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Smart Politics in Pictures and Words
Updated: 59 min 35 sec ago
Late last year, I interviewed Bernie Sanders while working on my biography “Bernie.” I asked him if he planned to reduce the defense budget if elected president. “We will take a hard look at that,” he told me, agreeing that there’s an awful lot of bloat in America’s military spending that ought to be cut.
Why doesn’t he say that now?
A statement detailing his intent to reduce military spending — not just the on-the-books budget of the Pentagon, but also the “off the books” taxdollars that go to wars like the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the National Security Agency and other parts of the surveillance state that have expanded radically since 9/11 — would help answer one of Sanders’ critics’ most potent criticisms: that he’ll be an irresponsible Santa Gone Wild, giving away free college tuition and Medicare for all without a care in the world for how to pay for it.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign, already reeking of desperation, is turning ugly. Bill Clinton, of all people, accused Bernie of lying, and his supporters of sexism. Clinton surrogate Madeleine Albright called female Sanders supporters traitors to their gender. The once-respected Gloria Steinem called them sluts, implying they were hanging out at Bernie’s big rallies to get laid by hunky Bernie bros.
Pathetic. But Hillary remains a potent force. She’s the mathematical favorite. When she casts herself as the realist (“a progressive who likes to get things done”), her argument that Bernie’s promises are politically unrealistic and fiscally irresponsible carries weight with Democrats who are still on the fence.
If Bernie can answer this two-part question, he wins the nomination: how will he get his far-left programs (by American standards, not those of the rest of the world) through Congress? How will he pay for them?
The first question, I think, isn’t as big a hurdle as the corporate punditry seems to think. Most voters can imagine a sustained progressive movement centered around street activism — Sanders’ “political revolution” — that pressures Congress so that, as Sanders puts it, Mitch O’Connell sees hundreds of thousands of people marching outside his window whenever he plots to thwart the people’s will.
Like Occupy Wall Street, except that the president is encouraging the movement rather than ordering the cops to beat up its members.
Anyway, liberal Democrats are angry. Hillary’s “half a dream” sales pitch isn’t half as enticing to them as Bernie’s ambitious agenda. Come on, Hill: did you take half a bribe from Goldman Sachs? Even if Bernie’s idealism gets dashed on the rocks of Republican intransigence, progressive Dems don’t care; they want to see Bernie try. Democrats haven’t watched a Democratic president push for radical change since LBJ.
The second question of the skeptics is: show me the money! Where is the cash to pay for free public college tuition and a single-payer healthcare system?
Sanders has said he would cover the $75 billion per year cost of his college reform program by imposing a tax on Wall Street speculation. He would almost certainly increase taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals as part of moving the tax code back to a more progressive, pre-Reagan structure. Everyone would pay a higher tax rate to cover Berniecare, though working-class people would pay less than they’d save.
At the risk of sounding like a Republican, there’s waste throughout the federal budget. There is, for example, no evidence that the NSA has ever done its job by preventing a single terrorist attack. Meanwhile, as Edward Snowden informed us, they’re spying on all our phone calls and emails. Shut them down; save $10 billion a year or more. Similarly, the Department of Homeland Security could be trimmed to a fraction of its current size or eliminated, with its tiny portion of useful activities transferred to other agencies, including law enforcement.
Last year’s defense budget was nearly $600 billion, or 54% of discretionary federal spending. That’s more than the next nine countries combined, including China and Russia. Conservatively, at least half of that is spent on waste and fraud by DOD contractors, so there’s $300 billion right off the bat. I bet we could cut it 90% and still not have to worry about a foreign invasion, something that hasn’t happened since 1812.
These cuts could easily cover the several hundred billion shortfall between Bernie’s tax increase on the rich and the cost of his healthcare plan.
Nothing says fiscal conservatism like pacifism. As of 2015 the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, the most expensive in U.S. history, cost more than $1.5 trillion. More than $1 billion a year is still going down those ratholes. Bernie has said ISIS must be “crushed,” but he may want to revisit that. As of November, the anti-ISIS air and jihadi-training campaign had cost $5 billion and counting.
And obviously don’t start any new wars of choice.
Studies have shown that high student loan debt hobbles economic activity, delaying the age at which college graduates can afford to buy their first cars and homes. Freeing college graduates and their parents from exorbitant tuition bills would stimulate the automobile and real estate markets in particular, as well as the overall economy.
