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Our world is in deep trouble. This week on Intercepted: The U.S. government failed to respond quickly to the coronavirus and as it spreads, it is likely to overwhelm the outdated and overwhelmingly privatized health care infrastructure. Author Naomi Klein and Jeremy Scahill discuss the bipartisan ruling coalition that created and supported a health system where profits are more important than public health, how the corporate vultures are circling the crisis, and how ordinary people are rising to help each other. They also discuss the Democratic primary and the looming fate of many states’ voters, as well as the last Democratic debate between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden and the two candidates’ platforms.
Jake Tapper: Good evening from Washington, D.C. and welcome to this unique event, the CNN-Univision Democratic presidential debate with the two leading candidates.
So let’s begin with the most important issue right now, the coronavirus. What do you say to the American people who are confronting this new reality?
Joe Biden: First of all, my heart goes out to those — [Coughs.] There are three pieces to this. First of all, go to JoeBiden.com. Dot com. And I see my time is up here. You’re going to hold us tightly, I assume. But that’s what I would do. Go to JoeBiden.com.
Ilia Calderon: Senator Sanders?
Bernie Sanders: Why is it that we’re the only major country on Earth not to guarantee health care to all people as a human right? The power structure in America. Who has the power? It’s the people who contribute money, the billionaires who contribute money to political campaigns.
BS: Don’t laugh, Joe. That’s just the truth. If you’re laughing, Joe, then you’re missing the point.
JB: Bingo. Come on give me a break.
BS: Oh, wow.
JB: I’ve laid out a plan, period.
BS: That’s not true.
JB: Go to JoeBiden.com.
BS: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Talking about ebola, got ebola over my head here right now. Joe, let me repeat it again. I want you just to shut up right now.
JB: Want to do that? That’s like saying Jack the Ripper.
BS: No, it’s not, Joe.
JB: Yes, it is.
BS: This is the problem. Do we have the guts to take on the healthcare industry, some of which is funding the Vice President’s campaign?
JB: Straight up.
BS: I’m not shaking hands. Joe and I did not shake hands.
JT: Vice President Biden, Senator Sanders. We want to thank you both for being here tonight under these challenging and trying circumstances. We wish both of you the best.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill coming to you from my basement in New York City. And this is Episode 121 of Intercepted.
Donald J. Trump: 1917, 1918 I’ve seen all of the different problems similar to this that we’ve had. This is a bad one. This is a very bad one. This is bad in the sense that it’s so contagious. It’s just so contagious, sort of record-setting type contagion. And the good part is the young people are, they do very well and healthy people do very well. Very, very bad for older people, especially older people with problems. My focus is really on getting rid of this problem, this virus problem. Once we do that, everything else is going to fall into place.
JS: Our world is in deep trouble. And our country is facing an incredibly dire situation. A reality that is a direct result of the greedy, incompetent crooks currently holding power at the White House. But it’s not just Donald Trump and Mike Pence and their rank incompetence.
Our whole system in this country created this catastrophe that we now face. And let’s be clear, it has been a bipartisan coalition that has worked for decades to make sure that we are vulnerable, and that the most vulnerable among us are going to face the most terrifying fate. This is a bipartisan product that we don’t have adequate healthcare in this country, that we don’t have adequate protection for workers who are affected by the coronavirus in this country, that we have an electoral process that can result in an authoritarian like Donald Trump taking power in this country. We are also in the middle of a Democratic primary campaign and at the heart of the debate happening right now is the differences between a corporate Democratic candidate Joe Biden whose policies over decades have been a part of the problems that we now see in our society, and a campaign of an insurgent of Bernie Sanders that is fueled by social movements, environmental movements, racial justice movements, climate justice movements.
That is what is being debated right now and it seems clear that many moderate, so-called moderate Democrats, that many Democratic voters in primaries believe that Joe Biden is the best person to take on Donald Trump. I think a lot of people in this country think that it is going to be a very, very grave mistake. Let’s see how it plays out. But it’s not clear at all how this process is going to continue in a way that is both fair to the candidates, and does not cause even more risk to individual people and to public health itself. While we watch in horror, as the coronavirus spreads across this country we are also seeing a remarkable sense of solidarity among ordinary people even as large corporations put their workers in grave danger by not offering them paid sick leave. If you can’t tell from this recording, I’m not in a studio. I’m literally in a basement right now. None of our workers from The Intercept are working out of our offices. And so from today on for the foreseeable future, we’re going to be doing the show with a little less formality while also trying to offer information, perspectives, voices that are relevant to the moment in history that we are currently living through.
