Clinton On Message, Sanders Under Pressure
20 Jan 2016
As a longtime Hillary supporter who came to that choice after much research, I’ve had occasion to marvel at Secretary Clinton’s grace under pressure. The best example being her recent 11-hour grilling at the hands of the Benghazi “investigative” committee led by Rep. Trey Gowdy. He and his Republican cohorts were spitting mad and well…just spitting rude accusations that more reasoned persons in Gowdy’s own Party had already debunked. Clinton was engaged, patient and sensible. By the end, she won over more than a few skeptics. Contrast this with Senator Bernie Sanders’ performance over the past 24 hours.
The bulk of beltway media had passed on vetting Sander’s ambitious proposals until yesterday. Why? In the interest of stoking the horse race, perhaps they didn’t want to look too closely lest they find out what they found out – that the numbers in his health care and economic plans lack the necessary detail, and what’s there won’t hold water. In their fourth Democratic debate match up last Sunday, Clinton called those policies out, knowing that would, finally, make Sanders’ proposals the story. No less than Jonathan Chait, Ezra Klein, reporters who have been critical of Clinton, and Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman poked more holes in Sanders’ already leaky boat.
Also at Sunday’s debate, Hillary not only brought up the outrage of Flint’s lead-contaminated water, she had already dispatched two top campaign aides to Flint to offer assistance. While Sanders had called for the Michigan Governor’s resignation, there is a difference between sharing a sound bite or tweet in reaction to an event and dispatching aid face-to-face to get something done. Hillary Clinton today received the endorsement of Flint’s Mayor, Dr. Karen Weaver, as a result:
“She has actually been the only, the only candidate, whether Democratic or Republican, to reach out and talk with us about, “What can I do? What kind of help do you need.”
That is the difference between feverish talk and practical action.
Then in Iowa today, WSJ’s Laura Meckler tweeted that Sanders, who had sworn he would not “go negative,” said:
“No one can deny that Sec. Clinton has a lot of foreign policy experience. Dick Cheney had a hell of a lot of experience.”
Such a grotesque, false comparison may play well to his more virulent supporters, but it will turn off even those on the fence. It’s not the way a “fellow Democrat” should behave when drawing contrasts in a primary, is it?
Finally, Sanders appeared on MSNBC where he was treated gently by the usually tough Rachel Maddow. Hearing the news that both Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign endorsed Hillary Clinton, Senator Sanders responded with the following:
“What we are doing in this campaign, it just blows my mind every day because I see it clearly, we’re taking on not only Wall Street and economic establishment, we’re taking on the political establishment.
So I have friends and supporters in the Human Rights Fund and Planned Parenthood. But you know what? Hillary Clinton has been around for a very, very long time. Some of these groups are, in fact, part of the establishment.”
Sanders provoked backlash by claiming that Planned Parenthood (constantly under fire by Republicans) and the Human Rights Campaign, an organization standing up for the rights of LGBT individuals, is part of the “establishment,” an unfair jab given what these agencies stand for and the ways in which they are under attack. It is also disrespectful to Clinton to pretend that the only reason for supporting her is “establishment” ties. As a fellow traveler put it, “Sanders votes on feminist issues when they’re on the table. Hillary puts them on the table.”
Sanders’ implication is clear: anyone who doesn’t support “Bernie” is either part of the problem or just “doesn’t get it.”
Contrast this with the 2008 primaries, where NARAL’s leadership went against the wishes of its own branch offices and endorsed then-Senator Obama over then-Senator Clinton. Since she helped put them on the map, she had to have been deeply disappointed, yet no matter how much NBC’s Brian Williams needled her about it on the air, Hillary was gracious to the end.
At last Sunday’s debate, Sanders said that the reason his support in the African American and Latino communities is low is because they “don’t know him yet.”
These examples telegraph a pattern of behavior where everyone else is wrong and only Sanders knows what’s best. Perhaps that attitude explains why no VT Governor or Senator has endorsed him, and why he barely has any endorsements from those with whom he has worked in Congress, within the Government “establishment,” for 26 years.
Why does all this matter? Because the Presidency is nothing but grace under pressure 24/7. Anyone who thinks they’re going to walk into office and line their ducks up in a row, get the questions they want in the order they like, or have everything go to plan will be sorely disappointed.
I’m sure under normal circumstances, Mr. Sanders is a good guy. I appreciate much of his message about income inequality. But railing against that alone without offering detailed, multi-pronged policies are habits that are unlikely to yield solutions. All roads will never lead back to his comfort zone; the subject he is most comfortable discussing. Further, coalition building with establishment and non-establishment types is necessary to get the job done. And dissing those who do not take as shine to you is not only unwise, it is a recipe for failure in higher office.
Sanders has had a rough 24 hours, but if this is the combative way he handles challenging news, we can’t even worry about whether his proposals hold water. The larger issue is that he has no preparation for, nor understanding of, the stress of the job for which he is competing.
This has been a civilized primary thus far. Were he to win the nomination, how do we imagine he would handle a well-honed Republican attack machine? Hillary has been handling it for decades and keeps coming back stronger.
As we get closer to actual voting, Senator Sanders is getting but a taste of the horrid pressure cooker – and scrutiny – that Hillary Clinton has endured for 25 years. The view from where she sits is not always pleasant. But as she is fond of saying, “keep going.”
If Senator Sanders wishes to do the same, he’d best learn to sing in another key.