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Debate: Hillary Clinton Sounds Populist Tone, But Are Progressives Ready to Back Her in 2016?

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Former secretary of state, senator and first lady Hillary Clinton has formally entered the 2016 race for the White House in a second bid to become the first woman U.S. president. We host a roundtable discussion with four guests: Joe Conason, editor-in-chief of The National Memo, co-editor of The Investigative Fund, and author of “The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton”; Michelle Goldberg, senior contributing writer at The Nation; longtime journalist Robert Scheer, editor of Truthdig.com and author of many books; and Kshama Sawant, a Socialist city councilmember in Seattle and member of Socialist Alternative, a nationwide organization of social and economic justice activists.

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

AMY GOODMAN: Former secretary of state, senator and first lady, Hillary Clinton, has formally entered the 2016 race for the White House in a bid to become the first woman U.S. president. If she wins the Democratic Party’s nomination, she’ll be the first woman presidential nominee in the party’s history. Clinton made her announcement in a two-minute video released online Sunday. In it, she focused on ordinary Americans starting new phases of life, including two men getting married, a woman preparing to retire, an interracial couple renovating their home, immigrants speaking Spanish, and a man starting a business.

GAY MAN: I’m getting married this summer to someone I really care about.

CHILD: I’m going to be in a play, and I’m going to be in a fish costume. We’re little tiny fishes.

RETIRING WOMAN: I’m getting ready to retire soon. Retirement means reinventing yourself, in many ways.

HOME RENOVATOR 1: Well, we’ve been doing a lot of home renovations.

HOME RENOVATOR 2: But most importantly, we really just want to teach our dog to quit eating the trash.

HOME RENOVATOR 1: And so, we have high hopes for 2015, that that’s going to happen.

WORKER: I’ve started a new career recently. This is a fifth generation company, which means a lot to me. This country was founded on hard work, and it really feels good to be a part of that.

HILLARY CLINTON: I’m getting ready to do something, too. I’m running for president. Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top. Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion, so you can do more than just get by: You can get ahead—and stay ahead. Because when families are strong, America is strong. So I’m hitting the road to earn your vote, because it’s your time. And I hope you’ll join me on this journey.

AMY GOODMAN: Hillary Clinton first ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 but lost to President Obama. Long considered the Democratic front-runner, she has been expected to declare her candidacy for months. Democratic candidates who may join her in her bid include former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, former Rhode Island Governor and Senator Lincoln Chafee, and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb. This comes as Senator Marco Rubio is expected to announce his bid today for the Republican presidential nomination. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky announced his plans to run last week, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz launched his candidacy in March.

Well, to discuss Clinton’s second bid for the White House, we host a roundtable discussion.

Here in New York, Joe Conason joins us, editor-in-chief of The National Memo, co-editor of The Investigative Fund and author of The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton.

We’re also joined by Michelle Goldberg, senior contributing writer at The Nation, author of several books, including The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World. Her latest article is headlined “Hillary Clinton’s Feminist Family Values.”

In Los Angeles, we’re joined by Robert Scheer, longtime journalist, editor of Truthdig, author of many books. His latest is They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy. Scheer is also the author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street and also Playing President: My Close Encounters with Nixon, Carter, Bush I, [Reagan], and Clinton and How They Did Not Prepare Me for George W. Bush.

And in Seattle, we’re joined by Kshama Sawant, a Socialist city councilmember. She helped win a $15-an-hour minimum wage for all workers in Seattle in one of her first moves when she became a member of the City Council. She’s a member of the Socialist Alternative, a nationwide organization of social and economic justice activists. She is up for re-election this year.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Joe Conason, let’s begin with you. Your assessment of Hillary Clinton, her bid yesterday, the much-awaited announcement, and why you support her?

JOE CONASON: Well, I don’t support her. I’m neutral in the primary, as I was the last time, when she ran against Barack Obama. I didn’t endorse her then. In fact, I was probably tougher on her than I was on Obama. So the idea that I’m endorsing her for anything is not right.

But, I mean, I was interested yesterday to see her announce, because she is clearly striving for a different tone. Last time, I and others wrote about the kind of baroque kind of almost coronation that they seemed to expect in her campaign: She was inevitable; she had more money than Obama or anyone else, and therefore she was going to just cruise to the nomination. And, of course, that turned out to be completely wrong. They made many mistakes in that campaign. It was a campaign that was divided against itself, in many cases. And she lost narrowly, but she lost. And I think, looking back on that, this time she has attempted to roll out her candidacy this time in a very different way—a modest tone, a tone of “I want to be your champion,” a slightly populist tone that I think is appropriate to this moment. And we’ll see what happens from here.

