The Right Way to Attack Bernie Sanders

Brian BeutlerTomorrow, I will publish an article on how not to attack Bernie Sanders, Who Cares About Bernie Sanders’ Healthcare Plan? Today, I’m going to discuss the right way to attack Bernie Sanders.

Brian Buetler wrote a really good article this morning, Bernie Sanders Will Be Unelectable If He Keeps This Up. And it gets at a really important point about the Sanders campaign. One thing I’ve liked about the Democratic campaign thus far has been the mutual respect that the two main candidates have shown, and how it has been all a question about the best way to achieve our shared liberal goals.

Let’s not forget that the most important liberal policies are widely shared. When it comes to economic matters, people are for a far more fair system than we now have. And when it comes to reproductive rights, people come down firmly on the pro-choice side. (This is often obscured because the anti-choice movement is good pushing the discussion to the edges of the issue: intact dilation and extraction and fetal tissue.) These are not just things that Democrats agree on; they are things that Republicans largely agree on — especially on the economic side.

Attack Bernie SandersSo the greatest mistake we can make is to turn this into a primary about purity. Screw purity! A huge issue for me is the minimum wage. Sanders is pushing for a $15 minimum wage. Clinton is pushing for a $12 minimum wage. These are not ideological positions. I’m with Bernie: $15 is what we should be going for. It represents a living wage. But $12 is a worthy goal too. And for people working minimum wage in California (where it is, high by American standards at $10 per hour), $12 would be a very big deal. My concern is that asking for $12 does not get you to $12. But regardless, the issue is not ideological.

And this is especially true when there is a large and growing movement in the Republican Party that we should have no minimum wage at all. Based upon their very primitive libertarian thinking with their Frédéric Bastiat thought experiments, all our unemployment problems would go away if only people could take jobs for a buck fifty a day. So it’s really important that we not lose perspective here.

I don’t like to see tweets like this from the Sanders campaign yesterday:

It was followed up with a series of even worse tweets of the form, “Most progressives I know don’t…” This was responded to cogently by Alex Katz, “Most progressives I know supported the Brady Bill and common sense gun control. Not #BernieSanders.” Now it just so happens that I care far more about economics because I believe economic inequality kills far more people than guns or cars or anything else you can mention. But this is madness to claim that the progressive issues I care most about are what make me pure while I apologize away my heresies.

Brian Beutler’s article is not really meant to attack Bernie Sanders. For one thing, I think he’s highly sympathetic towards Sanders. But he’s providing some excellent reminder to the Sanders campaign that this is not how you win primaries — not to mention general elections.

Recap: How to Attack Bernie Sanders

We know how not to attack Bernie Sanders. Jonathan Chait and Paul Krugman have shown us the way to their eternal shame. But Beutler summarized David Roberts’ criticisms:

Sanders would be far and away the oldest president to take office; he has self-identified as a socialist for most of his career, undeterred by the media’s inability to distinguish between social democrats (what he is) and Leninists (what Republicans will say he is); he supports a higher tax on middle-class labor, which is politically and substantively the worst way to finance a welfare state expansion.

I would add to this that I do think it is a problem for the Democratic Party to not nominate a woman. The last time we nominated a woman, it was Geraldine Ferraro, 32 years ago — for vice-president. This too concerns me.

None of this means that I now support Hillary Clinton for president. I wear my Bernie Sanders shirt proudly. I will almost certainly proudly cast my vote for Sanders on 7 June (after the primary is effectively over). But I don’t want to see this turn into a purity contest. I’ve written before, Yes, Hillary Clinton Is a Real Liberal. Now let’s get back to the real substantive campaign that we have thus far had.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

47 thoughts on “The Right Way to Attack Bernie Sanders

  1. Oh there are plenty of asshats on Twitter and elsewhere who are all “I totes would support a woman as long as it was Elizabeth Warren and not that harridan Hillary Clinton.” It is doubtful they would since Warren has a lot of problems as a candidate as was clearly shown by her numerous missteps in her senate race. But it didn’t matter there because the general public there was very much forgiving since they wanted her more than the Republican to start with. Not sure if that would be the case in say Ohio.

    And I love Elizabeth Warren. We share a name! She has loads of Elvis! She supports down ticket and she knows how to explain economics in an easy to understand way! She is an excellent advocate!

    But she is not a good campaigner and she does make gaffs that are hard to deal with much like Joe Biden. Luckily she gets that and sticks with where it doesn’t matter if she says or does something that doesn’t play in Kentucky.


