The Bernie Bro Smear: A Psy-Op in “Enemy Territory”?

An excellent recent Salon piece by Daniel Denvir  covers several of the key points having to do with the vile and dishonest history of the Berniebro smear routinely brandished by Clinton loyalists. But there is surely much more, possibly even a book to be written on the topic (more or less along the lines of Jerry Lembcke’s Vietnam era classic, The Spitting Image) once the rage subsides and we know more of the facts.

One of the things Denvir doesn’t mention is how sectors of “the left” were more than happy to do Clinton’s work by circulating it and the (closely related) Bernie-as-white-supremacist smear. As can be seen by googling the phrase, a relatively high fraction of the returns link to our supposed allies in “the movement”. And the phrase “Berniebro” is still passed around by soi-disant leftists as if it has any basis in fact other than as a transparent and cynical canard, circulated by Clintonites for the sole purpose of maintaining her completely undeserved “firewall” among women and African American voters. A truly disgraceful performance by all concerned.

Also undiscussed in the piece is the question of whether there was any central coordination on how the talking point was to be disseminated.  Denvir, over twitter, expressed skepticism as to whether that might have been the case.  According to him, the journalists in question “believe what they write”. These include, of those he mentions, the New Yorker’s Alexandra Schwartz, Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer and Yoni Applebaum, NYU tech guru Clay Shirky,  Janell Ross at the Washington PostCharles Blow on the New York Times op ed page, and former Salon editor, now Nation columnist Joan Walsh.  Unmentioned are figures such as Dara Lind at Vox, one of the first to amplify the smear,  Salon’s Amanda Marcotte,  Rebecca Traister in New York magazine,  and, maybe most alarmingly, the unhinged rants of Sady Doyle in, of all places, the venerable left outpost In These Times.

Denvir was possibly correct that this herd, including high end journalists as well as aspirants to that status, was made up of individuals who  “formulate their own opinions” rather than following orders from a central command.    But the precision by which the smear was broadcast recalls and shares important similarities with a military psy-op (Psychological Operation) against an enemy population.  The analogy might seem extreme but it has a clear precedent in the Reagan Administration which, as Noam Chomsky noted,  “had a massive enterprise to control the public mind. In fact,” Chomsky continues, “when this was exposed during the Iran/Contra hearings, partially exposed, one high administration official described it as the most successful operation carried out. He said it’s the kind of operation that you carry out in enemy territory.” Chomsky observes that the official “expresses the attitude toward the population completely. The population is the ‘enemy, and you’ve got to control ‘enemy territory’ by very extensive public diplomacy — meaning propaganda.”

There is little doubt that Clinton’s advisors, who commission their own internal, private polls to assess the public mood, are well aware that of the widespread contempt for Clinton not as a personality, but more fundamentally, for the policies she has promoted throughout her career.

One of these is Joel Benenson who, as his official bio states, served the Proctor and Gamble corporation as their “chief strategic researcher for the launch of Olestra,” the fat substitute, the ingestion of which included, as side effects, “anal leakage” and “intestinal distress.” It makes sense that he would now turn his professional attentions towards the sales of a still more disliked product.

The public encountering Clinton or Olestra is, for public relations specialists, in an important sense, an “enemy” whose resistance needs to be subdued.  But the most conspicuous enemies are those who tell the truth and expose the lies on which the sales pitch is based.  They need to be marginalized and discredited by any means necessary.  While it is only speculation that the Berniebro smear was concocted for this purpose in the back rooms of a K street or Madison Avenue office, it is certain that communication strategies, both positive and negative, were conceived long before Clinton announced her run.  These were developed in full confidence they would be widely circulated  a compliant journalist corps hopeful of receiving much coveted “access” to or even positions within a Clinton White House.

All those responsible for passing it on should be ashamed of themselves.

On Bernie or Busters and Performative Leftism

I’m not a Bernie or Buster-I would vote for Hillary if I lived in an unsafe state. But I will defend those who will never be able to do so as follows: imagine you are, say, the family of Ricky Ray Rector (murdered by Hillary’s husband with Hillary’s approval), or the grandparents of Abdulrahman al Awlaki (incinerated in a “signature strike” approved of by Hillary’s State Department) or a steel worker whose life was ruined by his company moving his job to China encouraged by Clintonian “free trade”. For them, the choice isn’t political, it’s personal. It shouldn’t be hard to understand why some will never be able to vote for Clinton, even if I wouldn’t endorse the decision on purely political grounds.

