On Reality Asserts Itself, Thomas Frank, author of ‘What’s the Matter with Kansas?’ and ‘Listen, Liberal,’ and Paul Jay discuss Hillary Clinton’s new book ‘What Happened,’ and identify the real differences between Clinton and Sanders. This episode was produced on September 7, 2017.
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network Live. I’m Paul Jay, and this is Reality Asserts Itself. This is part of a series I’m doing with Thomas Frank, the author, and Part One is up on our website. This is new for us, Part Two is live. Part of the reason it’s live is because there’s a new book out by Hillary Clinton called What Happened, and we’re gonna talk about a little bit of that book. There’s a couple of pages, some of the media outlets got hold of the book and they focused on one or two things. One of the main things they focused on is, in a couple of pages, Hillary Clinton goes after Bernie Sanders, and more or less makes Sanders one of the culprits in her loss. She says various things, one of which is that by attacking her on her Goldman-Sachs speeches and such, he implied that she was for hire. These are my words, not hers, but that’s more or less what she’s saying, that she would change her votes on financial regulations and such based on her relationship with Wall Street. This somehow in her argument set up the conditions for being called Crooked Hillary. We’re gonna talk about all that with Thomas Frank. I would say her main thesis of her critique of Sanders, and this is, you could say, I think the critique of her and the whole corporate Democrats, of the Sander-esque wing of the party, which is that they are pie in the sky, they promise things that can never be delivered, the kind of programs they’re suggesting could never be financed. On the one hand she says that, but then she also says, “We actually agree on basic policy objectives.” Here’s a quote from the page. She says, “Because we agreed on so much, Bernie couldn’t make an argument against me in this area on policy, so he had to resort to innuendo and impuning my character.” We’re gonna talk about just the substance of that, is there real, were there real, and are there real policy differences between Sanders and Hillary Clinton, and we’ll talk about the whole idea of this book, and we’re doing so with Thomas Frank, who now joins me in the studio. Thanks for joining me again.
THOMAS FRANK: You got it, Paul. I’m glad to be here.
PAUL JAY: One more time, Thomas is a political analyst, a historian. He writes for The Guardian. His books include What’s the Matter With Kansas, and most recently Listen, Liberal. Before we get into the substance of this thing about is there real policy differences or is it just a degree of what you’re asking for, which is her main argument, why on earth does she make this critique of Sanders at this time? How does she …
THOMAS FRANK: Wow.
PAUL JAY: … benefit from this?
THOMAS FRANK: Who knows? This is a mystery to me. Now, I haven’t seen the book yet. I actually went around to bookstores yesterday all over Washington trying to get it, and no dice. I’m very much looking forward to reading the whole thing. All we’ve seen are this handful of pages that were linked by various people who somehow did get a copy of it in advance, an advance copy.
PAUL JAY: Apparently it’s one bookstore somewhere that was willing to sell it before the release date, and so the media organizations got it.
THOMAS FRANK: I wonder where that is. I want to go to that place. I want to get a copy of it. We don’t know, maybe the rest of the book is really gracious and charming and wonderful and all that, but this stuff about Bernie Sanders certainly seems peevish. You know what I mean? She’s a sore winner.
PAUL JAY: Here’s a little bit more of her main argument. She quotes something that appears in somebody’s Facebook feed that characterizes what she said was Sanders’s policy proposals. This is about a pony. Here we go. This is a quote from the book, as far as we can understand. “Someone sent me a Facebook post,” writes Hillary Clinton, “That summed up the dynamic in which we were caught,” meaning her relationship with Sanders, “Bernie: I think America should get a pony. Hillary: How will you pay for the pony? Where will the pony come from? How will you get Congress to agree to the pony? Bernie: Hillary thinks America doesn’t deserve a pony. Bernie supporters: Hillary hates ponies. Hillary: Actually, I love ponies. Bernie supporters: She changed her positions on ponies,” and then there’s a hashtag, #WhichHillary, #WitchHillary, meaning …
THOMAS FRANK: Oh, man.
PAUL JAY: … on ponies, “Headline: Hillary Refuses To Give Every American A Pony. Debate Moderator: Hillary, how do you feel when people say you lie about ponies?”
THOMAS FRANK: This is the same argument the Washington Post and so many others were making about Bernie Sanders at the time is that, of, course his proposals were unrealistic. The Washington Post is technically nonpartisan. I was over in England for the debate for the election over there. They had the snap parliamentary election a couple months back. This was the argument that the Tories used against Jeremy Corbyn, that his policies were completely unrealistic and there was no possible way you could pay for it. Corbyn would be like, “Here’s the math. We worked it all out.” They’d be like, “No, that’s impossible. That’s just a dream. Ha ha ha, ponies.” This is what parties of the left do, is they come up with these objectives and they figure out how to organize the economy and the political system to make them possible. That’s what you’re supposed to be doing as a party of the left. Hillary, yeah, she’s taking the Theresa May kind of approach here. This seems really ungracious of her, because at one point she was the one who was on the receiving end of this exact kind of criticism back in the ’90s when she was trying to reorganize the healthcare system, remember? Long time ago.
PAUL JAY: I think what this is a shot across the bow is that the corporate Democrats are gonna go to war with the Sanders wing of the party as we get closer to 2018, particularly 2020.
