Who Should Bernie Voters Support Now? Robert Reich vs. Chris Hedges
As we continue to talk about the Democratic national convention, we’re joined, now, by two guests. Joining us from Berkeley, California is Robert Reich who served as labor secretary under President Clinton and is a Professor at the University of California, Berkeley. And here in Philadelphia is Chris Hedges, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist. His most recent book is "Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt."
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
ROBERT REICH: Well, it’s very hard to tell what the delegates are going to do. And it’s very hard to tell — even harder to tell what the electorate is going to do. I — you know this is a — this is a very agonizing time for many Bernie Sanders supporters. I — with a great deal of reluctance initially, because I’ve known for Hillary Clinton for 50 years, 50 years, endorsed Bernie Sanders and worked my heart out for him, as many, many people did. And so, at this particular juncture, there’s a great deal of sadness and a great deal of, of feeling of regret. But having worked so long and so many years for, basically, the progressive ideals that Bernie Sanders stands for, I can tell you that the movement is going to continue. In fact, it’s going to grow. And right now, at this particular point in time, I just don’t see any alternative but to support Hillary. I know Hillary, I know her faults, I know her strengths. I think she will make a great president. I supported Bernie Sanders because I thought he would make a better president for the system we need. But, none the less, Hillary Clinton is going to be the nominee. I support her. And I support her, not only because she will be a good president, if not a great president, but also, frankly, because I am tremendously worried about the alternative and the alternative, really as a practical matter, is somebody who is a megalomaniac and a bigot, somebody who will set back the progressive movement decades, if not more.
AMY GOODMAN: Chris Hedges. CHRIS HEDGES: Well, reducing the election to personalities is kind of infantile, at this point. The fact is, we live in a system that Sheldon Wolin calls inverted totalitarianism. It’s a system where corporate power has seized all of the levers of control. There is no way to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs, or Exxon-Mobile, or Raytheon. We’ve lost our privacy. We’ve seen, under Obama, an assault against civil liberties that has outstripped what George W. Bush carried out. We’ve seen the executive branch misinterpret the 2001 authorization to use military force act as giving itself the right to assassinate American citizens, including children. I speak of Anwar al-Awlaki’s, 16 year-old son. We have bailed out the banks, pushed through programs of austerity. This has been a bipartisan effort because they’ve both been captured by corporate power. We have undergone, what John Ralston Saul correctly calls, a corporate coup d’Ã©tat in slow motion, and it’s over. I just came back from Poland, which is a kind of case study of how neoliberal poison destroys a society and creates figures like Trump. Poland has gone, I don’t think we can argue, into a neofascism. At first it dislocated the working class, de-industrialized the country, then, in the name of austerity, it destroyed public institutions, education, public broadcasting, and then it poisoned the political system and we are now watching, in Poland, them create a to 30,000 to 40,000 armed militia. They have an army. The parliament, nothing works. And I think that this political situation in the United States has seized up in exactly the same forms. So, is Trump a repugnant personality? Yes. Although, I would argue that in terms of megalomania and narcissism, Hillary Clinton is not far behind. But, the point is we have got to break away from — which is exactly the narrative they want us to focus on. We’ve got to break away from political personalities and understand and examine and critique the structures of power and in fact the Democratic Party, especially beginning under Bill Clinton, has carried water for corporate entities as assiduously as the Republican Party. This is something that Ralph Nader understood long before the rest of us and stepped out very courageously in 2000. And I think we will look back on that period and find Ralph to be an amazingly prophetic figure. Nobody understands corporate power better than Ralph. And I think, now, people have caught up with Ralph. And this is, of course, why I support Dr. Stein and the Green Party. We have to remember that 10 years ago, Syriza, which controls the Greek Government, was polling at exactly the same spot that the Green Party is pulling now, about 4%. We’ve got to break out of this idea that we can create systematic change within a particular election cycle. We’ve got to be willing to step out into the political wilderness, perhaps, for a decade. But, on the issues of climate change, on the issue of the destruction of civil liberties, including our right to privacy, and I speak as a former investigative journalist, which doesn’t exist anymore because of wholesale government surveillance. We have no ability, except for hackers. I mean, this whole debate over the WikiLeaks is insane. Did Russia — ? I’ve printed classified material that was given to me by the Mossad. But, I never exposed to that Mossad gave it to me. Is what was published true or untrue? And the fact is, in those long e-mails — you should read them, they’re appalling, including calling Dr. Cornell West trash. It, it, it is — the whole — it exposes the way the system was rigged within — I’m talking about the Democratic Party. The denial of independence, the superdelegates, the stealing of the caucus in Nevada, the huge amounts of corporate money and super PACs that flowed into the Clinton campaign. The fact is, Clinton has a track record, and it’s one that has abandoned children. She and her husband destroyed welfare as we know it and 70 percent of the original recipients were children. This debate over — I don’t like Trump, but Trump is not a phenomenon. Trump is responding to a phenomenon created by neoliberalism. And we may get rid of Trump but we will get something even more vile, maybe Ted Cruz.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert Reich, I remember you, on Democracy Now!, talking about your time as labor secretary when President Clinton signed off on welfare reform and you describe walking the streets of Washington, D.C. wondering where the protests were. That you had vigorously objected and it was also an issue, a bill that Hillary Clinton had supported. So, can you respond to Chris Hedges on these three points, including, so, you take a walk in the political wilderness for a while?
