TRNN Election Panel: Margaret Kimberly, Jeff Cohen and Marc Steiner
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
Once again, we’re coming from our temporary setup in what will be the new national headquarters of The Real News Network, with a brand-new studio and all sorts of things, including: in our studio will be a man named Marc Steiner, who joins us now at the table. And Marc is a radio showâ€”well-known radio show host in Baltimore. In fact, it says here,â€”
MARC STEINER, RADIO HOST, WEAA 88.9 FM: What’s it say?
JAY: â€””an acclaimed public radio news host.”
STEINER: You can fool some of the people some of the time.
JAY: And you can hear Marc on WEAAÂ 88.9Â FM in Baltimore. Thanks for joining us.
STEINER: Pleasure to be here.
JAY: So where are we now? Let’s talk a little horse race. So where are things at? Where are things at? Yeah.
STEINER: Well, right now it’s much too early to say anything, but I think that Obama is winning where you thought Obama was going to winâ€”Maryland, D.C., Connecticut. The wrestling magnate lost for the Senate in Connecticut.
JAY: Oh, she already lost? Linda McMahon.
STEINER: Lost the smackdown.
JAY: Oh. I have aâ€”I made a film called Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows.
STEINER: That’s right. You did.
JAY: And I knew Vince McMahon in the course of making that film, so I have some connection with that race. But I won’t make any comment on it.
STEINER: She lost.
JAY: This is after spending, what, a hundred million dollars of her own money, apparently.
STEINER: Unbelievable. That shouldâ€”well, this campaign’s all about that money. I mean, we’ve seen off-the-chart spending, whether it’s here in Maryland over the gambling referendum or whether it’s nationwide. I mean, Citizens United has unleashed this kind of corporate power in America to own these elections.
JAY: Let’s talk about this for a second, because there’s a lot of these local issues that in some states are quite important, and this one in Maryland, where I am, I can make no sense of, ’cause I seeâ€”.
STEINER: Which one’s that?
JAY: The one about the casino, yeah. I see ads pro-casino, and I’m totally convinced it sounds good. The mayor’s there saying it’s going to fund our schools. And then I see ads against the casino saying it’s not going to do anything, and I’m totally convinced by them, too.
STEINER: Well, that’s because you haveâ€”they spent almost $90Â million on this campaign between MGMâ€”which wants to own the new casino that they want to have built near Washington, D.C., in a county called Prince George’s County, here in Maryland. And then the other side is Penn National that owns all the casinos in West Virginia that doesn’t want to lose its money, so they’re telling you, vote no. And the others say, vote yes.
But the real issue here is is thatâ€”a lot of people are ambivalent about this on a lot of levels because it’s a battle between casino owners. And what’s happening in the gambling industry now in America is that they’re all losing money. All the money’s going local around the country, so they’re pushing to keep that money inside of Maryland. The unions are pushing for it because it means they think they’re going to get good-paying union jobs. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but that’s why they’re behind it. And it’s reallyâ€”you know, people in Baltimore in Maryland are just jaundiced about it, because when they started the lottery, they said the money was going to education. It didn’t. So people don’t trust casinos. They don’t trust gambling.
JAY: What are some of the other local issues across the country that are important votes today?
STEINER: Well, I think we’re going to see in four states the marriage equality vote taking place.
JAY: Including Maryland.
STEINER: Including Maryland. Maryland’s going to be very close. It’s a huge one. I think that if they can win here, if it can win in Washington State, wins in Maine, then you can begin to see a shift, maybe, in the popular thinking for marriage equality, and I think that’s very critical. And Maryland’s one of the most critical states. Governor Martin O’Malley will hope so, because he wants to run for president and that will be a feather in his cap, so to speak.
But the othersâ€”in California, the GMO referendum we won’t know about maybe till late, late tonight or tomorrow morning, where theâ€”.
JAY: This has to do with labeling.
STEINER: Labeling. But it’s only labeling certain foods, not labeling meats, not labeling dairy, alcohol, any of that. But they took on this one part of the industry of forcing that to label Monsanto and the rest. So that’s a huge one to watch.
The three strikes and you’re out law could be overturned in a referendum in California, which obviously means that if you have three felonies or three arrests, you can get life imprisonment.
JAY: Yeah, that would be very significant. There’s a lot of people have gone to jail for life for minor offenses.