AMY GOODMAN: Kshama Sawant in Seattle, your response to the rollout of Hillary Clinton’s campaign? But what we’re going to talk about today, overall, though, is her record—this is a person with a proven record—and assessing what that has been, from first lady to senator to secretary of state, a previous presidential candidate, and now again. Kshama?

KSHAMA SAWANT: Well, as Joe was saying, you know, she is now trying to use a veneer of a populist image. But look, this is a person who has hired 200 advisers to tell her how she can look populist without angering her wealthy donors. And ultimately the question is absolutely about her record as a warmongering secretary of state who used her position to emphasize the drone attacks, to be a vocal proponent of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and to use her position to promote the interests of multinational corporations at the expense of the interests of working people. And ultimately, you know, this candidate, if she is backed by the Democratic Party establishment apparatus, is going to be the Wall Street candidate. And fundamentally, we have to ask ourselves the question: Is the Democratic Party establishment ever, despite the populist imagery or rhetoric they may use, going to be—ever going to be a genuine vehicle in any way to promote the interests of working families?

And she’s been missing in action on the $15 demand. The $15 demand is taking over nationally, and she, like other people in the Democratic Party establishment, have been completely silent. She was on the board of Wal-Mart. Alice Walton has donated the maximum to her super PAC, to Ready for Hillary super PAC. And Wal-Mart is a corporation that has a a notorious union-busting record. And the $25,000 that Alice Walton donated to her is well more than the hourly employees at Wal-Mart make in a year, two-thirds of whom are women. And so I think we have to be very clear that she is going to represent the continuation of what we’ve seen in the last several decades, including Obama’s presidency, that this is going to be a Wall Street-controlled White House, and we need an alternative.

AMY GOODMAN: Michelle Goldberg, your response to the rollout yesterday and to your concerns about Hillary Clinton, whether you support her?

MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Well, I’m certainly going to support her versus whatever candidate the Republicans put up. You know, I’ve been pretty critical of Hillary Clinton over the years. I didn’t support her in 2008. In fact, I was furious with a lot of the older feminists who suggested that it was incumbent on women to vote for Hillary.

I was impressed with the rollout because, I mean, what’s interesting is that Hillary has been in public life for such a long time, and yet sometimes it can be hard to pin down exactly what she stands for, in part because she is a very changeable, chameleon-like candidate. You know, there was kind of Hillary the feminist lawyer, who worked on behalf of children’s rights. There’s the Hillary the senator, who sponsored a flag-burning amendment. You know, there’s now Hillary the grandmother, who’s talking about paid family leave and those sorts of things. My sense is, is that as many different kind of incarnations as she had, the one constant in her career, and maybe the place where she’s the most authentic, is in her concern for women and families, women and children—you know, the work that she did on maternal mortality when she was in the State Department, for example. And so, inasmuch as that’s going to be the center of this campaign and inasmuch as she is able to marry this kind of family-focused progressivism to women’s issues, like paid—or not women’s issues, family issues, but parental issues, like paid family leave, early childhood education, the sort of things that have never been at the center of a presidential election before, you know, not only do I think that that is a really good thing for feminism, but I also think that that is the best side of Hillary Clinton.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Scheer, your response to Hillary Clinton entering the 2016 presidential race?

ROBERT SCHEER: Yeah, I think it’s absurd to suggest she’s a friend of children who are in need or families. This is a woman who, when her husband was governor, I first met her at that time, when I went down to interview him for the Los Angeles Times and he was starting his presidential run. And they were bragging about their welfare reform, which destroyed what existed of support for poor children in Arkansas. Then, as president, her husband, with her full-throated approval, destroyed the aid to families with dependent children, which 70 percent of the people on that program were children. It was the major federal program to help poor people and poor families, and in the cynicism of the Clinton administration, they destroyed that program. And we have no—we don’t even have an accounting of poor children anymore. They’re off the radar. So, that’s just utter nonsense.

And then, her husband—you know, after all, she, again, was a full-throated support. She was very close to Robert Rubin, to Lawrence Summers, to the people in the Clinton administration who gave us the radical deregulation of Wall Street, which, you know, caused incredible misery and the Great Recession—the Clinton signing on the collateralized debt obligation law which allowed all that junk to be legal, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, the Financial Services Modernization Act, the reverse Glass-Steagall. So they’re the ones that opened the door to the Wall Street thieves that brought on the Great Recession. And then, as senator, she’s carried water for Wall Street faithfully.

