GOP & Democratic primary presidential candidates policy on food issues

Where do the Republican front-running prez brigade stand on food policy? What do the Democratic presidential candidates say when it comes to important food issues?

More than most other issues, food remains foundational to the wider platforms of the GOP & Democratic 2016 primary candidates. It’s reach relates to the deeper economic, environmental, foreign policy, health and labour platforms on offer.

For all the debates, media hype and fact checking, there’s been little to no discussion of food issues, let alone wider food policy. Here in Canada, it took outside advocacy groups to push for food policy in the run-up to the election.

The Eat, Think Vote campaign urged citizens to eat with their MPs to get them to pledge to tabling national food policy. Luckily, it seems the tactic worked, as the eventual majority party made good on their promise to follow through on the national food policy mandate, not to mention what we see now in mainstream press running renewed calls for this policy.

US food advocacy groups have had a harder time tabling such issues, yet Food Tank put out this great list of questions for presidential candidates which I lauded last month with other similar calls. Recently, some others have joined in, most recently celeb foodie Michael Pollan (in Esquire, of course) and celeb chef Tom Collichio.

It can be hard to find what morsels of food-related policy the front-running GOP or Democratic candidates have publicly put out in their platforms.

So we’ve done the work for you. See below for the food policy snippets form their policies, starting with the Republicans. Or, if you’re interested in the Dems, skip down to our summary the 2016 Democratic candidates.

The GOP Primary Front-Runners on Food Policy

Ted Cruz

For Cruz, policy platforms on food fall under his reforms to small businesses and the stable dollar.

For small businesses, when it comes to food, Senator Ted Cruz promises to:

  • End EPA regulations like the Waters of the U.S. rule and the Clean Power Plan that “burden small businesses and farmers.”
  • Pass the REINS Act, “holding Congress accountable to vote on any major cost-inducing regulation.”
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Ted Cruz is promising that tax cuts and reining in the Fed will help food producers.

His platform promises to rein in the Fed, which he promises will help farmers and ranchers:

  • “When the dollar is high as it is today,” says Cruz, “prices tend to fall, which is good for consumers, but farmers, ranchers, and the energy industry get hurt, as do American exporters.  America needs a more stable dollar.”

For income of farmers and food workers, Cruz’ flat tax policy would promise to free up income to get the economy flowing so to speak

See Ted Cruz’s full policy platforms.

Marco Rubio

Rubio dedicates one entire policy platform to farms. His main premise is to “get government out of the way of farmers” via curbing overregulation, cutting taxes and opening up new markets.

This includes platform to:

  • Repeal regulations on farmers and ranchers. This includes undoing the EPA ‘Waters of the U.S. Rule’ which Senator Rubio pledges will “dramatically expand federal control over ponds, ditches and streams.” Other regulatory repealing includes cutting carbon mandates, to open up what he calls “swathes of productive land off-limits for agriculture or other beneficial development.”
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Rubio, who is fading from the front-running crowd, is promising to get the government “off the backs” of farmers and ranchers.
  • Cut the punitive “death tax” on farmers. This is part of his larger tax plan. This will free up cashflow for farmers and ranchers, e.g. “to immediately write off the cost of new machinery and equipment.”
  • Oppose new taxes on energy. Senator Rubio promises to fight cap-and-trade in order to decrease costs for farmers. This falls under his wider energy plan.
  • Open new markets for farmers and ranchers. This would be supporting pushing for “timely completion of trade agreements to boost exports for US farmers and ranchers”

See Marco Rubio’s policy platforms

Donald J. Trump

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Donald Trump does not explicitly state food policy platforms, though vague connections might be found in his trade proposals.

See Donald Trump’s policy platforms

Democratic Presidential Candidates Policy on Food Issues

Bernie Sanders

Democratic 2016 presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) has the most lengthy public platform relating to food. In several sections of his platform, he touches food issues. In particular, food policy is explicitly mentioned in the platform he calls “fighting for the rural economy.”

Broadly speaking, Bernie Sanders supports:

  • Farm policies that foster the new generations of owner-operators.
  • Upholding land stewardship standards that include the commonwealth of clean water for all.

Sanders promises the following outcomes from the platform of his farming and food policies:

  1. Make sure that family farmers and rural economies thrive;
  2. Expand support for young and beginning farmers; 3
  3. Produce an abundant and nutritious food supply;
  4. Establish an on-going regeneration of our soils;
  5.  Enlist farmers as partners in promoting conservation and stewardship to keep our air and water clean and to combat climate change.