THOMAS FRANK: They’re not just going to war with the Sanders wing. This is with their own past. This is the New Deal. Remember, the thing about Sanders’s program and what Sanders was promising is it’s not pie in the sky, it’s deep in the Democratic Party tradition. Sanders is basically reviving, picking up where the New Deal left off in the late 1940s. He’s got Harry Truman’s healthcare plan. He’s got some other things right out of the Democratic platform from 1948. This was one of the things that was most charming about him is that he was reviving elements of what the Democratic Party used to be. Here’s the modern Democratic Party saying, “Oh, no no no, that stuff is all pie in the sky nonsense.” That’s very telling, I think.
PAUL JAY: It’s pie in the sky from their point of view, their being corporate Democrats. From what I can understand, two reasons. It’s not affordable. The reason it’s not affordable is because American public opinion would never support something like this. But according to that worldview, Bernie Sanders never contends for the nomination of Democratic Party. That would never be possible.
THOMAS FRANK: It’s impossible because of public opinion, but let’s not let public opinion actually have a say on this, because something …
PAUL JAY: Polling shows most people want …
THOMAS FRANK: … terrible might happen …
PAUL JAY: … Medicare for all.
THOMAS FRANK: … and, “Oh no, it happened.” It’s very confusing and circular. It’s like a dog chasing its tail. I can’t help but wonder why Hillary Clinton would do this.
PAUL JAY: I think they do not want a Sanders-esque candidacy in 2020, and whether Hillary tries again, I don’t know.
THOMAS FRANK: You can’t after saying something like that, because-
PAUL JAY: I think they want to mobilize the party against, and split if they can, the Sanders wing of the party. They don’t want to do this again.
THOMAS FRANK: Let me just give you a really brief summary of the way I saw the primary contest. Yes, it did get bitter, especially towards the end when the Sanders supporters thought that the Democratic National Committee was cheating against them. The funny thing is they turned out to be right about that. I still think Hillary won fair and square, but yeah, the DNC was cheating against Sanders. Now that said, once Sanders was beaten, he campaigned for Hillary. He was a good soldier about it. He wasn’t Ralph Nader. He didn’t go out and run as a third-party candidate. He wasn’t Pat Buchanan. He didn’t do any of that. He played it straight.
PAUL JAY: She credits him with that.
THOMAS FRANK: When someone does that, and then you treat him like this, that’s really bad. That doesn’t befit a leader, you know what I mean?
PAUL JAY: I’ve seen some sections of the book, both in the sample from Amazon, and some of the other quotes, she supposedly takes full responsibility for the loss, but then she still goes on to blame all kinds of external reasons for it. I think, one, she wants to still pin this on Sanders as much as she can, but as I said, I think she’s trying to get people ready to have this next stage of what I’ve been calling the Civil War of the Democratic Party.
THOMAS FRANK: I’m absolutely certain you’re right about that. The Clinton wing of the Democratic Party, this was the dominant faction. We talked about this the other day. I don’t know if that segment has aired yet. These guys are not just gonna give up just because they were defeated. No. They’re in politics for a reason. They do not intend to just quit.
PAUL JAY: Let’s go through her main thesis, which is they have the same basic policy objectives, Bernie over-promises on the same thing she wants, and his over-promises are not achievable, but she goes back to this idea, and she did this during the debates too, “We really want the same things.” Do they? What are some of the key policy points that either they do have in common or they differentiate?
THOMAS FRANK: I can see why she says that, because they’re both running for the Democratic nomination, and they are very similar in all sorts of ways, but there were a lot of important distinctions between these two candidates. Let’s not forget. Remember, Bernie wanted to break up the banks real bad? Hillary made fun of that. Hillary poo-pooed that idea, thought that was pretty silly. Bernie wanted universal healthcare, Hillary not so much.
PAUL JAY: Quite significantly didn’t. She wanted to reform the Affordable Healthcare Act, but the essence of the difference in a single-payer medical for all system, you’re closing down private insurance companies. This is a big, big difference.
THOMAS FRANK: You’re making them much smaller. It would be a different system, yeah. It’s a huge difference. Another was that Bernie wanted free college education at state universities. I don’t recall Hillary offering anything like that. These were real. They were real differences.
PAUL JAY: Definitely not minimum wage.
THOMAS FRANK: Oh yeah. Trade, oh my God, this was a huge separation between them, and not least because Hillary had reversed herself so dramatically on the trade issue that it was hard for voters to take her seriously. Remember we talked about this last week when I was up here, trade really hurt Hillary Clinton in this election. Now, a lot of that is her own fault, because over the years, it was her husband that got NAFTA, you can’t blame her for her husband’s deeds, but she supported Bill Clinton on NAFTA and on many other free trade agreements, and as Secretary of State, had had a hand in negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was really dragging her down. Now, she tried and tried and tried to get out of that during the campaign, but nobody believed her. That’s not Bernie Sanders’s fault. To a large degree that’s Barack Obama’s fault, because while all of this is going on, Barack Obama is saying, remember this, “We’re gonna get the Trans-Pacific Partnership done,” while the campaign is going on, and while first Bernie and then Trump are hammering her for this every single day, and she’s trying to get out of it. That was really bad.
PAUL JAY: Let me give what I would say the most generous interpretation of how she and her political stratum see this.
THOMAS FRANK: I didn’t even get into foreign policy.
PAUL JAY: I was about to say.
THOMAS FRANK: I’m sure you’re gonna want to go there.
