The smearing of Bernie Sanders ramps up

The field of Democratic candidates for the 2020 election have embraced many of the ideas that Bernie Sanders ran on back in 2016, even though back then those same plans were denounced by the party establishment as too radical and unrealistic for voters, as part of their strategy to have neoliberal Hillary Clinton be the nominee. We know the result. Clinton lost to possibly the worst presidential candidate in the last century. And now we are being told that Joe Biden, who is pretty much Clinton 2.0 (or Clinton 3.0 if you consider Bill Clinton to be version 1.0) as the ‘moderate centrist’ who can win over Trump voters. Yes, they are running the same old losing playbook that they ran last time.

Matt Taibbi has been on the campaign trail with Sanders and points out that it is not just other Democrats who are adopting parts of Sanders’ platform. In the 2016 election, Donald Trump did so as well.

His speech is designed to remind everyone, Democrats as much as ostensible Trump voters, how explicit Trump’s promises on the “economic insecurity” front were and how miserably he’s failed at keeping them. Bernie has never said this out loud, but some of his frustration may come from the fact that candidate Trump in 2015-16 often borrowed from Sanders-esque critiques about corporate power; he even regularly made it a point to praise Sanders in speeches.

“Trump told the American people that he would provide health care to everybody, remember that?” Sanders says.

The crowd cheers a little. Perhaps not everyone remembers, but Trump did once promise “insurance for everybody,” adding a classic strongman’s pledge that “everybody is going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”

Sanders lists other Trump pledges seemingly stolen directly from his own campaign. “I remember the ad that he ran, it was really a very good ad,” Sanders quips. “He said, ‘I, Donald Trump, [am] going to stand up to Wall Street.’ Remember that? Oh, yeah, and we’re going to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act.”

It all makes sense. The disconnect is the crowd isn’t exactly full of duped Trump supporters. Most of the assembled are young, progressive-leaning students whom Sanders had already won over in the last election cycle.

“I loved his 2016 campaign,” says Zach Farmer, a University of Wisconsin student, who adds he liked that Sanders “introduced things like Medicare for All, free college tuition, things like that.” Farmer was merely a fan in 2016 but plans to volunteer this time around, a typical representation of how the Sanders phenomenon has grown since the last election.

Taibbi writes how since Sanders’ platform is now mainstream, his critics have gone even more extreme and resurrected good old-fashioned red-baiting.

What was merely a lack of institutional support in 2016 has transformed into active institutional opposition. Among the donor class, his own party’s leadership and in most of the commercial media, he is roundly despised. He is blamed often for Clinton’s 2016 loss, and denounced as a dangerous socialist, a narcissist obstructionist, even the Kremlin’s candidate. (Multiple Washington Post columns have claimed Vladimir Putin is pushing the Sanders campaign in order to help “elect Trump.”)

For Sanders to win, all his voters have to do is overthrow basically the entire political system, which would be ridiculous except that all the other options may be worse: Trump is no solution, and a seemingly mighty traditional Democrat fell short last time.

Moreover, if 2016 taught us anything, it’s that press pronouncements are often an anti-indicator on electability questions.

In a separate article Taibbi says that the red-baiting of Sanders by the mainstream media and the two party establishments has been taken to ridiculous lengths, portraying him as the second coming of Joseph Stalin and relentless pushing the Democrats to nominate a ‘moderate, centrist’ which is code for a business-friendly, warmongering, neoliberal.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Colorado-governor-turned-presidential-candidate John Hickenlooper — who sells himself as a “pragmatic progressive” — went after Sanders in New Hampshire, though not by name.

“You have to hand it to the GOP for achieving the near-impossible,” Hickenlooper said in early May. “Just years after the collapse of the Soviet Union…who would have imagined the Koch brothers and Donald Trump could help resuscitate the discredited ideas of Karl Marx and Joseph Stalin?”

Sanders does pitch himself as a revolutionary (see On the Campaign Trail With Bernie Sanders 2.0). His use of the term, however, is less reality than a dark satirical commentary, speaking to how insanely far modern America has drifted in the direction of a laissez-faire free-for-all. There has not been a true labor candidate as a viable presence in a presidential race in modern American history: They’ve all been backed by big money.

What politicians like Sanders and Warren represent isn’t Marxism, but an introduction to what politics might look like if you removed money from the policymaking equation.

Most people would rather have affordable health and day care than battleships, they want to be able to go to college without being in debt until death, and they want better schools and more job security.

If policies like these were decided by up-and-down plebiscite, without the advocacy of corporate-sponsored politicians and media outlets that would lose fortunes in ad dollars if elections were publicly-funded, there’s little question that people would ask for more than they’re getting now.