Specific food issues and food policy fit into Senator Bernie Sanders’ rural communities, farm agriculture, & renewable energy platforms. Here are the top lines:

Supports to agriculture

Senator Bernie Sanders promises to “fight for America’s small and mid-sized farms.” In particular, he pledges platform policy to:

  • Expand services of the D for new and underserved farmers. Says Sanders, this department should “live up to the name” it was given by Lincoln, who called it the “People’s Department”
  • Encourage growth of regional food systems. Senator Sanders pledges to invest into local farmers who sell “directly to local consumers, institutions, and restaurants.”
  • Reverse trade policies, e.g. NAFTA that he says “have flooded the American market with agricultural goods produced in countries with less stringent environmental, labor, and safety regulations.”
  • Enforce US antitrust laws against large agribusiness and food corporations. Senator Sanders pledges to “stand up to corporations” to make the prices that farmers receive more fair. He wants to prevent “few large companies” that  “dominate many agricultural industries, allowing them to force unfair prices on farmers.”
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By whatever measure, Sanders covers the most food issues by double in his platforms of other candidates.

Renewable energy investment

Several energy policies impact farmers, ranchers and small food businesses, not to mention food to plate distribution. Senator Sanders is particularly firm on this matter. His platform says it will:

  • Increase investments in wind energy to “substantial” degree
  • Make the Wind Production Tax Credit permanent.
  • Invest into biofuels, e.g. ethanol. Sanders calls these an “economic lifeline to rural and farm communities in Iowa and throughout the Midwest, supporting over 850 000 workers, all while keeping our energy dollars here at home instead of going into the pockets of oil barons.”
  • Support the Renewable Fuels Standard

Rural US

Though not directly related, Sanders speaks fully on rural US improvements, which has huge impact on farmers, ranchers and the future of food quality & distribution. Senator Sanders pledges to:

  • Improve the electric grid. “We desperately need to improve our aging rural electrical grid, which consists of a patchwork system of interconnected power generation, transmission, and distribution facilities, some of which date back to the early 1900s,” says Bernie Sanders.
  • Invest in high-speed Internet services for rural folk to improve infrastructure, e.g. for farmers.
  • Improve dams, most of which facilities exist in rural areas. His Rebuild America Act will invest $12 billion per year to repair “high-hazard dams that provide flood control, drinking water, irrigation, hydropower, and recreation across rural America; and the flood levees that protect our farms and our towns and cities.”

See Bernie Sanders’ policy platform

Hillary Clinton

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in her US presidential candidacy for the Democratic party, does not specifically offer food policy improvements. Certain issues for food production, distribution, farmers & ranchers crop up in her other platforms.

Renewable energy

She does have a platform on renewable energies, some of which touches directly farmers and food production. Secretary Clinton promises to:

  • Reform leasing on public lands. This includes to “reform fossil fuel leasing and significantly expand clean energy production on public lands, from wind in Wyoming to solar in Nevada.”
  • Promote clean energy leadership and collaborative stewardship.
  • Fully fund programs to provide help to “producers who conserve and improve natural resources on their farms, strengthen the Renewable Fuel Standard, and double loan guarantees that support the bio-based economy’s dynamic growth.”

Minimum wage

Her labour and minimum wage policy touches food workers, in particular. These fast food workers started the minimum wage campaigns which Secretary Clinton pushes:

  • Raise the minimum wage and strengthen overtime rules.
  • Support raising the federal minimum wage to $12
  • Support to raise further than the federal minimum through state and local efforts
  • Support workers organizing and bargaining for higher wages, “such as the Fight for 15 and recent efforts in Los Angeles and New York to raise their minimum wage to $15.”
  • Support the Obama expansion of overtime rules “to millions more workers.”

Rural communities

Clinton promises broadly in her rural policy to raise agricultural “production and profitability for family farms.” Vaguely, she mentions that:


Farmers and ranchers supply food for America’s dinner tables, invest in farm machinery and supplies, and provide domestic energy resources that fuel small businesses. The agriculture economy also drives America’s larger economic success—accounting for about $800 billion in economic activity each year.

Yet her policies do not go into specifics, except to:

  • Increase funding to support farm succession. This support would supposedly include “the next generation of farmers and ranchers, invest in expanding local food markets and regional food systems, and provide a focused safety net to assist family operations that truly need support during challenging times.”


