You have to wonder if this is what Debbie Wasserman Schultz was trying to prevent all along. The Clinton campaign, in a matter of days, has completely lost its soul.
Yesterday, Bill Clinton’s stumping for his wife in New Hampshire took on an angry tone, and his attacks on Bernie Sanders became very antagonistic. In doing so, he clarified for all of us that the era of Clinton as a liberal hero are coming to a conclusive end.
Accusing Sanders of fiscal ineptitude, blatant hypocrisy, and of encouraging “vicious trolling and attacks” online, Clinton went as dark as any Republican, and with just as much dignity. Exaggerating the fault of the DNC data breach earlier in the campaign, Clinton suggested that Sanders campaign looted information and then feigned innocence. Never mind that the individual responsible was recommended by the DNC and summarily fired by the Sanders campaign. Clinton was as “fair and balanced” as Bill O’Reilly in his comments, a far cry from the erudite champion of Democrats we once thought he was.
Hillary and her big name supporters have not only brought the campaign down to Republican strategy levels, but they’ve ruined the reputations of three heretofore well-respected liberal public figures. Yes, ruined.
Of course, Bill Clinton was just part of the chorus. Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem, of all people, made accusations of sexism and hormonal determinism against Sanders’ supporters just days earlier. Albright, Clinton’s former Secretary of State, said “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” and complained that some young women “don’t understand the importance of why young women have to support Hillary Clinton.” The supposition that ONLY Hillary Clinton should be the first woman President is questionable, to say the least, but the transparent shaming intended to bully young women supporting Sanders to reconsider their choice is Megyn-Kelly-style rhetoric.
Not to be outdone, Steinem, appearing on Real Time with Bill Maher, said young women supporting Bernie Sanders are “thinking, where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie…” This is THE Gloria Steinem, feminist icon, founder of Ms. magazine, lifelong liberal activist for women’s rights and equality. The level of outrage over her comments nearly broke Twitter. The level of confusion nearly broke my brain.
In the period of a weekend, following a vigorous Democratic primary debate, Hillary and her big name supporters have not only brought the campaign down to Republican strategy levels, but they’ve ruined the reputations of three heretofore well-respected liberal public figures. Yes, ruined. Say what you will, but how does one excuse this level of base prevarication, hyperbole and misogyny from anyone on the Left? Like Mel Gibson and Bill Cosby discovered, once you publicly reveal an extremely nasty and hateful personality, you don’t go back. You may have a few friends who will continue to support you, but to everybody else, you’re on your way to pariah.
You could see this coming, to some extent. During the debate last week, immediately after Secretary Clinton began her “artful smear” attack, there was an audible gasp from the audience and an angry and outraged look across Bernie Sanders’ face. Only minutes later, however, after Sanders continued to reiterate his claim that Goldman Sachs’ and Wall Street’s huge campaign contributions to politicians were genuinely corrupting, Clinton was stuttering, seemingly stunned that Sanders would not relent the position. She expected, perhaps, that he would give her an out on the biggest plank in his platform? Such an assumption is absurd and naive. This was Rocky II, and Apollo was taking rib-shattering punches to the gut. That’s who Rocky is. That’s who Sanders is. He had Clinton clinching, calling for the referee to stop the fight.
…they are horrified that the whole business of the transcripts, accepting the money, that she could blow the Democrats’ chance for the White House… These ethical lapses have tied the White House up in knots.
From that moment, Clinton couldn’t figure out how to put an end to the Sanders’ critique of her campaign contributions. How could she? The same day Albright was making her cynical remarks, Carl Bernstein appeared on CNN and seemed to genuinely startle anchor Poppy Harlow when he said, “I spent part of this weekend talking to people in the White House. They are horrified at how Hillary Clinton is blowing up her own campaign.” Harlow made a very concerned face and asked what they were saying. Bernstein continued:
“…they are horrified that the whole business of the transcripts, accepting the money, that she could blow the Democrats’ chance for the White House… These ethical lapses have tied the White House up in knots. They don’t know what to do. They’re beside themselves. Now, you’ve got a situation with these transcripts a little like Richard Nixon and his tapes that he stonewalled and didn’t release.”
