THE BLOG
07/27/2016 01:57 pm ET Updated Jul 28, 2017

Breaking Down Sanders' Big Speech

Even after his gradually rolled-out defection to the dark side of Clinton Inc. was all but complete, many Bernie supporters continued to believe in Bernie, bless their hearts.

Some apologists argued that Sanders' otherwise unexplained surrender to the corrupt Democratic Party had a deeper secret motive. He did it in order to give his Big Speech at the Convention, they said. The Big Speech is now history. It is all Sanders will write in this Convention, other than some changes in the irrelevant platform and possibly in a few rules of unknown prospective value that Clinton allows. His uninspired choices of surrogates to place him in nomination and his ritualized "unity" motion at the end of the balloting dampened any remaining enthusiasm of delegates to fight the rigged process.

We can now judge whether the Convention speech was worth the compromise of Sanders' integrity by surrendering the fight, and supporting the very same corrupt plutocrat who it was the ostensible and well-funded purpose of his campaign, and of his supporters, to defeat.

The Big Speech had three essential parts. One part recited the list of New Deal-type policy reforms that majorities support and which would therefore already be implemented if the US were a democracy. Sanders said these policies were what his campaign was about. In a way it was, to the extent his campaign was merely a demonstration of what could be accomplished if the United States were a democracy.

The second part of the speech was a pitch for Lesser of Two Evils voting, along with an implicit claim that Clinton is the lesser evil. This part of Sanders' speech surfed on the propaganda about Trump in which the plutocratic media is already awash. It lacked the intellectual integrity of actually dealing with the fact that, on the core progressive issues of imperialism and plutocracy, Trump has leapt right over the rightward march of Clinton Inc. to land on the progressive side of Clinton, thereby outflanking the Democrats on these fundamentals.

The Democratic Party will not give up identity politics as its principal disguise for its plutocratic ownership. Thus the 2016 election witnesses a split between those attracted to identity politics who pretend to be progressive and those who understand that the reason for the inequality that gives rise to identity-based claims for relief is the very lack of an effective franchise in a plutocracy. Plutocracy deprives everyone of their democratic equality. Political disenfranchisement by plutocracy hurts most of all socially and economically disadvantaged or otherwise isolated groups, of course. But the more Democrats support plutocracy and undermine democracy, the more they can claim to represent such separate identity-based complaints, served mainly through symbolic gestures. Plutocracy is thus good for the Democrats' basic business of identity politics, and vice versa.

Others have discussed the failure of liberals to honestly assess Trump's stated positions by which he has overtly appealed to Sanders' progressive supporters. The subject need not be addressed further here, other than to mention that Sanders' added nothing to the general anti-Trump discourse that has been going on for months, other than simply piling on the standard identity politics narrative against Trump. It was gratifying that, when Sanders tried this narrative out on his own delegates on Monday morning, they did not take the bait. Many had already likely heard enough about Trump in their state conventions.

What Sanders left off the list of his campaign's policy goals in the first part of his speech was his most clearly progressive goal. This was commonly defined throughout his campaign as its central issue upon which all else depends: "Very little is going to be done to transform our economy and to create the kind of middle class we need unless we end a corrupt campaign finance system which is undermining American democracy." This was the statement that made his long list of campaign promises honest. This was Sanders' answer to Obama, Clinton and others who accused Sanders of dishing out to his followers pie-in-the-sky fantasies that were not "pragmatic." The "pragmatic" critics could not imagine overthrow of the plutocracy they serve, while Sanders and his supporters could.

This central message of Sanders' campaign -- that none of his majoritarian New Deal policy reforms can be accomplished unless the corrupt plutocracy is first turned back to a democracy -- was missing from his Convention speech. Instead of making this clear statement about priorities, Sanders simply tacked on to the end of his list of policies the following statement:

"Brothers and sisters, this election is about overturning Citizens United, one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in the history of our country. That decision allows the wealthiest people in America, like the billionaire Koch brothers, to spend hundreds of millions of dollars buying elections and, in the process, undermine American democracy."


