Bernie blew it. By embracing rather than confronting Hillary Clinton, Sen. Sanders fell into the trap of sellout mainstream politics, improving his personal brand as an appealing but ultimately nonthreatening advocate for the downtrodden while studiously avoiding any suggestion that the smiley-faced woman standing next to him is deeply complicit in Wall Street's rape of the nation.
In Tuesday's debate he pointedly ignored the Clinton family's role in deregulating Wall Street, and in doing so he allowed Hillary Clinton to cast gun regulation as the key issue that divides her from him. Forgotten was Bill Clinton's selection of Goldman Sachs honcho Robert Rubin to be his treasury secretary, an appointee who with President Clinton's complicity presided over the dismantling of New Deal limits on financial greed.
The Clinton family tradition of sucking up to Wall Street is why Hillary and Bill and the foundation their daughter heads have been rewarded with millions in lecture fees and donations that are the basis of Hillary's rags-to-riches fairy tale. When she says she wants every child to have the opportunity that her grandchild has, that presupposes a father set up in the hedge fund business by Goldman Sachs chairman and Clinton buddy Lloyd Blankfein.
Yes, Bernie Sanders has an immensely honorable record of waging the good fight for struggling Americans. On issues of economic justice, he is second to none, but that makes his stumble in this debate so depressing. I have long admired the man, but his failure to directly hold the Democratic leadership accountable for the bipartisan hollowing out of the American workforce was disappointing. The destruction of the hardworking, decently paid middle class was abetted by lousy trade deals like NAFTA and more recently the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Hillary Clinton called the "gold standard" until it became politically inconvenient to insist on that absurdity.
Sanders' eagerness to forgive Clinton for any malfeasance in her email scandal was the debate's most celebrated but disgraceful moment. Ignoring her outrageous hypocrisy in endorsing the government's right to read the personal emails of everyone in the world, including the leaders of Germany and Brazil, but not her own, Sanders absolved the former secretary of state of the kinds of security breaches that have put lower-level government workers in prison. "Let me say this," Sanders declared as he cut into the applause for Clinton's dismissal of the email controversy as simply partisan contrivance. "Let me say ... something that may not be great politics. But I think the secretary is right, and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!" Of course it was great politics, creating a kumbaya moment among the assembled Democrats, with an appreciative Clinton murmuring, "Thank you. Me, too. Me, too." Suddenly Sanders had morphed into a Tony Blair complement to the Margaret Thatcher wannabe standing next to him.
Sanders remains proud of his opposition to the Patriot Act — still supported by Clinton — which authorized mass surveillance by the National Security Agency. So why didn't he point out the hypocrisy of a Cabinet member not trusting the government with her personal emails but feeling perfectly fine about the most intimate private data of the rest of us being subject to a vast and secret system of government spying? Spying that Clinton knew all about, but that was concealed from the American public until it was revealed by a brave whistleblower whom Clinton wants to imprison.
We learned of the domestic spying, since limited by an act of Congress, only through the disclosures of Edward Snowden, whose motives and patriotism Clinton continues to castigate. Repeating her persistent denigration of a young man who served the needs of a democracy as Clinton so abjectly betrayed our Constitution, Clinton stated that Snowden must come back and "face the music." Once again, as she has done repeatedly, Clinton falsely claimed that Snowden could have sought whistleblower protection when she should know that such protection is only for government employees, not a contractor as Snowden was. And she again smeared Snowden for taking refuge in Russia, as if that was his choice rather than the result of the State Department stripping his passport while he was in transit at the Moscow airport.
One should have no expectation that Clinton will be anything but deceitful in beating the drum for the "impostures of pretended patriotism" that George Washington warned about in his farewell address. Her hawkishness is ingrained, and the smug satisfaction she brings to an appraisal of the wreckage she has encouraged in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Syria was on full display during the debate's painfully shallow consideration of foreign policy choices.
That the former Goldwater Girl is a devotee of peace through bombing is not news, but her unctuous satisfaction with the results of her warmongering tenure as secretary of state is a depressing harbinger of worldwide chaos should she be elected president. And don't lecture me about the future of a Supreme Court in the hands of someone who would hang Edward Snowden if she could work it for the polls. Et tu, Bernie?
Robert Scheer is editor of TruthDig.com, where this column originally appeared. Email him at [email protected] To find out more about Robert Scheer and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.