Bernie Sanders Is Changing Hillary Clinton One Day (and One Debate) at a Time
Clinton refined her message in Milwaukee last night.
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN—Ms. Nina Turner of Ohio, a state legislator and onetime candidate for Secretary of State, and probably the MVP of any spin room into which she steps, seemed a bit perturbed at Hillary Rodham Clinton's sudden transformation into Soul Sister No. 1.
"As [Bernie Sanders] said, there was only one person on that stage who ran against then-senator Barack Obama, and it certainly was not Senator Sanders. And it just boggles my mind in the same way I get fed up with the Republicans running against President Obama, I'm sick and tired of people trying to cloak themselves with the African-American president. That is exactly what is happening but, in 2008, that cloak wasn't there. Somebody said that his policy experience was a fairytale. Somebody said he wasn't ready for primetime. Now, all of a sudden, they got themselves cloaked with the president.
"I'm sick of it, and I hope the African-American community doesn't fall for it. Just saying President Obama's name doesn't make you right. For [someone] to pit the president against Senator Sanders is insulting, and it's pretty much a dogwhistle as far as I'm concerned, to the black community, to try and get the black community to not open up and listen to what Senator Sanders has to say."
It is true that, in a long arc of history, which is to say over the last seven years, the transformation of HRC from antagonist to curator of the Obama legacy can look a trifle convenient. And in an even longer arc of history, which is to say over the last 24 years, the transformation of one Clinton campaign from Sister Souljah and Ricky Ray Rector to another Clinton campaign that name-checks the victims of police violence, and that cries out righteously (and repeatedly) against the "systemic racism" of American society, can look like a long train of political expedience. But, cynic that I am, I also am Catholic enough to believe in redemption, and I also am an adherent of the political philosophy espoused by Benjamin Bow Hannaford, the fictional president created by the late Drew Pearson in two novels: in a democracy, the right things always get done for the wrong reasons. For whatever the reasons, sincere or strategic or something in between, HRC has gotten right where she needs to be going into South Carolina. However, even as she uses the Obama presidency as both sword and shield, she also has to hope that the African-American voters down in the home office of American sedition don't remember what she and her husband said about the president before she went to work for him.
"You know what, I don't know if it will work," Turner said. "As an African-American woman, I find it insulting. I find it insulting when the Republicans act as though they're running against the president again, and I find it insulting that we have a candidate cloak themselves in this president. Stand up and say what you're fighting for. Oh, my god, when I went to South Carolina two weeks ago, I had black women say to me that they have not forgotten what the Clintons said about then-senator Obama back in 2008. People don't have amnesia. Then, you were running against him and he wasn't worthy. He didn't have enough experience. Now, all of a sudden, you're cloaking yourself in him. People don't forget that."
There's little question, though, that HRC had her best debate of the cycle on Thursday. She was sharper than she's been, and she really lost only one serious exchange, that over immigration. (Sanders effectively made her appear as though she was for sending Salvadoran toddlers back into the arms of murderous drug gangs in their home country.) She made the points she wanted to make in a clear and lucid manner. She played effectively to the home crowd, name-checking Governor Scott Walker twice, once while derisively countering Sanders' proposal for free tuition at public colleges.
"Senator Sanders' plan really rests on making sure that governors like Scott Walker contribute $23 billion on the first day to make college free. I am a little skeptical about your governor actually caring enough about higher education to make any kind of commitment like that." This, as you can imagine, went over very big in the hall. Also, in her ongoing and determined attempt to enlist in the auxiliary chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement, she called out the name of a young Milwaukee man slain by a Milwaukee police officer whom the local district attorney declined to prosecute.
You know, I completely agree with Senator Sanders. The first speech I gave in this campaign back in April was about criminal justice reform and ending the era of mass incarceration. The statistics from Wisconsin are particularly troubling, because it is the highest rate of incarceration for African-Americans in our nation, twice the national average. And we know of the tragic, terrible event that lead to the death of Dontre Hamilton right here in Milwaukee, a young man unarmed, who should still be with us. His family certainly believes that. And so do I. So we have work to do. There have been some good recommendations about what needs to happen. President Obama's policing commission came out with some. I have fully endorsed those.
This, as you can imagine, also went over big in the hall.
