How Will Sanders’s Endorsement Affect the Policy Fight at the Convention?
Billy Curry and Annabel Park discuss the significance of Bernie Sanders’s endorsement of Clinton and the need for building an independent movement that can target reactionary Democrats in down ticket races
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
On Tuesday, Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton at a rally in New Hampshire. I spoke to Bernie Sanders last April. I asked him, what would he do if Hillary Clinton became the nominee? And he essentially said what his movement would do, his supporters would do, in terms of endorsing Hillary. Here’s what he said at the time.
BERNIE SANDERS, CANDIDATE FOR DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATION: Well, let me just say two things. Number one, a Donald Trump presidency would be a disaster to this country, and I will do everything that I can to prevent that from happening.
But I think the issue of the kind of support that Secretary Clinton gets from the American people or people who have voted for me is totally dependent upon her. And that is, she is going to have to excite people, convince people that she is in fact prepared to go outside of establishment politics and establishment economics.
JAY: And in New Hampshire, here’s what he had to say in terms of his endorsement.
SANDERS: This campaign is about the needs of the American people and addressing the very serious crises that we face. And there is no doubt in my mind that as we head into November, Hillary Clinton is far and away the best candidate to do that.
Hillary Clinton knows that something is fundamentally wrong when the very rich become richer while many others are working longer hours for lower wages. She believes–we all believe–that we must raise the minimum wage to a living wage.
Now joining us to give their reaction to Bernie Sanders’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton, first of all, from Farmington, Connecticut, is Bill Curry. He’s a columnist for Salon.com. He was a White House counselor to President Clinton.
And joining us from Silver Spring, Maryland, is Annabel Park. Annabel’s a documentary filmmaker and founder of We Want Bernie Sanders, one of the more popular Facebook pages supporting Sanders. And she contributes now to Act.tv as a video producer.
Thank you both for joining me.
ANNABEL PARK, FOUNDER, WE WANT BERNIE SANDERS: Thanks for having me.
BILL CURRY, COLUMNIST, SALON.COM: [Glad to be here].
JAY: Annabel, you work night and day supporting Bernie Sanders. In the last interview we did for you a few weeks ago at a conference of progressives and others that mostly had supported Sanders, you were ready for a fight at the Democratic Party convention and not enthusiastic about unifying ranks. How did you react to this endorsement today?
PARK: Well, I did expect him to endorse at some point. I didn’t know when he would do it, but I was mentally, emotionally prepared for the day. And so I can’t say I was disappointed.
I do feel like we have to be very respectful of Bernie Sanders, very grateful to him, because I believe he performed a political miracle in America with his campaign. But at the same time, I feel like we have to be independent of Bernie Sanders and do what we feel is right for our country. For some of us that means that there won’t be protests, and for some it will be a rejection of the endorsement. So the protests come in different forms, but there will be protests, to be sure.
JAY: Well, I think a lot of the delegates were heading towards–Sanders delegates I talked to, many of whom were planning a big fight at the convention: continue the fight on the platform committee, particularly on things like TPP, Palestine, some other of the issues that were rejected by the DNC platform committee. Does this endorsement take some of the steam out of that fight that might have happened?
PARK: Yeah. I mean, I’m not going to lie. Yeah, it does. But at the same time, there’s always been a fight inside the Democratic Party. And the platform, it’s not like we passed laws. It’s just a statement of what people believe collectively. And to be–I don’t know. I don’t remember a time when there was so much focus and debate around the platform before. But just the fact that we had that debate is a big coup for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
So I think this debate will continue. I think especially with TPP there’s so much energy, grassroots energy to stop TPP. So this fight will just continue beyond the convention, beyond the platform.
JAY: But let me just push this a bit. At this last conference, when I interviewed you and others, there was talk about people walking out of the convention, sit-downs at the convention, that there’d be a real battle with what people would call the corporate leadership of the Democratic Party. Is that still being talked about?
PARK: I think so, yeah. I have talked to people today who still plan on protesting, and I think that’s a very healthy thing, for people to organize protests, peaceful, nonviolent protests.
But, yeah, I think more voices need to be heard. Bernie Sanders doesn’t speak for everybody, he doesn’t speak for the entire progressive movement, ’cause that preexisted Bernie Sanders.
So, yeah, I believe there will be protests inside and outside the convention.
JAY: Bill, some people are suggesting he went further than he had to in terms of the endorsement. I think most people, at any rate, expected to endorse Hillary. He said he was going to. He’s a man of his word and such. But if you compare his endorsement to Elizabeth Warren’s, I think Warren spent far more time denouncing Trump than saying essentially positive things about Hillary. I think he couched it carefully. She understands he said a lot. It’s not necessarily will she act on it. But my interview with him earlier we played a little clip from, he said if she doesn’t confront the oligarchs, his supporters are not likely to want to support her. That’s a far cry from what was said today.
