I Hope We Are Witnessing the Last Gasp of the Ruling Class, Says Cornel West

Today people in 14 states and American Samoa go to the polls for Super Tuesday. About a third of the delegates needed to secure the Democratic presidential nomination are at stake. This comes after former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar dropped out of the race on Sunday and Monday and endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden. As the race heats up, billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg vowed to stay in the race. This will be the first time he is on the ballot, and while he has not won a single race, he does lead his challengers in one key sense: he leads in campaign spending by a wide margin. He recently crossed the $500 million mark in ad spending alone — more than 10 times that of any of his Democratic rivals. Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders remains the front-runner. We host a debate on Sanders versus Bloomberg with Cornel West, professor of the practice of public philosophy at Harvard University, who has endorsed Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary and is his surrogate, and Congressmember Bobby Rush of Illinois, who is national co-chair for the Mike Bloomberg 2020 presidential campaign. Rush has served in office for more than two decades — since 1992. He got his start as a civil rights activist in the 1960s. His background includes being both a co-founder of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers and the only member of the Democratic Party to have defeated Barack Obama in an election, in the 2000 Democratic congressional primary.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: Today people in 14 states and American Samoa go to the polls for Super Tuesday. About a third of the delegates needed to secure the Democratic presidential nomination are at stake. This comes after former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar dropped out of the race on Sunday and Monday and, last night, endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden. A slew of other Democrats have also endorsed Biden following his South Carolina win, including former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, President Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice and former presidential challenger Beto O’Rourke. As the race heats up, billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has vowed to stay in the race.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I talked to Mayor Pete and to Amy Klobuchar, both, talked to them, Pete earlier today and Amy just a little while ago. And I wish them all the best. I thought both of them behaved themselves — is a nice way to phrase it — but they represented their country and their states very well. And I felt sorry for them, but I’m in it to win it.

AMY GOODMAN: This will be Bloomberg’s first time on the ballot. And while he has not won a single race, he does lead his challengers in one key sense: campaign spending. He recently crossed the half-a-billion-dollar mark in ad spending alone — more than 10 times that of any of his Democratic rivals. Bloomberg’s presidential campaign purchased primetime ad space Sunday night worth as much as $3 million so he could address the nation about the threat of coronavirus.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I know this has been a very worrisome week for many Americans. The coronavirus is spreading, and the economy is taking a hit. Markets have fallen because of uncertainty. At times like this, it’s the job of the president to reassure the public that he or she is taking all the necessary steps to protect the health and well-being of every citizen.

AMY GOODMAN: Since Bloomberg entered the race exactly a hundred days before Super Tuesday, he’s campaigned in all 14 Super Tuesday states and focused on states rarely visited by Democrats in primary fights, like Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Also on the campaign trail, of course, is Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, who remains the front-runner. At a campaign rally in St. Paul, Minnesota, he told supporters of his former rivals Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg that “The door is open. Come in.”

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Whether you are conservative or whether you’re progressive, whether you’re Republican, independent or Democrat, you understand that the United States cannot continue having as president somebody who is a pathological liar. And I think there are a lot of conservatives who understand that. You cannot continue having somebody who is running a corrupt administration. We cannot continue to have somebody who apparently has never read the Constitution of the United States, who is undermining American democracy and thinks that he is above the law. Well, in November, we are going to remind Donald Trump what democracy is about, because we’re going to throw him out of office. But Trump is not just a liar, he is a fraud. … And let me tell you something: The establishment is getting very, very nervous.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Senator Sanders speaking in Utah. He was also in Minnesota yesterday.

For more, we host a debate today on the Democratic presidential rivals Senator Bernie Sanders and billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. We’re joined by two guests.

Dr. Cornel West is professor of the practice of public philosophy at Harvard University. He’s endorsed Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary and is his surrogate. He’s written numerous books, most recently The Radical King: Martin Luther King, Jr. His other books include Race Matters, which celebrated the 25th anniversary of the publication of this work with a new release. He’s joining us from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

And with us in Washington, D.C., is Congressmember Bobby Rush of Illinois. He’s national co-chair of the Mike Bloomberg 2020 presidential campaign. Congressmember Rush has served in office for more than two decades — since 1992. He got his start as a civil rights activist in the ’60s. His background includes being both a co-founder of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers and the only member of the Democratic Party to have defeated Barack Obama in an election. That was in the 2000 Democratic congressional primary.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! I want to begin with Dr. Cornel West because of the unusual developments that took place in the last few days, on the eve of today, on the eve of Super Tuesday, where you have several presidential candidates dropping out — Pete Buttigieg on Sunday, followed by Amy Klobuchar on Monday — and yesterday both of them endorsed Joe Biden, after his major win in South Carolina. But it was not only them who endorsed Joe Biden, also former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke and a roster of the Democratic establishment, leading President Trump to say it’s a coup against Bernie Sanders. Dr. Cornel West, if you can talk about the significance of what has just taken place, with NBC also reporting on the, quote, “hidden hand of Barack Obama” in urging people to coalesce around Biden?