    As for the attacks on Sanders? I wonder how much the lack of attention Sanders had from the media has made it slightly harder to determine what is and what is not an attack. Because if that is the case, they do need to get thicker skin for the general-Sanders has flaws that are meat and drink to the Republican base and it doesn’t matter that they are off limits for Democrats.

    Clinton has those flaws but she is used to being told it was her fault her husband had an affair with an intern. That she is the sole person responsible for the passage of the crime bill. That she is the second coming of Satan. >insert a huge list of claims that have little merit, some merit and are absolutely legit< So are her supporters. I have been hearing about her being evil since I was a pre-teen and if no one has managed to change my mind since I was 12, I highly doubt they will be able to at 37.

    • I was very much against Warren running for president. She is more or less the perfect candidate for me. That’s because she’s a college professor and that’s how she comes off. I love it. And I don’t want her to change the way that presidential campaigns change candidates. The soft spoken college prof was not going to win. Overall, I don’t think those people who hate Clinton are so much sexists; but they have bought a lot of the 1990s lies that still drift through the air. Another thing is that I don’t believe people when they say they would support someone who is not running. Remember how much people loved Clinton so long as she wasn’t running? It’s only in campaigns that negatives go up. Sanders was probably lucky in that the “socialist” label made him semi-toxic to start with, so his main baggage was out there at the beginning. But I’m sure there are things about Warren that these would-be supporters wouldn’t like.

      But I think Sanders has done a good job dealing with attacks. Maybe his followers haven’t…

      • Based on the hysteria in the comments on articles? NOPE.

        It is weird-they don’t know that this is what they should expect?

        • I had people on both sides in my Twitter feed tonight and I thought they were all unreasonable: closed minded. Hillary was all wrong. Or Sanders was all wrong.

          What I’m getting tired of is what I think is a certain dehumanization that is going on. It isn’t turning them into monsters. But it is turning Sanders into a kind of ideology machine and Clinton into sell-out, corporate patsy machine. And none of that is right. Sanders probably is naive. Clinton probably has had her submersion in the New Democrats taint her. But these are not the things that define either of them.

          • It is demanding nuance on something that involves 140 characters. Or in the case of Facebook-actual thought.

            Then again, Americans have never done nuance well.

            • Well, as I just published, I don’t think that’s an excuse. Sanders supporters could say, “Clinton made a good point there.” And vise versa. But in general: no.

                • Obviously, most people who are more nuanced about it don’t say as much. But there was a sense I got of a lot of people just having assumptions as clear as the sun rising tomorrow. Most of the tweets weren’t unhinged.

                  • That is the thing, these are not people who are writing stuff that makes the person reading it think “oh boy, that person is crazy town.” Just a lot nastier in tone then the people who are like “I got my guy and I don’t care about yours.”

                    • And a lot of questionable assumptions. For example, that Clinton is just a liar. Even if it were true, where does it take us? Like everyone (especially politicians, because we require it), she lies. As I noted: I think she lies about the death penalty. I just don’t think she’s actually for it. But she’s finessing it, and that’s fine. Sanders finesses his record on gun control. These are not issues of character.

                      I think the main thing is that I just want everyone to understand that we are a coalition. I disagree in a big way on economic issues with a large part of the party. And I want to do what I can to move the party leftward (which would be really good for the Republicans too, because it would give them breathing room). But currently, the worst Democrat is better than the best Republican. That wasn’t always true. But it is now and we need to remember that.

                    • Right now I am trying to figure out why the Sanders peeps are so mad she got $$$ to blather on for two hours. They seem to think it means that there is some kind of magical access granted despite the fact that celebrities are always brought in for this sort of nonsense. At the conferences I have attended they bring in some kind of big wig that makes everyone want to attend (the best one was the year they brought in Michael Baden, MD to talk about the cases he has done because he is not only a great speaker, he has great disgusting slides.)

                      Oh and there is an accusation that her campaign did a push poll despite the guy who described it showing himself to be an utter smeghead to the poor lady on the phone just doing her job.

                    • The real concern is not that Clinton is being bought. It is rather that, well, Goldman Sachs knows that she is someone they can trust. To put it in the most negative light: that she is the one who will go to them and say “knock it off” but not actually do anything about it — and certainly not throw them in jail for it. Let’s face it, the Bill Clinton years were good for workers because of Alan Greenspan; they were good for Wall Street because of Bill Clinton.

                      It does concern me as a Sanders supporter that there are a lot of terrible Sanders supporters. I think it is mostly because they are young. But I fear I am close to not caring and we haven’t gotten to NH.

