Monday, April 25, 2016

The Shattered Statue

(This cartoon image is by Dave Granlund at

More from Jim:

Again a hat tip to my wife for being my editor, copyeditor, proofreader, and sometimes almost translator.  I mention it because it is only fair to say she doesn’t entirely agree with me about Bernie.  Not that she supports him, just that she feels he is entirely sincere, but so arrogant that the arrogance becomes self-defeating.  I am still trying to decide if I can credit the level of both arrogance and naivete this would require.  But I am literally making up my mind – and changing it – as I write.

Similarly, I am being given this opportunity by Ted.  But I am my own, eccentric self, and my opinions are mine and not his.  I cannot always assume he agrees with me, and certainly no reader should blame my opinions on him. 

And this piece is not quite working out as I planned it.  So many additional pieces of metal keep getting added to the pile of scrap with every news cycle.  Even now, as I type, the Sunday morning talking heads are certainly making punditry that needs discussion – or, for some of them, a suitably loud horse laugh.  I had mentioned I would discuss some recent ‘thunks’ as the chunks of gilded tin fell off the once revered statue of Bernie in the ‘backyard of my mind.’  But by now so many pieces have been scattered on the ground that the statue is as bare as the metaphor has become. 
So this will be a general column, covering many of Bernie’s problems, particularly the most egregious and absurd of them, including his violations of what is supposed to be his ‘creed’ and what I feel are actual abuses of his followers, abuses that could drive them from politics entirely. 

Then, next time, after the rubble – and the metaphor – is carted away, maybe we can at least be able to argue about whatever turns out to have been inside.]
We have to start with what was the most important single moment of the electoral year so far.  It was the night when FOX hosted a Town Hall for the Democrats – but this is a rare case of FOX not being responsible for roiling the waters.  (Bret Baier is no Shep Smith, FOX’s token nod to journalism and integrity, but he frequently shows at least a passing acquaintance with a distant relative of the truth.)

Bernie’s interview had been concluded and he was already leaving the stage when Baier asked him a final question: 

“Senator Sanders, do you think Secretary Clinton is honest and trustworthy?” 

Until then, despite some disputes, both Democrats had run reasonably fair campaigns, respectful, on point and about the issues.

Certainly some Sanders supporters had managed, already, to drag the campaign into the slush-grimed gutters.  For some of them, the point was to condemn Hillary, usually winding up with some ‘charmingly’ misogynistic comment – maybe banking it off the bumpers so it could include a slam at an ethnic group before the 8-ball reached the pocket.  [Prup – never metaphor he didn’t like.]  Supporting Bernie almost seemed secondary, and if they were challenged on one of his positions, they’d declare that didn’t matter as much as defeating the ********.

Hillary supporters were, some of us, getting a little dubious, and the more the acolytes raged, the more we decided to look closely at their candidate.  But even then most of us were in the ‘we have two great candidates, I prefer Hillary but would be glad to take either one’ stage.  At worst it was “I couldn’t vote for him because I’m not sure he could do what he promises, but I admire Bernie’s honesty, integrity, and devotion to his causes.”

And all the time the shadows of Trump and Cruz loomed over the polling places and we remembered the past sculptures the Republican Mud Machine created – once ‘pink slime was banned from human consumption, you had to do something with it.  So along came the ugly, warped statues, from Vince Foster to birtherism, to swiftboating, to Bill Ayers.  (I could have added two dozen more, especially from the folks who see ISIS and Mexicans as obvious allies.

Trump and Cruz should have been the ultimate peacemakers, the 21stCentury equivalent of MAD – Mutual Assured Destruction.  We could, did, and should’ve disagreed between ourselves on a lot of things.  That’s one of the benefits of being a liberal, not having a ‘party line’ even with the set of values -- honesty, equality, economics that works for all sectors, anti-bigotry, education and infrastructure over lower taxes, regulation of dangerous products and workplaces and respect for both law and justice – and the others that most liberals agree on.

We could disagree, but we couldn’t attack each other.  Any personal attack, any argument that went beyond ‘we disagree on that area, perhaps the other showed weak judgment, maybe his/her position looked worse than it was.  But we are still going the same direction’ risked triggering the explosion, risked weakening us enough that we’d lose time, money – and, of course, down-ballot votes -- dealing with a condemnation from our own side.