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See Hillary Clinton’s policy platforms

Panelists Ethan Cox, Josh Davidson and Jerry Gabriel discuss student tribunals at Concordia, the US Primary Season and Justin Trudeau’s statement that pipelines will pay for green energy. Plus the Community Calendar and Predictions!

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau
Production Assistant: Enzo Sabbagha


Ethan Cox: Editor at Ricochet

Josh Davidson: FTB Food Columnist

Jerry Gabriel: Podcast regular and FTB contributor


* Concordia Tribunals report by Hannah Besseau

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

“Every rise of fascism bears witness to a failed revolution.”

-Walter Benjamin

The other day marked yet another milestone within the American political travelling circus. Newt Gingrich took a swing at Fox News for “creating” Donald Trump. What’s fantastic about this is that Gingrich simultaneously took a hit at one of his best political impersonators and attacked a media institution that fed off the environment he fostered while he portrayed himself as the reasonable guy within a sea of demagogy.

And, to add insult to injury the headline: “Newt Gingrich Drops a Truth Bomb on Fox News” was plastered all over Facebook, shared widely and celebrated by progressives of all stripes.

All of this, of course, is but the frantic scramble of an American political class that can’t come to terms with its own demise. Trump’s resounding victories in Nevada and South Carolina have proven that this isn’t some kind of glitch in the system, it’s a systemic prophecy coming true.

Headlines and articles have continued to pop up by disillusioned pundits in dismay about the ascension and popularity of Trump’s hateful rhetoric. At first it was a joke and now it’s a tragedy.

American public debate has turned into a self-caricature to the point that we can have one of the main instigators of the neoconservative counter-revolution come on Fox News and blast them for creating the environment in which Trump’s monolithic World Vision thrives. I guess stone throwers shouldn’t live in glass houses…

trump fox news

Even though Gingrich and other Conservatives such as Dick Cheney and Karl Rove calling out Donald Trump is ironic, it’s also quite revolting. The media obsession with the Trump phenomenon, in their view the worst thing yet to hit American politics, glosses over despicable track records and heinous crimes.

Trump has been the biggest gift for Bush & Co who have been able to rehabilitate themselves as dignified representatives of some kind of respectable conservative branch. It’s nauseating for me to hear pundits talk about the Bush days with nostalgia and fondness. The recap videos attempting to contrast Trump and Bush’s rhetoric about Muslims and Islam are vomit worthy.

I can feel for the disoriented right-wing pundits, though, and the sense of betrayal and injustice they are feeling over Trump. After all, you can think Islamophobic things, you can be a closet racist and garnish support from KKK bigots in private and you can bomb and send flocks of Drones to the Middle East, but the golden rule is you don’t talk about such things in public.

It’s quite impressive to see the right-wing running to the hills, in a sort of Frankinsteinesque freakout. Newt Gingrich was right about how Fox News fostered a welcoming environment in which Donald Trump’s brand of neo-fascism breeds extremely well. But it would be a mistake to see Donald Trump as some freak side show. After all Republican and Democratic administrations alike have been putting Trump’s word into practise for the past few decades if not more.

Within the American political spectrum no one is better at embodying the pyromaniac firefighter syndrome than the Democratic Party establishment. It’s the Democratic Party’s liberalism, rhetoric of managed expectations and guardianship of the status quo that allowed a space to be opened to right-wing maniacs and an egocentric form of politics that would go on to ignite the flame that has embroiled American public discourse. Those sulfurous fumes are oxygen for Donald Trump’s campaign.

Few western political institutions have represented such a profound betrayal of “progressive” principals as much as the US Democratic Party. It has been such a detrimental force to progressive movements in the United States and throughout the world.

Trump has built his reactionary movement on the ruins of the Social Contract once promoted by New Deal politics and its dismantling through progressive Republican and Democratic administrations. Even though Reagan and his bunch were the first to start destroying most of the social acquisitions that were the bedrock of the idyllic American middle class, this Herculean task wouldn’t have been accomplished without the economic agenda implemented by the Clinton administration.

During the 1990s, Clinton continued Reagan’s economics: in depth deregulation of the American financial system, political financing, strengthening big capital’s grip on the United States. The Clinton administration, however, had carefully crafted a different rhetoric from their Republican counterparts. Well versed in the Liberal ideals of formal equality over substantive equality, the Clintonites and the Blairites in England espoused an idealistic and fundamentally paradoxical third way.

Their rhetoric was of true recognition and emancipation of all minorities and an end to discrimination which would go hand in hand with market liberalization. Whereas conservative forces denied formal rights outright, this rehashed old-new brand of political liberalism acknowledged formal rights but only as residues of past discrimination and unequal access to resources, not a systemic discrimination.

