Smearing Bernie, a preview

A Murdoch paper shows us how Republicans will go after Sanders, once they start taking him seriously.

Soviet propaganda poster.

Bernie Sanders, as seen by the New York Post

So far, Republican presidential candidates have been positioning themselves to run against Hillary Clinton.

In the transcript of the most recent Republican debate, I found only five mentions of Bernie Sanders.  Two occurred when John Kasich was asked about the possibility of running against Sanders, and brushed it off:

We’re going to win every state if Bernie Sanders is the nominee. That’s not even an issue.

In the other three, Sanders’ name was invoked to tar somebody else. Marco Rubio said Ted Cruz typically joined with Sanders to vote against defense bills in the Senate. Twice, Sanders and Clinton were yoked together, so that Clinton could be associated with a position Bernie has taken more explicitly: Ben Carson said Clinton and Sanders blame everything on “those evil rich people”, and Chris Christie said both would raise Social Security taxes.

Clinton, on the other hand, seemed to come up in every answer. She was described as “a national security disaster”, “someone who lies to the families of those four victims in Benghazi”, “an enabler of sexual misconduct”, who wants “to take rights away from law-abiding citizens”, and whose weakness “will lead to greater war in the world”. In other settings, Donald Trump has speculated that Hillary is running “to stay out of jail“, and Chris Christie has promised to prosecute her.

In short, the Right’s barrage against Hillary targets far more than her vision of America’s future or her proposals for getting there. It’s personal, and has been since Bill’s candidacy first drew their attention a quarter century ago.

At times, Republicans even appear to consider Sanders an ally in the anti-Clinton struggle. Karl Rove’s American Crossroads PAC is running an anti-Hillary ad in Iowa, echoing a Sanders-campaign charge about contributions from Wall Street. Bloomberg reports:

During Sunday night’s Democratic debate, the Republican National Committee made the unusual move of sending no fewer than four real-time e-mails to reporters defending the self-described democratic socialist from attacks by Hillary Clinton or echoing his message against her.

It’s not a complete love-fest, though. Republican leaders or Fox News or other conservative outlets occasionally trash the whole idea of socialism or a socialist president. But so far their criticisms of Sanders have mostly stayed philosophical: Bernie’s a good guy, he just has bad ideas.

You know that won’t last, if a Sanders presidency starts to look like a serious possibility. I suppose an optimist could imagine a Sanders/Trump, Sanders/Cruz, or Sanders/Rubio race becoming a national debate about Bernie’s issues: universal health care, an increased minimum wage, creating jobs by rebuilding America’s public infrastructure, making college free, breaking up the big banks, and so on. The GOP’s candidate could explain why he opposes Bernie’s agenda and try to convince the American people to agree with him.

But I suspect the Republicans will take a different approach, because they always do. In a general-election campaign, they won’t be satisfied to say that Sanders is wrong; instead, they’ll want to argue that there is something wrong with him. A campaign that is already centered on hatred and fear won’t change its character for Bernie. Once he is seen as a serious challenger, there will have to be reasons to hate and fear Bernie Sanders.

What reasons? Let’s assume for the moment that there is no legitimate scandal in Bernie’s past, nothing that would give pause to an objective, well-informed voter. Let’s go further and assume that he hasn’t had allies or acquaintances who can be demonized, like Jeremiah Wright or Bill Ayers.

Does that put him in the clear? I don’t think it does. Even if Sanders and everyone he has ever associated with are paragons of saintly virtue, “scandals” can always be manufactured out of nothing.

The Obama-birther issue is a classic example: Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. The State of Hawaii says so, local newspapers published birth announcements at the time, and there was never any reason (beyond the wishful thinking of people who didn’t like him) to doubt his birth or citizenship or eligibility for the presidency. But that didn’t keep the “controversy” from raging for years. (Trump voters still don’t believe Obama was born in America.)

Going back a little further, John Kerry served admirably in Vietnam, was wounded three times, and received both a bronze and a silver star for heroism. But all that was turned against him in the campaign that gave swift-boating its name. Mike Dukakis was accused of being against the Pledge of Allegiance, and responded too slowly because he just couldn’t believe anyone would take the charge seriously. (They did.)  The suicide of Clinton aide Vince Foster was hyped as a murder, supposedly to cover up an affair with Hillary. (But according to a contradictory rumor, Hillary is lesbian.) Al Gore said several true things that got exaggerated, and then the blame for being a “serial exaggerator” got pinned back on him. Howard Dean yelled at the wrong time, so he was clearly unhinged.

No matter how much you admire Bernie Sanders, nobody is so perfect that they can’t be lied about or ridiculed for some blameless statement or action. If Sanders becomes a threat, the Right will go after him — personally. Not his policies or political philosophy, him.

How will they do it?

We got a preview in the January 16 edition of Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post. In a column the Post categorized as News (not Opinion), Paul Sperry wrote “Don’t be fooled by Bernie Sanders — he’s a diehard Communist.

