Politics/Law/Government

Bernie Sanders and the Nevada Democratic Party Convention

There are two stories to be told about the Nevada Democratic Party Convention – what really happened, and Sanders’ response to it. The first story is one of confusion, partisanship, passion, and poor choices. The second leads me to conclude that, while I still support most of Sanders’ policies, I can no longer support Sanders himself.

Hillary Clinton & Bernie SandersI first heard about insanity at the Nevada Democratic Party Convention via my Facebook feed. I have a lot of friends and associates on Facebook who are supporters of Bernie Sanders, and others who are supporters of Hillary Clinton. And so I got two radically different perspectives on what happened.

The Sanders supporters alleged that the Nevada Democratic Party was corrupt, had been bought, and were “in the tank” for Clinton, and they largely supported the disruptions that Sanders’ delegates caused at the state convention. The Clinton supporters, on the other hand, alleged that Sanders’ delegates were rude, that they had tried to pervert the popular vote (and the associated number of delegates to the national convention), that they became violent, and that they’d issued death threats.

Given the divergence of these claims, it’s tempting to say that reality has to be somewhere in the middle. The problem is that it’s entirely possible for both Clinton and Sanders supporters claims to be true, false, or true and false at the same time. After some digging, it’s pretty clear that reality is a confusing mix of fact, fiction, and partisanship resulting in a circular firing squad.

There is no question that Sanders’ supporters were occasionally disruptive at the Nevada state convention. This is well documented via video here and here. There is also no question that there were threats of violence directed at Nevada Democratic Party chairwoman Roberta Lange, as played on the air during an NPR story here. And as PolitiFact has pointed out, the rules that Sanders supporters were protesting had been in place for years and they ruled that statements made by Sanders’ campaign manager alleging corruption at the convention were “false.” But at the same time, an investigation by Snopes found that there was no confirmation that a chair had been thrown (raise in the air and put back down, yes, but not thrown), even though many Clinton supporters have made this claim.

So far as I have been able to determine after reading too many articles about the clusterfuck that was the Nevada state convention, no-one really behaved well, and supporters of both Clinton and Sanders have valid complaints about how things worked. But I found a comment from Andrea Morelli, a Sanders convention organizer, to be particularly enlightening:

We had 4,000 of the most passionate people in this Valley, who got in a room together, and you put in them in this confined space for 15 plus hours and who have little access to food and three bars outside of the convention center that were put there specifically for us, and I don’t know where that wouldn’t have created high emotions.

In other words, people make poor choices when they’re hot, tired, hungry, and drunk. And that’s a fact no matter whether you support Clinton or Sanders.

Unfortunately, this explanation doesn’t excuse the statement that Sanders made following the Nevada mess.

Let me start by making a few points clear. Before the Colorado caucuses, I was undecided about supporting Sanders or Clinton. I ultimately came down on the side of Sanders, but was out of town during the caucus so I didn’t have a chance to participate in the process myself (for the record, I dislike caucuses in part for this very reason). I think that Sanders has done amazing things for the Democratic Party this year. He’s energized a massive number of voters by speaking to the radical unfairness of an economic and political system that has been stacked against them for decades and that continues to become more so. And as a result, he’s forced Hillary Clinton to move the left.

Most of Sanders’ policies are needed. For example, the price of a college education is rising out of control, to the point where my wife and I have started discussing the possibility of sending our children to Germany (where tuition is free) for college. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United vs. FEC decision gave corporations and the wealthy permission to influence elections with unlimited, untrackable money, and that has made a mockery of the democratic concept of one person, one vote. The Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) was a good first step toward a fair and functional health-care system for every American, but it wasn’t nearly enough. And the US needs to tax wealthy individuals and corporations more, inject some more sanity to the US financial system, block corporations from moving assets overseas to shield them from US taxes, and generally stop favoring the interests of the ultra-wealthy over the interests of the majority of Americans.

But after the shit hit the fan in the Nevada, Sanders had a moral responsibility to castigate those supporters who threatened violence or got so wound up (or so drunk) that they nearly tossed a chair. In my opinion, his official statement falls far short of what was necessary. I’ve reproduced the first three paragraphs of his statement, copied from his campaign website, below:

It is imperative that the Democratic leadership, both nationally and in the states, understand that the political world is changing and that millions of Americans are outraged at establishment politics and establishment economics. The people of this country want a government which represents all of us, not just the 1 percent, super PACs and wealthy campaign contributors.

The Democratic Party has a choice. It can open its doors and welcome into the party people who are prepared to fight for real economic and social change – people who are willing to take on Wall Street, corporate greed and a fossil fuel industry which is destroying this planet. Or the party can choose to maintain its status quo structure, remain dependent on big-money campaign contributions and be a party with limited participation and limited energy.