The current panic in the press is designed to make people think that if they demand more politically, it’s going to end in purges and Gulags. It’s a trick, and a big part of the reason there’s going to be a massive effort at creating an “ick” factor around politicians like Sanders, and to a lesser extent, Warren.

They want people to think it’s socially unacceptable to ask for job security or subsidized education or other protections. More to the point, they want to go back to the good old days, when the presidential election season was a glorious ritual in which voters took two years to decide if they would vote for the politicians who’d completely sold them out, or only just mostly.

Bernie Sanders may not be the answer, but he isn’t Stalin, and voter attitudes aren’t changing because people are romanticizing the Great Terror. We’ve just had awful leadership for so long that demanding fairness and competence from politicians has started to seem like a radical idea. It isn’t, but get used to being told it is, until the next election at least.

Nina Turner says it best about Sanders, “He won’t sell you out, and you can take it to the bank,” Turner says. “He can’t be bought off.”

What Turner says about Sanders never being bought off is true, if only because if the senator tried to sell out, he wouldn’t know where to start and would suck at it. He’s also never tried shutting up, and probably couldn’t do that, either.

The political-media establishment will wrap their desire for yet another neoliberal Democrat like Biden by claiming that he is more ‘electable’, despite the fact that pundit estimates of electability have been laughably, actually woefully, wrong in the past. Hillary Clinton was not only considered highly electable, she was considered a shoo-in to win against the utterly unelectable Trump. And yet, we are supposed to listen to those pundits again.


  1. says

    At this point I have a problem with the entire idea of “platform” -- basically when some party or candidate says “this is what we’re going to do” I assume that they may as well be blowing a vuvuzela; I have no basis to believe that what they say they will do is what they will do, or that they will adhere to any stated agenda except expediency once they are in office. Thanks, Obama! It was Obama (who I voted for twice) who demonstrated to my satisfaction that the system is not only non-responsive, it’s designed to be non-responsive.

    Can Bernie be bought off? Obviously: he’s been part of the system for ages and he’s been disruptive but only slightly so. The democratic party cheated like crazy to deny him the nomination so Hillary Clinton could get her turn, and he shook his fist and complained a bit but fell right in line once they spanked him. I don’t expect anything from Bernie but business as usual because the democratic party won’t let anyone in office who isn’t a warmongerer who defers to Israel and Wall St. Coincidentally, that’s all the republican party will offer, too.

    Cynical politics make for cynical electorates, and -- aside from the hardcore conviced kool-ade drinking gooners -- both parties are building up a base that won’t trust them as far as they can comfortably spit a live rat. When those chickens come home to roost all they’ll be able to do is point and scream that they’re not as bad as the other guy and that the disaffected voters must be racist misogynist slackers or something. What a bunch of assholes.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    Clinton lost to possibly the worst presidential candidate

    What? This makes no sense.

    Clinton lost. She lost to possibly the SECOND worst candidate ever, by being worse. This seems logical and obvious. It’s depressing how often lefties don’t want to admit how diabolically shit she proved to be as a choice.

    I can predict the thought process of many reading this right now. It involves the words “won the popular vote”, as though that’s relevant.

    Let us see if the Democrats managed to learn from that lesson

  3. says

    Meh. I don’t believe that Bernie is impossible to (at least partly) buy. I mean, by the nature of politics you certainly have to swap promises that you might not like.

    It’s certainly possible that Bernie is the least purchasable of the current crop of candidates (though I don’t know how we’d know that to any reasonable certainty until he’s in office, and then… well then you can’t compare him to the other candidates because they aren’t in office). Although when the time comes I’m sure I’ll research a lot about any final candidates, I tend to assume that anything beyond a candidates top two priorities is able to be compromised away by the candidate once in office or simply defeated by the opposition. (If it’s your top priority you can keep bringing it up over and over again, but a lesser priority is unlikely to get that treatment.) Very often even if you like one candidates policy on X better than another candidate’s policy on that same X, it won’t matter. Unless policy area X is in the top 2 for both candidates it is more sensible (in my imperfect experience) to assume that what passes congress won’t resemble the candidates draft unless it’s a top2 priority so that you have a chance at both a mandate and the candidates best efforts to get it done. Thus I like to get a feel for how a candidate makes decisions, what process drives a candidate to reach certain conclusions.

    On climate change, are the policy proposals driven by political calculations about what can pass a senate filibuster? Are they driven by climate idealism as filtered through economic conservatism? Are they driven by blind panic? What?

