The botched Iowa caucuses have raised many legitimate questions about the Democratic establishment, but to understand the point we’re at now, it’s necessary to think back several years. According to Grayzone journalist and editor Max Blumenthal, Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer’s guest on the latest installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” part of the backlash Bernie Sanders is currently experiencing as he attempts to transform the Democratic Party dates back to Bill Clinton’s presidency.
“[Bill and Hillary Clinton] set up a machine that was really a juggernaut with all this corporate money they brought in through the Democratic Leadership Committee,” says Blumenthal. “It was a very different structure than we’d seen with previous Democratic candidates who relied heavily on unions and the civil rights coalition.
“And that machine never went away,” the journalist goes on. “It kept growing, kind of like this amoeba that began to engulf the party and politics itself. So that when Bill Clinton was out of power, the machine was passed to Hillary Clinton, and the machine followed her into the Senate. And the machine grew into the Clinton Global Initiative.”
Speaking of his personal experience with the Clintons, Blumenthal tells Scheer he once met Chelsea Clinton and thought of her as an “admirable figure at that time” who had undergone humiliation and bullying on a national scale as she went through an “awkward phase” as a child. His memory of the child he once met made what followed all the more devastating to watch, Blumenthal laments.
“I’ve watched her grow into adulthood and become a complete kind of replication of the monstrous political apparatus that her family has set up, without really charting her own path,” he says. “She just basically inherited the reign of the Clinton Foundation and Clinton Global Initiative. She does paid talks for Israel. Her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, he gambled on Greece’s debt along with Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs.
“I mean, as a young person,” Blumenthal adds, “seeing someone of my generation grow up and follow that path, do nothing to carve out her own space — it just absolutely disgusts me.”
The conversation between Blumenthal and Scheer centers largely on two subjects that overlap with the current presidential election and primaries: the rightward shift of the Democratic Party and Israeli politics. Partly the two subjects converge in talking about Sanders, the man who could very well become the first Jewish president of the United States. Scheer asks Blumenthal to draw on his experiences growing up close to the Clintons, due to the ties of his parents, Sidney and Jacqueline Blumenthal, to the administration, and is linked to Blumenthal’s most recent book, “The Management of Savagery: How America’s National Security State Fueled the Rise of Al Qaeda, Isis, and Donald Trump.”
“It seems to me [there is] a real contradiction [in] the Democratic Party, which you know quite a bit about,” when it comes to Israel, says Scheer. “There’s this great loathsome feeling about Donald Trump. And many of these people don’t really like [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. You know, the polling data shows that Jews are, you know, just about as open to the concern for the Palestinians as any other group. And Bernie Sanders, the one Jewish candidate, is the one who dared to bring up the Palestinians — that they have rights also, that they’re human beings. He’s being attacked for it as, like you, a self-hating Jew.”
Blumenthal, whose 2013 book, “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel,” touches upon many questions absent in the American conversation about Israel, points out how the Vermont senator’s own position on Palestine has shifted over time.
“Bernie Sanders [is] better than most of the other [Democratic] candidates on this issue,” says the Grayzone reporter. “After we put a lot of pressure on him in the left-wing grassroots — I mean, I personally protested him at a 2016 event for his position on Palestinians, and we shamed him until he took at least a slightly better position, where you acknowledge the humanity of Palestinians.”
The two journalists discuss what some of the main reasons are that Sanders is facing so much resistance within the Democratic Party, in addition to his views on Palestine. Blumenthal believes there will be a repeat of what happened in 1972 when George McGovern ran for president.
“I think that if Bernie Sanders gets the nomination, there will be an effort to ‘McGovern’ him,” he posits. The Democratic Party will “hope that Bernie Sanders gets destroyed by Donald Trump, and then wag their fingers at the left for the next 20 years until they get another Bill Clinton.
“I think that they don’t know how to stop him at this point, but they’re willing to let him be the nominee and go down to Donald Trump, because Bernie Sanders threatens their interests, and the movement behind him particularly, more than Donald Trump does.”
Listen to the full discussion between Blumenthal and Scheer, which took place aptly on the eve of the Iowa caucuses that, at the time, Blumenthal assumed would be a landslide win for Sanders. You can also read a transcript of the interview below the media player and find past episodes of “Scheer Intelligence” here.
— Introduction by Natasha Hakimi Zapata
ROBERT SCHEER: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. In this case Max Blumenthal, who I must say is one of the gutsiest journalists we have in the United States, and have had for the last five years or so. He’s, in addition to having considerable courage and [going] out on these third-rail issues — like Israel, being one of the more prominent ones — and challenging some of the major conceits of even liberal politics in the United States about our virtue, our constant virtue, he’s done just great journalism. I really loved his book, “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel,” which came out in 2013, because it was based on just good, solid journalism of interviewing people and trying to figure out what’s going on. I’d done something a half century earlier, or not quite that long ago, during the Six-Day War in Israel, where I went over when I was the editor of Ramparts. And I know how difficult it is to deal with that issue, because I put Ramparts into bankruptcy over the controversy about it. [Laughter] So maybe that’s a good place to begin. You know, you dared touch this issue of Israel, and it didn’t help that you are Jewish. I guess you are Jewish, right? Do you have a background, did you practice any aspect of Judaism? Literature, culture, religion?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: I’m a Jew who had a bar mitzvah, and I even had a bris.
RS: Oh. [Laughs]
MB: And you know, I’ve continued to pop in in synagogues here and there on High Holy Days. I guess you could say, you know, when the rabbi asked, you know, asked me to join the army of God, I tell him I’m in the Secret Service. But I’m definitely Jewish, you know, and it’s a big part of who I am and why I do what I do.
RS: Well, and I thought your writing on that, and your journalism, was informed by that. Because after all, a very important part of the whole experience of Jewish people as victims, as people forced into refugee status, living in the diaspora, was to develop a sense of universal values, and of decency and obligation to the other. And I think your reporting reflected that. However, my goodness, you got a lot of heat over it. And it’s the heat I want to talk about. I want to talk about the difficulty, in this post-Cold War world, of actually writing about the U.S. imperial presence, or writing critically about what our government does, and some of its allies.
