“I have seen the future, and it is death.” This gloomy truism, though it be as irresistible as the flow of time, never resonates for me, never really rings, until the suffocating freeze of winter makes its annual descent upon New Hampshire. Only in this state of seasonal paralysis, when those who are not thwarted by the snow will split their own skin in the sadistic winds blowing them back, is death a tangible force, even as it remains an abstract concept. We steel ourselves against the lethal chill and remind ourselves we will survive it, but so, too, do we ask ourselves: “For how much longer?” The year, at least, will not endure for more than a number of weeks, and with the end of this year, we will see the demise of more than one presidential campaign.
With so many Democrats competing for their party’s blessing, it’s been tough to keep track of who has dropped out, even among the bottom tier. A week ago, I was stunned and somewhat queasy to learn that John Delaney is still in the race, even after twenty-eight months of existential irrelevance and the shocking absence of pretended principles, even. I was much less surprised, but also much more disgusted, to learn that Michael Bennet was still in the race as of Saturday, December the 7th. While Delaney is a crude caricature of the sexless Washington sleazeball, his incurably awkward manner seems to have stopped everyone from buying into his scam. Bennet, on the other hand, has mastered the art of pretending to be one of the people, evincing a convincingly gregarious warmth that is associated exclusively with the down-to-earth. He swindles people, even those who know he and Delaney stand the same chance of becoming president.
Certainly, Bennet isn’t the first politician to don inexpensive threads, slump his shoulders, and try to pretend he’s an average joe. This populist masquerade, while obscenely disrespectful to middle- and working-class citizens who lack Bennet’s $16 million net worth, did not begin when this man set foot on the floor of the United States Senate. Nor is he the first millionaire to pose for ridiculous pictures in front of mountaintops to play the role of a rugged commoner; as a New Hampshirite, I am all too conversant with this cheesy practice. Nevertheless, I have an exceptional contempt for Bennet, not because there is anything unique to his chicanery, but because he distinguished himself in the mass persecution of Julian Assange.
In the summer of 2018, as reported by James Cogan and later relayed to me by Taylor Hudak, ten Democrats in the Senate wrote a letter to Vice-President Pence to complain that Assange was still granted minor asylum in London. These senators demanded Assange be arrested forthwith, thereby ensuring his extradition to America, where he would be sentenced to life in prison for performing the responsibilities of a journalist. In a sadistic punchline, these senators feigned sympathy for two other journalists murdered recently, as if to prove their own commitment to the First Amendment. Bennet was one of these malicious senators, along with Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, yet I have not heard either scoundrel take credit for Assange’s arrest in April of this year.
The ironically named street on the corner of the Michael Bennet house party.
Bennet’s culpability presented a new challenge for me. As far as I know, none of the presidential candidates whom I’ve questioned had ever taken such significant action to effect Assange’s arrest. Almost all of them were dismissive of his suffering, and those who, as president, would allow him to die would be guilty of murder, but to my knowledge, none of them could be said to be guilty at present. Bennet is different: he is responsible, politically as well as personally, for the expulsion, imprisonment, and torture of Julian Assange. If a sensible, moral individual were ever to become president, then Assange should be freed and Bennet should be sentenced to a lengthy prison term. Such is the price a public servant pays for usurping his powers to harm the innocent.
With less than an hour to go before Bennet appeared at a house party in Concord, I tried to prepare a question for him, one which encompass his authoritarian record without jeopardizing Assange’s credibility or mine. Tempting as it is to upturn a bucket of blood on Bennet’s head, such an action would only furnish the corporate media with proof of the dangerous delusion of those who stand in Assange’s defense. We cannot knowingly besmirch Assange’s reputation, and if that means we must play by the rules at political rallies, then so be it. I completely empathize with those who are desperate for retribution, but crossing the boundary at Bennet’s rally could prevent me from going to another candidate’s and reminding that public figure of Assange’s name.