And then, finally, you know, if we’re going to run for—of somebody who has experience as secretary of state, I’d rather support John Kerry. After all, it’s been a great relief to see Kerry as opposed to Hillary Clinton. We finally have some rational foreign policy and peacemaking with Iran, with Cuba. Where was Hillary Clinton? And let me say, one reason I could never vote for Hillary Clinton is that she—her attack on Edward Snowden, her attack on the whistleblowers, to call them traitors, to talk about these people. And here is a woman who knew what the government was doing in spying on the American people. You know, she didn’t tell us. She didn’t trust the State Department with her email, but she never told us that the State Department, the CIA and the NSA were spying on the emails of all the Americans. No, but she thinks that’s fine. She’s just going to keep her email in her garage, you know, so I find her to be a center of cynicism and opportunism, and really quite reckless.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. Our guests are Robert Scheer in Los Angeles, Kshama Sawant in Seattle, Michelle Goldberg here in New York, as well as Joe Conason. This is Democracy Now! Hillary Clinton has entered the 2016 presidential race. We’ll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: President Obama said over the weekend Hillary Clinton would be a, quote, “excellent president.” He was speaking in Panama City Saturday, before she announced her candidacy.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: With respect to Hillary Clinton, I’ll make my comments very brief. She was a formidable candidate in 2008. She was a great supporter of mine in the general election. She was an outstanding secretary of state. She is my friend. I think she would be an excellent president.

AMY GOODMAN: This is then-Senator Hillary Clinton back in 2002, ahead of the vote on the resolution to authorize the use of war—the use of war against Iraq.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Because bipartisan support for this resolution makes success in the United Nations more likely, and therefore war less likely, and because a good-faith effort by the United States, even if it fails, will bring more allies and legitimacy to our cause, I have concluded, after careful and serious consideration, that a vote for the resolution best serves the security of our nation. If we were to defeat this resolution or pass it with only a few Democrats, I am concerned that those who want to pretend this problem will go away with delay will oppose any U.N. resolution calling for unrestricted inspections. This is a very difficult vote. This is probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. Any vote that might lead to war should be hard. But I cast it with conviction.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Hillary Clinton in 2002. She was joining a number of other Democrats, as well as Republicans, voting for the Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Iraq. Our roundtable today discussing Hillary Clinton entering the 2016 presidential race—if she were to win, she would be the first woman president of the United States—is Joe Conason, he’s author of The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton; Michelle Goldberg, senior contributing writer at The Nation; Robert Scheer, editor of Truthdig, his latest book, They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy; and in Seattle, Kshama Sawant, Socialist city councilmember in Seattle.

Joe Conason, you wrote the five—you have been covering Hillary and Bill Clinton for a very long time. What about, first, what Obama said, the significance of what he said on Saturday, and Hillary Clinton, when she was a senator, voting for the war with Iraq, something that became a major issue—many say the reason she did not win the Democratic nomination in 2008?

JOE CONASON: Well, it definitely didn’t help. And she eventually admitted that that was a bad vote, she shouldn’t have cast that vote. I was very critical of the war and her at the time, I think you know. I probably appeared on here to talk about it. But that is now 13 years ago. John Kerry, who Bob recommended as a better presidential candidate, also voted for that resolution, and lots of people supported him for president the year after the Iraq War began, so—including me. So—

AMY GOODMAN: He also lost.

JOE CONASON: He also lost, not by much, but he won the Democratic nomination. Look, I think that’s something that she needs to be held to account for, and she has been, and she will be again. It’s not the full picture of her years as a senator or her view of foreign policy.

The second thing I would say is, what the president said is kind of more interesting and significant now, because he is the leader of the Democratic Party. And her service to him, both politically and in government, I think, has united the Democratic Party, much more than it was in 2008, behind her. If you look at poll numbers, she leads any conceivable opponent to her within the Democratic Party in the primary by 50 points, or something like that. And the reason is that the Obama faction of the party, if you want to put it that way—the party was almost evenly divided in 2008. The Obama supporters have rallied behind Hillary, in minority communities, feminists. You know, all of the people who might have been for Obama the last time are with Hillary now, or at least many, many of them. So, I think that was what mattered about what he said.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to comments on Hillary Clinton made by Lincoln Chafee, a former U.S. senator, governor from Rhode Island, who announced Thursday he is exploring a run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Chafee served in the Senate as a Republican but left the party in 2007 to become an independent. He actively supported President Obama in 2008 and '12. Chafee was elected governor in 2010 as an independent, and in 2013 he became a Democrat. Speaking to The Washington Post, he criticized Clinton's support of the 2002 vote on the invasion of Iraq. He said, quote, “I don’t think anybody should be president of the United States that made that mistake. … It’s a huge mistake and we live with broad, broad ramifications today of instability not only in the Middle East but far beyond and the loss of American credibility. There were no weapons of mass destruction,” he said. Then he appeared on MSNBC later the same day and explained why the Iraq vote is still important.