The Republicans were waiting for the chance to grab an attack, plant it, and wait until it sprouted poisonous tendrils before they fed it back to us.  We had to take the high road. 

And it was more than handing them quotes from our candidates they could use.  Our high-road, issue-oriented debates sharpened the contrast between us who cared about issues and governing and the circus in the opposite party.
Then Baier asked the question…

…And Bernie answered it.

It was Bernie’s big test.  He had several possible responses.  The most honest and accurate would have been: “She has been in public life as long as I have, there have been investigations into her about every part of her life, there have been new, phony scandals concocted about her every year, she has been accused of everything from poor billing practices to murder and drug running, people have lied about what she said and did concerning Benghazi, not to mention those damned e-mails where she did precisely what Colin Powell and Condolezza Rice have done.  And every single investigation has shown her to be innocent of whatever it was she had been charged with.  Do I think her judgement has always been good?  No.  Do I think she has made herself vulnerable to pressure and questioning because of her bank and other connections?  Yes.  Do I think, do I know from years of working with and against her, that she is honest and trustworthy?  Absolutely.”

But he didn’t have to go that far.  He could have been modest, admit fallibility.  “Compared to who?  Neither of us are saints, we both sometimes push the edge a little, exaggerate a bit, pick the version of a story that makes us look better,  That’s the sort of thing anyone can slip into doing.  But compared to our Republican opponents – including those that dropped out, but specifically in comparison to Mr. Trump and Senator Cruz – our honesty shines like the beacon in a mile-high lighthouse.” 

Or, simply, “Yes.”

Even “Yes, for the most part.” would have been an ‘acceptable’ answer.
But Bernie said “We’ll let the voters decide about that,” and the dampness and mud on his boots came straight from the bed of the river Rubicon.

Maybe he could have lessened the consequences if he’d acted with unaccustomed speed – and humility.  The words were out, on tape, and they would be shown a thousand times if Hillary won the nomination.  But he could have, even the next day, pointed out how long a day it had been, and explained that ‘what I said about Hillary is true,  It is the sort of question for the voters to decide, about both of us, but there’s no question that, compared to any of our possible opponents…’

He didn’t.  If anything, he and his spokespeople doubled down on the original statement.  And that meant that Bernie was betting he could win it all, and was determined to do so, whatever damage he might cause in the meantime.  Not just damage to Hillary, but to the entire Progressive cause he proclaimed so loudly.

This was not a minor matter.  It seemed such, but only because of the Junior High Smack Talking Contest from the other party.  But I have searched my memory of all the other Presidential contests our party has lived through, and my historical memory of all the others since the beginning of the Twentieth Century, and can think of no case where this type of attack was made on one Democrat by another.  (Perhaps in 1968, against Humphrey, but if anyone has any other examples, please let me know.)

There has been plenty of bad blood and animosity between candidates, Along with the ordinary political challenges about experience, wisdom, and general policy and on how liberal they were, candidates have been accused of weakness (Muskie’s tears), immaturity (Dean’s ‘Yee-Haw!’), feelings of ‘entitlement’ due to family (Ted Kennedy before Hillary).  They have attacked each other over the eccentricities of their relatives (Remember Billy Beer?), and even for their religion (Kennedy and Al Smith).  And opposing candidates were always fair game for both sides. But even in the twenties, in which all three conventions had to wrestle with the attitude of the Party to the KKK, no Democratic candidate in over a hundred years has ever accused another of corruption, dishonesty, or (implied) hypocrisy in the way that the Sanders campaign – and, with that one sentence, the candidate -- has.

His more rabid supporters were already making the same claim, usually with a misogynistic noun added.  They were probably lost causes to begin with, but there were less toxic supporters who had their own doubts – after 25 years of Republican attacks, it is easy to say ‘so much smoke, there has to be a fire somewhere.’  How, when he loses, is Bernie going to reach out to them, or to anyone, and ask them to vote for her?

