When Hillary Clinton's campaign spokesperson called on the Sanders campaign stop running a negative smear campaign, his campaign and its media mouthpieces went into a tailspin, trending the social media hashtag "ToneDownforWhat", and doubling down on the smear campaign.
It all culminated in a column from Salon's Conor Lynch this morning, who called the Clinton camp's urging of a respectful tone a "condescending Bernie dismissal". I am not sure how to describe that characterization, but is there a hyperbolic term for hyperbole?
In his column, Lynch embarks on the full range of character assassination befitting his last name against Hillary Clinton, including the tired old "Wall Street" speech line to numerous references to Clinton's "email scandal" (a term most often used by Republicans, interestingly enough) while insisting that his Savior Bernie Sanders is just too much of a gentleman to make such an attack. In what I can only assume is a job application to be a Trump surrogate should Hillary Clinton be our nominee, Lynch even brought up Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky.
To be fair to Salon and Conor Lynch though, what the Bernie Sanders campaign is trying to do to impugn Clinton's character is but a small section of the playbook Republicans have been throwing at her for years. And that is the best argument for Hillary Clinton's readiness against Republican attacks in the fall.
The fact that despite everything Republicans have thrown at Hillary Clinton for 35 years, she is still the only candidate, Democrat or Republican, with more votes than Donald Trump in this year's primary process (about a million votes at that) while Bernie Sanders is about 1.5 million votes behind The Donald is a testament to Hillary Clinton's toughness in weathering a decades-long Republican smear machine, and it obliterates Bernie's talking point that he is somehow the better candidate to take on Trump in November.
And that is driving Bernie hardliners nuts.
I grant that there is reason for Sanders' media devotees to be concerned about his tone becoming an issue. Because tone is all Bernie Sanders has in this election. A tone of fanning anger, fueling outrage, and peddling a red revolution. A tone impugning Hillary Clinton's character and a tone suggestion that she is bought by moneyed interests. A tone of retribution, not policy fixes. A tone of smug gatekeeping. A tone deafness on race. A tone that is passed onto his supporters who threaten to crack open bloggers' heads, threaten Trump-style riots, harass anyone supporting his opponent, and make jokes about raping Hillary Clinton.
Bernie Sanders doesn't want to debate policy, and his loudest cheerleaders fear nothing more than him having to debate policy. It is when policy is debated that Bernie Sanders is exposed for his support of and debt to the gun lobby, his vote to protect a dangerous white supremacist border militia group, and his eagerness to dump toxic nuclear waste from Vermont near a poor Latino community in Texas via the means of a Texas authority on whose board his wife sits. When policies and records are debated, Bernie gets exposed for his repeated sellout votes for industries that benefit his home state, including the Military Industrial Complex.
When policy is debated, it is when we find out that Bernie Sanders' proposed health care plan is not only severely underfunded and written to rip apart the Affordable Care Act to start a new experiment but will likely jeopardize abortion access and could well put birth control access in peril, while raising costs for the average family. When policy is debated, that is when we find out that Bernie's $5,000 tax bill for the middle class taxpayers will have nothing to show for in return.
Policy debates are when we find out that Bernie Sanders is so concerned with purity that he would have let Detroit go bankrupt in order to exact vengeance against banks - the same banks for whom he voted to open up the market of unregulated derivative swaps, mind you, and that he is so allergic to compromise for the common good that he voted against Amber Alerts.
When policy is debated rather than innuendos about paid speeches of someone who at the time was a private citizen not running for anything, we find out that President Obama's reforms on Wall Street have been successful and should be built on and that Hillary Clinton is the candidate with the stronger plan to regulate banking and that she is the only candidate with an effective focus on shadow banking. We find out that the richest interests in this country, among them Koch brothers and Karl Rove's billionaires, are quietly praying for a Sanders nomination.
When policy is debated, we discover that Bernie Sanders, a 25-year veteran of Congress and a most ineffective legislator, has passed three major bills with his name on it, and that two of those are to rename post offices. We find out that his campaign is running afoul of election law, including accepting possible illegal foreign contributions.
So of course it is not in the best interest of Bernie Sanders to actually have a full airing policy debates. Bernie Sanders needs his edgy, accusatory and raw-anger-promoting tone. Because beneath that tone and smear campaign against his opponent, his policy record and plans have been stood up as a shaky house of cards.