Bernie or Hillary? Cornel West & Dolores Huerta Debate After Sanders' Upset Win in Michigan
March 09, 2016
In the most shocking upset of the 2016 presidential campaign to date, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton in the Michigan primary. Sanders won 50 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 48. During the campaign, Sanders focused heavily on his opposition to what he called "disastrous" trade deals like NAFTA which have hurt Michigan’s manufacturing sector. Opinion polls had projected Clinton would easily win the state by as much as 20 percent. We speak to professor Cornel West, who backs Sanders, and legendary civil rights activist and labor organizer Dolores Huerta, who backs Clinton.
Watch: Interview and full transcipt below
AMY GOODMAN: Despite Bernie Sanders’ upset in Michigan, Hillary Clinton ended up winning more delegates Tuesday thanks to a lopsided win in Mississippi, where she won 83 percent of the vote. Clinton now has 760 pledged delegates to Sanders’ 546. In addition, Clinton has secured support from an overwhelming number of unelected superdelegates made up from the party establishment, though they could change their allegiance at any point. Sanders gave an impromptu news conference outside a hotel in Miami last night, before he learned of the results in Michigan.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I just want to take this opportunity to thank the people of Michigan, who kind of repudiated the polls that had us 20, 25 points down a few days ago, who repudiated the pundits who said that Bernie Sanders was not going anywhere. ... And what tonight means is that the Bernie Sanders campaign, the people’s—the revolution, people’s revolution that we are talking about, the political revolution that we are talking about, is strong in every part of the country. And frankly, we believe that our strongest areas are yet to happen. We’re going to do very, very well on the West Coast and other parts of this country.
What the American people are saying is they are tired of a corrupt campaign finance system and super PACs funded by Wall Street and the billionaire class. They are tired of a rigged economy in which people in Michigan, people in Illinois, people in Ohio are working longer hours for low wages, worried to death about the future of their kids, and yet almost all new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent. And the people of America are tired of a broken criminal justice system, in which we have more people in jail, largely African-American, Latino, Native American—more people in jail than any other major country on Earth.
So, we started this campaign, as many will remember, 10 months ago. We were 60 or 70 points down in the polls. And yet we have—what we have seen is, in poll after poll, state after state, what we have done is created the kind of momentum that we need to win.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: Hillary Clinton spent the evening in Ohio, which also holds a primary on Tuesday. She addressed supporters before the results of Michigan came in.
HILLARY CLINTON: I want to talk about what working families are up against across the country. I want to talk about how we have a new bargain, so you can get ahead and stay ahead in every—in every industrial city, small town, farm country, Indian country, every community that’s been hollowed out by lost jobs and lost hopes. Don’t let anybody tell you we can’t make it in America anymore. We can, we are, and we will. But in order to do that, we can’t be talking about building walls or turning the clock back. We have to build on what made America great in the first place: our energy and optimism, our openness and creativity.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re now joined by three guests.
Here in New York, Cornel West, professor at Union Theological Seminary, has endorsed Bernie Sanders for president last summer. He’s author of a number of books, most recently, Black Prophetic Fire.
Dolores Huerta joins us from San Diego, California, civil rights activist, co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America with Cesar Chavez, president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation for community organizing. Dolores Huerta has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president.
And in Los Angeles, we’re joined by Melina Abdullah, an organizer with Black Lives Matter, which has not endorsed any presidential candidate. She is also a professor and chair of Pan-African Studies at California State University in Los Angeles.
We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Well, Dr. Cornel West, we’re going to begin with you, because, at least for the pollsters, this is a stunning upset.
CORNEL WEST: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: I have to say, I think even Bernie Sanders was surprised. I have never seen him alone like that, just standing against a wall holding a news conference for the press, spoke for a few minutes. He didn’t yet know the primary results. It seemed to be coming a few minutes later. You were with him in Michigan this weekend.