For that matter, he has condemned the whole political system as corrupt and shares Donald Trump’s certainty that it is rigged, and his ungracious way of losing is likely to add to the certainty expressed by his noisier supporters.  Some of them might not have voted for Hillary in any circumstances, but, were they seeing clearly, they’d at least see the opportunities we had to regain the Senate – which we needed to have any chance of moving SCOTUS in our direction – and that we could even wind up with a Democratic House that would spend time governing, instead of repeatedly ‘repealing’ the ACA in a scene worthy of the finest Kabuki entourage. 

And but what is worse, in the long range, is that when another, more honest and serious, candidate reaches out to touch their idealism, it will be so sore and bruised by what (they were told) they had experienced that it would be too painfully sensitive to be touched.  And they’d become lost in the statistics of non-voters. 

(There is a delicious flavor of irony, for us gourmets of the stuff.  If Hillary were not the pragmatist, the political animal her opponents condemn her for being, when Bernie comes to the convention, asking for some form of tribute for the votes he acquired  she would answer him appropriately – maybe borrowing one of his more abusive acolytes to help her with the speech.  “What?  You want to be rewarded for costing the party votes, potentially even states, for spreading lies against me, for turning maybe hundreds of thousands of voters who share the ideals we both do, away from this most vital of elections?  You have already made it harder for us to replace Justice Scalia, or to fill any other vacancies on SCOTUS and in the lower courts, lessened the chance of state legislatures stopping these horrible bills on voter restriction, Medicaid reduction, LGBTQ matters.  And you want us to reward or bribe you?...”  And that’s when the fine craftsmanlike use of obscenity, profanity and scorn that seems to be the only thing some of Bernie’s supporters have brought to the campaign comes into play as the only appropriate response.

(But Hillary is a politician, a better one than she claims to be, and she ‘knows the rules.’  She’s also a Clinton, and they have a problem in judgment that frequently keeps them loyal to someone who has claimed to be a friend far beyond the point they’ve shown themselves to be dangerous – DWS, Dick Morris, David Gergen, even Terry McCauliffe.  So she’ll be gracious and generous to this ungracious and dangerously deluded – at best – and uncontrollable bomb thrower, even though she knows kind words towards this ‘wildman of a Democratic Socialist’ will be used against her in speech after speech.

(And, another flavor of irony is that of anyone in the country, Hillary knows Bernie’s weaknesses.  She’s done he opposition research and know how easily it would have been to destroy the Sanders campaign – without even needing the Republican flair for lies.  The “Ortega Tape” and the ‘dark satire’ that looks more like simple rape porn would have been enough.)

          And it has only gone on from there, even as the losses, the ethnic and gender disparities, the difficulties with primaries instead of caucuses, and the certainty of defeat grew ever bigger,   A prominent surrogate, a black state legislator who has been debating with Barney Frank on MSNBC – I think her last name is Turner, and *blush* I am not sure if the first name is Mona argues that even if Bernie loses, Hillary would have to ‘earn’ their votes.  (No word as to how much NOT being the candidate supported by every major White Nationalist helps, or being the only defender of women’s health needs, of sane economics, of education and infrastructure counts with that.)

          And the same campaign that had condemned – as the Ultimate example of the Establishment foiling the democratic will and voted of the people -- the idea of trying to win the nomination by getting SuperDelegates to switch candidates based on electability began saying they would do just that, guaranteeing the mudbaths would continue beyond California to Cleveland and keep distracting her from making headway against the real enemy.

          Now he is making a play to get his ideas into the platform.  No surprise there. An intelligent 11th Grade Civics class would have predicted that.  But Bernie – that ‘nice old man’ -- has his own twist.  Ordinarily a candidate would withdraw, but state some specifics he wanted in the platform, his delegates on the Committee would work for them, and would get most of what he wanted.  Meanwhile, the candidate would be working hard to defend the winner and see that she and their mutual party – won the election.

          Not Sen. Sanders, who seems to be saying that he’ll keep fighting, not just to California – that’s reasonable, to give his supporters a chance to vote for him – but until the convention.  Then he’ll look at the platform, and if it meets his standards, he’ll ‘consider’ asking his supporters to vote for Hillary.  Not urge them, not suggest it is as important to vote for Congressional candidates, but at least suggest they vote for Hillary.

          Over Donald Trump.

         ‘But who am I to tell people what to do?”  That was his response, as he runs for an office that, by his view of it, consists of nothing but ‘telling people what to do.’

