Is Putin the Enemy or a Distraction?
Former Clinton White House Counsellor Bill Curry and TRNN Senior Editor Paul Jay discuss and debate the strategy of the Democratic Party to focus on the Trump-Russia connection; Curry says Putin’s Russia is a fascist state; Jay says the U.S. has committed far greater crimes
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, and welcome to Reality Asserts Itself. At the age of 26 years old, Bill Curry ran and won election to State Senator in Connecticut. He ran for governor and almost won, he came very close, and later worked in the Clinton White House for a couple of years working directly with Bill Clinton on his policy. Now joining us to talk about the Democratic Party from a rather unique angle, an insider’s angle I would say, is Bill Curry. He’s a columnist for Salon.com and The Daily Beast. He was also, as I said, a White House counselor to President Bill Clinton and often on The Real News. Thanks very much for joining us, Bill.
BILL CURRY: Great to be with you again, Paul.
PAUL JAY: In Reality Asserts Itself, we usually start with a biographical story and then we move on to other issues. Here we’re going to reverse it a bit. We’re going to start with some contemporary stuff and then the next segment get more biographical. I want to talk about, and hear what you have to think about, the Democratic Party strategy of making such an issue out of the Russia connection. If everything that’s being said about the Russians is true, and we don’t know whether it’s true, there’s a lot of assumptions being made about what the Russians did or didn’t do and we’re mostly being told to rely on intelligence agencies without a heck of a lot of evidence being put into the public sphere, but even if one assumes most of it’s actually true it seems the worst the Russians did is hack the DNC and give this to Wikipedia. I’ve got to say there’s a lot of theories and some evidence that it wasn’t the Russians. But I’m saying for the sake of argument if the DNC hadn’t been up to such nefarious activities trying to sabotage the Sanders campaign this wouldn’t have been such a big deal. Comey wouldn’t have had something to release for the second time.
In other words, the interference is certainly not good. It’s silly though, the Americans crying over the interference of elections, because it’s beyond imagination how many elections the Americans interfere in. In fact, it’s barely imaginable that there’s a single election that takes place anywhere in the world that the Americans don’t try to influence the outcome. All that being said, the Democratic Party is feeding this Russia-phobia that serves the military industrial complex who need a big existential threat in order to justify aircraft carriers and a whole new nuclear weapons program. Weapons on such a scale you could never use it for fighting an ISIS-type fight. What do you think of that strategy, because it seems to me there’s so much focus on that? There’s not much focus on the horrible things the Trump/Pence administration is doing on every other front, including foreign policy.
BILL CURRY: Well, I have two somewhat complete different lines of thinking about this. For the first of which, I would somewhat disagree with you. I talk to my progressive friends every day who cite the things you’ve cited, how many elections we’ve meddled in. Not just meddled, we’ve deposed democratically elected leaders in Chile and in Iran to our own great detriment, and all over the world. Árbenz in Guatemala, it’s an endless story. We’d be better off if the American people knew more about it. It would be a great collateral benefit of the current situation if we took the time to teach ourselves not only what we did but what came of it all, the ill that came with it. How often it backfired against us, even apart from the takings of human life and the violations of international law that were entailed in these intrusions.
If America learned just the basic principle that people should stay out of each other’s elections, that would be a great thing. That doesn’t stop me from resenting this, nor does it stop me from seeing that this really did matter between Comey and Putin. I think they did elect Trump. I think that the overwhelming likelihood is that those interventions made enough of a difference. It put the American people in the position of thinking that Hillary’s election would trigger endless special prosecutors, when in fact it’s Trump’s that would do that and is doing it. The first problem I think progressives have is the history I just talked about. The second problem is, like I very much do agree with what I assume to be the premise of your question, the Democratic establishment as it still continues to be personified by Hillary herself uses this as an excuse for all the things it did wrong. Hillary comes out and cites Comey, Putin, and misogyny as the reasons she lost. In fact, this election, no Democrat should have been within hailing distance, within stealing distance, of Donald Trump, who is a narcissistic psychological wreck, a complete fraud, and by all textbook definitions a fascist.
