Despite having yet to announce whether or not he will run for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, Bernie Sanders has been subjected to an onslaught of negative coverage that has gone into overdrive over the last two weeks or so. While the stories mostly originate in legacy outlets like the New York Times, they’ve been amplified by American cable news outlets who are always at the ready to attack the left in general and Sanders in particular.
Even the editorial board of The Barre Montpellier Times Argus, a Vermont daily, got into the act on January 5th, publishing an editorial entitled, “Don’t Run”.
The oped begins by claiming that Senator Sanders neglected his duties in the Senate while running for president (a criticism never leveled at anyone else in the field, including the large number of Senators and Governors in the last Republican primary) and complaining that he spends more time talking to a wider audience on national news and talk shows than he does his home state press.
After these odd attacks, the editors went on to locate what they see as Bernie Sanders’ real problem: the growing influence of his long term thinking on how to transform the United States and its economy to better serve the country’s citizens:
“And, there have been progressive candidates, many of whom have been running under Sanders’ “revolution” banner (and with his endorsement) who are spreading the tenets of Sanders’ decades-old agenda: Rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure; reversing climate change; creating worker co-ops; growing the trade-union movement; raising the minimum wage; pay equity for women workers; trade policies that benefit American workers; making college affordable for all; taking on Wall Street; health care as a human right; protecting the most vulnerable Americans; and tax reform.
As a platform, it is massive. As a candidate, Sanders is exhausting.”
It’s hard to know where to begin with this, but we might start with the popularity of all of these ideas, with majorities in the country across party lines supporting most of them. Probably the most popular of his policy proposals is Medicare for All, which is not just overwhelmingly supported by Democrats and Independents but also a majority of Republican voters, who clearly want to bring the country into line with the rest of the Western world in terms of ensuring all citizens have equal access to healthcare.
It’s hard to square the excitement that these policy ideas seem to create among U.S. working people across almost all divides with the exhaustion felt by the editorial board of the Times Argus in even listing them. While it’s now almost impossible to take the paper seriously, other attacks on the Senator have been more serious and are probably a sign of what’s to come if he does throw his hat into the 2020 ring.
One recent line of attack, launched by a lengthy investigative piece in the New York Times on January 2nd, is something of a revival of the ‘Bernie Bros’ canard mainstream and liberal outlets hammered away at throughout the 2016 Democratic primary. The new twist is to indict Sanders’ 2016 primary campaign as a whole, rather than just some overenthusiastic and sometimes incoherent people who claimed to be his supporters and who engaged in online trolling during the primaries.
While mainly reporting on one incident of obviously unprofessional and frankly, creepy, conduct by a campaign surrogate in Nevada, and while not accusing the Senator himself of any impropriety, the Times piece in question, which received a wide airing on CNN and MSNBC, attempted to once again associate Sanders with sexism, going so far as to say that he will have to reckon with the #MeToo movement that has mainly exposed truly terrifying behavior on the part of powerful men, many of them in media.
Also, as a former Sanders delegate, Chuck Pennacchio wrote in an editorial responding to the Times’ story, “I can tell you from forty-plus years of campaign experience (local, county, congressional, senatorial, presidential) that these incidents presented as a scandalized indictment of Senator Sanders by the NY Times are commonplace… completely unacceptable, but commonplace.”
That this terrible phenomenon degrades most campaigns is an important subject for investigation by a paper with the resources of The Times but we probably shouldn’t hold our collective breath waiting for it.
As Sanders himself has apologetically explained, the unexpected groundswell of support for his campaign in 2016 led to hurried staffing throughout the country. While recognizing that there is no excuse for sexist behavior or harassment on the part of staffers and that more needs to be done to ensure that mechanisms are in place to report and take action against it if Sanders runs again, he and his former campaign manager, Jeff Weaver have made it clear that this will be a priority.
As Weaver was quoted as saying about the campaign’s failings far into the Times report, “Was it too male? Yes. Was it too white? Yes. Would this be a priority to remedy on any future campaign? Definitely, and we share deeply in the urgency for all of us to make change. In 2016, as the size of our campaign exploded, we made efforts to make it a positive experience for people. That there was a failure pains me very much.”
As if to make the level of hypocrisy here resoundingly clear, this week it was revealed that a senior aide to Senator Kamala Harris when she was Attorney General of California was harassing his executive assistant, reportedly even making her wash his car. The office had to pay out $400,000 dollars in a gender harassment case that has mostly been reported on by right-wing media, although Jake Tapper brought it up and quickly brushed it aside in a recent CNN interview.
Harris, who is also considered a 2020 contender, is obviously not responsible for the behavior of this subordinate but the different way this has been treated by most mainstream media shows that Sanders will always be held to a different standard than just about any other candidate.
The truth is that, while his record isn’t perfect, Sanders has consistently been on the right side of history and always progressive in his views.
To cite just one exaple, on LGBTQ rights it took Barack Obama until 2012 and Hillary Clinton until 2013 to finally support gay marriage.
Long before centrist Democrats like these were willing to risk political capital by doing the right thing, Sanders voted against the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that enshrined marriage inequality into American law for almost 20 years.
In 2016 and today, pretty much unmentioned by those who seem to take such delight in attacking progressives from the center right, there has been an unsubtle ageism running in both directions in regards to the Senator and his supporters. Press and pundits often complain that the spry Sanders is too old to be president, an attack that will no doubt be ramped up if he decides to run for the Democratic nomination in 2020.
Alongside this ageism directed at the Vermont Senator personally, the avalanche of attacks on young people during the last campaign, inspired by their widespread support for Sanders, show the kind of willfull stupidity that one almost always encounters in stories about Millenials.
In one famous example, there was some pretty obvious ageism (and sexism) targeting young women that damaged the reputation of Clinton surrogate and feminist icon Gloria Steinem, who told Bill Maher during the primaries, “Women are more for [Clinton] than men are. Men tend to get more conservative because they gain power as they age, women get more radical because they lose power as they age.
They’re going to get more activist as they grow older. And when you’re younger, you think: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.”
Those conveniently worrying that Sanders has lost a step since the last campaign need only watch his powerful, policy based response to Trump’s rambling, vaguely apocalyptic speech on the border wall and government shutdown on Tuesday. Comparing it to the official response of Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer also provides a stark contrast between what the Democratic party was and what it could potentially become as more progressive voices begin to come into and flex their muscles in government.
Critics might also want to tread lightly with their more dubious criticisms on social media this time around, as it seems probable that the Senator will have new allies like Alexandria Ocasio Cotrez, Ro Khanna and Rashida Tlaib supporting him. These potential campaign surrogates have already shown they can fight with the best the American right or the center can muster. Whether Sanders runs or not, bold progressives like these coming into government may be his insurgent 2016 campaign’s greatest accomplishment.