Anti-Bernie Bias Reigns at Second Annual Politicon in Los Angeles
On Saturday, I attended a panel at the second annual Politicon event in Pasadena called "The Bernie Panel." It was billed as "a talk on how Bernie Sanders and his supporters have upset the Democratic apple cart, kept Hillary Clinton on her toes and continued to gain momentum in the competitive 2016 presidential race." Yet it soon became clear that the majority of the panelists were not Bernie Sanders supporters, and that the moderator was not going to correct the record on any of the outlandish statements made by the panelists or allow questions from the audience. As the lead organizer of L.A. for Bernie, I felt compelled to try to interject. And for that, security was called and I was almost hauled out.
The moderator was TV personality and writer Toure, whose show "The Cycle" was canceled last summer by MSNBC. The panelists were Washington Post political columnist Eugene Robinson, whose paper had published 16 negative stories about Sanders in a 16-hour period; Democratic campaign consultant Paul Begala, a prominent Hillary supporting pundit; political consultant Bill Burton; The Young Turks co-host Ana Kasparian; and "Queer as Folk" actor Hal Sparks.
One would think "The Bernie Panel" would want to have some actual Bernie supporters and more women.
I sat through the 45-minute panel growing increasingly infuriated by inaccurate comments from the moderator and the panel and the lack of rebuttal. Kasparian did an admirable job chiming in where she could, but she was clearly outnumbered. I began taking notes, so that when the Q&A session arrived, I would be first to the mic to point out the inaccuracies.
First, we had Hal Sparks tell the audience that Hillary had more votes and delegates, and we just had to "suck it up or you'll be a bunch of disenfranchised Occupiers who never get anything on the board." He then proceeded to say that the disenfranchisement "pulls you out of the election, which is how Democrats lose the midterms." Then he said, "after Bernie's first drone strike, everyone who supports him would head for the hills."
First, he mischaracterized and insulted the Occupy movement, of which I was a member, by saying we didn't didn't get anything on the boards. How about we changed the national conversation from the phony issue of the deficit to the real issue of wealth and income inequality and made a Bernie Sanders candidacy possible? Second, it is not up to us, many of us being independents and Greens, to vote for corporate Democrats in the midterms. He further insulted Bernie supporters by painting us as pie-in-the-sky idealists unaware of Bernie's shortcomings, e.g. his support of drone strikes. But Bernie supporters are well versed on the issues and where Bernie stands. We are not such purists that we would abandon him because he isn't 100% perfect.
Then he proceeded to show his complete ignorance of the presidential candidates by calling Donald Trump the Wall St. establishment candidate. Donald Trump is a businessman who has denounced Wall Street bankers on the campaign trail, while Hillary Clinton has courted their support, made millions of dollars in speeches to them and whose campaign is being funded by Hank Paulson, former CEO of Goldman Sachs, and other Wall Street luminaries. It was recently reported that Wall Street does not want Elizabeth Warren to be considered for Hillary's VP.
After praising Bernie's campaign, Paul Begala noted that Bernie's genius was in getting tens of thousands of people to his rallies that "the press couldn't ignore." When the audience grumbled, he reiterated, "We covered those."
I beg to differ. Every Bernie suporter watched in dismay as the press covered Trump's rambling, incoherent rallies in their entirety while barely covering the substantive rallies of Bernie. You had to go to YouTube to find his important addresses to Liberty University and his foreign policy speech at Georgetown University. The most egregious example was when Bernie was speaking after five states voted in primaries, the cable networks focused their cameras on an empty stage with the graphic, "Waiting for Trump."
Then Begala brought out the oft-repeated Hillary talking point that Bernie blew his "Daily News" interview when talking about how to break up the big banks. "When it came to his central issue, he stumbled," Begala said. No one on the panel stated that what Bernie said was actually correct, as the New York Times pointed out, and the Daily News interviewers were confused on the issue.
Next Sparks proceeded to speak about a subject he obviously knows nothing about. He said Bernie spent too much of his money on rallies, which were "more expensive than ad buys, outreach, door knocking."
First, rallies are not more expensive than those things. Second, Bernie spent half his money on TV ad buys, which I actually think was money poorly spent because the vast majority of his voter base was under 45, and they have cut the cord. Third, how would Sparks know what we volunteers did for Bernie in state after state for the past year before the campaign came to town?
He further insulted us by saying, "the idea that you are going to turn the political system on its head or even the banking system in one election cycle is cartoonish." Thankfully, Ana Kasparian chimed in to shut him down by saying Bernie supporters care about issues, know about policy, and that Bernie has concrete, detailed ideas on how to fix things.