Right now, I’m joined by my good friend and colleague, Naomi Klein. She is a senior correspondent at The Intercept. She also has been campaigning for Bernie Sanders. Naomi has written several vital books, the most relevant for the current situation that we’re in is most definitely “The Shock Doctrine.” And today, what I want to do is discuss the state of our world, the responses and proposals that we’re seeing for how to respond to the spread of the coronavirus. We want to talk about the election, about the primary process and some scenarios that we might see unfold in the fast-moving developments of this political campaign. Naomi, I know you currently have a cold yourself. So thank you very much for taking the time to join me here on Intercepted.
Naomi Klein: Happy to be with you.
JS: Let’s start with just the very big picture of what’s happening right now. You have been on the trail a lot for Bernie Sanders. And I think a lot of his supporters have said that the way that the Trump administration has handled this situation, the current state, disaster state of our healthcare system, our economic system, the way we treat workers in our society, that all of these argue in favor of the ideas that Bernie Sanders has spent decades fighting for. And I’m wondering now in the aftermath of the debate, and questions about how people are going to safely vote in the coming primaries, how you see where things stand right now.
NK: It is complicated because there’s no question that the transformative political vision that the Sanders campaign represents is more relevant than it has ever been before. I mean, it was always relevant to millions of people, which is why there was so much support for it. But I think people who thought, oh, it’s just too much, you know, surely we can just have some tweaks here and there. This crisis — and not only the pandemic but the economic crisis that has been set off and that we’re still in the grips of, the crashed oil prices and the political crisis, all of it — is laying bare the extreme injustices and inequalities of our economic and social system.
Whenever there is any kind of shock, any kind of crisis, whatever is unequal before becomes more unequal. I mean, we see this during disasters like hurricanes. But when you have a global pandemic like this — and nobody is safe from it — what it shows is that the stories that capitalism has trained us to tell ourselves about how we can protect ourselves and isolate ourselves from the pain of others, that we are these solitary individual units, whether it’s just a single individual or whether it’s a single nuclear family, or whether it’s a privilege neighborhood, all that starts to break down. And the reality that our fates are enmeshed, interconnected within our countries, between our countries, that we are intensely porous becomes exposed. So in concrete terms, Sanders has been talking about an economic inequality his entire political life and what we see in the midst of the coronavirus crisis is that the extreme inequities of our economic system where you have some people who are so well protected, and so many others who are so close to the line, and are working these gig jobs, have no health care, have no benefits, no paid sick leave, or a couple days a year. All of that exposes everybody. As Bernie Sanders said:
BS: What this crisis is beginning to teach us is that we are only as safe as the least insured person in America.
NK: So, if you don’t have health insurance, or adequate health insurance with your job, then you’re not going to go see a doctor. If you have a gig instead of a job, then you’re not going to be able to call in sick when symptoms present. So you’re not going to go to the doctor and you’re also going to go to work and infect other people. And we suddenly are realizing that even though we may have told ourselves a story about how we are isolated from each other and protected from each other. In fact, our lives are interconnected in all kinds of ways. It’s other humans who grow our food, who put it into boxes even if we’re getting everything delivered, as Jeff Bezos would have us do. We are not living in an automated world. There are humans at every level and those humans are intensely vulnerable to this crisis if they have those low wage jobs.
JS: You mentioned Jeff Bezos, the largest shareholder of Whole Foods and of course, Whole Foods recently suggested that in response to coronavirus that healthy employees of Whole Foods should donate their vacation time to workers who are sick and need to take time off rather than just coming out and saying, oh, maybe we should pay for sick pay for our workers. And I just want to read you Naomi, a list of companies. This was put out by the organization Public Citizen, a list of U.S. companies that are currently denying workers paid sick leave: McDonald’s – 517,000 workers, Walmart – 347,000 workers, Kroger – 189,000 workers, Subway – 80,000 workers, Burger King – 165,000 workers, Pizza Hut – 156,000 workers, Target – 51,000 workers, Marriott – 139,000 workers, Wendy’s – 133,000 workers. These are workers that are right now being denied sick leave by the employers. Some of these companies are companies that Donald Trump held up as being stepping up to the moment, rising to the occasion to help the American people through this crisis.
NK: These are the people who are preparing food, who are putting food on shelves. These are not people far away from us. These are people who are the ones who are the reason we have food in our cupboards if we’re lucky enough to have food in our cupboards. So this is a moment where we are realizing our interconnection and realizing what it means to not have social safety nets. The United States does not have a floor that keeps people from falling. It does not have a net. That doesn’t only affect the people who fall. It affects everybody. And you’re absolutely right. I mean, this is criminal behavior. The moment that we’re in — and I just did a piece about this for The Intercept — these moments when crisis reveals our reality to us, really holds up a mirror and it’s often a very ugly glimpse, it can lead to more panic, more hoarding more of that instinct of let me just protect my own. So going to those supermarkets that are staffed by people without sick leave and just stripping them of everything and not worrying about anybody else. And we’re certainly seeing lots of that kind of hoarding impulse right now.