Emancipation would come though liberalization. Exit any notion of reparations, which is fundamental for any form of substantive rights to be implemented.

Meme courtesy of Lee Camp on Facebook, original image from 2005 by Getty Images
Meme courtesy of Lee Camp on Facebook, original image from 2005 by Getty Images

Clinton continued the massive liberalization agenda that was put forward by Reagan and Bush Senior. Bush Junior only exacerbated already deep underlying fault lines and Trump is the direct beneficiary of that. It’s not innocent that Trump has railed against trade deals everywhere he goes. One of the things mainstream political media have for sure left out of their coverage is that Donald Trump has given stump speech after stump speech calling for the “opening-up” of the trade agreements that have destroyed industrial and working-class American communities.

Trump’s popularity among white working-class American families has much more to do with the shortcomings and the political maneuverings of the Democratic Party than with right-wing rage contortionists like Glenn Beck or Fox News. The history of the Democratic Party’s ambivalence about race and divisions in the American working class and the construction of the racist narrative of White American Working Class are the grounds on which Trump’s degenerate xenophobia breeds.

But Donald Trump is also a more direct reaction to the economic crisis of 2008 and failed opportunity that the newly anointed Barack Obama had to effect profound change within the United States, dismantling the too big to fail power structure and removing American democracy from the grip of Wall Street. Fascism, ie. Donald Trump, is simultaneously a reaction against a potential “revolutionary” movement at a precise transformative moment and a movement that feeds off the desolation of that missed opportunity.

To understand the rise of Trump, one must understand that there’s nothing particular about Trump. There’s nothing special about this phenomenon except that Trump has decided not to follow the pre-established conventions of the American political class and there’s surely nothing dangerous about Trump for the American political establishment despite CNN’s lyrical waxing.

Hillary Clinton, earlier this week, made a very revealing remark: “I’ve said for a long time that Trump isn’t a joke.”

Hillary Clinton and most of the American political and media establishment have known for a long time that Trump wasn’t a joke. Trump, after all, is merely a reaction to their policies. In the past four decades, American administrations have followed Trump’s platform to the letter, just in a more discreet, less pompous and extravagant manner.

* Featured image by Gage Skidmore via WikiMedia Commons

It wasn’t long after news of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s passing hit social media on Saturday that we got an idea of what the Republicans were planning, courtesy of Conn Carroll, Communications Director for Senator Mike Lee of Utah:

This sentiment was echoed in much more nuanced terms by GOP Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz:

It is clear that the Republicans, who now control the US Senate, plan to block any Supreme Court nominations current President Barack Obama makes to replace Scalia on the bench. Their motivations are clear and it is possible for them to achieve this goal, with a little over a year to go before the next President is sworn in.

But if they do succeed in carrying out this plan, they may have wished they hadn’t. Nobody knows who the next President will be or which party will have a majority on the Senate.

Republican Dream Scenario is Just a Dream

The GOP is clearly hoping one of their own moves into the White House and nominates a right-leaning candidate which the Senate, still controlled by Republicans, quickly confirms. Now, I know that you have to approach an election with the attitude that you are going to win, but even GOP strategists must realize that their dream scenario is a bit of a longshot.

It’s extremely likely, thanks largely to gerrymandering, that the Republicans will still form the majority in the US House of Representatives, a body that has nothing to do with Supreme Court nominations. They have a likely, though not definite, chance of retaining control of the Senate, too, so there is a decent chance they will retain control of the confirmation process if they succeed in delaying.

When it comes to winning the Presidency, the odds are not in their favour. When a two-term President is still popular at the end of his second mandate, there’s a good chance his party will keep the Oval Office, for at least another term.

George W. Bush was extremely unpopular across the board when he left office, to the point that John McCain didn’t really want him helping out during the campaign. Obama is still loved or at least respected by most of those who voted for him and the people who hate him now hated him in 2008, too.

Also, the Democrats have narrowed their options to two and the debate is pretty much centered on how much to the left of Obama the party should go. The Republican field, on the other hand, is still wide open.

Factor this all in and the possibility of a Republican being able to nominate the next Supreme Court Justice, while not an impossible scenario, is not the likely scenario. So the question becomes: Why would the GOP gamble everything on a bet they very well may lose?

Irrational Fear of Obama or Playing to the Bigoted Base?