Next, Eugene Robinson piped in with the remark that after all was said and done, "Most Democrats did not want Bernie to be their nominee."
I cannot argue with him there. Even I would have preferred that Bernie run as an independent. Yet I understand the strategic reasons why he didn't. But the fact is, who cares what most Democrats want when less than 30% of the electorate is in the Democratic Party? Depending on which poll you read, 43% or 50% of Americans identify as independents, and the vast majority of them supported Bernie Sanders. Bernie won the independent vote big and won many open primaries. That was certainly a topic worth exploring. But the Democratic shills on the panel were not going to go there. Later Begala reiterated the point that 3 million voters preferred Hillary, and no one rebutted by saying none of the caucus states were represented in the popular vote, and Bernie won most of them.
To his credit, Toure brought up the fact that the AP called the race for Clinton the night before the California primary, which many believe suppressed the vote. Sparks chimed in that what the AP said was "true" and it would be "self-censorship" for them to suppress it. No one on the panel mentioned that the AP hounded those superdelegates for a week to get them to say how they would vote. Was that an accident? Also, we were screaming out in the audience that Clinton did not have enough delegates the night before the California primary, because those superdelegates would not be voting until the convention six weeks later, during which time anything could happen. Our impartial moderator did not bring that up.
Begala then said he took offense at Sanders supporters' notion that Clinton supporters were too dumb to realize who was better and were following her around "like sheep. It is an insult to older voters and people of color." If I were on that panel, I would have pushed back with the comment that we didn't think they were too dumb; we thought they were not informed about her record and her policies.
No one I know who ever asked a Hillary supporter why they were voting for her didn't get one of these answers back: "She's got the experience." "She can hit the ground running." "I want to see a woman president." "Bernie's great, but he's unrealistic." Not one person knew that Hillary Clinton did not support a $15 minimum wage, that she sold fracking around the world, and that she touted the Trans-Pacific Partnership 45 times as Secretary of State. None of the Hillary suporters I talked to even knew what the TPP was.
Toure then got into the question of why Bernie struggled with black and brown voters. No one mentioned that he overwhelmingly won young black and brown voters. No one mentioned that Bernie won Latinos in Colorado, Illinois and Nevada. No one mentioned that Hillary has been running for seven years in the South and has a campaign infrastructure there and that Priorities USA, her super PAC, hired all the black political operatives in South Carolina who went to work lobbying the pastors. No one brought up the fact that poor blacks in the South have nothing but the Democratic Party to get things from, and Bernie has never been a Democrat. We had to hear Hal Sparks falsely accuse Bernie of saying "All lives matter" when confronted with Black Lives Matter activists, when in fact it was former Democratic candidate Martin O'Malley who said that.
Kasparian did make the point that there were individuals on the panel who worked for the Clinton campaign, and it is a problem when they go from working in a campaign or an adminstration to being a television pundit. Begala's retort was, "Sometimes it helps to know what you're covering." I guarantee that these pundits who attend the same cocktail parties as the politicians they cover, whose kids go to the same private schools as the kids of the politicians they cover, who never go outside the Beltway and talk to the 49% of Americans who don't have $300 in the bank to pay for a major car repair, do not have a single clue why the 99% flocked to Bernie Sanders. They have no idea why people of all generations, from high school students to senior citizens supported Bernie.
Toure brought up the fact that Bernie Sanders did not support reparations, that he said it was "divisive." This was a very obscure issue. Ana Kasparian's answer was Bernie is an honest politician and sometimes answers off the cuff and doesn't have a prepared and polished example. She didn't mention that Bernie also said it was impractical as well as divissive, that Obama didn't support reparations either in 2008, and that Ta-Nehesi Coates, who wrote "The Case for Reparations" in the Atlantic, ultimately endorsed Bernie.
Begala restated his point that people just preferred Hillary Clinton, which is where Kasparian remarked that the people who preferred Hillary were comfortable. She said she was part of the generation of people who "went to college, got a masters degree and still can't manage to buy a $300,000 home in a shitty neighborhood."
Toure brought up gun control, equating it with being pro-choice, saying Bernie was "tepid" and not progressive on guns. This betrayed his bias, as this was a standard Clinton talking point in the campaign. He didn't mention that Bernie got a D- rating from the NRA and supports the assault weapons ban, closing the gun show loophole and instant background checks. Even Eugene Robinson admitted this was not an issue at the polls.
Next Toure said that Crystal Ball, his former co-host on "The Cycle," wanted him to ask Begala why so many young voters distrust Clinton. "It is really difficult to be in the spotlight that long," answered Begala, a Hillary surrogate. "She's been up there that long and things haven't changed."
