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Bernard Weiner's Blog -- 2008

March 25, 2008

Anti-War Marches & Carl Bernstein's Myopia

Two public events I attended last week in San Francisco provided uplifting hope for significant change, and, at the same time, symbolized why change is so difficult for liberals to bring about. One was an anti-war march on the 5th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and the other was a talk by Carl Bernstein, he of Watergate reportorial fame.

Maybe 3000 Bay Area protesters marched in opposition to CheneyBush's Iraq War and Occupation, not bad for an after-work rally on a weekday at 5 p.m., but, of course, a far cry from the 100,000 San Franciscans who marched to try to stop the war from even starting five years ago. (Worldwide, more than 10 million protesters marched on that day, a global protest of magnitude that had never happened before in history!) There also were quite a number of non-violent Direct Action events during the day all over San Francisco, including a massive "die-in" outside Senator Dianne Feinstein's office.

Still, even though it was getting cold, the energy and morale of the marchers was high (as always, thanks more to the musicians than to the shrill demands for vocal unity by those wielding the bullhorns), the handmade signs were often clever and to the point. The police, though much in evidence and containing not a few who were nasty to the marchers (one deliberately bumped me and I spotted him doing the same to others), mostly seemed content merely to monitor the protesters and direct them safely through the city streets.

Earlier that day, at a MoveOn-sponsored vigil, one cop even engaged, sympathetically, in conversation with several of us about the awful state of the country due to Bush Administration policies.


But the 90-minute rally that preceded the anti-war march was a turnoff to many who might have wanted to join the crowd, and helps explain why half the protesters drifted away from the speechmaking and moved early toward the starting point of the march. I'm guessing similar things -- including a lot of Direct Action events -- happened in other cities around the country.

Part of the problem with San Francisco's Civic Center rally was that it was sponsored by A.N.S.W.E.R. This group has its own political agenda (at the top of which is support for "freeing Palestine," which tends to mean opposing Israel's existence), the effect of which is to keep many anti-war (and pro-justice for Palestinians) Jewish activists and other liberals from wanting to participate.

But the more annoying aspect of how this group organizes rallies is that it's so boringly "old-school." By which I mean that there have to be scores of speeches delivered by representatives of the scores of organizations that helped bring out many of the bodies, and so the groups flog their own little causes, most of which have little or nothing to do with why most protesters are there: stopping the war and occupation in Iraq.

In addition, these speeches tend to be delivered by leaders who have little sense of how to best utilize an outdoor public-address system. They seem to think that because they're facing several thousand people in front of an outdoor stage, they have to shout. The result is mostly ear-screeching microphone-noise. A few obviously have had experience doing such speaking, and realize that people pay more attention to what they're saying when they lower their voices and simply speak in a calm, non-shrieking manner.

The only reason I mention this is that I've witnessed similar situations in marches and rallies all around the country over the past six years (as I did decades earlier in anti-Vietnam War protests), and the pattern is virtually always the same: boring, hard-to-hear speeches that go on forever, with supporters drifting off and away, anxious to be involved in the anti-war march per se. Doesn't anybody offer Protest 101 classes these activists could learn from?

And why remain locked into old presenting habits? Why not try something different? A massive bit of civil disobedience? A dynamic "name" speaker who will address the crowd for, say, 25-30 minutes, on the focused issue, in all our names? A group dance to get the blood racing prior to the beginning of the march? Anything but the same ol' same ol'.


Carl Bernstein had much of value to say about contemporary journalism and the primary campaigns being waged by the Republicans and Democrats. He tended to focus on Hillary Clinton, since his most recent book ("A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton") was an unauthorized biography of the New York senator.

Much of his book and much of what he said in San Francisco about Sen. Clinton was positive, even flattering. But he confessed that he is appalled by her recent decision to take the low road in her current, and more and more desperate, campaign for the Democratic nomination for president.

By demonstrating how her overweening ambition for the job is clouding her judgment, Sen. Clinton is verifying to so many voters, said Bernstein, that the negative things said about her are true: That she is manipulative and will do or say anything to win, regardless of the impact of her self-destructive behavior on whichever Democratic candidate will be running against John McCain; on the future of the Democratic Party; and on what dire consequences might ensue for the U.S., and the world, if McCain were to move into the White House.

