On Becoming Anti-Bernie
I started out liking Bernie Sanders, though I leaned slightly toward Hillary Clinton. Yet I’ve come to the point where I can barely stand his face, and I just want him to stop jabbing his finger as he brays the same slogans in every single venue, over and over. How did I get to this point, especially as someone who had reservations about Clinton and who is thrilled that Sanders has been able to unlock a thirst for liberal policy within the electorate, in a way that I haven’t seen in my adult life, and in a way that I hope may change the landscape of what is possible?
It’s been a gradual process. Here’s how it happened, with the warning that this post is not a comparative assessment of the two candidates or of their campaign platforms; I’m well aware that Sanders has strengths and Clinton has weaknesses, and I’m not trying to persuade anyone here to vote for her over him; what I’m trying to explain is how and why I have come to dislike him so — even though of course I’ll vote for him in the general (and even campaign for him) if I have to:
First, I researched. I went to his website, I went to Govtrack.us, I went to other sites examining his record to see how it squared up with his rhetoric. I tried to find unbiased articles assessing his tax policy, looking at how he would fund single payer (and what he meant by that) as well as “free college” and other promises he made. I looked at analyses on left-leaning blogs that have long advocated for universal health care to see what they thought, sites I respect and whose authors I have relied on for years for their basic objectivity within their admitted points of view. And I saw none who believed Sanders’ numbers added up.
When I saw that the estimates were based on the assumption that the U.S. economy would have an average growth at a 5% rate over his term, that was it for me. And the reason is this: when Jeb! announced he was running for President, he declared that his plan would result in a 4% economic growth rate — and the other GOP presidential contenders quickly followed suit. The Republican candidates’ claims that they “would” do this had been derided on all the same left-leaning blog sites I was now looking at to help assess Sanders. The 4% assertion had been dismissed as magical thinking — or in more straightforward terms, pulled out of Bush’s ass. There was no precedent for a sustained growth rate that high within the last 60 years; commentators pointed out that Reagan had achieved 4% twice in eight years, and Bill Clinton, five times, but 4% growth four years running? Never happened in recent memory — and that was in better economic environments. Sanders’ 5% number was even more magical than Jeb!’s. And so the entire basis of Sanders’ promises for (promises I wanted to believe) was an assumption unprecedented in the last half-century. You can’t base a radical re-imagination of the U.S. economy and the imposition of the largest tax increases in U.S. history on made-up numbers. Economist Gerald Friedman weighed in positively on his plan, but that analysis was ripped to shreds by many others, who showed that Sanders’ plan doesn’t add up on its own terms (estimates are something like a $1–2 trillion shortfall even at the 5% growth assumption). So I concluded that the backbone of Sanders’ plan is founded on, functionally, a lie.
That led me to more research. I concluded that the fact that Sanders only got three bills through Congress (two of which were for naming post offices) wasn’t the only meaningful measure, so I looked at the legislation he introduced during his senate career. It turns out that, every year, year after year, he introduced the same legislation to make a point, and no one else ever seems to have signed on to it. To me, this looked like showmanship rather than governance — an exercise designed to highlight his own support for a very progressive agenda. The hard work is to draft a bill that your co-legislators can get behind, in the political climate that exists and in the place where you work. I concluded that Sanders was less interested in actually accomplishing anything than he was in staging protests where he could claim some kind of moral high ground, not interested in getting in the weeds and doing anything to actually achieve his goals within the Congress he worked in. This research put Sanders’ supposedly pristine progressive agenda in perspective: it is very easy to maintain that agenda if you never make the hard choices necessary to get things done. Classic protester — yet handily collecting his $200,000 pay check and his lifetime of benefits while doing little to enact actual progressive policies to improve people’s lives.
I did more research than the above, but the two overarching themes I just described (magical thinking and ideological purity over practicality) seem tied together in terms of what Sanders has to offer the country with respect to governance. Further, those themes reveal a person who, while he has deep convictions about the ills of income inequality (which I wholeheartedly share), seems to be constitutionally incapable or unwilling to undertake the difficult task of actually coming up with workable, meaningful legislation and therefore who, in his own way, actually lacks character. What I started to see, and which seems to be on view more and more as this campaign goes on, is a person and a campaign that is intellectually and actually dishonest, hypocritical and sanctimonious, sexist, unprepared, lazy, cultish, and dangerous — and he has a poor temperament to boot.
Intellectual and actual dishonesty:
The tax plan is not intellectually honest. Using economic assumptions that effectively have no basis in modern historical reality so that you can make promises that are literally impossible to keep — even if you are elected and manage to sweep Congress — is not intellectually honest.
Rejection of compromise is not intellectually honest. Nor is it a workable strategy. It is intellectually dishonest because in the absence of a supermajority, legislation cannot be passed without compromise. As a Congressman, Sanders knows this, and, actually, compromise is not a bad thing. Should 51% of the people impose a radical new agenda on 49% who don’t want it? It makes sense to require compromise and the need for it is baked into the democratic process and our Constitution.
In rejecting compromise as a mark of lack of integrity, or worse, corruption, Sanders accomplishes two deeply disingenuous goals: (i) he sets himself apart from his colleagues in Congress as the only one who is allegedly “true” to his “values,” thereby creating the myth that he is morally superior and incorruptible; and (ii) he turns the necessity of compromise — without which literally nothing can get done in Congress — into a negative, very similar to the Tea Party and hardliners on the far right in Congress, thereby allowing him to transform his failure to compromise and thus his failure to have achieved any workable progressive legislation in 25 years into a “virtue” — a testament to his supposed integrity.
Attacking Hillary Clinton for supporting the 1994 crime bill that her husband signed when she was First Lady is intellectually dishonest. This is so on several grounds. First, his attacks omit that he himself voted for that bill; Clinton supporters have had to bring that up. Second, Sanders keeps attacking Hillary for having on one occasion, two years after the bill was passed, used the term “superpredator”, when she has already apologized for it, said she would not use it today, and has put it in context (which I think makes clear it was not intended as code for race or to apply broadly), and yet he never admits that he used the term “sociopath” when supporting that same bill, nor has he ever apologized for doing so. Instead, he rips out all context and background for that bill, pins the entirety of its consequences on Hillary (who did not vote for it), and omits his own role in voting for it and the reasons why so many people supported it at the time, including him and the Congressional Black Caucus, despite its warts. So he blames Hillary for the draconian sentencing rules that the GOP insisted on in order to pass the bill, contributing to a false narrative he has constructed that Hillary is not actually a liberal.