          Doesn’t Bernie realize how this makes him sound, when the real enemy is a man with no experience, with the support of neo-Nazis and White Nationalists and anti-Mexicans and anti-Muslims, along with his other delusional supporters, and beyond them, the collection of religious cranks, bigots, fools, Laffer-curve worshippers, climate change deniers, and collectors of only the finest conspiracy theories that makes up today’s Republican Party?

          How does what Bernie is doing differ from someone who chooses to attempt to block a free shipment of trucks filled with water to Flint, because he decides he doesn’t like the way the gifting company treats its employees?

          Bernie has raised this fervently, passionately devoted ‘revolutionary army.’  They follow him, they tout his praises – often in the most – er, shall we say ‘pungent’ – way.  No, it isn’t as large as he claims, or as inclusive, but it is still an amazing force that could accomplish some important good – and by doing so, boost Bernie as well.  Think about it, twenty Bernie volunteers from every state, wearing Bernie shirts, delivering water in Flint,  Or groups of Bernie supporters going into the states where voting rights are being restricted, and running a registration campaign, if necessary, walking the person through each step, driving wherever necessary to get the right documents.  (Bernie’s the veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, you’d think he would have thought of that.)  Or pick the twenty most underfunded school systems, get ten volunteers per state, and have them open a free tutoring service through the summer for those students.

          There are lots of openings for just the sort of things this type of eager young person can do.  Surely he can think of some way they could be used against the ‘bathroom bills’ or think of some way they can inspire people to do something about the attacks on abortion rights, and what about male employees publicly splitting their paychecks with women in the same job who are paid less.

          (All of these are things Hillary should consider doing as well, of course, but she has never thought of her followers as an ‘army.’)

          It’s funny, but Bernie Sanders has all these people who he tells, “Listen to my speeches, vote, and most of all send in your contribution of $27 and wondrous changes will begin happening in your life, colleges will open to you, your paychecks will grow, all with just your help and most of all your faith in me.”

          Now where have I heard that before?  Oh, yeah.  Just change ‘vote’ to ‘pray,’ call the speeches ‘sermons,’ maybe change the amount of the ‘free will offering’ and throw in some Bible verses and it becomes the speech of the Reverend Ike, or any other preacher of the ‘Prosperity Gospel.’

          I was going to go into even more detail, but I’ll spare you that.  Tthere are limits, and this is just Part 2.  But two things, one hilarious, one as sad as it is sickening will end this.

          The first was Bernie’s attempt to pull a Kim Davis on the Pope.  They used the same basic scheme.  Get invited to a function at Vatican City – Bernie even got to make a speech, and chose has standard one despite the different topic of the meeting.  Ignore Vatican attempts to uninvite you (they tried to schedule Bernie at a time he couldn’t make because of the debate).  Then wangle a picture with the Pope and claim it was evidence of his supporting you.

          This time the Pope was ready.  "When I came down, I greeted them, shook their hands and nothing more. This is good manners. It's called good manners and not getting mixed up in politics. If anyone thinks that greeting someone means getting involved in politics, they should see a psychiatrist," the pope said.

          Finally, for now, and sadly…

          Tonight I read the statement that Hillary is winning because ‘poor people don’t vote.’  When a black blogger had suggested that Bernie would wind up throwing blacks under the bus to win working class white votes, I argued against him strenuously, insisting that ‘Bernie didn’t see colors, it was just that his economic determinism blinded him to the distinct existence of racism.’  Even when it was ‘the South doesn’t count’ but places like Idaho, Wyoming, Alaska did, that was just the campaign talking, not Bernie.

          But this, and my friend was right.  It isn’t that Bernie doesn’t see colors.  Sadly, it looks more and more like he doesn’t see ‘colored people.’  (And have you ever seen him be the first to bring up immigration as an issue if he isn’t challenged on it?  That one may be just my memory.)

          So next column will try and take a hard look at Bernie Sanders’ Progressivism, to try and understand whether it is just blind arrogance and self-defeating grasping of the ‘both parties are alike’ meme that makes him so ineffectual, or if there is something else.

          I have no idea if I will be able to make sense of it, but I have to try.

Jim "Prup" Benton

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