Despite all the rhetoric the right throws at him, President Obama is a solid practitioner of incrementalism. Anyone he nominates to the Supreme Court, though perhaps harboring a liberal bias on some issues, would be, by and large, a moderate. Not just that, but someone specifically selected to pass through confirmation by a majority Republican Senate.

us supreme court

FTB’s legal columnist Samantha Gold listed some of Obama’s potential choices. These are all qualified jurists who really don’t scream anything close to radical activist. One of them, David Jeremiah Barron, even once wrote a legal memo justifying drone strikes against US citizens. While this horrifies me, I don’t see why law and order “kill the terrorists at all costs” Republicans would have a problem.

What may make the GOP nervous about confirming some of these names? Could it be the names themselves? Sri Srinavasan and Jacqueline Hong-Ngoc Nguyen both have the qualifications to justify being on the SCOTUS, but they also both have names that don’t sound white, because they’re not. They also both weren’t born in the US.

None of this should matter, but it may matter to the more racist elements of the Republican base. We’re talking about people who care less about the fact that Srinavasan graduated from Stanford Law than the fact that he swore his oath to the circuit court on the Baghavad Gita instead of a Bible.

Now, of course the Republican Party can’t come out and say that racism played a role in their decision to force a delay in the nomination. What they can do, once it becomes widely known that the Thurmond Rule (what they are using currently to justify pushing the nomination to the next President) is not an actual rule and also doesn’t even apply until the last six months of a President’s term, is play the fear and hatred of Obama card.

It’s something they have mastered. Irrational paranoia over a moderate incrementalist. In this case, though, it may give them a result that will make approving an Obama nominee seem like the safe bet.

What Could Happen

Let’s look at a few hypothetical situations that could arise after the Senate Republicans delay filling Scalia’s seat until the next US President is sworn in:

  1. Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders is the next President and the Republicans still control the Senate: The list of potential nominees would be similar, though maybe not that drone supporter guy in the case of a Sanders presidency. All the Republicans accomplished was leaving the court deadlocked for a year with no purpose behind it.
  2. Clinton becomes President and the Democrats take control of the Senate: She could nominate some of these people but would be free to go with a judge decidedly more liberal.
  3. Sanders becomes President and the Democrats take control of the Senate: The Republicans freak out, call a lame duck session and try with all their waning power to confirm Obama’s nominee because they know Bernie won’t pick a moderate or even close!

Never mind the fact that the current Republican course of action has them completely and deliberately ignoring their constitutional responsibility to promote an illogical fear of Obama and appease the more racist elements of their base, it also has them throwing everything behind a bet there is a good chance they won’t win.

Panelists James Douglas and Niall Ricardo discuss the success of Bernie Sanders in the US Democratic Primaries, the state of the Montreal theatre scene and Roosh V, the so-called “pickup artist” who recently got doxxed and pretended to cancel a series of meet-ups. Plus an interview with Montreal feminist Katie Nelson who was part of a group who thwarted Roosh’s Montreal meetup, the Community Calendar and Predictions!

* Please note that this was recorded prior to the New Hampshire Primary

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau
Production Assistant: Enzo Sabbagha


James DouglasMontreal theatre scene veteran, FTB contributor, member of the People’s Gospel Choir of Montreal

Niall Ricardo: FTB political columnist

* Katie Nelson interview by Jason C. McLean

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

As the news set in over Iowa yesterday, flashbacks of Monday night’s Democratic and Republican primaries were playing on loop on every TV screen in the state. The most amazing development, that made its way to every morning talk-show throughout the nation, is that Socialism and Social-Democratic ideals have taken center stage in a Democratic Primary for the first time since probably Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal agenda.

As Noam Chomsky said last week, Bernie Sanders is far from being a Marxist-Leninst in any way, unfortunately for the red-baiting  Clintonites and Republicans who would love to mark him as such, but his showing in Iowa is nothing short of revolutionary and it says a lot about the current shift within American society. This is manifest in the exhilarating progression of Sanders’ claim on the Democratic nomination and the way he went about opening up an avenue to victory.

From the day Bernie Sanders launched his presidential bid, it seemed by current standards he was doomed to run within an unequal playing field without any of the perks of the American political system such as private financing and Super PACs. But Bernie’s unorthodox take on politics went well beyond just political financing when faced with and compared to the “Trump insurgency” in the Republican camp.

Bernie took a completely divergent path. For every outlandish xenophobic comment Donald Trump made, the Sanders camp refocused their message on the profound class divisions that divide America and it seemed to hit a nerve.