The first sentence refashions Sanders key campaign goal, to "end a corrupt campaign finance system," as a far lesser demand. The second sentence shows that Sanders is either grossly misinformed about, or careless in describing, what Citizens United actually held. It was not Citizens United (2010) but the much earlier Buckley v Valeo (1976) that allows the Koch brothers to spend vast millions on elections, provided they spend their own private money. Even corporations could, prior to Citizens United, spend all they wanted on sham "issue ads" that were actually electioneering ads. The ruling in Citizens United only allowed plutocrats to also make independent political expenditures through their corporate entities, if they chose to do so. Most plutocrats do not choose to do so, at least not until President Obama legalized dark money by his deliberate inaction. Since Speechnow.org (D.C.Cir. 2010) all independent electioneering expenditures are unlimited.

If Sanders did want to stop the Koch brothers from spending their personal fortune on the political investments from which their businesses profit, it would be wrong for him to reduce his original campaign demand to recover government from the Koch's "billionaire class." If now, instead, "this election is about overturning Citizens United," that will not suffice. "Overturning Citizens United" would have virtually no impact -- at most inflict some modest inconvenience -- upon the plutocratic opposition to Sanders' New Deal reforms.

Sanders later elaborated on this subject by noting that "Hillary Clinton will nominate justices to the Supreme Court who are prepared to overturn Citizens United and end the movement toward oligarchy that we are seeing in this country." The first part of the sentence is true. Clinton did make such gestures as early as Iowa. See Vol I. This was not a concession in return for Sanders' capitulation. But her gestures do not mean much, since even Jeb Bush was able to oppose Citizens United by the time of the New Hampshire primary. This litmus test for Clinton's Supreme Court appointees will not be difficult to meet because it would not significantly impede plutocracy. Far more important would be a litmus test of reversing the Supreme Court's recent McDonnell decision legalizing certain kinds of bribery, which none of the current justices, including those appointed by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, could pass, in addition to Buckley v Valeo.

The second part of Sanders' sentence is deceptive in several ways.

First, Sanders has pulled a another switch in this part of his speech. A campaign "about ending a campaign finance system which is corrupt and allows billionaires to buy elections" is what Sanders had clearly, repeatedly and accurately promised as the minimal prerequisite for obtaining any of his New Deal policy reforms. Now he has switched to a weaseling objective. He would merely "end the movement toward oligarchy." Ending such "movement" would leave us exactly where we are right now. The current status quo is not at all what "Our Revolution" had promised. People who had in 2008 already been betrayed by promises of "Change" are now ready for revolution. But Sellout Sanders in his Big Speech is promising to maintain the status quo of systemic corruption with Clinton.

Second, "overturning Citizens United" would not even, as Sanders suggests, "end the movement toward oligarchy that we are seeing in this country." That movement could and did proceed quite effectively before Citizens United was announced in 2010. It would have continued after Citizens United, under Supreme Court decisions that had nothing to do with the ruling in Citizens United, such as Arizona Free Enterprise Club (2011) and McCutcheon (2014), even had Citizens United altogether disappeared from the Supreme Court's pro-corruption canon. It is Buckley v Valeo that must be overturned to again restore the judicially-repealed anti-corruption measures of all kinds. Every money is speech pro-corruption decision, except possibly McDonnell, relies on Buckley.

The narrow channel for corrupt political investments which Citizens United legalized, involving just the independent political expenditures of corporations, account for a narrow and inessential means for plutocrats to buy influence. Though it is the most publicized because of its inflammatory and sloppy rhetoric it is one of the least significant of the Court's many pro-corruption rulings that need overturning. It is a twig not a root of the Court's noxious weed-tree of corruption growing on the rotted remains of the Constitution.

Third, Sanders must need a new prescription since we are not "seeing a movement" toward oligarchy (as Sanders calls plutocracy). The US is already clearly seeing the plutocracy itself according to most polls. No further movement is required to reach that destination. Jimmy Carter has for some years now explained that the US is already an "oligarchy instead of a democracy" due to money in politics. Sanders should need no more proof of this fact then the election fraud by which Clinton's biased party stole the nomination from him on behalf of plutocrats who fund he party. If Wikileaks' emails did not awaken him to that fact, he must know of Gilens' Princeton research showing that in contemporary politics money buys policy, and mere voters without money "have essentially no impact on which policies the government does or doesn't adopt." That is the definition of plutocracy. Systemically corrupt US politics has already destroyed democracy without further "movement" being at all necessary.

