[Publisher's Note] | The Clinton Cartel, by John R. MacArthur | Harper's Magazine

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[Publisher’s Note]

The Clinton Cartel


Journalists are doing the Clintons’ dirty work for them and their machine.

A version of this column originally ran in Le Devoir on May 2, 2016. Translated from the French by John Cullen.

And now the media/political cartel—already triumphant in favor of Hillary Clinton—is eager to see the Bernie Sanders campaign breathe its last. Apparently made uneasy by the insurgent candidate from Vermont’s anti-establishment and anti–Wall Street rhetoric (he likewise criticizes the “corporatist” media), big-time journalists and media outlets seem more offended than ever by Sanders’s determination to keep fighting in a practically lost campaign.

Righteous pundits cry “Hypocrite!” as the Sanders camp continues its efforts to flip Democratic super delegates—delegates appointed by the party’s leaders and not chosen by vote—with the argument that its man would be a stronger candidate against Donald Trump in the presidential campaign. Such commentators view Sanders, the popular purist who wants to raise up ordinary people stripped of their sovereignty by the two major parties, as having betrayed his own commitment to direct democracy.

“Who thought Sanders would resort to an insider’s game to get what he wanted?” Michael Dobie, an editorial writer for the Long Island daily Newsday, asks ironically. “That’s what traditional, bought-and-sold, machine politicians like Clinton do, not a principled outsider like Sanders. Right?”

New York Times columnist Charles Blow, normally left-leaning and better disposed toward Sanders, disapproves more vehemently. He criticizes Sanders’s campaign director Jeff Weaver for his idea of chasing super delegates even if, after the final primary (in California on June 7), Clinton’s popular vote total is higher and she has more elected delegates. In an April 24 interview on CNN, Blow took up Dobie’s theme: “That is an extraordinary kind of claim or ambition from a candidate and from a campaign that has run as an anti-establishment campaign, because you’re then asking the establishment, which is what the super delegates are…to overturn the will of the people. It kind of eats away at the very virtue of what makes Bernie Sanders and his campaign attractive in the first place.”

Good Lord. These journalists are doing the Clintons’ dirty work for them and their machine. Hillary has often hammered away at Sanders’s supposed lack of competence and his commitment as a “real” Democrat. In fact, he caucuses with the Democratic Party in order to get better committee assignments but presents himself as an “independent socialist.” That’s an unimportant distinction, because Sanders is, for all practical purposes, a member of the Democratic Party—just rather rebellious by nature. He has a right to do his best to win.

But the Clintons dominate the traditional, patronage-driven wing of the Democratic Party, for which the order of the day is to hold on to power by rewarding its pals (such as Wall Street and the big law firms) and punishing its enemies (dissident unionists and pro-Sanders activists). That’s the ironclad rule in most political parties, but Sanders has clearly not bought into the Democrats’ current corruption.

I’ll admit that Senator Sanders isn’t a natural-born Democrat. Nevertheless, he has perhaps missed an historic opportunity to seize the citadel of a party that’s supposed to represent the working class but has long since sold itself to big business and finance. I imagine that last April, when he declared his candidacy in the presidential elections, Bernie thought he was making a grand gesture at the end of his career.

Let’s stay polite, he told himself, let’s stay above the politics of vitriol. Maybe I’ll be able to influence the debate leading up to November. I’ll say that the political system is rigged, that it obstructs real democracy, but I won’t insult Mrs. Clinton or her husband, despite the fact that they embody an organized racket that preys on ordinary people.

Sanders underestimated the depth of the disillusionment in the United States today. Caught up by his own sudden popularity as well as that of Trump (with whom he shares some important points), he didn’t have the farsightedness to conduct his campaign as a rebel against the official Democratic Party. Had he done so, he would have been obliged to flaunt his intention to lead a coup d’état against the Clinton couple as well as Barack Obama, who is himself supported by the Chicago Democratic machine. Obviously, the closed primaries in the Democratic race for the presidential nomination have favored Hillary, and Sanders didn’t do what was necessary in the summer of 2015 to encourage independents to “convert” to the party owned by the Clintons. In New York State, the last date for registering as a Democrat in order to vote in the April primary was October 9, four days before the first televised Sanders-Clinton debate.

And so the die is cast. What a pity.

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