But the other thing that it can spark is deep policy transformations where we decide to leave that social safety net, right? And this is what happened during the Great Depression. What limited social safety net that the United States has like Social Security, unemployment insurance, it emerged in the 1930s as a response to seeing so many people fall without any kind of a net. And the great irony is that the Trump administration is using this crisis where we are all seeing how vulnerable it makes us to not have a net at all. The first thing Trump started pushing was suspending the payroll tax, which is how we fund Social Security. So obviously, if you do that, that then becomes the excuse in a few months down the road to say, actually, we have to privatize Social Security or gut it. It creates a crisis down the road, right?
So, we are, you know, in a battle of visions for how we’re going to respond to this crisis. We will either be catapulted backwards to a more brutal winner takes all system, or this will be a wake-up call. And as in the 1930s, or after the Second World War, when there were major victories won for public housing, for some kind of a safety net and in other countries — unlike the United States — for universal public health care. It was after the Second World War that Britain got the NHS. Maybe there will be these transformations but it’s going to be a hell of a fight, and it’s certainly not going to come from the Trump administration.
JS: Let’s talk for a moment about Joe Biden’s response to coronavirus. There was a heated exchange between Biden and Bernie Sanders in the debate on Sunday night, where Biden was openly saying:
JB: No one has to pay for treatment, period because of the crisis. No one has to pay for whatever drugs are needed period because of the crisis. No one has to pay for hospitalization because of the crisis period. That is a national emergency and that’s how it’s handled. It is not working in Italy right now and they have a single-payer system.
JS: Sanders counters trying to game out some scenarios to ask Biden would this be covered?
BS: You’re going to have a maze of regulations. Well, if this is my income, but that’s my income, can I get it? Can I not get it? Clearly we are not prepared and Trump only exacerbates the crisis.
JS: The sense that I had was that Sanders was trying to say to Joe Biden, OK, well, I’m not sure that that’s what your plan actually says. But let’s accept that that is true. What I wanted to hear Sanders say was, let’s say that a man test positive for Covid and his wife who does not test positive has a stroke upon hearing the news that her husband has tested positive for coronavirus. Is Joe Biden’s plan going to ensure that this woman who is under-insured has treatment that doesn’t bankrupt her family because of a stroke that was spurred by learning that her husband had this extremely terrifying virus?”
NK: I think Sanders sort of tried to get at that right when he talked about the need for mental health care in a moment like this for the person who doesn’t have the virus itself. But I think the larger issue is that Bernie Sanders and many of us believe that the fact that tens of thousands of Americans die because they lack adequate health insurance or completely lack health insurance in the United States is a crisis right now, with or without the coronavirus outbreak, right? This system was already in crisis. The pandemic has laid it bare. And Biden is saying, well, let’s just put a bandaid on it. Let’s have Medicare for All just for this virus, but then we can go back to letting people die from less unusual causes, right?
You know, I think that that is the real debate that we need to be having. There’s no doubt that the absence of a national health care system makes it a lot harder to deal with a health crisis. You know, as you know, Jeremy, I’m a dual American-Canadian citizen. My parents are American but I grew up in Canada which means I grew up under a single-payer, universal health care system. And I’ve been living in the states for a couple of years and I have to tell you that it’s frankly terrifying compared to what my family and friends are dealing with in Canada. This whole phenomenon of having to figure out what is covered, what’s in-network, what’s out of network, what’s deductible, what’s not deductible, what it’s going to mean? This is all entirely new to me. And if you have a universal health care system of the kind that Sanders has been talking about for decades now, none of those questions are relevant. You just go see the doctor, you don’t worry about that. That is what the system does.
And so of course, it is exacerbating the crisis, just like economic insecurity and precariousness and the lack of protections for workers is exacerbating the crisis. All of it makes it worse. They’re interconnected. They’re intermeshed and Bernie Sanders is talking about the holistic solutions that frankly recognize that this is not the first or last major crisis that we are going to face. And one of his major policy platforms is the Green New Deal which is a science-based and justice-based response to the climate crisis that recognizes that because we have done so little to prevent catastrophic warming, even if we do all the right things now and it is a plan for doing all the right things now, we are still going to be dealing with a future of more wildfires, more super storms, more sea-level rise, more shocks to our system.
And so it is all the more important to put in that safety net, put in that floor so that people feel a degree of safety and clarity that the basics are taken care of. You will have health care. You will have housing. There’s a jobs guarantee in it, all of this. It takes aim at the rampant feeling of insecurity of everybody just having to look out for themselves because nobody is looking out for them that makes these crises so much harder to handle.