The third part of Sanders speech was where he spoke about what Hillary Clinton "understands," or "sees," or some other imprecise verb describing her positions on Sanders' New Deal policy agenda. His sole evidence for such confidence that Clinton will accomplish all these essential and belated reforms is what he calls the "most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party." I will leave it to someone else to analyze the veracity of that assertion. It can be noted here that none of the reforms of the platform that Sanders did mention have anything to do with money in politics, which is, if interpreted to include all forms of election theft by plutocrats, both the most clearly progressive reform, as well as the key reform, of his whole campaign.

Progressives by definition prioritize recovering democracy from plutocrats over any other issue. This can only be done by prohibiting the plutocrats' investments in politicians and in other means of committing election theft and subverting the now non-existent consent of the governed. None of the understandings, etc., Sanders listed for Clinton had anything to do with money in politics.

Moreover the existing 2012 Democratic Party platform already contained the platitude: "We support campaign finance reform, by constitutional amendment if necessary." This platform provision has meant nothing and is indeed designed for diversion from anything that might be effective. Even if the platform had improved upon this statement by adding effective policy details, the party's position stated in its platform would continue to have no bearing whatsoever on actually accomplishing this goal in a manner that would be effective. Clinton has obviously made Sanders no such promises, and her plutocratic funders would absolutely prohibit her from carrying it out if she had.

This lack of any significant attention to money in politics was a glaring omission in Sanders most formal capitulation speech. Immediately after his speech, however, Sanders sent out an email to his list of supporters, pitching his new fundraising operation called "Our Revolution." In this email, Sanders hastened to make a gesture toward remedying the obvious omission from his speech of any effective understanding or agreement about the central issue of his campaign.

The very first sentence of Sanders' email thus reads: "Our campaign has always been about a grassroots movement of Americans standing up and saying: "Enough is enough. This country and our government belong to all of us, not just a handful of billionaires." This does minimally evoke the central campaign goal that Sanders excluded from his speech. Maybe it was a condition of his surrender to omit any mention of his campaign's central issue, except in terms carefully sanitized in advance by Clinton to prevent any possibility of causing plutocrats inconvenience in their buying of influence.

This emailed addendum to his speech for the benefit of progressive supporters Sanders is losing suggests that Sanders still recognizes the same progressive priority he stated during his campaign. Some supporters who do not parse the speech too carefully might think that he discussed the need for restoring democracy as the prerequisite for accomplishing any of those New Deal reforms he did list in his speech. But in fact his communication separately by email of the central point omitted from the speech emphasizes that Clinton does not share this priority. How could the plutocrats' own candidate, the one the Kochs themselves prefer, accept such a priority?

During the nomination contest it was clear - and Trump will be sure that every voter who missed the nomination contest understands for purposes of the general election -- that the Clinton organization is totally sold out to plutocracy and always has been. Hillary Clinton embodies the plutocracy, has weathered many related scandals, and is totally weaponized by Clinton Inc. to shoot down every New Deal program that plutocrats pay her to oppose. She is not in any way even verbally committed to the single reform that Sanders' "campaign has always been about," that is, taking the government back from "just a handful of billionaires." She no doubt censored Sanders' speech to exclude it. The Clintons work for those billionaires. The one reform that Clinton does support that even relates to government by billionaires is the well-practiced diversion of "overturning Citizens United."

Therefore, by Sanders' own terms taken directly from the center of his campaign, he understands that none of the New Deal policy reforms he advocated in the first part of his speech and upon which he claims Clinton has taken some unspecified position in the third part of his speech, will have any chance of being accomplished if Sanders gets his wish of helping to elect Clinton as president. A speech that sacrifices the lynch-pin of his whole campaign cannot therefore justify his capitulation to a plutocrat. He must have received something other than the speech because the speech itself was a retreat at best, and deceitful at worst, and certainly not a clever maneuver to achieve anything of public importance.

It looks like Bernie was checkmated without having played even one of those brilliant chess moves some supporters seemed to discern in Sanders' slow dance of abject surrender to Clinton, without obtaining anything of value in return. Such persons can't be blamed for imagining far-fetched explanations since Sanders explanations made no palpable sense. The lesson to be learned from Sanders' speech is that anyone who says they can lead a movement should be subject to inquiry from the movement about the strategies planned to accomplish its goals and also about the reasons for throwing away the time and energy of the movement by a personal capitulation like Sanders to his opponent on behalf of the movement, but without any consultation, and for shallow reasons that cannot withstand analysis. The experience with Bernie Sanders in 2016 teaches that strategic competence is at least as important as strongly stated desires for progressive goals. If someone cannot competently explain their strategy, they probably do not have one.