On Tuesday night, Senator Bernie Sanders openly criticized CNN’s handling of the debates. He told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “Your question is a Republican talking point. And by the way, the healthcare industry will be advertising tonight on this program.” We speak with Cornel West and Dolores Huerta about the media coverage and the structure of the debate.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we go back to the first night, Tuesday night, of the Democratic debate in Detroit. This is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. He is not exactly talking about the candidates here; he’s talking about who’s bringing us the debate.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: As the author of the Medicare bill, let me clear up one thing. As people talk about having insurance, there are millions of people who have insurance, they can’t go to the doctor, and when they come out of the hospital, they go bankrupt. All right? What I am talking about, and others up here are talking about, is no deductibles and no copayments. And, Jake, your question is a Republican talking point. At the end of the day—and by the way—and by the way—by the way, the healthcare industry will be advertising tonight on this program.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, that’s Bernie Sanders, Senator Sanders, speaking on Tuesday night’s debate. So, Dolores Huerta, I want to ask you about the comment he made about the advertisements that played, both on Tuesday night as well as Wednesday night. There were ads, repeated ads, in which the healthcare industry attacked the very proposals that were being put forward by the more progressive candidates. Just as one example, a very powerful group, Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, whose slogan is—and they have a pinned tweet saying—”The politicians may call it Medicare for All, Medicare buy-in or the public option, but it all means the same thing: higher taxes for worse care.”
AMY GOODMAN: So, you have these advertisements, Dolores Huerta, that are interspersing the debate, another voice in the debate, the pharmaceutical industry, whether you’re talking about CNN or the other networks. How this is determining the frame of the debate? Interestingly, Bernie Sanders has come out for Medicare for All, that would include even undocumented people in this country. At first, it looked like Kamala Harris felt the same way, but then I think she went back on that and said—she went back on that promise that she would also call for Medicare for All for undocumented people in this country.
DOLORES HUERTA: Well, it sounds pretty much like her position is more like a Medicare for—or, the public option, that people can have a choice, although she didn’t call it as that. But I totally agree with you. I think that we need to get all of these pharmaceutical companies and all of these insurance companies—I just want to say that, you know, I had an aneurysm in the year 2000. And, you know, I was over 65, so Medicare paid for all of my medical bills, which are almost $500,000. And this is exactly what we need.
In the United Farm Workers, when we started our medical plan, and Cesar said, “We don’t need an insurance company,” you know, the money for the medical plan comes in, and then we pay it out to the doctors or the hospitals or whoever is taking care of the patient. So, when they talk about, “We’re going to have to raise all this money from taxes,” we don’t have to do that. Once we cut out the insurance companies, then we’ll have the money that we need. And people just have to understand that. And when they talk about socialism, and they say, “Well, look at these countries in Europe that are socialist countries,” people there do have Medicare for All. And it’s something that we in the United States really have to have. But I just want to say to Brother Cornel, is that we really have to educate the American public as to not only why it’s important that they have Medicare for All, but it’s also important that they know that it can be paid for and that they won’t be taxed to death, as the opposition is saying this.
The other thing I just want to say, going back to the conversation about President Obama, you know, when he passed Obamacare, which was the first step to provide health insurance for more people in our country, it was only passed with like four or five votes. And so, you know, when we think of the presidency, we also have to think of the Congress. And we have to do a lot more work to educate the people in the United States of America so that they can elect progressive people to the U.S. Congress and to the Senate, because the president cannot do it al alone. Obama, I think, what he did in terms of just, you know, being able to get Obamacare in the first place, that was a Herculean effort, and it took a lot of his administration’s efforts and energy to make this happen.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Dr. Cornel West, I want to ask you about the structure of the debate itself. I mean, many on social media criticized the fact that it had this kind of pageantry, complete with movie trailer-like montages, which opened the debate last night, as well as Tuesday’s, with some terming it like the opening of a sports event. Andrew Yang was the only one on the debate stage who criticized the format, saying, “We’re up here with makeup on our faces and our rehearsed attack lines, playing roles in this reality TV show. It’s one reason we elected a reality TV star as our president.”