One of the things that is causing so much stress right now is hoarding. It is the fact that people are so convinced that nobody will look after them that there’s no functional state that they’ve stripped supermarkets, right? And they’re hurting their neighbors, and they’re not doing it because they’re terrible people. They’re doing it because they’ve internalized a lesson that is not wrong, that they have to look after themselves. And Bernie Sanders is saying let’s build a society where we look after each other. So we don’t have to behave like this because it’s incredibly counterproductive.
JS: I want to talk about the realistic picture of what’s happening right now with this primary. And that is that Joe Biden over the weekend put out a tweet that he was very rightly eviscerated for, where he was encouraging people to get out the vote in person. And he said, “If you are feeling healthy, not showing symptoms and not at risk of being exposed to Covid-19, please vote on Tuesday.” Implicit in that is a radical misunderstanding on Biden’s part or whoever posted that tweet for Biden, on asymptomatic carriers. It flies in the face of everything we know about that. But it raises a very real issue, which is, how does the Democratic Party proceed with this electoral campaign cycle given the threats to the public?
I’m wondering what your view is on this because we know that in 2016, many of Bernie Sanders supporters felt like the primary process was rigged against him. In this current round in 2020, there’s been a lot of criticism of how Tom Perez and the DNC have set rules for this primary season and Joe Biden’s supporters, some of them are suggesting that Bernie Sanders should drop out in the name of public health because it’s mathematically almost impossible that he could pull this off. Now, that is not necessarily factually correct what they’re saying. But that is a narrative that is gaining steam and will gain even more steam if Joe Biden prevails in a decisive way, during the next round of voting.
NK: Obviously, Biden’s tweet was outrageous and wrong on every front, because, you know, you can not have symptoms, but you can still be spreading the virus and that puts voters who have pre-existing conditions, who are in any of the risk categories, particularly elderly voters at unnecessary risk, and I think it shows a real contempt for voters to say, go out anyway. And it puts Bernie Sanders in an absolutely impossible situation because if he simply says, wait a minute, if we’re telling people not to go to gyms and not go to restaurants, why are we telling them to go to the polls? Then it looks like he’s trying to use this crisis for his own political advantage and trying to buy time which is absolutely not the case. So they’re in a very difficult situation where they basically can’t say anything without looking like they’re trying to gain electoral advantage. And the Biden campaign and the DNC have just been outrageously inconsistent in terms of their criticism of the Trump administration for not taking this seriously enough, and we should be critical of them for that. But at the same time, sending this message that voters should go to the polls anyway.
JS: I want to ask you about the notion of a unity campaign, which is something that’s being pushed a lot by moderate Democrats, certainly by surrogates for Joe Biden. We all need to come together to defeat Donald Trump. And yet you have Anita Dunn, who is a senior advisor to the Biden campaign and many believe she is the captain of the ship right now. Anita Dunn, first of all, she worked in the Obama White House. Then when she left the Obama White House as an operative, she worked diligently as Lee Fang has exposed in The Intercept to undermine several initiatives spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama.
And she also spoke to Harvey Weinstein, reportedly at the urging of Lanny Davis — a Clinton world kingpin who will do almost anything for a buck — he asks Anita Dunn to help Harvey Weinstein navigate the storm that was about to come out into full view of women who Weinstein had raped or assaulted and how he should do damage control on it. That’s Anita Dunn, who is now a senior adviser to Joe Biden appears in the media after Sunday night’s debate, and characterizes the debate as Joe Biden having to fend off the antics of a protester meaning Bernie Sanders, who was disruptive for two hours. Your response to Anita Dunn.
NK: It sums up how far too many people in powerful positions within the Democratic Party view the millions of people who have been part of the Sanders campaign and this whole movement that he represents which is as trespassers onto their private property. And that contempt is precisely why people are not feeling that unified mood. The other reason is that this call for unity predates the outbreak of the virus. There was this sort of brutal show of unity after Biden won South Carolina were very, very rapidly we saw this kind of mini-convention being staged.
Pete Buttigieg: I’m delighted to endorse and support Joe Biden for president.
Amy Klobuchar: I am ending my campaign and endorsing Joe Biden for president.
Andrew Yang: So, I hereby am endorsing Joe Biden to be not just the nominee for the Democratic Party, but the next president of the United States.
Kamala Harris: I have decided that I am with great enthusiasm going to endorse Joe Biden for President of the United States.
NK: And it was just, this is the Democratic Party. It’s everybody but Bernie, pretty much. Elizabeth Warren stayed out of it. That in and of itself, I think is very, very troubling considering that she has spent her political career campaigning against everything that Biden represents.
