Of course Sanders’s answer about Hillary’s emails was great politics

CNN would have been remiss last night to not ask at least one question about Hillary Clinton’s emails. The issue has been dominating coverage of her campaign, and she’ll be the first to admit that she has been less than adept at handling said coverage.

But what journalists who get off on the prospect of wrongdoing via shady, technically complicated communication between Hillary, her employees at the State Department and foreign leaders miss in all of their coverage is that the median Democratic voter does not give a single bother. To be clear, they don’t find Hillary Clinton to be particularly trustworthy or transparent, but that was the case before her email story broke. They are much more concerned about her flip on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and flakiness on Wall Street reform than they are about where and how she housed her email server.

Despite that being the case, however, there’s only so much a candidate can do when posed with the question, “Your opponents say you did something illegal. Did you?” While Clinton came prepared with a good answer to the email question, there was only so much she could say. Which is a shame, because the media’s obsession with her emails is positively ridiculous.

Which is why, during her answer, I tweeted this:

And Bernie Sanders immediately obliged:

As Sanders said (emphasis added):

Let me say — let me say something that may not be great politics. But I think the secretary is right, and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails.

You know? The middle class — Anderson, and let me say something about the media, as well. I go around the country, talk to a whole lot of people. Middle class in this country is collapsing. We have 27 million people living in poverty. We have massive wealth and income inequality. Our trade policies have cost us millions of decent jobs. The American people want to know whether we’re going to have a democracy or an oligarchy as a result of Citizens Union. Enough of the e-mails. Let’s talk about the real issues facing America.

Sanders’s preface that his answer wouldn’t be great politics was echoed by the same journalists who have been covering Clinton’s emails like they are the thing the voters really truly care about in this election:

But for the reasons stated above, that assumption turned out to be wrong. Sanders’s declaration that the American people are tired of hearing about Clinton’s damn emails drew one of the biggest applause lines of the night, in no small part because the American people are tired of hearing about Clinton’s damn emails. In a focus group conducted by Fox’s Frank Luntz — who has every incentive to play up the email scandal as a negative — Bernie’s dismissal of the issue as a waste of time was hailed as on of his best moments in a debate that participants felt he won by a mile.

Sanders’s answer was great politics for Hillary in that it scored more points for her than any answer she could have given on the issue herself, but it was also great politics for Sanders in that it reinforced everything people like about him and his brand: Bernie Sanders does not trade in political bullshit. The American people are worried about economic inequality and the disastrous effects it is having on our democracy, so that’s what he’s going to talk about. As far as he’s concerned, any attempt to distract from that message is nothing more than misdirection, and deserves to be treated as such.

Sanders has been rewarded thus far in his campaign by being the kind of candidate everyone says they want: a no-nonsense non-sellout with a laser-sharp focus on the country’s most pressing issues and a willingness to call out the Washington establishment for ignoring them. Being offered a chance to attack Clinton over her emails was, in this respect, a wheelhouse issue for him — a prime example of the politics he loathes and has spent the last few months campaigning against. It should come as no surprise that he knocked the question out of the park.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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13 Responses to “Of course Sanders’s answer about Hillary’s emails was great politics”

  1. SL Abrin says:

    Bernie has the same rapport with Jim Webb.

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  3. goulo says:

    It also seems very hypocritical to me that Clinton is one of many establishment politicians wanting Edward Snowden to be punished, claiming Snowden revealed classified info thus endangering the US yada-yada, and then she does this stupid insecure handling of her own email and also making classified info easily available to hackers.

    Not to mention that her footdragging and deceit about the email case says something about her character.

  4. FLL says:

    I was curious, so I reviewed the clip of Bernie saying “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.” I saw something that I don’t usually see in these debates, and that is teamwork of a sort developing between Bernie and Hillary. Determining which of the two comes out on top is what the primaries are for, but these two seem to have complementary strengths and weaknesses. Hillary has a history of being too cozy with bankers not as strong on protecting the environment as she could be, whereas Bernie is a real warrior in both of these areas. Bernie is somewhat weak on gun control and racial profiling, but Hillary is more assured on these issues. What I was not expecting was that Bernie and Hillary have a friendly rapport with each other.