CURRY: Well, and I think that that was a prediction he made that Annabel’s remarks just confirmed. I think a great many of the activists who made up the volunteer and donor core of the Sanders campaign will be difficult to bring on board. Many will go in other directions. I don’t have any doubt about that.
But I also disagree. I think if anything, I would say, going over the text of Bernie’s remarks today, that this was a very considered endorsement. It was an unconditional endorsement: he’s for her. And if you’re going to go to an endorsement rally, there’s a certain ritual and there’s a certain feeling that just comes with that. If you’re showing up, you don’t show up to highlight your differences. And yet I thought he came as close to that as he possibly could.
If I can just make an observation, right now in the Labour Party in Britain, which is controlled at its elites by a kind of neoliberal economic world order group that is very much like the group that still is running the Democratic Party here in United States, they’ve begun to chase him out, Corbyn out, over the Brexit vote, saying that he didn’t speak full-throatedly against it. But if you followed that thing over in England at all–and lots of us have–he really couldn’t. His constituency wasn’t going to listen to an unadorned, full-throated, 100 percent endorsement of staying in the E.U. That’s not what they felt. And, in fact, I think he spoke to them quite reasonably.
And I think Bernie was doing the same thing today. His constituency–which, by the way, is not just the left of the Democratic Party but, on almost every issue, the broad middle class–his constituency isn’t in the mood for a full-throated, un-nuanced endorsement of Hillary Clinton. And so I think he gave today the speech that he had to give, which was (…) 75 percent here are the reasons we should be together.
In the end it comes down to two questions, one of which is: you have truly–two polls this week, by the way, Rasmussen and NBC, showing a two- and three-point race between Clinton and Donald Trump, a fraudulent, emotionally unstable proto-fascist. A three-point race. And so there are an awful lot of us who just feel, yes, there’s a moment where you have to make not a marriage, but an alliance, and you have to defeat the specter of Trump.
At the same time, there’s a larger question here, which is: how do you defeat the interests that now run the Democratic Party? And do you do it with third-party politics? Or do you do it like the Tea Party did with the Republicans, from within the party, by challenging these people, House members, Senate members, challenging the entire establishment as Bernie Sanders just did? And I think that while he came up just short in this race, at the very first time out, a candidate that no one thought could do anything almost beat the whole rigged system. And to me that reminds me of where we need to go–
JAY: Now, apparently–.
CURRY:–on two fronts: win this election, but begin to build the movement that holds the winner, whoever it might be, accountable.
JAY: But there’s an issue, too, in terms of the education of the movement and the way he’s been framing these issues. Hillary Clinton’s been saying that we have the same objectives; we just have different ways to get there. And up until now Bernie’s been saying, well, there’s a billionaire class, and he’s essentially been saying Hillary really is part of and represents that billionaire class. And it’s not the same objectives. It’s not about just different ways to get there. And that’s been more or less the messaging, which is a messaging about taking on that whole political structure that defends that billionaire class, which includes the leaders, corporate leaders of the Democratic Party.
Now, I’m not suggesting he comes out and takes swings at Hillary, and I understand why he needed to endorse her–and he had certainly promised that, promised to. But I go back to this issue: Warren spent most of her time attacking Trump, not kind of praising Hillary, and there’s a difference there.
CURRY: You know what, actually I didn’t hear it that way. And again I would invite you to sort of go over the text of that speech. I thought this was a very nuanced argument that Bernie made today. Again, it was an unconditional endorsement, but he was very careful about not overstating the areas of agreement. If you parse those sentences, he was very careful, I thought, to say only as much as they agreed on and no more. It’s why he couldn’t mention national security or foreign affairs in any way, because there is no agreement.
JAY: Or TPP. I mean, some very critical questions. Annabel–.
CURRY: [crosstalk] actually brought up the TPP. He didn’t mention trade, because he doesn’t feel there is agreement. So [inaud.] and glossed over and maybe expanded (as you might at an endorsement rally) a little bit, but not much. I’ve actually found Elizabeth Warren’s endorsement more full-throated, but I’ll have to go back and just sort of double check that to be sure.
The bottom line here, though, is that, as you said, Paul, there are only so many objectives that they really share. But this was about the single objective they share, which is defeating Donald Trump.
JAY: There’s been this thing that Hillary represents the same progressive agendas that Bernie Sanders does, just more incrementally a way to get there, versus much of what Bernie’s been saying, and others, that in fact Hillary Clinton represents that billionaire class inside the Democratic Party, and that that line shouldn’t be papered over, even if one’s endorsing her. Did some of the language today, do you think, go too far?
PARK: Yeah, I guess I did think it went a little bit too far. But I feel like there are only so many moves you can make on this chessboard that he’s been forced to play. And when he entered the primary as a Democratic candidate, we knew that he’s going to have limitations on what he can say and what he can do. Right? So I don’t hold it against him that the end of the line was that he’s checkmated and he has to make this endorsement. So I was fully prepared for this moment.