Despite what some of Clinton’s most vocal supporters have stated in the past few weeks, Bernie is in fact the anti-Trump movement. Anti because he succeeds where Trump fails in giving a voice to the preoccupations of the American working-class, precarious youth, impoverished racialized communities throughout the United States and large swathes of marginalized Americans.

This is evident when you compare Trump and Sanders’ speeches last night. Trump’s was all form, no content. Sanders’ was a vision to channel frustration, to build on the anger, to convert it into hope. Where Trump’s populism is merely an orgy of  self-fulling masturbatory rage, Bernie converts the righteous indignation of his supporters over a rigged system and a broken economy into the energy that has fueled his rise. Where Trump’s support evaporates, Bernie’s support solidifies.

The foundation of the Bernie Sanders phenomenon resides in the fact that he has quite skillfully crafted a new gravitational center within the Democratic Party with new political reference points and mobilized a different political rhetoric using the symbols that had resonated with American during the Occupy Movement.

Bernie Sanders, like his Spanish counterparts in Podemos, understands that with left-wing populism rooted in concepts and mottos like the 99% versus the 1% and the have-alls versus have-nots, properly framing a new paradigm is essential to hatching a viable anti-establishment movement.

Marx, in the 19th century, spoke of the revolutionary subject, a concept that would influence Marxist and critical theory for decades. For Marx, writing from the deepest bowels of the European Industrial Revolution, the revolutionary subject of his age, on which all of his theory revolves, was the nascent European working-class. One of the most amazing developments yesterday, beyond the fact that a self proclaimed democratic socialist got 49.6% of the vote in an Iowan democratic primary, is the proof that the conceptualization of a new revolutionary subject in North American advanced capitalism isn’t a far-fetched idea.

The coalitions that led SYRIZA to victory last year in Greece and Podemos to victory in Spain, the political coalition that brought Evo Morales to power and the Venezuelan social movement at the backbone of the Bolivarian revolution, although existing within very distinctive sociopolitical environments, have striking parallels. Youth, urban poor and precarious minimum wage workers were at the forefront of these diverse movements.

What pushed the SYRIZA, Podemos and Latin American movements to seize power was that they broadened their horizons and political constellations. That will be the Bernie Sanders phenomenon’s ultimate test. Can this movement pick-up stream in South Carolina among African-American voters? Among Latino voters in Nevada?

Bernie needs to break the Clinton hegemony in these groups and truly integrate questions of racial justice and speak to the issues that affect women and women of colour in particular. He must tackle the hypocritical idea that a candidate financed by America’s biggest financial institutions, those which maintain a corporate patriarchal system with obscene levels of pay inequality and back up the prison-industrial complex, is somehow more apt to speak on issues of gender and race inequality.

While the shockwaves Bernie sent right through the spine of the Democratic National Committee are marvelous for us left of center spectators, the real landmark accomplishment is that a whole generation of Iowa caucus goers identified a self-proclaimed socialist as their champion. For the political left in Canada, Bernie’s showing in Iowa and his campaign in general is a call for us to re-think our strategy.

A while back, after SYRIZA’s victory in Greece, the Tyee featured an article that begged the question: “Is a Canadian SYRIZA possible?” I don’t know if it is, or even if that’s what we should want, knowing what happened to them. A Bernie Sanders-type movement, however is possible in Canada.

The success of Bernie’s brand of nominal Socialism is reason for some on the Canadian left to reconsider their so-called third-way-ism, but beyond that Bernie’s tackling of Clinton can give us ideas on how to tackle the fluffy progressiveness of the Liberals. Also, his polarization of the political debate can teach us how redefine the political debate here in Canada, allowing the emergence of a true left-wing, right-wing divide.

We have a lot learn from Bernie’s emergence within the saturated American political spectrum.

A luta continua

Panelists Quiet Mike, Josh Davidson and Jerry Gabriel discuss our new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the defeat of the NDP and the overall results of the Canadian Election and Bernie Sanders and the US Democratic Debate. Plus a Sergakis Update and Predictions.

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau


Quiet Mike: Editor-in-Chief of and columnist on

Josh Davidson: FTB food columnist

Jerry Gabriel: FTB contributor

* Please note: This podcast was recorded prior to the events in Paris

FTB Podcast #13: Canadian Election Results, Bernie Sanders and Sergakis Update by Forget The Box on Mixcloud

FTB Podcast also available on iTunes

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

Did you catch the Democratic US Presidential Debate, or #DemDebate as Twitter chose to call it? I did. As a Canadian drowning in niqabs and other manufactured scandals pouring out of our current federal election, I have to admit I’m a little bit jealous.