JB: Your problem with the credit card companies is usury rates from your position. It’s not about the bankruptcy bill.
Elizabeth Warren: But Senator, if you’re not going to fix that problem, you can’t take away the last shred of protection for families.
NK: In this moment, when everything was on the line couldn’t find it within herself to stand with Bernie Sanders in defense of working people and in defense of Medicare for All and these issues that are so much bigger than either of their political careers or whatever their grievances are and many of them are no doubt legitimate. The stakes are just too high for that right now. And so I think because unity was wielded as such a weapon against Bernie before Super Tuesday where it was just like the whole party is uniting behind this very weak candidate Biden who was being laughed at by elite pundits a couple of weeks earlier for being so tottering and kind of yesterday’s man.
Bill Kristol: Eight-year vice president of the United States, who served with Barack Obama, who’s been ahead in the polls the whole time if suddenly you’re beaten in Iowa and New Hampshire, you’re in deep trouble, I think.
CNBC: Let’s talk about Biden and he has pulled out of New Hampshire now he’s gone. He’s already gone. He didn’t even wait till the polls closed.
NK: And now suddenly, he is the inevitable candidate. That makes people not feel warm and cozy about the Democratic Party and want to unify. It feels like unity is just about muscle, you know, and getting people out of the way and getting the issues that they’re concerned about out of the way, right? I mean, I think people within the party elite don’t understand that what Sanders represents is not a movement about Sanders, it is about the issues. I mean, this is what I found repeatedly on the campaign trail, Jeremy, is people are so close to the edge. Whenever there are these moments in campaign meetings where people are sharing what brought them there, they’re just sharing the most heartbreaking stories about losing a partner to a preventable illness because they didn’t have Medicare, losing a child, just what it means to not have the safety net that we’ve been talking about, right?
And yes, they like Bernie, but that is not what they’re fighting for. They’re fighting for the policies and the idea that they’re just going to forget about all of that and approach a Biden candidacy with the same level of enthusiasm just isn’t realistic. That isn’t to say people aren’t going to vote for him. A great many of Bernie Sanders supporters, the vast majority would vote for Joe Biden if that was the only option on the table. But what we know from 2016 is that a lack of excitement, a demoralized Democratic electorate is a big part of why Hillary Clinton lost the electoral college. There was just depressed turnout and it wasn’t the Bernie bros. And it wasn’t Jill Stein. It was Obama voters that just didn’t come out because they were not excited about Hillary Clinton.
JS: Yes. And also, Hillary Clinton, for instance, decided not to campaign at all in the state of Wisconsin and whether this is fair or not, Hillary Clinton also carried the baggage of her husband’s two terms of really disastrous policy for American workers and policies on crime for a lot of people and no one really wants to talk about that.
NK: Because Biden has the exact same baggage. He has the same baggage but it’s more direct than it was for Hillary because as you said she was carrying her husband’s baggage. She certainly had some of her own — some statements — but she wasn’t the one who was writing the laws. Biden has a huge amount of the same baggage and there’s no doubt that Trump is going to use it against him.
Frankly, what I found most frustrating about the way that debate was moderated was that it didn’t do what we really needed, which was vet Joe Biden in a serious way in terms of putting the issues that Trump is going to put before him, including the issue of Hunter Biden, which Trump has made no secret of, he absolutely plans to turn that into an electoral issue.
Now, we know that Biden has an answer to that. But what worries me is that Trump continues to be a serious threat. I mean, yes, he is weakened by this pandemic, but we don’t know what it’s gonna look like in November. And we need a candidate who is able to go after Trump on every front, including the corruption and nepotism represented by his own family. And I would worry that Biden would just kind of stay away from that because he doesn’t want the issue to become his own family.
And I’m not saying that they’re equivalent controversies, but I am saying that what we saw 2016 was a real ruthlessness on Trump’s part, right, where he knew that he was vulnerable because so many women have accused him of sexual assault and sexual harassment. And when he brought the women who had accused Bill Clinton to the debate, I mean, he put Hillary Clinton in a very clear position to say if you go after me on this, then I’m going after you and your husband. And he’s set up the exact same dynamic with Biden, not about sexual assault, but about nepotism and families profiting from the presidency. And that’s unfortunate because this is an area where he is vulnerable.
