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At Sanders Rally in Wisconsin, Tim Robbins Delivers Fiery Speech Against Political Pragmatism

By now, you may have read about actor Tim Robbins’ introduction of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in Wisconsin. The headlines suggest Robbins insulted supporters of Hillary Clinton and called them “sheep” and that he erased black voters in South Carolina in his criticism of how the Democratic Party establishment saw her victory in the state as significant.

The truth is this was a speech directed at the people in the Democratic Party, who “feel Bernie with their hearts but are supporting Hillary with their pragmatic brains.” As Robbins said, “These are not bad people. They fear the Republicans’ radical and dangerous divisiveness as much as we do. We’ve all been fed a steady stream of simplistic propaganda that furthers the establishment’s narrative that Hillary is the presumptive nominee.”

It was also an indictment of the establishment news media and the leadership of the Democratic Party.

One day before the Wisconsin primary, Robbins declared, “If we were sheep, if we had gotten in line, there would be no problem now. The media and the ghosts of the DLC [Democratic Leadership Council] and government would carry on as it has for the last thirty years. Establishment figures would get elected and re-elected without any accountability for their bad decisions. Outsider candidates like Bernie Sanders would be marginalized and tolerated for a few primaries before falling in line with the Democratic Party structure. But the DNC and the Clintons have a big problem: times have changed.”

“Bernie is not Howard Dean. Bernie is not the obligatory progressive that will keep the left in line until the presumptive moderate nominee emerges. Bernie is not the democratic insider that will bow down to the wishes of the elite of the party. We are done with that patriarchy,” Robbins added. “We are done with compromising our ideals. We are done with triangulation and fear-based politics.”

One will notice this argument does not have gender-based or racist overtones. It is not directed at any specific demographics, which Clinton has depended upon to win the primaries she has managed to win so far. It is a political and ideological argument against tribalism within the Democratic Party, which has enabled so many of the worst and most disastrous policies in the past few decades.

Robbins stated, “Now I understand our friends’ resistance to Bernie Sanders. They’ve been told repeatedly by the mainstream media that Bernie doesn’t matter, that he’s unelectable. Well, I’m here today to encourage our Democratic friends that want big change to happen yet don’t believe that it is possible, our friends that believe that they are not worthy of dreaming big, our friends that have surrendered their ideals to political pragmatism, that somehow believe that change will happen by choosing a candidate entirely entrenched in the dysfunction of the past.”

Oh, yes, Robbins absolutely made a comment about the southern primaries and how he believed Clinton winning South Carolina was as significant as the Democratic Party winning Guam. That specific comment is trivial in the scheme of his entire speech addressing the failures of the Democratic Party. (Plus, anyone ascribing racism to Robbins’ remarks should be aware of the work Robbins has done in prisons.)

Let’s continue:

There are moments in history when political pragmatism can lead to disaster, where a politician’s future ambitions compromise their constituents’ safety and security. These are the moments that define the man or the woman. Will that individual risk their political future because of their beliefs? Will they risk being marginalized as radicals and extremists?

All of us that opposed the Iraq War were marginalized. We were called radicals. We were called extremists, terrorist supporters, for demanding evidence of weapons of mass destruction before we invaded. How radical was that? We were shouted down by the mainstream media. We were threatened and some were intimidated into silence or compliance. Not Bernie.

Bernie faced that same intimidation and remained steadfast, and those that did the politically expedient thing, that didn’t ruffle feathers in an attempt to remain within the status quo, in attempt to retain their positions of power, these people were rewarded. In the media, they were promoted. In politics, they were re-elected. Some even received medals for getting it wrong. There were no apologies. There was no reckoning. There was no accountability. This was a defining moment for our country.