At that point, Toure said there were only eight minutes left, so I got up and walked over to ask if there would be any questions, as I needed to bring up some major rebuttals to what was said. He told me there was no time. So I walked over to the speakers' microphone and started to speak, but the mic was not turned on. Toure called for security. When I turned to walk back to my seat, I saw a burly man in black approach me, but he was intercepted by Yosi Sergant, who had actually organized this panel. He called off the security guard, told me to discuss my points with the panelists afterward, and I sat down. The whole thing took one minute. You can watch it here.
Then Hal Sparks brought up his Occupy analogy again, saying "Occupy withered and died" because they didn't run any candidates. Hello! Occupy was a social movement, not an electoral movement. Occupiers were deeply suspicious of electoral politics and for good reason. Sparks said there should have been Occupy mayors and state senators. Then with venom in his voice, he said Bernie was "an independent who borrowed the structure of the Democratic party for his own goddamn run." Wow!
Begala tried to prove how progressive Clinton was by quoting the statistic that when she was in the Senate, she and Bernie voted together 93% of the time. "If they met on Match.com, they'd be dating," he said.
Huh! Clinton's 25-year career consisted of more than just her Senate record. Young people were able to learn the things she said as first lady, the things she did as secretary of state, how she changed positions over time and when she spoke to different audiences, and they have determined that she is not the progressive she makes herself out to be. In fact, we don't know what her ideology is.
Next Begala asked, "Do you want a movement or a monument?" showing that he didn't understand the most basic thing about the Sanders campaign. He said, "It shouldn't be about Senator Sanders. It should be about us."
Hello! Does he not know that Bernie's slogan was "Not me, us?" That in every speech he said, "It's not about Bernie Sanders, but about millions of people getting involved in the political process"? Does he not know that last week in his livestream address to his supporters, Bernie called on us to run for local and state offices and over 12,000 people signed up to do that? No one on the panel mentioned this or Brand New Congress, an effort started by former Sanders staffers and volunteers to turnover the entire Congress in 2018, or the local version in Los Angeles, Brand New City, which was having its first meeting the very next day.
The panel concluded on this note. Paul Begala told us we had a choice of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump or staying home, again invoking both fear and the lesser-of-two-evil arguments, while people in the audience yelled out, "Jill Stein." Kasparian had the last word, saying that Hillary needed to earn the support of Bernie supporters.
No one mentioned that the previous day, the Clinton and Wasserman-Schultz appointees on the Democratic platform drafting committee had voted down nearly all of Bernie's proposals, refusing to include a ban on fracking, a carbon tax, free public college and single-payer health care in this supposed progressive platform. This is clear evidence that Clinton is not a progressive, but more importantly, it shows she really doesn't care about winning over Bernie's supporters at all. She is more actively courting Republican endorsements and donors.
After the panel, I went onstage to talk to the panelists, as Yosi Sergant suggested, and Toure ambushed me by getting up in my face and accusing me of attacking him. I thought that was rich, seeing as he had called security on me. I said that obviously for him the best defense was a good offense. He kept hammering at me while all the panelists I wanted to speak to left the stage.
So I turned to Sergant and told him his panel was really biased and he should have had more Bernie supporters on it. He told me that Toure was really a supporter of Bernie, but couldn't be public about it because of his role as a commentator. Well, with friends like that bringing up all of Hillary's talking points, who needs enemies? When I told Sergant he should have had someone like me who has represented Bernie all year on CNN International, HLN, KPFK-FM and KABC-TV, Toure piped up with, "Well, you are a very bad representative of Bernie's campaign."
The irony of that remark is twofold. One, Toure has been a vocal defender of Black Lives Matter and its disruptive tactics. I hardly disrupted this event at all, as the video shows, much less to the degree BLM does. Two, in 2012, Toure started a Twitter war with Piers Morgan when he felt that Morgan didn't challenge George Zimmerman's brother on his show "the way a professional journalist should." In light of that, you'd think he'd be a little more understanding of where I was coming from.
The next time Yosi Sergant organizes a panel, he should ensure that the moderator and the majority of the panelists are actual Bernie supporters. If he didn't think I was enough of a name to draw an audience, he could have asked Jonathan Tasini, Richard Eskow or Nomiki Konst, all able Bernie surrogates. Had he done that, the questions would be designed to bring out the positive aspects of Bernie's campaign and why it resonated with so many people, and not the negative talking points a Hillary supporter would ask.
The only good thing that came out of this biased panel at Politicon was that it reinforced what Bernie supporters already know. It's alway been on us to tell our own story, write our own narrative and make our own media. That's how Bernie got as far as he did, and that's how we will advance the political revolution he's engaged us in.