JS: I agree with that. What I’m getting at here is that you already see the preparations being made to blame, “Bernie bros” or Sanders supporters or people who have the audacity to vote for a third party on their own volition in a democracy, to blame them for Trump continuing on for another four years. And let me be clear, I think if Trump has another term it is going to make what we’ve seen thus far seem like child’s play and it’s been horrifying what Trump has managed to do in just a few years in power. It’s going to be worse beyond imagination as he consolidates and gloats over another term if he does win, but I see a lot of people who are, you know, manifesting their beliefs, their passions, their activism in supporting Bernie Sanders’ campaign desperately trying to warn the Democratic Party do not nominate Joe Biden for all of the reasons that you’ve laid out and more.
Joe Biden is a pathological liar. Donald Trump is a pathological liar. Joe Biden has had an atrocious track record on women’s reproductive rights and statements that he’s made. Joe Biden, horrible crime policies, Joe Biden, horrible environmental policies, Joe Biden, horrible foreign policies and support for wars. Joe Biden with his own questions about how he has interacted with women in incredibly inappropriate ways sniffing their hair, massaging their backs, you don’t think all of this stuff is going to be relevant as we head into a general election? I am really disgusted at the attacks against people who are desperately trying to say, don’t do this because you’re going to give us four more years of Trump and it will be much worse than what we’re currently facing.
NK: Absolutely, we have been trying to warn them. And I think some people have this idea that four more years of Trump is just a sort of seamless continuation of what we have seen so far from Trump. And that would be bad enough because what we’ve seen from Trump is abhorrent on so many levels that you don’t need me to delineate right now. What terrifies me is what we see happening in other countries when you have leaders with authoritarian tendencies getting re-elected and how they interpret that as a carte blanche to absolutely take the gloves off and do everything they wanted to do, but were holding themselves back.
And the best example of this is what’s been happening in India since Modi was re-elected less than a year ago. As soon as the elections were over, as soon as he got that sort of stamp of approval — go ahead — that is when they locked down Kashmir, that is when they move to strip citizenship of millions of Muslim citizenships and create this tiered citizenship — ideas that you could absolutely imagine Trump paying close attention to. You know, he’s been palling around with Modi, and that they get along like gangbusters. So I’m terrified of a second term of Trump. I don’t think that it would be a seamless continuation of the first term.
I think it would be much, much worse which is why I have been working as hard as I have been, and I’ve never gotten involved in a political campaign before. I’ve never endorsed a candidate. You know, I’ve written columns saying which candidate I preferred, but that’s not what I’ve done in this case. I’ve spoken at rallies. I’ve spoken to canvases. I’ve gone to five states. I’ve done things I’ve never done before, because the stakes are so incredibly high. And I was convinced that Bernie was the only one of all the candidates who I felt certain could beat Trump, and also get at the root causes of what produced Trump and the fact that we had that opportunity in one candidate felt really historic to me.
JS: Bernie Sanders is basically a normal person. You watch him with this professional corporate politician Joe Biden lying through his teeth, copying exactly from Donald Trump’s playbook that you just lie, lie, lie through it. And here you have poor Bernie Sanders, an ordinary person who is watching someone lie, and then is looking to the camera, sort of like what do we do with a lie? And Joe Biden, you know, what do we do when someone is just blatantly lying as Joe Biden did all night? And I felt like there was a humanizing aspect to Sanders’s exasperation because it’s sort of like, the way a parent responds when they know that their teenager is lying to them. It’s sort of like hello, you know, I’m not stupid, but that doesn’t work anymore
NK: Yeah, he knows, you know, within a half an hour everybody’s gonna have cut together the YouTube videos.
JS: But it doesn’t matter. The point is like we know this about Trump supporters. The truth doesn’t matter. You know, don’t believe your lying eyes and ears. You know, that has worked. But Biden in a similar way that Obama groomed liberals to love drone strikes, Biden is now grooming liberals to learn to love big lies told in public.
NK: The first time that the Sanders campaign put out the videos of him talking about cutting social security. Biden’s first words were: it’s fake. And it’s not fake. I mean, it’s called editing ads and edited video but it is not wrong. He has been saying that and the fact that he went straight to the fake news trope is just one of the ways that he is demonstrating that this is not even a return to the pre-Trump normal you know, which is this sort of promise of like, I’m going to put you in a time machine and stand too close to you and take you back to the Obama years, right? It isn’t even doing that it is a continuation of the sort of war on objective reality that has worked for Trump, and now they’re trying it on. And I think, you know, some Democrats will say in unguarded moments, well, you know, and this is, sometimes when they were talking about why they supported Bloomberg, well, maybe we just have to beat him at his own game, right? You know, we can’t afford to have ethics when we’re up against somebody so unethical. And I’m worried that if large parts of the Democratic Party decide the truth doesn’t matter and you can just lie in public like that, we are in for a world of trouble.