The article is long and full of details, but even so, the evidence Sperry assembles for his claim is … well, sketchy would be a compliment.

  • As a student in 1964, Sanders belonged to the Young Socialists League. (The article gives no evidence that YSL was all that sinister. And besides, a lot can happen in half a century. At about the same time, Hillary Clinton was a Goldwater girl.)
  • He worked for a union that was investigated by the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee. (That’s the one Joe McCarthy used for his witchhunts. If everyone HUAC investigated had actually conspired with the Soviets, the Republic would have fallen a long time ago.)
  • In the 1970s, he “headed the American People’s History Society, an organ for Marxist propaganda”. (No evidence is given for the Marxist-propaganda claim, other than a documentary favorable to the early-20th-century American socialist and labor crusader Eugene Debs. Elsewhere, a University of Vermont librarian elaborates: “In the brochure’s ‘Dear Educator’ section, Sanders announced that Debs was the first documentary in a new series called ‘The Other Side of American History,’ which would ‘deal with people and ideas that the major profit oriented manufacturers of audio-visual material will not cover because of economic and political reasons’.”)
  • Bernie’s Senate office displays a portrait of Debs, who like a lot of people at that time — George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells come to mind — was slow to recognize the dark side of the Russian Revolution. (Saying nice things about the Bolsheviks was far from the center of Debs’ political identity, which was more about organizing unions, trying to keep the U.S. out of World War I, and popularizing then-radical notions like unemployment insurance and Social Security.)
  • In the 1970s, Sanders belonged to the Liberty Union Party, which wanted banks and utilities to be publicly owned. (Contrary to the “diehard Communist” claim, the leader of that party says they parted ways because “Sanders was moving right”.)
  • As Mayor of Burlington, he supported rent control and land trusts. (In hindsight, it worked out pretty well.)
  • While he was mayor, Burlington’s minor-league team was called the Vermont Reds (possibly because it was a farm team of the Cincinnati Reds. Life imitates art here: In the 1970s conspiracy-theory romp Illuminatus!, a right-wing rabble-rouser warns an Ohio crowd that the time to thwart Communist world domination is now: “Are we going to wait until the godless Reds are right here in Cincinnati?”)
  • In the 1980s, he didn’t support President Reagan’s attempt to overthrow the elected government of Nicaragua by force, and instead attempted to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. (The Sandinistas eventually lost an election and left office voluntarily, so maybe they weren’t such Stalinist monsters after all.)
  • Burlington has a sister city in Russia (as part of a program established by President Eisenhower). As Mayor, Sanders and his new wife went on a group trip to that sister city not long after they got married, creating the sort-of-true claim that he “honeymooned in the Soviet Union“.

There’s more, but you get the idea. For decades, Sanders has been on the left side of the American political spectrum. He’s been suspicious of what unregulated capitalists might do and in favor of workers organizing unions to counter their power. Like the late Howard Zinn, he believes (correctly, I think) that the left side of American political history got misrepresented during the Cold War, and still isn’t told accurately. He’s been skeptical of the perpetual-warfare state, and its efforts to focus our attention on external enemies rather than internal injustice.

If that’s diehard Communism, then there are a lot more diehard Communists than I thought — including me, I guess.

Looking at the weakness of the case, you might be tempted to laugh it off. But swift-boating John Kerry was absurd too, and it worked. With money, media power, and a significant slice of the population ready to repeat whatever nonsense they’re told, the Right can go places with a narrative like this — especially against a candidate most of the country doesn’t know.

So if you were a Republican candidate running against Sanders next fall, why would you risk discussing single-payer health care on its merits (and defending the health insurance companies nobody likes) when you could instead turn the question to whether Bernie Sanders is a loyal American? I mean, Stalin supported single-payer health care, and Castro — so why are we even discussing how it works and who it benefits? The GOP candidate will favor American healthcare, not Soviet healthcare like Comrade Sanders.

Why bother disputing the moral and economic virtues of a higher minimum wage, when you could say: “I believe in wages that you earn fairly in the free market, while Comrade Sanders believes the government should set your wages”? Why defend the too-big-to-fail enormity of Citibank and Bank of America when you could instead rail against Comrade Sanders’ plan for a government takeover of the banking system? (If ObamaCare could be labeled a “government takeover of the healthcare system“, why not do the same to Sanders’ bank-break-up plan?) You could point out that strong American presidents of both parties, from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan, won the Cold War. So why are we giving in to Communism now?

And since Sanders has declared his independence from all special interests, the Republican nominee will have much more money to use setting the terms of the general-election debate. He’ll be able to launch five attacks for every Sanders defense. Even when Sanders gets free media attention, he’ll find himself confronted with questions about Soviet healthcare and government takeovers and giving in to Communism. When you talk to your crazy uncle who lives inside the Fox News bubble, those phrases will form a buzzword-wall that you’ll never get past.