And I think Israel is a really good case in point, because we have one narrative that said in the last election we had foreign interference, mostly coming from Russia. And we talk about Russia as if it’s the old communist Soviet Union, with a top-down, big, organized party — forgetting that [Vladimir] Putin actually defeated the Communist Party, and even though he had been in the KGB, and most Russians had been in some kind of official connection with society or another. Nonetheless, Russia really has gotten very little out of whatever interference it did. Israel, that is very rarely talked about, interfered in the election in a very open, blatant way in the presence of Netanyahu, who denounced Barack Obama’s major foreign policy achievement, the deal with Iran, and has focused U.S. policy mostly against the enemy being Iran, and ignoring Saudi Arabia and everything else.
And the interesting thing is that Israel’s interference in the election, and Netanyahu, has been rewarded over and over — the embassy got shifted, the settlers got more validation, now there’s a big peace plan that gives the hawks in Israel everything they want. So why don’t we begin with that, and your own writing about U.S.-Israel relations. It’s kind of odd that there’s — or maybe not odd, maybe it’s just because it is the third rail — that there’s been so little discussion about Donald Trump’s relation to Israel and his payoff to Netanyahu.
MB: Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot to chew on there. I would first start with just an observation, because you mentioned that we’re in a post-Cold War world — well, we’re not in a post-Cold War world anymore, we’re in a new Cold War. And for all the attacks I got over Israel, which were absolutely vicious, personalized, you know, framed through emotional blackmail, attacking my identity as a Jew, calling me a Jewish anti-Semite — the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which is this right-wing racket over there in L.A., made me the No. 4 anti-Semite of 2015. You know, I was right behind Ayatollah Khomeini. But you know, the worst attacks, the most vicious attacks I’ve received have actually been from centrists and liberal elements over my criticism of the Russiagate narrative that they foisted on the American public starting in 2016, and also on the dirty war that the U.S. has been waging on Syria, and how we at the site that I edit, the Grayzone, started unpacking a lot of the deceptions and lies that were used to try to stimulate support among middle-class liberals in the west for this proxy war on Syria, for regime change in Syria. This was absolutely forbidden, and that attack actually turned out to be more vicious and is ongoing.
With Israel, you have a situation where you have, not maybe a plurality, but maybe a majority of secular Jewish Americans, progressive Jews, who have completely turned their back on the whole Zionist project. And it has a lot to do with Netanyahu. Netanyahu is someone who came out of the American — out of American life. He went to high school in suburban Philadelphia, he went to MIT, he was at Boston Consulting with Mitt Romney. His father ended his life in upstate New York as Jabotinsky’s press secretary, the press secretary for the revisionist wing of the Zionist movement that inspired the Likud party. So Netanyahu is really kind of an American figure, number one; number two, he’s a Republican figure. He’s like a card-carrying neoconservative Republican.
So a lot of Jews who’ve historically aligned themselves with the Democratic Party, who see being a Democrat as almost synonymous with being Jewish in American life, just absolutely revile Netanyahu. And here he is, basically the longest-serving prime minister in Israel; he’s completely redefined the face of Israel and what it is. And he’s provoked — I wouldn’t say provoked, but he’s accelerated the civil war in American Jewish life over Zionism. And what I did was come in at a time when it wasn’t entirely popular, to not just challenge Israel as a kind of occupying entity, but to actually challenge it at its core, to challenge the entire philosophy of Zionism, and to analyze the Israeli occupation as the byproduct of a system of apartheid which has been in place from the beginning, since 1948, which was a product of a settler colonial movement.
That really upset a lot of people who kind of reflect the same elements that I’m getting, who are attacking me on Syria or Russia. People like Eric Alterman at The Nation. He wrote 11 very personal attack pieces on me when my book “Goliath” came out in 2013. Truthdig, you, Chris Hedges, it was a great source of support. And you, you know, you opened up the debate at Truthdig, you allowed people to come in and criticize the book, but kind of in a principled, constructive way. Whereas Eric Alterman was demanding that The Nation censor me, blacklist me, ban me for life, and was comparing me to a neo-Nazi by the end, and claiming I was secretly in league with David Duke. And that was because he had simply no response to my reporting and my analysis of the kind of, the inner contradictions of Zionism.
And so to me, it was really a sign of the success of the book, that someone like Alterman was sort of dispatched, or took it upon himself to wage this really self-destructive attack. And in the end, he really had nothing to show for himself; he wasn’t arguing on the merits. And that’s just what I find time and again with my reporting is, you know, you get these personal attacks and people try to dissuade you from going and touching these third-rail issues, but ultimately there’s no substance to the attacks. I mean, if they really wanted to nail me and take me down, they would address the facts, and they really haven’t been able to do that.
RS: Right. But Max, if I can, let’s focus on the power of your analysis in that book, which is that it is a settler colonialism. And Netanyahu actually is — we can talk about the old labor Zionists, you know, and what was meant by progressive Zionism and so forth. Even at the time of the Six-Day War when I interviewed people like Moshe Dayan and Ya’alon and these people, they all were against a full occupation of the West Bank. They didn’t act on that, unfortunately. But they were aware of the dangers of a colonial model. But right now you have a figure in Israel in Netanyahu, who is, very clearly embodies a racialized view, a jingoistic view of the other, which is really, you know, very troubling. And he’s embraced by this troubling American figure.
And so what your book really predicted is that the settler colonialism was a rot at the center of the Israeli enterprise — and historically, one could justify that enterprise. I don’t know if you would agree. But even the old Soviet Union, I think, was the second, if not the first country to recognize Israel. There was vast worldwide support for some sort of refuge for the Jewish people after such horrible, you know, genocidal policies visited upon them. But what we’re really talking about now is something very different. And that is whether political leadership, and interference and so forth comes mainly for Democrats, very often; obviously, for republicans and Bible-belters and all that, who seem to like this image of the end of time coming in Israel. But really what’s happening — and it’s not discussed in this election, except to attack Bernie Sanders, who dared make some criticisms of Israel in some of these debates — you have a very weird notion of the Jewish experience, as identified with a very hardline, as you say, sort of South African settler colonialist mentality.