The Democratic Party has not undertaken this debate within itself. Before the election people said that whoever lost would have a tremendous internal debate over first premises and core values. We lost and we’re not having that debate. There’s a case where you don’t want to scapegoat the Comey/Putin stuff for a loss that you need to take responsibility for. At the same time, I do think that what happened is horrible. I think that action needs to be taken. I don’t think that Trump was legitimately elected President. The fact that that happens all over the world and that it’s often our fault doesn’t alter my thinking about that.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, you can debate whether it made a difference to the actual outcome of the election. I highly doubt it, given that Clinton won the popular vote. It shouldn’t just been in a few swing states that it made such a difference. Clearly the Trump campaign targeted these swing states and Clinton didn’t target them properly or nearly enough. I also think I don’t know of any Democrat that was a defender of the last eight years, a defender of the Obama administration, a defender of the status quo, if that’s the primary message, and that was. Hillary’s message was, “I’m going to continue the legacy of the Obama campaign, build on its achievements.” How do you say that in rust belt states where people are suffering from policies that we know led to, what was it something like 90% or so of, the post ’07-’08 crash–rise in income? 90% of that increase in income went to 1% of the population.
We know that the crisis was handled so much in favor of Wall Street, and so on, and so on. Everybody has heard these arguments. You can’t go out and win an election based on that in states that are suffering so much. That’s far more significant than the Comey thing. I’m not saying it didn’t have an effect, but for a whole lot of reasons it certainly wasn’t the primary issue. Not the least of which, I think most people in this country don’t pay all that much attention to these kinds of things. What I’m saying is there’s something more than that, which is the Russia phobia. The idea of trying to have a new Cold War. The constant use of the word when talking about Russia as our adversary.
Why is Russia ‘our adversary’? Why isn’t Germany our adversary? They just need an adversary. Yeah, they don’t like a big country with a fairly big economy, nuclear weapons, that doesn’t do what it’s told. They don’t like that it has a different strategy on Syria, and so on, and so on. To describe it in Cold War terms, and the Democratic Party driving this, that seems not a very constructive strategy. Especially if you want people to understand what’s really wrong with the Trump administration.
BILL CURRY: Let me just point out a couple things. Again, I agree with much that you said but, no. The people who are pushing a $54 billion increase in our defense budget right now aren’t citing the Russians as their adversary, and consider the threat of terrorism. Our problems are rising out of the Middle East, out of our own actions in the Middle East, I would add, are discussed in probably another interview by and large. That’s plenty of a dangerous other, a dangerous foreign other for people to gin up all kinds of emotions in the American electorate. I don’t think anybody thinks they need the Russians to do that. I do believe that Putin, again, partly because he took our advice, this isn’t like the Cold War. It’s not a communist state; it’s a fascist state.
It’s a fascist state because they did what we told them to do. We sent American and British advisors in there during the fall of Gorbachev and the Yeltsin years, and we told them deregulate everything immediately. Privatize everything immediately and cut your social contract down to barebones austerity. That will promote growth and social progress. What it promoted instead was the development of the largest mafia the world has ever seen, the most extraordinary criminal cartel that has ever risen. That criminal cartel is a part of the governing coalition of the country. It’s why Russian banknotes can’t be taken in regular commerce in other countries. They’ve corrupted this country to the core. We should have a lot of problems with Russia. We should have a lot of problems with Russia. They’re not of the traditional kind that you’re describing and we should be approaching them in a different way.
To me, I’m not concerned about Democrats saying that Russia has interfered with this election and ought to be held in account. I’m worried about two things. One, what they don’t say about the bigger reasons that they lost. I agree with you four square on that. There were things the Democratic Party did that Clinton did, that it’s been doing for years, that cost it far more votes. The second thing on the national security front is that it would be nice to have some Democrat say what Ronald Reagan said in the last speech of his life, which is that you have to have multilateral decision making. You have to strengthen the United Nations. You can’t be going around the world with all your six guns blazing forever with this ceaseless strategy of unilateral military interventionism, that our safety really resides in the rule of law rather than the force of arms.
