The Swift-boating of Bernie Sanders

The Clinton camp breaks out the Karl Rove Playbook.

John-Lewis-Bernie-Sanders.jpgSo my man Bernie did fine in New Hampshire, and now the gloves have come off. I assume he knew what would be coming along, because the rest of us did. This always raises the question of why the Clinton people were asleep at the wheel in the first place, and what this means about her potential presidency, but no one wants to talk about this. What we have instead is a systematic attack on Bernie’s “Bernie-ness,” basically questioning his authenticity and liberal street cred. Since it seems to be his authenticity that has attracted a substantial amount of his following, this has the potential to be a big deal. And it’s straight out of the Karl Rove playbook. At least it shows the Clinton people are capable of learning from experience from time to time. Not often, but maybe just often enough.

We had the expected political reaction—the DNC, under the enlightened leadership of Hillary supporter Debbie Wasserman Schultz, has decided PAC money from lobbyists is OK after all, thus freeing up David Brock’s Hillary PAC to do whatever the hell it wants. The head of the Democratic party in Iowa, who has a pro-Hillary license plate, has ruled out any sort of recount on the voting in Iowa, about which a number of questions had been raised, but the media appears to have moved on. This is of course disappointing, but not surprising. Politics, after all.

No, the Roveian scenario last week erupted in full force on Thursday, when we had the following all occur around the same time:

  • John Lewis questioning Sanders’ civil rights credentials (“I don’t remember him”) in the context of Hillary’s endorsement from the Black Congressional Caucus. It was then pointed out that Sanders was photographed at the exact same march on Washington that Lewis participated in—they’re both in the same picture. Lewis then had to walk his claim back (although he didn’t exactly apologize). Manipulating Lewis this way, by the way, caused my already low estimation of the Clinton people to plunge even further—taking one of the most honorable men in Congress and using him like this, to the point of national embarrassment, is unconscionable.
  • Multiple stories along a similar vein, all appearing around the same time, particularly a hit piece from Jonathan Capehart at the Washington Post questioning the authenticity of the photo showing Sanders at a different civil rights event—according to Capehart, it wasn’t actually Bernie, but someone else. After the photographer came forward to prove its credentials, there was a significant walkback again. But not Capehart, who instead has given us a great phrase that will become an industry standard, I suspect—his mistake wasn’t really a mistake, but rather represented a “clash” of “memory and historical servitude.” I predict this will become a common rationale for journalistic inertia going forward. Adam Johnson at Alternet provides the grisly details.
  • We also had a slew of articles, again conveniently around the same time, on what’s wrong with Bernie. As Adam Balough over at Prntly pointed out on Friday, “In Last Two Days, Bernie Sanders Had More Attack Ads Than In Past 6 Months.” Here’s their list (although they don’t provide links, which I have supplied in some cases):
    • Practically over night after the New Hampshire win, Forbes released an article attacking Sanders for his New Hampshire speech.
    • Reason has been publishing article after article on why he is wrong.
    • Politico ramped up their attacks on him in new opinion pieces.
    • CNBC wrote “Surprise, Bernie has backers on Wall Street.”
    • New York Times had a critical piece titled “Living Sanders’ Danish Dream” (by David fucking Brooks, of course).
    • Boston Globe said yesterday “Bernie Sanders only cast one Senate vote this year,” even though it’s only February and he’s in the middle of the most intense Democratic primary in recent history. (Note the Globe’s follow-up story here.)

And don’t even get me going on Krugman, who has moved from being part of the solution to part of the problem. I suppose there’s nothing new in all this—this is how politics happens, and the Clinton machine is very good at politics some of the time. Not all the time, obviously, since she seems to be in danger of blowing her frontrunner status AGAIN. In fact, there have been times this past two weeks—the whole feminist argument and the vehemence with which that card was played, and how that completely backfired—that suggest again that, as a friend of mine put it, Hillary Clinton has the political instincts of a rock. Wait until Donald Trump goes after her over Libya.

But still, this should not be coming as a surprise—the media missed all this, and now they’re overcompensating—and then walking much of it back. But this is the Rove playbook—go after your opponent’s strengths to muddy the waters. All of this is designed to make people who support Sanders start questioning that support. The electability argument, I suspect, may have more legs, but that’s a different discussion entirely from what’s going on in the above.

Here’s the problem with that approach—what happens when all those disappointed people who are watching Clinton go negative because her campaign mishandled Sanders from the beginning decide they’ve had enough, and sit out the November election if Clinton is the nominee? That’s what happened in 1968, and look what happened. Sending Chelsea and Bill out there to embarrass themselves won’t cut it any more.

11 replies »

  1. In Lewis’s defense, it’s a major rally and a US senator is standing at least a foot away and slightly behind him. It’s, like, TOTALLY possible that he never looked over his shoulder.

  2. For work, I was supposed to read David F. Brooks’ latest book, so I read an article/excerpt of the darn thing and the Wiki article on Brooks himself. What a unctuous disingenuous weasel. “Now that I’ve gotten very rich by not being nice, let me explain how getting rich isn’t important, it’s all about leading a purposeful life where you’re nice to people.” What a shit.

    Think you’re argument’s a little hyperbolic. This isn’t quite Swift Boat, but as always, enjoy your thinking.

    • The genius of the Republicans is how they can explain everything with lies or it’s variants. But their greatest strength is how they masterfully come up with a cockamamie reasoning on just about anything that is not in agreement with their views. And David Brooks leads this pack because he is probably the best at doing this.

  3. Otherwise, it’s close enough.

    And there’s a reason, as you have discovered, why everyone refers to him and David fucking Brooks. He’s just impossible

    • One could argue, I suppose, that I am not the person best placed to scold someone for being hyperbolic. 🙂

  4. I would agree Sam, but, isn’t that Jane Sanders (Bernie’s spouse) in front of Lewis? It looks as if Lewis is between them?

  5. Apropos of nothing, as the great Stephen Crane reminds us, all this makes me think of the late, great Paul Kantner, who gave us one of my favorite political phrases as part of the chorus of “We Can Be Together”:

    “Up against the wall, motherfuckers….”

    Hyperbole? Doesn’t exist anymore – the GOP has seen to that.

    Have at them Wufnik…