The same is true for healthcare costs. Every dollar you don’t spend on health insurance premiums, deductibles and co-pays is one you have for something else. That’s a lot of potential stimulus.
I don’t know why the Sanders campaign hasn’t issued a detailed plan explaining how President Sanders would cover the costs of free college tuition and Medicare for All. Maybe they’re worried about getting attacked as weak on national security by the hawkish Secretary Clinton and, in the general election, by the Republican nominee (probably Trump or Cruz).
Though a valid concern, it should take a back seat to plugging the Bernie-is-just-a-dreamer narrative Hillary’s camp is framing him with. He’ll never be able to out-militarist Hillary or the Republicans, who will try to brand him as the second coming of Vladimir Lenin anyway. Why bother to try?
(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is now on sale online and at all good bookstores.)
Last week, I handicapped the Bernie Sanders campaign. He since pulled off an upset in the Iowa Caucus, where he overcame a 40-point lead by Hillary Clinton (the day before, polls said he’d lose by two or three points) to a virtual tie so even that coin tosses and bureaucratic incompetence may have made a difference.
It’s a two-person race, with Hillary still in the lead nationally. But Bernie has momentum and enthusiasm. Can the Independent Senator from Vermont catch up? Democratic primaries are a referendum on the status quo, so Sanders’ chances depend at least as much on Secretary Clinton’s weaknesses as on his strengths.
Here’s what Hillary has going for her — and not.
As in her (losing) 2008 run against Barack Obama, Hillary’s strategists are selling competence and experience. “A progressive who gets things done,” she is calling herself.
Scratch a little, however, and there’s precious little evidence of substantial things she actually got done. Googling phrases like “Hillary Clinton’s biggest accomplishments” yields lists that include “most-traveled Secretary of State” and “gave a speech in Geneva standing up for gay rights.”
Hillary’s “achievements” are activities, not accomplishments.
Fortunately for her, most voters don’t question the Been Everywhere, Done Everything meme. She does have one hell of a resume: First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State. Though, for the life of me, I don’t understand why Bernie’s Mayor, Congressman and Senator resume (longer in total, more reelections) doesn’t count.
When you talk to people who are seriously considering casting their votes for Clinton, many say they like that she’s a woman president straight out of central casting — tough and strong, with the slightly dystopian Corporate Leader wardrobe to boot. Here’s to you, Jodie Foster in “Elysium.”
Clinton knows everyone in DC. She knows world leaders. She won’t need months to settle into the White House.
The trouble for Hillary is, this is an antiestablishment year. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders are benefitting from an electorate whose simmering disappointment over the replacement of Hope and Change in 2008 with the Too Big To Fail bank bailouts of 2009 is finally being articulated into rage at the ballotbox. As Obama’s cabinet member, that’s on her.
Clinton can’t run away from her Beltway insiderdom. To her credit, she isn’t trying. To the contrary, she’s hugging Obama, incrementalism, head-over-heart rhetoric as hard as she can. She’s just the wrong candidate for this year. Which means that, if she wins the nomination, she’ll go into the general election campaign as bruised by Bernie Sanders as Jimmy Carter was in 1980 after facing off against Ted Kennedy. Many Bernie Sanders Democrats will sit on their hands in November if she’s the nominee.
Hillary isn’t stupid. She knows her formidable organizational advantages — cash, a SuperPAC, party backing, endorsements by establishment organizations including trade unions and corporate media, which have enforced a blackout of Bernie coverage — no longer guarantee her once “inevitable” campaign. So she’s coopting Bernie’s positions on healthcare and other issues of interest to progressives.
Problem is, voters usually pick pure steak over mystery meat.
Obama’s famous 2008 slight that Hillary was “likeable enough” turns out not to be so true. On the campaign trail and on TV, Hillary is charmless. Which is why, the more Americans get to know her, the more of her supporters migrate to other candidates. She can’t up her personality game.
With the liberal/progressive base of Hillary’s party agitated at 1960s levels, she can’t explain away her conservative record. She’s never met a free trade deal or a war she didn’t like; millions of jobs and people are dead as a result.