JS: The one glimmer of hope that I’ve seen in all of this is sort of twofold. On the one hand, you see the incredible humanity of so many people. You see the organizing efforts of people like Mariame Kaba to try to raise funds for the most vulnerable people who are going to be left to die in this coronavirus situation because of the nature of our state. But you also see the planet starting to breathe again, akin to when a smoker stops smoking and their lungs start to self-repair. There’s something that the world is telling us about how we’ve been proceeding that is scientifically undeniable. And I’m wondering, given that you’ve done such scathing investigative work into how the corporate vultures and the truly vile sectors of our society exploit these crises, how you see an ability for us to rise out of the rubble and carnage of this and build something hopeful.
NK: It’s a tricky time to talk about it because the worst hasn’t hit us yet, right? We’re still in the calm before the storm in North America when it comes to this virus. It’s gonna get really bad. It’s gonna get really bad. We need to stay organized. And it is such a challenge because, you know, I have been writing about this for many years, as have you. I’ve been in a lot of disaster zones. And I’ve seen some really beautiful things as well as some really horrific things, right? I mean, I’ve said this before, but disasters bring out the best and the worst in us, right? We see the worst that these systems can produce in terms of pitting people against each other, in terms of preying on people’s vulnerability in moments of extreme loss and pain and trauma. But we also see people saving each other’s neighbors, cooking food for their whole block, risking themselves across lines of race and religion and gender and sexual orientation and just all of those barriers dissolving as people come together.
But the challenge of this particular crisis is something that I haven’t seen before and I don’t know that you have either, which is that it is isolating us physically, right? I mean, when you see these beautiful moments in the midst of crisis, or what Rebecca Solnit calls it, the “paradise built in hel”l it is people leaving their homes and coming together as they did in neighborhoods in Puerto Rico after Maria and cooking food for, you know, hundreds of their neighbors and making sure that everybody was OK and that the kids were cared for and setting up classrooms and fields. I mean, I’ve seen all of that. But the tricky thing about where we’re at is that we’re being told to stay in our little boxes, whether alone in our apartments, or if we’re lucky with our family, and you know, and so I think we need to be using every tool that we have, and we are really lucky that we have a lot of tools that allow us to hear each other’s voices, to read each other’s thoughts, even to see each other’s faces even if it’s just on screens, to stay organized and stay connected, in fact, connect it better, right?
Because I think it would be a real shame for us to fritter away this crisis staring at our Twitter feeds. I don’t think Jack Dorsey or Mark Zuckerberg for that matter, should determine the parameters of the way we talk to each other. You know, I don’t think it should be through, you know, disconnected tweets. I think we have to create spaces where we’re able to really deliberate and strategize about what it means to protect our neighbors, our rights and build on that because people are seeing — you know, to bring this around to where we started — people are getting it. They’re getting the need for things like a jobs guarantee, universal basic income, unemployment insurance, Medicare for All, an end to evictions, homes for all, these basic rights that we have been screaming about for so long, people are going, “I get it. I get it.”
And they’re enraged by the profiteering in the face of this whether it is on the micro-level which were overly fixating on, or on the macro-level of the pharmaceutical companies and the oil companies or the companies like Virgin owned by Richard Branson, who have their hands out getting bailouts from the government at the same time as they tell their workers to take unpaid leave, right?
So, you know, no matter what happens with this campaign, and I don’t pretend to know, and it is in no way up to me, we have said all along that this is not a normal political campaign. This is a movement. And having been part of it, I can tell you that that is true. It never felt like a political campaign. You know, I gave many speeches, Jeremy and nobody ever vetted them. Nobody ever asked me what I was going to say. I mean, I had total freedom. Not just true of me. It’s true of the very grassroots organizers who have had platforms to speak to tens of thousands of people about migrant rights, about criminal justice, about the role of nurses in our societies. And so we now really need to live up to the slogan “Not me, us.”
[Crowd chants “Not me, us.”]
NK: I think it was never just about it not being me as in Bernie, me, but also just the kind of me, me, me-ness of our hyper-individualist culture that is always getting us to focus on the me at the expense of the we or the us. We need to stay so connected and organized and strategic in the face of this pandemic and all the ways that it is going to be exploited by elites who are already using it to try to get 2008-style bailouts without strings attached that require that they bail out their workers or bailout homeowners or bailout small businesses. And we need to be so on it in terms of demanding what we want and insisting on a very different kind of platform from Biden, holding him to it if he ends up being the nominee. And so I think we have our work cut out for us.
JS: One other aspect to this that I think should not be cast aside, is that if ever there was a moment that proved the grand foolishness and dishonest nature of the question, “How are you going to pay for it?” it is right at this moment when there can be endless money for Wall Street, endless money for corporations. People from both parties talking about how treatment needs to be free for people. It shows the insidious nature of the lie that we are constantly told that there is no money to pay for it. If you look in the state of New York suspending all eviction proceedings and pending eviction orders until further notice. San Francisco, moratorium on evicting tenants. You have Gavin Newsom saying that they have plans underway to house the state’s 108,000 people who don’t have a place to sleep at night.
