of Obama and McCain. McCain was bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. I’m not saying there’s anything wonderfully enlightened about Obama but his view of how the American empire operates, his pragmatism did lead to a deal with Iran, not a war against Iran. Don’t you think given who Pence is, given who Giuliani is, given the people around Trump, that those are more likelihood of ripping up that Iran agreement and actually collaborating with Netanyahu and attack on Iran. I would say less likelihood with Hillary. Doesn’t mean she might not have some other military adventure somewhere else. I’m not suggesting she doesn’t have a big dose of neocon militarism, she does. FORD: Paul you’d have done your argument better if you hadn’t used the Iran as an example because in Iran there was no nuclear threat from Iran and the intelligence agencies said so. JAY: I’m not suggesting there was any nuclear weapons. There’s no evidence there was. But that doesn’t mean Israel and McCain and I think Trump and his allies don’t want to attack Iran. And there’s nothing to do with nuclear weapons. They don’t want Iran to have influence in the Middle East. The reason for attacking Iran was never about nuclear weapons. FORD: What you’ve just done is justify Obama and Hillary for mounting this offensive and it was more than just words against Iran, simply because McCain and others and the Israelis were threatening immediate war. That doesn’t make sense. JAY: You don’t think there’s a difference in immediate war and sanctions leading to an agreement? Those sanctions were illegal. They weren’t justified. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not less than watching a war against Iran, come on. FORD: First of all, I think it’s just as likely the fact that the intelligence agencies all unanimously said there was no threat having a deterrent effect on the Obama administration. Just as it had clearly a deterrent effect on the Bush-Cheney administration which most people considered to have been more hawkish. But it’s difficult to go to war when all your intelligence folks are signaling to you that they are opposed to it and will probably start leaking like a civ. JAY: It didn’t stop Bush in Iraq. Jeff what’s your take on this? COHEN: Yea I guess I had heard Glen say that there wasn’t a lot of daylight between them. I’m not willing to argue that point. But there are some obvious differences and especially the alliances that support each candidate. I’m probably the only one here that watches Fox News every night. And when I hear people say oh look at the neocons, even republican oriented neocons, all endorsing Hillary. I ask them if they see who’s endorsing Trump. Because Trump’s foreign policy people make Hillary’s neocons look like Noam Chomsky. FORD: If that’s the way we’re going to measure folks by who’s with them, then that’s quite strange because now I have to measure Hillary because you are willing to vote for her if you are a resident of some state. So the fact that you and I share some level of political agreement therefore should lead me to support Hillary because you under certain circumstances would support here. That makes no sense to me. COHEN: Oh no. I think you totally missed my point. My point is that the people advising Trump on domestic surveillance policy, domestic policing policy, international policy, are people like Giuliani, Chris Christy, John Bolton. These are people that are really far out there on the right wing. They’re the far right of the republican party. A difference is that when Donald Trump says he’s got endorsements from unions, it’s the border guard unions, it’s the police unions, and I’m sure he’s going to get the prison guard union if he hasn’t already. Whereas in the Hillary camp you have some unions that are multiracial that represent some of the most exploited workers and in some ways fight for them. So it’s clearly there’s a different array of forces between these two candidates. FORD: Yes, you see but my position is that those unions should not be supporting those corporate candidates which do as little as possible for them and certainly not enough to earn that support. So I’m not going to judge Hillary because some union folks that shouldn’t be supporting her are. COHEN: Well I’m just trying to get at that there are differences in how these two candidates view a number of issues and there’s differences in who they listen to when they view those issues. Do I think that Hillary Clinton if she’s elected president should be opposed on her domestic policies as you said Glen? She’s not even for single payer which I think is a mark of an advanced industrial country. We should be ready to combat her from day one on domestic and international policy. That’s what RootsAction.org is putting in place. Strategizing today about that. But do I hope that Hillary Clinton becomes the president instead of this spiteful, petty, erratic, quasi-fascist named Trump? Of course. I think that’s obvious. I don’t think it’s debatable. FORD: I think the rot in the system has gone so far that it becomes very difficult to make these choices. They’re certainly not bright line choices. There’s no question that the democrats have a cozier relationship, very cozy for the democrats actually quite chilly for the unionist. But have a relationship with unions. Yet who is capable of passing TPPs’ and NAFTA except the democrats? The republicans couldn’t pass those things. It had to be these corporate democrats who did. So who is the more effective evil, the term that we used to use? Who presents the greatest danger? Isn’t the fact that we have these folks who shouldn’t be supporting these corporate candidates supporting them actually the real problem? Shouldn’t we be hollering at the top of our lungs that they get off of that democratic bandwagon. JAY: We’re going to have to wrap this up guys but obviously this is a conversation that we will pick up and continue. Maybe we’ll focus next time on specific areas like foreign policy, domestic policy. But I thank you both very much for joining us. COHEN: Thank you. FORD: Thank you. JAY: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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