“The Bernie Sanders Smear Has Begun” wrote Matthew Pulver in “Salon”(1). Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, a self-styled “centrist” and long time Hillary supporter, appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” complaining that Sanders is too extreme to win a Presidential Election.
Clinton indeed has every reason to worry. Bernie is drawing huge crowds at nearly every campaign stop. In New Hampshire, the Manchester Union Leader reported on June 6th that over 1,000 people jammed themselves into a recreational center in the town of Keene to hear Bernie speak.(2) On July 2, over 10,000 people packed into an auditorium in Madison Wisconsin; a crowd so large that it was ‘standing room only’ with more than an additional thousand estimated to have stood outside the hall to hear the speech. (3) He is drawing crowds that, at times dwarf any other candidate on either side of the political fence.
The self-styled unabashed ‘Democratic Socialist” has a message that is resonating through the beleaguered middle class. An early ‘straw poll’ taken at the Wisconsin Democratic Party convention in Milwaukee had Sanders within 9 points of Hillary, polling in at 41% among the party regulars to Clinton’s 49%. (4) And, by the middle of June he had closed within 12 points of Hillary in neighboring New Hampshire. (5) Whether or not he can garner the resources to mount a full-fledged 50 state campaign remains to be seen, but clearly many self-styled ‘progressives’ are in search of a viable alternative to Wall Street’s favorite Democrat.Sanders, has served for years as an Independent in the Congress. His presidential campaign is nothing less than a full fledged insurgency against the staid old ‘mossbacks’ who have run the party for nearly a quarter century; the Clintonites with their ‘centrist’ agenda that has served only the interests of the investor class.
His message is a ‘progressive’ one, calling for raising taxes on the upper echelons to 90%; rates not seen since the Eisenhower administration. He stresses the need to break up and re-regulate the banks, to reinstitute the Glass-Steagall act, to enforce anti-trust laws. He has led the fight against the looming trade agreements currently being pushed by the Obama White House in conjunction with Republicans in Congress. He calls for the rigorous enforcement of environmental laws and the funding of renewable energy. He wants to make education free for every student, and the raising of the minimum wage. He advocates for the organization of the workforce into unions to ensure occupational safety and a fair return for a day’s labor. He wants to rebuild the infrastructure, roads, bridges, rail lines, high speed internet, to create jobs and make the country more competitive. It is a broad and encompassing agenda boldly calling for a return to the ‘golden era’ of postwar American pre-eminence, or as much of it as we can recapture in today’s world economy.
The Clinton campaign will ignore this challenge at its peril, for his message rings through the country like a tuning fork hit with a sledge hammer. His appeal runs the spectrum from Progressives in the New Deal tradition and old Wallace and Reagan Democrats wanting a slice of the 'American Pie' to independents and tea baggers angry at the 'Eastern Establishment", the bailout of the bankers, and anxious to reign in Wall Street. He's even getting a measure of Republican support for positions he's taken. For instance, according to a recent CBS/New York Times Poll 80% of Republicans agree with Bernie that there is too much money in politics, over 70% of Republicans think that there should be limits to what individuals or the burgeoning Political Action Committees can be allowed to spend. Indeed 81% of Republicans felt that the campaign finance system needed fundamental changes (45%) or a complete rebuild (36%). (6) Sanders, if he can gather the resources to build an organization and purchase enough media to broadcast his message, now threaten to assault the citadel and capture the heart of the Democratic Party. It is a tall order but he, if anyone, is uniquely positioned to make the attempt.
Accordingly the attacks have begun. McCaskill is but the first, but certainly not the last to take the field in effort to defend the ‘once and future Queen”. Employing the tactics of Karl Rove, McCaskill went about the business of turning a sign of success into a liability by acknowledging, then denigrating the size of crowds drawn to his campaign. “Well, you know Rand Paul’s father got massive crowds, Ron Paul,” she said. “He got the same size crowds, Pat Buchanan got massive crowds. It’s not unusual for someone who has an extreme message to have a following” (7) she concluded.