                    • The question isn’t “has Hillary been bought.” Of course she has. She sold out to Wall Street 30 years ago, for what I imagine to be principled, if incorrect reasons.

                      The question is, “can a genuine believer that what’s good for Wall Street is good for America get more votes than an utter liar who hates America and loves Wall Street?” My guess is, it comes down to the economic model often repeated here.

                      Bernie, I love him to death. But most Americans drink the Kool-Aid of how we can have corporate profits with nifty wage hikes, too. It’s a bit that has been sold for decades. Until we realize it’s a lie, we’re getting Clinton/Obama/Clinton until our eyes bleed.

                    • A couple of people (including one who is generally well regarded on the left I think-Barney Frank) pointed out why they think that the Bernie Bros situation exists.

                      Sanders is talking about a revolution. A complete upending of the situation that we have currently. To him, he doesn’t believe it needs to be filled with rancor. However, people being people, it has become: anyone who is part of the current situation is suspect at best and to be reviled at worst with whatever display of dislike can be done legally. So when Clinton is shown on a big screen you get a lot of his supporters screaming she is a liar at his party in Iowa. You get the boos and hisses that Senator Shaheen got at the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s annual McIntyre-Shaheen 100 Club Dinner.

                      What is sad is that this is not something that Sanders (despite his efforts) will be able to stop. As I told a friend on Facebook: trolls are gonna troll. You naturally have more power here of course because you can block us from posting if we tick you off but the situation will persist because no one has devised an effective solution.

                      If Sanders does, I will have no choice but to support him because he literally is the Savior. *laughs*

                    • Look here, young lady! You have got to start new threads. It is not clear who you are responding to: me or James!

                      Let me just say that I am having a lot of arguments trying to get young people to understand that they can’t sit this one out if Sanders doesn’t win. I have one young friend who was a toddler in 2000 and I seriously want to throttle him.

                    • @Frank to make you happy I was replying to both of you more or less.

                      It is a fine line to walk with the Bros like your friend (and I am positive the kid has bro-ed at someone online)-how to keep them from ticking off the Clinton supporters with their behavior while at the same time not destroying their enthusiasm for change.

                    • No! It does not make me happy. It would have made me happy if you had started a new comment thread that began, “@Frank…” Because in my interface, it still says, “In reply to Elizabeth.” But don’t worry about it. I know you are a law person and not a tech person. But that won’t stop me from trying to ejakate you!

    • I think you are forgetting that most of the attacks on Sanders are completely unfair. I’m not talking about supporters – I’m talking about the mainstream here. And most of the attacks on Sanders would be unfair regardless of his qualities as a candidate – because they are false narratives.

      The BernieBros narrative is a complete fabrication. It is not a question of embarrassing followers. It’s a fabrication. Really dedicated sexists don’t vote Democratic regardless of the candidate for the most part. The BernieBros narrative is a lie, period. Will Clinton say this in public?

      Just to be clear, again, none of what I say here is direct evidence for the quality of either candidate. But no, Sanders does not have a particularly high percentage of notably sexist supporters. At least, no one has presented serious evidence of it. It’s along the same lines as accusations that Obama is a Kenyan Marxist.

      I don’t really care if Clinton is personally evil. I don’t even have an opinion on this. That’s not why she’s a bad candidate. It’s because she is more of the same, a sycophant of the ruling class.

      • Nooooo, they exist alright. I have encountered plenty of them online.

        They could all be Republican plants however sexism is a thing even with otherwise liberal individuals.

        I will leave it at that.

        • I’ll bet if you did a survey that Sanders supporters would, on average, be the most reliably pro-feminist group among any major candidate’s supporters.

          I won’t leave it at that. The existence of particular individuals does not constitute a trend. Probably there are Sanders supporters that think the Trilateral Commission controls UFO’s, or that Josef Stalin was a swell guy, or that Hillary Clinton murderd Vince Foster. Not relevant to the main point, the fact that the BernieBros narrative is a lie. There is no evidence for, and evidence against, that Sander’s supporters feature an influential caucus of supporters who just don’t want a woman president.

          You can find probably Clinton supporters who just don’t want a Jewish president. If a journalist found some of them would it be OK for her to spread a narrative of Clinton’s Jew-hating supporters? No, it would be dishonest for the same reason.

          So yeah, I’ll concede that there is one or maybe more than one supporter of Sanders who just doesn’t want a woman president. One, maybe more than one, that think Sanders is the guy to re-open UFO investigations in the Air Force. One, maybe more than one who thinks Global Warming is a Fraud. And so on.