PAUL JAY: Oh yeah, I usually do. Yeah, the Iraq War, some very substantial differences on foreign policy. You mentioned this in the previous interview, the corporate Democrats hate this left, because they see themselves as the managers of this system, as we talked about in the last episode, that they manage it as much as is possible within this system, in a way that helps and benefits the working class. In their own minds, they can’t do more, because they’re-
THOMAS FRANK: [crosstalk] symbolic stuff, these-
PAUL JAY: Because they’re dealing with the far right, which is so strong that if they’re not there to defend liberal values, the far right takes over and crushes it all.
THOMAS FRANK: They’re like the grownups in the parties, in the way they see themselves.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, and they see the Sanders, so they make the hard choices, which is you have to make compromises, because they make you look bad, but you make them because they’re hard, and the Sanders-type people …
THOMAS FRANK: [crosstalk] crisis.
PAUL JAY: … by over-promising, make you look … You have to fight your left flank, when you really should just be fighting your right flank, I’m guessing, or so they say.
THOMAS FRANK: You’ve raised a bunch of really important issues. Historically speaking, the Clinton faction of the Democratic Party has an enormous contempt for the left. Hillary could’ve solved all of the problems that she identifies in her book by making Sanders her VP choice. Boom, problem solved. Why didn’t she do that? Because one of the rules of the Clinton faction is that you don’t give them anything. They get symbolic stuff, and that’s it. You take down the Confederate flag or whatever, or various other things. That’s what the left wing of the party gets. They do not get power. They don’t get to have the VP choice. You go back and look at the documents of the Democratic Leadership Council, which is the faction, they’re the ones who started the Clinton faction. Bill Clinton was their leader. Hillary comes up through that faction as well, Al Gore, all these guys. They were utterly contemptuous of the left. It was actually fun, the stuff. They were so mean towards the left wing of the Democratic Party. This is back in the ’80s and the 1990s. When Clinton was the nominee, before Clinton it had always been the tradition that the two wings of the party would unite after the primaries are done, and you would choose somebody from the other faction of the party, Carter chose Mondale and so on. Bill Clinton didn’t do that. He chose Al Gore. He chose another DLC guy. This was regarded as just snubbing the left wing of the party. They have nothing to recommend them. They have nothing really to stand up for there. What they deserve is nothing. Hillary does exactly the same thing, chooses Tim Kaine as her running mate, a moderate former governor of Virginia, senator from Virginia, not a bad guy, but certainly she’s making no effort to unite the two wings of the party. That’s just the most in-your-face example. You look at the rhetoric, a guy like Rahm Emanuel, the things he says about the liberal wing of the Democratic, the leadership faction of the Democratic Party despises the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.
PAUL JAY: Especially …
THOMAS FRANK: It despises them.
PAUL JAY: … the way Sanders went after them, because Sanders did-
THOMAS FRANK: They can’t see any situation under which they should be obliged to answer to these people.
PAUL JAY: Sanders used language that had not been used in a long time in mainstream American politics.
THOMAS FRANK: True, but he was not mean to Hillary.
PAUL JAY: Not at all.
THOMAS FRANK: I think Hillary makes a mistake here. I thought Sanders was gracious about, for example, the email scam. This is something where he could have ridden that a lot harder than he did, and he chose not to. If you talk about Sanders’s own blunders, why Sanders didn’t win, because he had a shot too, that’s certainly one of them is that he wasn’t anywhere near as mean and didn’t attack Hillary Clinton with anywhere near the sort of savagery and brutality that it would take to actually win the nomination. I don’t know, I thought that was admirable of him. I admire Bernie Sanders in a lot of ways, and that’s one of them.
PAUL JAY: She critiques him for focusing on the Wall Street connection and setting up the conditions for the Crooked Hillary campaign.
THOMAS FRANK: That’s totally legit, especially after a financial crisis like we just had.
PAUL JAY: Especially given all her relationships with Goldman-Sachs. I think he did something more that she doesn’t want to say, but I think if there’s anything that in some ways helped Trump indirectly, by using the language “billionaire class” and “oligarchy” during the primary, and by implication, Hillary is the candidate of the oligarchy, which in fact she was, it sets up a populist campaign that can then try to talk to workers because she’s lost them.
THOMAS FRANK: Of course.
PAUL JAY: She’s the oligarchy.
THOMAS FRANK: That’s powerful language.
PAUL JAY: The thing is but it’s the truth.
THOMAS FRANK: In presidential campaigns, people try to win. They all have an …
PAUL JAY: Go figure.
THOMAS FRANK: … equal right to win. Bernie has a right to try hard and win. Hillary has a right to try hard and win. They both try everything in their bag of tricks, and neither one is guaranteed the nomination going into it. It is a fight, just as it has been in every Democratic race, with a few exceptions, in the course of my lifetime. It’s a wide-open contest out there. I wonder what Martin O’Malley thinks about all this, by the way.
PAUL JAY: Martin who? I’m in Maryland when I say that.
THOMAS FRANK: I know. We’re here in Baltimore. We’re here in his hometown.
PAUL JAY: Oh yeah, people in Baltimore got a lot to say about Martin O’Malley, but that’s for another day. Here’s another quote from the book. This is about Bernie not being a loyal member of the Democratic Party, which in fact he never said he was. She writes, “But he isn’t a Democrat. That’s not a smear. That’s what he says. He didn’t get into the race to make sure a Democrat won the White House. He got in to disrupt the Democratic Party.” There’s truth to that, because Bernie Sanders, and I interviewed him, and he said this out and out, and he’s said it other times.