ROBERT REICH: Well, Amy, it’s not just taking a walk in the political wilderness. If Donald Trump becomes president, if that’s what you’re referring to, I think it is — there are irrevocable negative changes that will happen in the United States, including appointments to the Supreme Court that will not be just political wilderness. That will actually change and worsen the structure of this country. I couldn’t agree with Chris Hedges more about his critique overall of neoliberalism and a lot of the structural problems that we face in our political economy, today. I’ve written about them. But, I’ve done more about them. I’ve actually been in the center of power and I have been doing everything I possibly can as an individual and also as a mobilizer and organizer of others to try to change what we now have. I think that voting for Donald Trump or equating Hillary Clinton with Donald Trump is insane. Donald Trump is certainly a product of a kind of system and a systematic undermining that has occurred in the United States for years with regard to inequality of income and wealth and political power, but we don’t fight that by simply saying all right, let’s just have Donald Trump and hope that the system improves itself and hope that things are so bad that, actually, people rise up in armed resistance. That’s insane. That’s crazy. What we have to do is be — we’ve got to be very, very strategic as progressives. We’ve got to look at the long term. We’ve got to understand that Bernie Sanders brought us much further along than we were before the Sanders campaign. We owe a lot to Bernie Sanders. His courage, his integrity, his power, the fact that most people under 30 voted for Bernie Sanders. In fact, if you look at the people who voted for Bernie Sanders under 30, that was were more people than voted for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton together under the age of 30. We are building a progressive movement in this country. But over the next four years, I don’t want Donald Trump to irretrievably make it difficult, if not impossible, for us to move forward with that progressive movement. Now, I understand Hillary Clinton is not perfect. I’ve known her , as I said before, for 50 years. I met her when she was 19 years old. I know her strengths and I know, pretty well her weaknesses. She is not perfect. And, as Chris says, she is also very much a product of many of the problems structurally in this country right now. We fight those structural problems, yes. Hand-in-hand, Chris, with you, shoulder to shoulder, I’m very short, maybe it’s my shoulder and your rib cage, but, it doesn’t matter, we continue to fight. I will continue to fight. Many people are watching and listening will continue to fight. We must continue to mobilize. I hope Bernie Sanders does what he implied he would do last night. That is carry the movement forward; lend his name, his energy, his e-mail list. This is not the end of anything, but we have got to be, at the same time, very practical about what we’re doing and very strategic about what we’re doing. This is not just a matter of making statements, it’s a matter of actually working with and through and changing the structure of power in this country.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: Chris, I’d like to ask you, you’ve written that liberals are tolerated by the capitalist elite because they do not question the virtues of corporate capitalism, only its excesses and call for tepid and ineffectual reforms. Would —- could that have also have been said of FDR in the 1930’s? Because you were one of the folks who did not back Bernie Sanders from the beginning. So you’ve -—
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, I didn’t back Bernie Sanders because — and Kshama Sawant and I had had a discussion with him before, because he said that he would work within the Democratic structures and support the nominee. And I think we have now watched Bernie Sanders walk away from his political moment. You know, he, I think he will come to deeply regret what he has done. He has betrayed these people who believed in this political revolution. We heard the same kind of rhetoric, by the way, around Obama in 2008. A political campaign raises consciousness, but it is not a movement. And what we are seeing now is furious spin. I listen to Ben Jealous, just do it, from the self-identified liberal class, and they are tolerated within a capitalist system, because, in a moment like this, they are used to speak to people to get them to betray their own interests in the name of fear. And I admire Robert, and have read much of his stuff, and I like his stuff, but, if you listen to what he has been saying, the message is the same message of the Trump campaign and that his fear. And that is all the Democrats have to offer now, and all the Republicans have to offer now. And the fact is, from climate change alone, we have no time left. I have four children. The future of my children by the day is being destroyed because of the fact that the fossil fuel industry, along with the animal agriculture industry, which is also as important in terms of climate change, are destroying the ecosystem on which we depend for life and neither party has any intention to do anything about it. AMY GOODMAN: What should Bernie Sanders have done?
