Sanders’ criticism of Obama (and Clinton) will haunt him

I wrote the other day about how Sanders’ supporters routinely denigrate the integrity and record of Hillary Clinton, including trying to tar her with her husband’s record as president, which has two problems.

First, President Clinton did an amazing job in office (as a friend remarked on Twitter, it’s a wonder we all survived the eight years of peace and prosperity).

Second, it’s more than a bit problematic to criticize a woman’s fitness for employment based on her husband’s resume.

As for Sanders’ ongoing criticism of Obama, it’s encapsulated in the second half of this troubling new quote from Bernie Sander’s official campaign pollster, Ben Tulchin, in the latest New Yorker:

Sanders has long embraced the socialist label, and it seems not to hurt him among younger voters. Ben Tulchin, Sanders’s pollster, told me that millennials support Sanders “because their generation is so f*cked, for lack of a better word, unless they see dramatic change. What’s their experience been with capitalism? They have had two recessions, one really bad one. They have a mountain of student-loan debt. They’ve got really high health-care costs, and their job prospects are mediocre at best. So that’s capitalism for you.”

Tulchin, who is forty-two, joined the Sanders campaign for the same reason that many disaffected Democratic voters joined: the candidate’s populist message, which he wasn’t hearing from the President. “Obama is the guy who hangs out on the North Side of Chicago with wealthy people and he raises money from them,” Tulchin said. “Not to denigrate him, but, I mean, if you’re from the kind of moderate business wing of the Party—which he isn’t exclusively, but he is partly—you don’t speak that language.”

Oh, no offense taken!

Obama was born a rich white child

President Obama hails from, and lives in, the poor-and-black south side of Chicago, not the rich-and-white north side. Suggesting that the President is an economic elitist, who hangs out with too many white people, is odd to say the least.

There’s a condescending disrespect (and racial tone deafness) in this form of argument, and it’s a form of debate that’s grown popular of late in certain segments of the American left. It intentionally disregards a person’s entire history, entire life’s work, in order to smear them based on an extrapolation of evil based on one or two examples that, by themselves, don’t really prove the point being made. To suggest that Barack Obama — an African-American who grew up in the 1960s, and then moved to the poor, black south side of Chicago to work as a community organizer — is a sell-out, is really beyond the pale.

What’s particularly dangerous for Sanders here is that this is the same argument he’s been using to go after Hillary Clinton — she takes money from rich people, and thus must be beholden to big business! In attacking Obama, Sanders just validated Clinton’s retort, that if Sanders thinks she’s a sell-out for taking donations, he must think President Obama is a sell-out too. And apparently, Team Sanders does.

But the reason Sanders, and his supporters, think Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are sell-outs isn’t only because they take donations from rich people. (Team Sanders doesn’t bother mentioning that without those donations, the Republicans would win every race). It’s because neither Obama nor Clinton — nor any other politician in the history of the world — has been able to accomplish everything they promised.

The problem isn’t donations, it’s effectiveness

Hillary was once a far-lefty who tried to get Congress to pass the most liberal health care reform in American history — and she failed. And since then, she’s been forced to moderate — learned to moderate, one might say — in order to accomplish her progressive goals.

And the same can be said of Barack Obama. The man had lofty goals in 2008. He was going to “change” things in Washington. You could even say he promised a “revolution.” But then a funny thing happened on the way to the Bastille. Barack Obama actually caught the tiger by the tail (if you’ll permit the mixed metaphor), and wasn’t entirely sure how to tame the beast after all. The President didn’t achieve all of his goals, to be sure. And with many of the ones he did accomplish — the stimulus and health care reform come to mind — he was forced to accept half a loaf, rather than what he originally promised.

It’s fine to rail against “the establishment” (whatever that actually means), and rail against Washington. But in the end, “Washington” is where you’re going to have to go if you plan on becoming president, and the establishment is who you’re going to have to work with if you want to get anything done. And while it’s all well and good to have contempt for both, it’s slow-going — no-going, in fact — when you negotiate with someone you treat as contemptible.  Contempt is about as effective a tactic as asking them nicely to pass your reforms.

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are both riding a wave of voter dissatisfaction, based in part on raw anger over unkept promises, which have led to an overall sense that “Washington doesn’t work.” But what do you think is going to happen if Sanders or Trump win in November? Does anyone honestly believe that the Congress and special interests are going to be more amenable to doing the bidding of someone who hates them and treats with contempt?

President Obama learned early on in his presidency that you really need to understand how Washington works — the art of the presidential deal, as it were — if you’re going to make good on your promises. And I’d argue that, as successful a presidency that Obama has now had, he wasn’t fully prepared for the legislative challenge that awaited him in January of 2009.

And Bernie Sanders is even less prepared to wage a battle against “capitalism,” as his pollster is now promising.

In a recent survey from Georgetown, Sanders ranked last (just after Ted Cruz) in terms of his willingness to work across the aisle. The survey found that Sanders was the most partisan of any US Senator. And while his acolytes might rejoice in the news that Sanders is unbending — “we don’t want Sanders compromising with evil corporate sell-outs” — a foolish consistency is a recipe for political inaction. You simply can’t get anything done in Washington if you’re not willing to negotiate, and if you don’t know how to win legislatively.

Bernie Sanders fails the Bernie Standard

And that’s the last point I wanted to raise. Sometimes you have to negotiate; and sometimes you need to beat your political opponent to a metaphorical pulp, in order to force them to the negotiating table. Sanders isn’t willing to do the former, and has shown no ability to do the latter. Sanders simply does not have a record of either reaching, or artfully pummeling, across the aisle in order to get things accomplished. And without that record, he’s going to end up either not accomplishing what he promises, or compromising on those promises in order to get at least half a loaf.

Ether way, under the Bernie Standard, Sanders will be deemed a sell-out. And the popular anger at Washington will only grow.

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CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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