CORNEL WEST: Well, I mean, again, Sister Nermeen and Sister Amy, one of the reasons why what you all do is so crucial is because you refuse to simply be part of the dominant tendencies of the corporate media, that is obsessed with not just revenues and profits, but with a kind of glitz and blitz and titillation stimulation, as opposed to deep engagement with substantive dialogue. Now, as you all know, I’ve been very blessed to be on Brother Anderson Cooper and various Fox News folk, as well, just in order to always be contrary and counter in a way, but it’s very difficult to do that in corporate media.
And let us be very clear: The fascist Frankenstein Trump is very much a product of corporate media, because they followed every minute, every tweet, every speech. If they had done the same thing to my dear Brother Bernie when we were traveling together—we had 15,000, 20,000, 10,000 people. They’d have a little two-minute slice. Trump got every second. Why? Because it was entertainment. They made big money. One of the CEOs of a leading corporate media entity said, “We know it’s bad for the country. It’s good for us.”
And so, what did we end up with? Narcissistic tweets on the one hand, and counter-narcissistic responses. “The president is racist.” Of course he’s racist. But it’s more than just racism. There’s no such thing as racism in the modern world without predatory capitalism. The racism is integral but hiding and concealing the social misery linked to oligarchic power. They never get to oligarchic power. They never get to plutocratic power. It’s just “He’s racist. He’s racist.” And you end up with this loop, this corporate media loop, over and over and over and over again. And the liberals think they’re doing something militant. It’s just liberal self-righteousness. We know he’s xenophobic. We know he’s racist, homophobic and so forth. Let’s keep track of the rule of big money, big military, tax cuts, ways in which he’s undermining the working classes and not saying anything about the poor, thinking the market can take care of the poor with these “wonderful” statistics and so forth.
AMY GOODMAN: I want—
CORNEL WEST: Those are the issues we have to stress, it seems to me.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to clarify one point. Ron Brownstein wrote in The Atlantic, “In response to my questions, the campaigns of Senators Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Cory Booker of New Jersey said they would provide full benefits to the undocumented; so would former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.” And I want to go right now to the issue of the war in Iraq. Part of the debate focused on this. This is Governor Jay Inslee of Washington.
GOV. JAY INSLEE: [I was one of only] two members on this panel today who were called to make a judgment about the Iraq War. I was a relatively new member of Congress, and I made the right judgment, because it was obvious to me that George Bush was fanning the flames of war. Now we face similar situations, where we recognize we have a president who would be willing to beat the drums of war. We need a president who can stand up against the drums of war and make rational decisions.
JAKE TAPPER: Thank you.
GOV. JAY INSLEE: That was the right vote, and I believe it.
JAKE TAPPER: Thank you, Governor. Vice President Biden, he was obviously suggesting that you made the wrong decision and had bad judgment when you voted to go to war in Iraq as a U.S. senator.
JOE BIDEN: I did make a bad judgment trusting the president saying he was only doing this to get inspectors in and get the U.N. to agree to put inspectors in. From the moment “shock and awe” started, from that moment, I was opposed to the effort, and I was outspoken, as much as anyone at all in the Congress and administration.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Vice President Biden, again, as a senator, voted to authorize the war in Iraq. Dolores Huerta, we give you the last word.
DOLORES HUERTA: Well, we know that we are still suffering from those decisions today. But I also want to say something about Iran. You know, President Obama was criticized when he made the treaty with Iran and gave Iran the millions of dollars that we had of their money. And that has never been brought out to the public. And when—
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.
DOLORES HUERTA: You know, when President Carter was president and they took the hostages in Iran, they took the hostages—they took U.S. hostages because they wanted to get their money back. The shah of Iran left the money here in the United States of America, and we used that money for decades.
AMY GOODMAN: Dolores Huerta—we’re going to have to leave it there—and Cornel West, thank you so much. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González and Nermeen Shaikh.