She says she’s been fighting for progressive causes for years, but when? Where? Even on the micro-bore social “wedge” issues that her husband relied upon as president, she’s in trouble. Gays won’t forget her support of the Defense of Marriage Act. Straights think she’s a reed in the political wind.
But Hillary’s biggest flaw as a candidate isn’t policy. It’s her failure to internalize two truisms of politics.
Number one: Candidates win by projecting an optimistic vision of the future. When she criticizes Bernie Sanders for advocating changes that would be hard to get through Congress and expensive to pay for — free college tuition, Medicare for everybody — she projects a radical pessimism that makes many ask, why not? Why can’t the country that invades everyone, that sent a man to the moon, provide the same social benefits as most other nations?
And number two: Elections aren’t about the candidate. They’re about the people. This goes back to when tribes elected chiefs. Vote for me, and buffalo will rain from the sky! We’ll be fat! Water everywhere! That’s a winning campaign — not, hey, as the first elder from the Whatever Clan to become chief, I’d make tribal history and wouldn’t that be cool.
Obama didn’t win in 2008 by running as Future First Black President. He projected a sunny, winning disposition and a sense of the future we could buy into. Hope! Change! Yes We Can! Hillary’s campaign is all about her, not us.
That’s political suicide.
(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is now on sale online and at all good bookstores.)
When you create an empire on theft, genocide, graft, corruption, exploitation, abuse and all manner of abuse and degradation, is it possible to single out one group of victims for compensation without adding the other ones too? And if the answer is no, as justice demands, will there be anything left in the end? And if no, would it really matter?
Full disclosure: If New York’s primary were held today — not that it typically has a significant electoral impact, since it’s relatively late on the calendar — I’d vote for Bernie Sanders.
Why Bernie? Because he’s the best this system has to offer: a flawed candidate whose overall message is important enough, and his record free enough of corruption and evildoing, that I can overlook the things I don’t like about his record and fill in the bubble next to his name on the ballot without feeling like a terrible person.
Hillary Clinton is nowhere close to acceptable. She has no message, other than the dead end of liberal identity-politics tokenism: sure would be neat (for her) if there were a first woman president. Her corruption is spectacular: served on the board of Wal-Mart, where she signed off on union-busting, was paid by Goldman Sachs, ran a charitable foundation like a money laundry. Voted for both of Bush’s wars, which killed hundreds of thousands of people, then destroyed Libya and Syria.
A vote for Hillary is a vote against working people, for the plutocrats, and for genocide.
However, just because I plan to vote for Bernie — even though I wrote the book on him— doesn’t mean I can’t see ideological and tactical flaws in his campaign. With that in mind, here’s my report card on the insurgent from Vermont’s bid to date.
Paris and San Bernadino aside, any political scientist will tell you that pocketbook issues — voters’ feelings about the economy, whether or not they’re prosperous, and how they perceive their future career prospects — usually determine the outcome of American presidential elections. Assuming there isn’t another 9/11-scale national security threat, the 2016 race will be about Americans’ sense that they’re working harder while earning less, and their anger that they’re still digging out of the 2008-09 financial crisis while the banks who created it are making bigger profits than ever.
No other candidate, left or right, can touch Bernie’s credibility on the economy. For decades, while no one paid attention, he shouted that the American economy was rigged in favor of the billionaire class at the expense of everyone else. Now most people agree.
Bernie owns the number one issue in the campaign.
That, as Donald Trump would say, is yuuuuge. Neither The Donald’s newfound openness to tax people like himself, nor Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s awkward attempt to co-opt Sandersism with words instead of policies, stands a chance at denting the Bern on the number. One. Issue.
The other major metric for voters is character. Love him or hate him, everyone knows Sanders has integrity, which is why the Clinton camp’s cut-and-paste attempts to portray him as an NRA shill are falling flat. “Sanders may be a dreamer, but he’s not dishonorable. Trying to sully him in this way only sullies her,” columnist Charles Blow of The New York Times observes.
For an American politician, being widely perceived as honorable is virtually unheard of. It’s worth a billion dollars in attack ads.
The biggest danger to Sanders’ campaign isn’t failing to get enough black votes in Southern states. (If he wins Iowa and New Hampshire, voters down South who haven’t paid much attention to the race yet will check him out — and he’ll do fine.)
Sanders’ third rail is being perceived as a Johnny One Note candidate obsessed with economic justice at the expense of everything else.