THOMAS FRANK: He’s very critical of the Democrats, no doubt.
PAUL JAY: The control of the Democratic Party has been in the hands of what he called the oligarchy, the billionaire class, so what’s wrong with going in and disrupting that?
THOMAS FRANK: I think that’s incorrect, because he did go and campaign for Hillary, he was at the Democratic Convention. He clearly wanted Hillary to defeat Donald Trump, but he’s not happy about it.
PAUL JAY: She’s just talking about the primary.
THOMAS FRANK: That he tried to beat her, hell yes, that …
PAUL JAY: That his campaign was disruptive.
THOMAS FRANK: … was the whole idea. Remember the alternatives that were open to Bernie Sanders. It just seems so silly to have to rehash all this. When I interviewed Bernie Sanders, it was either ’13 or ’14, I forget now. I think it was ’14. The question was, at the time, would Sanders run as a Democrat or would Sanders run as an independent, would he do like Ralph Nader did. Ralph Nader, there is a guy who’s out to disrupt the system. Sanders deliberately chose not to follow that path and to run within the Democratic Party and to run as a Democrat. He deliberately chose not to go down the Ralph Nader route. What does Hillary have to say about that guy?
PAUL JAY: There was a real fight in the Democratic Party in the primary. She almost lost it.
THOMAS FRANK: Their fights are totally legitimate. They always do this. Every four years they do this. There’s nothing wrong with that.
PAUL JAY: Not according to her they’re not legitimate.
THOMAS FRANK: That’s what democracy is. Democracy is messy stuff, man.
PAUL JAY: A loyal Democrat would’ve just kissed the ring is what she’s saying.
THOMAS FRANK: You look back to 1992, which is the formative year for the Clintons, when Bill Clinton was running, I forget how many candidates there were that year, but there was a lot, and it was by no means settled that Bill Clinton would simply be the nominee, and everybody had to bow down. The only year in recent memory when that was the case, where you didn’t have a challenge, was Obama in 2012, where he had no challenge in the Democratic primaries at all. He was an incumbent president, Hillary’s not.
PAUL JAY: I’m here giving her argument, not that I agree with it. Her argument is he’s not playing fair, because a loyal Democrat stays with what Obama once called the 40-yard lines, and by promising what are unrealizable things, like healthcare for all, which I understand why it’s … Sanders and everybody made this argument. It’s realizable in Canada and Europe and all kinds of places.
THOMAS FRANK: Yeah, but not here.
PAUL JAY: Not here. By doing that, he wasn’t a loyal Democrat, because if he was a real loyal Democrat, he wouldn’t have fought her like that.
THOMAS FRANK: So the idea is that he raised issues that are unacceptable. I have never heard that one before. I thought all’s fair in politics, you can raise any issue you feel like and come at it from any direction that you want.
PAUL JAY: I think she’s grasping for a fall guy here.
THOMAS FRANK: That is a fascinating idea that certain issues are simply off the table, because the machinery of our politics says they are. Once you say that, you’re not talking about democracy anymore. You’re talking about something else, where all sorts of issues simply cannot be permitted because this corporation called the Democratic Party, those are impermissible within its … Forget all that. Bernie Sanders is in some ways more loyal to the Democratic tradition than she is. Remember, we talked about this last time, that he … In some ways, this is why they despise him, because he hearkens back to that lost New Deal past that Bill Clinton and company turned away from in 1992. It actually goes back earlier than Bill Clinton. Jimmy Carter did a lot of the turning, Michael Dukakis certainly, but Bill Clinton is the one who really put the nails in the coffin of the New Deal order.
PAUL JAY: As we said in the segment that’s on the website now, most of Bill Clinton’s legislative achievements, I think you went through five major …
THOMAS FRANK: Yeah, they’re all Republican.
PAUL JAY: … they’re actually Republican agenda.
THOMAS FRANK: Yeah, every single one of them. By the way, Bill Clinton’s war on the New Deal, this is very famous, if you go back and read the literature of Clinton at the time. That’s why his admirers admired him, because he supposedly had put an end to the New Deal order, the New Deal Coalition, all of this stuff that had been inherited and was supposed to be so creaking and dusty and old, and he was doing away with that. The Democrats were now something new. They believed in new ideas, globalization, the information age.
PAUL JAY: Privatization.
THOMAS FRANK: Yeah, all of that stuff.
PAUL JAY: Welfare reform.
THOMAS FRANK: The balanced budget, yeah, welfare reform, mass incarceration.
PAUL JAY: It’s nothing new, the Republican agenda.
THOMAS FRANK: Bank deregulation, yes, NAFTA, all of these things. It was a new dawn. It was a new Democratic Party. One of the things that’s fascinating about Sanders is that he openly hearkens back to the Democratic Party from before that period. He is a Rooseveltian. He says so.
PAUL JAY: One of the things he challenged her in the debate, which, this does not lead to Trump being able to call her Crooked Hillary, it would’ve led for her to say, make a demarcation with the old-style politics, he said, “Just promise no Wall Street guys on your finance team,” and she wouldn’t do that.
THOMAS FRANK: Trump said that?
PAUL JAY: No.
THOMAS FRANK: Sanders said that?
PAUL JAY: Sanders says that.
THOMAS FRANK: Okay, because that’s highly ironic if Trump said that.
PAUL JAY: No. He implied it.
