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Laramie Movie Scope:
Divide and conquer the Democrats

Not the country we used to be, but we're good for a laugh

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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May 21, 2017 -- Dr. Cornell West and talk show host Bill Maher engaged in an angry shouting match on Maher's show, “Real Time With Bill Maher,” on May 19, a continuation of a political dispute they've had for months over the recent presidential election and the future of the Democratic Party.

Cornel Ronald West, a religious philosopher, political activist, and public intellectual, has argued and continues to argue that the two main presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are relatively equal in awfulness. Before the election, West said, “I think Trump would be a neofascist catastrophe and Clinton would be a neoliberal disaster.” Maher believes that America would be much better off if Clinton had been elected.

Maher, in one of his signature New Rules segments on May 5, 2017 directly rebutted what he calls West's “false equivalency” comparison of the two, saying America would be much better off in terms of race relations (Jeff Sessions would not be Attorney General) the environment, health care, education policy (with competent cabinet members) and “would anyone have to wonder if she (Hilary) was Putin's bitch?”

West, appearing just two weeks after Maher said all this, arrived at the show ready for a fight, doubling down on his anti-Hilary sentiments, and saying that Bernie Sanders would have won if he had been “treated fairly.” This, of course refers to Democratic Party leaders preferring Clinton over Sanders and doing things to help her candidacy. These preferences were revealed in private emails obtained by, and released by, Russian hackers. This material was then used in a propaganda campaign by Russia to divide and conquer the Democratic Party.

In the primary elections, Hilary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders by some 3 million votes, about her same margin of victory in the popular vote over Trump, despite the fact that Russia was trying its best to hurt her and to help both Bernie Sanders and Trump. Yet, in his argument with Bill Maher on May 19, West made it clear that Bernie Sanders lost because he was treated “unfairly.” West went further and indicated that Hilary Clinton is largely responsible for her own loss to Trump, but at the same time intimated that she should not get credit for her victory over Sanders. West's argument supposes that the Russian interference wasn't substantial, while the the pro-Clinton actions party operatives made a huge difference.

How huge? In the primaries, Clinton won 16.8 million votes to 13.2 million for Sanders, or about 55 percent of the vote to his 43 percent, a 12 percentage point gap, according to according to The Green Papers, cited by 538.com. Nate Silver of 538, wrote: “My view is that the race wasn’t really all that close and that Sanders never really had that much of a chance at winning. From a purely horse-race standpoint, in fact, the media probably exaggerated the competitiveness of the race.”

Silver goes on (in a July 27, 2016 538 article) to show how the race between Clinton and Sanders appeared closer than it really was because of other factors, like the fact that Sanders did not drop out when he was too far behind to win the nomination (further dividing the Democrats). Most candidates traditionally drop out, for the good of the party, when they are that far behind. Also, Clinton did much better in primaries than Sanders did (leading to her much higher vote totals) while Sanders did better in caucuses.

That is not to say that Sanders was a weak candidate, he wasn't. He has strong support among young people and independent voters. Silver went on in the article to say that Sanders had unlocked “ ... a heretofore underappreciated political coalition that could determine a lot of future elections, possibly even including the general election this year.”

But that did not happen, of course. Sanders begged his supporters to vote for Clinton in the election, but not enough of them did. For some reason, Sanders supporters were ready to believe what Sanders told them, right up to the point where told them it would be in their best interests, and the country's best interests, to vote for Hilary Clinton. That is where they drew the line. It could be that hatred for Hilary outweighed their love for Bernie.

Despite Sanders and the increasingly popular President Barack Obama both campaigning for Hilary Clinton, she lost. I think the reason she lost is that the Russians achieved their goal of driving a wedge into the already existing split in the Democratic Party. That split between the Democratic Party's left wing and the rest of the party was pried open just wide enough to spell doom for Clinton, who lost the extremely close presidential election by only 70,000 votes in three key battleground states.

Cornell West exemplifies this split. His contempt for the Democratic Party is on full display in this April 24, 2017 essay in The Guardian newspaper. A portion of this essay was published under the headline ... “Let's Dump The Democratic Party” at the April 24, 2017 Colorlines web site.

West, identifying as “progressive” rather than a “Democrat” writes in this essay that Democratic “ ... party leaders too often revel in self-righteousness and self-pity rather than self-criticism and self-enhancement. The time has come to bid farewell to a moribund party that lacks imagination, courage and gusto.”