That is why the decision to vote for Sanders in the primaries — here in New Hampshire, my decision is coming up faster than most — is more complicated than it seems. Because Sanders has yet to face the full force of the right-wing bullshit machine, I put no stock at all in the polls showing him running better against Republican candidates than Hillary does, or picking up Trump voters in a race against some other Republican. And while I want to see a full public debate of the issues Bernie is raising, I’m not at all sure that will happen if we nominate him.

That may sound crazy, but the campaign you get is often not the one you thought you were signing up for. Mike Dukakis knew he’d have to defend his ideas about creating jobs, but he never expected to become the Guy Who Hates the Pledge of Allegiance or the Pro Black Rapist Candidate. (Looking back, he said: “I made a decision we weren’t going to respond. That was it. About two months later I woke up and realized I was getting killed with this stuff.”) Elizabeth Warren anticipated criticism of her banking proposals, but not how much time she would have to spend denying that she invented Native American ancestors to cash in on affirmative action.

Being in the right only helps up to a point. If the other side can launch a series of attacks that have just enough surface plausibility to demand a response, the public’s attention may never turn to the issues you’re trying to run on. The voters may never listen to all those wonderful points you want to make.

So if he’s nominated, I have to wonder how much of Bernie’s message will make it out to the voters, and how much will be swamped by bullshit issues. How much time will he spend establishing that he’s not a Bolshevik (or worse, refusing to establish that he’s not a Bolshevik, on the high principle that he shouldn’t have to), or defending some easily misrepresented Burlington city ordinance from thirty years ago? Having seen how completely the Right can re-invent a recent historical figure like Saul Alinsky, I can barely imagine what they’ll do with Eugene Debs.

Dealing with bullshit issues patiently but firmly (and occasionally managing to turn them to your advantage) requires its own kind of political skill, the kind John Kennedy demonstrated when he defused fears of his Catholicism, or Obama showed when he spoke about race and Jeremiah Wright. (That speech was the moment I realized I wanted Obama to be president.) No one believes Hillary Clinton has the oratorical gifts of JFK or Obama, but she’s been facing right-wing smears for more than two decades, and has gotten pretty good at fending them off, as she showed when she stared down the House Benghazi Committee for 11 hours in October.

Does Bernie Sanders have that in him? I don’t know. So far, nothing in his career has required it. I worry that when Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones put him in the crosshairs, he’ll get testy and defensive. Baseless attacks might raise his preachy side, leading him to lecture reporters rather than answer their questions or artfully deflect them or humorously turn them around. His idealism might lead him to insist that because bullshit issues shouldn’t matter, they don’t.

They do. In election after election, we’ve seen that they do. We need a candidate who can deal with them.

Is Bernie Sanders that candidate? I don’t know. That — maybe even more than how I feel about the policy differences between Clinton and Sanders — is the thing I have to decide in the next two weeks.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Tammer  On January 25, 2016 at 9:25 am

    Also – you’re really discounting Bernie’s demographics. “He’s a communist” doesn’t work against the enormous support of young non-regular voters.

    • Anonymous  On January 28, 2016 at 1:40 pm

      My impression is that many of the people at Sanders’ rallies are people who haven’t voted before. It’s great that he can energize people who haven’t been engaged in the past, but to win the election they have to actually vote. Are they registered? Will they be registered by the time of the election?

      • weeklysift  On January 30, 2016 at 7:27 am

        This isn’t something I worry too much about, because if it’s a problem, it will fix itself: If Sanders supporters don’t vote, he won’t get nominated.

  • Bill Camarda  On January 25, 2016 at 10:35 am

    When Bernie announced, I sent him a hundred bucks almost immediately. That’s because I believe we absolutely must get Bernie’s issues on the table loud and clear if we’ll ever turn this country around — and because I agree with Bernie that change will only happen through mass organization of people for the long haul, not just for one candidate.

    But with each passing day, I worry more about exactly what you’ve written about here.

    I got involved in politics walking precincts for George McGovern. I learned a powerful lesson about the seductive notion that there’s a hidden left majority out there in America just waiting to be summoned.

    There isn’t. That isn’t to say there couldn’t be a left majority in this country. Just that it’ll take a decade, or a generation, to build it.

    I think Sanders understands that. I think he’s running to start that journey, precisely since nobody else seemed ready to do it. But I’m not sure whether some of his supporters understand it.

    I cut my teeth in politics hanging around lower Manhattan with folks from the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, its successor Democratic Socialists of America, and the left edge of the 1970s New York Democratic Party. So I know plenty of “red diaper babies,” plenty of folks culturally just like Bernie. I totally get him, and I love him.