STEINER: Right, exactly, for just having a bag of marijuana or whatever that is.
JAY: Now, there’s a lot of marijuana votes going on.
STEINER: Right. Colorado, Washington State are two of the states that are going to have these referendums. They could pass in both states, which also would be significant. I mean, these are just kind of social motions that are pushing communities of color, young communities around the country to say, we want a different kind of world. And they’re kind of symbolic of that, in many ways, I think.
JAY: Okay. Now, we’re going to be joined by a couple of panelists. Let me just find out whether they’re ready.
STEINER: Let me see if I can hear them.
JAY: Are we ready to go to panelists? Someone needs to tell me.
MARGARET KIMBERLY, EDITOR AND SENIOR COLUMNIST, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: I’m ready.
JAY: We’re ready. Jeff, I see you. I think we’re ready to go to panelists, ’cause the panelists are there already. There you are.
So now joining us first of all is Margaret Kimberly. She’s an editor and senior columnist for Black Agenda Report. She’s a writer and activist on social justice and peace issues. Her work has appeared in AlterNet and CounterPunch, and she’s appeared on AlÂ Jazeera and GRITtv and other places. Thanks for joining us, Margaret.
KIMBERLY: Thank you.
JAY: And also joining us now is Jeff Cohen. He’s the author of Cable News Confidential. He cofounded the online activism group RootsAction.org and the media watchdog group FAIR. Thanks for joining us, Jeff.
JEFF COHEN, COFOUNDER, ROOTSACTION.ORG: Great to be with you.
JAY: So, Jeff, RootsAction launched an email and a campaign. Essentially, it was addressed to progressives who were deciding to vote for President Obama or whether to vote for third parties, and the point was, you said, that in non-swing states people should vote as they please, and you encouraged them to vote for third parties like the Green Party, but in swing states you suggested they should vote for President Obama. And there was a lot of debate about all of that. So what’s your take on that now, and how do you reply to some of the people that disagreed with you, even some of whom were members of RootsAction?
COHEN: Well, I certainly hope that people took our advice and voted against Romney by voting for Obama in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Colorado, and I hope people took our advice and voted for Jill Stein and the Green Party in the almost 40 states where it’s very safe to do that. It seems to me to be a win-win.
I think Romney’s campaign is propelled by racism. As you know, as a media critic I listen to the Limbaughs and the Glenn Becks every day. It’s racism, racism, racism. And while I have major criticisms of Obama on almost every issue, from militarism, corporatism, environmentalism, I think there’s a difference between Romney and Obama. And that’s why we’re advocating in swing states that people, despite policy differences, support Obama in those few swing states and otherwise support the left.
JAY: Margaret, what’s your take on that question?
KIMBERLY: Well, I myself voted for the Green Party candidate, but I do live in a blue state. Having said that, had I lived in a swing state, I still would have done so.
I think it’s very clear at this point that the Democratic Party has no incentive to change and really advance policies that help the citizens of this country, that help the people, the 99Â percent, as it were.
Foreign policy is identical. We saw it in that last debate, where Romney just agreed with everything that Obama had said. They both seem toâ€”their only argument in that debate was who would attack Iran first, who loved Israel more. So that’s clearly a wash.
As far as domestic policies, the differences between the two parties are becoming fewer and fewer. The only clear differences currently are on the so-called social issues involving abortion and marriage equality. And while those are important issues, at this point I find it less acceptable to just continue voting for Democrats who either ignore usâ€”or, as Obama has already declared, he’s preparing another grand bargain with the Republicans, a betrayal of all the policies that Democrats are supposed to believe in and agree to cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
So what is the difference if we’re apparently going to have a president, regardless who wins, who will putâ€”what little safety net Americans have will be at risk?
JAY: Jeff, how do you respond?
COHEN: Well, I frankly think there are differences, even on foreign policy. And I agree with Margaret: it was something of a lovefest and all the expressions of agreement back and forth on foreign policy between Romney and Obama.
But three-fourths of Romney’s advisers are neoconservatives. They will not try to slow down Netanyahu attacks on Iran. I believe one can make the informed conclusion that Obama has gummed up the works a little bit. These people on the Romney side, with regards to Iran, they believe that Bibi Netanyahu is one of the great leaders in the world.
And I agree with Margaret that no matter who gets elected, the left, the independent social movements, have got to resist.
And I’m hoping Obama gets elected.