I’ve read everything written about and by Bernie Sanders. But his foreign policy prescriptions are as thin on the ground as U.S. troops in ISIS-controlled Iraq. Whether he’s disinterested in foreign affairs or simply cares more about all matters domestic, he doesn’t talk much about America’s role in the world. Big mistake. Voters expect a robust foreign policy agenda from their president.
As far as I can tell, a Sanders Doctrine is neither militaristic nor isolationist, deploying ground troops and aerial attacks more sparingly than either George W. Bush or Barack Obama. He told me he’d even continue Bush-Obama’s drone assassination program, which is illegal since it has never been authorized by Congress.
If I were running his campaign, I’d spin Sanders’ views as “real pragmatism” to take some air out of Hillary’s hawkish tough-broad sails. But I long for something more.
By 2016 measures Bernie’s foreign and domestic policy agendas are inconsistent. A self-described Scandinavian-style “democratic socialist” doesn’t usually favor wars of choice like Afghanistan (which Sanders supported) or drone killings. Voters assume he’s a pacifist or wish he were — why not become one? I wish he’d align his laudable desire for justice and equality at home for Americans with a push for freedom and self-determination abroad for citizens of other nations. Like: we don’t attack any other countries unless they go after us first.
Sanders is hobbled by some major communications problems. Hillary has exploited his failure to fully explain his healthcare plan by accusing him of wanting to increase taxes, outright lying. “If I save you $10,000 in private health insurance and you pay a little bit more in taxes in total, there are huge savings in what your family is spending,” Bernie tried to rebut at the fourth debate. Not clear enough.
Here, let me help: “Under my plan, your health insurance will be free. Free! The average American will save $10,000 a year. Your taxes will go up, but that tiny increase will be so much less than you’ll save. It’s the same deal almost every other country has, people all around the world love it, and you’ll love it too.”
Capitalism is less popular than most pundits know; socialism and communism are more popular too. In a general election campaign, however, it is true that Republican SuperPACs will air so many anti-Bernie attack ads featuring hammers and sickles you’ll think you’re at an old May Day parade in Moscow.
Bernie has to do more than explain his “democratic socialism.” Post-Hillary, he has to own it. And sell it to the American people.
“[Democratic socialism] builds on the success of many other countries around the world that have done a far better job than we have in protecting the needs of their working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor,” Bernie said in November. Nice start, but can he erase a century of anti-communist propaganda in 10 months?
To me, the term is political self-mutilation. Sanders isn’t a socialist. He’s a old-school liberal Democrat, like George McGovern was in 1972. It’s ridiculous to have to defend something that you said about yourself when it isn’t true.
Next week, I critique Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is being released today.)
Editors at media outlets explain that they cover frontrunners because they’re frontrunners. What they rarely concede is that frontrunners are frontrunners because they get coverage, and that that process begins years before the first voter has even taken a second to consider who to support in a future election years from now.
Confronted with an optimistic opponent who promises substantial changes in American foreign and domestic policy in the form of Bernie Sanders, establishment candidate Hillary Clinton has been reduced to promising incremental improvements, and defending past gains. She argues her approach is more pragmatic. But will voters be satisfied with more of the same?
SYNDICATED COLUMN: Bernie Sanders Could Win. America Could Become Socialist. Are We Witnessing the Failure of Propaganda?
The electoral political system is a subsidiary of those who rule the economy. Which is why Bernie Sanders never stood a chance. The political system was rigged against him.
And yet, despite the formidable institutional obstacles stacked against him, Sanders is doing great: largely considered a shoo-in to win New Hampshire, leading in Iowa, closing the gap nationally. Surprised pundits are marveling at his popular momentum, ground organization and fundraising prowess. There is now a credible path to the Democratic nomination and, if he runs against GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, to the White House.
Center-right Hillaryworld wants to know: how did this happen?
Leftists wonder: is this cause for hope?
It is an amazing story. Everyone in a position to block Sanders’ campaign did everything they could to sabotage him.
Knowing that coverage is the essential oxygen of politics, the media mostly ignored him. By one measure, corporate media gave Trump 23 times more coverage than Sanders! On the few occasions when they spilled a little ink on Bernie, it was to insult him and his socialist politics. (My personal Exhibit A was a New York Times piece that carried a photo that emphasized his bald spot.)
