My guest today is Norman Solomon, author, activist and cofounder/national coordinator of RootsAction.org.
Joan Brunwasser: Welcome back to OpEdNews, Norman. We last chatted back in 2015, which seems like a very long time ago. I’d like to talk a bit about your recent piece, Bernie is Not a Wind Sock [3.25.19]. What did you mean by that?
Norman Solomon: Politicians who change direction with the wind aren’t dependable. We don’t really know where they stand if they’re willing to stand somewhere quite different when the political winds shift. Bernie Sanders is on another trip entirely. From him, instead of transactional behavior with elements of opportunism, we get long-term consistency with a core of idealism. During more than five decades, he’s been part of progressive social movements that are committed to really changing the political winds — not blowing with them.
JB: How is that playing, this time around? Ironically, although Democratic voters have moved more and more in a progressive direction and less progressive politicians have adopted more and more of his originally “out there” ideas, there is still a lot of push back to him and his candidacy. Your thoughts?
NS: A media meme during the winter was that Bernie had lost his unique appeal because so many other candidates were embracing his positions such as Medicare for All and tuition-free public college. That meme has faded as Bernie’s polling numbers are so far ahead of all the candidates who’ve moved in a progressive direction. But there was always — and continues to be — enormous antipathy toward Bernie, or at least toward his politics, from corporate media and corporate forces overall. It’s going to be a very tough primary campaign, and yet I think Bernie has a better chance of winning the nomination than anyone else does.
JB: Agreed. Did you watch the CNN Democratic presidential town hall? What did you think?
NS: Haven’t found time to watch.
JB: What can you tell us about the media coverage Bernie receives? What’s your take on it?
NS: As I put it in “The Biggest Obstacle for Bernie is Not the DNC” published in OpEdNews in March, “More than any other force, reflexive spin from corporate media stands between us and a Bernie Sanders presidency. In sharp contrast to campaigns with enormous budgets for Astroturf, the first Sanders presidential campaign was able to effectively defy the conventional wisdom and overall power structure by inspiring and mobilizing at the grassroots. His campaign was — and is — antithetical to the politics of corporate media.”
The enormous problem with mainstream media coverage of Bernie has continued, and I expect the overall negative treatment will greatly intensify between now and the end of the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination. While there are some positive news stories and commentaries, the dominant range of media approaches to him goes from skeptical to hostile. The April 27 kickoff of the official Bernie 2020 grassroots campaign included upwards of 5,000 organizing events on that one day. It reflected a recognition that the forces arrayed against the Bernie campaign — notably including the dominant corporate media — are so powerful and so antagonistic that it’s going to be imperative to build a nationwide grassroots campaign with unprecedented depth, reach and power in order to win.
JB: And the campaign touted a brand new app that will greatly facilitate broadening the base. That sounds promising. How does Joe Biden’s entering the race affect the Sanders campaign and candidacy?
NS: The former VP’s pseudo-populist rhetoric aside, Biden’s campaign clarifies just how corporate the Democratic Party establishment is, offering continuity to go “back to the future” — with claims that the situation was marvelous before Trump screwed it up. It’s a defense of the pre-Trump status quo of the sort that helped Hillary Clinton to lose the election. (“America is already great.”)
As I wrote in my recent article “Joe Biden: Puffery vs. Reality,” the contrast with Bernie Sanders is huge: “Biden has arrived as a presidential candidate to rescue the Democratic Party from Bernie Sanders.” And: “Biden is the most reliable alternative for corporate America. He has what Sanders completely lacks —vast experience as an elected official serving the interests of credit-card companies, big banks, insurance firms and other parts of the financial services industry. His alignment with corporate interests has been comprehensive.”
More explicitly and prominently than anyone else in the race for the nomination, Biden is the anti-Bernie. The contrast between the two is enormous.
JB: Interesting analysis. What’s your prediction on how Biden’s candidacy is going to be received – by the corporate press, but more importantly, by American voters? Will they fall for the hype?
NS: My crystal ball is permanently in the repair shop, but my hunch is that the corporate media (with the exception of the justified criticism of how he treated Anita Hill) will dominantly continue to laud Biden as wonderful. As for voters, I believe his support will diminish as this year goes on
JB: Another implicit criticism of Bernie is that he’s just another old, white guy. People claim that there are now so many legitimately progressive candidates running, there’s no reason to do the “same old, same old” all over again. It’s time for a [pick one or more] younger/female/person of color/LGBTQ” candidate. How would you respond to that?