    But (as a 60 year old grumpy Jewish guy from Queens myself) I sense a massive cultural gap between Bernie and much of the country that makes him even easier to demonize as “alien” than your typical Democrat. And while I think America’s changing demographics may make it more amenable to “socialist” policies around the workplace, childcare, and healthcare, I don’t see those changing demographics making Bernie easier to viscerally relate to (unless you get him already, like I do).

    So, I too am struggling with what to do. I know Hillary Clinton is neither capable of nor interested in leading the kind of movement this country desperately needs — but I agree that if anyone is likely to survive insane right-wing demonization, it’s probably her. I know no candidate is the perfect vessel for my dreams or policies… and that as you say, the Republicans are past masters at demonizing anyone, whoever they are.

    But I also know that Gallup poll about the unpopularity of socialism still means something: in 2016, the people who feel that way are still alive and voting, while the smaller demographic groups that disagree still vote in lower proportions.

    And I know it will be especially catastrophic — perhaps irrevocably so — if ANY of these Republicans wins the Presidency this year. (I know we say that every four years, but just look at how the GOP has hardened: it really is qualitatively worse now.)

    So I find myself sitting uncomfortably on the sidelines, waiting to see the situation resolve itself — and reminding Sanders and Clinton devotees that we’d better not create deeply personal divisions we can’t repair.

    • Tammer  On January 25, 2016 at 12:39 pm

      Although there’s a big difference between this race and past situations: during this vote people are more connected than they’ve ever been before, by orders of magnitude. Fighting a rumor doesn’t take a week’s news cycle anymore – people can find the truth themselves instantly.

      • Josh  On January 25, 2016 at 1:39 pm

        People can find the truth for themselves instantly IF THEY WANT TO. Do you think Limbaugh’s audience will go to the effort of fact checking his bullshit?

      • Bill Camarda  On January 25, 2016 at 1:59 pm

        That’s certainly possible, given the emergence of social media. But it may be more true among people who are already engaged with the process and have some basis for determining who’s telling the truth and who isn’t. If you’d never voted, didn’t regularly read political news, and didn’t already have a general political outlook, where would you start in determining the “truth” about Bernie Sanders?

        In trying to bring newcomers and sporadic or non-voters into the system, Sanders faces a special challenge here. He needs to draw millions of people into the process who are being screwed by conservative free market economics but either haven’t seen it quite that way (“it’s those immigrants”) or don’t see evidence that the political system could ever work for them (“all politicians are the same.”)

        The country’s future may depend on engaging or re-engaging millions of people who feel that way. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy.

        BTW, is there evidence that people are more engaged this time by orders of magnitude? I hope so, but haven’t really seen it, beyond anecdote. This is the only data I’ve found, and it’s from way back in September:

      • Anonymous  On January 25, 2016 at 6:20 pm

        They can find the truth if they want to.

  • Alex  On January 25, 2016 at 10:44 am

    I realize the need to discuss what may happen during the general election, however, Bernie has never stopped using the words “political revolution”. In a general where beltway outsiders may arguably have the easier time gaining swing voters – his ability to mobilize a grass roots voting machine may outweigh the rights smear campaign.

  • Kenneth Sutton  On January 25, 2016 at 10:54 am

    “There are a lot more diehard Communists than I thought — including me.” –Doug Muder. And there you have it. 🙂

  • mhasegawa  On January 25, 2016 at 10:54 am

    I live in neighboring Vermont where we know Bernie. He has the rare ability to learn from his mistakes. I wish that everyone could meet him ’cause if they did, he would win over Dems and moderate (if there are any left) Republicans. I am a veteran of a lot of losing campaigns beginning with Eugene McCarthy. I supported Jerry Brown and Bob Kerry. I was a McGovern delegate to the National Convention. Somehow this seems and feels different. Maybe I’m deluded in my “old” age or something, but Bernie is a realist and he, unlike McGovern, knows what is ahead. Will it make a difference? Don’t know. I will vote for Hillary if she wins the primaries, but I have to say, I’m ready for someone like Bernie. And don’t think that there isn’t stuff to make up about her, too.

  • SCL  On January 25, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    And after the election, eight more years of the same pointless attacks, fear mongering, and hysteria. Such fun.

  • Rebecca (@Geaux_RC)  On January 25, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    I was a big Sanders fan (before it was cool even!), and I still like him quite a bit. He seems like a genuinely nice man, who really wants to fix the problems he sees in the world. I even agree with a lot of his big ideas. His campaign has some weaknesses though, and it’s disturbing to me that attempts to bring those up result in accusations of “Shills!” or “Don’t worry, the Revolution will work!” We did the “Hope and Change” thing 8 years ago, and millions of people did show up and did vote. Until they didn’t. Then it was “Hello, Tea Party 2010!” This “revolution” people want to happen and believe that Sanders has the ability to lead isn’t going to happen just with the White House – it has to happen at local, state, and Congressional levels. If Sanders wants to move the bookshelf more than one pivot at a time, he’ll need progressives in his corner – lots and lots of progressives who are willing to spend lots and lots of money. Considering the the Democratic Party’s current weakness at state and local levels, it’s going to take at least a couple of election cycles to rebuild a robust Democratic presence. (And forget the House until 2022, barring some insane crisis.)