And when confronted about his dishonest and hypocritical approach to discussing the crime bill and his own support for it, he lied. He claimed that he supported it in part because it included an assault weapons ban. This is false. He voted in favor of an earlier version of the bill, which did not include that assault weapons ban. Other Democrats — not Sanders — then insisted on that assault weapons ban and he voted for the new version of bill after that language was added. It’s dishonest for him to take other people to task for the consequences of a bill he himself voted for, which was the product of having to compromise with the GOP to get anything done, while blaming Hillary for the GOP’s actions, lying about his reasons for voting for it, and refusing to acknowledge or take any responsibility for his own role. It would be so much more productive to have a national dialogue about what we learned as a nation from these mistakes, the role of systemic racism in mass incarceration, and a proposed set of recommendations and legislation to correct it now, instead of disingenuously attacking, blaming, and lying by omission about Hillary, and further erasing the historical reality in which that bill was passed.
Sanders’ corruption argument — which has now become almost the entire message of his campaign — is also intellectually dishonest. The role of big money in our election process is disgusting and I think everyone despises it. Citizens United, that awful Supreme Court case that gutted campaign finance reform and opened the floodgates to PACs and superPACs and dark money, has been universally condemned by Democrats, who have tried and failed to get the Senate to pass legislation required to begin the process of amending the Constitution to overturn it. Hillary Clinton has personally been on the receiving end of coordinated attacks by that kind of money for many years, and the Citizens United case itself arose out of a challenge to the FEC’s restriction on advertising an anti-Hillary film during the 2008 election. She denounced the decision and overturning it is part of her campaign platform — whether through appointment of more progressive judges on the Supreme Court or by Constitutional amendment, and that was her own platform and position before Sanders announced his candidacy.
So this is not an issue he “owns” or brought to light despite claiming — falsely — that he does not accept money from PACs. Sanders has called Clinton and other Democrats corrupt as he runs on the Democratic platform, undermining the very party he claims to want to lead and, again, suggesting that only he can be trusted because their fundraising is suspect, while his is not, because he does not “take” money from corporations. This argument is dishonest, sanctimonious, and misleading, and has allowed Sanders to set him himself on a pedestal while fomenting unfair negative impressions about Clinton and others. Here is why:
· Sanders insinuates Clinton’s positions on Wall Street reform and other issues are driven by campaign contributions. He hasn’t pointed to and can’t point to any instance in which Clinton’s vote or action anywhere has been a result of a campaign contribution. Her campaign platform, moreover, includes all kinds of regulation on many of the industries that Sanders insinuates she won’t take on. There is literally no proof or evidence that she has ever voted based on a contribution or that she will do so — it is pure insinuation.
· Sanders accepted $10,000 from a Hillary PAC in 2006 when he was running for re-election. Apparently PAC money is only bad when Hillary is his opponent; otherwise, he’s okay with it.
· Sanders accepts money from other PACs. The PAC money he has accepted has typically been from unions, lobbying groups, single-issue groups, and other special interest groups, but these are still PACs — they just happen to be for groups in industries that he does not revile. The fact that they are left-leaning does not mean they are not PACs.
· Sanders insinuates, and has started to state outright, that Hillary and other Democrats’ positions on Wall Street reform, universal health care, and climate change are based on ties to industries that oppose reform. The insinuation itself is at odds with history. The Democrats enacted Dodd-Frank (which has a process for breaking up banks) after the financial crisis — how or why did they do this if they are all the corporate shills that Sanders claims they are? Obama raised over a billion dollars to get elected in 2008 and then again to be re-elected in 2012 and has done more for progressive causes than anyone since LBJ — is he a corporate shill, bought and sold, corrupt? Did his climate change efforts not go far enough because he is corrupt, or because of implacable GOP opposition? Are the Democrats who have pushed for health care for years, including Hillary, lying when they put forward a platform that calls for progressive change?
· Sanders uses terms like “Wall Street” and “fossil fuel industry” to imply that entire industries have engaged in a coordinated effort to dump piles of cash on Clinton — and have done so as a quid pro quo. The reality is that campaign contributions come from individual human beings, who then indicate what line of work they are in on their contribution form (corporate contributions are prohibited). Sanders uses the fact that he has few contributions from people who work in the financial sector to suggest that Hillary is in bed with the “industry” and that that is the reason she does not demand the immediate breakup of the big banks. But Hillary was NY’s senator for eight years and the financial sector is a huge source of jobs and tax revenue for the state of NY; it’s hardly surprising that individuals in that industry would not give money to the man who vilifies them multiple times a day as immoral scourges ruining America, and who wants to break up banks without having a clue as to how he would do so or what he would do afterward to address the effect on the economy. In other words, support for Hillary from these people doesn’t mean she’s bought and sold by them; it means they don’t want Sanders, and who can blame them?
What Sanders does is very devious: he trades on legitimate and widely shared concerns about the role of big money coming from the wealthy, including billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, to then suggest that individual contributions from anyone in any industry he doesn’t like are part of a coordinated industry/billionaire attempt to avoid regulation and to further enrich the one percent, and then he insinuates that Hillary must be bought and sold by those industries because of those individual contributions. That way, anyone who supports her is part of the problem. And then it becomes an act of immorality to vote for her, and a symbol of one’s own moral purity, indeed a rejection of corruption itself, to vote for Sanders. Clever. Intellectually dishonest, McCarthyite, and gross, but clever.