And we will have to worry, as Margaret says, about this grand bargain. Will he make a deal with the Republicans and cut even the treasured programs of Medicare and Social Security?
But there are, I think, differences beyond just reproductive rights and gay rights.
And, you know, in terms of what gives them incentives to change, I’ve always heard the argument from third-party advocates that if we could just deny the Democrats the White House by people voting for the left, then that’s going to give them incentive. If that were the case, then the debacle in Florida in 2000 would have led to a newly progressive or increasingly progressive Democratic Party, and I would make the argument that in 2001, 2002, 2003 the Democratic Party was as bad or worse than it’s ever been. And that was after the Democrats were denied the White House because of Florida.
And so I justâ€”I don’t seeâ€”I think the way to do things, in terms of providing incentive, is to build independent social movements that start raising hell against this (hopefully) Obama-reelectedâ€”you know, Obama’s second term, and start raising hell in January against the grand bargain that Margaret has correctly warned us against.
JAY: Marc, what’s your take?
STEINER: Oh, you said Margaret. I’m sorry.
JAY: No, no, I said Marc. Margaret, Margaret, hang on a sec. No, it was Marc.
KIMBERLY: [inaud.] can really bring themselves to do that this time. I’ve been hearing people say they were going to hold his feet to the fire once he got elected, and then when he got elected there was always an excuse. Well, what’s the excuse now? Well, he’ll still need to get reelected. If he’s reelected again, what will it be this time?
You know, the only thing that ever has brought about change has been the social movements, which creates a political crisis. We need to create a political crisis for the next president. And if that next president is Obama, the issue will be equally urgent, as if it were Romney. And I do want to comment on something else that she said. Bill Kristol calls Obama now a born-again neocon. He may not quite be Dick Cheney, but people on the right are very happy with his interventionist policies.
JAY: Right. Marc Steiner, what do you think?
STEINER: Well, I think this is a discussion we have been having, progressive movements on the left, forever. And I think that we’re in a position where third parties don’t have much clout. In 2000, Nader and LaDuke won almost 3Â million votes, but since then the Green Party has not been able to muster close to 250,000 votes or more in an election.
And I think part of the problem is when you see that since the ’70s Wall Street and the large capitalists in this country and the world are really trying to take hold, ’cause I think the revolutionary movements of the ’60s, radical movements, threatened this kind of corporate structure. They said, we’ve got to take this back, and they fought to take this back. And they are taking it back in many ways.
And I think that what’s happening is I thinkâ€”I don’t care whether you vote Green or vote Democratic. It doesn’t make any difference to me in this sense, that what is happening right now is that America is split. And the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, not for their own reasons, embody to the people in America the essence of who we should be as a people. So people see it through that lens.
You know, they see a black man in the White House, and a lot of people who vote Democratic see a black man in the White House, and after 400 years of racism, slavery, oppression, discrimination, that’s symbolic in people’s hearts and heads. That’s part of what’s moving this election. We have toâ€”and the racism on the other side is moving this election.
So I think that if you want to build a third-party movement in this country, it’s going to take more than just running people for president. You’re going to have to be on the ground, organize people, organizing people in communities to make a difference. Otherwise, it’s just all showtime to me.
You know, [incompr.] quick example. In 1972, I worked for George McGovern in a poor white working-class neighborhood where I was community organizing, and we turned George Wallace precincts, the big George Wallace precincts, into McGovern precincts. How? Knocking on doors, sitting with people, discussing what the future of America was. We changed votes. You have to organize to change people’s minds. And then I spent the next, whatever, 30 years or so never voting Democratic again, until recently, because of what we’re facing.
And I think that, unfortunately, third parties are irrelevant. People say you should vote third-party; it’ll make them relevant. No. What makes them relevant is hardcore organizing like they did in Germany and other places where the Green Party actually worked in organizing neighborhoods and built a movement. You can’t just build a party out of nowhere. We have to build a movement.
Take it back to American history. When the Republican Party exploded on the scene, it was a combination of the breakup of the Whigs, but it was also the power of the other small parties [incompr.] pushing and the abolitionists pushing created this new party. That’s what it will take in America. And I think it’s going to happen, whether it happens next year, five years, ten years.
JAY: And does it make any difference to it happening which one of these gentlemen is president then?