    As of a few weeks ago, Sanders hasn’t raised any money for down ballot candidates. Not a penny. Why? Because the DNC hasn’t asked nicely I guess? They like Hillary better? (Who has been a Democrat since she was in college, so I don’t understand why people are surprised when the Party supports her.) His campaign said something about being willing to if the DNC would just ask. No. If you want to lead a Revolution, you need to actually lead it. Then, last week, he throws that line out about how Planned Parenthood is part of the establishment (a comment he walked back a day or two later). Plus, there’s the DNC data breach/lawsuit issue (which the big screw-up came out of his campaign). Yes, he fired the staffer responsible, but then in almost the same news cycle, the campaign and its surrogates were talking about how the fired staffer had been recommended by the DNC – implying, what? There’s some kind of conspiracy to steal data from Hillary Clinton to make Bernie Sanders look bad?

    His single-payer health care idea is awesome, and I’d love it – if we could start from scratch. But we can’t. The Dems barely got the ACA passed and that was after watering it down. For women to get all their health care needs met under a Sanders’ plan, we’d have to do something about the Hyde Amendment. Who knows how many people would sue over their tax dollars going to pay for birth control because it places an undue burden on their faith. Then his plan to break up big banks using this one specific section of the Dodd-Frank act? Which doesn’t actually give the president the authority to break up big banks at all, it’s the fed.

    Adding a lot of that stuff together, plus the things you brought up (his ability to handle the relentless and not-based-in-reality nature of GOP attacks) has led me to the conclusion that a Sanders campaign would be bad and a presidency might be a disaster. The Republicans have called Obama a socialist for 8 years and he’s not even close. I can’t imagine what they’d do if there was an actual person who identified with the socialist label in the White House. The millions of people who vote for Sanders are probably going to get fed up with the politics of it all and check out – Democrats have a hard time getting people to vote in the mid-terms anyway.

    MIND YOU – this is still not an argument that Sanders shouldn’t be the nominee or that he wouldn’t have a great presidency, definitely not. It’s more that this is really the kind of stuff people should be thinking about and too often when I point out these problems, the response I get back is, “Shill apologist! Why are you so blind!” or “Don’t worry, the Revolution is going to be televised.” Those aren’t answers and idealism has to fit into reality somehow.

    • Rebecca (@Geaux_RC)  On January 25, 2016 at 2:52 pm

      I meant to say “could be bad” down there in the last paragraph. 🙂

    • weeklysift  On January 25, 2016 at 4:37 pm

      I’ve also been thinking about 2010. If we ever do have the kind of political revolution Sanders has been talking about, it won’t just be one election. If that’s the plan, people need to commit themselves to a decade of hard work — not vote once, win, and then check out when your guy (Obama, that time) can’t do everything you imagined right away.

      Imagine if in 2010 all the progressives disappointed in Obama had worked to elect a Congress that would push him further left! Instead, a lot of them stayed home, and we’ve been dealing with the Tea Party in Congress ever since.

      • Rebecca (@Geaux_RC)  On January 25, 2016 at 5:37 pm

        Exactly! I think about the three big progressive movements in the 20th century (the Progressives, New Dealers, and Civil Rights activists), and it seems like a lot of changes happened so quickly – only it wasn’t that quick. Progressives worked for, what? 30 years between the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the end of WWI – at all levels of government. The New Deal wasn’t a radical departure from capitalism, nor was it really all that effective in ending the Great Depression. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 seem like very rapid change looking back, but only if you ignore the decades of legal pressure and boycotts coming before then.

        One election will not lead to a revolution, and building a revolution based on the demographics of a group that is bad at voting consistently…I’m not sold. It terrifies me to think what happens with a President Sanders in 2018 after two years of “Commie rule.” Granted, we could face just as much inertia and ridiculousness with Clinton (see: Benghazi), but if anything, she might be willing to lend her donor support to lower level Democrats and direct change from the bottom up. I’m not so sure Sanders is interested in building up a party he sees as part of the problem.

  • Uncle Josh  On January 25, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    This is, sadly, one of the most pessimistic articles I’ve read here on the Sift. I’d like to think that these dire predictions won’t come true, but I’ve been paying attention, and I am truly afraid that you’re right.

  • Berto  On January 25, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    So the people who believe Limbaugh and Hannity might not vote for a Democrat if we nominate a Democratic Socialist like Sanders?
    By all means, let’s find a Democrat they can support too.

    I get what you mean, but a win for Clinton in the general election is a confirmation that the DLC/ DNC way (pissing on liberal values to show your bona fides and the move away from Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy) is how you win elections.

