A Fool's Paradise: How Bernie Sanders' Brand of Political Purity Was Never Realistic
There are various moments in life where you honestly try to convince yourself that a certain thing is true.
Often times you need this convincing to put yourself in a more peaceful state of mind. Your credit rating really isn't that bad. Your job isn't really as unfulfilling as it seems. Your relationship may be hitting a rough patch but you'll get through it. Your child's education may cost an arm and a leg but you'll figure out a way to pay for it. Your parents may be getting up there in age but they still don't need to be moved into a retirement community quite yet. And the list goes on and on.
We often ignore the reality of certain situations because addressing them head on would simply be overwhelming. Nobody looks forward to dealing with those circumstances listed above. Those are the kind of conversations we dread having and often put off into the last possible moment. We do that because those situations are difficult and they cause us to really take a long, hard look at ourselves and the choices we've made. In analyzing the choices that need to be made and then anticipating the aftermath, we very well can come to the realization that despite our best efforts, our situation at hand wasn't as good as we made it out to be.
Bernie Sanders supporters are learning this lesson the hard way.
Throughout his campaign to become the Democratic nominee for president, Bernie Sanders has convinced his supporters, and to a large degree himself, that he is the morally superior candidate to Hillary Clinton. It was a tactical move to be sure, one which was likely approved by Sanders' campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, as well as his political adviser, Tad Devine. By banking on 25 years of Republican smears as well as receiving the aid of Karl Rove and his allies, Sanders hoped to portray Clinton as being untrustworthy, a perception that Sanders hoped would do damage to Clinton's reputation. On the surface it has worked, as the percentage of people who consider her to be untrustworthy has continued to rise. Yet despite this perception, Clinton has enjoyed greater success in the voting booth and continues to hold a 2.5 million vote advantage over Sanders, a lead that is likely to increase after the upcoming mid-Atlantic primaries.
The problem for Sanders is that if Hillary Clinton was fundamentally dishonest, then he had to portray himself as fundamentally honest. Even more than that, he had to portray himself using absolute terms. If Hillary Clinton was the candidate of Wall Street, then Sanders had to be against everything Wall Street stood for. If Hillary Clinton was withholding information, then Sanders had to be completely transparent. If Hillary Clinton was benefiting from multi-million dollar super PACs then Sanders had to decline their support. If Hillary Clinton was supportive of regime change, then Sanders had to be against the practice in every possible circumstance. If Hillary Clinton was entrenched in the perpetual war machine, then Sanders had to against the military-industrial complex. If Hillary Clinton was still supportive of limited fracking, then Sanders had to be against it entirely. And the list goes on.
For a while, the strategy actually seemed be working. Bernie Sanders was able to use his relative unknown status to appeal primarily to millennials, a voting bloc that had been exposed to the attacks against Hillary Clinton from the time they first learned to walk and talk. For them it made sense; Sanders was an 'outsider' challenging the status quo and the evil 'establishment.' Never mind the fact that Sanders had been part of that 'establishment' for twenty-five years, he was somehow different because of the way he walked the walk and talked the talk. He was refreshingly honest in his approach to politics and his call for a 'political revolution' led to packed venues across a wide variety of college and university towns. For first time voters and other millennials as well as those on the progressive left who felt we hadn't made enough progress over the past seven years, Sanders represented what they had always hoped a politician would be.
Sanders' supporters even found a way to overlook certain questionable behaviors that he and his campaign had engaged in, starting with a pledge to run a clean campaign against Hillary Clinton. That campaign promise quickly went out the window well before the Iowa caucus, but it didn't deter any of Sanders' supporters from being very vocal in their online attacks against Hillary Clinton. In fact, this incident even encouraged Sanders supporters to go to bat for their candidate no matter what. In December, when the Sanders campaign was caught illegally downloading sensitive DNC voter information his supporters quickly turned around and claimed it was a conspiracy by the DNC against their candidate. In February, his supporters pretended to be union workers in an effort to sway a Nevada culinary union that had pledged neutrality ahead of the state's caucus. Last week, Sanders supporters were caught harassing Washington state superdelegates, demanding that their support Sanders at the DNC convention. And just this past weekend, a number of issues have arisen after Sanders supporters flooded Clark County Nevada for the second round of the state's caucus and engaged in some questionable activities there. Despite all these incidents, they were simply brushed off by Sanders supporters as either 'harmless' or part of a 'conspiracy' to derail their candidate's chances at the nomination.
Yet despite this unyielding support, Bernie Sanders' followers were simply unable to realize he was too good to be true.