LINCOLN CHAFEE: It’s relevant to what we read about every day in the papers in the Middle East and in other areas of the world—ISIS and what’s happening in Nigeria and how we confront some of these extremist insurgencies. And we were successful in the past, over the years, by having good alliances and having good American credibility, and that’s been squandered by this bad decision—even though it’s a long time ago, I agree with that, back in 2002, but the ramifications are still felt today.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s former Governor and Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, who may throw his hat in the ring as a Democrat. Michelle Goldberg, your response, saying—his saying that anyone who would vote for war in Iraq, given what has happened then and today, is not qualified to be president?

MICHELLE GOLDBERG: You know, I think that there’s obviously something to that. I would say that if you’re kind of questioning someone’s judgment, I would question the judgment of someone who didn’t realize that the Republican Party wasn’t a place for decent people until 2007, you know, and so—you know, I think that that’s probably the best case that he has against her, and certainly that vote is the reason I didn’t support her in 2008.

But I also think that if you look at kind of who the field is, you know, I’m someone who believes that the lesser of two evils is less evil. And she’s, to me, by far not—I mean, at a certain point, it doesn’t even really matter, right? She’s almost certainly going to be the nominee, and she’s going to be leagues better than whoever she’s running against on the Republican Party. And as I said, she’s a kind of chameleon-like candidate who is, for better or worse, a person who often bows to political pressure. And so, this is the—this is the worst thing about her, but it also opens a potential opportunity for progressives, who can try to, I think, if they get organized and try to work within the system as opposed to working as spoilers, exert pressure on her from the other direction.

AMY GOODMAN: Kshama Sawant, what about that argument, that the candidate people are going to get to vote for in 2016, this lesser-of-two-evils argument—now, of two evils? You’re with Socialist Alternative, which is a third party. Many did not expect you would win a council seat in the Seattle City Council, but you did. What about that issue of the lesser of two evils?

KSHAMA SAWANT: Yeah, I think that’s a very important question to examine. And I wanted to start by first, you know, talking about something that’s probably on the minds of a lot of people, that, you know, Hillary Clinton is a woman. She is, as others have stated, is all but certainly going to get the Democratic Party nomination, and it would be fantastic to have a woman in the White House, you know, showing the strides that women are making. And I certainly understand where that’s coming from. But, you know, we have to look at her record, and not only at her record. Her record speaks for itself. This is not the record of anybody who would—even remotely could claim that they were upholding the interests of women or children, as, you know, Robert has clearly stated—you know, the gutting of welfare and all the other things that she’s been involved in.

But it’s also a larger question of the Democratic Party establishment itself. I mean, let’s assume hypothetically that Hillary Clinton wasn’t a cynical opportunist, which she is, but she was genuinely going to represent the interests of the, you know, tens of millions of working families that are looking for genuine representation. Or let’s say hypothetically somebody else, who may be less of a warmongering representative, gets the Democratic Party nomination. The question is: Are they going to be able to carry out anything like a working-class agenda, anything remotely approaching social change, if they get to the White House on the basis of the Democratic Party apparatus, which rests completely and utterly on the Wall Street money? And that’s the question we are examining.

Ultimately, the argument of lesser-evilism, if we are going to stay with lesser-evilism, that argument works until perpetuity. It’s never going to be a good time to break from the two-party, or, you know, the two-big-business-party machinery, and build an independent alternative, because you can always make the claim that, well, you know, if we ran a left candidate this year, in 2016, it’s not going to work, so let’s just hunker down and vote for Hillary because she’s better than the Republicans. But what that lesser-evilism argument is missing is the big, big chunk of America that is completely disengaged from politics; if you look at the approval ratings of U.S. Congress, if you look at the percentages of people who go to the polls, and if you look at the polls that show that 60 percent of Americans are fed up and frustrated with the two-party system and want something different, you’re missing that whole big chunk of America that is completely missing in this esoteric argument about whether Hillary is better or some other candidate should get the nomination.

Ultimately, the question that needs to arise at this moment is to—is the responsibility of the left. This is a responsibility of the left to begin the process of building a left alternative, a political structure that represents working families, because, whether we like it or not, there is a gaping vacuum where the most of America is not present, and if we don’t occupy that vacuum, the right will. And it is absolutely an urgent task. And for people who might think that, well, you know, people aren’t ready for it, no, they are absolutely ready for it. And as you said, Amy, you know, we’ve shown in Seattle that you can not only run as an anticorporate candidate, as an alternative to Democrats, but you can also win. And after winning the election, you can actually carry out a very, very effective and successful working-class agenda.