Within the last few days there have been a number of criticisms made against my campaign organization. Party leaders in Nevada, for example, claim that the Sanders campaign has a ‘penchant for violence.’ That is nonsense. Our campaign has held giant rallies all across this country, including in high-crime areas, and there have been zero reports of violence. Our campaign of course believes in non-violent change and it goes without saying that I condemn any and all forms of violence, including the personal harassment of individuals. But, when we speak of violence, I should add here that months ago, during the Nevada campaign, shots were fired into my campaign office in Nevada and apartment housing complex my campaign staff lived in was broken into and ransacked. (emphasis added)

To me, this statement reads as “my supporters’ anger is justified, lead or get out of the way, and oh, by the way, violence is bad.” This statement makes his condemnation of unconfirmed chair throwing and confirmed threats of violence an afterthought. Sanders could have reordered his statement to put his condemnation front and center, and that alone would have been enough for me. It wouldn’t have been enough for everyone, given his tone in the rest of the statement, but at least it wouldn’t have left me feeling like his condemnation of violence was only half-hearted.

I find Sanders’ response insufficient and unsatisfactory. It’s one more thing that makes me question his judgement. And as a result, I’ve come to the conclusion that while the US desperately needs Sanders’ policies, I can no longer support Bernie Sanders the candidate.

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Related: Sanders, Clinton, Nevada, and the wages of political despair

26 replies »

  1. 1: There is nothing mutually exclusive in the positions the two sides take, as you articulate in graf 2. The system is rigged. And Sanders folks were no doubt rude about it. Makes perfect sense.

    2: Sanders has not moved Clinton left. If anything, her strategy has been to move RIGHT, attempting to seize the middle ground void (ie, the “moderates” in the GOP) caused by Trump’s success.

    • Sam, Sanders did move Clinton left initially. Now, she’s shifted right again since she concluded that she’d locked up the nomination, but I think she’d be even further to the right now if it hadn’t been for Sanders.

  2. *raised eyebrows*

    You’re brilliant, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m little league to your pro ball, but really? Dropping support because you disagree with the rhetorical approach the campaign used to address the violence? Personally, I don’t get the sense that the limited violence of some few of his supporters is justified. I just see the speech calling out hypocrisy. We’ve got a graf of positive messaging, a graf of positive messaging, a defense against the slight “penchant for violence” (as though the violence of some few characterizes the whole), and a complete disavowal of violence. Maybe Sam could weigh in with his expertise on how best to disavow the jackasses in the crowd.

    I think a “hey, by the way, where were you when it came time to make a statement about the shots fired at my side?” was entirely appropriate. That the Clinton campaign uses a broad brush to paint Sanders’ crowd as having a penchant for anything other than disgust at Hillary’s neoliberalism and the shadow Trump’s campaign casts over the country is a bit rich. If we’re talking rhetoric, we could talk, for instance, about the actual physical harm abused women will continue to slog through while Hillary cosplays as a feminist with her freshly-minted Woman Cards to get more of the vagina vote (so-called because of a “penchant” among some women to vote for her due to her chromosomes because, after all, isn’t it time?”

    Don’t get me wrong. I don’t feel the Bern. Asymmetrical support of Israel with tepid and toothless support for Palestinians might be a great reason to give up on Bernie. His previous (and yet to be demonstrated) statement that he’d support Hill over Trump is still good reason to have concerns over his possible role as a sheepdog for the party. His rhetorical failure to loudly, soundly, and repeatedly denounce Hill’s campaign over down-ticket fundraising for which the states only got to keep 1% of the proceeds while simultaneously making driving home the point that voting for him is only a beginning, that strong progressive candidates need to be recruited, supported, and funded across the country at all levels from city hall to the statehouse to Congress…that’s damning. Putting the equivalent of #allviolenceisbad below the fold in his speech?

    • Ars, it’s not just because of this issue. There have been other things along the way that made me question Sanders’ judgement as well, so this is more the final straw than a sudden break. I tried three times to come up with a good way to explain that in the OP before I posted it, but to no avail. I settled for a generic “It’s one more thing that makes me question his judgement” instead. If you like, I can go into that in more detail.

      To me it’s not a rhetorical issue. When I write something, I’m careful to put things in the order I want them to be presented, with topics chosen to go first, last, etc based on the relative emphasis I want to place on them. As such, my writing is a window into my though processes and what I consider to be important. As a career politician, I would expect that Sanders does the same, or he pays people to help write his statements who should do the same. Either way, he’s the responsible party. And he placed his denunciation of his supporters’ more extreme actions below his support for their “outrage.” To me, this indicates that he values his supporters’ outrage more than he decries the violent threats made against his political opponents (in the person of Roberta Lange).

      I’m not the only person who thinks he screwed up with this statement, and I’m sure that he’s got an earful about it in the last four days. If he thought he made a mistake with his statement, he could have “walked it back” or even admitted he made a mistake. Walking it back is the minimum I think he should do, but an admission of error would be the best thing (and I might recant what I’ve written here if he did so, because politicians so rarely admit they screwed up that it’s worthy of some respect when they actually do it). But to the best of my knowledge, Sanders hasn’t done so. I can imagine two reasons for that. The first is that he doesn’t think that there’s anything to be gained from improving his statement and that it’ll fade if he ignores it. The second is that he thinks what he said was the right thing to say, in the right order. I’m inclined to believe it’s the second.