And he even goes even farther. He attacks anyone who does not agree with him or who endorses Clinton as “establishment.” Thus, Planned Parenthood, which has been subject to so much hate and false attack and whose employees risk their lives on a daily basis to go to work in the face of death threats and bombings, is “the establishment” — so its endorsement of Hillary is to be written off and distrusted. Same goes for NARAL. Same goes for the Human Rights Campaign, and long-time public servants like Barney Frank, and Emily’s List, which is dedicated to electing women to office. The list goes on and on. According to Team Sanders, there is no legitimate reason not to support him — if you don’t, it must be because you are a shill, an establishment member, an apologist for the status quo, not a true progressive, not a real liberal. There is no space for considering that Planned Parenthood and NARAL endorsed Clinton because she has been a champion for reproductive rights, not simply a supporter. There is not space for considering that gay rights groups endorsed her because of her record on LGBT rights. There is no space for considering that Sanders’ paucity of endorsements from other politicians and organizations could possibly be based on the view that Clinton is more qualified, more experienced, has a better platform, is a better leader, is more likable, is more likely to achieve progressive goals, has done more to advance equality, has a better record, or any other metric. Hillary’s disagreement with aspects of Sanders’s proposals (disagreements which are relatively minor in any event) couldn’t possibly be based on her conclusion that his ideas are not well thought out, or have potentially offsetting negative consequences, or are unworkable; no, her disagreement must be a function of her corruption or her political calculation.
· Sanders said on April 13th, at his rally in Washington Square (and I’m paraphrasing), that how one runs a campaign and who one takes money from shows what kind of person a candidate is. By that metric, he doesn’t fare so well either. Sanders has over $23 million in unsourced, potentially illegal campaign contributions that he has not explained. He’s received three separate letters from the FEC questioning thousands contributions including identifying thousands in excess of $2,700 (the individual limit), and he had $10,465,912 in aggregated $35 donations all made on a single day from Washington DC that have not been explained (that would mean 299,026 donations were made on one day, when DC’s entire population is about 660,000). If this had been the Clinton campaign with these sorts of questionable contributions, it would be worked into that same old stump speech as a reflection of her lack of character. One standard for Hillary Clinton, another standard for Bernie Sanders.
· Sanders attacks Clinton for attending big-money fundraisers (he even called the Clooney event “obscene”), even though the fundraisers are also to raise money for multiple down-ticket Democrats who must be elected if any progressive legislation is to get through Congress, and even though these fundraisers are nothing next to the fundraising the GOP engages in. Further, in the past he has attended big-money fundraisers for himself and other Democrats — it is only now, in this election, that he has taken issue with them. While I know he sincerely wants to fix our system, his attacks are less about how to fix the system (because that can only be done via Constitutional amendment or the Supreme Court) than they are about positioning himself and political posturing — by de-legitimizing every aspect of the fundraising that is essential for getting Democrats elected within the system that we unfortunately have, and falsely conflating the role of individual contributions with the outsized role of dark money, he both deliberately builds distrust for Clinton as corrupt, and creates a false narrative that Clinton wants neither to fix the system nor enact sufficiently progressive change. This is intellectually dishonest and hypocritical.
· Were Sanders to win the Democratic nomination, he would have to take corporate PAC money in addition to the PAC money he already accepts, and he would need to attend big fundraisers because he would need hundreds of millions more dollars to compete with the flood of GOP money in the general both to win himself, and to support other Democrats. It would be a necessary evil, as it is for Clinton. If he eschewed the money in the general, he would lose (and Democratic-affiliated super-PACs and dark money that he cannot control would support him anyway). Thus, his supposed moral purity concerning campaign contributions is purely situational, as is also evident from the examples I gave above. And though I haven’t looked into it much beyond the $10,000 in PAC money he had no problem with taking from Hillary in 2006, it appears he’s taken over $2.2 million from PACs during his senate career.
· So, basically, what Sanders does is selectively attack the use of aggregated funds to tarnish Hillary, while exempting himself from scrutiny. In his narrative, the PAC money she takes is tainted both because she has more of it than he does and because it comes from people who have jobs in industries he knows are despised by the progressive left; whereas, when he takes money aggregated from an industry we all feel better about (a nurses group, a trade union, a tech company), that money is “good” money, pure money — that money is just fine. But applying that very reasoning, then the fact that he has accepted over $300,000 in contributions from employees in the defense industry must mean he is in the pocket of the arms industry, or that he’s lying when he says he wants to reduce defense spending. We must question his commitment, even though he co-sponsored legislation on this very subject, and assume that but for such contributions, the legislation would go much further, right?
And when a bundler bundles money from individual contributors for the Clinton campaign, even if that lobbyist has 40 clients in many industries, Sanders picks out the one industry that is despised — fossil fuels — and contends that the bundler, and thus Hillary herself, has ties to the fossil fuel industry, when he could just as easily picked a different industry the lobbyist works in, like Hollywood or technology. But that’s not going to slime her in the eyes of progressives; they don’t care about her “ties” to technology companies (after all, Sanders has them too), so he selects oil and gas. Tiny grain of truth there, but then it’s picked up and amplified and now many Sanders supporters think Clinton is in the pocket of “big oil” — never mind that she’s received a total of about $308,000 from individuals in the oil and gas industry, compared to Sanders’ approximately $54,000, both drops in the bucket of their campaign totals, much less measured against the millions the GOP has received from people in that industry.
But Sanders doesn’t mention these facts. Instead, he attacks her, and his supporters seem to believe him, as being a tool of the fossil fuel “industry”. And then he says that that is why she doesn’t support an absolute ban on fracking and that means she must not care about the environment! She couldn’t possibly have developed a less absolute position because the issue is complicated and a total immediate fracking ban has consequences worth considering — from job losses to the immediate effect a total ban would have on our oil and coal dependence (and prices for electricity).
Similarly, Sanders suggests Hillary’s reluctance to run in and break up the banks is evidence of her “ties to Wall Street”, when, in fact, the government already has that capability and rules for making it happen under Dodd-Frank (facts he seemed unaware of during the Daily News interview). It couldn’t possibly be that Sanders’ idea is a bad one, could it? Or that Hillary’s regulatory proposals for dealing with “shadow banking” participants actually make more sense and will do more to reduce risk than Sanders’ one-note idea?
· Sanders also falsely peddles the corruption narrative based on Clinton’s speaker fees. Not only has he suggested that merely giving a paid speech is evidence of corruption, he has lately ratcheted up this attack to imply that her Wall Street reform proposals are a function of having been bought by Goldman because she received $675,000 for speaking to their employees three times. Indeed, at the most recent debate he appeared to blame the collapse of the financial system on 2008 on Hillary’s “Wall Street ties” while she was a senator (conveniently omitting that she had nothing to do with repealing Glass-Steagall or with his own vote in favor of the Commodities Futures Modernization Act, which many analysts consider to have been a substantial factor in the massive amounts of risky trading that helped lead to the financial collapse). But his attacks on her speech-giving are disingenuous and problematic for a number of reasons.