And, you know, lastly, about the—you know, I know that arguments will come up about, well, you know, we can’t do this at the national level; it’s OK to do it at the local level. I think that’s a false dichotomy, because Seattle is a good example. Here, there are no Republicans to speak of. There is just a Democratic Party establishment. All the problems that people face are at the doorstep of the Democrats. And this year, in my re-election year, you will see the Democratic Party establishment going to war against my campaign and making sure—trying to make sure that I don’t get re-elected. Why? Because at the end of the day, that establishment does not support the agenda of working people. What about climate change, action on climate change, student debt, single-payer healthcare, the gutting of public education, attacks on teachers’ unions? All of this lies at the doorstep of the Democratic Party establishment, and, you know, working people need an alternative.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Scheer, one of your books, The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street. Talk about the Clinton partnership. When you talk about Clinton Democrats, are you talking about Bill Clinton? Are you talking about Bill and Hillary Clinton? And what that means? The way it’s being discussed today with the rollout of Hillary Clinton is, you know, the role her husband will play. Will he be behind the scenes? Is he a liability? Is he an asset? But isn’t the true nature of their relationship, they are a fierce, formidable political partnership? How do you separate what each of them represents?

ROBERT SCHEER: Well, I don’t think there is any separation. Actually, Bill Clinton might be a bit more progressive. He actually had some positive things to say about whistleblowers in the NSA, whereas Hillary just wanted to—you know, she actually had the nerve to blast Snowden. She said, “What’s he doing in Russia?” as if she didn’t know that they yanked his passport, and he had—that’s where he was in transit. Of all—I mean, this is disgusting, when you think about it. Here we have this brave 29-year-old, at the time, who dared to tell us what this government, that Hillary Clinton was a key part of—this is not ancient history. This is the Obama administration that has jailed and gone after more whistleblowers than all previous American presidents combined. And Hillary Clinton dares attack Edward Snowden for telling us—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me—let—

ROBERT SCHEER: —what Hillary Clinton failed to tell us.

AMY GOODMAN: Rather than you characterize what she said, let’s go to Hillary Clinton commenting on Edward Snowden. She was interviewed by The Guardian, which first released the revelations based on the documents of Edward Snowden.

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I would say, first of all, that Edward Snowden broke our laws, and that cannot be ignored or brushed aside. Secondly, I believe that if his primary concern was stirring a debate in our country over the tension between privacy and security, there were other ways of doing it, instead of stealing an enormous amount of information that had nothing to do with the U.S. or American citizens. I would say, thirdly, that there are many people in our history who have raised serious questions about government behavior. They’ve done it either with or without whistleblower protection, and they have stood and faced whatever the reaction was to make their case in public.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Hillary Clinton commenting on Edward Snowden. Robert Scheer, your response?

ROBERT SCHEER: Yeah, she has no respect for courage in speaking up for human rights. She’s a total hypocrite. My goodness, this guy engaged—he did what Daniel Ellsberg did, and she would have condemned him, as well. I mean, these are people who told us what our government didn’t tell us. She lied to us.

And, you know—but let me just point out, I mean, Joe’s point, somehow she’s OK, or—and I forget your writer from the—by the way, let me just say, I was in Seattle recently, and I’ll say again, if your guest from Seattle were to run for president, I’d vote for her over Hillary any day of the week. And I’d vote for Chafee over Hillary any day of the week, because he’s a true moderate. And I would also give serious consideration to Rand Paul, who took on the banks, who was opposed to invading Iraq, who has actually registered caution.

But we’re not talking ancient history here. Hillary Clinton was in favor of a very belligerent attitude in Syria, which has led to the unleashing of ISIS. She’s the one that said, “Oh, Assad is just the worst thing going,” just like they said Saddam Hussein, just like they said Gaddafi. So you look at Libya now, you look at Iraq, you look at Syria, a terrible mess. And yet Hillary Clinton seems to have no compunction that their foundation that her daughter—you know, she says, “I want for every child what my granddaughter has.” Well, your granddaughter has a father who works for Goldman Sachs and a daughter who now works for a foundation that gets an enormous amount of money from Saudi Arabia and other people who have actually been the backers of ISIS. What do you stand for? Where are you going to get your $2.5 billion to be president, if not kissing up to Wall Street, which you’ve been doing as senator? I mean, what are we talking about here? This is a person who can talk a good game, but is totally disingenuous and betraying the very people she seems to care about. You know—

AMY GOODMAN: Joe Conason, if you could respond to Robert Scheer?