Because even though Sanders supporters have been bemoaning the lack of media coverage their candidate has received, there can be no doubt that Bernie Sanders benefited greatly from being given a free ride by the media. Despite there being multiple questions that Sanders has not yet addressed throughout the course of his campaign, his supporters have continued to adore him, even as the media has just recently begun to challenge Sanders on central issues of his campaign. The media's newly discovered spine started a month ago when Univision's Jorge Ramos pressed Sanders about his documented support of Fidel Castro, a question which Sanders fumbled badly. Less than a week later at an MSNBC town hall hosted by Chuck Todd, Sanders took a question from an audience member and admitted he was running in the Democratic primary because it gave him access to free media that he wouldn't have had as a third party candidate. And just last week, Sanders admitted to MSNBC's Rachel Maddow that he had no desire to help elect down-ballot Democratic candidates come the fall.
But all this pales in comparison to what happened Sunday morning.
On CNN, the same network that Sanders supporters protested in L.A. for not giving their candidate enough media coverage, anchor Jake Tapper pressed Sanders as to why he hadn't yet released his tax returns, a historical precedent for any candidate running for office since George Romney released his in 1967. Like previous questions from Ramos, Todd, and Maddow, Sanders once again badly fumbled the question by claiming his wife did his taxes and that they'd been a bit busy to do them this year. However, this response quickly drew widespread criticism, especially when Sanders should, theoretically, have already completed returns for previous years and should have those easily available to share with the public. After all, nefarious Hillary Clinton had released her tax returns, leaving Sanders in a league with Ted Cruz, John Kasich, and Donald Trump for not following a historical tradition that helps verify a presidential candidate's trustworthiness. All and all, not a good look for Sanders.
But that wasn't the worst part. Because, when you run on a platform of political purity your followers expect you to maintain that purity through thick and thin. Unfortunately for Sanders, his seeming indifference to release his tax returns has opened up a whole Pandora's Box for the online community trying to see what, if anything, Sanders may be hiding. People have been flocking to Sanders' OpenSecrets.org page, a website devoted to tracking political candidates and their personal finances as well as their campaign contributions. According to the site, Sanders' assets are heavily invested in Wall Street corporations including big banks and big pharma and even has holdings in Diamondback Energy, an energy company out of Texas that rakes in the money through the process of fracking.
Of course, anybody with significant assets has a variety of financial holdings that they may or may not be aware of. And nobody is implying that Bernie Sanders is supporting fracking or Wall Street simply because he has stock in certain companies, just like millions of Americans who participate in the stock market and don't let their investments dictate how they live their lives. However, the main issue here is that Bernie Sanders proclaimed himself to be a paradigm of virtue, and thus, he should now be called on his glaring hypocrisy. He may think that the business model of Wall Street is "fraud" as he said in a November debate but he also has to look himself in the mirror and realize that like millions of Americans, he actually relies on Wall Street investments to help support himself and his family. Wall Street may have some corrupt individuals in certain sectors, but as a whole it can even help a typical American, even one who believes the entire industry to be inherently evil.
Because from the beginning, Bernie Sanders' political purity was an act, perpetrated on the world's greatest stage. It sounds great to be anti-Wall Street but it's another thing entirely to pull your savings and investments just because they might be helping the big banks, big pharma, or big energy corporations. It sounds great to criticize your opponent for not releasing her speech transcripts but it's another thing entirely to release your own tax returns. It sounds great to criticize your opponent for being beholden to super PACs but it's another thing entirely when you've found you need them yourself to be competitive in a national campaign. It sounds great to run as the anti-war candidate but it's another thing to admit you voted for NATO intervention in Yugoslavia, the Authorization of Use for Military Force, which legally authorized the War on Terror, and that you were a co-sponsor for regime change in Libya. And it sounds great to criticize the military-industrial complex, but it's another thing to admit you support the system entirely because it provides jobs to your home state of Vermont.
Bernie Sanders supporters made a simple mistake: they trusted a politician. They saw him as someone who promised the moon but instead they have been left with green, moldy cheese. Bernie Sanders' candidacy has been based off a series of lies and hypocrisy that the mainstream media was complacent in allowing until recently. With the curtain pulled back, Sanders' candidacy is starting to unwind, slowly and surely. With recent issues of FEC violations as well as questions as to how his staff is being compensated, Sanders supporters are seeing their candidate's true colors for the very first time. By choosing to run a campaign based on absolutes, Sanders set himself up as the model candidate whose words and promises would 100% correspond to his deeds on the campaign trail. Now that we have finally seen that Bernie isn't as virtuous as he initially claimed to be, it is up to all of us to determine what Bernie Sanders actually stands for.
Even if we don't like what we find out.
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