1. There is no connection, nor could there be one as a matter of chronological reality, between Clinton’s receipt of speaker fees between 2013 and 2015, and any positions she held or decisions she made before those dates. Hillary’s paid speeches were made in the three year window between leaving the State Department and announcing for the presidency; she could not receive such fees while serving as FLOTUS or U.S. Senator or Secretary of State — positions she held for basically 20 years in a row. Thus, no aspect of her record has any connection to any speech she gave after the fact.
2. The majority of the money Clinton received from her paid speeches went to charity.
3. Hillary’s fees are in line with what other former secretaries of state and people of similar stature have received. No other candidate has ever been attacked as corrupt for giving a paid speech. Further, no other speaker in history has been both a former First Lady of a very popular president and a former Secretary of State for another popular president — not mention also having been a two-term senator from NY (first female to hold that position), not to mention having also come closer than any woman in U.S. history to obtaining a major party’s nomination for the presidency and being a recognized leader for women’s rights. Somehow — despite decades of examples of former elected officials accepting speaking fees — it is now nefarious for people to be willing to pay to hear her speak, and corrupt for her to accept a fee when out of office? This is a new standard apparently invented by Sanders only for Hillary Clinton.
4. This new conflation of speaking fees while out of public office with corruption while in public office is analytically false while superficially appealing, rendering it all the more slippery and scurrilous. Sanders insinuates that because Clinton gave talks at Goldman, she must be doing their bidding. A look at the list of the speeches Clinton gave and received money for reveals that they include speeches to companies and associations across an array of industries, as well as to women’s groups. But Sanders focuses solely on the three Goldman Sachs speeches. He notably ignores that a speech she gave in 2014 at the Goldman 10,000 Women dinner argued forcefully for equal pay for women and gender parity. Her use of that platform to push the same progressive agenda she has been at the forefront of for decades is conveniently absent from Sanders’ screeds against her. This speech, while unpaid, gives the lie to his accusation that speaking to Goldman employees equates to corruption or that her policy positions are dictated by Goldman.
But even if it did not, the argument, reduced to its essence, is that the very act of receiving a speaker fee is itself a form of corruption — at least, if the speech is given by Hillary Clinton, and given to a group Sanders does not like. This is intellectually dishonest. He’s certainly not attacking her speeches to women’s rights groups, or questioning her motives there, because he can’t. So he selectively focuses on a bank that symbolizes greed in the public’s mind and attacks her receipt of the fee as “evidence” she will not support the very regulation she has proposed. What Sanders’ selectivity shows, however, is that his focus on her speaking fees is a campaign tactic adopted to push the false corruption narrative, allowing him to deflect criticism of his own blunderbuss “break up the banks” platform by painting Hillary’s arguably superior alternative platform as the product of corruption rather than legitimate disagreement.
Some examples of Sanders’ hypocrisy are above. But that isn’t the end of it.
Sanders claims he wants a political revolution to achieve progressive goals. But he has not supported the election of other candidates who will be necessary to pass progressive legislation through Congress. Until a few days ago, Sanders had raised $1,000 for candidates besides himself — compared to over $20 million Clinton has raised. Now he is supporting three candidates. And in speeches and debates, Sanders now draws no distinction between Hillary and the GOP, contributing to the Nader-esque view prevalent among a subset of his supporters that there is no difference between the parties and that Clinton is a closet Republican.
It is one thing to keep his campaign alive to the end to get the message out, but it’s another when the campaign pretends that progressive goals can be attained by him alone, without Congressional support, or by young people simply showing up at his rallies. It’s also another thing when Sanders insinuates that Democrats are the ones impeding progressive goals, rather than doing what they can in the face of lockstep GOP opposition. He’s willing to shout the shout, but not walk the walk, and he doesn’t seem to be doing a thing to translate the enthusiasm he’s generated into anything but more money for his campaign and hatred for Hillary. In fact he actively works to undermine confidence and trust in the Democratic party and Clinton, its likely nominee — knowing full well that the more his attacks take root in the minds of his supporters or the broader electorate, the more difficult it will be to unite the party and win in the general — ultimately hindering the prospect of electing a Democrat for president and of winning more Senate and Congressional seats.
You could make the argument that continuing to fight in this manner is a smart tactic because it will make him even more indispensable to Clinton in June and require her to make promises for an even more progressive agenda than she might otherwise have done, but I think he’s gone so far in the character attacks (which he originally said he would not engage in) that there may not be any going back. I cannot believe my eyes when I read some of the comments on the public sites. It’s like they were written by the Tea Party — just a frothing cauldron of hatred of Hillary and mindless repetition of debunked rightwing lies and new false Sanders memes about her supposed corruption or her murderous tendencies. And I actually had a friend tell me the other day that Hillary “directed the murder” of Bertha Caceres! (Never mind that the situation in Honduras began in 2010–11 and the Obama administration had good reasons for not declaring a coup and that Hillary has been out of office since 2012; somehow a murder in 2016 by Honduran assassins is not only Hillary’s fault, she “directed” it!) I almost responded, “Yes, Hillary was plotting to kill Caceres while she was stabbing Vince Foster to death.”
So Sanders has gone too far, and character assassination and innuendo have subsumed his campaign. Instead of discussing progressive solutions, he now spends more time arguing that Hillary is “unqualified” because she is corrupt, untrustworthy and immoral based on her fundraising or speech giving. Many of his supporters will come around (recognizing that a GOP victory in November would be catastrophic), but he has disciples, and I don’t think they will. The Bernie or Bust movement is real and its adherents appear immune to reason and to fact. They seem honestly to believe not only that Sanders is morally superior, but that there is no distinction between Hillary and the GOP, that she is corrupt, and that they cannot be “true to themselves” and the ideals they like to think they stand for, unless they do not vote against her. And the difficulty in bringing them around is largely a product of Sanders’s own making. Much of it is due to his dishonest character assault on Hillary and his refusal to acknowledge any meaningful difference between her and the GOP. It is hard to see how they will ever believe Sanders’ (present or future) back-pedaling that Clinton is an acceptable human being after hearing for months that she is a corrupt member of a corrupt (undefined) “establishment.”