  5. Bill_Perdue says:

    The question is not e-mails or the stupidity of using easily hacked servers.The question is the role of HRH HRC in attacks on Arab and muslim states to steal their resources and the mass murder that ensues.

    Hillary Clinton is a war criminal. Republicans and Democrats refuse to prosecute war criminals like the Clintons, the Bushes and Obama because those parties support wars of aggression and war criminals.

  6. mf_roe says:

    My money is on Rachel serving up some real meat, Webb and Chafee better start cramming unless they want to follow Perry and Walker out the express exit.

  7. Don Chandler says:

    As opposed to the government. It’s also problematic considering she is part of the system. And no doubt will increase funding for NSA.

  8. GeorgeMokray says:

    Anderson Cooper went right back to asking each candidate about Hillary’s emails even after Sanders confronted him on the issue. Chafee missed his chance when he didn’t support Sanders and Clinton in moving on to more important issues while O’Malley did when he got his chance. Cooper’s actions were extremely frustrating.

    Maybe the “forum” with Rachel Maddow moderating will be more policy rather than politics focused.

  9. nicho says:

    Yeah, a couple of servers in your back bedroom with no protections at all is so much better. Even the Clinton camp has admitted that hackers were attacking her home-brew system. As soon as she sent out her first email with her amateur address and all her metadata, hackers knew exactly where to go. The argument that her system was so much better than the one at state is simply ridiculous.

  10. Don Chandler says:

    I always thought the best excuse for having your own server as Secretary of State was that you had to protect yourself from … CIA…NSA…KGB…china…. They all spy on government officials. CIA spied on the Senate investigating torture by the CIA using the CIA supplied computers. These spy agencies get good money depending on who is in the presidency. Bad system. Smart not being in the system.

  11. mf_roe says:

    In my opinion both Clinton’s hold anyone outside of their inner circle in contempt. They arrogantly address both supporters and adversaries as fools. That is an explanation of your first point.

    As to your second, name a entity that hasn’t been compromised. You can’t, but you can be sure that there are many of those organizations that have AGGRESSIVE counter-systems to defend their assets. The fact that “Cackle” didn’t have such counter-measures speaks to competence of a prospective leader..

    Sanders more than anything else displayed just how serious he is about avoiding personal attacks as a political strategy. He is smart enough to know that voters who see Clinton’s actions as unacceptable need no more reminders and that her bootlickers will accept no proof regardless of providence. This may well gain him nothing, not many are likely to see it as I just described it. I fear that MANY will take it as ACCEPTANCE of Clinton’s actions and a blurring of the real differences between them.

  12. nicho says:

    My concern about the emails is two-fold.

    First, it fits right into the Clinton proclivity (Bill and Hill) of what can best be described as self-sabotage. They both do it repeatedly. It’s almost as if they’re daring the GOP to attack them. Back in the ’90s, when they both had targets on their back, they did some of the stupidest things that the GOP could turn into, if not scandals, then major distractions.

    The dumbest, of course, was Bill. Knowing that the GOP was watching him like a hawk and ready to pounce on him for the slightest faux pas, he let an intern give him a blow job in the Oval Office — more than once. WTF? I don’t care if you work at an insurance agency in Peoria, you don’t whip out your dick in the office and get a blow job from one of the women — unless you’re an idiot.

    My second concern with the emails is who has copies of them. Hillary claims the servers were inviolate, but we’ve learned now that they weren’t. By her own admission, they were repeatedly attacked — and there were three months at least that they were unprotected. And no one knows if the “protections” were effective. If China, Russia, Mossad, Iran, Anonymous, and a bunch of other hackers don’t have copies of everything in there, I’ll give you a dollar.

    Assuming this is true — and there are few IT systems anywhere that haven’t been hacked — this can provide either a bombshell for her at an inopportune time or even blackmail.

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