CORNEL WEST: I hope what we are witnessing is the last gasp of not just the establishment in the Democratic Party, but the neoliberal wing of the power elites, of the ruling class. We’ve got three options right now, Sister Amy. We’ve got neofascist gangster status with Trump. You’ve got neoliberal wing of ruling class with the establishment of the Democratic Party. And you’ve got the progressive neopopulists, because Brother Bernie, my dear Brother Bernie, is not running on a Democratic Socialist platform, he’s running on a progressive neopopulist — it’s FDR-like — platform. We’ve got these three options.

And the establishment now in the Democratic Party is in panic. They’re hysterical, because they don’t know which way to go, and they’re now falling behind a Joe Biden, who is so weak in energy, weak in vision, weak in courage, nothing but a hangover from the earlier neoliberal elites in the Democratic Party. So, in that sense, it’s a compliment to Brother Bernie, it’s a compliment of all of us, because we are unstoppable.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Dr. Cornel West, why do you support Bernie Sanders? You did in 2016. You did — you are now.

CORNEL WEST: I think he provides the only hope, the only vision, energy, excitement, bringing different people together, not just the new voters, but, most importantly, those who are concerned about poor and working-class folk. We’re right now in a moment of ecological catastrophe. It’s a moment of unbelievable political dysfunctionality. And neoliberal elites in the Democratic Party do not have what it takes to push out the neofascist gangster in the White House.

And I must say this about Brother Bloomberg. I know Brother Rush ain’t gonna say this. But see, Brother Bloomberg, neoliberal gangster, gangsterized the police — 5 million precious black and brown young folk pushed against the wall — tried to crush public education, pushed out quality teachers in bringing in all kind of bureaucratic folk under Joel Klein, and then, of course, tied to Wall Street and, most importantly, the escalation of the wealth inequality that’s pulling the rug from under American democracy. So, in that sense, Brother Bernie is the grand hope. That’s why I was with him four years ago. That’s why I’m with him now. And that’s why I’d take a bullet, not in my heart — that’s from my mama — on my side, for my dear Brother Bernie.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Congressmember Bobby Rush, he has laid down the gauntlet, Professor West has. Can you explain why you’re the co-chair of the Mike Bloomberg presidential campaign, why you’ve chosen to support the former New York mayor?

REP. BOBBY RUSH: Well, thank you very much, Amy. And I want to say good morning to my most profound friend and someone who I love and admire and respect, my soul brother, Dr. Cornel West. And, of course —

CORNEL WEST: How are you doing, my brother? How are you doing, my brother?

REP. BOBBY RUSH: My brother, my brother. I respectfully do not agree with Dr. West on this most important matter. I believe that Mike Bloomberg is singularly one individual that can, one, beat Donald Trump. It seems to me it’s not — should not be, rather — it should not be overlooked that the Trump gang is exuberant in their support of Bernie Sanders. And the reason why is that they think that Bernie Sanders is the ideal candidate. They could not create a better candidate to run against than Bernie Sanders, because they know that Bernie Sanders, his plans, his ideology, the things that he wants to represent and the things that he has promised — he knows that those will be regurgitated by most of the American voters, including many in the Democrats. So I don’t think that Bernie Sanders’ candidacy will represent such a promise, and will allow those of us who are really concerned about some of the most serious problems that’s associated with social dysfunction in our community — and that dysfunction in our community has been highlighted and created and developed because of the disinvestment in our community.

And we certainly want to have, finally, finally, someone who understands the economic issues that the African-American community is reeling against and that’s suffering because of the economic disinvestment in the African-American community. And I believe that Mike Bloomberg, in spite of and because he understands the economics of how to create businesses, how to do investments, that he is the only candidate that could — that have a hands-on idea about how to create the kind of investment in our community that will result in more stable community, a bigger, a robust economy, better schools, better homes. I think that Mike Bloomberg is the candidate and will be as president — he’ll be the one that will make sure that African-American communities thrive.

You know, I sit in my own city of Chicago. At one time, there were nine black-owned banks in the city of Chicago. Today there is only one. Across the nation, only 23 black-owned banks in this country. That is horrible. How can we ever get our fair share of the economic pie without having access to banks and access to capital? That’s just one of the things that Michael Bloomberg stands for. He’s promised that he will create a million new black homeowners. The wealth in the African-American community is $17,000. The wealth in the white community is $117,000 — 10 to one. And what is that wealth based on? That wealth is based on homeownership. Most of the white, middle-class wealth is centered on their homeownership. We don’t own homes. We need to have a president who understands that, who can look beyond all the rhetoric and see that that’s a fundamental problem that we have to address. Secondly, Mike Bloomberg said he will create a million black-owned businesses. A million. That creates an economy, a robust economy. He will invest $70 billion directly into the black community. No other president, no other candidate, no other president has ever promised to invest $70 billion in the African-American community.