    Regardless of what specific power mix a candidate proposes or how the candidate sees the transportation sector changing, exactly, I’d rather see first, an emphasis on science with a clear appreciation of how R&D is rapidly changing the potential solution space. A necessary part of this is that the candidate defers a lot of decision making to the experts in the area (unless the candidate is herself an expert in this area). Second, I’d like to see proposals for large-scale infrastructure changes we can start immediately -- grid upgrades and shifting more freight traffic from highways to railways, for instance. Third, I’d like to see the plan be super-concrete for several years, but malleable beyond that. Fourth, I’d like a commitment to ongoing course corrections that allow us to constantly update that “several year” plan. This could come in the form of some super-commission, or a dramatic course-correction from the Dept of Energy (which right now is the Department of Nukes). Fifth, I’d like to see partnerships with states and grant money for which local jurisdictions can apply. Sixth, I’d like to keep a fixed star on returning CO2 atmospheric concentrations to a number which ends the climate shift, whatever that number is. Theoretically the final climate could be stabilized around 2019 climate or 1999 climate or 1979 climate, I don’t much care. That’s something that should be driven by science but also social reality.

    And that leads me to the last thing I’d like to see: a recognition that the point of all this isn’t to save the planet which will still be a big ball of rock even if the temp shoots up to Venus levels. The point of all this is to save millions of lives and preserve connections to lands and cultures that exist today that would not be able to be preserved if everyone suddenly had to move 300 miles farther from the equator.

    If they’ve got all that, then whether they ultimately conclude to place 42 Billion or 86 Billion dollars per year in R&D doesn’t matter to me. I’m not expert enough to know the right number on my own anyway. First show me you meet a minimum threshold of integrity (or otherwise nothing you say matters). Then show me how you think. Show me what you value when you’re making decisions about what the facts mean. Show me who you trust for information and decision making for all those bits of policy making you can’t make because you’re one human with the same 24 hour day the rest of us have. Then show me the one or two things I can know for sure you’re going to fight hard to get done.

    To me, that’s it. That’s the whole of the campaign. If I’ve got that, I have no problem confidently casting my vote.

  4. consciousness razor says

    What? This makes no sense.

    Clinton lost. She lost to possibly the SECOND worst candidate ever, by being worse. This seems logical and obvious. It’s depressing how often lefties don’t want to admit how diabolically shit she proved to be as a choice.

    It is not logical and obvious that the worse candidate must be the one who loses and the better candidate must be the one who wins. This is not how people use those words.
    I say this as someone who chose Sanders rather than Clinton in the primaries, because I thought she was a terrible choice. By your “logic” above, Sanders (and all of the others) must have been “worse” than her because she won the primary.
    So when we were making that choice (in the primaries, not in the general election), you’re really going to say that she was a diabolically shit choice who was at the same time the best choice?
    Or can we agree that she was indeed worse, yet happened to win the primary anyway (because “lefties” definitely aren’t perfect)? Isn’t that what you would actually say?

    I can predict the thought process of many reading this right now. It involves the words “won the popular vote”, as though that’s relevant.

    My thought process right now: you’ve got a fucked up democratic system, if people aren’t relevant in it. That’s what the “demo-” part is all about.
    There is no need for anybody to believe that the “best” or “worst” candidates must be defined by the number of electors who voted for them in our absurd system. They can use their own judgment for such things, roll some dice, throw darts at a board, rank them according to hairstyle and singing ability, or use countless other methods. What’s certainly true is that we’re not logically compelled to go with the method you used above, and it’s far from obvious why anybody would want to.

  5. Holms says

    #2 sonof

    What? This makes no sense.

    Clinton lost. She lost to possibly the SECOND worst candidate ever, by being worse. This seems logical and obvious.

    Here’s how predictable you are: when I read to the end of the third line of Mano’s post, I scrolled down to the comments knowing exactly what I would see from you.

    Why do you keep making this same response, when it is ‘logical and obvious’ that people are using ‘worst/second worst candidate’ in a different sense to the one you want everyone to use? You say the exact same thing every time, even though people are very obviously using ‘worst candidate’ to mean ‘the least suited to the job of leading the nation’. Mysteriously, you insist on reading it as ‘the worst at winning elections’.

    Bear in mind that by your idiosyncratic interpretation, every single candidate that loses any election ever is tied for ‘worst candidate ever’, and every one that wins is tied for ‘best candidate ever’.

  6. jim willmot says

    Mano, I’m making the jump. I’m desperately hoping a Bernie/Elizabeth Warren or Bernie/Amy Klobuchar ticket could win. Screw the neo-liberals. They have proven to be no match for the corrupt GOP. Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Beto, etc…empty suits. Going to a Bernie rally on Friday. And how anyone can say Trump is doing a good job hasn’t talked to anyone outside of the Fox News bubble.

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