And so I want to ask you the question as someone–and we’ll get to it later — you grew up sort of within the Democratic liberal establishment in Washington. Your parents both worked for the Clinton administration, were close to it. How do you explain this blind eye toward Trump’s relationship to Netanyahu? And ironically, for all the Russia-bashing, Netanyahu and Putin seem to get along splendidly, you know. And that doesn’t bother people as far as criticizing Netanyahu. So why don’t we visit that a little bit, and forget about Eric Alterman for a while.
MB: [Laughs] Well, he’s already forgotten, so we don’t have much work to do there. But there’s a lot, again, a lot to chew on, a lot of questions packed into that. You know, just starting with your mention of Moshe Dayan — who is a seminal figure in the Nakba, the initial ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population in 1948 to establish Israel — he was the southern commander of the Israeli military. And he later kind of became a kind of schizophrenic figure in Israeli politics; he would sometimes offer some kind of left-wing opinions, and then be extremely militaristic. But you know, when it came down to it, Moshe Dayan — like every other member of the Israeli Labor Party — was absolutely opposed to a viable Palestinian state. He even said that we cannot have a Palestinian state because it will connect psychologically, in the minds of the Palestinian public who are citizens of Israel — that 20% of Israel who are indigenous Palestinians — it will connect them to Nablus in the West Bank, and it will provide them with a basis for rebelling against the Israeli state to expand the Palestinian state.
The other labor leaders spoke in terms of the kind of, with the racist language of the demographic time bomb that, you know, we need to give Palestinians a state, otherwise we will be overwhelmed demographically. And so the state that they were proposed was what Yitzhak Rabin, in his final address before the Israeli Knesset, the Israeli parliament, called “less than a state.” He promised Israel that at Oslo, he would deliver the Palestinians less than a state. And if you look at the actual plan that the Palestinians were handed at Oslo — which Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian Authority chairman, didn’t even review before signing — the map was not that different from the map that Donald Trump has offered with the “ultimate deal.” And they’d say, oh, you get 97% of what was, you know, offered in U.N. Resolution 242 in 1967. But it really just isn’t the case when you get down to the details. What the strategy has been with the Labor Party, and with successive Israeli administrations — and with Netanyahu until he got Trump in — was to kind of kick the can down the road with the so-called peace process, so that Israel could keep putting more facts on the ground.
So it was actually Ehud Barak of the Labor Party, Yitzhak Rabin’s successor, who moved more settlers into the West Bank, by a landslide, than Netanyahu did. Ehud Barak actually campaigned on his connection to the settlers. And then Netanyahu capitalizes on the strength of the settlement movement to build this kind of Titanic rock of a right-wing coalition that’s kept him in power for so long. And if you look at who the leading figures are in Israeli life — Naftali Bennett, who was from the Jewish Home Party, he comes out of the Likud party and he’s someone who was an assistant to Netanyahu. Avigdor Lieberman, who was for a long time the leader of the Russian Party. Yisrael Beiteinu, this is someone who came out of the Likud Party, who helped Netanyahu rustle up Russian votes. It’s a Likud one-party state — but then you have, culturally, a dynamic where starting with 1967, the public just becomes more infused with religious Messianism. The West Bank is the site of the real, emotionally potent Jewish historical sites, particularly in a city like Hebron. And the public becomes attached to it and attains its dynamism through this expansionist project, and the public changes. A lot of people from the kind of liberal labor wing became religious Messianists, started wearing kippot, wearing yarmulkes, the kind of cloth yarmulkes that the modern orthodox settlers where.
RS: OK, but —
MB: Today you not only have that, you have a new movement called the temple movement, which aims to actually replace Jewish prayer at the Western Wall with animal sacrifice, as Jews supposedly practiced thousands of years ago, and to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque, and practice Jewish prayer there. This is not just a messianic movement, but an apocalyptic movement that is actually gaining strength in the Likud party. So when you mentioned Donald Trump’s “ultimate deal,” there’s one detail that everyone seems to have missed there, which is prayer for all at the Dome of the Rock, at Al-Aqsa. That means there will be Jewish prayer there, officially, that Palestinians must be forced to accept that and destroy the status quo, which has prevailed since 1967.
RS: I know, but Max, before I lose this whole interview here — because I think that’s all really interesting; people should read your book, “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.” That’s not the focus of this discussion I want to have with you.
RS: And I want to discuss, in this aspect, the whole idea of Israel as a third-rail issue for American politics.
RS: American politics. And the reason I want to do that is there’s obviously a contradiction in the Jewish experience, because Jews — as much or more so than any other group of people in the world — understand what settler colonialism does. They understand what oppression does, they’ve been under the thumb of oppressors. And so I would argue the major part of the Jewish experience was one of revolt against oppression, and recognition of the danger of unbridled power. And that represents a very important force in liberal politics in the United States: a fear of coercive power, a desire for tolerance, and so forth. And we know that Jews have, in the United States and elsewhere in the world, been a source of concern for the other, and tolerance, and criticism of power.
And the reason I’m bringing that up is it seems to me it’s a real contradiction for the Democratic Party, which you know quite a bit about. And in this Democratic Party, there’s this great loathsome feeling about Donald Trump. And many of these people don’t really like Netanyahu. You know, the polling data shows that Jews are, you know, just about as open to the concern for the Palestinians as any other group. And Bernie Sanders, the one Jewish candidate, is the one who dared to bring up the Palestinians — that they have rights also, that they’re human beings. He’s being attacked for it as, like you, a self-hating Jew. And so I want to get at that contradiction. And, you know, full confession, as a Jewish person I believe it’s an honorable tradition of dissent, and concern for the others, and respect for individual freedom. And I think it’s sullied by the identification of the Jewish experience with a colonialist experience. It is a reality that we have to deal with, but that’s not the whole tradition. And I daresay your own family, whatever your contradiction — and I should mention here your father and mother both were quite active in the Clinton administration, right.