And this is where I find Sanders to be the most hypocritical, dangerous, and downright hateful: he knows Clinton is a liberal, and a very liberal liberal at that. He knows she’s to his left on guns and women and LBGT and a range of issues. He knows her leadership on equality issues and the range of progressive achievements she had and helped secure, and he knows that she has developed a full range of progressive solutions in many more areas than he has and to a much more detailed and targeted degree than he himself has. He likely knows she’d be more effective than him in office, and I do not doubt that he knows she is a good person. But he pretends otherwise and smears her and all his congressional colleagues as shills. If he would have just stuck to the issues and spread his message in a positive way, we would not have this bitter, festering hatred of Hillary that he is stoking and exploiting, which could really have negative consequences in the general, both at the presidential level and downticket.
Sanders is also hypocritical because he attacks Clinton for not being transparent, but has failed to disclose his tax returns, and both he and his wife, Jane, have lied about it when questioned.
· First, they both said all their returns had been released. This was false. The Washington Post reported that they had released a page or two from their 2014 return, but not the whole return, and nothing from any prior years. Clinton has produced her returns going back about a decade and every major presidential candidate produces their tax returns. (Sanders has only now, after much pressure and ridicule, released the full return for 2014 — but only for 2014.)
· Second, originally Sanders claimed he could not produce his tax returns because his wife does them. That’s absurd — his tax returns from prior years are all finished; it doesn’t matter who does them, he’s responsible for them because he signed them and has access to them.
· Third, his wife Jane lied in an interview the other day when asked if they had produced their returns, saying they had done so (even though the Washington Post had already demonstrated that claim was false). When pressed by the reporter, Jane then said she would produce them “if” she could find them, and when asked how hard finding her returns could possibly be, she shifted gears and said, “we’ve been kind of busy,” so yeah, maybe, when she gets a chance; and then she claimed they hadn’t produced the tax returns from prior years because “they” had not been running for office in the past; and when the reporter reminded her that her husband has been in office for many years, she just sat there.
I don’t know why Sanders does not want to produce the tax returns, but simple-minded lying about why they have not produced them is a very poor reflex and suggests something is up. My suspicion is that their income and assets may be higher than they have let on, which no one would care about at all, but for the fact that he’s staked out this ground of moral superiority based on that supposed lack of assets — in other words, the returns are likely to reveal he has more than people think and may not be in the 95%.
Sanders also sets himself as the one true progressive, turning himself into some kind of human litmus test for progressive purity. His more credulous supporters have totally drunk this Kool-Aid and it’s been grotesquely effective, and I really can’t stand him for it. The reason I can’t stand him for it is that while Hillary Clinton has made mistakes and made judgments I do not agree with (same with Obama, whom I love), she has spent her life striving to make the world better for women and children and people of color and dedicated her life to doing so in actual, concrete, provable ways that have had real results for people’s lives. Sanders sits on his moral high horse and attacks her, while he’s accomplished little (and some of the legislation he’s been on board with is outright disgusting — for example, his support for gun manufacturer immunity and opposition to the Brady bill):
· So while Bernie Sanders was writing about women fantasizing about being simultaneously raped by three men (see more below), Hillary Clinton was going under cover in the deep South to expose racist practices.
· While Bernie Sanders was running unsuccessfully for office with the Vermont Liberty Union Party as a protest candidate, Hillary Clinton was working for the Children’s Defense Fund and helping the poor get representation.
· While Bernie Sanders didn’t have job until he was 40 years old — on the public payroll as a mayor in VT — Hillary Clinton was the first woman partner in her law firm, served on the board of the Legal Services Corporation, founded Arkansas advocates for Children and Families, and served as first lady of Arkansas.
· Hillary’s lifelong commitments to helping others, including getting health care for millions of children, has been erased from the narrative by Sanders, and his most fervid supporters attack her as a tool of the insurance companies and a corporate hack as if her life’s work never happened.
· Meanwhile, while Clinton was working in the trenches to understand the issues and learn from her health care task force failure, which then led to CHIP and insurance for millions of children, where was Sanders? “Literally, standing right behind you” will laugh his supporters, because there’s a picture of him behind her at a photo-op from 1994. But other than standing in the photo, what did he do to “support” the effort? He voted against the bill. What legislation has he drafted that has helped any child or person obtain insurance?
Sanders is out there attacking Obama and Hillary for the Affordable Health Care Act as if the Democrats sold out the progressive agenda in 2009–10 when they fought tooth and nail against lockstep GOP opposition for what they could get and managed the greatest legislative achievement (even though it is far from perfect) in generations, so that 20 million Americans who did not now have health insurance, and Sanders attacks them and suggests they are corporate shills in thrall to the insurance companies? This is outrageous. It is disingenuous. It is wrong. And it is lazy, binary thinking that omits history and political reality. But this is of a piece with Sanders’ entire approach — he’s a professional protester, and little more.
Except. Except, apparently, when it comes to guns, and environmental racism, and pork from the military-industrial complex for Vermont. His opposition to the Brady bill and support for gun manufacturer immunity are well-known and, in my view, are indefensible positions. The argument that he opposed modest regulations regarding guns because of hunters or small gun shop owners in VT can’t pass the laugh/smell test. His active role in pushing to get VT’s radioactive waste dumped in a poor Latino community in TX (Sierra Blanca) (his wife is an alternate on the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Compact Commission) is ignored by his supporters and omitted by his campaign. And he worked hard to bring home the bacon for VT in the form of a $1.5 trillion war machine known as the F-35, which is the walking definition of waste in defense contracting.
These things matter because they were not votes Sanders made as a compromise to secure important progressive legislation. If they were, I might not have a problem with them, especially because in long political career, there are going to be a few examples of legislation one does not approve of. The reason I mention them, though, is that Sanders has falsely wrapped himself in this mantle of perfect progressivism and civil rights championship while claiming Hillary is a “panderer” and he has set himself up as different from other politicians, one willing to take on supposedly corporate interests. These examples show, again, his hypocrisy. That he sought to dump nuclear waste on a voiceless Latino community is at odds with his self-positioning as a person who will champion the needs of minority communities. The F-35 example gives the lie to his commitment to reduce wasteful military spending — apparently, it’s all bad unless the pork comes home to benefit VT.
