by Keaton Weiss
A few weeks ago, as we entered the year 2020, Bernie Sanders’ campaign was surging. Endorsements were pouring in, poll numbers were rising, and the betting markets were starting to respond accordingly, placing Sanders’ chances just 0.6 percentage points behind Joe Biden’s to win the Democratic nomination, as of January 12.
But then, things started happening. That evening, video surfaced of Elizabeth Warren accusing Bernie of “sending his volunteers out to trash [her],” in reference to a phone banking script that mentioned her potential vulnerabilities in a general election. The next day, CNN broke a story that Bernie had allegedly told Warren in a private 2018 meeting that he didn’t think a woman could win the presidency. The following evening, that very network hosted the final Democratic debate before the Iowa Caucuses. We all know how that went. And just this week, Hillary Clinton added her contribution to the Stop Sanders onslaught by doubling down in a Hollywood Reporter interview on comments she had made in an upcoming documentary about herself in which she said, in reference to Sanders:
“Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done. He was a career politician. It’s all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it.”
Bernie supporters aren’t known to take these things particularly well, and we didn’t. Hashtags such as #NeverWarren and #CNNistrash flooded the Twitterverse immediately following the debate, and, of course, backlash against Hillary’s comments was as harsh and swift as you’d come to expect from us.
Many progressives are taking these developments as a win for the movement, pointing out that voters by and large didn’t buy Warren’s smears, saw through CNN’s shameful debate performance, and are wishing that Hillary Clinton would just stay out of this primary season altogether. And while those individual claims all seem to be more true than not, the sum total doesn’t seem to me like a “win” for the Sanders campaign, or the progressive movement as a whole.
In the past few days, polling data has shown Biden overtake Bernie for the lead in Iowa, and we’ve seen the betting markets shift rather dramatically in Biden’s favor. How could this be, you ask? I mean, the attacks against Bernie were egregious at best, slanderous at worst, and most people seem to agree with that assessment. So why are we worse off now than we were before?
The answer is that the establishment’s Stop Sanders strategy was never to actually convince a majority of Democratic primary voters that Bernie himself is some closet misogynist who’s out to undermine female candidates and destroy the party from within. They know this is too difficult a task to accomplish, because, contrary to what the corporate media would have you believe, Bernie is actually the most liked of all the candidates in the running. Rather, their approach now is to simply troll the race and create a toxic climate that invokes the memory of the 2016 primary, in the hopes that this alone will scare people off who might now be leaning towards supporting Sanders. The plan is to deter even those who like Bernie from supporting him by simply making them ask themselves if they actually have the stomach to endure a repeat of the Bernie vs. Hillary bloodbath.
In this scheme, Elizabeth Warren’s failing campaign is a perfect proxy for the Clinton campaign of 2016. When Warren played the victim card against Bernie, of course his supporters would react with anger and disgust. When she followed that up with a malicious, slanderous smear about his having made sexist comments to her over a year ago that she all of the sudden decided to bring up out of the blue, we were apoplectic. The fury of the online Bernie supporters then allowed the media to recycle the Orwellian “Bernie Bro” narrative from 2016, which again, only compounds the ire of the Sanders base, which is, of course, the most diverse of any candidate’s in the field.
And we were right to be angry at what had transpired between Sanders, Warren, and CNN, just as we’re right to be angry with Hillary Clinton over her latest injection of venom into our political discourse. The problem, though, is that the Stop Sanders establishment knows we’re right, and they know that most people know we’re right, but they don’t care, because they know most people don’t care either. Because unlike in 2016, when, however ugly it got, voters were stuck with the binary choice of Clinton vs. Sanders, and therefore had to stick it out til the end of that fight and choose one side over the other no matter how turned off they became by the nastiness of it all, this time, they have an out.
That “out” is Joe Biden. And so, by trolling the primary and pouring gasoline on the Sanders vs. Warren fire, and the Sanders vs. The Media fire, and even the Sanders vs. Clinton fire, they hope people will choose to just stay away from Sanders altogether, because his presence alone will be responsible for conjuring up tension and hostility, no matter his opponent, and no matter who’s actually at fault. In other words, fostering a toxic environment around the Sanders campaign, regardless of whether or not people actually blame Bernie for it, could be enough to get people to throw their hands up and say “I don’t have the energy for this, I’m just gonna vote for Biden.”
This puts us in a tough spot. On the one hand, we can’t just let these smears against us and our candidate go unanswered. We have to respond forcefully. On the other hand, the more forcefully we respond, the easier it is for the establishment Democrats and their corporate media allies to scare people away from what they’ll fear could be too bitter and divisive a fight before the all-important general election. So what do we do?
Well, if you agree that the Stop Sanders strategy is to foment hostility between Sanders and all of his opponents, including, of course, the mainstream media, then the best thing you can do is explain this to undecided voters you encounter when phone banking, canvassing, or even just chatting online, or in person with friends or family. Point out to people that these smears against Bernie are first of all, dishonest and absurd on their face, second, have nothing to do with his democratic socialist platform, which, according to the same people lobbing these attacks, is his biggest vulnerability, and, third and perhaps most importantly, are completely unprovoked. The Sanders campaign has been laser-focused on their progressive agenda that speaks to the material needs of ordinary people, which is why they were surging in the first place. None of that has changed on their end. They’re still, in the midst of all of this insidious gossip mongering, trying to take the fight to Joe Biden over Social Security. In other words, those trying to convince you that Bernie Sanders is too toxic and divisive are themselves the purveyors of the very toxicity and divisiveness which they speak. Reassure these well-meaning voters that they have nothing to fear about our campaign. All we’re trying to do is get them healthcare, housing, education, a livable planet, and a secure retirement. Those who oppose us – who oppose those ideals, and therefore smear Bernie and his supporters with slanderous bullshit – they’re the toxic ones.