And your father, a well-known journalist, Sidney Blumenthal, and your mother, Jacqueline Blumenthal, was I think a White House fellow or something in the Clinton administration? I forget what her job was, but has been active. And they certainly come out of a more liberal Jewish experience, as do most well-known Jewish writers and journalists in the United States. That’s the contradiction that I don’t see being dealt with here. Because after all, it’s easy to blast Putin and his interference, but as I say, Netanyahu interfered very openly, but in a really unseemly way, in the American election by attacking a sitting American president in an appearance before the Congress, and attacking his major foreign-policy initiative. And there’s hardly a word ever said about it. It doesn’t come up in the democratic debates. You know, and the — as I say, there was this incredible moment where Netanyahu, after coming over here and praising Trump for his peace deal, as did his opponent, then he goes off and meets with Putin. And so suddenly it’s OK, and yet the Democrats who want to blast Putin don’t mention Netanyahu, and they don’t mention his relation to Trump.
MB: Well, yeah, I was trying to illustrate kind of the reality of Israel, which just, it’s gotten so extreme that it repels people who even come out of the kind of Democratic Party mainstream. And the Democratic Party was the original bastion in the U.S. for supporting Israel. So my father actually held a book party for my book, “Goliath,” back in 2013. It’s the kind of thing that, you know, a parent who had been a journalist would do for a son or daughter who’s a journalist. And he was harshly attacked when word got out that he had held that party in a neoconservative publication called the Free Beacon, which is kind of part of Netanyahu’s PR operation in D.C. You know, it was like my father had supported, provided material support for terrorism by having a book party for his son.
But the interesting part about that party was who showed up. I didn’t actually know what it was going to be like, and it was absolutely packed. I mean, they live in a pretty small townhouse in D.C, and there just was nowhere to walk, there was nowhere to move. And I found myself in the corner of their dining room shouting through the house to kind of explain what my book was about and answer questions. And a lot of the people there were people who were in or around Hillary’s State Department, people who worked for kind of Democratic Party-linked organizations — just a lot of mainstream Democrat people. And they were giving me a wink and a nod, shaking my hand, giving me a pat on the back, and saying thank you, thank God you did this. Because they cannot stand the Israel lobby, they despise Netanyahu, and they’re disgusted with what Israel’s become.
And we had reached a point by 2013 where it was pretty obvious there was not going to be a two-state solution, and that whole project, the liberal Zionist project, wasn’t going to work out. You know, and the fact that they just could give me a wink and a nod shows also how cowardly a lot of people are in Washington. They weren’t even stepping up to the level my father had, where when his emails with Hillary Clinton were exposed, it became clear that he was sending her my work. And he was actually trying to move people within the State Department toward a more, maybe you could say a more humanistic view, but also a more realistic view of Israel, Palestine and the Netanyahu operation in Washington. Working through [Sheldon] Adelson, using this fraud hack of a rabbi, Shmuley Boteach, has kind of their front man. They ran like a full-page ad in the New York Times painting me and my father as Hillary Clinton’s secret Middle East advisers.
And then one day in the middle of the campaign, Elie Wiesel died. You know, someone who is supposed to be this patron saint of Judaism and the kind of secular theology of Auschwitz, who had spent the last years of his life as part of Sheldon Adelson’s political network. Basically, he had lost all his money to Bernie Madoff, and so he was getting paid off by Adelson. He got half a million dollars from this Christian Zionist, apocalyptic, rapture-ready fanatic, Pastor John Hagee. He was going around with Ted Cruz giving talks. And so when he died, I went on Twitter and tweeted a few photos of Elie Wiesel with these extremist characters. And I said, you know, here are photos of Elie Wiesel palling around with fascists. And the kind of Netanyahu-Adelson network activated to attack me. And ultimately it led — I actually, within a matter of a few days, it led to Hillary Clinton’s campaign officially denouncing me and demanding that I cease and desist. And so, you know, I looked at the debate on Twitter, and a lot of people were actually supporting me. And it was clear Elie Wiesel, this person who was supposed to be a saint, was actually no longer seen as stainless, that the whole debate had been opened up by 2016.
And now when we look at the Democratic Party and we look at the Democratic field, you know, Bernie Sanders — he’s better than most of the other candidates, or the other candidates, on this issue. After we put a lot of pressure on him in the left wing-grassroots — I mean, I personally protested him at a 2016 event for his position on Palestinians, and we shamed him until he took at least a slightly better position, where you acknowledge the humanity of Palestinians. But what we’re hearing, even from Bernie Sanders, doesn’t even reflect where the grassroots of the Democratic Party — particularly all those young people who are coming out and delivering him a landslide victory tonight in Iowa — are. The Democratic Party is not democratic on Israel, but it’s no longer a third-rail issue. You can talk about it, and the only way that you can be stopped is through legislation, like the legislation we see in statehouses to actually outlaw people who support the Palestinian boycott of Israel. So we’re just in an amazing time where all of the contradictions are completely out in the open.
RS: OK, let me just take a quick break so public radio stations like KCRW that make this available can stick in some advertisements for themselves, which is a good cause. And we’ll be right back with Max Blumenthal. Back with Max Blumenthal, who has written — I mean, I only mentioned one of his books. He wrote a very important book on the right wing in America that was a bestseller; he has been honored in many ways, and yet is a source of great controversy. And I must say, I respect your ability to create this controversy, because it’s controversy about issues people don’t want to deal with. You know, they want to deal with them in sort of feel-good slogans, and it doesn’t work, because people get hurt. And including Jewish people, in the case of Israel. If you develop a settler, colonialist society, and that stands for the Jewish position, and you’re oppressing large numbers of people, be they Palestinian or others, that’s hardly an advertisement for what has been really great about the Jewish experience, which I will argue until my death. It was represented by people like my mother, who were in the Jewish socialist bund, and two of her sisters were killed by the Czar’s police in Russia. And they believed in Universalist values, an idea of being Jewish as standing for the values of the oppressed, and concern for the oppressed. And most of their experience in the shtetls, and out there in the diaspora, had been being oppressed.
And so I don’t want to lose that there. But I wanted to get now to the last part of this, to what I think is the hypocrisy of the liberal wing of American politics, or so-called. And now they call themselves more progressive. And it really kind of centers around Hillary Clinton. And whatever you want to say about Bernie Sanders — you know, Hillary Clinton’s recent attack on Bernie Sanders, that no one likes him and he stands for nothing and he gets nothing done. And I think this is a, you know, a person that I thought, you know, at one point — despite her starting out as a Goldwater girl and being quite conservative — I thought was, you know, somewhat decent.
