Sanders, Warren and the art of media distraction

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Wikimedia Commons/ Nick Solari

If you follow politics regularly, you have reason to be angry about something every day. Trump deliberately provokes liberal outrage constantly with petty and stupid personal insults. It is called “trolling” and “triggering the libs.” It gets tiresome.

We definitely need a vigorous debate over the issues. However, the recent media-provoked spat between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren hasn’t been very constructive.

At the last Democratic presidential debate, CNN moderator Abby Phillip asked Sanders: “Sen. Sanders, CNN reported yesterday, and Sen. Warren confirmed in a statement, that in 2018 you told her that you did not believe that a woman could win the election. Why did you say that?”

Sanders denied that he had said that, adding that he had been prepared to stand aside for Warren to run in 2016. Philip ignored his denial and forcefully asked Warren, “What did you think when Sen. Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?” This elicited laughter by Sanders and many in the audience.

Incidentally, an article in The Hill on Nov. 18, 2013 quoted Sanders as saying he was pondering a presidential run in 2016 if no one else challenged the “establishment politicians.” He specifically said that Warren would be a great candidate and that he would support her if she chose to run. Of course she didn’t, but she also didn’t support either Sanders or Hillary Clinton in the primaries. All of the other female Democratic senators supported Clinton in the primaries. Both Warren and Sanders vigorously campaigned for Clinton in the general election.

New York columnist Eric Levitz writes:

“…Given limited publicly available information, Warren and Sanders’s dueling accounts of the latter’s private punditry, and the anonymous sourcing of every news article on the matter, the question of what Bernie Sanders told Elizabeth Warren over dinner in 2018, and how that conversation came to be a national news story today, is at least partly a Rorschach test…”

The “establishment” or legacy media has had trouble adjusting to today’s politics. Trump is a pathological liar and bullshitter but you run the risk of sounding horribly biased if you point out his falsehoods. Both the far right and democratic socialism have sort of entered the mainstream. That is a challenge to the legacy media as well.

Recently, MSNBC host Katy Tur had a fascinating short interview with Time editor at large Anand Giridharadas who is the author of Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. He talked about wealth, power, institutional change, populism versus oligarchy.

He said that for decades Americans were playing in a FDR-launched New Deal “ideological stadium,” but in the 1980s Ronald Reagan launched a new “ideological stadium” in which we still exist. There has developed “a bipartisan consensus on the acceptability of extreme income inequality.” He stressed that there is a “left side of the field” in the current “ideological stadium” which is critical of capitalism’s extremes. That would be the Clinton and Obama administrations.

The election campaign of 2016 changed things. A democratic socialist ran for president and won 22 states in the Democratic primaries. Donald Trump mimicked Sanders’ economic message but wrapped it up into a tribal racist nationalism. Giridharadas told Tur that Trump, as president, has proved that he isn’t a “populist” but “an oligarch working for oligarchs.”

Giridharadas described his experiences when he was writing a Time cover story in the spring about the current Sanders campaign. He argued that there is a thirst for the transformational change offered by Sanders and Warren.

He carefully observed the audiences at Sanders’ rallies and discovered a wide variety of people of all colors and backgrounds. There were a lot of older white working class guys who might get stereotyped as Trump supporters. The crowds didn’t fit the media stereotype of Bernie supporters who are all “green haired socialists under the age of 19.”

Tur told Giridharadas that he “blew up the network” then quickly added she was joking. MSNBC is supposed to be the liberal network but usually is most friendly toward a more moderate liberalism than Giridharadas.

Giridharadas wrote another Time cover story last December entitled “How the Elites Lost Their Grip: In 2019 America’s 1% behaved badly — and helped bring about a reckoning with capitalism.” He deals with New York City’s rebellion against huge tax breaks to Amazon for their second headquarters, with the college bribery scandal and with the backlash against Facebook for its huge market power and its problematic behavior in the face of psychological warfare by Russian intelligence.

He says, “History is the story of conditions that long seem reasonable until they begin to seem ridiculous. So it is with America’s present manic hypercapitalism.” Many years of “economic precariousness, stalled mobility and gaping social divides” have created a backlash.

Giridharadas writes about the “Great Plute Freakout of 2019.” Many plutocrats (or “plutes”) have expressed growing alarm at a possible Sanders or Warren presidency. But he assures us that the old Gilded Age led to an age of reform, not the end of capitalism. He also says that today “many very rich people are not satisfied with the general advantage of hyperprivilege.”

This year is likely to be chaotic, confusing and more than a little scary. Our democracy is being tested and we need journalists to help inform us and interpret what is going on.  

this opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.