JOE CONASON: Well, I mean, it would be great to bring the whole conversation back to reality, because it seems disconnected. When somebody says, “Well, Seattle is the perfect example of politics in America,” no—and “There’s no Republican Party there,” well, I’m sorry, there is a Republican Party in America. It is in fact the dominant party right now. So, to claim, well, Seattle—we can all be like Seattle—we’re not all like Seattle. That is not what’s happening in the United States politically.

So you have to start with where you are and the choices you really have, OK? That’s my view. I mean, it’s fine to have these discussions and fantasize about whatever it is you’d like to see happen, and I share a lot of the aspirations that anybody would have about a more progressive government in the United States. But here we are now. And the choice is going to be somebody like Rand Paul—I guess Bob is OK with him wanting to abolish Social Security and Medicare—great—or someone like Hillary Clinton, who won’t do that, you know, for instance. So, going towards November 2016—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s—

JOE CONASON: —those are what the choices are.

AMY GOODMAN: I want Robert Scheer to answer—

JOE CONASON: Well, wait—well—

AMY GOODMAN: —answer that point, and I’ll come right back to you.


ROBERT SCHEER: Oh, come on. I mean, the fact is, Rand Paul—you know, if you want to have me rise to the bait, Rand Paul had the integrity to oppose the bailout that bailed out the banks but did not bail out Americans. Rand Paul had the integrity—

JOE CONASON: Saved us from a depression, Bob.

ROBERT SCHEER: —to criticize the Federal Reserve when it was catering to the banks. Rand Paul had the courage—

JOE CONASON: And he’s lifted every regulation on banks, Bob. Be honest.

ROBERT SCHEER: —and he’s being attacked by other Republicans—wait a minute—for opposing—

JOE CONASON: Be honest.

ROBERT SCHEER: —an imperial policy in the Mideast—

JOE CONASON: No, he beat—

ROBERT SCHEER: —that has led to absolute ruin and disaster.

JOE CONASON: He’s changed that view, Bob, because he wants Sheldon Adelson’s money.

ROBERT SCHEER: He’s had—wait a minute. Rand Paul has—wait a minute, you’re interrupting me, Joe.

JOE CONASON: I’m sorry.

ROBERT SCHEER: You know, Rand Paul had the courage—

JOE CONASON: I was interrupted so you could rant on.

ROBERT SCHEER: Rand Paul had the courage to challenge the NSA, that Hillary Clinton has celebrated. Hillary Clinton has celebrated the surveillance state. She has celebrated using this war on terror—

JOE CONASON: When did she do that?

ROBERT SCHEER: —to take away our freedom. Rand Paul had at least the courage to challenge that. And, by the way, why aren’t you mentioning Chafee? Why aren’t you mentioning more moderate Republicans?

JOE CONASON: I would—I’ll mention Chafee, or Chafee, actually.

ROBERT SCHEER: And why are you so happy with a lesser evil that is truly evil?

JOE CONASON: Hey, let’s talk about Lincoln Chafee.


JOE CONASON: Who did he support for president in 2004? I’m just curious. Since he’s now made the Iraq War the issue that he wants to run on, puzzlingly, who did he support for president in 2004?

ROBERT SCHEER: He supported the candidate—

JOE CONASON: Who did he support for Senate leadership in 2004? Who did—you know, he must have supported George W. Bush.

ROBERT SCHEER: So you don’t consider—you don’t consider him—

JOE CONASON: Or maybe he supported John Kerry, who also voted for the resolution. Come on. This is just silly.

ROBERT SCHEER: You don’t consider him a moderate Republican in the Eisenhower tradition? —

JOE CONASON: I don’t know what he is anymore? I don’t know what he is.

ROBERT SCHEER: And you don’t think an Eisenhower—look, let me ask you, seriously—

JOE CONASON: I don’t think he’s relevant, Bob. He’s not relevant.

ROBERT SCHEER: Don’t you think Hillary Clinton has all the ingredients of a Margaret Thatcher?

JOE CONASON: No, I don’t.

ROBERT SCHEER: Isn’t she? She’s this Cold War—

JOE CONASON: And neither does—by the way, by the way, let’s stop for a second.


JOE CONASON: You want to talk about working people and who they may or may not support. I’ll tell you, she will have the support of every labor union in this country. In fact, she probably already does. Her candidacy yesterday was welcomed by Richard Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO, which represents a few more workers than you do, welcoming her into the race and saying, “I’m waiting to see what she says about these issues.” He’s not thinking about the Iraq War resolution or any of this other stuff that, admittedly, is relevant, but is not the pressing issue for 2016.

