A Response to Kurt Eichenwald
November 20, 2016 § 3 Comments
My Agreement With Parts of Eichenwald’s Article
A few days ago, in my Facebook account, I posted a Newsweek article by Kurt Eichenwald entitled “The Myths Democrats Swallowed That Cost Them The Election”. The author, in a tone that varied between smug contempt and pompous hubris, asserted that Bernie Sanders would have been easily destroyed if he had been the nominee for president instead of Hillary Clinton. He claimed to have obtained a two foot thick opposition research document prepared by the GOP to demolish Bernie.
He aimed his contempt at anyone who suggested that Bernie might have won if he had been the Democratic Party’s nominee for president. He also denounced any voter who refused to vote for Hillary because of disappointment about Bernie’s defeat in the Primary election.
I absolutely agreed with him about those who refused to vote for Hillary because Bernie did not win the primary election. I have no patience with those who wasted their vote on splinter candidates or refused to vote at all because their original choice was not the nominee.
What I Did Not Agree With
Here is what Kurt Eichenwald published under his byline in last week’s Newsweek Magazine:
“It is impossible to say what would have happened under a fictional scenario, but Sanders supporters often dangle polls from early summer showing he would have performed better than Clinton against Trump. They ignored the fact that Sanders had not yet faced a real campaign against him. Clinton was in the delicate position of dealing with a large portion of voters who treated Sanders more like the Messiah than just another candidate. She was playing the long game—attacking Sanders strongly enough to win, but gently enough to avoid alienating his supporters. Given her overwhelming support from communities of color—for example, about 70 percent of African-American voters cast their ballot for her—Clinton had a firewall that would be difficult for Sanders to breach.
When Sanders promoted free college tuition—a primary part of his platform that attracted young people—that didn’t mean much for almost half of all Democrats, who don’t attend—or even plan to attend—plan to attend a secondary school. In fact, Sanders was basically telling the working poor and middle class who never planned to go beyond high school that college students—the people with even greater opportunities in life—were at the top of his priority list.
So what would have happened when Sanders hit a real opponent, someone who did not care about alienating the young college voters in his base? I have seen the opposition book assembled by Republicans for Sanders, and it was brutal. The Republicans would have torn him apart. And while Sanders supporters might delude themselves into believing that they could have defended him against all of this, there is a name for politicians who play defense all the time: losers.
Here are a few tastes of what was in store for Sanders, straight out of the Republican playbook: He thinks rape is A-OK. In 1972, when he was 31, Sanders wrote a fictitious essay in which he described a woman enjoying being raped by three men. Yes, there is an explanation for it—a long, complicated one, just like the one that would make clear why the Clinton emails story was nonsense. And we all know how well that worked out.
Then there’s the fact that Sanders was on unemployment until his mid-30s, and that he stole electricity from a neighbor after failing to pay his bills, and that he co-sponsored a bill to ship Vermont’s nuclear waste to a poor Hispanic community in Texas, where it could be dumped. You can just see the words “environmental racist” on Republican billboards. And if you can’t, I already did. They were in the Republican opposition research book as a proposal on how to frame the nuclear waste issue.
Also on the list: Sanders violated campaign finance laws, criticized Clinton for supporting the 1994 crime bill that he voted for, and he voted against the Amber Alert system. His pitch for universal health care would have been used against him too, since it was tried in his home state of Vermont and collapsed due to excessive costs. Worst of all, the Republicans also had video of Sanders at a 1985 rally thrown by the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua where half a million people chanted, “Here, there, everywhere/the Yankee will die,’’ while President Daniel Ortega condemned “state terrorism” by America. Sanders said, on camera, supporting the Sandinistas was “patriotic.”
The Republicans had at least four other damning Sanders videos (I don’t know what they showed), and the opposition research folder was almost 2-feet thick. (The section calling him a communist with connections to Castro alone would have cost him Florida.) In other words, the belief that Sanders would have walked into the White House based on polls taken before anyone really attacked him is a delusion built on a scaffolding of political ignorance.”
Mr. Eichenwald was not content of scold those who failed to vote for Hillary because of their disappointment about Bernie’s loss. He included a list of what he claimed were such damning facts about Bernie that his candidacy would have been doomed. His list of those “facts” consisted of one ordinary garden variety lie and a few others he gleaned from trolling the internet for negative items about Bernie Sanders.
Is Eichenwald Responsible For This Attack On Bernie Sanders?
My answer is “Yes”. Did he bear no responsibility for publishing the trash attacks on Hillary Clinton since he was reporting the contents of a GOP research document? I think it belies political reality to excuse him on that ground.
This is like: “Don’t tell anyone you heard it from me, but there are rumors that Mabel is a lesbian drug addict and a convicted felon.” Lies and damaging assaults on a person are harmless unless they are repeated by people to large audiences. Kurt Eichenwald, a contributor to a general circulation magazine is acutely aware of that simple truth. He picked a crucial time and a political target. He knew exactly what he was doing.
It took me less than a half hour to locate most of his sources. So, as a preliminary observation, it is obvious that everything he cited had been well known before and was available to attack Bernie during the primary election period. I don’t recall any of it mentioned in the debates So Hillary Clinton’s campaign did not see it as horrific as Mr. Eichenwald did or they would have mentioned it.
I understand the audience then was different from the general election audience but it is hard to believe that some of it would not have surfaced if it were as powerfully disgraceful as Mr. Eichenwald claimed. Are we to believe Hillary failed to use Eichenwald’s “devastating” weapons because she didn’t want to damage him? Please! There are many ways to wield political weapons: Surrogates, planted news stories, leaked “background” briefings for trusted news sources – and Hillary Clinton and her staff certainly were experienced and sophisticated enough to know them all. The truth: They didn’t use Eichenwald’s trash because they didn’t think it would help them.
