This morning, I received the following comment from an individual known as Lucid Primate, who is unhappy with my video of Bernie Sanders refusing to discuss Julian Assange, the reaction that this video received, and an essay I have written about it. Here I will publish his comment in full:
“Never has so much yarn been spun about 29 seconds of bushwhacked vid-clip “journalism”. Your pleading makes you sound like a tantrum thralled child begging for an ice cream cone. Your expectation of an answer about one of the most critical questions of our freedom from perhaps the staunchest supporter of civil rights (and certainly the import of the other 99% public good on all other issues) on the scene today make you and your disgusting exploitation making hay of Bernie’s non-committal comment as though he is revealing some evil, villainous, hidden self truth to be nothing more than self-promoting journalism-free narcissism on your part.
Make no mistake, I am 100% in the corner of Assange, Snowden, Winner, and Manning as true patriots and heroes of freedom everywhere. I believe all should receive The Presidential Medal Of Freedom in honor of their selfless service to America. Again, 100%.
Of course reasonable supporters want Bernie to support Assange. I want him to, too, but no matter what answer he gives you, he loses to your self aggrandizement. However, he’s smart enough to understand that, so he, with reasonable situationally aware politeness, allows the question to continue to simmer as his best answer in the moment. It is an answer which would otherwise open him to needless attack from any side of Assange consideration no matter what he says, drawing few and potentially offending far more. He is not about defining himself to your convenience, nor is this the single issue which defines him, as it seems you want it to be. He has no hope in the case of being bushwacked by you of providing any background of his considerations of the merits of his answer, or to educate why it is so important to us all. Most of the public don’t have any understanding of why they should care, so he doesn’t answer. He didn’t get to where he is without savvy or conviction. On this day he lets savvy carry his water. I accept that, for now. I do expect that he will do what’s right when he can, because that’s what Bernie almost always does, far more so than any other he runs against. And then, Tulsi.
The nuances and speculations within their candidacies are manifold and profound. Never before in my experience has there been a more symbiotic paring in any race, even though it is tacit. She has strongly and clearly come down on the side of our heroes of freedom of information. In doing so she, silently, provides cover for Bernie while giving a place for Assange stans to take rest. At this point I have to take that as the best I’ll get. You should, too. The soul of Walter Cronkite will forgive you, I’m sure.”
This afternoon, I write my response:
Good morning, Lucid Primate. I was planning to hold off on his reply until I finished my review of Joker, but some nagging voice within me says that this subject is decidedly more important. For the record, I was planning to write a full essay wherein I addressed both the criticisms directed at me and the various defenses raised for Bernie Sanders, but perhaps it would be more effective if I allowed you to speak and stand for all of my critics on this point.
I will do you (and my readers) the courtesy of bypassing your needless personal insults, although I will say this: I am always respectful and professional when I ask these politicians what they think about Julian Assange, even when they are discourteous to me, so I’m not sure how I came across as a “tantrum thralled [sic] child begging for an ice cream cone”. I find it very ironic that you would employ an ad hominem when questioning my maturity.
Relatedly, you have accused me of springing the question upon him unfairly, of “bushwhacking” him for malicious reasons. I have never approached these candidates with any cruelty of spirit: my goal is never to tarnish their image, but always to raise awareness about the situation, quite possibly lethal, in which Assange has been placed. I ask always out of honest curiosity, hence why I asked Andrew Yang—whose position on this issue was mysterious previously—hence why I asked Tim Ryan—whose commentary did not seem to match his rhetoric—and why I asked Sanders, who, on paper, would appear to be one of the candidates likeliest to support Assange, but who, for the exact same reason, has been the most salient in silence.
I would have much preferred to ask Sanders this question during an open forum, but he declined to open the floor for questioning after he finished his speech. This was not my first time attending one of Sanders’s rallies, nor was it the first time he left the scene without taking a single question from his audience, from the people who have traveled unknown distances to hear him speak. This is disrespectful to the attendees who comprise these rallies, the size of which his staff will be sure to note when promoting his brand. It is disrespectful because it reduces the event to a promotional gimmick, a marketing scheme in which we in the audience play the thankless role of props. This is not to say that he should make time to answer everybody’s question, but to take not even one is indefensible.
You speak of his inability to prepare for my question—a fallacious claim, as he has had more than six months to think about Assange’s case—yet you decline to propose what I ought to have done. Should I have followed him to his next rally and waited to see if he would answer questions then? After driving forty miles to Plymouth, New Hampshire, arriving at the rally two hours early to get a spot closest to the stage, and listening to him speak for eighty minutes, only to find no chance to ask a question, should I then have driven another sixty miles to Henniker, New Hampshire, listened to the same eighty-minute speech, and hoped for the best? If that failed, should I then have travelled another fifty miles to his rally in Dartmouth? On August 17th, I drove one hundred and forty miles in a futile effort to ask Cory Booker about Assange, and he treated me less than respectfully, so I hope to be forgiven for my distasteful zeal. Nevertheless, before you spoke of my “convenience”, you might have done well to ask what I have done, what I have spent, and what I have given up in my quest to raise awareness of Assange’s plight.