CHRIS HEDGES: Bernie Sanders should have walked out and run as an independent.
AMY GOODMAN: Take —
CHRIS HEDGES: And defied the Democratic Party.
AMY GOODMAN: Take up the invitation of Dr. Jill Stein —
CHRIS HEDGES: Yes. AMY GOODMAN: —- and run on the ticket with -—
CHRIS HEDGES: Yes, she offered to let him run on the top of the ticket. That’s what he should have done. And the fact is, let’s not forget that Bernie has a very checkered past. He campaigned for Clinton in '92, he campaigned again for Clinton in ’96, after NAFTA, the greatest betrayal of the working class in this country since the Taft-Hartley Act of 1948. After the destruction of welfare, after the omnibus crime bill that exploded the prison population and we now have — I mean it's just a monstrosity what we’ve done; 350,000 to 400,000 people that are locked in cages in this country are severely mentally ill. Half of them never committed a violent crime. That’s all Bill Clinton and yet he went out and campaigned. In 2004, he called on Nader not to run, to step down so he could support a war candidate like John Kerry. And I’m listening to Jealous before talk about the Iraq war. Sixty percent of the Democratic senators voted for the war, including Hillary Clinton. The idea that somehow Democrats don’t push us into war defies American history.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert Reich.
ROBERT REICH: Well, all I can say is that at this particular point in time — I mean many of the things that Chris Hedges is saying, I completely agree with. The real question is what do we do right now? And what do we do to mobilize and organize a lot of people out there who, right now, are not mobilized and organized and how do we keep the energy building? I disagree with Chris with regard to Bernie Sanders. I think Bernie Sanders has been a great, and is a great leader right now of the progressive cause. What I think we ought to do is develop a third-party outside the Democratic and Republican Parties, maybe the Green Party, so that in the year 2020, four years from now, we have another candidate, it may be Bernie Sanders, I think he is probably going to be too old by then, but we have another candidate. It may be Bernie Sanders. I think he’s probably going to be too old by then. But, we have a candidate that holds the Democrats accountable. That provides a vehicle for a lot of the energy of the Bernie Sanders movement to continue to develop, that fields new candidates at the Senate, in Congress, at the state level, that actually holds Democrats’ feet to the fire and Republicans’ feet to the fire, that develops an agenda of getting big money out of politics, and severing the link between extraordinarily concentrated wealth and political power in this country. That is what we ought to be doing. Now, we can — but, in order to do that, we cannot have — and, I think that Hillary will be a good president, if not a great one. This is not just trucking in fear, Chris. But I do fear Donald Trump. I fear the polls that I saw yesterday. Now, polls, again, this early in the campaign still — we’re still months away from the election, but, they are indicative. They show Donald Trump doing exceedingly well, beating Hillary Clinton. And, right now, given our two-party system, given our winner take all system with regard to the electoral college, it’s just too much of a risk to go and to say, well I — I’m going to vote — I’m not going to vote for the lesser of two evils, I’m going to vote exactly what I want to do. Well, anybody can do that, obviously, this is a free country. You vote what you — you vote your conscience. You have to do that. I’m just saying that your conscience needs to be aware that if you do not support Hillary Clinton, you are increasing the odds of a true, clear, and present danger to the United States, a menace to the United States. And you’re increasing the possibility that there will not be a progressive movement, there will not be anything we believe in in the future because the United States will really be changed for the worse. That’s not a — that’s not a risk I’m prepared to take at this point in time. I’m going to move — I’m going to do exactly what I’ve been doing for the last 40 years. I’m going to continue to beat my head against the wall, to build and contribute to building a progressive movement the day after election day. I’m going to try to work with Bernie Sanders and anybody else who wants to work in strengthening a third-party. And, again, maybe it’s the Green Party for the year 2020 and do everything else I was just talking about, but right now, as we lead up to election day 2016, I must urge everyone who is listening or who is watching to do whatever they can to make sure that Hillary Clinton is the next president and not Donald Trump.