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Michael Bennet’s Town Hall Meeting In Denver – November 29, 2019

November 29, 2019

Michael Bennet’s Town Hall. Montview Presbyterian Church, Park Hill, Denver, Colorado. November 29, 2019, Relaxed, informative, a hawk on foreign policy, liberal on some domestic issues. Unlikely to cut the trillion dollar annual military budget or even talk about it.

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My main impression is that Michael Bennet is no fool – he is issue-oriented, his domestic ideas are vaguely progressive, his foreign policy notions hawkish – a kind of Cold War Democrat refurbished for the post Cold War era. Not exactly the type that will challenge the country’s exploding military budget out of control nor ask how it is that the Defense Department and the military has “lost” $6.5 trillion recently.

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Michael Bennet – a rare bird – not afraid to speak to and be in dialogue with constituents – but opposed to the Sanders wing of the party

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) held a town hall meeting in Denver tonight in one of Denver’s more exclusive neighborhoods, Park Hill, at the Montview Presbyterian Church. He remains a long shot – even longer today than a month ago – in his bid to become the Democratic presidential candidate. I suppose he held a town meeting in Denver to a generally friendly audience in a bid to bolster his campaign.

Nancy and I went to listen to him – well to be honest I really didn’t want to go; she insisted – glad she did. Such visits are a part of a commitment we have made to ask candidates for national office to support HR 2407 – the bill introduced by Rep Betty McCullom to cut funding to Israel as a means to pressure them from incarcerating, torturing and sentencing Palestinian children to prison. The bill has 21 sponsors at present but is wasting away in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. (More on this below). We want to know how the candidates view this resolution .

I have to give Bennet some credit (before making more critical remarks). It was an actual exchange with the audience, not one of those overly controlled affairs where questions are submitted in writing and essentially cherry picked by a group of censors – be they the League of Women Voters, or a candidate’s staff.

No, he did not choose this option, which is becoming more and more common place as candidates shy from (or is it hide from) the issues their constituencies face. He faced the music so to speak…and for that he gets a point!

Bennet has style… but the content is liberal but vague 

Bennet took questions from the floor and responded – or tried to – to most of them. While most were friendly, he was challenged by a number of participants. Although thinking about it later, I found his answers a bit “cloudy” – still, the man speaks on his feet, is relaxed and has a good political mind. My own take is that he is staying in the race to develop national name recognition – I don’t believe he has any shot at the nomination – but should a Democrat defeat Trump – it could result in a cabinet position of some kind.

He presented his ideas on healthcare – a combination of a public option that still relies heavily on insurance companies and private coverage. He does consider climate change the most serious problem we – all of humanity faces – but in reflecting upon his comments, Bennet gave very little in terms of solutions other than to comment that the issue cannot be addressed with a climate change denier, Donald Trump in the White House.

True enough…

But beyond that whatever programmatic he has on how to address what he referred to as “the number one existential issue” – he did not share with the audience, or hardly in any detail. So one leaves thinking, hmmm, he is worried about climate change but with few concrete suggestions of how to address it. No mention of the Sanders’- Alexandria Ocacio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal” and no alternative to it articulated.

Speaking to – from what I could glean a largely white upper middle class audience with some, but not many people under the age of sixty – he repeatedly referred to his time as Superintendent of Schools of the Denver Board of Education. Many comments about “his kids”. Anyone familiar with his tenure knows that he, along with a compliant, pro-charter school board, did more to privatize Denver’s public education system, to open the system to (generally) substandard charter schools and to dramatically increase the performance objectives and testing than any DPS leader before or since.

There was very little – virtually no – discussion of the rise of racism in America, of the gaping economic divide. Trump’s fascist-like immigration policies were criticized – in large measure in response to a comment from, Christina Zaldivar, mother of five, a woman whose husband was recently detained by ICE at the Aurora, Colorado GEO facility.

And on foreign policy a Cold War hawk.

But it was on foreign policy issues that Michael Bennet was the least convincing. No condemnation of the U.S. supported coup d’etat in Bolivia, the new right-wing fanatic in power in Brazil, Trumps racist treatment of the Puerto Rican recovery. On the Middle East, nothing new – or even interesting.

My main impression is that Michael Bennet is no fool – he is issue-oriented, his domestic ideas are vaguely progressive, his foreign policy notions hawkish – a kind of Cold War Democrat refurbished for the post Cold War era. Not exactly the type that will challenge the country’s exploding military budget out of control nor ask how it is that the Defense Department and the military has “lost” $6.5 trillion recently.

And all this nonsense about the Russians, the moderate Democratic mantra trying to rationalize Hillary Clinton’s defeat by Russian interference rather than from the weakness of her program. He’s swallowed the cool aid on that one. As mentioned above, we went to ask  Bennet about Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, and specifically about HR 2407. We weren’t called upon, but a long-time friend and companera, Rocky Flats Quaker activist Judy Danielson, also in the audience was given the floor.

She made a moving statement of concern for the fate of the Palestinians pressing Bennet to address the issue. And he did. Kind of. In a round about, confused manner. Usual Democratic Party blather. He supports two states – but not a word on the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the horror of life in Gaza. Some vague criticisms of Netanyahu, but mostly for the latter’s support of Trump, not for his treatment of the Palestinians. Nothing about about the $3.8 billion Israel gets, moneys that are unaccounted for and with which, rapid illegal settlement growth in the West Bank would be impossible

What followed were more general comments on the Middle East,  the usual vapid nonsense Dems have been mouthing for years. The problem in the region is not Israel but – you guessed it – Iran. Not a word about the U.S.-Saudi alliance, the Khashoggi killing. A weird comment about Iraq – skipping over the fact that the source of the country’s current woes was the 2003 U.S. invasion – the problem not that it was an immoral, murderous war, but that “the only winner” – I do believe that was his term – was Iran. Not a word about the U.S. biggest military defeat since Vietnam – the failure of U.S. policy to partition Syria – in fact he wants to keep U.S. troops there.