      • I actually agree with much of what you say here. And I can understand how I missed the “straw the broke the camel’s back” component. I just found his comment and placement unsurprising. I would indeed be refreshing to see the right sentiment take front and center.

        Then again, I’d like to think any and all politicians should start with a caveat along the lines of “We’ve got complex problems requiring resolution. If all you bring to the discussion is jeers, schoolyard taunts, and violence real or implied, just leave. We don’t want your support.” I wish for lots of wildly implausible things 😦

  3. Mission accomplished then? You’re upset that his condemnation of violence that didn’t even happen was in the wrong place in his statement? You’re not even upset at what he actually said? You’re upset at an editorial choice?

    Beyond that, withdrawing support for someone because you don’t like the way he condemned non-existent violence in order to presumably support someone who is responsible for the murder of thousands of people and promises to murder even more if elected? That doesn’t make a ton of sense.

    For the record, since we’re somehow talking about that editorial choice, I support it. This issue is a small part of Sanders’s bigger fight… putting it front and center would have been like the headline in the Denver Post on February 8 reading, “Aqib Talib penalized for facemask,” then later on mentioning that the Broncos won the Super Bowl.

    • Andrew, as I said in response to Ars above, Sanders’ editorial choices indicate what he thinks is important. And he thinks it’s more important to justify his supporters’ outrage than it is to decry how that outrage led some to threaten violence against Roberta Lange. I consider that scale of importance to be morally backwards, and so that’s why this was the final straw for me.

      Finally, I’d agree with your analogy if we were only talking about the chants of “bullshit.” But we’re not – we’re talking about all of that, plus a guy who picked up a chair (who may or may not have been meaning to threaten with it) and the threats of violence directed at Lange. Do you honestly think the threats that NPR played on-air are OK?

      And please, don’t use a meaningless (in the grand scheme of things) football game as an analogy for a political fight that could help determine who has to defeat Trump in the general election. The scale and importance of the two aren’t even comparable.

      • I agree with him that “justifying” the outrage of his supporters is more important than decrying violence that didn’t actually happen. Outrage about how the establishment has fixed the game for the last several decades (and fixing the damage it’s done) is the entire point of his candidacy. And despite what the media would like us all to believe, what happened in Las Vegas, while inappropriate (and possibly criminal in some cases) is, in the grand scheme of things, not a big deal. But if that’s the bar were setting… Why has nobody demanded that Hillary Clinton strongly and decisively denounce her (famous) supporter who was actually arrested for an actual assault on a Sanders supporter last week?

        More importantly, why has nobody demanded a condemnation of the war crimes being carried out in Yemen using weapons Hillary Clinton sold to the Saudis? Why had nobody demanded that Hillary Clinton denounce slaughtering of thousands of people using flying death robots? These are issues that ACTUALLY matter. Please don’t try to make a guy holding chair seem as if it’s even remotely the same level of importance or danger to the world. Please don’t chastise me about the importance of my analogy when deciding to back a war criminal instead of someone you agree with because a guy picked up a chair.

        • Out of deference to Sam, I’m going to focus on only one thing here – your use of the term “war criminal.” It’s wrong. Flat. out. wrong.

          The International Criminal Court defines war crimes as the following (snipped from Wikipedia because they’re more conveniently listed there, but the ICC link has the details, and International Committee of the Red Cross has even more information here):

          Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, such as:

          • Willful killing, or causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health
          • Torture or inhumane treatment
          • Unlawful wanton destruction or appropriation of property
          • Forcing a prisoner of war to serve in the forces of a hostile power
          • Depriving a prisoner of war of a fair trial
          • Unlawful deportation, confinement or transfer
          • Taking hostages

          The following acts as part of an international conflict:

          • Directing attacks against civilians
          • Directing attacks against humanitarian workers or UN peacekeepers
          • Killing a surrendered combatant
          • Misusing a flag of truce
          • Settlement of occupied territory
          • Deportation of inhabitants of occupied territory
          • Using poison weapons
          • Using civilians as shields
          • Using child soldiers
          • Firing upon a Combat Medic with clear insignia.

          The following acts as part of a non-international conflict:

          • Murder, cruel or degrading treatment and torture
          • Directing attacks against civilians, humanitarian workers or UN peacekeepers
          • Taking hostages
          • Summary execution
          • Pillage
          • Rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution or forced pregnancy

          In no case has Clinton done any of these things, nor has she ordered them committed. OKed arms sales to people who have done these things, yes, and if you want to say that she has some degree of moral responsibility for that reason, I’m OK with that. But her moral responsibility doesn’t rise to the level of a war crime any more than a knife salesman is an accessory to a murder committed by someone he sold the knife to. Clinton is many things, but she is not a war criminal.