But really I think what he’s saying to his supporters is we have a choice between pretty much nativism and neoliberalism. Like, we don’t have a lot of good options right now in this election. This is why the movement part is so important. We have to keep building on what Bernie has done and keep pushing Hillary to the extent that we can.
But at least we can talk to Hillary Clinton. We can’t talk to Donald Trump. You know, we can keep pushing her and hold her accountable; we don’t have a way of holding Donald Trump accountable. So there is a big difference between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
But I think he has made it very clear that, yeah, she represents these policies and the oligarchy that we have to undo and unravel. But that’s going to take longer. It’s going to take longer than the span of this election. And so I get that. And as soon as he entered as a Democratic candidate in the primary, I understood he can’t literally call for revolution.
JAY: I mean, I thought when I interviewed him he framed it fairly carefully. Like, I was really asking what he would do, more or less. His answer was what he thought his supporters might do or might not do. And it seems to me he’s been carving out that he, as the candidate, as the senator, has one role to play. He’s not necessarily calling on his supporters to simply fall into line here. Do you take that?
PARK: Yeah, absolutely. I think there’s room for both people who will work within the Democratic Party structure and outside of that structure. We always need the inside-outside strategy. And so, yeah, he’s going to expect a certain number of people to lead the Democratic Party, to want to start new parties. And I think he would welcome that. It’s a healthy thing to create more choices.
JAY: Now, I know, Annabel, before the convention you were active in various ways, including before this thing was all settled, trying to talk to superdelegates and that. It may not be people have had time to talk about this yet, but is there one issue–is it going to be TPP, or something like that–that people are really going to stage a fight at the convention about?
PARK: Probably TPP is going to be the biggest issue going into the convention, partly because we have a very good argument. Hillary Clinton came out saying that she was also against TPP. So, yeah, I mean, it basically positions people to say, what’s the deal? How can you possibly say that you’re for TPP when the presumptive nominee or the nominee is saying she’s also against it? So I think that’s a very good debate to have and where we can draw the line and say, OK, this is not acceptable. So I expect there to be protests.
JAY: Bill, some people were saying before this that if Bernie was to give this kind of endorsement, he should have gotten something for it. I’m not sure how this stuff really works; I don’t know whether it’s chairmanship of an important committee in the Senate or something or not. I mean, do you think there’s something behind the scenes that leads to–. Again, I take that he had to endorse, but is there more to it?
CURRY: I don’t think they have anything to give him. There was a very callow piece in The New York Times speculating–two of their young political reporters speculating as to whether Bernie had earned a primetime speaking slot at the convention. And the fact of the matter is they need him to give a primetime speech at the convention. If they didn’t give him a speaking slot, he could just go outside–all of his delegates would go with him–and give the speech on his own, and the convention would simply have to shut down. There’s still a complete denial in the bubble of the elites in terms of how much the country’s changing.
In terms of the progress he’s gotten, the first draft of this platform was, I thought, a borderline disgrace. This last draft from Sunday is better. I’m still absorbing it. There are things here. Hillary Clinton never came out for expanding Social Security until the last six weeks. She’s 68 years old. Her entire adult life, both presidents Obama and Clinton have put proposals to cut Social Security on the table many times. That’s over now. It took Clinton years to decide that she could even put a number on an increase to the minimum wage. President Obama refused to introduce a minimum wage hike in 2009 when he had the votes in both houses to pass it. The commitment is there.
This isn’t about a negotiation with the power elite. At most they’re going to give him a chairmanship. It doesn’t matter as much as the movement we have to build.
And I think that Annabel really put it really well a few seconds ago in saying, number one–I forget her words exactly, but this is a choice between a pay-to-play-politics Hillary Clinton and a proto-fascist Donald Trump. It’s not the choice we were looking for, but it’s one of those two outcomes on the table.
But the deeper question here is whether we’re building a progressive movement for both insiders and outsiders. Again, my own personal preference is to begin primarying some of the reactionary Democrats, begin putting pressure on them, so they know they can’t just simply escape accountability.
The one thing Annabel said that I didn’t quite agree with fully earlier was that this fight has been going on within the Democratic Party for a long time. And I would just amend that to say that for about 30 years they stopped fighting over platforms and principles, and that with the Sanders campaign this has just begin again. And I think that’s the path that’s going to lead to the most change.
But we’re going to build an outside game and an inside game. As long as we’re building an independent political movement for progressives in this country that is not simply a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party, but which, like the previous great progressive movements in our history, stands on its own and on its convictions, which has deal breakers and bottom lines that it won’t desert just to make apologies for wayward Democrats, I think we’re going to be on the right road and we’ll find the right strategy down the road.
JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining me, both of you.
CURRY: My pleasure.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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