Several in the audience, Clinton supporters, jumped all over Bernstein and demanded that he provide similar tough analysis of Barack Obama. Bernstein managed to slide out of answering by saying that he had done seven years of research on Hillary Clinton, so felt he could speak about her with authority and evidence, whereas he has not focused in that same laser way on the Illinois senator; he suggested that other fine writers would no doubt be publishing their books shortly on Obama. It was an obvious weaseling out of an answer on Bernstein's part; at the very least, he could have, and should have, provided some preliminary observations.

(A few days later, Bernstein's old courage resurfaced on Anderson Cooper's CNN show. Cooper was trying to get his three panelists -- David Gergen, Bernstein, Roland Martin -- to condemn Obama for supposedly making a racist comment, which Cooper had taken out of context. Bernstein lashed out and told Cooper that a higher standard of journalism was in order in such a discussion: "The race genie is out of the bottle and Obama has called for an elevated conversation about race -- and what we are seeing here is the bottom of the barrel conversation -- a talk-show-nation hysteria... As long as we keep pulling these threads out, we're not going to have any kind of meaningful debate in this campaign. And David's absolutely right. [Obama] spoke a truth! ... ")


The other major weasel moment in Bernstein's talk came when a number of questioners wanted him to include the major corporate mass-media outlets in his analysis of what has gone wrong in American society during the Bush years.

He didn't have any qualms about laying into many on the radio-TV slice of the mass-media pie (see Anderson Cooper critique above), especially rightwing talk-show hosts and pundits, but he refused to admit that the major newspapers in this country have been deficient in their investigative reporting of the CheneyBush regime, from the very beginning to the decision to attack Iraq to the unfolding of Administration scandals, with a new one seeming to pop up daily.

Bernstein, an MSNBC analyst but a print journalist since he was in his teens, just didn't want to go there and second-guess his friends and colleagues at the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, et al. Each of those publications has some exceptional reporters -- one could also mention those at the mainstream New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Harper's, et al. -- but their stories tend to come and go without their being made much of by the mainstream newspapers or followed through with updates and expansions. Often timid newspaper editors, afraid of offending CheneyBush, let those stories slide by and hold their reporters' rare investigative articles for months, or even years, which tends to diminish their impact.


The corporate mass-media have been, and in many ways, remain a large part of the problem. A democracy works best when citizens have the information they need to make wise public decisions, and by and large, the print components of the mass-media too often have been complicit enablers of the worst CheneyBush policies. That's something Bernstein didn't want to hear, or talk about.

Indeed, he had little, if anything, to say about the powerful investigative reporting being done by bloggers and analysts on the internet. He more or less dismissed this new-tech journalism with a wave of his hand, as not all that important since these online practitioners weren't backed by the institutional press. In doing so, he seemed unaware of how many stories in recent years surfaced first on the 'net and then wound up being major stories, often weeks or months later, in the mainstream media.

A courageous investigative reporter like Carl Bernstein who won't criticize and investigate the media problem, wherever it leads, and won't admit that others outside the mainstream press institutions are serious journalists and opinion-makers, weakens his own credibility and legacy. Sad.

April 15, 2008

 The Holding-One's-Nose-While-Voting Dilemma

We're not even finished with the primary season and already the argument is starting about which of the three major candidates voters might want to choose, or whether they should choose none of them and opt for a third-party choice.

The argument, which seems to surface every four years, especially on the Left, generates a lot of political heat.

A recent email exchange I had with one of our regular readers and correspondents may prove illustrative of the divergent opinions on this issue. Check it out and see what you might want to contribute to the what is bound to be an ongoing discussion.

So, here's the first letter that got the debate started, followed by a response and further back-and-forth:

Dear Crisis Papers:

Bernie says: "But I won't vote for Nader. For two reasons: 1) He's about himself, not about building a viable third party from the grassroots up; that's what this country would need, if the Dems win in November and wimp out again. And, 2) I'm not willing to risk the conservative militarist McCain winning and thus pushing CheneyBush policies and wars for four more years."

Hey Bernie, you're telling me that Hillary and Obama are not "about themselves"? The Clintons have done more to destroy the Democratic Party than anyone else with their ever more rightward triangulation. Remember that Hillary is basically a Nixon Republican. Obama is just another guy who wants to be president. Like Bill Clinton in 1990.

If it's Clinton/McCain/Obama, that's a distinction without a difference. The forte of American advertising. The faces and persona are different but the policy's the same. Like soap in different boxes for different demes.