Marginalization always used to work. Remember John Edwards? His 2008 primary campaign was doomed because TV networks refused to cover him. But the media’s cold shoulder isn’t hurting Bernie.
In the bag for Hillary Clinton and remembering the lesson of 2008 — the more voters hear from her the less they like her — the Democratic National Committee fed her aura of inevitability by refusing to give Bernie the exposure and legitimacy offered by a robust round of debates. Debates, the few of them the manipulative DNC chair and Hillary toady Debbie Wasserman Schultz allowed to take place, were scheduled for the nights known for low television viewership.
That tactic backfired. Hillary did better than Bernie in the first three debates. But no one saw her flex her foreign-affairs muscles.
Bernie got nothing but chicanery from the DNC, to the point that the Sanders camp had to sue to access its own voter data. Which only reinforced his image as a rebel — not easy for a U.S. senator — and further endeared him to his supporters.
Despite everything, Sanders could win.
Moreover, it’s not just Sanders the candidate who is doing well. His “unusual” politics are becoming usual.
Sanders’ self-labeling as a democratic socialist — universally considered political suicide in the United States — is catching on. In one of the most surprising poll results of the 2016 race, a recent survey of likely Iowa caucus-goers finds that more of them call themselves socialist (43%) than capitalist (38%).
Where did Iowa’s socialists come from? They certainly weren’t indoctrinated by the mainstream system. No ideology, not even radical Islam, has come under heavier systemic assault than socialism. From the Palmer Raids of a century ago to McCarthyism to the Tea Party’s (sadly mistaken) insinuations that President Obama is a secret red, socialism has been the bête rouge of mainstream American politics: reviled in ridiculous movies, misrepresented and excluded from acceptable public debate, even on the watered-down liberalism that passes for a “left.” Even in schools, socialism and communism are lied about — if they’re mentioned at all.
My friend the film critic Cole Smithey calls what we’re seeing “the failure of propaganda.”
It’s certainly a notable moment. The ruling elite’s old tricks are indeed failing them. But it’s too early to declare propaganda dead and gone. Propaganda works. That’s why those in power keep using it.
Here’s what I think is really going on: old institutions have been discredited. Sanders’ growing support and Iowa’s surprisingly socialist hordes reflect public contempt for everyone in charge.
Pundits have mostly focused on populist anger on the right, embodied by the wild neofascist-lite pronouncements of Donald Trump. But there is just as much rage on the left excluded from the Democratic Party since George McGovern’s 1972 defeat to Richard Nixon. Divided or not, one thing Americans can agree upon is that they don’t trust government — on the right to leave them alone, and on the left to help them out.
Propaganda is still effective. But when it’s broadcast by elites who are widely despised, its effect is opposite of what’s intended.
Hillary Clinton racks up endorsements from unions and left-leaning organizations like Planned Parenthood. In the past, these would have given her a boost. This year, it reinforces a negative framing of her as bought and paid for by special interests.
In days of yore the endorsement of a young actress starring in a hip TV show would have been a feather in Hillary’s cap. In 2016, it’s hard to imagine how poor Lena Dunham will wash away the stink of Hillary’s hard-edged corporatism.
Hillary has an incredible resume: first lady, senator, secretary of state. This year, she’d be better off as an outsider. Credentials subtract from her credibility. What’s wrong now, voters feel, is partly her fault.
Bernie Sanders’ campaign gets accused of improperly accessing Hillary’s data on DNC servers. In the old days, the smell of an ethical breach might have doomed his candidacy. Now, because Democratic voters are disgusted by the DNC’s brazen attempt to fix the primaries for Hillary, the controversy looks like another sleazy attack on Bernie the outsider.
Because the public distrusts journalists, the media blackout works in Bernie’s favor. Through the lens of this new politics of contempt, if the powers that be want to censor the “wild and crazy” socialist senator, he musn’t be that bad after all.
What Bernie really needs is for Hillary to receive Obama’s endorsement (which she obviously, foolishly, wants.) That would be the end of her.
The same reverse-propaganda paradigm holds true for socialism. As America’s continuously lauded state religion, capitalism takes the blame for all its associated evils: layoffs, stagnant wages, home foreclosures, health insurance companies that don’t pay claims. If socialism is anti-capitalism, an alienated populace has evidently concluded, it doesn’t matter that they don’t know very much about it. Socialism can’t be that bad.