The comparison to Nixon was the death knell of this campaign. Bernstein’s biography of Clinton, Woman in Charge, was sympathetic to the difficulties of her life in the public light. When even he is reporting such panic from the White House, it becomes almost fated that Clinton’s remaining supporters are either going to have to sell their souls to fudge her record or they’re going to go quiet. Sure, she’s got plenty of supporters who will repeat the transparent hagiography of her past and recent record, and they will make a splash in the media to some extent. Steinem, smartly, has already recanted, perhaps recognizing that her statements tarnish her image far worse than they helped Clinton. The damage is done, however. Sanders’ supporters are flooding social media with outrage and renewed commitment to his campaign. Young women will never think the same of Steinem again.
Of course, Clinton’s campaign doesn’t have to rely on its celebrity insults to drive itself further into the dirt. Clinton makes much of her earlier work at the Children’s Defense Fund, claiming that this is clear evidence of her champion-of-the-people bona fides. Yet her former boss, the highly esteemed Marian Wright Edelman, is greatly disturbed by Clinton’s advocacy of the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act” that was passed in 1996. This was the welfare reform act, and in Edelman’s estimation, it has led to “growing child poverty” and contributes greatly to the “cradle-to-prison pipeline” for young Black people. To his credit, Sanders hasn’t brought this up in a debate…yet. If he does, Clinton may have an aneurysm.
Sanders’ message hasn’t changed. He hasn’t even insisted that Clinton release transcripts of her speeches to Goldman Sachs, as many of his supporters are demanding on social media. He doesn’t have to.
Clinton’s camp is downright arrogant about their “ownership” of the African-American vote. Recently, however, Shaun King of the The New York Daily news rightly debunked the so-called “African-American firewall” that supposedly assures Clinton victory against Sanders. This is an oft-repeated assumption in the media and among the political class. King, however, notes that this “is rooted in the ridiculous idea that Bill Clinton was the nation’s first black President… Of course, that’s dumb and it sounds incredibly dumb in 2016 after seven years of Barack and Michelle Obama in the White House, but for most of the 1990s it was spoken of with a degree of seriousness.”
King also referred readers to Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, which “in painstaking detail…shows how President Bill Clinton, with the expressed support of Hillary Clinton, who publicly called young black children ‘super-predators,’ ushered in the new era of mass incarceration in communities of color.”
These damning statements are finding their way to the public quickly. Their more positive corollaries for Sanders are as well. Earlier last week, actor Danny Glover endorsed Sanders, writing a thoughtful and impassioned article in which he suggests Sanders’ “class-based proposals for change could have great benefits…especially (for) African-Americans because most Black people in this country are working class and a disproportionate number are poor.”
Glover went on to point out Sanders’ honest responsiveness to Black Lives Matter: “Sanders has demonstrated that he understand that real democracy is essentially a pro-active citizenry demanding that public servants represent just causes. He understands that generalized economic class-based reforms must be linked with what he has correctly called ‘serious problems in this country with institutional racism, and a broken criminal justice system.’” The obvious inference is that a candidate who supported the escalation of this “broken system” cannot be expected to work tirelessly to correct it. Such an assumption is hard to argue against.
If Black Lives Matter were to endorse Sanders today, this race would be beyond over. I cynically expect Magic Johnson to be stumping for Clinton this week, shaming young black people to remember and honor the false Bill Clinton legacy of civil rights improvements. (Can anyone name them?) Magic is retired, so he doesn’t have a career to risk, of course. It’s only his legacy that could be irreparably tarnished. I sincerely hope he’s smarter than that.
What’s obvious is the contrast in the two campaigns this week. Sanders’ message hasn’t changed. He hasn’t even insisted that Clinton release transcripts of her speeches to Goldman Sachs, as many of his supporters are demanding on social media. He doesn’t have to. He just keeps delivering his message, every day, like a hard punch to the kidneys. Clinton and her surrogates, on the other hand, have gone negative in a way that would make Roger Ailes proud. The lack of dignity is almost breathtaking as you watch supposedly admirable people lie and deceive without shame. Like the White House, I find it horrifying. Such disingenuousness is unforgivable and undignified. The Clinton era has ended. There’s no coming back from this.