And I’m going to make this personal now. I was brought to a more favorable view of Bill and Hillary Clinton, in considerable measure, by your father, as a journalist at the Washington Post, and then working in the administration. And I respect your father and mother, you know, and Sidney Blumenthal and Jacqueline Blumenthal, I think are intelligent people. And I once, you know, went through a White House dinner; I think I only got in because your father put me on the list, and Hillary Clinton said I was her favorite columnist in America — no, the whole world — and it was very flattering. But I look back on it now — Hillary Clinton has really represented a kind of loathsome, interventionist, aggressive, America-first politics that in some ways is even more offensive than Trump. When Trump said he’s going to make America great again, Hillary Clinton said, America’s always been great. What?
RS: What? Slavery, segregation, killing the Native Americans — always been great? You grew up with these people, right? You were in that world. What — so yes, they can come up to you at a book party and say, yes, it’s about time somebody said that. But what are they really about? That they — you know, you mentioned Syria. You know, their great achievement, they created a mess of that society. And she’s the one who went to, said about Libya, oh, we came, we saw, and he’s dead. You know, sodomized to death. So take me into the heart of the so-called liberal experience.
MB: Well, first of all, since you invoke Sidney Blumenthal so frequently, he has a — I think his fourth book in a five-part series on Abraham Lincoln out. And you know, these books address Lincoln almost as if he were a contemporary politician. It’s a completely new contribution to the history of Lincoln, and if you invite him on, be sure —
RS: I’m familiar with it, and I’ll endorse it —
MB: If you invite him on, you can ask him, I would love to hear that debate —
RS: I certainly would, and I have — as I said, I have a lot of respect for your father and mother. I’m asking a different question. Why do good people look the other way? Or how does it work? Just, you know, to the degree you can, take me inside that Washington culture. And where there’s a certain arrogance in it, that they are always, even when they do the wrong things, they’re just always accidents. They’re always mistakes. You know, it never comes out of their ideology, their aggression. So I want to know more about that.
MB: I mean, I saw all these — so many different sides of Washington. And so — and I was always supported by my parents, no matter what view I took. So I don’t feel like I have to live in my father’s shadow or something like that. They remain really supportive of me. I have a new book out — it’s not really new, it came out last April. It’s called “The Management of Savagery,” and it deals substantially with my view of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment, but particularly the Hillary State Department, the Obama foreign policy team, and the destruction they wrought in Libya and Syria. So, you know, I put everything I knew about Washington and foreign policy into that book. And so I really would recommend that as well.
But, you know, how does it work with the Clintons? They were — they set up a machine that was really a juggernaut with all this corporate money they brought in through the DLC, the Democratic Leadership Committee. It was a very different structure than we’d seen with previous Democratic candidates who built — who relied heavily on unions and, you know, the civil rights coalition. And that machine never went away. It kept growing like this — kind of like this amoeba that began to engulf the party and politics itself. So that when Bill Clinton was out of power, the machine was passed to Hillary Clinton, and the machine followed her into the Senate. And the machine grew into the Clinton Global Initiative, which was this giant influence-peddling scam that just cashed in on disasters in Haiti, brought in tons of money, tens of millions of dollars from Gulf monarchies, and big oil and the arms industry — everything that funds all the repulsive think tanks on K Street through the Clinton Foundation. And everyone who was trying to get close to the Clinton Foundation, whether they were in Clinton’s inner circle or not, was just trying to gather influence. That’s why you saw at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, behind her, Ghislaine Maxwell, who was basically Jeffrey Epstein’s personal child sex trafficker, just trying to cultivate influence with people who have this gigantic political machine.
So that’s why so many people, I think, have stayed loyal to this odious project, and have looked the other way as entire countries were destroyed under the direct watch of Hillary Clinton. Libya today — where Hillary Clinton took personal credit for destroying this country, which was at the time before its destruction, I think the wealthiest African nation with the highest quality of life — is now in, still in civil war. We’ve seen footage of open-air slave auctions taking place, and large parts of the country for years were occupied by affiliates of Al Qaeda or ISIS, including Muammar Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte. It was immediately transformed into a haven for the Islamic State.
This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton. There would have been no Benghazi scandal if she hadn’t gone into Libya to come, see, and kill, as she bragged that she did. And in Syria, she attempted the same thing; fortunately failed, thanks to assistance from Iran and Russia. But this was, it consisted of a billion dollars, multibillion-dollar operation to arm and equip some of the most dangerous, psychotic fanatics on the face of the planet in Al Qaeda and 31 flavors of Salafi jihadi. Hillary Clinton said we can’t be negotiating with the Syrian government; the hard men with guns will solve this problem. She said that in an interview, and that’s her legacy.
Beyond that, you know, I in Washington grew up in a very complex situation. I don’t know what view people have of me, but I grew up in what was – D.C. when D.C. was known as C.C., or Chocolate City. It was a mostly black city, run by a local black power structure with a strong black middle class, and I grew up in a black neighborhood. And I kind of saw apartheid firsthand, where I saw how a small white minority actually controlled the city from behind the scenes. And then, you know, and I saw that reality, and then I went to school across town in the one white ward to a private school, and I got to know some of the children of the kind of mostly Democratic Party elite. And so I saw both sides of the city. And it was through that other side, and also my parents’ connection to the Clintons, that I — I mean, I barely interacted with the Clintons. I’ve had very minimal interaction with them ever.
But I did get to meet Chelsea Clinton once. And you know, for all my reservations about the Clintons or what they were, I thought you know, she was kind of an admirable figure at that time. She was a — she was a kid, she was an adolescent who was being mocked on “Saturday Night Live” because she was going through an awkward phase. She went to school down the street at Sidwell Friends, and I met her at a White House Christmas party; she was really friendly and personable. And you know, since then, I’ve watched her grow into adulthood and become a complete kind of replication of the monstrous political apparatus that her family has set up, without really charting her own path. She just basically inherited the reign of the Clinton Foundation and Clinton Global Initiative. She does paid talks for Israel. Her husband Marc Mezvinsky, he gambled on Greece’s debt along with Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs. You know, the squid fish. I mean, there’s just — I mean, as a young person, seeing someone of my generation grow up and follow that path, do nothing to carve out her own space — it just absolutely disgusts me.
And now Hillary Clinton is still there! She won’t go away! She’s not only helped fuel this Russiagate hysteria that’s plunged us into a new Cold War, but she’s trying to destroy the hopes and dreams of millions of young people who are saddled with endless debt by destroying Bernie Sanders. And it’s because she sees her own legacy being smashed to pieces, not by any right-wing, vast conspiracy, but by the electorate, the new electorate of the Democratic Party. And I absolutely welcome that. I think, you know, tonight in Iowa, a landslide Bernie victory, one of the takeaways is this will be the end of Clintonism. It’s time to move on and hand things over to a new generation. They had their chance, and they not only failed, they caused disasters across the world.
RS: So this is — we’re going to wind this up, but I think we’ve hit a really important subject. And I want to take a little bit more time on it. And I thought you expressed it quite powerfully. But the error, if you’ll permit me, is to center it on the personality, or the family. And I don’t think Clintonism is going to go away. Because what it represents — and I know you —
MB: It could be become Bloombergism, you know?
RS: Well, that’s where I’m going. I think what Clintonism represents is this triangulation, this new Democrat. And I interviewed him when he was governor, just when he was campaigning. And I did a lot of writing on the Financial Services Modernization Act and on welfare reform, and all of these ingredients of this policy. And what it really represents — no wonder they’re rewarded by the super wealthy. But the Democratic Party lost its organizational base with the destruction of the labor movement and weakening of other sources of progressive class-based politics, concern about working people and ordinary people. And what Clinton did is he came along, and he had a sort of variation of Nixon’s Southern Strategy, how he got the Republicans to be so important in the South. And it was this new politics, this redefinition. And it’s not going away, because it’s the cover for Wall Street. It’s the cover for exploitation. And the main thing that happened from when you were young — or born, actually; you’re 42 years — it’s 42 years of, since Clinton really, and you can blame Reagan, you can blame the first President Bush, you can blame other people, and certainly blame the whole bloody Republican Party. I’m not going to give them a pass.
But the fact is, what the Clinton revolution did was it made class warfare for the rich fashionable, in a way that no one else was able to do it, no other movement. And it said these thieves on Wall Street, these people who are going to rip you off 20 different ways to Sunday — they’re good people, and they support good causes. And you mentioned Lloyd Blankfein, you know; “government” Goldman Sachs, you know. Robert Rubin came from Goldman Sachs; he was Clinton’s treasury secretary. And the whole thing of unleashing Wall Street and getting, destroying the New Deal — that was a serious program to basically betray the average American and betray their interest. And that’s why we’ve had this growing income inequality since that time. That’s the Clinton legacy in this world, really, is the billionaire coup, the billionaire culture.
MB: Yep, the oligarchy was put on fast-forward by the new politics of the Clintons. What they promised wasn’t, you know, a break from Reaganism, although there was certainly a cultural difference. They promised continuity, and that’s what we saw through the Obama administration. Obama presided over the biggest decline in black home ownership in the United States since, I think, prior to World War II. You mentioned Glass-Steagall; this set the stage for the financial crisis; NAFTA, destroyed the unions, shipped American jobs first to Mexico and then to China, and destabilized northern Mexico along with the drug war that Clinton put on overdrive, creating the immigration crisis that helped fuel the rise of Donald Trump. Welfare reform — all of these policies were just, were odious to me and so many people at the time, but there was just this desire to just beat the Republicans and out-triangulate them. Now that we’ve seen the effects on them and so many people have felt the effects, you have an entire generation that sees no future, that realizes they’re living in an oligarchy, realizes that the alternative to Bernie Sanders is a literal oligarch, this miniature Scrooge McDuck in Mike Bloomberg, and they’re just not having it.
I don’t know if Hillary Clinton understands this history; I don’t think she sees it in context. She just blames Russian boogeyman and fake news for everything. But the rest of us who’ve lived through it really do, and it’s the continuity that is so dangerous, especially on foreign policy. I mean, the Libya proxy war and the Syria proxy war, the stage was set in Yugoslavia with NATO’s war that destroyed a socialist country and unleashed hell on a large part of its population. And we still don’t debate that war. The stage for the Iraq invasion was set in 1998 with Bill Clinton passing the Iraqi Liberation Act, which sent $90 million into the pocket of the con-man Ahmed Chalabi and made regime change the official policy of the United States.
It’s tragic that Bernie Sanders voted for that. But we have to see the cause and the effect to understand why so many people are in open revolt against that legacy. And you’re right, it goes well beyond the Clintons. It’s a program that markets right-wing economics and a right-wing foreign policy in a sort of progressive bottle. Now what they’re trying to do with the label on that progressive bottle, the way they’re trying to preserve it — we see it a lot through the [Elizabeth] Warren campaign — is through a kind of neoliberal identity politics that divorces class from race and gender, and attempts to basically distract people with needless arguments about Bernie Sanders saying a woman couldn’t have gotten elected in a private conversation that only Elizabeth Warren was party to.
So I’m really encouraged, I guess, by the results that we’re seeing. We’re talking tonight on the eve of the Iowa caucus. I’m encouraged by those results, just because I see them as a repudiation of the politics that have just dominated my life as a 42-year-old, and just been so absolutely cynical and destructive at their core. But I would just remind anyone who is supporting Bernie Sanders and listening to this — he’s not just running for president. He’s running for the next target of a deep state coup, and the deep state exists, and will respond with more force and viciousness than it did to Donald Trump, who actually has much more in common with them than Bernie Sanders.
RS: I didn’t quite get the grammar of that last paragraph, not any fault of yours. You said he’s not just running — can you —
MB: He’s running for the next target of a deep state coup, the forces of Wall Street. You know, the —
RS: Oh, you mean he will be the target.
MB: He will be the target.