CORNEL WEST: No, it’s true, we had no idea that we would have this kind of upset. We knew that we were going to fight based on integrity, based on principle. We know that we’re in a moment where we’ve got a neofascist in the making with Trump; we’re trying to bring neoliberalism to a close; we’ve got a neopopulist, a genuine populist, in Sanders; and Hillary Clinton is a neoliberal, but she poses as a progressive. And so there’s a sense in which we know that Bernie Sanders is the one to beat Trump. And that’s crucial, because we’re at a very, very deep moment in this country.
And I want to salute you all, because the corporate media has produced Trump, in a fundamental way—every minute he’s covered, every second he’s covered. Bernie Sanders hardly gets covered at all, but he has the same number of people following. Hillary Clinton gets covered more than Bernie but not as much as Trump. So, in that sense, I think we’ve got some real work ahead.
AMY GOODMAN: Last night, Trump—
CORNEL WEST: But I’ve got a smile on my face.
AMY GOODMAN: CNN and MSNBC—I’m not talking about Fox—
CORNEL WEST: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: CNN and MSNBC both ran the entire extended news conference that Donald Trump held.
CORNEL WEST: It’s a shame. They’re making money. They want to make money.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Hillary Clinton actually spoke midway through Trump speaking. Usually, they switch from one to another.
CORNEL WEST: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: Here they held the tape of Hillary Clinton to run the entire extended news conference of Trump in Florida.
CORNEL WEST: No, I mean, I think it’s a very sad affair. But I’m also very sad that black America is not waking up in the way in which we should. We’ve got a spiritual rot and a moral cowardice in our neoliberal black political class and our neoliberal black intelligentsia, who don’t want to tell the truth about the underside of the Hillary Clinton campaign. And the underside really has to do with not just the Clinton machine and all of its corruptions and so forth, but, more importantly, the policies, the trade policies, the prison—the mass incarceration regime, the deregulating of the banks and so forth. But Brother Bernie is hitting this head on. It’s difficult for Hillary to somehow act as if she’s such a populist, when she’s been a centrist for so long.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: And, Cornel, one of the things about the Michigan primary, in particular, was that since it was an open primary, that meant that independents could vote, not just Democrats.
CORNEL WEST: Yes, that’s right.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: And some of the speculation is that at the last moment a lot of independents decided, "Well, let me go into the Democratic primary and vote for Bernie"—
CORNEL WEST: I think that’s true.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: —which is a sort of an indication of where—because the electorate in the United States is pretty much divided one-third Democrat, one-third independent, one-third Republican.
CORNEL WEST: That’s true. That’s true.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: Where the independents are going?
CORNEL WEST: But I think given the class issues that Brother Bernie and all of us are trying to push, in Michigan, the class issues make a big difference. It’s generational, and it’s ideological. And it’s a beautiful thing to see.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: Well, I’d like to bring in Dolores Huerta, longtime civil rights activist, co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America. Your sense of what happened yesterday in these primaries and why you think it’s so important for Democrats and others to vote for Hillary Clinton?
DOLORES HUERTA: Well, I think one thing is that we seem to put a lot of blame on Hillary for things that Bill Clinton did in the Clinton administration, which I don’t think is right. I think the other thing, too, is that I know that Bernie’s got a very strong message—I respect him very much for his message that he’s bringing about the inequality in our economic system—but Bernie knows, as he’s been in the Congress for 26 years, that we also have to have a Congress to be able to bring to fruition some of the great ideas that he’s put forth. I do believe that Hillary Clinton—I do have a lot of faith in her, and I think she’s got the skills, she’s got the wisdom. You know, she’s got the experience to make things happen. When we compare the records of the two candidates, we see that Hillary Clinton’s record is much, much stronger than Bernie Sanders’ is. And I do believe that what Bernie is saying and what he wants to happen—and I believe in many, many of the ideas that he’s put forth, but I think it will take time, and we’ve got to really elect a good Congress. You know, people forget—and I—the Affordable Care Act, that when that passed the Congress, it only passed with four or five votes, even though we had a 25 Democratic majority at that time.