Having said that, while I’m entirely sympathetic to those who will never be able to vote for Clinton based on their having been direct victims of her policies, for those who are not there’s a reasonable basis for suspicion.  In particular, those claiming to suffer from visceral reactions of revulsion and disgust preventing them from pulling a lever to head off the least worst outcome recall Amber Frost’s  “performative male feminists” who “get a high from the production of piety.”

As Frost suggests, the question for performative leftists of all stripes is “whether (they are) primarily preaching from a pulpit of sincerity or not” . Some of those delivering the most strident anti-Clinton performances often derive from relatively privileged groups who largely escape the worst consequences of right wing politics-whether those of Clinton or the reactionary rightists who might defeat her.

Politics for them functions a vehicle for their own self-expression rather than a battlefield in which they are in the direct line of fire.

While “unctuous” and “histrionic”, on an individual level  this species of politics is relatively harmless.  The problem comes when these attitudes become associated with the broader left.

By denying the marginal differences between the corporate far and center right, the left sends a clear signal to the most vulnerable international and domestic populations-those who will suffer the most under a far right regime-that their main function is to serve as props within our own personal dramas so as to “make a statement” about who were are or aspire to be.

The left is required not only to challenge this perception but to insure that it is the opposite: that the most vulnerable are not just incidental to the left agenda but at its core.

Good faith solidarity, rather than fake solidarity begins and ends with that point.

The Left Leader Fetish: More Lessons from the Sanders Campaign

The results from last night’s primaries require that a couple of things be kept in perspective.  First, delegates are awarded proportionally, so the fact that Missouri and Illinois were narrow losses for Sanders is practically indistinguishable from their having been narrow victories.  Had Sanders won, there would have been more enthusiasm today, but there would have been no more grounds for it than the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth we’re seeing now.

That said, the one slightly unexpected result was the size of the loss in Ohio. What this means is that the margins by which Sanders will need to win the large states coming up, New York and California, will need to be larger–in the 58%+ range. This is unlikely but not impossible. To achieve this, Sanders will need strong endorsements from the one set of institutions which still have the power to swing votes in the necessary range, and that is the labor unions.  That they have not supported what would likely be the most pro-labor administration in recent U.S. history and, by virtue of this fact, probably the only chance to arrest the decades long slide of labor into now almost total irrelevance is an utter scandal.

What is also striking is that they have largely escaped criticism for having gone AWOL, Hamilton Nolan being one of the few to have raised the issue of labor having “fucked up” in a largely ignored Gawker piece. Nolan’s observation gets to a deeper pathology within the left which is the assumption that, warts and all, organized labor, by its very nature can never be part of the problem.  Rather it must be, according to this line of thought,  at the core of whatever challenge the left is able to mount against the neoliberal corporate state.

For that reason, labor leadership has largely not been held responsible for a string of suicidal decisions made in recent years. Among the most glaring of these was its decision to withdraw its support for the Wisconsin State House protests of 2011, throwing its weight into a failed recall effort which Governor Scott Walker easily survived and which ended up strengthening his hand.  The direct result of the union’s failed strategy, for which they largely escaped criticism and accountability, was the Walker administration’s successful attack on public sector unions, organized labor’s last remaining stronghold now joining private sector unions in the race to the bottom.

Labor’s failure to support Sanders should be seen in a similar light: perhaps the last chance to staunch the hemorrhaging wounds inflicted on it by both parties and which may, by the end of the next of a series of anti-union administrations, result in the end of labor as a significant force in domestic politics.  This lesson should be learned, but given that Nolan’s piece is the only one to have mentioned it, it is reasonable to conclude that it won’t be. The same labor leaders who endorsed Clinton will be the last rats to leave as the last of the ruins of what David Montgomery called “the house of labor” are finally swept aside.


An analogous analysis applies to another widely discussed result of the primaries.  As has been widely discussed,  black voters, particularly those in the South, could have turned the tide in Sanders’s favor.  Instead they functioned as a firewall ensuring that neoliberal governance-and its attendant destruction of what remains of working class, African American communities-will continue more or less unabated.