“Ooooh, gotcha:” wrote Matthew Pulver in “Salon” “Big crowds mean you’re an extremist. So the fewer people you have the more reasonable you are.” (7) By this standard Rick Santorum, who recently held a campaign event at which an audience of just one person emerged would, by this logic, be the most reasonable man in the field.
Pulver went on to behold that Sander’s domestic platform is hardly extreme, or even radical. His campaign’s “bread and butter” is “mostly a return to mid-century, postwar policies, infused with social democratic ideas from places like Sweden, where social democrats gained a majority in parliament 75 years ago.” Sweden, so terrifyingly extreme that it has become the home of: “Volvo, Ikea, Spotify, Saab, H&M, Skype, Ericsson, AstraZenaca, and many more”. (7) Sanders, observed Pulver is hardly ‘extreme’ in the fashion of Ron Paul or Buchanan, citing Paul’s extreme libertarianism and calls to outright abolish Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and Buchanan’s Christian White-Nationalist race baiting.
Sanders can only appear ‘extreme’ in the context of the degree to which the Democratic Party, led by the Clintons, has wandered to the political ‘right’.
“We have no way of knowing”, writes Pulver, “whether or not the Clinton team signed off on this means of attack, if this Sanders-as-extremist line will be something returned to as his success continues. If so, it will be hard for some to hear from the political family most responsible for making Sanders fairly standard postwar liberalism an extreme position. Bill Clinton helmed the rightward turn of the party in 1992, and now Hillary can call anyone who didn’t follow Bill’s lead ‘extremist’ It compounds the already problematic dynastic dimension of Clinton’s campaign. The Clintons, preparing for the coronation, also get to police what is acceptable in the party with Hillary the enforcer of the law Bill laid down? Continuing to call Sanders an ‘extremist’ might only convince many Democrats that the Clintons consider the party theirs.” (7)It is more than that. Clinton must know that the insurgency is not a flash-in-the-pan; but she cannot confront the challenge head on. The devil, as they say, is in the details. By speaking in the tradition of the Party’s history, Sanders is claiming the mantle of FDR, Truman, JFK and LBJ and for Hillary to openly confront Sanders by drawing distinctions between them only serves to demonstrate the gap between her professed ‘progressive’ politics and the ‘real deal’. She will pale by comparison. By forcing Hillary to take the mantle from him, Sanders threatens to lay bare the shortcomings of Hillary’s progressivism and demonstrate that here stands no FDR or Truman or JFK. The attacks come instead from surrogates, she will attempt to stay above the fray, opting out for generalities, talking the talk but unwilling, and unable, to take the first step in the walk.
Hillary recently gave a major policy speech on the economy. Economist Robert Reich gave her excellent grades on recognizing the problems, but failing grades on her remedies. She, like her husband before her, will rail against Wall Street, and speak using the terminology of progress and reform, but will not utter a single word in terms of specifics toward remedy. To do so threaten not only the financial underpinnings of her campaign but require the outright repudiation of her husband’s legacy. As with the pending trade agreements she comes out opposed to ‘fast-track’ authority, not when she could have used her voice in the arena to help shape public opinion but at the very moments the Congress was moving to enact it, when weighing in on the question would be seen by her Wall Street supporters as having negligible influence. Significantly, she did not at the same time speak in opposition to the TPP and other trade agreements, but remained silent. It is this reticence, this unwillingness to champion an issue or a cause, this unwillingness to fight to redress grievance that has characterized the Clintons from the beginning. Though they talk like the Roosevelt’s they act like the Hoovers and this is what has drawn Bernie Sanders into the arena, and this is what he threatens to expose.
(7) http://www.salon.com/2015/07/02/the_bernie_sanders_smear_campaign_has_begun_how_his_opponents_will_try_to_take_him_down/ emphasis mine.