We haven't got eight more years, or four more years to waste.

The "spoiler" is the Demoblican party. Without them we could elect a candidate that would make a difference, Gravel/McKinney/Nader instead of Clinton/McCain/Obama.

I've been played for the last time. What's with you so-called "progressives" who always manage to vote against the progressive candidates?

Have a read at http://www.votenader.org/blog/2008/04/07/shameful . I nominate you two at Crisis Papers for the Hall of Shame as well.

John Francis Lee (4/15) Thailand

Bernard Weiner responds:

I certainly understand your assertion that it's the Democrats and Republicans who are the "spoilers" of our democratic system. But, whether you or I like it or not, those are the two main parties from which presidents emerge. Third-party candidates in general have virtually no chance of winning, except in rare historical circumstances. Those circumstances, the "objective conditions," are simply not there for the 2008 election.

That leaves us progressive in our usual bind: hold our noses and vote for the least offensive of the candidates or throw one's vote away on a third-party hopeful with no chance to win and thus risk allowing the most dangerous candidate to enter the White House for four or eight years.

Though we still have a ways to go before the November balloting, it's clear that the choice will be between McCain -- pretty much a Bush clone in his dedication to war and far-right conservative domestic policies -- and Clinton or Obama, either of whom, despite his/her obvious deficiencies, offers at least a better chance that the U.S. might somehow work its way out of Iraq; that the Supreme Court will not veer even further to the right, that there might be progress in education and health-care; that there might be movement mitigating against global warming, and a slight but significant movement away from imperialist adventuring, a move away from Constitutional destruction and torture as state policy, etc. etc.

For that reason, unless some major development occurs between now and November, I probably will be voting for the Democratic candidate, while continuing to advocate for building a viable third-party from the grassroots up so that someday, perhaps even by 2012, voters will have the opportunity to choose a genuine and viable progressive candidate instead of being presented with only those from, as you term it, the Demoplican party.

Thanks for writing.

Lee replies:

You wrote: "Third-party candidates in general have virtually no chance of winning." How can you not see that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy, the most noxious piece of propaganda put out by the Republicrat/Demoblican Duopoly and, inexplicably, the Crisis Papers?

"That leaves us progressive's in our usual bind: hold our noses and vote for the least offensive of the candidates." Yes that is "your usual bind", isn't it? Your perpetual bind, because you won't let it go. You're like Linus with his blanket. You love your sickness so much that you cannot let it go. And thus you condemn all of us to it as well. It's progressive. It gets worse and worse, not better.

You write that by electing a Dem, we get "a better chance... the U.S. might somehow work its way out of Iraq... there might be progress in education and health-care... there might be movement mitigating against global warming... and [there might be] a slight but significant movement away from imperialist adventuring, a move away from Constitutional destruction and torture as state policy, etc. etc." You delude yourself. I do not. There might, but there won't be. That is clear to anyone who looks at the facts rather than wishes for change without changing.

"For that reason, I probably will be voting for the Democratic candidate."

And since you and the other shameless, so-called progressives will once again resist change with all your might, we will not have it. We know who will be to blame.

Weiner responds:

Yes, you and I are doing our every-four-year dance, you urging a pox on both their houses and a vote for Nader or another third-party candidate, and me saying voting for Nader/or risks continuing CheneyBush policies for another four years by helping McCain get elected.

If I thought a progressive third-party or independent hopeful could possibly win in November, I'd seriously consider cheering that candidate on and sending donations. But, at least seven months away, it seems clear that Nader/or will pull no more than 5% of the vote, if that. The "objective conditions" for the kind of social revolution that may be required to turn this country around simply are not present in 2008.

Until that day arrives -- and, who knows?, critical mass might be achieved within four years -- we progressives must use our energies not only to build a third-party grassroots movement from the ground up, but also in assuring that incremental gains in policy can and will be made. No such gains can be made with a Bush-clone (McCain) in the White House; I think it's self-evident that there is more of a chance for progressive influence and gains in a Democratic Administration. Ergo, one holds one's nose yet again and votes for the least offensive, and most hopeful, alternative.

That way, McCain doesn't get the opportunity to pack the Supreme Court with even more conservative ideologues, doesn't get the chance to start and carry out more wars and occupations, doesn't get a chance to further decimate the Constitution, doesn't have the opportunity to let greed ride sway over environmental protections, etc. etc.

Yes, of course, neither Clinton nor Obama would be the kind of progressive candidate we both might favor, but to suggest that there's only a dime's worth of difference between the Democratic and Republican candidates ignores what a big difference a dime can make in our politics. That same argument was used in 2000, and we got Cheney and Bush who, I think you'll agree, took that dime and parlayed it into enacting an extremist agenda that has nearly taken the country down with them.

Finally, I think progressives should spend their time and energy working to defeat the Republican candidates, not in aiming invective and insults toward would-be allies. We can disagree on how best to achieve our shared goals, but let's not wind up aiming at each other in a circular firing squad, while the HardRight chortles from the sidelines.

Lee replies: You can stay Bernie, but I gotta go.

Let me say first that I do not wish to execute you. I do think that your prescription has got us where we are today, and is progressively making things worse.

Our number one "problem" is the continuing serial war crime in the Middle East, in Palestine and in Iraq, and the military industrial complex run amuk. I mean "us humans on the planet earth" when I say "our." I am sure that voting Clinton/McCain/Obama will make no intentional difference there, although the warmongers may indeed progressively destroy the U.S. economy and bring the wars to an end unintentionally. They'll settle for whatever quotient of chaos they can wring from us, as long as they're convinced they've got it all. The Neocons/Neoliberals may indeed use us until they've used us up.

Meanwhile "our" government will continue its rightward drift, progressively. It is quite true that Gravel/McKinney/Nader, whoever may me running on an alternative ticket, may not win this election. It is probable they will not. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step, and I insist that that step is better taken than continuing the slide down the slippery slope with the same old grifters and grafters, who know they have got you obsessively pressing the button, delivering the juice to your own quivering grey matter while denouncing electro-shock therapy, and smile in their knowledge of same. You are eloquent in their defense. If the alternatives collectively get solidly into two figures --10%-plus of the popular vote -- it will help break your pied piping of the impossibility of an alternative, of our slavery to the Demoblican Party. More people will stop believing the siren song of the MSM and the Crisis Papers : "You must vote Republicrat/Demoblican. You have no choice." In fact, you dare call it a "moral non-choice"!

If we do not reach a critical mass this time, then next time we will, in 2010. If we don't lose heart. If we believe in the human capacity for change. At least it's a plan. Bernie. I cannot keep doing exactly the same thing and hope things will change. You know what they say... You can stay, Bernie, but I gotta go. I wish you personally the best of luck in all your undertakings, save this one, your stalwart defense of the Demoblican party. To the rest of you I say, "Humans of the USA, unite and vote alternative! We have nothing to lose but our chains."

Weiner responds:

So you vote for the alternative ticket in 2008 and it gets, say, 5-10% of the vote. You feel politically pure. But the result of that "purity" means that McCain starts more wars, mangles the Constitution even more, appoints more disastrous rightwing ideologues to the Supreme Court, permits the elite corporate polluters to continue writing environmental laws, etc. etc. What have you gained, and at what price? Do you want a third Bush term on your conscience, which is what a McCain victory would mean? Unless something major occurs between now and November, I will hold my nose, knowing that my vote for the Democratic candidate is not as "pure" as yours, and vote for someone who at least offers the chance for change and reform. It won't be all the changes and reforms that our damaged society so desperately needs, but it will be a step in that direction. In 2010, we can push the ball a little further along. In 2012, another chance to build on the momentum and push the progressive ball even further. And so on.

I'll settle for that until the deeper social revolution comes, if it comes at all.

Hi Bernie,

John: So you vote for the alternative ticket in 2008 and it gets 10% of the vote. You feel politically pure. Boy, I must have been absent on ideological purity day. I want to stop the wars and return control of the US government to the American people.

But the result of that "purity" means that McCain starts more wars, mangles the Constitution even more, appoints disastrous rightwing ideologues to the Supreme Court, permits the elite corporate polluters to continue writing environmental laws, etc. etc. What have you gained, and at what price?  I don't imagine that there will be a meaningful difference between a Clinton/McCain/Obama administration. A distinction, certainly. American marketeers are unbeatable when it comes to a distinction without a difference. I think Obama is a much more attractive "performer" than either of the other two. I admit as well that I once admired the "straight-talk" persona conjured up for McCain. I'm sure I felt attracted to something about Clinton too, at some time. I just can't think of it right now.