The entertainment portion of the evening came during the foreign policy section. (If you had "Mossadegh" on your Debate Bingo card, you win!) A week late, alas, Sanders ripped Clinton for having bragged in their last debate about a compliment she received from unincarcerated war criminal Henry Kissinger.
Where the secretary and I have a very profound difference, in the last debate—and I believe in her book—very good book, by the way—in her book and in this last debate, she talked about getting the approval or the support or the mentoring of Henry Kissinger. Now, I find it rather amazing, because I happen to believe that Henry Kissinger was one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country. I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend. I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger. And in fact, Kissinger's actions in Cambodia, when the United States bombed that country, overthrew Prince Sihanouk, created the instability for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge to come in, who then butchered some 3 million innocent people, one of the worst genocides in the history of the world. So count me in as somebody who will not be listening to Henry Kissinger.
Clinton, flustered, as were many of the people watching the debate, tried to recoup.
Well, I know journalists have asked who you do listen to on foreign policy, and we have yet to know who that is.
To which Sanders responded,
Well, it ain't Henry Kissinger. That's for sure.
Is it 1977 yet? Clinton then dropped her right hand, leaving Sanders an opening that he whiffed on completely.
That's fine. That's fine. You know, I listen to a wide variety of voices that have expertise in various areas. I think it is fair to say, whatever the complaints that you want to make about him are, that with respect to China, one of the most challenging relationships we have, his opening up China and his ongoing relationships with the leaders of China is an incredibly useful relationship for the United States of America.
OK, so here is where you point out that, after the butchery in Tiananmen Square, Kissinger said of the Chinese government's action:
''No government in the world would have tolerated having the main square of its capital occupied for eight weeks by tens of thousands of demonstrators who blocked the authorities from approaching the area in front of the main Government building.''
There are governments in the world, however, that would not have rolled in the tanks and shot unarmed people like partridges. Sanders let that one go by, much to my dismay, and to the dismay of the other old guys in the audience. Any debate where at least one of the participants flays that ambulatory bag of rancid sins is a good debate. But, frankly, Sanders seemed tired, and a step behind, all night long. And Clinton clearly has solved whatever problem she had with the clarity of her message, as she demonstrated in her closing remarks.
You know, we—we agree that we've got to get unaccountable money out of politics. We agree that Wall Street should never be allowed to wreck Main Street again. But here's the point I want to make tonight. I am not a single-issue candidate, and I do not believe we live in a single-issue country. I think that a lot of what we have to overcome to break down the barriers that are holding people back, whether it's poison in the water of the children of Flint, or whether it's the poor miners who are being left out and left behind in coal country, or whether it is any other American today who feels somehow put down and oppressed by racism, by sexism, by discrimination against the LGBT community, against the kind of efforts that need to be made to root out all of these barriers, that's what I want to take on.
And here in Wisconsin, I want to reiterate: We've got to stand up for unions and working people who have done it before, the American middle class, and who are being attacked by ideologues, by demagogues. Yes, does Wall Street and big financial interests, along with drug companies, insurance companies, big oil, all of it, have too much influence? You're right. But if we were to stop that tomorrow, we would still have the indifference, the negligence that we saw in Flint. We would still have racism holding people back. We would still have sexism preventing women from getting equal pay. We would still have LGBT people who get married on Saturday and get fired on Monday. And we would still have governors like Scott Walker and others trying to rip out the heart of the middle class by making it impossible to organize and stand up for better wages and working conditions. So I'm going to keep talking about tearing down all the barriers that stand in the way of Americans fulfilling their potential, because I don't think our country can live up to its potential unless we give a chance to every single American to live up to theirs.
Now, it's preposterous in the extreme to say that Bernie Sanders, of all people, is a one-issue candidate in this context. He was fighting for LGBT rights when the previous president Clinton was signing DOMA. He was railing against the monied interests when the previous president Clinton was signing away Glass-Steagall. He was standing up for unions when the previous president Clinton was pushing NAFTA. It also is preposterous in the extreme to believe that Sanders doesn't realize that economic inequality is the only form of inequality that needs to be addressed in the country. But HRC did an exceptional job making that argument on Thursday and, maybe, she has put away the things of her husband's presidency and truly has been moved by the populist ferment that, in truth, began on the lawn of the Wisconsin state capital five years ago this week. Anything's possible. What is undeniable, however, is that, absent the presence of Bernie Sanders in this campaign, we'd never know any of that for sure.
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