STEINER: It makes a difference, because I think that the people around Romney are a very scary bunch of people. And I know that Barack Obama has the worst record on civil liberties of any president we’ve had in our recent past. And that’s absolutely true. And we have to fight against that. Romney, I think, would be worse, but I don’t know by how much. But the reality is that the racists and the right wing around Romney is a very scary bunch of people.
I’ll give you small story. There’s a small neighborhoodâ€”I won’t talk about where it is. I don’t want to get people in trouble. But it’s in Maryland. And people went out there to say, would you put this Democratic congressman’s sign up on your lawn in horse country? And they said, no, we’re afraid toâ€”we’re afraid our horses might get shot, we’re afraid our house might be attacked. People are really serious about this. This is a very dangerous group in America that is being pushed to vote for Romney because of having this man in the White House who’s symbolic of things they hate. So I think it does make a difference.
In the long run for America will it make a difference? I don’t think so. In the short runâ€”that’s all we have right now is the short, and we have to build for the long run. And that’s where the problem is, how you build for the long run. I don’t think it’s being built around third-party presidential candidates. It’s being built around hardcore organizing and standing up to the system.
JAY: So, Margaret, that seems to argue with your point, in this sense, that the danger of a Romney presidency is such, in terms ofâ€”especially on the foreign-policy side, is such that it trumps whatever effect Obama might have on movement-building, because real movement-building anyway is about on-the-ground organizing, not who’s the president. What do you make of that?
KIMBERLY: Wellâ€”I’m sorry. I didn’t hear the last part of what you said.
JAY: No, I just asked you what you made of what I said.
KIMBERLY: Oh. Yeah. Well, we doâ€”you know, I think everybody agrees on the need for movement building. And I think also we need to de-emphasize, frankly, electoral politics. When we haveâ€”you know, in the ’60s, black peopleâ€”the mass movement changed this country, and half of all black people couldn’t even vote because they lived in the South. And without being able to vote, we changed this country. And I think that’s a lesson for all of us.
I’m not saying ignore electoral politics, but I think we have to de-emphasize its importance and the role that it plays in bringing about true change, because we had a revolution of sorts in that decade, and it was brought about by people who went into the streets, and as I’ve just said, half of them couldn’t even vote. So I think it’s important for us to remember when we have these debates about who to support in an election.
COHEN: Yeah. I totally agree with virtually everything I’ve heard here, that the key is social movements on the ground. And when we make demands on government, we don’t fashion those demands with the Democratic Party leadership in a halfway measure. You demand what you want. If you think only single-payer Medicare for all is going to solve the medical needs of the American public, then that’s what you demand.
Unfortunately, we’ve got so many liberal groups and unions, they start demanding half a loaf because they’re already in league with the Democratic Party leadership. You know, SNCC and SCLC in the 1960s, what Margaret was talking about, they weren’t making strategy in the White House or taking leadership from the White House; they were making demands on the White House. And Margaret made a good point about there’s always been an excuse year after year on why we can’t criticize Obama or tell the truth about Obama.
You know, we formed RootsAction.org as an online activism group because we saw there were groups like MoveOn.org and Democracy For America that had been for civil liberties when Bush was in power, but now that Obama was in power, they didn’t seem to care about civil liberties. They were against war when Bush was making the war, but when Obama came into power, all of a sudden their antiwar sentiment disappeared. That’s the whole reason we formed RootsAction.org was to make the same demand on government no matter who was in the White House, who’s the leadership in the House of Representatives. And it’s that kind of independent organizing that we have to do locally, regionally, and nationally.
JAY: Just to keep people on track with what’s happening electorally, maybe, Marc, you’re seeing something more recent, CNN apparently saying Obama is projected now for 237 electoral votes, Romney for 206, with 95 up for grabs. And againâ€”and you need 270 to win, but that 95 up for grabs is really up for grabs for a lot of reasons.
STEINER: A lot of them are up for grabs. Now, what I was looking at here, looking at online projections, just looking at this on the website, thisâ€”and I think they came out of Mother Jones‘s website, I was looking at. But there are huge reports of voter intervention going on and suppression going on. Pennsylvania, there are all these reports coming out about the right-wing voter watchers going in, demanding voter identification, stopping people from voting. Florida lines are just huge ’cause they cut down and people can’t get in to vote. So these things are happening across the country right now. And there are signsâ€”this one place in Pennsylvania has a sign up right near the polling places on barricades saying “No parking for Democrats; walkâ€”that will be the most work you will do all day.” This stuff is going on around the country.