Nevertheless, my nerves very nearly overtook me as I arrived at the event. I knew I wouldn’t have to show up very early, not for a candidate who was polling at zero percent, and sure enough, there were fewer than thirty people in attendance by the time Bennet showed. The walls were decorated with pictures of the homeowners grinning beside mass murderers (like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton) or corrupt financiers (like Cory Booker and John Lynch). Indeed, I couldn’t find a single picture that did not include a famous Democrat. I even met a woman who is running for office, but I had no clue who she was, and I felt it would be rude of me to ask.
Instead, I kept my eyes focused on the campaign cards being handed out by the Bennet campaign. I was slightly surprised to see this man keep more than two employees on hand, even as there was no visible security for this sitting member of the United States Senate. On the card, Bennet praised himself for having “won tough elections in the swing state of Colorado”, an achievement that may be more impressive if three of his four predecessors, going all the way back to Gary Hart, hadn’t been Democrats themselves. Come to think of it, the only Republican to hold that seat since 1974 was elected as a Democrat before he switched sides . . . hey, and haven’t the Democrats controlled the Coloradoan governorship since 2007? How purple is Colorado, really?
There was no time to ask any of these questions. I barely had time to finish snacking on something called a kugel before Bennet walked through the door. He posed for a couple of cheeky pictures with the homeowners and struggled to get a greeting from their daughters before taking his place in the center of the living room. Dressed in a Patagonia fleece and a pair of jeans, he made one of the generic speeches that I have heard way too many times in the last six months, but, fortunately, I will not have to hear too many times more. He spoke about his intimate involvement with public school systems, being a “former school superintendent and tireless champion for kids”. He goes as far as to include a picture of himself sitting with a child in a classroom, even though he knows as well as I do that a superintendent is disconnected from the students, especially one who governs the entire public educational system of Denver.
Click and zoom in for an interesting joke at Howard Dean’s expense.
When answering a Jewish woman’s question about antisemitism, he voiced disappointment in the state of America’s relationship with Israel:
“When the Prime Minister of Israel says that Donald Trump is the best friend that Israel has ever had, and Donald Trump has the kind of anti-immigrant record that he does, the anti-refugee record that he has … it’s a reminder that the domestic politics in Israel and the domestic politics here have been pushing us back from a set of essential beliefs that make us the countries that we are.”
While his criticism of the “domestic politics in Israel” certainly pricked my ears, a little research exposes Bennet as an all-too-willing prostitute for the Israeli lobby: not only did he claim, without the vaguest irony, that the Israeli government protects human rights, but he has also applauded the IDF’s terroristic violence against the Palestinians. With such a shameless lust for imperialist violence, it is no great wonder that he demanded the imprisonment and torture of Assange, as well.
When the time came to ask him about Assange, I seized on his own criticism of the Trump Administration’s attacks on the freedom of the press before mentioning his own role in the crusade against Assange. Without commenting on the latter, he deflected to the topic of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, for which he appears to blame Donald Trump.
“I can actually think of a more egregious example by far [than the prosecution of Assange], which was the assassination of Khashoggi by the Saudi Arabians and President Trump, who was a journalist living in the United States of America who was lured to his death in Turkey by the Saudis, and whom [sic] our intelligence agencies all said was killed by the Saudi prince, and then Donald Trump just turned his back on, not standing up for his values. So, I guess I disagree on which was more egregious, but I think the latter and I appreciate your asking the question.”
We should note that I said nothing about Khashoggi in my original question. For the record, I was disgusted by his murder, but that was a crime committed by the Saudi government, an organization which I have criticized on many occasions, and one in which I do not have representation. It is my own government that is seeking to persecute Assange, a man whose life is not yet lost, and ergo, I direct my attentions here. I invite Michael Bennet to revisit this subject and to answer my question more honestly in the future, but if he doesn’t, then at least he has confirmed Taylor Hudak’s own observation: when a politician says he appreciates you asking a question, that means he couldn’t be more resentful that you asked it.