If elected, President Sanders will be ineffective. Either that, or he’ll sell us out. Such is the nature of this system: it chews up and spits out those who don’t go along to get along.
A Sanders victory would nonetheless mark an important prerevolutionary moment. As Ché Guevara observed, people will not resort to armed struggle before they exhaust every last opportunity to nonviolently reform the existing system by casting their votes in elections.
A Sanders Administration would be our best, last, 100% doomed shot at fixing a rigged regime.
(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is being released today.)
Publication Date: January 19, 2016
Out Now! Order at Amazon!
As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, Bernie Sanders was surrounded by grinding poverty that turned families against each other as they scrimped and saved to pay their bills.
Bernie saw politics as his chance to give a decent life to everyone, not just those born to wealth or the lucky few who hit it big. But the Democratic Party and the country overall were moving to the right.
Bernie joined a tiny independent party from Vermont. He ran for mayor. As a socialist. And won.
Now he’s running for the Democratic nomination for president. Check out his amazing story and what his campaign means to you.
To Order A Personally Signed Copy directly from Ted:
Shipped Where? United States $16.95 USDEurope $22.95 USDOutside U.S. & Europe $26.95 USD Want It Dedicated? To Whom?
The email was from someone who generally supports me. And it was generally supportive: “I’m glad you still have a platform.”
Me too! But the generally nice email contained a qualifier.
“I do find a lot of your opinions repugnant.”
Whoa. Repugnant? Such a strong word. The Holocaust was repugnant. What did I write or draw that was so disgusting?
“[Your] most repugnant stuff is portraying powerful people as unmitigated evil,” my otherwise supportive correspondent elaborated. “Everyone is human, and some of them are even nice humans, which is actually a greater hazard since there’s no question that some of what they do is evil. But someone has to navigate these insane political terrains and actually lead/serve, even if they wind up being completely alien from who they started to be.”
I shan’t identify the letter writer. Partly, this is because I like him/her. (Generally supportive, you know.) Mainly, though, I suspect that many people — particularly liberal Democrats — feel the same way as she/he does about my cartoons and writing. If people are turned off, I want to know why. I appreciate feedback. Seeing such criticism spelled out forces me to take a step back, reconsider whether I’m being unfair or wrongheaded — in this case to the “powerful people” whom I portray as “unmitigated evil” — and either change my act…or double down.
This “I support you, but” writer is right about my work. Especially in my cartoons, I often portray powerful politicians and business executives as bad people. I drew George W. Bush, first as a deranged dictator complete with Augusto Pinochet-like epaulettes, sash and silly tyrant hat out of a Terry Gilliam movie, and then, after 9/11 and the beginning of the war on terror, as a hideous monster drooling coke snot over his fangs.
I’m so subtle.
I’ve been graphically kinder to Barack Obama — though some disagree — but in content I’ve been as mean to him as to Bush. I undermine his image as calm and reasonable with cartoons that show the cold-blooded automaton rubbing his hands with glee as he presides over one assassination-by-drone after another, and surrounds himself with luxury (golfing, hanging out at his multimillion-dollar summer vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard) while ordinary Americans lose their jobs and their homes. Obama, in Rallworld, is a murderous bastard who doesn’t care about you. As were Bush and Clinton.
The titans of capitalism come under heavy fire too. If you’re the CEO of a major company, pretty much the only feedback I’m going to give you is that you’re a greedy employee-firing price-gouging turd who exports American jobs to foreign hellholes because you don’t care about anyone else.
Guilty as charged: I do depict the rich and powerful as pure evil.
I don’t care about your intent. I don’t buy “gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet” justifications. If you have a hand in starting and/or continuing a war, an optional war of aggression, you’re a mass murderer. If you order killer robot planes to blow up people who haven’t been convicted of a crime in any court, and those killer robot planes blow up those people and other people who just happen to be nearby when the missile hits, you’re an evil person who did an evil thing, and it doesn’t matter one little bit that you have a winning smile, that you say you’re trying to keep America safe and strong, that you’re fighting “them” “there” so we don’t have to do it here, that you’re funny at the White House Press Correspondents Dinner, that you look adorable alongside your two beautiful daughters, or that you’re the first black president.