Many leftists were blindsided by this but they shouldn’t have been. As Lester Spence has noted, what was perceived as the triumph of Obama has also resulted in the triumph of Obamaism as a dominant philosophy within African American communities.  What Spence means, and has demonstrated, is that African Americans are more likely to endorse that which Adolph Reed described in 1996 as Obama’s “fundamentally bootstrap” variant of “vacuous to repressive neoliberal politics” along with its routine denigration of Cousin Pookie eating fried chicken while watching the TV.  What these vile racialized stereotypes serve to obscure are the structural factors which are at the root not of the alleged “culture of poverty” but poverty itself, which substantially increased during the Obama administration. But when they are mouthed by a widely admired African American president, they would become reified as conventional wisdom.

Given that Sanders has for three decades repeatedly expressed his hostility to blame the victim/culture of poverty explanations promoted by the right, it makes a bizarre sense that his candidacy would be rejected by the community which had been brought to finally accepting them by one whom they see as one of their own.

Connected to this, in the context of the primaries, is the central role of African American churches in get out the vote and voter registration efforts.  This carried with it the consequence that the more conservative sectors of the African American community, those more likely to endorse the philosophy of Obamaite neoliberalism, would be disproportionately represented at the polls.  Add to this felony disenfranchisement of many millions of African American voters in the South, victims of the Clinton era crime bills and drug wars, the relative failure of Sanders’s explicitly left/socialist candidacy becomes less mysterious.

Finally, there is another similarity worth mentioning.  Just as the left has fetishized union leadership, so too has its reflexive tendency to “respect black leadership” undermined its capacity to create a serious opposition to neoliberalism.  In what should be a major lesson, the age of Obama has been defined by objectively reactionary policies which would have provoked huge protests had they been implemented by an executive manifesting the usual phenotypical characteristics.  These were imposed while the left largely sat on its hands finding itself unable to criticize, protest, or, until the very end, “challenge black leadership”.

The willingness to “respect” and to defer to black leadership applied to the 2016 primaries as leaders from the NAACP to the National Urban League, to a virtual who’s who of black elected officials lined up in support of one of neoliberalism’s foremost avatars, or at best, failed to align themselves with Sanders’s challenge to it.

A representative figure would be Rev. Jesse Jackson who, had he campaigned for Sanders, as Sanders had for Jackson in 1984 and 1988, could very well have made a difference among the older African American congregations in the south which ended up voting overwhelmingly for Clinton.

Jackson not only failed to reciprocate, but, so far as I know, almost entirely escaped criticism for not doing so.  While some, such as John Lewis, may have received  some mild criticism by circulating the most outrageously dishonest smears of Sanders, others will find themselves welcomed back into “progressive” circles, their service to corporate neoliberalism regarded as water under the bridge by The Nation, Democracy Now!, and other left establishment media outlets.

The left’s dysfunctional relationship with these and other leaders who have shown by their actions which side they are on is one of many lessons the Sanders campaign has to teach us.  Fortunately, on the other side were Sanders’s tens of millions of supporters-willing to pull the lever, contribute money, phone bank, and man the polls for an explicitly socialist candidate.  The core of Sanders’s support was from a younger generation, who, in getting their hands dirty with retail politics, learned invaluable lessons in how to organize,  strategize, and operate the profoundly corrupt but still significantly functional political system to their advantage.  They could have been successful but were abandoned by us- their elders, including much of the soi-disant “radical left” which turned out to be worse than useless, its saving grace its legendary and by now comical incompetence.  They will, hopefully, never forget our treachery and nor should we as  they begin to move forward without us.

The Left Proceeds One Funeral at a Time

So now even the NYT is taking seriously the prospect of “Sanders win(ning) the nomination and the White House.” Maybe a good time to recall a fairly typical utterance from “the left” a few months back.

Short of a mile-wide asteroid smacking into the earth, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Party nominee.”

Simply put, you have a better chance of Jennifer Lawrence or Idris Elba calling you up and saying they want to be your friend with benefits than Bernie Sanders has of becoming the next president.”