Yes, by and large, American politics is unabashedly a circus. Presidential debates, especially those which happen before the primaries, remind me of WWE wrestling: cheering crowds, commercial breaks and people verbally bashing each other over the head with the steel chair of scandal.

The Republican debates this year have been just that. Ridiculous displays of soundbite-based one-upmanship. And that’s even before you factor in Trump.

What I witnessed from the Democrats, though, was a horse of a different colour. Sure, there were the commercial breaks and the cheering crowds, but the discourse, for the most part, was civil and issue-based.

The candidates genuinely seemed to be arguing their case and sticking to topics which mattered. A sharp contrast not only to the GOP but to our recent Federal Leaders’ Debates here in Canada.

The most beautiful moment, for me, was when Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton were discussing, not arguing, discussing, the benefits of democratic socialism versus those of capitalism:

While politicians here are afraid of the word socialism (just as American politicians were, well, up until Tuesday), we see it being discussed rationally as an opposition to the dominant economic theory on prime-time American TV in front of millions.

Wow, just wow. The times they are a changing, I guess. Just didn’t thing that ‘Murica would be leading the way. Anyways, back to the debate and my thoughts on it:

The Winner: Bernie Sanders

I’ll admit, I’m a little biased towards the lovably progressive democratic socialist Vermont Senator, but in my honest opinion, he really did win this debate. His best moment came not at the expense of, but in defense of, Hillary Clinton.

When moderator Anderson Cooper asked the former Secretary of State about the so-called Email Scandal, she responded that she was going to testify as she had nothing to hide, but felt the whole thing was a little too partisan and a distraction. While her defense was good, it was nothing like what Sanders had to offer on the subject. Enjoy:

Taking his opponent’s side in such a way may not have been “good politics” in the traditional sense, but it worked great for him politically. He came across as genuine and passionately concerned about real issues even if it meant destroying criticism of a political rival.

Another strong moment came when all the candidates were asked the simple question “black lives matter or all lives matter?” Cooper called on Sanders first and he responded by saying simply and clearly “black lives matter” before explaining his plans to combat racial injustice. When it was Clinton’s turn, she spoke about racial inequality but never answered the question that was posed.

When Cooper asked Sanders about how an admitted democratic socialist could possibly become president given a poll that said 50% of Americans would never vote for a socialist, the senator said it was by explaining to the public just what democratic socialism was. He then did just that, using talking points from his campaign which didn’t sound too different from much of what the American left has been saying for the past few years.

Sanders’ one weak point in the Democratic primaries will be his record on guns. That became quite apparent at the debate.

Explaining that he was a senator from a largely rural state, he defended some of his previous votes against various forms of gun control in a way that may appease some of the Democratic base, but not all of it. However, for those thinking strategically, if he becomes the nominee, his gun record may help him win over some Republicans and independents in a general election.

Close Runner Up: Hillary Clinton

The presumptive Democratic nominee since a few days after Obama won his second term in late 2012, Hillary Clinton didn’t disappoint. She was confident and sharp and relied on her experience.

Most of the mainstream media declared Clinton the victor and CNN even prepared this video of her best moments:

She was also dismissive when she needed to be. Following the exchange between Clinton and Sanders on the so-called Email Scandal, Cooper called on Lincoln Chafee who had made this issue one of his talking points. Chafee reiterated his views that it was a sign of poor judgement on her part and Cooper asked Clinton if she wanted to respond. She simply said “no” to raucous applause.

Clinton did well, but her biggest drawback may be her record. This came up quite a few times in the debate. Unlike Sanders who was criticized for one issue alone, guns, Clinton had to answer for her vote in favour of the Iraq war which she now says was a mistake, her previous support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership which she now opposes and more.

She handled it well, citing one-time opponent and critic of her Iraq war vote President Barack Obama’s confidence in her judgement demonstrated by appointing her Secretary of State. She also argued that everyone on the stage had changed positions on something.

Now that she is positioning herself as a progressive candidate, will that be enough when Bernie Sanders has a better record on most progressive issues? Time will tell.

The Losers: The Three Other Guys on the Stage

Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee, this was your one chance to come out of obscurity (I had to Google your names even after watching the debate) and have an impact on the campaign and you all blew it. For the most part, you seemed likeable and doing this for the right reasons and helped keep the debate cordial, but it’s not enough.

