By James A. Kidney
Recently, Big Media has attacked Sen. Bernie Sanders for being too vague and uncertain in answering questions during interviews with editorial boards of The New York Times and The New York Daily News about how to break up the big banks, his position on gun control, and other issues. A Washington Post political columnist, one who specializes in superficial “listicles” costumed as commentary, has even claimed that these interviews with Sanders and Donald Trump were, to quote the headline over his column, “the surprising success story of the election cycle.”
Many, probably most, national political columnists and reporters have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo of the Democratic and Republican parties. Electing Trump, Sanders or, until recently, Sen. Ted Cruz (who is now becoming the darling of Republican Party leaders), would put in the trash years of work cultivating party “insiders” and campaign consultants as sources. Damn voters! Why can’t they just go with the tried and true party hacks, even if it means nothing is done for them?
It is clear that the Republican and Democratic parties are not serving the public interest. This is not only my opinion, but it is the conclusion of an extensive analysis published in 2014 in the Journal of the American Political Science Association. That study concludes “that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”
Big Media’s smug certainties have been challenged by this presidential election, but that doesn’t mean the standard prejudices against political outsiders have been banished. This conclusion is unavoidable when the “surprising success story of the election cycle – the interview transcript” – is applied to one Sec. Hillary Clinton. Unlike Sanders (we’ll leave Trump out of it because comparing a serious and thoughtful candidate like Sanders to Trump is a disservice to Sanders’ seriousness and to Trump’s sense of humor), Clinton has had only the softest of softball questions lobbed at her in interviews for which transcripts are available on Google. [I searched for “Hillary Clinton interview transcripts” and a handful of fairly recent vintage popped up. All of them were with broadcast media. No newspaper interview transcripts came up, although I admit to not looking at all 14,700,000 results.]
Aside from some questions about her email practices while Secretary of State, almost all of the questions in the five or six recent transcripts involved campaign tactics and responses, such as how Clinton could improve her image with voters who do not trust her, or how she is standing up to the rigors of campaigning.
There is no doubt Sanders should have been prepared to do a better job answering questions from the editorial boards. Clinton supporters, who, judging from my Facebook friends, are overjoyed at his awkward responses, which they claim did not provide sufficient policy detail for their liking.
But here’s the thing: Sanders is offering up radical new ideas – radical by Democratic Party standards – and his campaign is aspirational, intended to inspire new thinking to break out of the mold of more regulation, more lobbyists, more complexity favored by Clinton. Sanders, in other words, is not preaching for “more of the same.” That his notions they have not been fully thought out and considered is not surprising. The goals are important, with suggestions of whose interests will be paramount, not the specifics.
Remember (well, I don’t expect you remember, but maybe you have read about it): In 1932, Franklin Roosevelt ran on a platform of balancing the budget. That lasted a nanosecond, but he left no doubt in that campaign whose interests would be most important to him if he were elected. There are many reasonable doubts about whether Sanders should be president, but there is no question to whom his loyalties lie or that he is sincere about protecting the middle class.
To Big Media (I refuse to call it Mainstream Media), Clinton fits like a warm glove. Her policy prescriptions are familiar and cautious. They fit totally within the narrative of campaigning since 1992 when her husband was elected. In fact, they are so familiar that Clinton is rarely asked about them. Her answers would be predictably boring to listeners and viewers. What would you do about inequality? It is not hard to imagine her answer (and we will have to, because no one in these transcripts asked her): “Well, I think we have addressed that largely in Dodd-Frank, which maybe needs to be added to, and I have policies to provide opportunities to those who find themselves without jobs or meaningful choices. One of those is education . . .” In other words, as Thomas Frank recently observed in Listen Liberal, Clinton mouths the traditional answer of the Democratic meritocracy that we will train everyone to be a computer programmer and that will solve the problem.
So since she is the promulgator of the status quo, with tweaks, and with which her questioners are familiar and bored, Hillary Clinton escapes the pressure to be more specific and to then be pressed on how her plans would actually help the mass of the middle class and poor.
This critique – media soft on Hillary – is counter to the usual meme that both Clintons have been hit hard by the press for everything from Whitewater, to emails, to Goldman Sachs speeches. But if that was ever true – and it was – the advent of candidates outside-the-box of inside Washington has caused the wagons to circle and to protect Clinton from the tough questions that might show how pedestrian is her vision for the future of the country.
Here are some sample questions indicative of how tough the questioning has been. We have linked the excerpts to the full interview transcripts so you can judge for yourself how tough the interviews have been.
GLENN THRUSH: Not a lot of that going on in this campaign, the listening thing, right? I mean, there seems to be a very–this seems to be a campaign about simplifying message. I mean, to me that’s also an observation I made when I saw you out in Iowa, and I wrote about it, that you give the most complex speeches.
SEC. CLINTON: Mm-hmm. I do.
GLENN THRUSH: You give a lot of information–
SEC. CLINTON: Right.
GLENN THRUSH: –in those speeches.
SEC. CLINTON: Right.
GLENN THRUSH: Your opponent and your potential opponent are people who do not give–
SEC. CLINTON: Right.
GLENN THRUSH: –an enormous amount of granular detail.
SEC. CLINTON: Right.
GLENN THRUSH: Have you ever thought about just simplifying it, or do you think this is the path that is an important one to take?
SEC. CLINTON: It’s the path that I prefer.
GLENN THRUSH: Right.