          There may be reasons to support Clinton, but the assertion that Sanders has a particularly sexist base is unevidenced. It is dishonest, a lie, period. If Clinton is honest she will disassociate herself from this vicious unevidenced narrative. Don’t you want people to be honest?

          • I’ll take it a little further. There are plenty of reasons to dislike Hillary that have absolutely nothing to do with gender or gender politics. So one could use sexist language as a club without it having anything to do with support or opposition. There’s no reason to assume sexism as a prime mover, or to assume that a Hillary hater wouldn’t support a different woman. I’m not fond of religion but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t support a religious candidate.

            • Oh, and sexism cuts the other way, too. I don’t think there’s any question that there are scads of women out there prepared to vote for Hillary primarily or solely because she’s a woman, or to sock it to The Patriarchy. Plenty of them have said as much.

              • I agree with Elizabeth that this isn’t worth fighting over. Fighting makes people feel insulted, and that’s almost never worth it. (As opposed to friendly arguments over turkey-vs.-chicken, for instance.)

                Personally I don’t feel there’s anything wrong with preferring a candidate because you identify with them in some way. I preferred Hillary to Obama in 2008 (her healthcare proposals were more liberal. Whether she would have enacted them, who knows.) Yet if an African-American told me they were supporting Obama because they hoped he would care more about racism, I didn’t disagree.

                Where we get screwed, as you know, is that candidates don’t always (or often) deliver on the things we identify with them for. Obama didn’t do much to combat racial inequality. Bill Clinton, a child of poverty who “felt our pain,” increased our pain massively dy decimating welfare. And, on the other side, 40 years of religious-right politicians have made only token efforts to ban abortion, mandate prayer in schools, etc. (They’ve done their damage on these fronts; it’s not where their real interests lie.)

                But let’s say you believe affordable child care, pre-natal care, birth control, the gender wage gap, violence towards women, are important issues. Obviously they all are. Let’s say those are some of the most important issues to you. Then you’re quite right to support a female candidate you believe will do more about these issues.

                (And truth be told, I think Hillary would do more about these issues than Bernie. One can make the argument that progress on economic justice is all but impossible right now, yet progress on gender inequality is doable.)

                Also keep in mind that we are among the lowest-ranked wealthy nations in terms of women in political office. A female president would change perceptions about who’s electable and therefore who gets more donor money in primary contests. (As I hope Obama’s election does for African-American primary candidates. We’ll see!)

              • I wouldn’t call that sexism, but rather a much less pernicious type of bias. Sexism is more than just bias; it’s support of measures, policies, or behaviours to maintain that bias.

                Hey I’d prefer a woman too, if we could find one who is not a Neo-Liberal.

                • Do you know why, speaking as a woman former candidate, women don’t run for that office or any office?

                  We look at what Hillary Clinton is put through.

                  • I’m afraid I’m not too sympathetic. Has she been jailed? Had her property confiscated? Lost family to US bombings? Become a refugee? Starved? She’s on easy street. She’s rich.

                    I’m also not sure her experiences are typical for women politicians. I mean that most of the attacks on her have been absurdly vicious and over-the-top to a degree not experienced by others. She’s been subjected to some really crazy expressions of hatred much worse than those experienced by most women politicians. Vince Foster! Benghazi! Etc.

                    I don’t condone those attacks or participate in them, and I think no one should have to put up with them. Ridiculous and hateful. On the aggregate, though, it is not fair to say Clinton’s suffered that much. I’d like to have more women leaders, but not like her. Not like Maggie Thatcher. Not as different as you might think!

                    • But didn’t she get those assaults because she was seen as being unusually close to the Presidency for a First Spouse?

                      AKA, she and Bill were political partners. If I remember right, most of the Hillary-hate came after Bill gave her a prominent role on his health care reform team.

                      To go dollar-book Freud, those two have a strange relationship (putting it mildly), yet they seem to have each others’ backs as politicians.

                      Which is besides the point. Almost. The point is Hillary got eviscerated largely because she was seen as having too much power, more than one of those flighty females deserves. Pelosi caught much of the same flak. As a staunch liberal, I will criticize Hillary and Pelosi for not being liberal enough by my tastes. However it’s quite clear both endured tons of garbage for the heinous crime of being a female in a position of political power.

                      That can’t be denied; it happened. We both have the Internet; we saw it happen with Pelosi. I recall it happening with Hillary back in Bill’s presidency. You can see it vividly happening now when investment idiot Trump attempts to score points by painting mildly professional Fox News correspondents as Crazy Girls for asking him moderately difficult questions.