  • Jeremy Henson  On January 25, 2016 at 7:54 pm

    I can’t agree with weighing Clinton against Sanders as a “who would win?” proposition, because I don’t want a President Hillary Clinton. I think it’s a disingenuous argument to make. The two represent wildly different politics. I’d vote for Sanders if he were an independent. If he doesn’t get nominated, I’ll likely vote for Jill Stein.

    Establishment politics got us here, where we’re willing to vote for a center-right Democrat simply to avoid being stripped of civil rights by the Republicans, even though she’s vetted and backed by the institutions that wrecked our economy (and continue to do so). Why would I expect her presidency to do anything but make 2024 seem all the more dire, requiring yet another publicly palatable establishment candidate to save us from total disaster?

    • Rebecca (@Geaux_RC)  On January 25, 2016 at 9:39 pm

      They both agree on the following:

      Climate change is real and should be addressed. Women deserve to have control over their bodies. The wealthy should pay more than they currently are in taxes. Voting rights need to be protected and expanded, not undermined and limited. Education is an important priority and should be funded appropriately. The minimum wage needs to be raised. Health care is a fundamental human right. The criminal justice system needs reform.

      Their politics might be different in some areas and the degree to which they might seek change might different, but I don’t think you could say they’re wildly different. Especially not when comparing them to anyone running for president on the Republican side. If the differences matter more than the similarities, that’s understandable, but voting for a 3rd party candidate in the general isn’t going to do much of anything except maybe help the Republicans out a little. Ralph Nader was a “protest vote” in 2000 and that didn’t turn out so great.

      • Jeremy Henson  On February 1, 2016 at 6:34 pm

        Thanks, Rebecca. And I appreciate your point that I was hyperbolic calling them “wildly” different. That’s needlessly strong language. I do think they’re significantly different though, in crucial ways.

        For me, the differences do outweigh the similarities. Clinton supports the status quo, and will continue compromising our democracy away to the emerging oligarchy. Her ambitions for change are small, and in my opinion sideshows to what matters. She is vetted and approved by the same financiers who brought us the housing bubble and the 2008 recession. The only threat to our well-being and liberty I’d say is greater is climate change, which you’re right, she supports proper action on.

        I suppose the big question for each Democrat is: how much of a threat do you perceive big money to be? I rank it second after climate change. I encourage my conservative friends to vote Sanders as a single-issue vote to get big money out of politics. The buying and selling of our elections is the death of democracy. Apart from us all dying to climate change, I can’t see a bigger threat to our liberty.

        Thanks again.

  • agnomely  On January 25, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    Excellent—and I fear, all too prescient—post. As a Bernie supporter, I hope he’s prepared for the onslaught. It seems, so far, that he has a good team working on his campaign. In any case, this is shaping up to be possibly the most interesting, yet, unsettling election cycle in my memory. Fingers crossed!

  • Mike Higgins  On January 26, 2016 at 11:26 am

    We elected a black president. Twice. One of the things Obama did right (among many) was to NOT take an elitist stance regarding the attacks against him. In fact, with the Rev. Wright speech, he turned a legitimate weakness into a rallying cry for O’s election. Many of us are disappointed with the President for not going far enough but nobody can deny he has done a great job with an entire establishment fighting against him. I see no reason to doubt Sanders can do the same.
    Nobody is going to be able to work “with” the GOP, a political party tearing itself into pieces. So, the argument that we should follow our “heads” and not our “hearts” to my view is nonsense.
    Compromise only works when both of the parties are willing to participate. There is nothing to suggest that is the case in 2016. So, for me, give me the unicorns and the fuzzy squirrels and the Disney bluebirds. We may not be able to make a change immediately but we will make no changes if we surrender before we even get into office.
    Just saying…

    • weeklysift  On January 28, 2016 at 8:10 am

      I think we agree on more than you realize. I don’t expect any Democratic president to get Republican support in Congress, even for the most common-sense proposals.

      Two things I disagree on: I don’t see Clinton representing “surrender”. And I don’t think Bernie Sanders has the political talents of Barack Obama. If you listen to a Sanders speech (I’ve heard several, and reviewed two on the Sift), you’ll hear a lot of statistics and no stories. If you think in numbers rather than stories, he’s very persuasive. But that’s not how most of the public thinks.

      If you go back and listen to the “More Perfect Union” speech Obama gave to defuse the Jeremiah Wright issue in 2008, it was full of stories and connected with people in an experiential way. I can’t imagine Bernie being able to do anything like that.

      That’s probably what worries me most. Bernie sounds great to a certain segment of the population, who are very enthusiastic about him. But he’s not talking to the rest of the public at all. That could burn us in the general election.

      • sglover  On January 31, 2016 at 11:37 pm

        “That’s probably what worries me most. Bernie sounds great to a certain segment of the population, who are very enthusiastic about him. But he’s not talking to the rest of the public at all. That could burn us in the general election.”