          For the record, if Sanders somehow bucks all probability and takes the nomination, I’ll still vote for him over Trump. Just as I’d vote for Clinton over Trump. Hell, I’d vote for George W. Bush or Romney or McCain or Reagan, and maybe Nixon (even knowing he was a crook, although I’d have to think hard about this one), over Trump – that’s how great a threat Trump is to the future of the United States. Four more years of the same-old, same-old bullshit is far preferable to four years of Trump.

        • I’d vote for Nixon over any of the Republicans you mention. He was so crooked, observed Hunter Thompson, that his servants had to help him screw on his pants in the morning. But in the words of Noam Chomsky – and I’m quoting word for word here – Nixon was America’s last liberal president.

          That said, my quibble with your assertion that Clinton isn’t a war criminal because her actions don’t meet the definition is that this says more about the definition than it does Clinton. When I arm despots whom everyone should know have one thing in mind for those weapons, why should I be allowed to hide behind rules like this one?

          Stay tuned. Tomorrow’s post will talk a good bit about “rules.”

        • Don’t be so quick to redefine an internationally negotiated term that arose out of the horrors of the Holocaust, Rwanda, and Yugoslavia just because doing so better matches your own personal morality or because it gives you a rhetorical bludgeon with which to beat Clinton. If we’re going to debate something like this, we have to start with agreed-upon terms, and redefining a term like “war crime” (or “war criminal”) that has been defined since Nuremberg and was formally codified by the International Criminal Court in 2002 would be positively post-modern.

          If you want to have the term “war criminal” to apply to the enablers of war crimes as well as the people who order and actually commit the crimes, then you have to ask yourself a slew of questions you won’t like the answers to.

          Nearly every politician since the state of Israel started building West Bank settlements in 1967 has voted for defense appropriations bills that supplied aid and arms to Israel. By the definitions above, it’s possible that the settlements qualify as war crimes. There have been examples of Israel coming very close to the “collective punishment” line, “wanton destruction or appropriation of property,” “deportation of inhabitants of occupied territory,” and so on. Hell, large parts of the UN have been trying to charge the state of Israel for these very things in the ICC, but the US keeps using its Security Council veto power to block them. Are you comfortable with every politician in the last 50 years who has ever supported Israel militarily being tried as a “war criminal?” Because I’m sure that there are a lot of politicians you like and agree with who would suddenly end up on trial if we draw the line here.

          But why should we draw the line there? If Clinton is guilty of war crimes because of her tenure as Senator, then she’s probably guilty as a result of her tenure as Secretary of State as well. After all, the Secretary of State carries out the President’s foreign diplomacy, and so when the US supports unsavory regimes overseas, it’s the Secretary of State who’s responsible. Naturally we’re looking at the Secretary of Defense too, either because of the direct actions of the US military (“collateral damage,” anyone?) or because they’re the ones providing arms and training soldiers how to maintain and use them. The Secretary of the Treasury provides financial aid to our allies, so I’d guess that some of those Secretaries are guilty too. We know that there are several Attorneys General who are guilty from the Bush II administrations. Probably not the Secretaries of the Interior as much, although given they run the Bureau of Indian Affairs, I’m sure we could make some creative arguments in support of their guilt too. Food aid is through the Secretary of Agriculture, so they’re guilty. And given the Secretary of Energy is responsible for US nuclear material, there’s almost a guarantee at least a few of them are guilty too. The Secretaries of Commerce, Labor, Health & Human Services, and Housing & Urban Development , Transportation, Education, Veteran’s Affairs, and Homeland Security are largely focused at home and don’t get involved in international conflicts, so most of them are probably OK.

          Oh, and every President and Vice-President of the United States since World War 2 (I’ll hold off on anyone before that simply because the concept of “war crime” was created specifically for the Nuremberg trials, but I’d probably include every President otherwise).

          So, by your redefinition of “war crime,” we’d have to arrest, try, and jail nearly every national politician for the last 50 years, most of the Cabinet Secretaries, and every President and Vice-President.

          Let’s keep going. If we’re talking about just immediately proximate, “accessory to”-level responsibility, then the airmen who trained the Saudis how to fly and maintain their F-16s are war criminals too, even though they were following legally-issued orders and there was no indication at the time that the Saudis would bomb Yemen. So are the diplomats who arranged the meetings and managed the details of arms sales to unsavory regimes. So are the CIA operatives who supported unsavory regimes in a “deniable” way. And on and on.

          It should be clear by now that your redefinition of “war crime” has resulted in defining a significant percentage of the US government as guilty of crimes as bad as the “medical” experiments performed on Jews by Joseph Mengele. Do you see yet how absurd that is?

          Let’s keep going.

          What about the arms manufacturers? Are they guilty of war crimes? No bombs means no targeting civilians from the air, so are the ordinance companies war criminals too? And if so, how deep into the organization do we go? Do we stop at management, or do we hold the machinists and the technicians who actually build the bombs responsible too?