You have all of these policies that seemed to in an instant just be possible because — And I’ll never forget Ben Bernanke in describing how they did the 2008 bailout:
Scott Pelley: Is that tax money that the Fed is spending?
Ben Bernanke: It’s not tax money. We simply use the computer to mark up the size of the account.
JS: And yet, look at how we always have money for wars. We always have money for corporations, endless money to pay for Trump’s golf outings. But we don’t have money to pay for the woman who has a stroke upon hearing that her husband has tested positive for coronavirus. It’s a lie. It’s all a grand lie. And it should be clear for anyone with the ability to see.
NK: Just one last point, I think that we are already seeing this huge, huge amount of money mobilized to prop up markets. It’s not working. It’s money down the drain. I mean, they’re trying to play a confidence game over the weekend by pumping all of this money into the markets and they crashed anyway. Coming back to what you said earlier about the skies clearing and a lot of what we are realizing on an individual level about the fact that maybe we like working from home a little bit, maybe we don’t have to take that flight that we had to cancel, maybe we can stay put a little bit more. So there is no doubt that the industries that are in deepest crisis right now are also the industries that are at the heart of the climate crisis, right? The fossil fuel industry — domestically in the United States — they’re looking for a bailout because they can’t compete with $30 barrel oil. The airlines are in crisis.
So this needs to be a pivot and because the quantitative easing bailouts that we’ve seen so far from the Fed are not having their desired results, now we’re starting to hear the calls for an economic stimulus, right? To be frank with you, Jeremy, the most heartbreaking moment that I have ever witnessed in my political life was the lost opportunity in 2009 and 2010 when the Obama administration came to power. They did have control of Congress. They had the banks at their knees. They had the car companies at their knees. They had a blank check to write a stimulus program. They had the insurance companies, and they just lacked the courage to say, you know what, we’re going to change the kind of economy we have now. We’re going to get off fossil fuels right now. We are going to have a Green New Deal, a real Green New Deal. And we’re going to make sure that yeah, if we prop up the banks that they’ve got to loan money to the industries of the future, and we’re going to say to the car companies sure, we’ll bail you out but you’ve got to be making electric streetcars now or subway cars.
We could have done that then and there is another opportunity like that now. And so yes, we have to fight for those local solutions to keep people from getting evicted to get people the money that they need to re-open small businesses. We have to make sure that cities are not going to be even more gentrified, even more homogenous than they are right now. But we also need to think even bigger than that and think about how we learn from this crisis about how we maybe live a little slower, maybe consume less — those of us who are over consumers — and how we actually pivot to the kind of economy that is going to keep us safe in the long run. I think no matter what happens in this primary, we actually still have that opening, still have that chance.
But it isn’t going to happen without the kind of broad-based, cross-movement organizing that we’ve seen. And this to be honest with you has been the most exciting part of being part of the Sanders campaign is watching movements come out of their issue silos and collaborate and find each other and find common ground whether it’s climate activists or young people from March for Our Lives or Mi Gente or Dream Defenders. I mean, there’s so many incredible grassroots social movements that have part of this. I mean, there’s incredible cross-movement imagining and organizing happening right now. And I really do believe that we have an opportunity now, when everything is crashing and like I said, it’s gonna get worse. We have to have the confidence to say this is the moment when we change.
JS: Spoken like a true Bernie bro. Clearly, Naomi, you are not a lifelong Democrat, a proud Democrat, an Obama-Biden Democrat and unfortunately, we’re going to be removing you from the list of consideration for vice president under the Biden administration.
NK: Vote blue, no matter who.
JS: Thanks very much for being with us now, Naomi.
NK: Bye, Jeremy.
JS: Naomi Klein is my colleague at The Intercept. She’s also been campaigning for Bernie Sanders. She’s author of several books among them “The Shock Doctrine,” “This Changes Everything” and “No is Not Enough.” You can check out the latest video featuring Naomi at theintercept.com.
And that does it for this week’s show. You can follow us on Twitter @Intercepted and on Instagram @Interceptedpodcast. I want to urge people out there to do everything you can to stay safe and to always be thinking of the risks to the broader public, particularly the most vulnerable among us.
JS: Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our lead producer is Jack D’Isidoro, our producer is Laura Flynn. Elise Swain is our associate producer and graphic designer. Betsy Reed is editor in chief of The Intercept. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Transcription for this program is done by Nuria Marquez Martinez. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.