THOMAS FRANK: Trump would say anything, that guy.
PAUL JAY: Trump would say anything.
THOMAS FRANK: During the convention, they promised to bring back Glass-Steagall. Do you remember that? The Republicans. It was like, “What?” It was a naked pitch for the Bernie Sanders voters, with zero feeling or meaning behind it. They’re just like, “Yeah, we’ll throw that out there. Whatever.” Crooked Hillary, I was at the Republican Convention when they started, I guess he was calling her that before then, but clearly referred to the emails. That’s what he was getting at there.
PAUL JAY: She’s saying Sanders’s campaign made her vulnerable. She’s vulnerable because of who she was and what she did.
THOMAS FRANK: Sanders declined to go after her for that.
PAUL JAY: On the emails, of course. I got some social media questions here. Jans from Facebook says, “If the DNC was cheating, why do you say she won fair and square?”
THOMAS FRANK: It’s a paradox, of course. She did win enough primaries to get the nomination, but they did have their thumb on the scale at the same time.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, because there are some suggestions even in some of the critical primaries, some of the voting wasn’t quite kosher.
THOMAS FRANK: Both things are true. They cheated, and she won fair and square. It’s not fair and square. She was the legitimate, she got the nomination.
PAUL JAY: You could say cheating in the realm that she cheated is the American way.
THOMAS FRANK: I don’t know why we think the Democratic National Committee is gonna be fair.
PAUL JAY: This would’ve been my joke about the Russians is the reason the American elites are so offended by Russia rigging the U.S. elections is because only the American elite’s allowed to rig American elections. I guess within the scheme of how these elections go, it was a normal amount of rigging, but at any rate …
THOMAS FRANK: It was relatively small, the stuff that we know of that came out in the emails that went on WikiLeaks.
PAUL JAY: There is some evidence-
THOMAS FRANK: Debbie Wasserman Schultz got in big trouble and had to resign.
PAUL JAY: I think there was some evidence in Michigan …
THOMAS FRANK: They knew-
PAUL JAY: … that there were some-
THOMAS FRANK: They were relatively small things. Look, Hillary, she won the nomination fair and square. She beat Bernie Sanders. If you want to go back and look at why that is, Sanders made a lot of mistakes too. Sanders blundered all over the place. For example, in the lead-up to the elections, Sanders put all of his energy in a handful of early states. He didn’t put anywhere near enough energy into campaigning in the South. He should’ve been a household name in the South. People didn’t know who he was. Hillary has been around since the 1990s. She’s a familiar name, familiar face. He really didn’t have a chance. Had he defeated her in the first three … I forget, it’s all so blurry now, but remember how Obama beat her very early on? He was trying to replicate all that and do the same thing, and it didn’t quite work out for him, and so he went on ultimately to defeat.
PAUL JAY: James on Facebook asks, “Given they, meaning corporate Democrats, have a hold on the Democratic … ” I’m sorry, “Given they have the purse, how can the neoliberal hold on the Democratic Party be broken without some form of political revolution?”
THOMAS FRANK: Sanders does show us that. Sanders shows us the way. By the way, and I would add, to a certain degree, so does Trump, because this election, now remember, this is something that we talked about last week, I don’t know if it’s aired yet or not, that the rationale for the Clinton wing of the party and for everything that they’ve done, for the way that they’ve cast off what the Democratic Party used to be, for the way that they treat the left wing of the Democratic Party, for the way that they … They have sacrificed all of our issues, my issues, on the altar of money. The rationale goes like this, “We can’t beat those dirty, evil Republicans, are so dirty and demonic. Bob Dole’s so sinister. We have to stop them.” I’m sorry, a little joke there, but, “The Republicans are so sinister and so evil, and the only way we can beat them is by matching them dollar for dollar in fundraising and campaign spending, and the only way we can do that is to jettison who we used to be.” It all comes back to raising all this money and defeating the Republicans. Hillary out-raised Trump. She did it. Man, she raised enough money. She out-raised him two to one this time, and lost.
PAUL JAY: Mostly hedge fund money too.
THOMAS FRANK: Yeah, and lost. Here’s Bernie out there, who did extremely well, extraordinarily well with small campaign donations. What all of this Clinton, the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party, all of their reasoning, what they overlook is that the Democrats used to be outspent always, always, in the old days, and still, they often won. You look at Franklin Roosevelt, massively outspent, all the time, as far as we know. It’s very hard when you look back at those old elections. There’s no transparency or anything like that. Massively, some of the elections that we do know about, like in 1896, we know a little bit about it, William Jennings Bryan was outspent something like 20 to one, and he came damned close to beating McKinley. Roosevelt, like I said, outspent all the time. Truman, always outspent. You go right down the list, Democrats were always outspent, because they had a different strategy, popular grassroots mobilization. The Republicans had the money. The Democrats had the numbers. They had the people.
PAUL JAY: Unions that had some strength.
THOMAS FRANK: Unions. Unions are the key. They are the trump card … Sorry, I should never say that.
PAUL JAY: I’m afraid to use that word anymore.
THOMAS FRANK: Yeah. Unions are obviously the key in that strategy from the 1930s up to the 1970s, but that’s not really part of the Democratic … They like unions, and they love it that unions come out and support them and do all the grassroots work on election day and all that sort of thing, but they have allowed unions to deteriorate. They’re a shadow of their former strength.