But worse was his disapproval of Trumps’ publicly stated order to withdraw troops from Syria which Bennet referred to as “the greatest strategic mistake” the US has made in the Middle East in decades. (Actually the troops were withdrawn and then re-entered Syria – in a naked grab to control Syrian oil.) – and of course, no mention of the fact that region wide there is not a troop draw down in the Middle East, but a troop build up, one that can only end badly. 

It was like lancing a boil. Had Judy Danielson not had the courage to make her statement and ask the question Bennet probably would have preferred to avoid the topic.

Bennet – basically a moderate Dem with the same worn message: It’s me or the deluge (another Trump term). 

Politically I would expect him to be aligned with the policies of both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – liberal talk while deregulating the financial industry and giving the Defense Dept whatever it wants while being tough on social programs – maybe not the Trump-level craziness – but still. Rhetoric on foreign policy will be toned down, its essence about the same as Trumps – or not fundamentally different – when all is said and done.

Still, in contrast to Colorado’s ex-governor, who withdrew from the presidential running, John Hickenlooper, Michael Bennet is not a lightweight. He carries himself in a relaxed, informative manner, is not afraid of sparring with the public – and does so far more effectively than Hickenlooper – in a way he reminds me some of Gary Hart – (who was more thoughtful and progressive on foreign policy, but still).

I could not help but admiring how at ease he was with his audience and how quick on his feet, how respectful he was to everyone in the audience. In contrast, I always got the impression that Hickenlooper, when he wasn’t drinking fracking water, was reading someone else’s scripts – and those of us in Colorado know exactly who was providing the background info to him. Although Bennet owes his political career in large measure to other power brokers – again no secret as to whom, or hardly so – he comes off as having a tad more of a mind, which is somewhat encouraging.

Bennet – like Obama, strong on style, weak on content

Watching in action tonight I realized that that I had underestimated him some.

For all that, Bennet’s “image problem” is rather simple. His effort to come off as “a man of the people” simply falls flat, for the simple reason that he isn’t.

He’s never wandered an inch from the Philip Anschutz types who set his political career in motion in the first place, nor will he. He’s a part of the “I’m-electable-but-Bernie Sanders’-isn’t” wing of the Democratic Party. His whole persona is hostile to the likes of Bernie Sanders,-Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez-Ilan Omar wing of the party and viscerally opposed to the Democrats moving left. Although he’s a far more effective communicator than John Hickenlooper – which isn’t saying much – his message is the same. , just a slightly different chemistry of corporate backers.

Bennet’s main message is clear and simple: register as many people as possible to vote. He’s right about that. What he offering programmatically to achieve that simply won’t cut it.

But what he (and the Clinton Dem crowd) don’t seem to get – or if they do, seem to down play – is that to win the support of that great mass of working class, non-white voters, the Democratic Party has to offer them a program that resonates with them – not the same warmed over fear based stuff they have been dishing out for decades: vote for me or you’ll get Trump.

That message is a dead end and Michael Bennet will not budge an inch from it, that is the problem. No different from the Clinton approach, what increasingly Barack Obama is mouthing. No surprise, they are all in the same political boat. He lacks the vision to mobilize those he claims he’s trying to reach who will view him as the “same-old, same-old.”

Like Hickenlooper – despite the stylistic differences they are cut out of the same “moderate Democratic” mold – in the race for the nomination, Bennet found it necessary to concentrate all of fire on Bernie Sanders – especially attacking Sanders’ Single Payer medical insurance plan as unrealistic. Actually Sanders’ plan IS realistic and Bennet was challenged on that from the floor by several participants on this point.

Follow the money

A quick review of his money trail pretty much says it all.

Looking at his main financial backers in 2016 does give a rather clear indication of the policies he will probably pursue and whose interests will concern him most – this despite the usual public comments about (undefined) “democratic values” etc. According to OpenSecrets.org he is the top recipient in the Senate from the cable and satellite industry, the (moderate) Democratic leadership PAC, Environmental and Gay rights groups and the Savings and Loan industry.

The man’s a walking corporate orgy.

Dollar-wise his largest contributors are 1. the Securities and Investment Industry ($2,041,000 approximately), the Legal profession ($1,925,000 approximately).Adding together different health related categories (pharmaceuticals, health professionals, HMOs, hospitals and nursing homes) – ie. the Health Insurance industry add approximately another $1,430,000 to his kitty.

Put them all together and Michael Bennet gets close to $5.5 million combined from some of the country’s largest financial and corporate sources, which somewhat dampens his legitimacy among working class voters, people of color. etc. More telling are those not a part of his top twenty contributors – no union support, no civil rights groups, on women’s groups, no peace organizations (the ones who do lobbying), ie, – precisely those that make up the base of the Democratic Party.

I’m glad I went.

There is something about seeing a politician “in the flesh” – and trying to absorb his/her essence. Nancy and I hope to go to more candidates’ forums this election season. The issue of Palestine is today one of the most pressing human rights issues in the world, the way that South African Apartheid was four decades ago. We intend to go to as many candidate forums as we can – and simply ask the question: What are you doing to address the sufferings of the Palestinian people?

And we hope some of you join us.

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