        Ummmm….. I defy you to find **anybody** who can remember a word from this vaunted Obama speech that you mention. (Oh wait — is that one of the ones where he tossed a former associate/colleague under the proverbial bus?) But I’ll grant that it helped him get out from a (fleeting) ginned-up “scandal”. He’s always quick with the pretty speeches, and believing Dems fall for it every time — usually only days after Obama folds again.

        Anyway, this speech impressed **you**. And that’s fine. After all, you, too, fall into “a certain segment of the population”. Is your segment of the population the one that **knows** that no other, also large segment exists, which might find Sanders persuasive, too?

      • weeklysift  On February 1, 2016 at 7:49 am

        I’m just pointing out that not everybody thinks in statistics. A politician has to use both numbers and stories, rather than communicating only on one channel, as Sanders does.

  • coastcontact  On January 26, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    The question is Won’t Hillary Clinton be a re-run of Bill Clinton? In other words compromise with the GOP on so many things that nothing will be done to help the poor and shrinking middle class. Hillary, in my opinion, won’t move the needle on changing America on it’s current trajectory. Perhaps that is what most Americans really want. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer and America declines into a replica of the UK. That is the trend today.

    • weeklysift  On January 28, 2016 at 8:14 am

      You’re not telling the full story of the Clinton administration. Bill came in with a very progressive agenda: national health care, gays in the military, a public works program, and so on. He didn’t get any of that stuff passed, and got soundly punished by the electorate in 1994. After that lesson, he switched tactics and asked “What CAN I get done?”

      What he could get done was to slow down (not reverse) the country’s move to the right. And that’s what he did.

  • lumpkin  On January 26, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    I doubt that the GOP will sweep the table, but I’m fairly certain they will win with any candidate they put up against Sanders. Most Americans don’t know jack about politics, public policy or how the government works but they sure know that socialism is bad, bad, bad. Sanders has no chance in the general election.

    • lumpkin  On January 26, 2016 at 7:35 pm

      To be clear: I agree with Sanders’ politics and I think he’s honest, sincere and capable, but I can just picture campaign videos with Soviet SOCIALIST and National SOCIALIST military parades in the background while his positions are misleadingly associated with those regimes. No candidate would be able to overcome that because “SOCIALIST” is a very derogatory term to most Americans – especially the ones that vote. It’s good that he is running because he will have some positive effect in chipping away at the notion that our current system of dog eat dog for the little people and welfare capitalism for the rich and powerful is the best of all possible states.

      • sglover  On January 31, 2016 at 11:46 pm

        Sanders is as candid as can be about his ideology and label. Trump is having a helluva run based almost entirely on a reputation for “saying what’s on his mind”. God knows he doesn’t have anything coherent to say, but candor is a great under-rated political virtue. Sanders deflates the demon-word connotation of “socialist” (**gasp**) simply by shrugging and saying, “Yeah? So?”

        Otherwise, it’s old reactionaries who are going to be impressed by your USSR flashback montages. They aren’t going to vote Dem anyway, and they’re dying off. For younger people — and there are lots of them — the old Cold War demons are a curiosity at most.

  • SmithD  On January 28, 2016 at 5:37 pm

    Oh please Mudder get real. Perhaps you haven’t noticed but the people doing the majority of the smearing…and being highly effective at it, are liberals. For Klein leveling the same accusations on Sanders that he out of hand dismissed during the ACA (but which were equally true) to the NYtimes actually questioning for once (I was surprised about this that I almost spit my coffee out) how Sanders would pay for all this.

    When you have libs worried about taxes being TOO HIGH is when you realize that their main goal isn’t really worrying about the money (it never is) it’s slandering the person it’s directed to.

    You’d do a lot better if you pulled your head out from the “It’s repubs fault” steaming pile of unoriginality and actually looked at the situation.

    • weeklysift  On January 29, 2016 at 3:45 pm

      Everything you’re pointing to — whether it’s accurate or not — is a policy point, not a personal attack. Bernie hasn’t seen any real smearing yet.

      • MD  On January 30, 2016 at 11:27 am

        Well, no, I have to agree with Smith, it is actually a personal attack. When you self-identify so closely with a particular ideology that you’re seen as an anthropomorphization of it, then attacks on it and its philosophy are, de facto, attacks on you.

        General example: I attack Religious individuals based on the “policy” of being anti-gay. That’s a “policy” attack, but it’s also a personal attack on them.

        Specific example: I attacks mathematicians for being pedantic, too granular, and unable to grasp the concept that, in liberal arts, a manifold doesn’t actually completely describe the whole (that’s an analogy where I’m saying that the “microcosm” of the individual does not accurately describe the whole – ie. just because some liberals think the govt should pay for everything doesn’t mean all), and say you have a PhD in mathematics, I’m also making a personal attack on you even though I’ve not said anything, directly, about you.