PAUL JAY: I think partly going back to the first question, why attack Sanders in this book, I don’t think anything has been such a threat to the corporate Democrats than the way Sanders raised money. This party, Republicans too, but they don’t have quite the same problem with it, Democratic Party was never meant to be able to be financed through anything other than the elites. The rules, everything, it’s meant to look so open and democratic, because you couldn’t really take advantage of it without going to where the money is. Now Sanders has found another way to raise money. Almost he raised as much as she did. I think this terrifies her, them, her and that whole stratum, which includes Barack Obama, and they need to start …
THOMAS FRANK: It was a crazy election year.
PAUL JAY: They’re getting ready for this war.
THOMAS FRANK: It was a crazy election year. Just blaming Sanders for what happened is so misguided. You think about what I mentioned earlier, Hillary out-raising Trump, you think about the newspaper endorsements, have you ever looked at this? Trump got the endorsement of something like two newspapers in America. This is unprecedented. She’s winning wealthy counties all over America. The respectable opinion and respectable white-collar America is behind her in this, in the way that they used to be behind Republicans, like a William McKinley kind of figure. What the hell happened? How did this guy win? I’m actually really excited to read the rest of Hillary’s book, because I wonder what she has to say about this. This is just the most insane election in my lifetime. I’ve never seen something like this before. Everything is upside-down and topsy-turvy. Sanders was a breath of sanity. Sanders was a dose of sweet reason compared to everything else that was going on. You look back at why the media despised Sanders, and they objectively did, remember I wrote that story for Harper’s Magazine about how the Washington Post viewed Sanders, and I read every editorial and op-ed that mentioned Bernie Sanders from January to June of 2016. They were five to one against Bernie Sanders. They hated this man. It’s a lot of the same stuff that you can hear Hillary rehashing, “It’s not realistic. He’s doing damage to the Democratic Party as an organism,” this kind of thing, but I think what it ultimately comes back to is that he is this figure from this past that they think is suppressed. He’s a figure that they don’t think they should have to listen to.
PAUL JAY: Because they think it’s naïve.
THOMAS FRANK: They don’t think they should have to listen to someone like Bernie Sanders. It’s not only naïve, it’s obsolete. We’ve had this debate, and his side lost back in the 1980s and the 1990s. We don’t have to listen to this again.
PAUL JAY: It’s actually very similar to the way Obama talked-
THOMAS FRANK: They treat them with contempt.
PAUL JAY: It’s the way Obama talked about Reverend Wright. To talk about systemic racism, you’re in the past. You’re stuck in-
THOMAS FRANK: Obama is a fascinating figure in this as well, because Obama also achieved this amazing upset and beat Hillary Clinton in his own way and had that incredible popular movement behind him. Sanders often spoke about how much he admired Obama’s … That was really the beginning of Sanders’s strategy. I can’t wait to see who takes it and runs with it next. The problem is of course Obama ruled as a very different figure than the Obama that we saw campaigning in 2008.
PAUL JAY: We’ll get into that in some future segments. I’ve got another question from YouTube. We touched on this in one of our interviews. This is from Dawn on YouTube, “Does he think Bernie should continue to try to take the Dems back to the party of FDR or start a new party?” Let me just reframe it a little bit. Enormous resources will go into the Sanders campaign, having the civil war with the Clinton corporate Democrats versus if you put all of that effort and momentum into a third-party run.
THOMAS FRANK: We talked about this last week. There’s huge structural impediments to building a proper third party in this country. I love third parties. What’s the Matter With Kansas?, it’s all based in my affection for populism, which was a movement in the 1890s, a political party that was built unlike, say, a Ross Perot kind of party. It was built from the grassroots up. First they had state legislators. Then they had members of Congress. Then they had governors. They did run a guy for president as a kind of afterthought, but it was a real party. That has basically become impossible to do. However, you can fight for control of one of the existing parties. Nobody remembers this anymore, but What’s the Matter With Kansas?, my book, this is what it’s about, is a fight within the Republican Party in the state of Kansas, where the Republican Party actually got taken over by grassroots activists, grassroots activists for some of the worst causes, some of the worst ideas you can imagine, but they took over the Republican Party from the bottom up. I would love to see that happen to the Democratic Party, and it can happen. Sanders showed us exactly how it can happen. I think a third-party effort is at this point, with all of the structural impediments-
PAUL JAY: What are the structural impediments?
THOMAS FRANK: What third parties used to do in the 19th century was there’s an electoral tactic that they used all over the country called fusion. What this meant was that the populists would fuse with, in the North, in a state like Kansas, they would fuse with the Democrats, who are a tiny little part. Kansas is a Republican state. In the South, where populism was also big, they would fuse with the local Republican Party, because the Southern states tended to be one-party Democratic states. They would call themselves fusion candidates, and they won this way. This was a common strategy in the 19th century. They won. They won all over the place, elected people to Congress, like I said. This is illegal now. There’s no good reason for it. There’s nothing in the Constitution. It’s just once populism died down, the two main parties got together in all of these states where it had happened, and made that strategy, made that tactic illegal, so you can do that anymore.
PAUL JAY: When you look at the Ross Perot candidacy, he got into the debates I think on the whole, the media had to start covering him as a legitimate candidate. One of the arguments here is the media simply gets to decide this is a two-party system on the whole.
THOMAS FRANK: That’s a big part of it too, yes.
PAUL JAY: Perot was able to break through that, because he just had enough dough. Now all of a sudden we see the kind of money Bernie Sanders could raise, is there not a Ross Perot kind of model that’s not out of the question?
