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Salon - June 10, 2019

In October of 2016, I had a chat with a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton. I had once worked for Bill Clinton but I’d spent the previous year arguing in Salon that Bernie Sanders was better on policy and a better bet to beat Donald Trump. Politicians remember what you did in the primary — the Clintons kept lists — so I was grateful for the chance to talk.

Tim Kaine had just debated Mike Pence and talked way more about Trump’s ill character than Pence’s extreme economic views. (Pence opposed not just a living wage but the $7.25 national minimum wage that even most Republicans see as wage slavery.) Clinton memorialized Sanders’ populist economic agenda in the party platform, then left it to molder. With the white working class trending toward Trump, shouldn’t she revive it?

Her adviser coolly appraised me, then asked, “Do you really think that will pierce their racism?” Caught short, I asked how many of "them," meaning Trump supporters, he thought were racist. No hesitation: “A third.” I reminded him that millions of them had voted for Obama but, yes, progressive economic populism is the one sure antidote to racist cultural "populism." He paused, then asked, “Bill, have you ever been in the South?”

I wanted to say I’d once had a three-hour layover in Atlanta, but sincerely hoped he meant southern Wisconsin. I bit my tongue instead. I felt his utter disdain for Bernie’s populism and his supreme faith in himself. I made a few minor suggestions about things Hillary might say in her next debate and thanked him for taking the time.

On the long drive home, an odd thing happened. I began breathing very rapidly. I’d heard of panic attacks, but had never had one. I pulled off the road. My anxiety soon passed, but not my foreboding. Clinton would go on decrying Trump and offering herself as a seasoned steward of a system without fundamental flaws. Then she would lose.

... Democratic elites and activists alike have trouble seeing how central the issue of public corruption is to our politics. Imagine if Biden’s first big event had been a megabucks fundraiser at the home of someone who was "pro-life" or pro-gun. Before he could even thank everyone for coming, his career would have been over. His Comcast gala elicited a few gurgles of disapproval but it mostly proved Democrats need to get a lot more "woke" about corruption.

With Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in retirement, Biden is America’s foremost living proponent of bipartisanship. Why anyone still salutes it is a mystery. The reputation of every big bipartisan "achievement" of the last 30 years is in tatters: NAFTA; the mid-'90s crime and welfare bills; the late-'90s Wall Street deregulation; No Child Left Behind; the bankruptcy bill; the Iraq war. Biden was for every single one of them.

Biden’s fans blame a generation of Democrats for these follies and say that it’s his bad luck to be the only one still around to blame. It isn’t true. A majority of Democrats in Congress voted no on NAFTA, the bankruptcy bill and the war. Only a handful of them voted wrong every time; only Biden shows up so often in critical roles (crime, bankruptcy, Iraq). It’s a unique record. Saying "everybody did it" just won’t wash. ...
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