OK, the pressing issue for 2016 is: Do we have a radical-right Republican government that, in all three branches, which will end up with, I don’t know, seven, eight Supreme Court justices, like Alito, or do we have a moderate Democratic administration, where, yes, there’s going to be a lot of tugging and pulling within the party, within Congress, over which issues are to be brought to the fore, what the president’s position will be, what she should do if she’s president? That, to me, is a better situation for working families and all Americans—by the way, people around the world—than the idea of a President Rand Paul or a President Ted Cruz or somebody who is going to dismantle every protection that working families in this country have.

ROBERT SCHEER: Well, what about President Elizabeth Warren? Why are we restrict—

JOE CONASON: What about it? She’s not running, Bob.

ROBERT SCHEER: Why are we restricted—but why aren’t you encouraging some more progressive person to run. For God’s sake, Dennis Kucinich, anyone. Why are we stuck—why are we stuck—

JOE CONASON: It’s not up to—they’re not going to listen to me as to whether they should run.

ROBERT SCHEER: You’ll have to answer the question, Joe: Why are we stuck with someone like Hillary Clinton, who has a proven record of betraying the progressive ideas?

AMY GOODMAN: Michelle Goldberg, do you want to get a word in here?

ROBERT SCHEER: Why are we stuck with this? Why is this the choice?

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break, and then we’re going to come back to this discussion. You are watching, listening to—and you can read them online at democracynow.org—Robert Scheer, author and editor-in-chief at Truthdig, his latest book, They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy. We’re also joined here in New York by Joe Conason, who is the author of The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton. Michelle Goldberg is with us, senior contributing writer at The Nation. And Kshama Sawant, the Socialist city councilmember from Seattle, who pushed for a $15 minimum wage for all workers in Seattle and won. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: We are joined by Joe Conason, editor-in-chief of The National Memo; Robert Scheer, among his books, They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy, that’s just out; in Seattle, we’re joined by Kshama Sawant, Socialist city councilmember; and also in New York, Michelle Goldberg, senior contributing writer at The Nation, author of several books, including The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World, her latest piece, “Hillary Clinton’s Feminist Family Values.” So, this debate about who will represent a progressive America, weigh in, Michelle.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Well, we have this debate every four, every eight years. And, you know, Bob Scheer asked, “Why are we stuck with these two choices?” And part of the reason that we’re stuck with these two choices is because of the way left-wing activists approach electoral politics, as opposed to the way right-wing activists approach electoral politics. You know, my first book was about the religious right and their influence in American politics. And they kind of never waited until presidential elections and then wrang their hands and said, you know, “These candidates don’t represent our values, so we’re going to stay home or form a third party or vote for some spoiler candidate.” What they did is actually what Kshama Sawant is doing and, you know, kind of left-wing activists who are working at the grassroots are doing all across the country, is that you have to build an infrastructure. You kind of have to build within the party. You have to take over the party apparatus before you can expect the party to serve your ends. You can’t simply kind of come in every eight years and say, “Why can’t they put up someone completely different, you know, or why can’t we have a third party that operates outside of the constraints of the American two-party system?”

AMY GOODMAN: By the way, we haven’t mentioned Bernie Sanders, and there’s a lot of discussion, as he travels the country, about the possibility of a candidacy. Would it be with the Democrats? He caucuses with the Democrats, but he is an independent. In fact, he’s a Socialist from Vermont.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Look, Bernie Sanders is probably closest to the candidate whose views align with my own. But I think, like Joe said, you go to an election with the country you have, not the country that you want. The idea that this huge bloc of disengaged voters are secret socialists just waiting to be mobilized is just not borne out by any data out there. If you want a liberal electorate, you have to build it and organize it. You can’t just pretend that it’s in hiding and will appear if only the right candidate—if only kind of the corporate Democrats don’t stop the right candidate from putting their name forward. The votes just aren’t there. The infrastructure just isn’t there. And so, what you do, I think—

AMY GOODMAN: Don’t polls show that the country is more liberal than the leaders? And what about the issue of Republicans appealing to their base—

ROBERT SCHEER: And they’re more anti-Wall Street.


ROBERT SCHEER: They’re more anti-Wall Street than Hillary Clinton—

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Scheer.

ROBERT SCHEER: —by a long shot. You know, this is nonsense.

JOE CONASON: Some polls show that.

ROBERT SCHEER: Of course they are. They’re very critical of Wall Street.

JOE CONASON: Other polls show other things. I mean—

ROBERT SCHEER: Look, you even actually had a chance to stop that bailout, which was an atrocity, and you had plenty of Republicans, and it was the Democrats who betrayed. Let’s be serious here. Are you telling me the vast majority of Americans prefer Wall Street the way Hillary Clinton has catered to them? Or would they actually support a populist? I agree with you, Bernie Sanders would be great right now, you know? But to tell—you know, it’s the Democrats who have destroyed the possibility of grassroots organizing.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, speaking of Socialists, let’s bring—

ROBERT SCHEER: And on a personal note, let me tell you—

MICHELLE GOLDBERG: How have they destroyed the possibility of grassroots organizing?