I’m a champion of the underdogs, but in this case, none of you three warrants championing. I’m not sure if the nominee will be Sanders or Clinton, but I am sure it will either be Sanders or Clinton. Even if Vice President Joe Biden enters the race, he will only help one of those two and hurt the other.

I’m sure people are now thinking about the prospect of a Democratic ticket with the two frontrunners on it. The only question being whose name will be on top.

The only question for me is when will Canadian debates catch up.

President Bernie Sanders. Something that a few months ago only seemed possible to progressives sitting around in a bar after a few pints. Everyone else either thought his candidacy was a joke or something that could, at best, move the discourse more to the left.

Now, after rallies attended in the thousands, celebrity endorsements from, among others, Neil Young and Sarah Silverman and a social media love affair reminiscent of an Obama campaign, it’s looking more and more like a possibility. American politics may #feelthebern in 2016.

Donald Trump Makes it Possible

Sanders announced his campaign with a brief preceeding statement explaining that he wanted to keep it short because he had “things to do.” This afterthought approach along with the candidate’s unkempt hair blowing in the wind was comedic fodder for Jon Stewart and others at the time. It also made it clear that Sanders wasn’t a conventional presidential candidate.

With Jeb Bush looking to take the Republican nomination, a conventional Democrat seemed the likely choice to put forward as an opponent. But strange things tend to happen in American politics. Now Bush is running second to a man who is equally as unlikely a choice for President as Sanders but has much worse hair: Donald Trump.

You want to beat a Bush, run a Clinton. You want to beat a bragging uber-capitalist with white supremacist supporters, run a no-frills socialist who marched with Dr. King. It’s the logical choice.

Neither candidate can be bought, but Trump already sold out years ago, or rather became who politicians sell out to.

But it’s Hillary’s Turn!

Photograph by Keith Kissel
Photograph by Keith Kissel via Flickr Creative Commons

Hillary Clinton running as the Democratic candidate has seemed like a foregone conclusion since Obama’s re-election and still does in many ways. The mainstream media still thinks it will be her and you’d better believe party heavyweights and their financial backers still hope it’ll be her as well.

It’s her turn, after all. But then again, it was supposed to be her turn in 2008.

But that’s when a young upstart named Barack Obama came out of nowhere, won the nomination and routed the Republicans in the general election. So the Dems don’t mind backing another horse if that’s where the winds are blowing. But is popular support this time enough for them to deny Hillary a second time?

Winning is One Thing…

Barack Obama offered Hope and Change, which the Dems were fine with. That’s primarily because his change didn’t include changing where the money comes from.

While Obama’s donors included (and Clinton’s include) all the usual suspects from Wall Street, Sanders has unions and individuals supporting him financially. This is one of the reasons true progressives are drawn to him, but it’s also why Democratic Party power brokers will probably shy away.

Photograph by Marc Nozell vie Flickr Creative Commons
Photograph by Marc Nozell vie Flickr Creative Commons

Not only that, he is a democratic socialist and proud to be one. No matter how much Tea Party idiots want to believe it, Obama wasn’t. He’s from the Chicago School of Economics.

So the real question is, can the Democratic establishment put aside their vested financial interests and back a candidate who can win, but on his own terms? Or will they back Hillary at all costs?

Not #RonPaul2016

It may be easy to draw some parallels between Sanders and former upstart candidate Ron Paul. Both decided to run on major party tickets even though they didn’t really fit the party mould, both were hashtag-ready candidacies championed by the internet and both wanted to scale back the US military. Other than that, though, they couldn’t be farther apart.

Sanders isn’t an unconventional Democrat the way Paul was an unconventional Republican. He’s an independent, and has sat in the US House of Representatives and then the US Sentate as one since 1991. But instead of running for President as such like Ralph Nader did, he’s setting himself up to get major party backing and guarantee himself a spot in televised presidential debates.

Photograph by Gage Skidmore via Flickr Creative Commons
Photograph by Gage Skidmore via Flickr Creative Commons

It’s an upstart grassroots campaign amplified online, but with the intelligence of a seasoned pro and a way to win. If the powers-that-be in the Democratic Party don’t want him, just make sure enough independents register as democrats and vote in the primaries. Think of it as people using the Democratic Party as a means to an end instead of corporate donors doing exactly the same thing.

Mix popular appeal, intelligence, a bit of luck, and a horrid opponent together and we may have all the ingredients necessary for Bernie Sanders to become the next President of the United States.