And one of Sanders’ worst hypocrisies concerns the primary process itself. Sanders has been an independent for years. He joined the Democratic party in October not because he wants to be a Democrat, but because he knows he cannot get elected as an independent. He said himself in an interview that the reason he switched was that he needed the media coverage in order to run a viable campaign at all. And now he’s running as a Democrat trashing other Democrats as corrupt. Sanders’ negative messaging isn’t about the GOP — it’s about the Democratic Party and its most likely nominee. I doubt independents care much about this, but it’s really pretty disgusting. The Democratic nominee is the head of the party and has an obligation to try to work with the party to elect its candidates and to advance its collective platform. Sanders works actively to undermine the Democratic Party itself.
Even worse, Sanders knew the rules of the primary process when he entered the race. The delegate and super-delegate rules were set up and agreed upon by the party in 1982; Tad Devine, his campaign’s senior advisor, had a role in that process. Though Sanders knew and agreed to the rules when he became a Democrat, once it began to be apparent he would not likely succeed within those rules, he attacked the rules as unfair. His campaign set up a meme that the super delegates are undemocratic and should not have a role in the nomination. But now that the super delegates are his only path to victory, his campaign argues that the super delegates should play a role in the process, and that the super delegates should not vote for Hillary if the polls are favorable to Sanders at the time of the convention. In other words, he is arguing that the nomination should be based on “momentum” or polling of a hypothetical Sanders/GOP match-up, regardless of the popular vote or the number of delegates earned!
At every single turn of the campaign, when something hasn’t gone Sanders’ way, the campaign has attacked whatever rule is inconvenient for Sanders as unfair. If that rule can later be twisted or broken to his advantage, then they argue for that. This has been covered a great deal on various blogs and news programs, so I won’t belabor it — my only point is that his arguments have been rankly hypocritical. There is literally no principle behind them other than the principle of whatever works to help Sanders, then that should be the rule. And the campaign is threatening a contested convention, egged on by Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver. His supporters have also been targeting delegates and super delegates to pressure and threaten them into changing their support for Hillary (regardless of how far ahead she ends up in votes and pledged delegate counts by the convention). Sanders is not only comfortable subverting, he is arguing for, for the subversion of the will of the voters if it will get him the nomination.
If Hillary were to make these arguments, or her supporters to target and threaten his pledged delegates? She’d be savaged in the press and by Sanders’ supporters.
I went back and read several of Sanders’ writings from the 70s. I realize these are from quite a few years ago. However, he was in his early 30s when he wrote them. And I found them to be pathetic — not just poor and embarrassing writing you might forgive if it had been written by a troubled, oversexed sophomoric boy, but very limited, reductive, lazy thinking. He bought into the idea that repression causes cancer, and illustrated that through a hypothetical in which he argued that if some nice young boy “has an old bitch for a teacher (and there are a lot of them)…” who tells him what to do, the boy will repress his feelings; a lifetime of repression will give him prostate cancer. Why do I care about this idiotic piece he wrote at the age of 31? I’ll tell you why. He assumed that the supposedly repression-causing behavior came from women telling boys what to do — he could have picked a male teacher to be the one instilling discipline in his hypothetical — but he assumed years of specifically female teachers would cause boys to repress themselves and lead to prostate cancer. And he had no problem referring to them as “bitch.” He wasn’t 16 when he wrote this.
He was 31.
He’s basically the same age as my dad. My dad at 31 had three children and a job and didn’t refer to our teachers as “bitches” and didn’t blame women for the actions, thoughts, or health of men. Sanders’ writing reveals an adolescent and sexist mindset, not to mention very limited capacity for analysis and scientific reasoning. Sanders also wrote about the dangers of sexual repression in other ways, including through a hypothetical based around women’s supposedly fantasizing about being “raped simultaneously by three men” and men fantasizing about “abusing” and “raping” women. Yuck. He also wrote that because girls reach puberty by 13, they ought to be sexually active as teenagers. Putting aside the ick factor, his writing and analytical capacity aren’t as good as most high schoolers’. This is not my idea of a champion for women.
Then there is the language of the campaign. I’ve watched this campaign, which knows full well how slim the chances of victory are, gleefully exploit 25 years of GOP smears on Hillary Clinton to ensure that a whole new generation of voters who know nothing about the history of that slime machine, swallow that drivel hook, line and sinker with no examination. Because those smears originated when Clinton transgressed historical gender norms by refusing to behave like a traditional First Lady, they cannot be unpacked from gender.
But what turns the campaign’s embrace of the rightwing’s history of character assassination against her from foul to sexist is its use of language like too much “ambition” and “unqualified” and, on Tuesday at the rally in NYC, “Democratic whores.” As every woman over 30 knows, women are routinely criticized as “too ambitious” or “too aggressive”, and face negative consequences, when they act the way any man in their same circumstances would. There is decades of research showing that men are hired and promoted over more qualified women on the basis of the men’s “potential” to achieve what their female competition has actually achieved. There is also decades of research demonstrating people’s discomfort with women asking for promotions or power. The campaign’s language is either deliberately sexist, or used with unconscious bias, but in either case it’s a dog whistle to and for people who know and for those who don’t even realize their own discomfort with women seeking power. (Perhaps this language would not occur if the top ten staffers on his campaign were not white men?)
And while the Sanders campaign is not responsible for the sexism by a media that has no problem with his crazy hair and shouting and spitting and finger-jabbing and interrupting and thick accent and rarely smiling and math-challenged proposals, the campaign is happy to ride that double-standard gravy train as Clinton is picked apart for “shouting”, or for not smiling enough, or for her clothes or hair, or for coughing, and the campaign is happy to play the so-called idealist while painting Clinton as a corporate shill, as if any woman could ever be elected with Sanders’ platform.
Can you imagine if Clinton proposed such an absurd tax plan? She’d be ripped to shreds for her inability to do math. No — the only way she can remotely be considered for this office is by being smarter, more accomplished, more experienced, better prepared. But that’s not enough — Sanders now (again, cleverly) attacks her experience and her qualifications and her preparedness as flaws — oh, she’s too much of a realist, she’s not a visionary, she doesn’t think big enough, she’s part of the system, if she doesn’t make impossible promises, she’s the “establishment” who doesn’t want progressive change, but if she does say she wants progressive change it’s a just a calculation to capture Sanders’ voters (never mind her record).