ROBERT SCHEER: Let me say—I just want to say, on a personal note, I ran for Congress against a so-called establishment Democrat, Jeffrey Cohelan, a long time ago. I got 45 percent of the vote. And as a result of that, Ron Dellums took that seat. Ron Dellums was the best person we had in Congress for a long time, because we showed that people in Oakland and in that community, in Berkeley, could support a progressive candidate.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG: Of course, we can, in Berkeley.

ROBERT SCHEER: You don’t have to—it was Oakland, and it was a good part of Contra Costa. It was what was considered a safe—

JOE CONASON: Oh, dear.

ROBERT SCHEER: —moderate Democratic district. And Ron Dellums came in, raising all of the issues that I’ve been raising today, and he raised them in Congress. And you can do it. And I think that’s what’s happening in Seattle, where you have—you know, where you have a choice.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Kshama Sawant—I want to bring Kshama Sawant in, back into this discussion. The idea of Republicans appealing to their base, but Democrats running away from their base?

KSHAMA SAWANT: Well, I think that it can’t just simply—it’s too simplistic to say that Republicans are appealing to their base because their base is right-wing, and then Democrats are not appealing to their base, which is progressive. That completely belies the reality that if you look at poll after poll on social justice issues, on social and economic issues, the vast majority of Americans are well to the left of the choices that are presented to them in the form of Democrats or Republicans. I completely disagree with this idea that somehow the electorate is not progressive and that you have to somehow, you know, generate that and that it can be artificially manufactured. No, as a matter of fact, Americans do want an alternative. They have been crying out for an alternative. There’s a huge vacuum here that is not being filled. And it is really up to the left to do that. It’s not good enough for the left to say that, “Well, you know, we can’t really have a spoiler vote this year, and that’s why we are going to support Hillary.” That is an abdication of responsibility. We have to build an alternative. There is no shortcut. Unfortunately, for us, there is no shortcut. It is going to be hard work of building. I agree with Michelle, it is all about organizing. But that organizing from the grassroots, that building of mass movement, which we absolutely have to do, has to incorporate a real political alternative to this dog-and-pony show that we’re going to see in 2016 yet again. And, you know, look at—

AMY GOODMAN: Joe—let me just ask Joe Conason, and when you’re invited in the corporate media, you’ll be having debates with Republicans. You’ll be debating—it’ll be very much that spectrum. This is opening up this discussion. What about the concern of many in the Democratic establishment that Hillary Clinton doesn’t have a viable opponent in the primaries, engineered by the Clintons or not, that that could actually weaken her?

JOE CONASON: You know, some people think that. Some people think the opposite and say, well, you know, Bill Bradley didn’t really strengthen Al Gore in 2000, and there’s really not an example that you can give of a candidate for president who was made stronger by a primary opponent. So, it could be—I don’t know, actually. I think she certainly—

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama?

JOE CONASON: Well, was he made stronger? That’s a good question. He was made stronger certainly when the Clintons decided to support him for election in 2008 and 2012, and probably helped to keep him—get him in office and keep him in office. But, look, I mean, Bob Scheer ran for Congress 50 years ago, just so we put this in perspective. Fifty years later—and it was a noble cause that he was supporting, antiwar cause. I admired him very much when I was growing up. And 50 years later, we are in the same position that we were then. There is no burgeoning left alternative to the left of the Democratic Party in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Ten seconds for this, other three guests. Michelle Goldberg, right now, as we wrap up, your comment on what you want to see happen in this next year?

MICHELLE GOLDBERG: What I want to see happen is for people to organize within the Democratic Party to pull Hillary Clinton to the left, because I think that, for better or for worse, she is responsive to political pressure.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Scheer, eight seconds?

ROBERT SCHEER: Yeah, I supported Obama, and it was easier to challenge the government when Bush was president than when Obama was president. So it is not good for democracy to have a lesser evil as our candidate.

AMY GOODMAN: Kshama Sawant?

KSHAMA SAWANT: I would like to see Bernie Sanders run as an independent political, anticorporate alternative to Democrats and Republicans. And I would like the support of the left for me to win my re-election, because that is absolutely critical for the left. And so—

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there, Kshama Sawant, Socialist Alternative city councilmember in Seattle; Joe Conason, editor-in-chief of The National Memo. Thank you so much to Nation writer Michelle Goldberg and to Robert Scheer, who’s author of They Know Everything About You.

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