RS: Yeah, you know, it’s — you just said something really — OK, I know we have to wrap this up, but it’s actually just getting interesting for me. [Laughs]
MB: Sorry about that.
RS: No, no, no, come on, come on. [Laughter] What I mean is, I do these things because I learn, and I think, and you know, my selfish interests. And really the question right now, I did a wonderful interview with Chomsky on this podcast, and he took me to school for not appreciating the importance of the lesser evil. And I’ve lost sleep over it since. You know, well — and we always fall for that, you know. On the other hand, some of the things you’ve been talking about, you know — and this is going to get me in big trouble — but you know, Trump is so blatant. He’s so out there in favor of greed and corruption. He’s so obnoxious. And actually, in terms of his policy impact — not his rhetoric, but his policy impact — is he really that much worse? Well, for instance, you mentioned NAFTA. The rewrite of NAFTA, even before, you know, some progressives got involved in it, it was a substantially better trade agreement than the first NAFTA. You know, he hasn’t gotten us into Syria-type, Iraq-type wars.
He actually — so I’m not — you know, yes, I consider him a neofascist; rhetoric can be very dangerous. He’s obviously spread very evil, poisonous ideas about immigrants and what have you, you know, I can go down the list. But the people that you’ve been talking about, that–you know, and I voted for all of them, and I’ve supported them — are they really the lesser evil? You know, or are they a more effective form of evil?
MB: I mean, to understand Trump, we just have to see him as the apotheosis of an oligarchy. In its most unsheathed, unvarnished form, he’s just lifted the mask off the corruption, the legal corruption that’s prevailed, and been completely unabashed about it. Donald Trump was targeted with this kind of Russiagate campaign, which was partly run by Clintonite dead-enders who wanted to blame Russia for her loss, and to attack Donald Trump with this kind of McCarthyite rhetoric. But it was also being influenced by the intelligence services — figures like John Brennan and James Comey, and neoconservative hardliners who could easily jump back into the Democratic Party. And they were just seeking a new Cold War, to justify the budgets of the intelligence services, and the defense budget and so on.
But at his core, Donald Trump, what he’s actually done, especially domestically, I think outside of the immigration stuff, is he’s been kind of a traditional Republican. And he won a lot of consent from Republicans in Congress when he passed a trillion-dollar tax cut. He’s given corporate America everything he wanted after kind of campaigning with this populist, Bannonite tone. So in a lot of ways, Donald Trump does share more in common with the Democratic Party elite — with a lot of the figures who’ve been nominated to serve on the DNC platform committee, who are just from the Beltway blob and the Beltway bandits — than they do with Bernie Sanders. And I think that if Bernie Sanders gets the nomination, there will be an effort to McGovern him. To just kind of turn him — turn this whole process into McGovern ’72, hope that Bernie Sanders gets destroyed by Donald Trump, and then wag their fingers at the left for the next 20 years until they get another Bill Clinton. I think that they don’t know how to stop him at this point, but they’re willing to let him be the nominee and go down to Donald Trump, because Bernie Sanders threatens their interests, and the movement behind him particularly, more than Donald Trump does.
RS: You know, they will stop Bernie Sanders, and they will do it by the argument of lesser evilism. And you see the line developing —
MB: But who is the lesser evil, Bob? I mean, Joe Biden is like this doddering wreck. There is no other candidate who seems even remotely viable against Trump.
RS: No, no, no — I understand that. I’m telling you what — well, it seems to me there’s — you know, you want to talk about fake news, the, misreporting of Bernie Sanders — in fact, the misreporting of what democratic socialism is. I mean, he’s now branded in the mainstream media as some hopeless fanatic because he dared to defend democratic socialism. Democratic socialism has been the norm for the most successful economies in the world, even to a degree when we’ve been successful. That was the legacy of Roosevelt, after all, is to try to save capitalism from itself. That’s why you had some enlightened government programs, you know, right down the list, and that’s what saved Germany after the war, and that’s what France and England and so forth, that’s why they have health care systems.
But the mainstream media has actually taken a very moderate figure, Bernie Sanders, and demonized him as some kind of hopeless ideologue, right? And as you point out, Bernie Sanders is hardly a radical thinker on issues — particularly, as you mentioned, about the Mideast and so forth. What he is, is somebody who actually is honoring the best side of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: you can’t let these greed merchants control everything, you have to worry about some compensation for ordinary people. That’s what Bernie Sanders is all about. And it should be an argument that has great appeal to people of power, otherwise they’re going to come after you with the pitchforks. Instead the mainstream media, in its hysteria, you know, has taken this word “democratic socialist” and used it to vilify him.
But the point that I want — and we will end on this, but I’d like to get your reaction — that came up in my discussion with Chomsky, who I have great admiration for. But it is this lesser evilism. And I think while, yes, people in their vote can think about that, they can vote that way — I’ve done it much of my life; I’ve voted for all sorts of evil people because they were lesser. But as a journalist — and I want to end about your journalism — as a journalist, I think we have to get that idea out of our head. And it means being able to be objective about a Donald Trump when he comes up with his NAFTA rewrite, and say hey, there are some good things in it, including the fact that you have to pay $16 an hour to people in Mexico who are working on cars that are going to be sold in the United States, OK. And what the liberal community has been able to do in the mainstream media, MSNBC, is Trumpwash everything.
Which brings us back to your critique. They’ve been able to say — they’ve made warmongering liberal and fashionable. They’ve taken the — they’ve made the CIA now a wonderful institution, the FBI a wonderful institution, [John] Bolton a wonderful hero. And I want to take my hat off to your journalism, because you have — and I do recommend that people go to your website, the Grayzone. Because you have had the courage to say, wait a minute, what’s called a lesser evil can’t be given a pass. Because in fact, maybe in some ways, or in many ways, it’s a more effective evil. We know what Trump is; he stands exposed every hour of every day. But you know, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton — and I’m not trying to pick on them, but you know, they represented this embrace of the Wall Street center — they were much more effective in redistributing income to the rich. You know, you can talk about Trump’s tax break, but the real redistribution came with letting Wall Street do its collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps that caused the destruction of 70% of black wealth in America, 60% of brown wealth in America, according to the Federal Reserve. So really, in this election, people have to think — you know, yes, I’ll hold my nose and I’ll vote for the lesser evil. But what’s that going to get us? Does it get us a more effective evil, a better-packaged evil? Last word from you?