It’s of no moment that Sanders apologized for his surrogate’s use of the term “corporate Democratic whores” the day after the fact. He let the crowd cheer that sexist term, accepted their boos of Hillary, and took no responsibility for the fact that he’s basically been calling her a corporate whore for the past month, bought and paid for along with like other Democrats. His surrogate’s use of the term “whore” was the natural extension of that, just using specific and gendered terminology to drive the point home.
Then there are the “BernieBros” — the men, usually white guys, who troll women who dare either question Sanders in any way or to comment in a pro-Hillary way on every site they can find. Sanders actually has spent over $16 million on Revolution Messaging, a company that trains interns to go onto social media sites (causing one blogger to hope the company is not involved in on-line trolling). The examples on Twitter, Facebook and other social media of sexist (and racist) memes, the use of the B- and C-words to describe Hillary and women who support her, or who dare suggest Sanders might have a flaw, have been documented, although only partially. Then of course there’s the Hillaryhate, which is fostered and exploited in many ways. Many articles have been written, so I won’t here, about the BernieBros’ repulsive online trolling behavior, and on why the claim of “oh I don’t have a problem with women, I’d vote for Warren” actually demonstrates sexist bias.
Sanders doesn’t set an example at the top, he doesn’t encourage this subset of his supporters (or his campaign) to not use loaded gendered language, he allows his supporters to boo Clinton at his rallies, and he actively encourages the view of her as untrustworthy, power-driven and corrupt.
And even as Clinton and her supporters are subjected to sexist tropes and attacks, Sanders and his surrogates tell everyone that her gender is irrelevant and should not be considered as a positive factor for voting for her. Polls and anecdotal evidence (blog posts, etc.) suggest that his supporters agree with this. Thus, Sanders has very effectively neutralized if not eliminated entirely the historic nature of her likely victory, and made it almost unacceptable to care that she is a woman or to consider the benefits of her being a woman when voting for her.
It’s rather extraordinary that he has made it virtually unacceptable to care that for the first time in history a woman is poised to win the Democratic nomination and seems likely to become the president; we are told it should not matter to us that representation of the half of this country that has been excluded from the presidency for the entirety of its existence is within reach. It’s not supposed to matter that a woman who has been a leader for women’s rights and reproductive rights around the globe, and who has broken so much ground for women, an actual feminist, could possibly be our next president. Suddenly, as the country is on the verge of possibly, finally, at long last, nominating and even electing a woman, the most important thing ever is that we ignore that possibility and instead once again put a white guy in the office because he correctly observes the obvious — that we have a broken campaign finance system and we have income inequality?
Really? The first woman who might win the presidency is “unqualified” because she participates, perforce, like President Obama and everyone else, even Sanders (admittedly to a lesser degree), in the broken system? (Never mind that her campaign addresses the same issues of campaign finance reform and income inequality and never mind that Sanders’ plan is not viable.) It is amazing that this simple diagnosis makes Sanders a truth-teller whose nomination is groundbreaking, while electing a woman for the first time in history is somehow not.
Unprepared and lazy:
The Daily News interview revealed that there is essentially nothing behind or beyond Sanders’ stump speech. He hasn’t thought deeply about the solutions that are the centerpieces of his campaign. He promises a quick fix of free college or universal health care without any admission of the colossal undertaking and work that would be required to craft these laws much less get them enacted. He offers simplistic, one-size-fits-all solutions to complex problems (break up the banks!) without considering the consequences. Questioned, all he could do was revert to the set lines he says in every speech and at every debate. The interview also revealed that hadn’t thought about a number of critical foreign policy issues.
And it is clear from his record, and from his statements about Castro and the Sandinistas, that Sanders really has a 1930s-style pure-lefty mindset that does not even acknowledge the violence that characterized these regimes. Instead, he still sees them as the voice of the people in a noble pursuit to throw off the yoke of dictatorship and U.S. intervention. This critique, which he made on the air in the 1980s, was something he was offered the chance to disavow during the Univision Democratic debate — but he doubled down on his praise of Castro, disavowed nothing, and then lost Florida big. I think it is fine to critique the Cold War ideology that led the U.S. to many disastrous interventions in Latin America, as Sanders does — but he does so without any acknowledgement of the extraordinarily negative consequences of the movements he praises. And to me that signals a blinkered myopia about revolutionary movements in general and an attachment to socialist ideology that is rather shocking in its naiveté. (His comments will render him unelectable in the general. Go back and watch the video and imagine the commercial the GOP will make.)
So, while I opposed the Iraq war and believe Hillary’s support for the resolution for authorizing force in October 2002 was a political calculation that she should not have made, and I agree with Sanders’ vote against it, that single vote doesn’t make up for his lack of inquiry into or real engagement with the complexity and breadth of foreign policy issues that a commander in chief ought to have.
And more problematically, I don’t trust Sanders’ judgment, even though he got it right that one time on Iraq. Sanders has spent his life taking positions from a deeply ideological point of view, and has done so without having to ever really consider or answer for the consequences of his positions, because he’s so often been in the minority taking a protester’s position. But a commander in chief and a president has to govern in real time and from a place of reality, not ideology, and must balance many competing interests and constituencies — two things Sanders not only has never done, but has demonstrated he has no interest in doing. It is not clear he even knows how.
Temperament. Sanders is crotchety and becomes red-faced, testy and sarcastic when criticized or questioned. He doesn’t seem to have an “inside voice.” In town halls when he is asked questions he doesn’t really listen to the question or hear it; he responds with his set answers. He brushed his wife away from a lectern (“don’t stand there”) on the air; he has repeatedly (as Chuck Todd has noticed) thrown his surrogates under the bus; he blames his failure to release his taxes on his wife; the negative consequences of the crime bill he derides have nothing to do with him. This is a pattern. There seems to always be some reason why someone other than him is responsible for anything that happens. He does not “own” things, and doesn’t allow himself to be held accountable. Worse, he is all about the blame and too little about an effective solution. I will use two examples, but there are many.
First, his desire to break up the banks seems to be focused on punishment, and his opposition to TARP was also focused on punishment. To use his language, I think that his opposition to TARP “disqualified” him from the presidency. In 2008, the Bush administration and Congress had a choice about whether to let financial institutions collapse or bail them out. Sanders was willing to let those institutions, consequences be damned, fail, because bad actors had made bad choices. He preferred to have an extended worldwide global depression — the certain outcome without TARP — rather than let those actors avoid some form of retribution for their role in the collapse.