So, not only, and he will help Dr. West and I deal with this issue of the criminal justice system. We’re going to correct that issue. We’re going to make sure that the criminal justice system is fair. You know, but on that, in terms of criminal justice, I have to say one thing. You know, look, Cornel and I, we understand about racial profiling. I have been against racial profiling all my adult life. I am against — and I use this term from this instance — I am against racist dog pig policemen operating in our community in a lawless way. Now, that’s not to say the whole departments across the nation acts in a lawless way, but there are some police officers who’s hell-bent on misusing their badge and brutalizing the African Americans. I am against that policy, always have been and always will be. So —

AMY GOODMAN: So, then, how, Congressmember Rush, do you deal with those 5 million stops-and-frisks over the three terms of Mayor Bloomberg, that he presided over, with massive marches against him, etc.?

REP. BOBBY RUSH: I am absolutely opposed to that. But I believe that we are in a critical point in time. We are at a critical juncture in our history. And I believe that once we deal with the reason that the criminal justice system and the crime is — in terms of the African-American — crime is high now. I’m not going to apologize. I live in the hood. Crime is high in our community. All right? And there are millions of people who come to me every day, asking me, “What are we going to do about this crime in Chicago? What are we going to do about this killing?” I am concerned, because, you know, we do have a high murder rate in my city and across this nation. So I’m not just going to say — put my hand over my eyes and stick my hand and not hear these crimes.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me bring Cornel West back into this.

REP. BOBBY RUSH: We’ve got a problem. But the problem —

CORNEL WEST: Brother Rush.

REP. BOBBY RUSH: But let me say this.

CORNEL WEST: But, Brother Rush —

REP. BOBBY RUSH: Let me say this. Let me say this. The problem — yes, sir. Let me just finish this. But that crime, those high rates of crime, that’s a symptom of the problem. The problem really is the lack of — I mean, the disinvestment. The problem is the disinvestment in our community. We don’t have no business. We have no jobs.

AMY GOODMAN: OK, let’s have Cornel West respond.

CORNEL WEST: But see, this is the challenge, though, Brother Rush. And I want people to know that I consider Brother Rush one of the great freedom fighters in the ’60s. We were talk — a couple of months ago. I see you there at the wedding of Fred Hampton, you the best man.

REP. BOBBY RUSH: Right on. Right, yes, on, brother.

CORNEL WEST: And I say to myself, now, Fred Hampton was one of the great freedom fighters. I think he would be with me on this, though. I don’t see him going with Bloomberg. And I’ll tell you why.

AMY GOODMAN: Of course, Fred Hampton gunned down in 1969 by the Chicago police.

CORNEL WEST: I’ll tell you why, my brother. I’ll tell you why. Because, one, Bloomberg didn’t say a mumbling word when all of those homes were destroyed with Wall Street greed, when Wall Street was bailed out. When Wall Street was bailed out, they had a choice: They could support the homeowners or to go with Wall Street greed. The neoliberals went with Wall Street greed, one. Two, education, jobs and investment in the community requires trying to transfer the money from the Wall Street greedy elite to working people. Bloomberg was against that. But not just Bloomberg, the whole neoliberal crowd, all of the folks now who are part of the Democratic establishment. Their base is dissolving. The establishment itself is being pushed. And here comes Bernie Sanders. Here comes the vision. Here comes the power for the poor and working people.

REP. BOBBY RUSH: But, my dear brother, every one of those candidates — every one of those candidates who have run for nomination have had to apologize to the black community for something. Bernie Sanders voted against the Brady Bill five times. He’s given comfort, aid and comfort, to the NRA. And do you know what — I know you would agree with me, or not. You would agree with me on this. Guns have been just dumped in our community. We’ve got better access to guns than we do have to a bottle of Bayer aspirin. Guns are so available to young, immature young men and women. They got [inaudible]. And the reason why is because the NRA has been the vanguard of dumping these guns into our community. And I tell you, we don’t —

CORNEL WEST: But the NRA hates Bernie Sanders. The NRA hates me. You know it.

REP. BOBBY RUSH: But Bernie’s on the record. But the record says that Bernie Sanders has voted five times. Five times.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and then we’re going to come back to this discussion.

REP. BOBBY RUSH: Against the Brady Bill.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by Bobby Rush, the national co-chair for the Mike Bloomberg 2020 presidential campaign, and Dr. Cornel West, now a professor at Harvard University. This is Democracy Now! Back with them in a moment.