          How about the aircraft makers? After all, if an F-16 can’t get parts, then it doesn’t fly. In the cause of the Saudis I’d guess that they can fabricate most of their own replacement parts at this point, but I’m also sure that wasn’t always the case. Are those companies guilty of war crimes too? And how deep does that guilt go into the organization?

          You can probably guess where I’m going with this by now, but let me make it explicit. I built warhead power supplies for bunker-buster bombs in the summer of 1991, and I’m sure that at least a few of those warheads resulted in civilian deaths of the years. Hell, for all I know some of them have been dropped in Yemen. I work in aerospace for a company that does defense contracting, although as a result of my moral discomfort building bombs in 1991 I’m now very careful not to build things that kill people. What’s my level of responsibility for horrible things that are enabled by my employer’s defense products or by the power supplies I built the summer after I graduated from high school? Where are you going to draw that line?

          The term “war criminal” has to be reserved for individuals who are truly the worst examples of (in)humanity. The Joseph Mengeles, the Adolf Eichmanns (SS commander and organizer of the Holocaust), the Masaharu Hommas (Bataan death march), Ratko Mladics (genocide in Yugoslavia), the Slobodan Milosevics (genocide in Yugoslavia), the Joseph Konys (using child soldiers), the William Calleys (My Lai Massacre). Redefining a term that is specifically and intentionally narrow to be so broad that it would ensnare Clinton renders it meaningless, in a very post-modern fashion.

          And neutering a powerful, necessary term will serve your goal of greater moral responsibility very poorly indeed.

          For all of her faults, Clinton is not a war criminal. Nor should she be considered one. And persisting in claiming she is one makes you appear unhinged and irrational, however well thought out your opposition to her may be.

        • Your analysis is, from one perspective, unassailable. We have a system that has been functional for a long time. It was developed by a lot of people, many of them working in good faith toward what they saw as a just solution to a nasty problem.

          From another perspective, though, there are disturbing questions to be addressed. I seriously doubt that everyone responsible for that system was working in good faith, and we know from painful experience that longstanding functional systems can result from utterly cancerous compromise. If you need an example, I’d refer you to the US constitutional process and the perceived need, at the outset, to accommodate the South (especially SC) on the slavery question. It is reasonable to ask if we have ever truly recovered from that capitulation.

          You take the system as it is, and its history and the success it has enjoyed, as an assumption. Your argument says “start here.” As you know, I’m more than willing to get down in the muck and address things in detail – take the New Constitution, for instance – but I’ll be honest: I don’t have the will to excavate this particular set of codes. Instead, I look at the world we have now. We see rampant drone attacks that seem to wipe out a wedding party every other week. We have the Hillary Clintons of the world gleefully selling every armament they can lay their hands on to every murderous despotic regime they can extract a Clinton foundation donation from.

          Is Hillary INTENDING to kill innocents? Maybe not. But if she isn’t guilty of malice aforethought, you have to be naive not to see her as willfully negligent. In the US legal system, you go to jail for criminal negligence. It’s a crime to do things when you ought to have known better. (Unless you’re rich, anyway.)

          So instead of taking the system as is for my starting point, I step back and ask is the system accomplishing what we want? Given what we know – especially what we know about how smart, cynical people can and do game the technicalities of any system – is what we have in this moment what we ought to have?

          Obviously I don’t think so.

          Equally obvious is the fact that my opinion means pretty much zero. If it did I wouldn’t have spent the last decade writing for an audience of six and I wouldn’t have felt the need to retire from political blogging. Granted, I’m doing a poor job of being retired here lately, but you take my point.

          Still, I can’t help caring, and I now find myself in a pretty academic/philosophy place. I know nobody is listening, and in a way that irrelevance frees me up to ask bigger questions than I would if I were embedded in debates that might actually impact policy.

        • I don’t think what we have now is what we ought to have either. And if you were saying that Clinton was an “accessory to a war crime,” or something like that, then while I might still disagree, I wouldn’t have pounced so hard on your redefinition. Call it something else.

          As you know, I’m obsessively careful about misusing Nazi references or the word “fascist.” I’m so careful because those terms used to be powerful, but through overuse and misuse both have been neutered of their power. The fact that we have Godwin’s Law at all tells you just how far we’ve fallen from a proper historical understanding of both terms (and given we have a fascist, Trump, in the race this time, I’m writing a couple of posts where I try to educate people about how powerful “fascist” really should be). In this case I see a term, “war criminal,” that still has a specific and powerful meaning and that is still used carefully by a majority of people being broadened in a way that will dilute its power and make it more difficult, not less, to assign guilt for the worst horrors that human beings visit upon each other. And what’s worse, I see this being done by well-meaning people who see something wrong and want to improve the world.