So I think this is the kind of thing that I think we have to remember, that this isâ€”that, you know, you watch Fox News, and they have put out today, all day long, about the New Black Panther Party and about Obama’s mural on the school and how this is taking away votes from real Americans. Well, who are these real Americans we’re talking about?
I think that’sâ€”these things are going to be significant post-election, I think, for those who are serious about movement-building, ’cause these are things that are going to get people upset that want to change America and make it a different kind of place. And there’s a real battle for the future of our country. It’s going to be post-election. And I do think President Barack Obama’s going to win again. And then it’s up to us to kind of push the envelope.
JAY: Margaretâ€”I mean, all of you, but let me start with Margaretâ€”part of this debate about a third-party and swing states and all the rest also has been a debate about whether there should be an attempt to organize more within the Democratic Party, especially in certain states where it’s possible. Like, for example, in Maryland, particularly in a place like Baltimore, the Republican Party is so weak that a fight in the Democratic Party doesn’t somehow automatically elect the Republican, if I understand it correctly. I’m new to Baltimore, but I don’t think you can elect a Republican in the city of Baltimore.
STEINER: Difficult to do.
JAY: Very difficult. So what do you make of that issue, that it isn’t, at least in this stage at certain places, not really a third-party issue, it’s about a realâ€”some kind of fight within the Democratic Party? Margaret?
STEINER: Well, you know, it’sâ€”here in New York that’s a problem. We have Democrats who very readily throw in their luck with Republicans, and I think some of them are just beyond redemption. We have toâ€”if they go with us, we can go with them.
But there are certain issues, for example, the stop-and-frisk policies here in the City of New York, the police brutality, the marijuana arrestsâ€”we have a mayoral election coming up next year, and I think that issue has to be the rallying cry. The Democrats who’ve declared for the mayoralty are all rather wishy-washy on this subjectâ€”oh, I’ll change it, I’ll modify it, I’ll do something. It has to go. And I think now is the time, a year in advance, to start talking to voters and to tell people, this is it. Anyone who will not promise to get rid of stop-and-frisk, as an example, should not be supported and is not worthy of your vote. So, yes, sometimes we do have to fight the Democrats. We have to draw lines in the sand.
JAY: No, no, my question was different. It wasn’t sometimes to fight the Democrats. The question is: do you think it’s worth the effort to have a concerted effort for progressives to fight for winning, for more control, for taking over the Democratic Party? I suppose that has a lot to do with the unions who have real money and some ability to put boots on the ground. Most of the union leadership never contend for leadership of the Democratic Party. They’re always supplicants to the Wall Street arm of the Democratic Party. But, you know, if it’s so difficult to get a third party going, should there be a fight within the Democratic Party? Jeff, what’s your take on that?
COHEN: Well, I justâ€”I think of the comment that Jim Hightower made when he’s asked about a third party. Oh, he says, hell, I’d settle for a second party. I mean, the reality is we have a corporate party.
There are about 12 or 13 states where the Democrats areâ€”they control the governor’s house, the state senate, and the state legislature, and still stuff doesn’t get done. You know, Obama always used the excuse, and the Obama apologists, well, I’m being blocked by the Republicans. You know, the apologists say, Obama would be giving us four years of peace and justice, some of them, but those damn Republicansâ€”. Well, the reality is that there’s about a dozen statesâ€”and there may be a couple of more after todayâ€”where the Democratic Party controls all branches of government, and they’re still not delivering for African Americans, for working people, you know, for progressive people, for Latinos, for immigrants.
So, I mean, in those states, of course we have to go into these elections with our social movements and not settle for wishy-washy candidates, unify behind people and start taking some power. We can do it at the city level, and damn it, in some places we can do it on the state level. Some of these states are one-party Democratic states. And those are the states that the left has got to take over and start showing some clout and not settle for wishy-washy Democrats. And unions can’t settle. We need to start demanding that we have politicians representing our social movements that support our agenda in full, not in half, not wishy-washily.
JAY: Well, speaking of third parties, we have the presidential candidate of the Green Party standing by. So we’re going to take a break from this panel and we’re going to go almost right away.
(Hold on. Let me ask. Are we going right away? [incompr.] answer. It’s okay.)
We’re going to have a very short break, and we will return to our panelists that are with us a little later in the evening. But stand by for Jill Stein.
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