THOMAS FRANK: It could happen, but it would just be at the presidential level. Yeah, it could happen.
PAUL JAY: I think that’s what they’re talking about, presidential level.
THOMAS FRANK: Yeah, but when I talk about a third party, I’d like to see … You need challenges to the system. By the way, just to rehash some of the stuff we talked about last week, third parties are essential for the health of a two-party system. This is just basic math. If you are limited by law to just these two parties, they’re going to engage in all kinds of things that are predictable behavior which you can predict with game theory. They’re gonna come together in consensus on all sorts of issues where the public disagrees with them, which they do, by the way, on trade issues, for example, or on budgetary issues, where the public disagrees profoundly with the consensus in Washington, D.C., but the consensus continues by logic of its own, because the two parties have come together and this sort of thing. This is a very predictable problem, and it needs to be smashed. You have to have the a third party that comes in there, like the Republicans did with the Whigs or like the populists did with the system in the 1890s, and shake it up. That has to happen every now and then. We’re in a kind of situation today where that needs to happen. Unfortunately, I think that the way the system is set up now, the best bet for the Sanders movement is fighting within the Democratic Party. I think, play their cards right, they can have a lot of success in the Democratic Party. By the way, I have another theory for way mainstream Dems were so contemptuous of Sanders people, because it’s the Sanders voters, these young, idealistic people, a lot of college kids. They look at these people and they see McGovern voters from 1972, and they’re like, “Oh no, we’re gonna lose.”
PAUL JAY: Again.
THOMAS FRANK: Exactly, “Not this again.” Nobody says that, but I think that’s what’s in the back of their mind.
PAUL JAY: Here’s a question, what we’ve just been talking about, “Can the Democratic Party be taken over with superdelegates in place?” There’s been quite a change on that.
THOMAS FRANK: The rules on these things change all the time, so yes, it can. Like I said, these things happen from the bottom up, and it can be done.
PAUL JAY: I think in that Unity Commission and the reform the Democratic Party, I think they’ve gone from something like 850 superdelegates to 250 that are free votes. The rest now have to vote with whoever actually won the state.
THOMAS FRANK: Oh, really?
PAUL JAY: Yeah.
THOMAS FRANK: That’s very interesting.
PAUL JAY: It’s a much smaller pool of people.
THOMAS FRANK: Superdelegates come and go. That was one of the many things that they did to make sure that a McGovern-type candidate was never chosen again.
PAUL JAY: Sanders was able to get, I think, it seems like, and I’m not expert in Democratic Party politics by a long shot, but that seemed like a significant reform. The power of superdelegates is greatly reduced from what it was.
THOMAS FRANK: Yeah. That’s good. That’s healthy I think.
PAUL JAY: Let me see what else we got here. “Can the organized labor movement be a valid power center in this pendulum swing to the left in terms of a critical mass of leadership and so on?” The problem there is most of the critical mass of the labor leadership ain’t on the left.
THOMAS FRANK: Some of them are though.
PAUL JAY: Some are, some are.
THOMAS FRANK: There’s some really good people. Organized labor, these are my friends. I speak to unions all the time. By the way, when you go into these union halls, they love Bernie Sanders. The rank and file, they love Bernie Sanders. They know that he is the one guy in the U.S. Senate that consistently takes their point of view. Yeah, if you ask me, of course that has to be where a large part of the energy comes from, because they do have power. That’s who funds the Democratic Party by and large, or a big part of the Democratic Party operations. The Democratic Party really plays these guys, and they string them along and they promise them all sorts of things. You talk about a group that is afraid of Republicans, organized labor, the leadership of organized labor anyway, is terrified of the Republican Party, because look at Scott Walker in Wisconsin, this is no joke. When these people get in charge, they go on a union-busting spree like you’ve never seen. Although they are on the left, as we all know, they are extremely sensitive to the prospect of Republicans getting in, and so they will back someone like Hillary, even though their rank and file loves Bernie Sanders.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, and there’s a winability, at least they thought so.
THOMAS FRANK: That’s right. They were playing this pragmatic game …
PAUL JAY: Better Hillary that gives you …
THOMAS FRANK: … that never works out for them. You talk about a group that gets abused, ill-treated I should say, by the Democratic Party, it’s organized labor. The story of what’s happened to them is the saddest thing in the world, because this is real economic democracy in these people. If you ever hang around these people, this is the organized form through which average rank-and-file workers have a voice in the workplace. It’s a wonderful thing. If we could get organized labor to grow again in this country, rather than shrink all the time, you would be converting people to the Democratic Party all over the place. You would be moving people to the left. This is a well-known phenomenon that as people, they go from being a Trump voter to being something very different once they join a labor union. The Democratic Party should be encouraging this all the time, but they never do. We know what the impediments are if the union organizes to-
PAUL JAY: I have to say, in this last election, a lot of union members voted for Trump.
THOMAS FRANK: Yeah, they did, yeah, and more than have voted Republican in the past, let’s put it that way, but still not a majority.
PAUL JAY: I think there’s significant polling to show that a lot of those union Trump voters would’ve voted Sanders.