And no amount of starry-eyed enthusiasm will prevent Bernie Sanders’ campaign from winding up in the dustbin of history.

Most revealing about this isn’t so much the cluelessness, but the condescension and self-regard, as if these difficult truths can only be faced up to by those capable of rigorous and serious analysis-childish Sanders supporters dismissed as delusional and unrealistic. (The attitude is, incidentally, virtually indistinguishable from that of technocratic liberals like Krugman with which this stripe of leftist shares important similarities.)

One of the many encouraging signs of his campaign is that Sanders’s support skews toward the young with those in the 17-25 range polling 80% in favor-contrasting rather dramatically with what might be called the “get of my lawn!” brigade.

Bottom line conclusion: what Max Planck claimed about about science and scientists holds for us as well.

The left proceeds one funeral at a time.

Update: Worth noting that about a couple of weeks after delivering this barrage of cluelessness on the Sanders campaign (as is now obvious), the subject of the above was crowing about his having been launched into the elite journalistic ranks whereby he can demand fair compensation for his work. He appears to be completely unaware that those those two events are entirely consistent with each other: of course those who are pay the most are those who are most ready, willing and able to manufacture the truths most acceptable to the large corporations who foot the bill for journalistic labor. That he is now receiving top dollar doesn’t reinforce his reputation for honesty and integrity as he seems to believe, it is grounds for suspicion-for obvious reasons, if you think about it for two seconds.

Does Felony Disenfranchisement Matter? Yes.

It is well known that Clinton’s lopsided victory in Mississippi in last night’s primary and in other southern sates was achieved by African Americans voting disproportionately for her.

Taking a bit of the glow off this result is a little noticed fact involving not who voted, but who did not, namely, the 182,814 barred due to Mississippi being one of the states which lead the nation in felony disenfranchisement.

It might be assumed that this number is relatively small and insignificant but it is not: the total number of votes cast in the Democratic Primary was 220,550 with Clinton receiving 182,882 of these.  The number of felons disenfranchised is only 68 votes short of equalling Clinton’s total count.

If only a relatively small fraction of felons had been able to vote and had gone for Sanders, the result would not have been nearly so definitive.

And it is not unreasonable to expect that many would have done so.  As Michelle Alexander, among others, has trenchantly observed, It was, after all, the Clinton era War on Drugs and Crime Bills which was responsible for their having spent time behind bars in many cases.

But, having lost their right to participate, their preferences will remain unexpressed.

Mississippi is not an outlier.  Indeed it is representative of the twelve states which Clinton has won so far.  Of these, Georgia, Alabama, Virginia, Nevada and Tennessee join #2 Mississippi in the top 10 states with the highest rates of felony disenfranchisement.  The other four have yet to have held their primaries-and Clinton, revealingly, is expected to do well in each, likely completing a clean sweep of all of the states most actively suppressing the rights of this set of largely poor and African American voters.

Here is a breakdown of the voting totals in those states.

#4 Virginia
Hillary Clinton  503,358
Bernie Sanders  275,507
Other 4,030
Disenfranchised felons  451,471

#5 Alabama
Hillary Clinton  309,928
Bernie Sanders 76,399
Other 11,837
Disenfranchised felons 262,354

#6 Tennessee
Hillary Clinton  245,304
Bernie Sanders 120,333
Other 5,445
Disenfranchised felons 341,815

#8 Nevada (caucus)
Hillary Clinton  6,316
Bernie Sanders 5,678
Other 8
Disenfranchised felons 86,321

#10 Georgia
Hillary Clinton  543,008
Bernie Sanders 214,332
Other 8
Disenfranchised felons 275,866

In two states, Tennessee and Nevada, the number of disenfranchised voters actually exceeds the total votes Clinton received.  Whether the outcome would have been effected by these numbers is hard to know. What should be mentioned is that this particular form of voter suppression has  been almost entirely ignored.  Most conspicuously, it has never been mentioned by Democratic Party operatives always ready to condemn Republican’s successful efforts to keep African American voters from the polls. In this case, their chosen candidate, Secretary Clinton, demonstrably benefits.  Is that the reason for their silence?