The fact that we can’t get anyone to question, to point out one of the many lessons of the last decade and a half in the Middle East is that these standing armies are of no use against any kind of enemy at this point. We’re funding dinosaurs at the expense of people in America right now. That’s a tragedy. There are other ways to approach this, but in the end I have to say when the smoke clears I’m still upset about this election. I still think in an election that close an intervention that big probably did make a difference. In any case, I want whoever did it to be caught and punished.
PAUL JAY: Okay.
BILL CURRY: Lock them up.
PAUL JAY: When using language like calling Russia a fascist state, to me that’s inflammatory. Do you consider the American state fascist?
BILL CURRY: No, I don’t.
PAUL JAY: Why not?
BILL CURRY: I consider Trump fascist. I’m one of the people that uses the word openly about him, let alone the rest of the country.
PAUL JAY: Hang on for a second. Bill, Bill, hang on for a second.
BILL CURRY: Okay.
PAUL JAY: When we talk about Hitler as a fascist state, part of the issue is the domestic repression and the scale of it. Certainly the scale of Hitler and domestic repression you can’t compare what’s going on with Russia. Clearly Russia is authoritarian state, but it has a veneer of democracy. A veneer of elections. Yes, they get manipulated and so on, but that’s true in the United States as well. If you look at the foreign footprint of a Hitler, which is a part of that fascism, the foreign footprint of the United States is far more aggressive, has killed far more people than anything the Russians have done. I’m not geared as some people in this debate are doing, talking some glowing pink rose colored glasses about Putin and Russia. It’s a very centralized authoritarian state. It certainly is a state that serves the oligarchs of Russia. It certainly has pillaged the Russian economy, and so on and so on, but the American state has done worse.
BILL CURRY: It’s a long, long discussion, but it’s a fascist state if you’re gay. It’s a fascist state if you’re a journalist. This is a government that murders its opponents.
PAUL JAY: The American state is a fascist state if you’re black and living in Baltimore.
BILL CURRY: Let me just say I don’t think that’s true. There is some due process here that is considerable-
PAUL JAY: Actually, no. No, I’m sorry. Hold on. Read the Department of Justice report about the Baltimore Police Department and tell me there’s due process in Baltimore.
BILL CURRY: I can’t tell you there’s due process in Baltimore, but I can tell you there’s due process in thousands of communities in America and there isn’t here. I can tell you that these are real problems. I really do think, Paul, when you close your eyes to murdering your opponents, to taking over all of the instruments of public information, to taking over the banks. What is fascism? It’s a merger of the economic and political sectors. It is the identification of a dangerous foreign other. In their case, it’s us. It is using violence against your opponents. It is the aggrandizement of the leader. It is the propagandization of all civic discourse.
I see all of that happening there. I see it starting to happen here and it breaks my heart. I don’t think I’m insensitive to the enormous flaws of our own democracy, which has become this pay to play paradise for the rich. When you say, “Are there things to oppose in Russia?” Yes. Should we be opposing them militarily? Wrong way. Doesn’t work. Only causes more trouble, but is there a real problem there? Do I feel comfortable with the government of Russia, with Putin? Not even close. Not even close. I’ll say one other thing, there are things that we have. I’ve watched reckless American politicians in both parties exaggerate.
I want to just go over one thing you said that I agree with. I look at the Crimean situation; it was much more complicated. I look at the Ukraine; they ought to be able to have referendum in both sections. Probably the eastern sections should go to Russia and the other section should be able to be in its own. All those former satellite countries, they ought to get self determination. I believe in that everywhere. I believe that in Scotland. I believe it in Staten Island, and I certainly believe in it in the Ukraine. When I see countries robbing other countries of self determination, taking over political power through force of arms, I opposed it everywhere. I’ve opposed it every time we’ve done it and I oppose it when they do it.