The analogy I’ve made in the past is to the Titanic. If the captain’s negligence causes the ship to hit the iceberg, and people start drowning, do you let the ship sink, rather than rescue it, in order to teach the captain a lesson? No. You have to rescue the ship, even if it means the captain’s life is saved, even if he deserves to drown, because there remain innocents on board with him and we must save them and the ship. TARP was the rescue for the sinking ship of our economy. If the banks had been allowed to fail, not only would we have seen a devastating run on all banks, but the trillions of dollars in wealth that were wiped out as it was would have been magnified multi-fold and there would have been a total economic collapse across the entire globe for many years. (And TARP, though a risk, was successful; a global depression was averted and taxpayers were repaid.) But Sanders opposed it. And then, even worse, he went on to oppose the auto bailout too because of his opposition to TARP.
I really think these two votes are indefensible. They demonstrate an inability to see the bigger picture, a commitment to ideology over realism and pragmatic decisions, and a politics of punishment rather than of solution: punish the banks, they are evil, you cannot reward their behavior — no matter the real consequences of making the more difficult choice of bailing them out even though it encouraged moral hazard to do so. The good of the country required supporting TARP. Yet Sanders stood aside when his own proposals got no support, and voted against the bailout because in his view the banks did not deserve to be saved. And because he was in the minority, the disastrous consequences of doing nothing were never realized, and he never had to answer for the ultimate irresponsibility of his position.
Second example is Flint, MI. Hillary’s response was to speak with the mayor of Flint, ask how she could help and then arrange a visit and meet with people and send help and develop a policy platform for addressing lead in water. (Her proposal was released on April 14 and Kevin Drum of Mother Jones is in heaven, as he has been beating the drum about the dangers of lead’s possible causal relation to crime for many years.) Sanders’ response was to demand Gov. Snyder’s resignation. Another feel-good, I’m better than you, punish the bums reaction that, without more, does nothing to improve the situation in Flint or anywhere else. That’s Sanders — self-righteous moralizing and retribution, but no workable solution. And while I think Snyder should resign, the situation is, surprise, more complicated than that and it’s not all about Snyder.
What all this says to me is that Sanders is unwilling, unable, and temperamentally unsuited to actually govern or to engage in responsible executive decision-making. This is not a person who listens and learns or works with others or compromises; this is a person whose entire life has been dedicated to making points from a place of ideological purity. Those points are important, and I agree with most of them, but they are not a basis for electing him to the presidency.
The rhetoric both he and his campaign use also illustrates these issues of temperament that I find so off-putting. Attacking the character rather than the argument of people who disagree with you is inappropriate in a president. Dismissing as irrelevant or ignorant entire swaths of voters who don’t agree with you is inappropriate in a president. The Sanders campaign has done both, and it has done so repeatedly and deliberately.
As discussed, character assassination of Clinton has virtually subsumed his campaign. The campaign routinely dismisses his inability to connect with people of color, or people in the South, or voters over 35, by writing them off as the “Deep South” or not young, or “African American.” This sends a message, picked up on by supporters, that voters in red states don’t matter; that “old” voters are “establishment”; and that African-Americans are too uninformed to know that Bernie is best for them or Hillary is pandering to them (not racist! really!). They dismiss women’s support of Hillary as based on their “uterus” (not sexist! really!). This language demeans voters, denies them their agency, and suggests once again that there cannot be a legitimate reason for voting for Hillary — it can’t be that she is the better candidate, or connects more with diverse constituencies, or that there are problems with Sanders. The only problem is with the electorate, too stupid or too establishment-oriented to realize that Sanders is the answer.
And the campaign’s spin of the delegate math, along with its theme of Clinton’s and the “establishment’s” untrustworthiness, actively encourages its more rabid base to believe that there is a media bias against Sanders, that the “media” is not covering him, that Hillary’s victories are somehow illegitimate, that the people who vote for her don’t matter, that the DNC has hijacked the voting apparatus in states where Sanders loses, that GOP voter suppression tactics are actually the DNC’s, that the super delegates are unfair unless they vote for Sanders, that the DNC or individual states rigged their voting laws in favor of Hillary, that Hillary is not actually 2.3 million votes ahead, that Hillary is not actually over 200 pledged delegates ahead, that somehow it is a media conspiracy to report the math — i.e., it’s media bias to report that statistically it is highly unlikely for Sanders to make up his pledged delegate/voting deficit or that that deficit comes because she’s won big in much more populous states with more diverse populations (and if the media says so they are in the tank for Hillary); that the mainstream media itself prefers Hillary (even though she has received more negative media coverage than any other candidate, including Trump). And these beliefs are spread via social media, Reddit threads, fake memes, tweets and trolling attacks, taking root as “truth”, along with the character assaults on Hillary and the myth of Sanders’ integrity, in a dangerous feedback loop of confirmation bias.
In short, in addition to hope and idealism and thirst for progressive change (which I support and share), the Sanders campaign has also awakened a dormant left-wing Tea Party that I didn’t believe existed, but that lives in a fever swamp of conspiracy-thinking and epistemic closure and rejection of fact and binary, “us v. them” thinking. And that terrifies me. The mere fact that the left’s goals are goals I largely share doesn’t make their behavior or refusal to deal in reality any more appealing than the hard right’s similar behavior. I don’t want a leftwing analogue to the extreme right’s lunacy. But that is what Sanders has unleashed among some of his supporters. In fact, he’s stoking and exploiting it, and it’s dangerous.
And so, although I will vote for Sanders in a heartbeat over anyone in the GOP (whose candidates and platform are awful in every respect), because of his words, deeds, and temperament, Bernard Sanders is not worthy of the Democratic nomination.
Author’s Note: I have updated this post to include links to sources. During the process I corrected some minor factual errors. I also came upon several analyses of Sanders’ tax proposal that suggest that while his growth assumptions have no modern historical precedent, and may be very optimistic, they might be achievable, and therefore, the conclusion that I reached in February— that his numbers were functionally a lie — is too harsh. However, I still believe it is not intellectually honest to build a tax plan around such aggressively optimistic assumptions.