Here is a List of Eichenwald’s Deplorables
What did he offer to prove that Bernie Sanders’ past disqualified him from winning a presidential election. Here is the list.
1. Bernie Sanders thinks rape is ok. This is a lie. It is based on a two page article, one of several, written by Bernie for an ‘alternative” newspaper in Burlington Vermont for which he was paid $50 per article. In my opinion it is not well written and it is plainly based on Bernie’s dabbling in Freudian psychology. He wrote about mastubation fantasies of both men and women that involved rape and argued those fantasies suggested pathological subconscious problems. It in no way stated or suggested that “rape is ok”. Here is link to a reprint of the article: http://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/05/29/410606045/the-bernie-sanders-rape-fantasy-essay-explained
2. Bernie Sanders was on unemployment benefits until his mid-thirties. This is true. It is no secret that Bernie Sanders life has been somewhat outside mainstream culture.
It is also true that he has competed in elections for Mayor of Burlington Vermont, governor of Vermont, U.S. House of Representatives from Vermont, U.S. Senator from Vermont and candidate for president. He was elected and re=elected for four terms as Mayor; elected to Congress in 1988 and served there, winning elections every two years, until 2012,, when he was elected to the U.S. Senate from Vermont. Here is a link to Bernie’s remarkable political history: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_history_of_Bernie_Sanders
Given that electoral history, he has been thoroughly vetted and his past has been critically examined by a host of political opponents in over twenty political contests.
3. He stole electricity from a neighbor when he failed to pay his bills. The facts: Bernie was unemployed. He lived in the back of an old brick building and, when he could not pay his electricity bills, he would run an extension cord to the basement and plug it into the landlord’s circuit. Eventually he was evicted because he could not pay his rent. Is that admirable? No. Is it sufficient to disqualify Bernie Sanders from running for public office? No. He won thirteen contested elections according to one account I found.
4. He co-sponsored a bill to send nuclear waste to South Texas. This is true. The bill passed the House and Senate and was signed by the President. I know something about this issue. The South Texas destination was in Starr County on the Mexican border. Its population is very poor. The County offered to accept and treat this waste because they needed the money paid by Vermont. It is not an admiral transaction but, so far as I know, no admirable solution has been found for this problem.
5. He violated campaign finance laws. Eichenwald does not bother to add that the “violations” consisted of individual donors giving more that the $2,700 maximum permitted by applicable law to the Sanders campaign. The campaign refunded the excess money to each donor identified by the FEC,, but the process was and is a monster process to handle during a campaign. It is true that Bernie’s staff was not as experienced running nationwide campaigns as Hillary’s and their donors were not well advised about contribution limits. Eichenwald’s implication that the violations were deliberate and criminal was unwarranted .
6. He voted against the Amber Alert law. Bernie voted against this law because he felt it included broad mandates of minimum prison sentences for a wide range of crimes and he believed it unconstitutionally preempted the function of criminal court judges.
7. He voted for the 1994 Crime Bill but criticized then First Lady Hillary Clinton for supporting it. Bernie voted six times to remove the provision for mandatory sentences and the death penalty from this law. He was unsuccessful and reluctantly voted for the bill because it included new protection for women and other measures he supported. Then-First Lady Hillary Clinton spoke strongly in favor of increased incarceration, labeling at risk youth as “super-predators” who had to be “brought to heel.” He criticized her for those statements.
8. He attended a 1985 Sandinista rally in Nicaragua at which a speaker denounced U.S. policies in Central America. The Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega, was the duly elected President of Nicaragua. Our Congress supported the Sandinistas’ defeat of Somoza, a brutal dictator. Sanders attendance at that rally was in line with American policy. The Reagan conspirators’ support of the Contras was the scandal, not Bernie’s attendance at a rally. About a half dozen of Reagan conspirators were convicted of crimes for opposing the Sandinistas and some went to prison.
9.. Eichenwald claimed the GOP would label Bernie Sanders as a “communist” who supported Fidel Castro . He said that would insure his loss of Florida. That claim assumes that the “Red Scare” days of Joe McCarthy are still with us and should govern our political choices. I don’t believe it nor do I believe we should approve those discredited claims as a basis for selecting political candidates. Bernie Sanders is not a communist and he has not embraced the policies of Fidel Castro and Eichenwald knew it when, without comment, he published that charge.
That’s it. That’s the basis for Eichenwald’s pronouncement that Bernie Sanders was DOA as a candidate for President of the United States. It is the most extreme example of a headline unsupported by a story that I recall ever reading. I submit it is a reckless and despicable hit-piece inappropriate for a news magazine like Newsweek.
So Why Am I Taking The Trouble To Respond To This Trash?
I respond because I believe Bernie Sanders is one of the leaders of the Democratic Party who can help us recover from the disaster of the 2016 presidential election. This pointless and intellectually dishonest attack on Bernie Sanders comes at the precise time when we need his effort to redesign the Democratic Party to be an effective opponent of the Donald Trump presidency. I don’t believe we should imitate the irresponsible tactics of Mitch McConnel: Just obstruct and oppose everything Trump tries to do. We should reshape the Democratic Party into a skilled, effective nationwide political machine based on precinct level organizing and clear principles aimed at rebuilding a coalition that can win elections at all levels from county courthouses to the White House.
For Extra Credit
If you want to read a more thorough rebuttal to the Eichenwald article, here is a link;