* * * * * *
GLENN THRUSH: Two more questions before your people kill me.
SEC. CLINTON: [Laughs] No killing permitted.
GLENN THRUSH: No killing permitted.
The Goldman–obviously you’ve taken a lot of hits on the Goldman Sachs thing. Can you just sort of explain, in general, as opposed to sort of defending on this, why you chose to do it and why you chose not to undo it? I mean, you’ve been pretty–I think you’ve been pretty adamant about not being necessarily apologetic about it.
SEC. CLINTON: Mm-hmm.
GLENN THRUSH: I mean, do you think–was it something that you felt you needed to do for your family? Is it something you just wish you hadn’t done?
SEC. CLINTON: Look, I have a record when it comes to the financial industries market. I have a long history of opposing a lot of what they’re doing, trying to change behaviors, I–and I never voted for a bill that unleashed swaps and derivatives, the way Sen. Sanders did. So my record is actually quite a contrast with his record, when you really look at what caused the collapse in ’08, because it wasn’t just the big banks. It was investment banks like Lehman Brothers. It was AIG, the big insurance company. It was Countrywide Mortgage.
So I think it’s important to, you know, try to put what happened into context, and my plan to rein in Wall Street is far more comprehensive and actually focused on the problems of the future than what he’s saying. You know, it took me a while, after hearing him in the campaign, to realize he was talking as though Dodd-Frank never passed. He was talking about “We need to, you know, break up the big banks” and he was saying things like “On my first day, that’s what I’ll do.” And I stopped one day and I thought, “Dodd-Frank was passed, the toughest regulations since the Great Depression, and, in fact, there is now a process to break up the banks if that is what is called for.”
So I found it a little bit bewildering that, based on my record and based on, you know, my proposals, that anybody would be raising questions about anything, because people who ask me to speak, whether they’re auto dealers or cardiologists or banks, they know where I stand because I’ve been very transparent and open about that.
MADDOW: Vice President Biden has said that he is not running for President. You talked a lot about your friendship with him and your respect for me. You’ve given him a lot of space to make this decision on his own without any pressure from you. Now that he’s said that he is not running, are you jealous?
CLINTON: That’s a really good question.
MADDOW: I mean he didn’t have to go through all this (inaudible).
CLINTON: Well, bless his heart. I, look, I am a huge Joe Biden admirer, friend, a former colleague, and I know this was an excruciating decision in a time of just such pain and grief for him and his family. He is liberated and I don’t think history is done with him. There is a lot for him and the President to keep doing in the next year and a half. And I want to build on the progress that they are leaving behind. I feel very strongly about that. I want to go further, but I think the real point of this election is whether or not the Republicans are going to be able to turn the clock back and rip away the progress that has been made. So I, I want to support what the President and the Vice President have accomplished.
DAVID MUIR: Let’s go bigger picture here for a moment, because many who quite frankly wanted to support you have now learned of this F.B.I. investigation, have learned of the I.T. guy who helped set up the server planning to plead the Fifth.
And many who have said to themselves, you know, “Hillary Clinton of all people who’s been in the public eye for so long that she should have known.” And perhaps the more important question they’re asking is, “Can Hillary Clinton survive this?” Can you?
HILLARY CLINTON: Yes, of course I can. I, as you might guess, have been around a while and there’ve been lots of, you know, attacks and counter-attacks and questions raised. And I can survive it because I think I’m running to be president to do what the country needs done.
And I believe the American people will respond to that. You know, with respect to the two points that you made, this is a security investigation. And that’s why I turned over my server. It’s not, as has been confirmed, a criminal investigation. Again, that needs to be explained to people because they may not understand the difference.
And I, I think on all of this, I’m looking forward to testifying before the Congress in public, which is what I demanded to be able to do. I’ll answer all their questions for as long as they wish to ask them. But at the end of the day, at least in the campaigning that I’m doing around the country, people wanna know what I’m gonna do for them.
What I’m gonna do for their families. They want a president who will take care of the big issues that are in the headlines, whether it’s ISIS. or climate change or Syrian refugees. But they also want a president who’s gonna care about the problems that keep them up at night. And they know that I will and that I will work hard to try to make America work again for people.
Here is an interview by National Public Radio on Jan. 20, 2016,for which we only need to repeat some of the questions to get a flavor of how “hard hitting” it was:
Yesterday, a group of national security veterans — former national security officials put out a letter attacking Sanders on foreign policy, and specifically on Iran. Part of the letter says, “We need a commander-in-chief who knows how to protect America and our allies, and advance our interest and values around the world.”
Are you suggesting that Sanders is not qualified to be commander in chief?
* * * * * * *
Sen. Sanders suggested yesterday that your experience is not enough and that there’s a difference between experience and judgment. Part of what he said was Dick Cheney had a lot of experience, George W. Bush’s vice president, of course. A whole lot of people have experience, but do not necessarily have the right judgment.
How do you feel about being compared to Dick Cheney?
* * * * * * *
One of the things that seem to appeal to voters so much about Bernie Sanders and about Donald Trump is their visceral anger that they convey on the stump.
What makes you really angry?
* * * * *
Well, Secretary Clinton, I know we have to wrap up, but the last question I wanted to ask you — you have been open about the fact that you maintain your health on the campaign trail by eating raw jalapeno peppers.
Where did that practice come from? Where did you get that?
Hard hitting journalism, that.