Saturday, April 2, 2016

I Don't Know About You, but I'm In The Mood To Keep Talking About Susan Sarandon.

People are tired of hearing about the Susan Sarandon interview, I know. My feelings won't be hurt if you roll your eyes and skip this post. Well, my feelings would probably be hurt if I saw you do it, but I won't even know.

I'm sick of it, in a way, too. But what irks me is how far already the commentary has gotten from what actually happened in that interview. Because, to me, it was a moment when the lights came on suddenly and briefly. It was jarring, upsetting, and very disheartening.

But let me first take apart this essay, which is pretty typical of the quick spin the Sanders campaign has put on this interview, the damage control, the effort to discredit anyone who is critical of Sarandon as a liar.

It starts with an example of Hillary Clinton lying. The narrative of Hillary as a liar is important, so the idea that she may have just been mistaken is off the table. See, she’s a liar? Here she is lying. Now I have proved she is a liar.

Then a charge of “inaccurate reporting” on the Chris Hayes interview. This is the most frustrating aspect of the post-brouhaha Sanders campaign spin. A few outlets ran false clickbait headlines misquoting Sarandon as saying "Vote for Trump!" (which is easily refuted by listening to the short video clip), so they dismiss all negative reaction as “a lot of inaccurate reporting.”

No, Sarandon did not say “Vote for Trump!”

She said a couple of times that “a lot of people” can’t bring themselves to vote for Clinton, which is true. And then Hayes asks her if she herself will vote for Hillary if she is the nominee:

SARANDON: I don`t know. I`m going to see what happens. 
HAYES: Really? 
SARANDON: Really. 
HAYES: I cannot believe as you`re watching the, if Donald Trump… 
SARANDON: Some people feel Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately if he gets in then things will really, you know explode. 
HAYES: You`re saying the Leninist model of… 
SARANDON: Some people feel that. 
HAYES: Don`t you think that`s dangerous? 
SARANDON: I think what`s going on now. If you think it`s pragmatic to shore up the status quo right now, then you`re not in touch with the status quo. The statue quo is not working, and I think it`s dangerous to think that we can continue the way we are …. 

Then she restates the usual objections to Hillary's record (militarized police, privatized prisons, death penalty, low minimum wage,  income disparity, and so on) ending with “I don`t like the fact she talks about Henry Kissinger as being her go to guy for the stuff that`s happened in Libya and other things I don`t think is good.”

When I watched this clip (maybe an hour or so after the broadcast, a friend posted it, before I saw all the spin and social media amplification) I reacted with disgust, not because she said “I’m voting for Trump and you should, too.” Obviously she didn’t say that. What she said is that she didn’t know if Trump would be better or worse than Clinton, that in fact “some people” (and these “some people” being clearly, in this context, Bernie supporters) think he might be better. And when asked if she thought that was a dangerous notion, she answered with a statement of how  dangerous she feels Clinton would be. 

It is not necessary to exaggerate or misquote or in any way distort these comments to find them reprehensible. It doesn't matter that the next day Sarandon tweeted that of course she won't vote for Trump. What matters is that she floated the idea that Trump might be better than Clinton and then dug in her heels and refused to critique it. (An interpretation this essayist calls “stupid." So much for dialog.)

The rest of the essay is a point by point examination of Susan Sarandon's case against Clinton: Monsanto! Rich people! Banks! Wall Street! Fracking! Kissinger! Every time I or anyone is critical of Bernie Sanders or his followers, the response is this list. Question: "What do you think of this thing Bernie Sanders said that I don't think is quite true?" Answer: "Oh my god, how could you say that? Hillary Clinton is a monster!" All these charges against Clinton are interesting, often troubling, many times true, but sometimes they're not what we're talking about.

Just for good measure, he ends with a gendered insult about “what sort of woman” Clinton is compared to “what sort of woman” Sarandon is. And I'm sure he would respond: "Stop talking about sexism.  Criticizing Clinton doesn't make me sexist!" No, saying sexist things makes you sexist.

Anyway, this writer's point  I think, is that it is reasonable for Susan Sarandon, and by extension Bernie’s supporters, to say anything that might defeat Clinton because look at what a horrible president she’d be based on the fact that she’s a crook and a liar and war-monger.

So here are my thoughts, this morning, on the Bernie Sanders campaign:

It is a campaign, a movement, based on the idea that political integrity can be popular, can rally votes, enough to win the presidency. Its base assumption is that our government is corrupt and that we, the honest people, must take back power by calling out corruption wherever we see it, insisting on transparency at every turn.

It’s a powerful idea. The dark side of the coin, though, is that this idea creates a crowd who must believe in their own moral unassailability. They swallow whole anything presented as evidence of corruption. ("Clinton is corrupt because look at this evidence of corruption" "How do you know the evidence is true?" "She's corrupt, so the evidence must be true.") Transparency is hard work and I think often impossible when it comes to evidence of corruption. Most people don’t have the expertise, let alone time and energy, to analyze campaign finance law, or bank regulation, or tax law. Yet, from listening to Sanders's followers, it seems like we have a whole movement of experts on all these subjects, as well as foreign policy, geopolitics, and history. Or maybe it's just that they’re susceptible to demagogues who may or may not be experts, and may have good intentions, but they are politicians with agendas. “Follow the money” is good advice, but it's painstaking work, and there are always many lenses through which to interpret these numbers. It’s more complex than a Facebook meme.

I get the sense that Bernie Sanders is a good man of high ideals. I know no such thing about most of his followers. I don’t trust populists because I don’t trust the populace. Bernie Sanders seems to want to bring honesty and compassion to government. What many of his followers seem to want is power and a humiliated enemy.

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