          You’re right, I do want to start from where we are now on this specific issue. The USA isn’t a party to the International Criminal Court largely because we’re afraid our military would be brought before the court and charged with war crimes. IIRC, every treaty we sign to put our soldiers on the ground in a nominal ally’s territory since 2002 has had a “you will not bring our uniformed military before the ICC for war crimes” clause. This strongly suggests that, while there were certainly elements of bad faith and terrible compromises made while the legal definition of “war crime” was being drawn up, it’s got enough teeth that the United States government is scared of it. That tells me that where we are now, with respect to the term “war criminal,” is a far better place than where you, well-meaning as you are, are taking us.

          You ask other folks who fall into a post-modern, “only my interpretation of what you say matters” trap to ask themselves whom that approach really serves. I ask you to ask yourself that same question – does what you’re trying to justify truly serve the goals of moving our nation and the world in a more ethical, fair, and generally progressive direction, or does it give cover to those who would rather there be no such thing as a “war crime.”

          Clearly you know what I think. And be advised, I think this so strongly that any time I hear you or anyone else call Clinton, or anyone else who’s not actually a war criminal a “war criminal,” I will call you on it.

        • You ask other folks who fall into a post-modern, “only my interpretation of what you say matters” trap to ask themselves whom that approach really serves. I ask you to ask yourself that same question – does what you’re trying to justify truly serve the goals of moving our nation and the world in a more ethical, fair, and generally progressive direction, or does it give cover to those who would rather there be no such thing as a “war crime.”

          I’m not clear how you see what I’m saying as remotely relativist or pomo. On the contrary. Were it all dropped in my lap what would emerge would be a very concrete policy document that put some teeth into the idea of willful negligence, sort of like standard criminal law does.

        • First, I’m sorry for implying you’re being post-modern. I’d misremembered the details of what that really is, and you’re not doing the whole “your intent doesn’t matter, only my interpretation of your intent does” thing.

          In this case, though, it strikes me that what you’re doing runs a very real risk of doing the same kind of thing that a relativist would do, but from the other side. Where a relativist might say that the definition of a “war criminal” doesn’t matter because it’s all relative anyway and there’s no objective morality/ethics/reality, you’re saying that the definition matters, but it’s not too narrow if it doesn’t include folks who are providing “material support.” I’m saying that both approaches are likely to do the same thing – neuter a term that we really don’t want to neuter because it’s one of the few terms like this that is still powerful and still matters.

          That’s what I’d like you to consider. Does that make more sense now?

        • I don’t understand what you’re getting at. There doesn’t see to me to be any problem at all with including providing material support or criminal negligence. These aren’t radical ideas that I made up. They’re working parts of plenty of systems already.

          What am I missing?

        • Let me ask you a single question – are you wanting to call Clinton a “war criminal,” or are you OK with some other legal term so long as it includes culpability? If the former, then that’s a dilution of the term “war criminal” that I can’t support. If the latter, then there’s no problem since you’re not redefining “war criminal.”

      • On the one hand, I completely agree with Brian. If words matter, “war criminal” is off the menu because of its specificity. To stretch it to comfortably fit one’s argument lets the post-modern genie out of the bottle.

        On the other hand, issues of moral culpability and complicity remain. Perhaps the problem is that we need a new word that adequately connotes the appropriate degrees of guilt.

        Did Hillary intentionally kill a bunch of civilians? To the extent that I don’t imagine her sitting around a war game table speculating as to which Palestinian neighborhoods would be leveled by Zionist bombs and saying, “yeeeessssss, those will do quite nicely,” no. I don’t think so. To the extent any rational person can look at the cycles of Palestinian violence against Israel and Israel’s asymmetrical attacks on Palestinians, all in the context of our allied nuclear power being subjected to entirely different American standards than their neighbors, and with hardly a veneer of respectability kept over the obvious proxy wars for access to petroleum and its markets and reasonably expect collateral damage, the reasonably anticipated externalities of war, then while she might not be guilty of premeditated murder, there’s culpability for wanton destruction to some degree.

        The person who takes out the hit on someone might not be guilty of first degree murder (or maybe they are sometimes?) but they’re sure as hell guilty of something insidious.

        The bagman that carts the money from plotter to hitman maybe not be guilty of first degree murder, but the stink of death transfers from that transaction to his heart.

        The wife of the hitman who has become aware of the source of their income and plunges into denial over it bears a portion of guilt.

        Ultimately, however much it’s diluted, I think the guilt, call it what one will, trickles all the way down from the halls of power to each and every one of us, at least up to the point where one can play the “ignorance is bliss” defense. There may be some quarters in the hinterlands of Elsewhere where that ignorance can still be found, but in 24/7 Internet-connected America, I posit that degree of ignorance may as well be nearly non-existent.

        I think that guilt trickles down because guilt, like money, is fungible.