MB: Well, I mean, one of the things that we do at the Grayzone.com, our mission is to oppose this policy of regime change that the U.S. imposes across the world against any state that seeks some independence from the U.S. sphere of influence that wants to craft its own economic policies in a socialist way, like Venezuela, Nicaragua. We, you know, we exposed a lot of the deceptions that were trying to stimulate public support for regime change in Syria, that would have been absolutely disastrous. And in all of these situations, we don’t stand alone, but we stand among a really, really small group of alternative outlets who don’t play the lesser-evil game on regime change. Where we say, well, this leader or that leader are horrible, and they are evil dictators, but we should also be kind of suspicious of the, you know, of the war that the U.S. might wage. Or we should be critical of these brutal economic sanctions that have killed tens of thousands of Venezuelans through excess deaths. We say — we actually look at the alternative to the current government and show that there actually isn’t the lesser evil, that the alternative is far worse. In Syria it was Al Qaeda and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood; in Venezuela it’s Juan Guaidó’s right-wing, white collar mafia, which is a front for Exxon Mobil. Same thing in Nicaragua.
And you know, as much as I respect and I’ve learned from Noam Chomsky, he plays that lesser-evil game on regime change. He’s trashed all of the, all of these governments. He celebrated the collapse of the Soviet Union, and we saw what happened to Russia after that. So it’s important to look at lesser evilism through a historical context, and then we can apply it to the United States as well. Look at who’s been sold to us as the lesser evil that we had to support. Well, we’ve been talking about them, Bob, for the last half hour, and they’ve subjected Americans to the same evil the Republican Party has, for the most part. Maybe they’ve limited it to some degree. But now there’s actually an option for something that I’d say is moderate in the United States.
You’re right — Bernie Sanders does nothing, and proposes nothing, outside the framework of the New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society. I don’t even think he’s a democratic socialist. I don’t know what that term really means. He’s a social democrat. And he is someone who at least offers a change from the consensus where the government actually starts to intervene to prevent people from dying excess deaths across the country, from the opioid crisis, from poverty, from homelessness. Eighty percent of new homes that have been built in the U.S. in the past two years are luxury housing. And you know who else is supporting Bernie Sanders besides all these debt-saddled youth? Active duty U.S. military veterans who are sick of permanent war. $160,000 in campaign contributions have been given to Bernie by active duty vets. That’s something like eight times more than have gone to Joe Biden, who is involved at the forefront of almost every American war since Gulf War I. And we’re really capitalizing on that at the Grayzone. We understand the American public and the western public are sick of being lied into war, and they’re sick of being pushed into lesser evilism, whether it’s abroad in countries that are targeted by the U.S., or at home. And so we’re just there providing balance and exposing whatever the lie is of the day.
RS: Let me, as an older person, end with a little editorial about what — and I agree with the thrust of what you’ve been saying — but why I think this word “democratic socialism” is important, not just social democrat. Because it acknowledges the vast harm that has been done by the left in human history. It’s not just the right, it’s not just the corporate elite, and it’s not just the oligarchs. That people got hold of a message of concern for the ordinary person. It happened in religion too, after all, you know; structures were developed, people who claimed they were following the message of Christ, and they ended up building edifices to the exploitation of ordinary people.
I think what Bernie Sanders represents — and I’ll ask your response, but what I think he represents, the reason he’s so authentic — he actually believes in the grassroots. He actually believes that an ordinary person in Vermont can make intelligent decisions about the human condition, and about justice and freedom. And I think the reason Bernie Sanders can survive the rhetorical assaults on his leftism or his socialism, is that what people of power in the capitalist world have managed to do is identify this cause of social justice, a notion of democratic socialism with totalitarianism, with elitism. And Bernie Sanders — and this is a good night to celebrate Bernie Sanders, if it’s true; I hadn’t caught up with the news, but if he’s really doing that well in Iowa. Because I thought he would get 1% of the vote four years ago when he started; I never thought this would happen.
I think what makes Bernie Sanders authentic is his respect for the ordinary person. He is the opposite of that leftist elitist–and you have them as well as rightist elitists — who thinks they have to distort history to protect the average person from reality. And Bernie Sanders is — he speaks truth about what’s going on. And at a time when people on the right and the left have nothing but contempt for most of the politicians, and journalistic leaders and everything else, for having betrayed them. So I think Bernie Sanders is a ray of hope. I wish he would be around a lot longer, but then again, I wish I’d be around a lot longer. But it’s nice to run into Max Blumenthal, who’s half my age and has all of that spirit that I’d like to see in journalism. So thanks, Max, for doing this.
MB: Thank you, Bob. It’s a real honor.
RS: And by the way, I ignored that last book of yours. Could you give the title again and how people get it?
MB: It’s called “The Management of Savagery.” And let me pull it off the shelf so I can actually read the subheader. You can edit this. It’s called “The Management of Savagery: How America’s National Security State Fueled the Rise of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald Trump.” And it’s really kind of my look at the, sort of how the politics of my lifetime and my generation has been shaped by foreign policy disasters that an unelected foreign-policy establishment has subjected us to.
RS: Full disclosure, I actually have not read it, and I will get it as soon as I can.
MB: I’ll send you a copy —
RS: No, no, no, you got — it’s hard enough to make a living as a writer. I don’t think you should give these things away for nothing. I’ll get myself a copy. And I want to thank you again. I’ve been talking to Max Blumenthal, check out his work, check out the Grayzone. These podcasts are done basically for KCRW, the public radio station in Santa Monica, where Christopher Ho is the engineer who gets it up on the air. At Truthdig, Natasha Hakimi Zapata writes the brilliant intros and overview of these things and posts them up there. Here at USC, Sebastian Grubaugh, the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, really gets the whole thing going and hooks up everyone, thanks to him. And finally, there’d be no Scheer Intelligence without the main Scheer, Joshua Scheer, who’s the show’s producer. And we’ll see you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.Print