Yet, you seem to believe that my goal is to raise awareness of myself, to promote my website, to profit, or to achieve some similarly misguided, self-serving end. You can rest assured that I haven’t made a dollar, not a single penny, from any of the work that you see before you. My bank account is actually weaker today than it was in June, when I started asking these candidates about Assange, but that isn’t really anybody’s business. Still, you raise a legitimate question: why did I generate excitement for the release of this video by proclaiming its release three whole days in advance, in not one but two different tweets? Why not upload it without any fanfare in the early afternoon and allow it to make the rounds on its own? Because I wanted to draw attention to the video. I wanted people to be talking and thinking—not about me, but about Assange, and Sanders, and whether the latter would protect the former. Clearly, my strategy, crude and unsubtle though it may have been, was the most efficient method available to me. Something tells me you don’t have a problem with Sanders’s appearances on corporate television in order to promote his message, so your objection to my tactic seems awfully selective.
In speaking of a regrettably pragmatic form of messaging, it might not be amiss to address the crux of your complaint. You believe that I put Sanders in an impossible position because, if he does not provide unambiguous support for Assange, then he will endure relentless castigation from me and my contemporaries, but if he says what is right, then he will face much more serious censure from the military-industrial complex, the political-media complex, and many other institutions, besides. I am completely conversant with this line of thinking—what Nietzsche, had he cared about politics, might have referred to as “the mask”—and with the subsequent conjecture that Sanders is merely playing possum, lying in wait to pounce on and dismantle that oppressive machinery once he has the keys to the kingdom in hand.
The trouble with this hypothesis is twofold. Firstly, there is no evidence whatsoever that Sanders is planning to do this: I understand that he has advocated for some controversial things in his time, but the claim, echoed frequently on Twitter, that his record is peerless, even stainless, that he has never taken an immoral stance—like voting to bomb Yugoslavia—and, conversely, never failed to take a moral stance—such as voicing support for Assange—is demonstrably false. I’m not one of the unreasonable purists who expect unerring clairvoyance from a politician, but even if he did have an immaculate political record hitherto, still we would lack an explanation as to why this one case against Assange proves to be the rock too large for him to lift.
Secondly, even if you could prove that Sanders is just saying the right things so as to win election, the pragmatist in me questions the wisdom of such an approach. Imagine, for a moment, that you have just spent your entire presidential campaign promising, in effect, to stand by and allow these fascistic intelligence agencies to do as they please, but then, as soon as you’re in office, you betray them. Don’t you think they might be more upset with you than they would have been if you had declared your opposition from the beginning? The naivete involved in this thinking would be droll if its practical implications weren’t so sinister.
But let’s not mince words. Your issue is not with my churlish failure to respect his prescience, or my narcissistic indulgence, or my indecorous approach. Your problem is not even with the video I posted. Your displeasure stems only from your belief that this material is detrimental to Sanders’s candidacy because so many people have looked at it, written about it, read about it, and discussed it. If this video had been viewed only by two or three people, and my article read by you and you alone, then you would not have been compelled to write an impassioned response. My intention is of no interest to you, least of all because it has been so consistent these last few months; the only relevant factor, in your view, is the reaction to what I’ve published because that reaction does not appear to be to Sanders’s benefit. Would you be upset with me if it had? What if the Twitter crowd had unanimously interpreted this video as the last necessary evidence that Sanders will do the right thing, once he is elected? Would you have taken the time to scold me, or would you have silently thanked me, even though the content of the video is unchanged? How is this any different from the unlettered complaints raised by establishment liberals against Assange: “He shouldn’t have released that information because it was damaging to Hillary Clinton!”
Perhaps it is time that we abandoned this notion of looking up to political insiders as our heroes. I have spoken to several people who believed in Sanders’s refreshing message of socialist rebuilding in 2015 and 2016, but who were devastated when he forsook that philosophy and contradicted his own principles by endorsing Clinton, a war criminal who, in addition to her innumerable other immortal sins, colluded with the Democratic National Committee to prevent Sanders from winning the nomination. Yet, even this endorsement was hardly uncharacteristic for Sanders, for, as I mentioned previously, he had voted for Clinton’s platform of warmongering and cancerous corporatism on so many occasions before. Why are we maintaining our delusional belief in Sanders’s moral perfection? Why are we rejecting all of the evidence before us?
We reject it because we are afraid of more ambitious, serious solutions. We are afraid of breaking down the existing political structure and replacing it with something bolder. We are afraid of it because we can’t achieve it within our current institutional framework. Of course we can’t: first, we speak of “breaking down the existing political structure”, but somehow we expect to maintain “our current institutional framework”? The creative timidity of the American people, our refusal to assert our own freedom of movement, is our single greatest impediment to practical revolution. This imaginative cowardice takes many forms, one of which is our obstinate commitment to our own discredited fantasies in the face of brutal reality. Apologizing for Sanders and building upon an already convoluted rationalization for his disappointing behavior is one such method to indulge in that irrationality. My goal in publishing this video was not to humiliate or to wound, but to help well-meaning people, including progressives, come around to see the painful, necessary, and liberating work that must be done if we are to bring about any real change. And part of that involves releasing our misguided affection for Sanders.
In closing, I would like to quote the late Roger Ebert, a film critic who, despite his many flaws, provided a model for my own writing. In 2005, Ebert reviewed Chaos, a horror-exploitation film in which ugliness and cruelty reign supreme with no cathartic message or artistic purpose. That film’s director wrote Ebert an open letter in which he accused the critic of failing to appreciate the realism of his work, the pragmatic injustice that, this filmmaker believed, reflected the true nature of a cynical, hostile, unfriendly world.
Ebert responded by declaring that we must do more than give in to these malignant forces: “If the world has indeed become as evil as you think, then we need the redemptive power of artists, poets, philosophers, and theologians more than ever. Your answer, that the world is evil and therefore it is your responsibility to reflect it, is no answer at all, but a surrender.”
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a review of my own to write.