THOMAS FRANK: Of course, no question at all. Look, Trump made an overt appeal to them. Trump did this deliberately. Every now and then I look at Trump, and you look at that face and you think, “Who is this dunce? Who is this guy? Is he a dunce or is he a genius?” because he’s certainly figured out the magic formula for how to defeat the Democratic Party, peeling off votes of working-class people, and he did it very deliberately. We were gonna show this videotape, I don’t know if you were able to find this on YouTube. If you go back and watch Trump rallies from 2016, he loves to talk about this YouTube video that someone shot in a carrier factory outside of Indianapolis. It’s of a manger calls all the workers together, walks out there onto the platform, and tells them that they’re all gonna lose their jobs, that they’re moving the factory to Mexico. The workers realize this, and there’s this awful moment of silence, and then they start yelling at him. They start screaming at him. It’s raw. The emotional power of this is overwhelming. Trump made a point of talking about that, that video and those workers at that carrier factory all the time in his campaign, and blaming it on NAFTA and talking about how he would get those jobs back. He did this deliberately. It was ingenious. I’ve been in that union local hall. There’s pictures of Sanders on the wall there. They love that guy. They love Bernie Sanders.
PAUL JAY: As much as there’s a, Hillary doesn’t like it, a left critique from within the Democratic Party, there is also a left critique of Bernie Sanders. One of the key issues is on the healthcare proposal. There’s a critique that his healthcare proposal either allows for a public option, there’s a lot of critique for this public option idea, that it allows the big insurance companies to then cherry-pick and stay in business, and that he’s still too incremental in some of his proposals. I admit, I’m a bit confused myself, because I see sometimes he’s proposing Medicare for all, but then I see him interviewed on CNN and he mostly talks about fixing the Affordable Healthcare Act first.
THOMAS FRANK: I don’t know, maybe he’s being pragmatic. I have no idea. I don’t know which. I thought he was for Medicare for all, but obviously the …
PAUL JAY: He’s certainly for it.
THOMAS FRANK: … immediate thing …
PAUL JAY: The question’s how-
THOMAS FRANK: … he’s also a U.S. Senator, and he’s probably talking about the immediate things that they’re working on right now.
PAUL JAY: I think it’s in that realm. There is some issue as whether the focus-
THOMAS FRANK: You gotta have goals. You gotta have goals, Paul.
PAUL JAY: I’ve always been one to-
THOMAS FRANK: It’s funny to me how-
PAUL JAY: Ponies are realizable.
THOMAS FRANK: It’s funny to me how hard that was for so many Democratic Party people to understand, that yeah, you have these pragmatic steps toward the goal, but this is the goal. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “This is the goal and we’re gonna get there eventually. It’ll take a long time, but we’re gonna get there. The goal is universal healthcare.” I think that makes perfect sense, or free public universities, obviously we’re not gonna get there immediately, or breaking up the banks, that’s gonna take a lot of doing, a lot of effort. You could do it if you had another bailout situation.
PAUL JAY: We have a question from, Webmaster he calls himself on YouTube, “We urgently need to address climate change. What’s the quickest way to get there, reforming the Democratic Party or starting a third party?” We dealt with that, but the whole issue of climate change is still not front and center in anybody’s language.
THOMAS FRANK: That’s right.
PAUL JAY: Bernie’s the strongest on it. I think he does understand you can’t just talk about climate change. If you want the working-class to understand the importance of climate change, you have to talk about all the immediate issues as well.
THOMAS FRANK: We don’t need to go into this now, but the idea of the Green New Deal, which is one of those great ideas back from 2008, that would’ve been a wonderful thing, “Let’s pull this economy out with a massive public works program that’s all organized around environmental issues.” Oh well.
PAUL JAY: It still seems to be the …
THOMAS FRANK: It’s a great idea.
PAUL JAY: … only realistic proposal, the only pony that could actually run fast enough to save our ass here. Liz [Rainey] on Facebook, “Isn’t the power in our local elections first? Instead of top-down power from the DNC, local city and state governments can be changed faster than the deeply entrenched corporate Democrats … ”
THOMAS FRANK: That is for sure.
PAUL JAY: “… in Washington.”
THOMAS FRANK: That is totally for true, yes.
PAUL JAY: “Shouldn’t the left focus energy there?”
THOMAS FRANK: If you ask me, you focus on both things at once, of course. Look, there’s a lot of good … It’s not like the left wing of the Democratic Party only has one guy and it’s Bernie Sanders. There’s a whole lot of them. There’s a lot of really good Democrats out there, people that get 100% approval rating from me. They get my stamp of approval. But yes, you need to work at the local level, absolutely. It’s hard work to take over a local party structure, but it can be done. I saw it done in Kansas in the Republican Party.
PAUL JAY: It’s actually a fight being waged all over the country right now. This is another reason for Clinton attacking Sanders in the book, is there’s a battle-
THOMAS FRANK: The war’s going on all over the place.
PAUL JAY: There’s a war already. It’s not waiting for 2020. It’s going on on every level of the Democratic Party, fighting for leadership …
THOMAS FRANK: That’s right.
PAUL JAY: … and control of the organization at city, state levels, and so on. We’re gonna continue our Reality Asserts Itself conversation, so you’ll see this, and then over the next few days we’ll be publishing every couple of days a new segment of our conversation, so please join us for the continuation of Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.
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Thomas Carr Frank is an American political analyst, historian, and journalist. He co-founded and edited The Baffler magazine. Frank is the author of the books What’s the Matter with Kansas? and Listen, Liberal, among others. From 2008 to 2010 he wrote “The Tilting Yard”, a column in The Wall Street Journal.