PAUL JAY: Let’s go back to my main argument, which is the Democratic Party by making the fundamental focus what I call the demonization of Russia. As, again, much of the critique of the Russian state is correct, but frankly that’s up to the Russian people to deal with. Not here. Especially when the United States has so much blood on its hands. The Russian people will reckon with Putin and it’s up to them to do it. In terms of what’s affecting the rest of the world, US foreign policy certainly causing far more damage around the world than the Russians are. Even given the Russian support for Assad, which is another debate. My main argument is the Democratic Party with the exception of the Sanders wing, although he is participating a little bit, the Chuck Schumer wing, if you want, the Clinton-esque Chuck Schumer wing is so focused on this issue with Russia, Russia, Russia and trying to use all the Cold War imagery and Cold War nightmares deep in American psyche, they’re avoiding what’s happening with what is the most existential threat to the United States, which is climate change, which they barely talk about.
BILL CURRY: There’s one part of what you just said that I disagree with. That is that every time they say Russia I don’t hear Cold War nightmare rhetoric. That’s not what I hear. This is a different Russia. This is a different moment. They’re doing it for different reasons. Now, why are they doing it? I would say the first is that you have the same establishment corrupted by money today that you had the day we lost the election. Before this election, every journalist wrote and most politicians thought that whoever lost the election, there would be a great civil war in that party over first premises and core values. A tremendous debate that might last years and an uprising against discredited leadership.
In the case of the Democratic Party, a leadership that lost the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, the White House, and two thirds of the governorships. Even more, the state legislatures reaching an absolute low point in its influence in the modern history of the country. Here we are. What happened? Most of our leaders got elected by a voice vote. The Clinton/Obama faction kept control of the DNC. The debate we’re all waiting for, it hasn’t even begun. It’s seven months later and there’s nothing happening out there that would indicate that the leaders of this party are engaged in any kind of debate. Part of the Russia/Comey fixation is simply their desire to avoid taking responsibility for what’s happened. I think one of the problems for the Democratic Party is simply this, the mistakes that are most important to voters were made by people that many Democrats love. They were the mistakes of Barack Obama; they were the mistakes of Hillary Clinton. They were in the decisions not to raise the minimum wage when we have the votes, or the bailout, the homeowners victimized by the banks, or the lack of public option.
It wasn’t Republicans who defeated that, it was Democratic leaders. Each one of those, when you look at the real history of each of those issues, we have the votes in the House and the Senate. We could have gone forward. The president was on the wrong side. I’ll just stop. Those are just three examples, but there are countless others. We have to stop and ask ourselves, where were we? Who do we really stand for? We want credit for being the tribune of working families in this country and yet, as I’ve said before on your show, people who think you can raise money on Wall Street all day and represent working families at night are people who think you can smoke crack and still be a good parent. There’s a fundamental conflict between where the party looks for its money, and what it is willing to espouse, and what kinds of blueprints its willing to adopt. The embodiment of that, in my mind, is Chuck Schumer.
PAUL JAY: Well, that’s exactly where I want to go in the next segment of the interview because I think I’ll add one other argument to why they’re playing this Russia card so much. This goes back to Chuck Schumer’s whole philosophy on how to win elections with the Democratic Party, which is you have to fight the perception in a section of the American population that the Democratic Party is weak. If you read Chuck Schumer’s book, Chuck Schumer, one of his main critique of the Democratic Party is that the Democratic Party didn’t crack down on SDS in its rhetoric, the radical antiwar fringe as he describes it. The whole perception that post-Vietnam the Democratic Party was weak and they had to find an issue to be strong on. That issue in the Clinton White House where you worked for a couple of years was going to be law and order, crime, and welfare reform. That the Democratic Party was going to show it could be even tougher than the Republicans. I think that’s what we’re trying to do now on the Russia issue. Chuck Schumer has got a thing where we can be even tougher on the Russians than the Republicans because we can make Trump look weak on this. Anyway, in the next segment of our interview-
BILL CURRY: I agree with that, by the way.
PAUL JAY: Okay, well in the next segment of our interview we’re going to talk about Bill’s history because he actually ran for office. He won, it was a State Senator in Connecticut at 26 years old, so he’s been working and fighting within the Democratic Party for quite a long time. We’re going to talk about his time in the Clinton White House, so please join us for part two on Reality Asserts Itself, with Bill Curry.