        I know (or at least feel I have, with massive equivocations available to me, a degree of justified true belief) that Nestle actively condones (and thus may as well actively engage in) child slavery for the harvest of cocoa. I buy a tasty snack. Me? I work someplace where, at least at my facility, I’m unaware of any child slavery taking place. My conscience is clean on that front. The money I earn from my employer was earned in the course of me not directly doing anything that runs afoul of my conscience (except for all the ways my or anyone’s work actually does). That snack should be guilt-free. But it’s not. Some tiny percentage of my sweat and labor could be said to directly support that child slavery. Maybe my fungible percentage went to a whip, or to pay the wage of the guy who brutally slashes the soles of children’s feet to keep them from running away.

        For all my disagreements with Christianity, I think the author who penned, “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” hit the nail on the bloody head. The taint isn’t just in the love of money. The taint is in the money itself. Complicity is fungible And we’re all bogged down in it. Nobly waving hands around and pointing to all the cute critters we donate to save, that we personally recycle, you see, that I drive electric, that I eat organic, that I [insert a million ways we feel better about contributing to a greater good] is lipstick on a pig, exactly because complicity and guilt are fungible. From the moment I wake up and kick the linens fabricated by slave-labor-in-all-but-name-only off my body, reach over and hit the snooze on my digital box of petroleum and electronic environmental depredation, put my feet on synthetic fibers of a carpet woven with the guilt of god-knows-what, and direct a stream of relief into a receptacle connected to the water supply collectively owned and run by people I know and love (or could, or couldn’t) who are also contaminated with the guilt of I don’t even want to know anymore…hell, my eyes aren’t even all the way open yet, and I’ve got the stink of atrocity on me.

        But that’s okay. It’s nothing personal. It’s just business as usual. I’ll wash in corrupted chemicals, clothe myself in corrupted textiles, eat a corrupted breakfast, drink some corrupted coffee, all in the comforts of my corrupted domicile, probably whilst taking in the events of the morning with a corrupted device connected to a corrupted network to corrupted media. I’ll hop in my corrupted vehicle to burn some corrupted fuel on the way to a corrupted facility to do a corrupted job for a corrupted employer in a corrupted industry. Before I get the first corrupted penny by way of a corrupted stream of data such that a corrupted bank lets me have that penny, some of my pay will be diverted to corrupted government, some to corrupted insurance companies, and some to a corrupted 401(k) that, nothing personal, invests my labor into every conceivable manner of corruption.

        There is no escape. John Galt doesn’t have an escape. Hagbard Celine doesn’t have an escape. A holy hermit on a holy mountain doesn’t have it when he knows what suffering his turned back is turned upon. About the best we can do to mitigate that fungible taint is exactly to do our level best to guide our resources toward more good and away from more evil. We can’t mitigate the fact of it, merely the degree. I imagine someone smarter than me could quantify it and measure it, rate it, rank it, analyze it. Gandhi was less guilty than King, than Malcolm X than…

        And we can organize to greater effect by arranging boycotts, by trying to invest with a conscience. To that end, we’ve got phenomena like BDS. BDS won’t cleanse a soul, but I think it mitigates that taint of corruption. Maybe one can’t actively engage in BDS (broke and not investing, maybe?). So one can support it. That might not mitigate complicity as much, but a few friendly words here, a share there? Maybe a little.

        Then there’s the flip-side. One can be consciously aware of BDS and decide that it’s a bad thing. For reasons. One can oppose it. One could arguably exacerbate their complicity in that manner.

        So, on a scale of one to ten, maybe the vast majority of us like to think we’re all the way down at 1. I like to think of myself, and Brian, and Sam, and everyone I know as 1’s. Maybe 2’s at worst. And Mengele and Hitler and Pol Pot, etc.? Solid 10’s, natch. By definition, right?

        But I’ll be damned If I’d hazard that Hillary is merely a 5, and I’m not laying odds she’s trending to the sub-5 neck of these weird woods. Her judgment calls put her on pretty solid 7 territory, along with most politicians and wonks and lobbyists. Somewhere in there we could debate how to rate the poor Air Force schmo who stares at a monitor and presses the buttons so that a drone a thousand miles away can kill that wedding party. You know, orders and all. Nothing personal. Greater good. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more, squire.

        Did I suggest a moment ago we might be all 1’s, maybe 2’s? I really don’t think so. By a certain age, I think we end up in 3-4 up to our eyeballs. It’s all been coldly calculated for us. And from here, we can either push in the direction of 5, or push in the direction of 2. Whichever direction we push, we get dragged there, and we help drag everyone else with us.

        So I’m careful to advocate for mitigating the harms of someone like Hillary on safely rhetorical grounds. I’m not trying to push for 5. And it keeps me from feeling the Bern. I’m not trying to push for 5. The problem is, to the degree we are at all aware and don’t agitate for a radical reformation of our priorities, all of them, in search for a true greater good, we’re all swinging for 6 whether we like it or not.

        Short version: I’ll take my chances with Sam’s verbal gymnastics over rhetorical purity. I’d rather we honestly reckon with the soul-decay miasma that offends our noses when contemplating the likes of Hillary, or anything the GOP has to offer, or the lesser evils of not-entirely-socialist Sanders and figure out how to deal with stench mitigation first. We can worry about nomenclature in the footnotes.

