Preaching to the Choir
Jeff Cohen: Illusions about Obama and the myth of the need for bipartisanship are reasons why progressives and liberals must have a vigorous debate – there really is no choir
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And now we’re joined by Jeff Cohen, a regular contributor to The Real News Network. He now joins us from Woodstock, New York.
Jeff is author of Cable News Confidential. He cofounded the online activist group RootsAction.org, and as well as the media watchdog group FAIR. And he was also at one time senior producer for The Phil Donahue Show.
Thanks very much for joining us, Jeff.
JEFF COHEN, FOUNDER, ROOTSACTION.ORG: Great to be with you.
JAY: So what have you been thinking about this week?
COHEN: I’ve been concerned about this accusation that if I get interviewed in independent media or write columns for independent media I’m just preaching to the choir. And what bothers me about that is the implication that if you’re just preaching to the choir meaning people that see themselves as progressive or, you know, genuinely on the left, then you’re talking to a group that’s so sophisticated, so well informed, that you’re wasting your time; you should just talk to the centrists and the rightists.
And the problem with that isâ€”a couple of days ago I kept seeing this email going around: tell Hillary thank you. And, you know, I see all the comments on columns I write. There’s a lot of people who see themselves as progressive or on the left who are really deluded in many ways about the Democratic Party and the Democratic Party’s policies and Obama’s policies. And it’s why I really believe the choir, the so-called choir, needsâ€”we need to be talking to each other and raising consciousness and sharing information, ’cause they aren’t so totally great-informed.
JAY: Well, it suggests that everyone in the choir is singing off the same page. And I’d like to know what that page is, ’cause I think that’s far from the case.
COHEN: There’s no doubt. And, I mean, the problem is that there’s many progressives, left liberals, people who see themselves on the left, who get taken in by rhetoric as opposed to reality.
JAY: Well, it seems to me you really saw that with the inauguration speech. Some of the people I’ve interviewed and talked to who were very, very critical of President Obama over the last four years, and then his inauguration speech, they’re back kind of cheerleading again.
COHEN: Yeah. It’s why the choir needs constant information and analysis, because that Obama inauguration was a real victory of rhetoric over reality.
And a lot of people, you know, when Obama said these comments about global warming, you had perhaps, you know, a couple of million people who were doing acrobatics about how great it was, apparently unaware that every time there’s an international conference on global warming, the United States and the Obama administration are among the main obstacles to actually addressing that problem.
Obama’s inaugural speech made all these comments about, you know, democracy around the world. And, you know, I’m scratching my head when people think that was a great speech, because they don’t seem to know what was even in the WikiLeaks cables, which showed that the Obama administration was intervening in democracies from Germany to Spain to England to try to make sure that, you know, the U.S. officials engaged in kidnapping and torture, or all the lies around the Iraq invasionâ€”. The point is that there’s all this empty rhetoric about ending ten years of war or bringing democracy or, you know, we’ve got to address global warming, and there hasn’t been a damn policy from the Obama administration that matches up with that rhetoric.
JAY: The other issue, when you go back to the issue of climate change, I mean, it’s true that he barely mentioned the words climate change over the last four years, given that he had been elected, supposedly, to do something about it. But then when you do see the policies that are being articulated to deal with climate change, with some exceptions it’s mostly about the financialization of the issue, which is carbon trading, cap and trade plans, which essentially gets Wall Street involved in dealing with the question, and where the issue of regulation and actually stopping carbon emissions is much on the backburner. So when you get into the substance of the rhetoric, it’s notâ€”I’m not sure what people are so excited about.
COHEN: There’s no doubt that the policy has been to financialize it, which would be in keeping with Obama’s Wall Street orientation. And at these international conferences, everyone knows that the Obama administration representatives were blocking any forward motion. So when we think of the left liberal or progressive choir, the number-one issue that is almost off limits to serious inquiry is what I would say is the policy that’s the biggest and the worst in our country, which is U.S. foreign policy. So any criticism of, like, Obama’s continuation of war, expansion of drone killings, you know, the ability to assassinate across continents, it’s off-limits.
And you had groups during the Bush administration that stood up for human rights and peace and civil liberties that have gone to sleep when Obama has continued with the Bush policies. A group like MoveOn doesn’t bring up war and peace anymore. On MSNBC you have almost no debate. So I would argue that when it comes to the progressive or left liberal choir, U.S. foreign policy is a subject that people don’t give the deep thinking or inquiry to.
And I would argue it’s U.S. foreign policy and militarism that is the worst policy. It’s draining the federal budget. It’s causing us to be less secure around the world and feared around the world instead of respected. And you can’t get a debate on it among liberals.
JAY: Right. Now, there’s also this whole issue of gridlock which gets talked about a lot. You had something to say about that.
COHEN: Yeah. I think that it’s a myth that we have a big problem in our country with gridlock. What we have a problem with in our country, especially on foreign policy, is bipartisanship. We haveâ€”you know, you can look at recent history from the Clinton administration. The worst policies of the Clinton administration were completely bipartisan, like NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. The ending of welfare was completely bipartisan. The deregulation of Wall Street in 1999 and 2000 that led directly to the crash of 2007-2008, that was all bipartisan.
You could go to the Bush administration, you know, where the Patriot Act, it passed 99 to 1. The invasion of Iraq was largely a bipartisan policy.
When I hear the mainstream media cheerleading that there’s bipartisan agreement in Washington, I reach for my wallet, because I figure I’m going to be stolen from.
Obama administration’s the same thing. The escalation of the troops into Afghanistanâ€”completely bipartisan. You know, the support, the cheerleading for any single thing and every single thing that Israel does. The increasing bellicosity around Iran.
These are bipartisan policies because the elites of the two major parties are not debating them. The mainstream media doesn’t debate them, because to do so would be bias. And so weâ€”you know, it’s one of these many myths that the problem in Washington is we have too much partisanship or too much gridlock. What I think we have is too much bipartisanship in support of militarism, in support of corporatism.
JAY: Yeah, I know. We were talking recently about the filibuster story and reforming the filibuster so that things can get done in the Senate. And I guess there’s some truth to that if people have to openly speak and filibuster, it’s more transparent, although it makes you wonder: do you really want the Senate passing more legislation?
COHEN: Well, you know, you’d like to go back to where 51 people in the Senate could pass things.
But I would argue that some of the worst policies, from a progressive perspective, on economics and foreign policy or civil liberties, they were bipartisan. And let’s remember the Patriot Act in the Senate was 99 to 1.
JAY: And the NDAA amendments for indefinite detention and so on more recently was also mostly bipartisan. There was some dissent on it.
COHEN: Yeah, right. I think what progressives need to learn is when they hear the mainstream media, you know, just cheering and so happy because there’s a bipartisan agreement, it probably isn’t a great thing for progressives, especially the bipartisan deals that have been cut in back rooms. And NAFTA was a classic example. The deregulation of the media, the giveaway to a half a dozen media conglomerates, that was a bipartisan media reform act of 1996, and it was pushed by the Republican speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and the Democratic president Bill Clinton.
JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, Jeff.
COHEN: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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