        When liberals smear, and yes, they have, Bernie by attacking his ideology, even IF it’s on policy (because here the policy attacks are basically indicate that his ideology is an idiotic pipe dream), is a personal attack. Period.

      • weeklysift  On January 30, 2016 at 5:57 pm

        I still see a difference between, for example, saying ObamaCare is going to wreck our health system and saying that Obama is a Kenyan Muslim usurper whose entire self-description is a lie.

        If you think that what you’ve seen so far is a smear, you are going to be totally shocked by the fall campaign if Bernie is the nominee.

      • MD  On February 1, 2016 at 8:12 am

        “If you think that what you’ve seen so far is a smear, you are going to be totally shocked by the fall campaign if Bernie is the nominee”

        Heh, correct. Anyone who thinks they’re prepared needs to double that preparedness….and then triple their doubled.

  • sglover  On January 31, 2016 at 9:38 pm

    This article is a classic instance of Dem Stockholm Syndrome, which in turn has a helluva lot to do with the lukewarm or disdainful responses that the Democratic Party receives among so many people.

    Yes, Sanders will get smeared. Everybody knows that. He has **already** been smeared by the Clinton operation, and I have been surprised and impressed by the poise and equanimity of Sanders’ reaction to that. Maybe I missed it, but I see **nothing** in the article about that, which seems like a whomping huge oversight. Note that I am **not** saying, “Clinton is mean, waaaah!”. I’m saying Sanders handled it like a pro. This is a real political asset, and I believe that in this unusual election, it’s an especially important one.

    Keynes summarized the logic of this article 80 years ago, in his description of one kind of the market failure:

    “It is not a case of choosing those [faces] that, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those that average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, who practice the fourth, fifth and higher degrees.”

    That’s the gist of the whole piece: I like Sanders, I think his policies are best, but I shouldn’t vote on that basis, but on how I think **others** will respond to him.

    I’d like to point out that Dems have shot themselves in the foot with precisely this logic time and again. Thanks to Clinton triangulation, they are identified as the party of Wall Street as much as Republicans. Many Dems voted against the Iraq war crime in 2003, but many voted for it, too — and you’ll never convince me that they did it for any reason other than going with the (very fleeting) flow. Obama essentially wasted his term pursuing the idiotic belief that if he just met Republicans half-way, everybody would see what a good sport he was, and he’d win in the end.

    Here’s maybe the worst thing about this article: It completely ignores that this is a Dem race to lose. If Dems can’t grow something vaguley similar to a rudimentary spine **now**, when will they ever? What’s the point of aligning with the party at all, when it’s incapable of working from a position of considerable advantage?!?! (Actually, I think HRC is **at least** as much a liability as Sanders is purported to be. She will spur people to turn out solely to vote against her, while discouraging turnout among a fair number of Dems. And there are certainly Clinton scandals waiting to emerge. Bet it.)

  • Shragi Ackerman  On February 7, 2016 at 11:04 pm

    This reminds me of this brilliant Mark Twain satire, which should remind us all that swiftboating has existed for over 120 years, at least:


  • By Expectations | The Weekly Sift on January 25, 2016 at 10:44 am

    […] week’s featured post is “Smearing Bernie, a preview“. When the right-wing media starts painting Bernie red, will the charge stick? Will it throw […]

  • By Undecided With 8 Days To Go | The Weekly Sift on February 1, 2016 at 9:14 am

    […] he doesn’t tell those stories and answer those questions, the Republicans will do it for him. Last week, I talked about the kind of smears we’re likely to see if the opposition starts taking him […]

  • By Imperfections | The Weekly Sift on February 8, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    […] seen me wrestle with this the last two weeks. On most issues, I agree with Bernie more than Hillary. But I also think the difference […]

  • By Carrying a Presidency to Term | The Weekly Sift on February 22, 2016 at 10:53 am

    […] since I posted “Smearing Bernie: a preview” last month, I’ve been waiting for conservatives to start taking Sanders seriously as a […]

  • By The Yearly Sift 2016 | The Weekly Sift on December 26, 2016 at 8:56 am

    […] he would have been if Republicans had ever taken him seriously, a position I laid out in “Smearing Bernie: a preview” and “Do we still have to worry about the McGovern problem?“) My decision process […]

  • […] been smearing Hillary for decades, and had not yet begun to go after Bernie. So I tried to imagine how they would in a pre-New-Hampshire-primary post. How durable, I wondered, would Sanders’ poll lead over […]

  • By Morally Centered People | The Weekly Sift on October 7, 2019 at 1:08 pm

    […] 2016, a lot of Bernie Sanders fans objected when I wrote that Bernie had never been targeted by the right-wing smear machine, but this is the kind of thing I meant. Right-wingers may refer to Bernie as a crazy Socialist, but […]

Leave a Reply to Berto Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: