Robert Scheer v. Torie Osborn: A Heated Debate on Sanders vs. Clinton with Two Longtime Progressives

April 15, 2016


Robert Scheer

longtime journalist based in California and editor of Truthdig. His most recent book is They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy.

Torie Osborn

longtime progressive activist based in Los Angeles. She has served as Northern California director for the National Organization for Women and was the first female executive director of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.

We host a debate on the 2016 election between two longtime progressives: Robert Scheer, a veteran journalist, and Torie Osborn, a progressive activist. Scheer worked for almost 30 years with the Los Angeles Times, where he interviewed several former U.S. presidents, including Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Osborn has served as Northern California director for the National Organization for Women and was the first female executive director of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman in Los Angeles. Juan González is in New York. And our guests are here in Los Angeles. We’re joined by Robert Scheer, longtime journalist based in California who’s editor-in-chief of Truthdig. His most recent book, They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy. And Torie Osborn joins us, longtime progressive activist based in Los Angeles. She’s served as Northern California director for the National Organization for Women and was the first female executive director of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to start with Bob Scheer. You’ve written a lot about our financial system and the banks, and, of course, this is a central issue between Hillary Clinton and Senator Sanders in this campaign. Your response to the controversy around Senator Sanders’s stance and Hillary Clinton’s position on how to deal with the nation’s biggest banks?

ROBERT SCHEER: Well, I think Hillary Clinton was exposed last night as a serious demagogue on the banking issue. It was unbelievable to me. She knows. She raised the question—or she made the statement, "We can never let Wall Street wreck Main Street again." Well, who did it the first time? It was her husband, in alliance with Phil Gramm of the Republicans, who reversed Glass-Steagall and opened the door to the "too big to fail." It was her husband, by the way, who signed the bill into law, that she accuses Bernie Sanders of having somehow engineered. And that was the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which Bill Clinton and Lawrence Summers, his Treasury secretary, and Phil Gramm pushed through Congress. He did it as a lame-duck president. It’s that legislation, tucked into an omnibus bill, so only four people in the House voted against it. Ron Paul was one of them, on the libertarian side. Yes, Bernie Sanders went along with this threat that if you don’t vote for the omnibus bill, people don’t get paid, and so forth and so on. It was Bill Clinton’s bill.

She has done this now repeatedly, blaming Bernie Sanders for the failure to regulate credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations—all of this junk which was made legal by a bill pushed by Bill Clinton, signed into law by Bill Clinton, and, I believe, done to enhance her coming race for the Senate in New York, where she got an enormous amount of money from Wall Street. Bill Clinton’s first Treasury secretary, Robert Rubin, was at that point ensconced at Citibank—Citigroup, a bank allowed to form because of the reversal of Glass-Steagall, a merger of investment and commercial banks. So, she knows what’s been going on. And to blame Bernie Sanders—I covered this for the L.A. Times. I wrote a book on it called The Great American Stickup. I know the record very well. And she’s simply lying about it.

AMY GOODMAN: Torie Osborn?

TORIE OSBORN: Well, I’m not an expert on the economy, but I will tell you that Dodd-Frank is the law of the land. Hillary Clinton has been really clear. She stood up to Big Pharma back when Hillarycare was killed by Big Pharma and the insurance companies. She’s a fighter. She has positioned herself center-left. She’s going to be elected president of the United States. And I think the real issue is: How do we go forward? I like Paul Krugman. I agree with Paul Krugman, who is her economic guru. She’s definitely moved to the left from her husband’s positions. She’s not going to put Richard—Robert Rubin in as her Treasury secretary. I think that it’ll be fascinating to see how she incorporates the growing progressive economic equity part of the Democratic Party that Bernie has brilliantly organized and mobilized.

So, to me, what’s most important is that Hillary is—she’s progressive. She’s a leader. She has a far better track record of actually getting things done than Bernie Sanders, who I knew very well in Vermont. He’s given the same speech now that he gave back in 1974. I lived there from '70 to ’76 in my early days of antiwar and feminist activism and sort of formative days, when he was working the Liberty Union Party. And I'll tell you, I don’t think he’s changed. Now, economic inequality has grown. His message has become more relevant. I’m glad he’s raising it.

You know, to me, the most interesting thing about the debate last night, the most interesting thing, besides the Israeli-Palestinian issue, which I do want to say was astonishing and a thing of beauty, that he had the courage to say what he did. But it was that there was a—that he—that we were fighting about $12 or $15-an-hour minimum wage. I mean, I worked at the—on the county raising to $15 an hour. It was only two years ago here in Los Angeles that Mayor Garcetti put forward $13.25. It seemed radical at the time. Passed the baton over to the labor movement, the Fight for 15, you know, swept through, and now California—now Jerry Brown has signed the law. I’m telling you that what’s important here is that we’re having a debate about $12 to $15 an hour, not whether Hillary believes, as many progressive economists do, that it might be too much of a burden on some rural and small business economies if you move too quickly to $15. So, you know, I think the issue of Wall Street, I think there’s—you know, good progressives disagree. Is the shadow banking industry as important as breaking up the big banks? How do you break them up? What are the tools within Dodd-Frank? How can you make Dodd-Frank perhaps more progressive? Well, you’ve got to change Congress first.

AMY GOODMAN: I just wanted to clarify something, Torie Osborn. Had you ever been for Bernie Sanders or—

TORIE OSBORN: I was magnetized. Now, I am not—the way it works for me in a campaign, it was true in 2008, I was for John Edwards, actually, because the poverty and the war were my issues. Then I was for Hillary, and then I was magnetized and became a strong Obama supporter. I quit my job in City Hall working for Mayor Villaraigosa and joined the Bernie—joined the Obama campaign as a full-time super volunteer for two months. This time, Hillary declared last April, and I listened to every word of her. I was checking her out, and I was actually pleased to see she talked about Wall Street, she talked about Big Pharma, she talked about healthcare reform, she talked about universal healthcare, she talked about free tuition or making tuition more accessible. And I thought, "Wow, she’s really hitting the economic issues." Bernie then entered the race, and I thought, "Well, I’ve known him for many years. All my lefty friends are for him. I’m going to be for Bernie." And there was less there than met the eye, for me. I have tremendous respect for the movement he’s built, for the secular revival, the political social movement that he’s built. And I have lots of questions about how that energy can be captured on a going-forward basis.

AMY GOODMAN: Bob Scheer, you disagree with Torie Osborn.

ROBERT SCHEER: Come on, let’s look at what the Clintons represent: triangulation, ending the Roosevelt legacy in the party, reversing the—

TORIE OSBORN: That was then. This is now.

ROBERT SCHEER: Reverse—understand, that the—

TORIE OSBORN: That was the 1990s. We’re not in the ’90s, Bob.

ROBERT SCHEER: But the policies that were in place—

TORIE OSBORN: But the policies that Hillary Clinton is putting forward—

ROBERT SCHEER: Are you going to allow me to finish?

TORIE OSBORN: —is not the same.

ROBERT SCHEER: I know. I know. And look—

TORIE OSBORN: Don’t blame her for Bill Clinton.

ROBERT SCHEER: OK, you mentioned—

TORIE OSBORN: It’s not fair.

ROBERT SCHEER: —you worked for Antonio Villaraigosa, a fellow I know well. You obviously work for Sheila Kuehl now, a supervisor. They’re nice people. The fact is, it was Mayor Villaraigosa that ordered the police to smash the Occupy movement in Los Angeles. I was there that night. I was out in the street. It was barbaric. It was brutal. And yes, progressive mayors in every city, most of whom were Democrat—I guess one in New York who claimed to be a Republican—and they smashed this movement. It’s because of that movement, which addressed a problem that has accelerated since the Clintons came to office—you could guess, Ronald Reagan was not able to put through the kind of radical deregulation he was speaking about. Bill Clinton did the triangulation. And that income gap in America, that Bernie Sanders was warning about, has mushroomed.

And let me just say something. You say you followed Hillary Clinton’s career. I interviewed Hillary Clinton. I interviewed her husband when I was working for the L.A. Times down in Arkansas. They championed the slogan—both of them—championed the slogan, "Let’s end welfare as we know it." And what they did is they ended the main federal anti-poverty program, the aid to families with dependent children. Seventy percent of the people on that program were children. Seventy percent were children. They claimed they had a program in Arkansas called Project Success that was helping people get off of that. It was a nonsense program. It never happened. It never worked. OK? Peter Edelman—she always says, "I work with the Children’s Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman." Peter Edelman was in the Clinton administration. He broke over this question of so-called welfare reform. He’s written a devastating book. Robert Reich was the secretary of labor in the Clinton administration. He is supporting Bernie Sanders. Why? Because he saw the inside of Clinton triangulation. On domestic policy, it’s been a total caving in to Wall Street. And this income disparity, which Bernie Sanders was warning about, you say, back in the '70s, has become an uglier reality now. And you're saying we should trust the very people who opened the door to Wall Street to now solve the problem. I think it’s utter nonsense.

And let me say something about Israel, as a Jewish person, by the way. I am so proud that the first Jewish candidate that has a chance of being president has unmasked this terrible policy of ignoring the human rights of Palestinians, their aspiration, and backing Netanyahu, a guy who just doesn’t even believe, in any serious way, in the two-state solution. And by the way, Hillary mentioned Mohamed Morsi, a graduate of the University of Southern California. He got his doctorate there. And she said, "I talked to him." Why doesn’t she mention that he’s in jail facing death? The first elected person to run Egypt is in jail facing death, and that Hillary Clinton was part of an administration, and after this administration, she has supported an accommodation with the military rulers of Egypt that have totally reversed that Democratic experiment. So, this is utter nonsense. The woman is a Margaret Thatcher hawk on foreign policy.

She carries water for Wall Street. You talk about the shadow economy. My god, her sun was set in business with a hedge fund by Lloyd Blankfein from Goldman Sachs. You know, and, by the way, her top financial adviser, Gary Gensler, was a Goldman Sachs partner, went into the—was in the Clinton administration, was part of this whole deregulation of Wall Street. He’s calling the shots in her campaign on the economy.


ROBERT SCHEER: And she still turns to those very same people. So you can’t whitewash that record. It’s real.

TORIE OSBORN: I don’t—I agree.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to—if I can, I’d like to ask both Bob Scheer and Torie Osborn about this whole issue—it’s true, I completely agree, that a political leader can change and can adopt more progressive or less progressive positions over time. But I’m wondering how much of the change in viewpoint of some of the centrist Democrats—and I would classify both Governor Cuomo right here in New York and Hillary Clinton in that camp of formerly centrist Democrats—have been affected by this enormous grassroots movement that has developed, from the DREAMers to the Fight for 15, to the Occupy movement, to the climate—the movement around climate change—these massive movements all around the country. How much of these centrist leaders have changed their positions in order to remain relevant to the changing nature of political thought among the masses of American people?

TORIE OSBORN: Well, I agree with you, and I think the reason that Hillary Clinton positioned herself center-left—and, by the way, you govern from the center-left. You do not govern from the left, as Bernie’s marginal status in Congress for 30 years shows. I mean, he has done nothing. He did nothing before he was elected mayor of Burlington, and he has done very, very little. Seventeen amendments and two Post Office bills is not a track record that is substantive in Congress. But I agree with you, and I completely agree with you. And this is why I think rather than railing at the past, at the Clintons of the past, who carried the water for the right on criminal justice and on welfare reform—I completely agree with it—and set in motion a piece of what the right wing, starting, you know, in the '60s and coming to fruition in 1980 with Ronald Reagan and beyond, had continued to rig the system, to change the system, to, you know, not just mass incarceration and the, you know, racism and what we've seen in the growing prison-industrial complex, but, of course, the economic injustice—but here’s where I completely agree with you.

When Hillary gave her speech a year ago, and that I was—I listened to every word. I was hanging on every word, because I wanted to believe that a woman could be president. I want—I would have rather it was Elizabeth Warren, frankly, but it wasn’t. It was Hillary Clinton. And I wanted to see: Was she going to talk about issues that matter to me, as a 40-year progressive activist? And she did. And it’s because of the DREAMers, the DREAMers. It’s because of the marriage equality struggle. It’s because of Black Lives Matter. It’s because of—and I don’t know if I would agree with you characterizing them as mass movements, but I think that they’ve been effective and powerful and important movements. And I think they have changed the debate, as Occupy changed the debate, and forever, on 1 percent and 99 percent. But that’s really the question.

Guys, I mean, I hate to tell you, but Hillary Clinton is going to be the next president of the United States. Bernie Sanders, I think, has galvanized and unleashed young people. He’s not going to win. He’s not going to win New York, Pennsylvania or California. And so, the question really is: What happens next to those of us in the progressive movement?

AMY GOODMAN: Very quick comment from Robert Scheer, as we wrap up.

ROBERT SCHEER: Yeah, well, I think this is how we got into this mess. Jerry Brown, when he was running against Bill Clinton, said we’re always faced with the—by these people with the—not the lesser of two evils, but the evil of two lessers. That’s a line I’m taking from my wife’s book on California that’s coming out. But it’s a good statement. They helped get us into this mess. Let’s not miss what this election is all about on the Republican and Democratic side. On the Republican side, you have a neofascist person in Trump, in the form of Trump, and something of a religious fanatic in Ted Cruz. But they are addressing real discontent across the board. The economy is not working for most Americans. OK? And so, there’s a right-wing populist appeal that is wiping away the Republican Party. On the Democratic side, much to the amazement of everyone, Bernie Sanders has been able to register a populist progressive dissent. OK? He is a uniter. He doesn’t bait immigrants. You know, he understands the need for unity in the country. But the fact of the matter is, if you go for Hillary Clinton, you go for more of the same. I’ll tell you my takeaway from the debate—

TORIE OSBORN: She’s going to win.

ROBERT SCHEER: I want to tell you, my—


ROBERT SCHEER: Yeah, but your winning—


ROBERT SCHEER: Your—get real. Your winning got us—

TORIE OSBORN: The change happens—

ROBERT SCHEER: Your winning gets us into a war in Iraq—


ROBERT SCHEER: —which Democrats supported, with Republicans—

TORIE OSBORN: Not if we do our work.

ROBERT SCHEER: —that has—well, you—if we do our work. The fact is, sellout politics have made the situation much more treacherous. And the reason—

TORIE OSBORN: And marginal lefties can’t govern.

ROBERT SCHEER: And the reason so many young people are against it is because they see it doesn’t work for them. And if you want to look at the record, if Hillary Clinton—these problems, what is she doing? You talk about deportation, yes, Obama has—

TORIE OSBORN: She’s not going to deport.

ROBERT SCHEER: —failed on immigration. He has been called the deporter-in-chief.


ROBERT SCHEER: Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, she supported that policy. She didn’t—no, take the minimum wage—

TORIE OSBORN: The president set—

ROBERT SCHEER: You keep telling me Hillary Clinton has evolved. The Clintons have been in power in the Democratic Party for so long. Why didn’t they move on the minimum wage? Why didn’t they move in a more peaceful area—

TORIE OSBORN: Because, as you know, it takes a movement from below to push the issue forward.

ROBERT SCHEER: No, they’re not pushable. They are sellouts. They are co-opted. They—

TORIE OSBORN: That’s not true. She’s clearly pushable.

ROBERT SCHEER: The record is so clear.

TORIE OSBORN: She supports $15 an hour.

ROBERT SCHEER: She supports it now because she’s going to lose the primary if she doesn’t come out for it.

TORIE OSBORN: No, that’s not true. She—

ROBERT SCHEER: And she supported it last night very halfheartedly. What you are talking—

TORIE OSBORN: That’s not true. She stood up there with Governor Cuomo.

ROBERT SCHEER: Look, let me tell you, if you go down the road with Hillary Clinton—

TORIE OSBORN: Don’t rewrite the record.

ROBERT SCHEER: If you go down the road with Hillary Clinton, the right wing will be stronger. That’s what happened in Europe—

TORIE OSBORN: No, that’s not true.

ROBERT SCHEER: —historically.

TORIE OSBORN: It’s not the worse, the better.

ROBERT SCHEER: It’s what’s happening in Europe now. The fact of the matter is—


ROBERT SCHEER: —if you do not address the problems from a progressive side, which Bernie Sanders is proposing, you’re going to leave people hurting.


ROBERT SCHEER: They’re hurting in this country. You may not be hurting working for—


ROBERT SCHEER: —the county and the supervisor, part of the Democratic establishment. I know. I live downtown.

TORIE OSBORN: Right, I’m the Democratic establishment.

ROBERT SCHEER: It was the Democratic establishment.

TORIE OSBORN: Forty years of progressive activism, Bob. Come on.

ROBERT SCHEER: You work for the supervisor.

TORIE OSBORN: I work for the supervisor—


TORIE OSBORN: —who’s a progressive supervisor, who’s pushed more—

ROBERT SCHEER: And the Democratic establishment—the Democratic establishment in Los Angeles, by the way, has a racist—


ROBERT SCHEER: —tolerated—the supervisors tolerated—


ROBERT SCHEER: —a racist sheriff’s department, a racist police department—

TORIE OSBORN: Sheila was elected last year.

ROBERT SCHEER: —crushed Occupy—

TORIE OSBORN: Bob, that—

ROBERT SCHEER: —did not address any of these questions—

TORIE OSBORN: You’re missing—you’re missing the question.

ROBERT SCHEER: —whatsoever.

TORIE OSBORN: The question—

ROBERT SCHEER: And now you tell us we need more of the same.

TORIE OSBORN: The question—no.

ROBERT SCHEER: The voters are rejecting more of the same. That’s what’s going on.

TORIE OSBORN: No, they’re not.

ROBERT SCHEER: Yes. You represent more of the same.

TORIE OSBORN: Hillary has gotten—

ROBERT SCHEER: That’s what Hillary Clinton is.

TORIE OSBORN: —two-and-a-half million more votes.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, but clearly there is a lot to talk about in these coming weeks and months. Robert Scheer, editor-in-chief of Truthdig; Torie Osborn, longtime progressive activist who’s served as Northern California director for the National Organization for Women and was executive director of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Liberty Health Foundation.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, our own journalists are arrested last night covering the anti-Trump rally in New York. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: "On the Road Again," Willie Nelson, and that’s just where we are, on the road again, on a 100-city tour. Check our website for where we’re headed next, here in Los Angeles, in Northern California, the Salt Lake City and Colorado. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman in Los Angeles. Juan González is in New York.

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