The good news is that there are millions of thinking, feeling people in this country, that despite the massive propaganda that buoys up this failure, still hold on to the truth. And that truth is the Iraq War is and was a bellwether. How you voted on this truly matters because it winded us up in such a morass. This was a time in our history where political pragmatism led to a massive disaster, a disaster to our economy, a disaster to our world standing, a disaster in the lives lost in this manufactured war. We cannot afford to go down that road again.

This is no small point. It is an eloquent statement about a crime against humanity that was perpetrated by the political class in America against the people of Iraq. It set the stage for the rise of ISIS. It resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians. Yet, the remark Robbins made comparing South Carolina to Guam is the comment played over and over again and debated ad nauseam.

Robbins attacked the media, whose editorial boards have overwhelmingly supported Clinton. He attacked the Democatic Party elites, who have acted as surrogates for the Clinton campaign in great numbers. For that, a sustained effort to kill the messenger and stain the Sanders campaign was set in motion immediately following his speech.

Let’s return to the substance of the speech from Robbins, which truly matters:

With this primary season, we are once again at a moment in history where political pragmatism can lead to disaster. This concept that Hillary is the presumptive nominee has rankled a critical mass of people. No, they are saying to this anointing. No, they do not want to be told in a free and open democracy who to for. No, they will not be intimidated by moderates in the Democratic Party, who have been on the wrong side of history.

To the Democratic Party, you take this movement of Bernie voters for granted at your own peril. These people have had every opportunity to embrace your presumptive nominee. They have received your constant stream of publicity suggesting Hillary is their anointed. They have been given the message like everyone else, and they have overwhelmingly rejected this notion. No, they say, this is not my candidate. This is the candidate of the DLC Democratic Party that has brought us moderation when we needed bold action.

This is the wing of the party that has brought us war and bank bailouts and mass incarceration. If Hillary had been on the right side of these issues, we would not be here today. We are here today because we want more out of our party. To start with, we would like an opposition party, a party that is truly for the working man and woman, a party that helps their constituents with actual policy, not just lip service every election cycle that deals more with fear of the Republicans than with any actual change.

We are the ones that marched against the Iraq War that Hillary voted for. We are the ones that have opposed for years the suicidal environmental future that politicians like Hillary have sanctioned with their support of the fossil fuel industry. We are the ones who marched against NAFTA. We are the ones that were outraged that the Democratic Party policies embraced a new strategy under Bill Clinton that demonized welfare mothers and supported legislation that disproportionately incarcerated African Americans in this war on drugs. We are the ones that opposed the tar sands pipeline that Hillary originally supported until she realized that it would be politically expedient for her to oppose.

We are supporting a candidate that stood with us, that voted against the Iraq War, that is opposed to fracking, that voted against NAFTA, that is opposed to the death penalty. We are supporting a candidate that has throughout his career stood up for the working people, stood up for veterans, for the unemployed, for the poor, for abortion rights, for LGBT rights. We are supporting a candidate that has taken principled positions when others have compromised. We are supporting a candidate that has advocated for civil rights throughout his life, a man who marched with Martin Luther King, a man that advocates for those without a voice. We are supporting a candidate that has risked his political future time and again by remaining true to a strong moral commitment to peace and justice.


What a radical concept? A politician that has a moral bottom line, a politician that is not swayed by polls or reckless ambition or inner-party pragmatism. Could Bernie Sanders be leading us into a new paradigm, a paradigm where one’s previous actions actually are relevant to one’s current campaign, a time where accountability actually matters, where politicians are held responsible for their bad policy decisions, a time where the expedient and pragmatic within the political and media establishment are no longer rewarded for their compliance and subservience to corporate and party politics?

The fact that this speech Robbins gave immediately led to smears against him, and an upswell of outrage on social media, fits the playbook for the presidential election. If the Sanders campaign cannot be extinguished, it must be vilified. Unfortunately for the powers that be in the Democratic Party and its allies in establishment news media, those mobilizing for Sanders far outnumber them, and they are gradually overcoming whatever power these people still hold over millions of citizens in the United States.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."