        • As my most recent response to Sam indicates, I don’t feel this is a question of “rhetorical gymnastics.” Call out Clinton for her moral failings all you like, but to use your ranking, the only people we should be calling “war criminals” are those 10s. Everyone else at the 8 or 9 level needs some other term to describe their culpability.

        • I understand what you’re saying, Brian. And I’m not yet at the point of agreement or disagreement. Here’s the hazard I see with the great degree of specificity you require…to me it falls perilously close to Akin’s specificity about “forcible rape,” or Oprah’s “rape rape.” I’m not yet willing to borrow your reasoning in the interest of logical consistency and suggest that some sometimes culpability for rape isn’t quite culpability for rape because it wasn’t quite rape (depending on who one asks). Is date/acquaintance rape rape? Is marital rape rape? Is non-violently coerced rape of the “fuck or walk” type rape? Could we argue that that kind of coercion, “fuck or walk,” is an act of violence?

          Going back to my atrocity scale of 1-10, you suggest that only a 10 is a genuine war crime. If you are correct in that assessment, I think your argument carries great weight. But this is where I’m stuck.

          So, for clarification, what I’m curious about is what Clinton has done that some feel is a war crime. For any given example, which law was broken? Has any other nation attempted to level those charges for that action. Why or why not? Has the US attempted to block any particular ICC action in that particular regard (maybe a measure of her culpability absent conviction)? If the law as written doesn’t cover the specific action in question, should it be broadened? How should it be phrased? If it were applied that way to anyone else, would it be just?

          As usual, I’ve got more questions than answers. In this case, it’s because we’ve got a ton of blood on our collective hands going back to whenever, as recently as yesterday, all the way back to colonization, and I’d really like to see less blood being added to our account. Warhawks making shady decisions under the burden of massive conflicts of interest, disclosed or otherwise, keep not just costing us American lives, but foreign lives that turn up the heat on radicalization, further guaranteeing more and worse conflict, whether we’re a primary actor or we’re able to shunt the violence off to more proxy wars. And I fear that those shady decisions take on varying degrees of injustice. Since I’m a simple sort, I generally tend to think an injustice is a crime, and when it isn’t, it damned well ought to be. If that means broadening some definitions to accommodate appropriately, I’m open to that.

          To the extent that a panel of people would be in charge of broadening said definition(s), I imagine they, too, fall on a scale. 1’s would be like me, let’s say, prone to broadening the definition too far. 10’s might be more like you, insistent that war crime is war crime and nothing else is. Maybe the 8-9 contingent would suggest degrees of war crime. The 6-7’s might suggest a subcategory, not quite war crime, but not get out of jail free, either.

          I’m for whatever solution that doesn’t give anyone cover for what they’ve done.

  4. If I might make a request here. This exchange has the potential to get tense when it shouldn’t. I say that because I know all the people involved although they don’t know each other.

    The issue is that what we have here is, in my view, the wrong discussion entirely. There is a deeper issue underlying the whole thing, and there will be a post on the subject going live on the site in the morning. I really believe that it will afford a better context for this exchange because it strips away all the trappings and goes for the throat of the problem.

    Not saying it will make everything all puppies and unicorns, but a lot of times I see discussions like this getting out of hand because you have multiple people basically having different arguments on a post that’s two or three things masquerading as one.

  5. Reading the entire thread here, it seems to me you all got caught up in the semantics of “war criminal.” I find a weak condemnation of violence vastly preferable to actual support of violence. Even the pro-Hillary NYTimes said she is a war hawk beyond any of the candidates running (and that was before Cruz and Kasich dropped out). How can you take what will be a very small blip in history (a man raising a chair and putting it back down), vs. an actual war, a coup in Honduras, a botched job in Libya and use that as a moment by which to decide against Sanders? The two are incomparable and the Nevada Caucus is small peanuts compared to what we are actually voting on. If you put these issues on a pro and con list between Sanders and Hillary…I don’t think “relatively weak condemnation of violence over death threats” will overshadow “thousands of innocent people die needlessly during tenure as secretary of state.”

    • Heather, as I said, this was the allegorical (metaphorical?) final straw. I’ve never been a strong Sanders supporter in part because there have been so many things along the way that made me go “WTF,” even as I support most of his policies. My opposition to Clinton is somewhat stronger, which is why my ideal candidate would be about 2/3rds Sanders, 1/3rd Clinton, and younger than either of them.

      You’re also right, I did get hung up on “war criminal.” In that sense I did to my own post’s comments what we at S&R call a “threadfuck” – I dragged it far afield of the original post. But as the author of the original post, I allow myself to do that from time to time if something critical comes up. And I think the misuse of the term “war criminal” was critical enough to justify it.

      What happened in Nevada will be a minor footnote by the start of the general election. At that point it’ll be “all hands on deck” to keep Trump out of the Oval Office.

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