Do you want a third Bush term on your conscience, which is what a McCain victory would mean?

Oh... I see. It's going to be "all my fault" for voting for someone I actually want to be President. It's a measure of the sickness of that argument that it can even be made with a straight face. The problem is not with their stars, Bernie, but with the "stars" themselves. And in any case I view Clinton/McCain/Obama as an extension of the Bush regime. Read, for example, Obama's "Remarks of Senator Barack Obama to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs":

"...a phased withdrawal of American forces with... an over-the-horizon force... and allows for a limited number of troops to remain in Iraq... depends on the Iraqi government meeting a series of well-defined benchmarks necessary to reach a political settlement... refocus our efforts on the challenges in the wider region ?- on the conflict in the Middle East, where Hamas and Hezbollah feel emboldened and Israel's prospects for a secure peace seem uncertain; on Iran, which has been strengthened by the war in Iraq; and on Afghanistan, where more American forces are needed... Our interests are best served when people and governments from Jerusalem and Amman to Damascus and Tehran understand that America will stand with our friends... and refuse to cede the future of the region...

"...We must maintain the strongest, best-equipped military in the world in order to defeat and deter conventional threats... the ability to put boots on the ground will be critical in eliminating the shadowy terrorist networks we now face... I strongly support the expansion of our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000 Marines... No President should ever hesitate to use force ?- unilaterally if necessary ?- to protect ourselves and our vital interests...

"...The third way America must lead again is by... securing, destroying, and stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction... the world must prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons... In pursuit of this goal, we must never take the military option off the table...

"...NATO's challenge in Afghanistan has become a test case... of whether the alliance can overcome the growing discrepancy between NATO's expanding missions and its lagging capabilities. We must close this gap, rallying members to contribute troops to collective security operations..."

American Imperialism has been internalized by Barack Obama. The bundlers can collect hundreds of millions in support of his campaign knowing that "change" is to a political campaign as "new, improved" is to an advertising campaign. A come-on. A lie. Their billions are safe in their unholy alliances. There will be no change. Vote for Obama! Yeah!

Unless something major occurs between now and November, I will hold my nose, knowing that my vote for the Democratic candidate is not as "pure" as yours ... and vote for someone who at least offers the chance for change and reform.."  I'm sorry you have this "thing" about "purity." I understand that Howard Hughes suffered very much along these very same lines. Perhaps you should get professional help, Bernie.

Hughes lived in Las Vegas and owned the place for a while. He never chanced anything. He owned the house, just as the grifters and grafters who own the Republicrat/Demoblican Duopoly own the house. "Chance" is something pursued by the folks who walk in the door. Profit is the result of their hopes and self-delusion in the face of the odds, set by the house, which leaves nothing to chance.

It won't be all the changes and reforms that our damaged society so desperately needs, but it will be a step in that direction.  God bless you, Bernie, Good Luck to you.

In 2010, we can push the ball a little further along. In 2012, another chance to build on the momentum and push the progressive ball even further. And so on. I'll settle for that until the deeper social revolution comes, if it comes at all.

I don't know what you personally have to fear from change, Bernie, but change is the only thing we can count on. And the change we can count on from Clinton/McCain/Obama is the progression of a disease that will prove fatal to all our hopes and visions.

Weiner responds:

There is so much with which I agree in your long-term view of politics in the U.S. of A. But you clearly seem unwilling to consider the short-term consequences of your diagnosis. I ask what about McCain packing the Supreme Court with more ideological Neanderthals? -- silence. I ask what about McCain enlarging the war in Iraq and his proclivity to start more such wars in that region? -- silence. I ask what about McCain continuing to let polluting corporations write the environmental laws? -- silence. Your major response seems to be to badmouth Democrats and tell me what I already know: that the two Dem candidates are not especially interested in radical change.

Until the "objective conditions" are present for that kind of change, my practical sense tells me that I must take whatever incremental change I can get while working for the radical social change we need. You seem to see only the need for a wholesale revolutionary overhaul and refuse to consider the consequences of that long-term view on real people in the real world right now.

It's a major philosophical difference. I respect your point of view, and even agree with much of it, but I'm more willing to work for what we can get at this moment in time while working to make the long-term goals come true.

Thanks for writing.

More Bernard Weiner's Blogs

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2005 -- 2006 -- 2007 -- 2008 -- 2009 -- 2010


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