NS: If Bernie were truly “just another old, white guy,” there’d be no reason to support him — but he’s light years away from “just another…” I would question the notion that “there are now so many legitimately progressive candidates running” for president. Bernie has a record of several decades that shows he’s the real deal as a genuine, strongly consistent progressive — which can’t be accurately said about any of his rivals for the nomination.
The Bernie 2020 campaign is part of an upsurge — represented by such new members of Congress as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib — that is explicitly and emphatically grassroots in origin and progressive populist in outlook. That’s what Bernie is referring to when he talks about a political revolution. Having him at the top of the ticket could help to bring into office many candidates who are people of color AND authentically progressive.
JB: The press has recently heaped lots of attention on South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, even before he entered the race and many Democratic bigwigs are considering him a serious contender in the “Anybody But Bernie” campaign. Buttigieg claims Bernie’s ideas are just not that new anymore. How would you respond to that? And what do you see as the contrast between these two candidates, one a well-known quantity and the other a rising star?
NS: The concept that “Bernie’s ideas are just not that new anymore” is simultaneously an affirmation of his huge political effectiveness and a media meme that aims to portray him as an artifact from days gone by. But the vitality and enhanced strength of the Bernie 2020 campaign say otherwise. And in part what’s “new” about Bernie is that his dedication to profound progressive changes is far from new.
The contrasts between Bernie and Buttigieg are vast, beginning with the mayor’s scant record and evasive general answers on many issues. Buttigieg deserves great credit for courage in publicly being who he is as a gay man and articulately advocating for gay rights. At the same time, his policy views — when he’s willing to clarify some — are mostly quite conventional as a present-day somewhat liberal somewhat centrist politician. He’s an avowed deficit hawk, which precludes any substantial Green New Deal. His foreign policy views, to the extent he’s expressed them, have included Israel-right-or-wrong advocacy and loyalty to the military-industrial-surveillance apparatus as in his criticism of the clemency that President Obama granted to Chelsea Manning.
JB: Thanks for the analysis. If what you say is true, then why are so many lining up for Buttigieg?
JB: Also, please clarify something you just said: “in part what’s “new” about Bernie is that his dedication to profound progressive changes is far from new.” You lost me. What are you trying to say?
NS: Why the lining up behind Buttigieg? There’s often a brisk mass-media market for a fresh political product, especially if it’s stylistically different yet substantively conformist in terms of usual outlooks on the status quo of corporate power and U.S. foreign policy.
About what’s “new” about Bernie: I was being cryptic. It’s “new” — rare — for an elected official in high office to make a serious run for the presidency after decades of authentic dedication to progressive principles.
JB: Ah. Got it. You’re right! While many Bernie supporters feel that the Democratic nomination was stolen out from under him in 2016, the vast majority nevertheless lined up behind Hillary after the convention. Still, on every Democratic blog that I’ve seen post-2016 including now, Hillary’s minions speak out about how furious they are about Bernie tanking her candidacy and blame him for her loss at the polls. That anger is deep-seated and visceral. What’s your take on this?
NS: The day before the 2016 Democratic National Convention opened, Bernie Sanders said on NBC’s Meet the Press: “We have to elect Secretary Clinton, who on every single issue — fighting for the middle class, on health care, on climate change — is a far, far superior candidate to Trump. That’s where I think the focus has got to be.” He was emphatic about that focus throughout the summer and fall, up until the voting ended on Election Day. Using Bernie as a scapegoat for Clinton’s loss is ridiculous.
JB: Can this rift be healed? If not, how will it affect the election? It’s not a minor matter.
NS: There’ll always be a wide range of attitudes in the aftermath of a campaign filled with conflicts and anger. So, I hesitate to generalize. People who are focused on personalities will hold grudges on that basis. People who care most profoundly about the future of the country will have clarity about what’s needed for the present and the future. Issues related to corporate power, economic inequality, militarism, institutionalized racism and structurally imposed injustice are deep, and we’ll find out to what extent people want to engage with such depths in actively progressive ways or get sidetracked.
JB: Yes. We shall see. Every recent presidential election has been touted as the most important one in our lifetimes. How about this upcoming one? Are the stakes equally high this time?
NS: We’re in what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the fierce urgency of now.” Nina Turner, a co-chair of the Bernie 2020 campaign, wisely says: “Everything we love is on the line.”
JB: Amen. Thanks so much for talking with me again, Norman. I hope we can do it again soon.
NS: A pleasure. Thank you, Joan.
Norman suggests reading his 5/3/19 piece: Bernie Sanders Is Everything Joe Biden Is Not
My 2015 interview with Norman: Government Ends Threat to Jail James Risen but Danger to Journalists and Whistleblowers Remains