Tom Hayden vs. Norman Solomon on Clinton vs. Sanders

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With the California primary fast approaching, Berkeley-based KPFA Radio invited Hillary Clinton supporter Tom Hayden and Bernie Sanders supporter Norman Solomon to debate. Hayden declined to participate in a direct debate but agreed to back-to-back live segments, which aired on May 31. The opening comments from Hayden and Solomon are interspersed below.

KPFA Radio host Brian Edwards-Tiekert: Tom Hayden … is a veteran activist who spent 50 years in radical and progressive circles including 18 in the California Assembly and Senate…. About six weeks ago in an article printed in The Nation magazine, he came out as a progressive who had defected from the Bernie Sanders camp and intends to cast his California primary vote for Hillary Clinton…. Well, what accounts for the conversion?

Tom Hayden: I didn’t defect, I think it was just a headline. What I said was that I was at first supportive of Bernie when he came to Los Angeles for his first rally, I was there, I was supportive. But I was in the category of people who thought that his campaign was worthy, even noble and it would push Hillary to the left. And then as his campaign expanded and became very, very historic, I had to try to take a look at the numbers….

And I’ve always been very close to my friends and allies in the black community, the Latino community and organized labor and it just seemed to me that the numbers were not gonna be there for him. It was gonna be a close race, it was gonna be a historic race. It was gonna be a race that set a foundation for the Left in the future. But given the math, I didn’t think he was gonna make it. And so I started to shift to Hillary and to discussions of the platform and discussions of what to do after this coming week.

And I still think Bernie could win California this week, who’s to say. But she’ll have the overwhelming support in terms of the popular vote, the pledged delegate vote and the unpledged delegates.

So we’re looking at a quandary here where Bernie’s the winner on a moral and even a political basis. He’s made history, and she’s the winner on the mathematical basis. And then you have Trump. So it could be the tightest, most hazardous race in political history and we can’t afford to allow Trump to slither through. So that’s where I’m at.

Q: Well, I understand the mathematical argument and I think you’d find few rational people who disagree with you that the numbers are extremely daunting for the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Hayden: Right.

Q: But it doesn’t speak to the question of why you would choose to cast your ballot for the Clinton campaign if you think your politics are more aligned with the Sanders campaign.

Hayden: It’s because all my life I’ve been involved with racial politics. I was a Freedom Rider in the South. I was the author of books on gang violence, I was a community organizer in Newark, New Jersey, and when I spoke to the Black Caucus, congressional and state, I realized they were going all the way for Hillary and so was the Latino caucus in Sacramento and I asked myself this question: “Do I really want to cast my vote against these people who have been central to my life and to the soul of the country?” And so I went with them. Period.

Q: Our conventional idea of politics is you have a set of principles; you vote for the candidate who best represents those principles. It seems like you’re doing a kind of politics by proxy.

Hayden: No, my politics are based on long relationships.

Q: OK, but fair enough, let’s go back eight years, the 2008 ballot. African Americans broke 70 percent in favor of a ban on same-sex marriage in California. That didn’t make you cast a ballot for Proposition 8 did it?

Hayden: No.

Q: So what’s different this time?

Hayden: Well, I mean what’s at stake is Trump. Trump is fascism, that’s all, so we have to find a way to work it out between Hillary and Bernie.

Norman Solomon

Co-Founder at RootsAction
Norman Solomon is the author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org.