                      Ours is an exceedingly fundamentalist and deranged nation. Due to some historical luck, we’re the ones who prop up fellow fundamentalist/deranged nations like Saudi Arabia instead of the other way ’round. But it’s no accident we pal with them. They had their own issues to begin with; when it came to solidifying their sexism/xenophobia, they learned from and obeyed the Alpha Dog.

                    • Way to minimize then dismiss her feelings along with all of the women watching what is happening to Clinton. I guess if it doesn’t bother you, we lady candidates are not allowed to worry if this is going to happen to us.

                      So what if she has money? Does that mean she is prohibited from feeling bad someone calls her a bitch to her face? Or when Fox News writes her name in a way that makes it spell out cunt? From having people tell her she murdered a dear friend? And on and on?

                      Your reaction is just part of the problem women candidates face when they run for office. Because it does hurt. It does feel bad to be told these things. Clinton is not some inhuman monster despite what she has been painted as and I am fairly sure she has cried more than once over how much hatred she gets for not doing anything different then a man has done. Of course that also makes her weak doesn’t it? To have feelings about how horrible she has been treated.

                      If you don’t like Clinton, fine. If you don’t want to believe someone when they tell you that watching what Clinton has gone through (as well as what James has pointed out with Pelosi among others) makes it less likely to want to put herself out there to run for office-that is your prerogative. It doesn’t make it any less true.

            • from the Dept. of Deja Vu All Over Again:

              Hillary Supporters vs “Obama Boys” (April 2008)

              pull quotes:

              Jessica Valenti – “someone will feel it’s OK to say something to me that’s anti-Hillary that I feel is coming from a place that’s totally misogynist […] I pinpoint sexism for a living. You’d think I’d be able to find an example [of explicit sexism]. And I hate to rely on this hokey notion that there’s some woman’s way of knowing, and that I just fucking know. But I do. I just know.”

              commenter Greg in FL – “Among a number of these older women, there is a strong sense of necessity about their support of Hillary Clinton. Part of it seems to be based on grabbing the first and perhaps only opportunity of their lifetimes to elect a female President. But an equal part seems to be the belief that Barack Obama cannot possibly win the general election, and so to save America from the third Bush term, the only option is Hillary Clinton.”

            • I don’t want fights. I just want to see more bona fide (fact-based and honest) criticism of Sanders. I’ve seen very little of that. I want people to criticize my views, too. That’s not fighting.

              • Bernie bros are not about Sanders himself. It is about a facet of online life-the continuing and unrelenting harassment of women and POC.

                  • I am aware of that. As I said, I don’t want to fight. One, it is rude to you and two, what would be the point?

                    • Don’t worry about it. In general, I don’t read comments not directed at me or the article. I don’t mind people arguing. I do hope you all are being nice to each other.

      • I’d guess a lot of the Krugman types really don’t want a repeat of 1972/1980/84/88 when Democratic prez candidates got blown away. I think they’re overstating their cases; it’s virtually unimaginable how Bernie could be nominated. But as Frank has mentioned on this site, if what they’re worried about is electability (and Elizabeth had made her doubts clear about the Sanders campaign’s competence in her assessment), than just say it.

        Don’t play coy games pretending Hillary is far more in tune with anti-Wall Street sentiment than she is. Her administration would be exactly what one expects; Clinton/Obama, creeping conservatism making more progress towards defining what qualifies as “centrism.” It wouldn’t help us much. And the other side would be far worse.

        (For the record, I’ve always preferred giving something resembling actual democracy a smidge of a chance and going down swinging with that over these desperate “if we don’t give them most of what they want, they’ll get everything they want and more” retreat options. But I’m no politician.)

        I’d be surprised if Obama or either Clinton were truly sycophants. They do what they think is necessary to act as a deployed anchor, dragging in the seafloor sand, stopping matters from becoming far worse. I personally don’t think that’s going to help us at this point. But I can’t decry it as shallow evil.

  2. I linked this piece on my blog. I think we need more people saying we shouldn’t be destroying each other.

    • Thanks Paul! I just bought you newest book. How can you sell books for a buck?! I haven’t gotten to it yet. Too little time in the world!

      • Alas, I don’t have a Kindle. But Mr. Paul does have a book on vampires at my library. I’m so reading that next weekend!

        • Really?! I’ll have to look. He is quite an interesting guy: by turns, hilarious and spooky. I’ve been reading his Black Book and I still don’t understand why he isn’t a star. He’s amazingly good. But maybe that’s why!

  3. You know, I should just start doing some of these replies via Skype.

    @Frank to make you even more happy since I do get the hint eventually

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