And I have to say that in terms of the Latino community, we are completely in support of Hillary, simply because Bernie just hasn’t been there for the Latino community. You know, he had a really good opportunity in 2007, when Senator Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, Senator Durbin from Illinois—when they proposed a good immigration reform bill. And we had all of the momentum behind us at that time, because we had had all of these marches all over the country for immigration reform. And Bernie, unfortunately, came out against that bill. And that was very sad that he did that. And what he has said repeatedly is that he came out against the bill because it had the guest worker program in it. Well, wait a minute. When we passed the amnesty bill in 1986, we had guest workers in that bill, with protections—protections for the farmworkers, protections for the domestic workers. The bill that he voted on in 2013 also had the guest worker program in it. So I think he just wasn’t paying attention at that time, and I think we lost a great opportunity.
So, again, I believe in Bernie’s message, and I think we can make it happen. I think it’s going to have to be an evolution rather than a revolution. And I think all of us that are on the left and working people are going to be able to make it happen.
The other thing I want to point out, when we look at Hillary’s victories, especially in the South, they’re like 70 to 30, 70 percent to 30 percent. But we see the places that she has—where she has lost to Bernie Sanders, it’s in single digits, whereas where she is winning, where Bernie’s at, it’s actually two to one. So, I do have a lot of faith in Hillary Clinton. And I do believe that she will make a very, very strong president, because she is a very strong woman.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: And, Cornel, I want to go to what Dolores mentioned about this issue of revolution, because, really, given the nature of Washington today with these huge Republican majorities in the House and the Senate, isn’t Bernie Sanders, to some degree, selling the idea of revolution, that he cannot deliver unless there’s a fundamental change in the Congress, as well?
CORNEL WEST: Well, Juan, I just salute Sister Dolores. She’s my dear sister. I just think she’s wrong. I think that it’s very difficult to have faith in a Hillary Clinton when she receives money from the GEO, which sustained the detention centers for precious immigrants, incarcerated them unjustly. I don’t see how one could make the case that somehow you’ve got a candidate that has the kind of integrity that we want. There is no doubt indeed that Bernie Sanders can win, because he recognizes he’s a politician that needs a social movement behind him. He is a thermostat: He shapes the climate. Hillary is a thermometer: She just registers and reflects the climate. We need somebody who’s shaping, the way that Occupy shaped the discourse around wealth inequality, the way Black Lives Matter has shaped the discourse around the vicious legacy of the white supremacy as it related to the repressive apparatus of the nation-state in regard to this trigger-happy policing going on with our precious young brothers and sisters.
DOLORES HUERTA: Well, I believe that Hillary has already come out for prison reform, and I think that she actually could help make that happen. And I think a lot of us that are out there, including yourself, Cornel, my dear brother—
CORNEL WEST: My dear sister.
DOLORES HUERTA: —whom I love dearly—I love you dearly.
CORNEL WEST: And I love you dearly, too, my sister, indeed, indeed.
DOLORES HUERTA: —we will be out there. You know, we will be out there organizing to make sure that some of these reforms will happen. I think we have—you know, when we compare our Democratic candidates to our Republican candidates, I think we can be so grateful that we have intelligent people that are running for the presidency. And I know—whichever of them wins, I know we’re going to have a good presidency. The one other thing I want to point out is that we have the Republicans that are putting a lot of money into Bernie’s campaign, to his independent campaigns, to make sure that they can defeat Hillary Clinton, because they figure that it will be easier to defeat Bernie than it will be to defeat Hillary Clinton in November.
CORNEL WEST: No, no. The polls say Bernie does better against Trump than Hillary does. But I know you want to get—
DOLORES HUERTA: Well, we’ll see.
CORNEL WEST: We’re going to get our other sister in here. We want to get our other sister in here.