Finally, of the remaining states on the list, #1 Florida, #3 Kentucky, #7 Wyoming and #9 Arizona, the first merits special comment.  A full 1,541,602 citizens will be unable to participate in its March 15th primary.  Given that the last contested primary in 2008 attracted 1,749,920 voters, this may be another instance where the number of disenfranchised felons exceeds the total number of Democratic primary voters.  This time, with a million and half citizens locked out, it is perhaps not too much to hope that the establishment media will finally take notice of this outrage taking place under its nose.

Economic “Science” Brings Zombies Back from the Dead

Amusing to compare the following set of three n-grams. The first shows the relative frequency of the word “phlogiston” in the google database starting from 1790 when it was still conventional scientific wisdom and then subsequently, when it became recognized that the work of Lavoisier had definitively refuted it. As would be expected, it falls off a cliff.



The second shows a comparison of the frequency of appearance of the names Darwin and Lamarck starting in 1859, the year of the publication of The Origin of the Species. As the theory of evolution is gradually recognized, the relative frequency of the two names increased from a factor of roughly four (Darwin is, of course, a more common name than Lamarck) leveling off to a factor of 100 where it remains.


Now compare these results to the ngram for the name Hayek. As Nathan Cedric Tankus pointed out (on Facebook), the critiques of Sraffa and Keynes in the late 1940s did indeed deliver what might seem to be a devastating blow to Hayek’s reputation. Citations drop by approximately 50% over a ten year period. But, as will be noticed, the longer trajectory reveals an unexpected trend: Hayek’s reputation revives in the mid 1970s (he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1974) with mentions of his work quadrupling over two decades.


What does this tell us? At minimum, at least one thing: what might seem like “devastating” rebuttals may work very well at convincing a few like minded souls in academic seminar rooms. But in the wider world, where political ideologies, prejudice and more importantly, naked economic self-interest plays a decisive role, these conclusions will conveniently be forgotten with policy inevitably not dictated by “the best minds” or theories rigorously derived from empirical data, but those whose conclusions serve the interests of entrenched capital. Seems pretty unambiguous from these graphs.



Can we please just cut the bullshit? The Democratic Primary is about one thing: class. As the overlapping black and blue regions in the pictures above show, all things being equal, rich people vote for Clinton. Everyone else votes for Sanders.  We knew that already in New Hampshire where exit polls indicated that Clinton’s only majority support came from voters with incomes above $200,000.

Why is the concept “We are the 99%” so difficult for some to understand? The answer, of course, as Upton Sinclair put it, is that their wallets prevent them from understanding it.

Now, a brief digression on the on the apparent contradiction offered by Clinton’s overwhelming victories in the south mainly due to the support of African American voters. Two things to keep in mind. First, while we don’t know who is voting we know very well one significant class of potential voters who are not, namely, felons subjected to temporary and even lifetime disenfranchisement, disproportionately those who were locked up due to the Clinton supported Crime Bill and War on Drugs. Over 5.3 million, a very high fraction of them African Americans have lost their right to vote based on these statutes-and they have the Clintons to thank to a large degree.  Would these voters have swung Sanders’s way? It’s hard to say, though it seems pretty unlikely that they would support the woman whose stigmatizing them as “super predators” has something to do with their having been put behind bars in the first place.

Second, while Democrats routinely get on their high horse about Republican voter suppression efforts, anyone who has been involved in local politics knows very well that the Democrats have their own form of voter suppression which is that they make very little effort to register voters and sometimes even block efforts to do so. The reason is simple: it gives those voting blocks they have control over disproportionate influence. One of these in African American communities are the churches whose congregations will obediently pull the lever for whatever Democrat the pastor has cut a deal with (often in exchange for some kind of payback by local government).

While I can’t say for sure this is what went on in the south, it is something I saw with my own eyes when I was involved in local politics in New Haven and I have no doubt that the Sanders forces were well aware of this dynamic in the south and likely explains why they didn’t bother to challenge it, knowing that they would be sure to fail. Of course, the great geniuses on the left are attributing this either to Sanders’s woefully unsophisticated electoral strategy (for which he should, of course, be taking lessons from a left which has succeeded so brilliantly in winning elections over the years, as we all know) or is taken as proof of Sanders as the closet white supremacist we all know him to be.

Yes of course, “left”.  Whatever you say.