This is an ironic statement because West and other Bernie Sanders supporters are clearly wallowing just as much in “self-righteousness and self-pity” and avoiding “self-criticism and self-enhancement” as is the Democratic Party. Progressives seem to think that the losing strategy waged by Sanders in the primaries will lead to massive victories for them in the future.

West went on to write: “When brother Nick Brana, a former Bernie campaign staffer, told me about the emerging progressive populist or social democratic party – the People’s party – that builds on the ruins of a dying Democratic party and creates new constituencies in this moment of transition and liquidation, I said count me in.”

If this new party becomes real, it will represent more than just a new label for the split between so-called “progressives” and mainstream Democrats. It could be a true split of the Democratic party into two large pieces, neither of which might be large enough to put up a winning presidential candidate in the near future. That could be a big win for Republicans. If there was a similar split in the Republican party, like the split created by independent candidate Ross Perot in 1992, for instance, it would certainly be seen as a win for Democrats.

West writes that “Only the ubiquitous and virtuous Bernie remains true to the idea of fundamental transformation of the party.” So, Saint Bernie is going to lead us to the Promised Land of politics where the downtrodden are uplifted and the high and mighty are taxed enough to provide health care for everyone and food for the poor? Not bloody likely. Bernie Sanders is a politician, and his record on truthfulness compared to Hilary Clinton, based on statements made during the campaign, does not support this virtuous label.

According to the fact-checkers at Politifact, only 13 percent of Sanders' statements were true at the conclusion of the primary campaign, while 25 percent of Hilary Clinton's were true. Politifact also rates 12 percent of Sanders' statements as false, compared to 10 percent for Clinton. That doesn't include “pants on fire” whoppers, zero for Bernie, a record, and 7 (two percent) for Clinton. In between these extremes you have “mostly true” Sanders 38 percent, Clinton 24 percent, and half-truths, Sanders 21 percent, Clinton 24 percent, and “mostly false,” Sanders 16 percent, Clinton, 14 percent. This is based on many more statements from Clinton (293) than from Sanders (112) probably due to Clinton's longer campaign run.

Is Hilary Clinton perfect? Of course not, and neither is Bernie, and he is certainly no saint. Like Donald Trump, he failed to release most of his tax returns. As far as his campaign promises, free tuition, single payer health care, and the like, obviously those would have been DOA in Congress, and he had been in Congress long enough to know that. His inability to deliver on those promises might well have hurt Democratic candidates running in the 2018 mid-terms.

As far as Bernie's plan to jettison the Trans Pacific Partnership (not a smart move, by the way if your goal is to negotiate better trade deals with China) Trump already owns that issue, along with NAFTA and other anti-trade rhetoric. It turns out dumping the TPP was just the first step on the way to Trump completely abandoning his promise to get tough on trade policy with China. If being anti-trade is the best Progressives have to offer, they are in big trouble in the mid-terms and beyond.

Donald Trump has proven, so far at least, to be a spectacularly unqualified and unpopular president. It looks like the Democrats can pick up a lot of seats in the House and Senate in 2018 because of that fact, unless the Democratic Party ends up splitting apart, the way that the Progressive Puritans seem to want it to.

The Russians have to be loving this. They never expected so many Americans to be stupid enough to believe their Facebook news feeds. They never expected a man as bright as Cornell West to do exactly what the Russians wanted him to do: Perform his small part in helping to defeat Hilary Clinton. The Russians wanted to destabilize American politics, but they never expected to achieve the level of chaos in both the Republican and Democratic parties as they did.

Vladimir Putin had a smug smile recently when he spoke about reports that Trump had exposed top secret information to his top spies. While Trump has proven more erratic than Putin would like, at least he has proven easier to manipulate than Hilary Clinton would have been.

Putin is having a good laugh, along with the rest of the world, at the expense of the United States of America. The U.S. was once a country the world looked up to. Now, were a laughingstock, and a bit scary at the same time, because our clownish, but powerful, president behaves erratically.

Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, Saturday Night Live and every left wing political TV show, can also thank Cornell West, Bernie Sanders, the Progressives and Donald Trump because they have delivered high ratings and loads of ready-made comedy in the form of Trump. As comedian Lewis Black commented, “The news is funny!” he said all you have to do is run the right video clip culled from news shows, “ ... and go Ta Da!”

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Copyright © 2017 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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