Save the qualifiers. You’re evil and I’ll draw you evil.
“We are condemned to be free,” wrote Jean-Paul Sartre — free to choose between good and evil or, as in much of his literary work, between less evil and more evil. As such, he elaborated, we are defined by our worst act: a man who acts cruelly is, by definition a cruel man.
Sartre’s existentialism works for me better than any other codified system of philosophical or religious belief. I agree with him on most ethical issues. Killing thousands of people is evil, so people who order thousands of people killed are evil. Osama bin Laden is morally indistinguishable from Barack Obama.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be defined by the worst things we’ve ever done. Yet we are. As you read this, well over two million Americans are behind bars because they stand accused or convicted of a crime. Many of those inmates — probably most of them — have donated to charity, helped a stranger in need or donated blood. Very few people who have done bad things have mostly done bad things. Nearly 200,000 are military veterans, yet their service didn’t mitigate their fate. Their judges didn’t care because, as Sartre said, we are all defined by our worst act.
The lower your status in society, the more harshly you will be treated by the justice system. The darker your skin, the longer your prison sentence. The poorer you are, the higher the fine. The fewer resources you have to get through life — like, if you suffer from mental illness — the more brutality you will experience at the hands and fists of police and prison guards.
This, I believe, is the exact opposite of how it ought to be.
I’m with Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben: with great power comes great responsibility. (The corollary, which also serves as a handy definition of what it means to belong to the political left, is that with little power comes little responsibility.) If you’re privileged — rich and/or white and/or male and/or blessed with resources — you should be judged more harshly.
Which brings us back to my portrayals of the rich and powerful.
It is not actually true that “someone has to navigate these insane political terrains and actually lead/serve,” i.e., join and work inside and for the system — at least not as the point of the spear.
No one has to “actually lead/serve.”
True, opting out of the system entirely — refusing to pay taxes, for example — is so hard and carries such harsh penalties that it isn’t reasonable to expect of the average citizen. But it not asking much to suggest that we boycott the really horrible crimes the system commits. After all, most Americans do opt out.
Most Americans do not enlist in the armed forces. Yay, non-servicemembers! Most Americans do not harbor political ambitions. Good for you! Few Americans are corporate executives or in a position to ever become one. Your hands are relativelt clean!
Most Americans are, therefore, not evil.
By their nature, the biggest evils are those carried out on a grand scale: genocide, ethnic cleansing, mass poisoning by pollution, destroying the environment, huge frauds, systematic theft, racism, gender discrimination and so on. The only people capable of executing these humongous evils are those who possess wealth and/or power. If we don’t/can’t/shouldn’t call out the rich and powerful people who commit these terrible crimes because, hey, someone has to lead/serve, we are effectively saying that no one is responsible. That these crimes are authorless.
Depersonalization of crimes, absolving everyone of responsibility, is a historical whitewash and an insult to the victims. If there’s no criminal, did a crime occur? Logic says no. The fact that no one has ever been charged with a crime in connection with torturing Muslim detainees at Guantánamo concentration camp signals to the world that the torture either never really happened, that we can’t be sure whether it happened, or that if it did it doesn’t matter.
What about mercy? Don’t people, even powerful people, deserve a pass when they make mistakes? As I say above, more is expected of the rich and powerful. The ethical bar is higher. But yes, mercy is an important societal value, one that should be extended to the rich and powerful — when appropriate.
To me, you’re more deserving of soft treatment if you’ve learned from your mistakes. One of the reasons that I despise Hillary Clinton is that she has never met a war she didn’t like: Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and then Syria and Libya under her direct watch. She supported them all. None were morally or legally justifiable. With the possible exception of Bosnia, they spread misery and chaos, and hurt American interests. She’s stupid and mean. If anyone deserves a pass for warmongering, it isn’t her.
Like the former community organizer Barack Obama, former children’s rights advocate Hillary Clinton has become “completely alien from who they started to be”: a member of the board of the hideously anti-worker megacorporation Wal-Mart, a corrupted politico who sells influence to the highest bidder, an assassin.
She’s repugnant. I’m merely calling her out.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net and SkewedNews.net, is the author of “Snowden,” about the NSA whistleblower. His new book “Bernie” about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, is now available for pre-order. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)