While arguably less brain dead than the Obamabots of a few years back, Bernie Sanders has his share of uncritical supporters willing to ignore his disgraceful stands on Israel, his failure to use his campaign to call for reductions in the U.S. military and the war crimes perpetrated by it, his recent capitulation to the Ed Reform agenda, as well as the reality that his economic program is essentially that of the moderate center a generation ago, far from the socialist transformation which the left correctly sees as necessary for the survival of the species.
But while they can be annoying in their self-righteous flogging of the Bernie brand, Berniebots shouldn’t obscure the group that is surely playing a far more consequential role in 2016, the army of Hillary Hacks. Holding high political office or executive positions at major non profits and agenda setting media outlets, they are working hand in glove with the hired staff of the billion dollar Clinton campaign to make inevitable the coronation of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Unlike the Berniebots, there’s nothing brain dead about the Hilary Hacks. They know they’re selling a toxic product now more than ever with the increasing recognition that the Clintons’ Wall Street friendly neoliberalism has been a nightmare for the party’s traditional base in working class and minority communities. The campaign response has been to circulate talking points combining feel your pain economic populism, mild criticisms of “Wall Street greed” and a vague commitment to fairness. These, of course, won’t pass the laugh test among those knowing anything about Clinton’s record.
But the Clinton camp is banking on nearly four decades of history. And that history suggests that with enough force feedings, Clinton is likely to take her place in line as the next shit sandwich served up as the Democratic Party nominee.
The reason won’t have anything to do with Clinton’s positive message or the popularity of her platform. It is Sanders, after all, who is attracting huge crowds, even in red states such as Texas and Arizona and who, as a recent poll documented, has just as much chance of winning over moderate swing voters as Clinton’s triangulatory centrism.
Rather Clinton will emerge victorious through an unrelentingly negative campaign, centered around well placed and endlessly repeated smears. These are intended to raise questions about Sanders’s “character” and “electability”. And while the public will probably see them as somewhat exaggerated, most will assume that they are based on fact.
But they will be wrong. For many of the most effective smears aren’t even a little bit true: they are baldfaced lies.
To see that that is often the case, it is worth recalling the 2004 campaign and the two main smears deriving from it. One of these was the so called Dean scream, a one second snippet of a campaign speech subjected to various forms of audio manipulation. Endlessly recycled by a compliant media, the result was the moderate centrist Vermont governor being viewed as a raving lunatic, lacking the gravitas required for viable candidates. Faced with universal ridicule, the campaign folded in a few short weeks. The second involved questions raised about Kerry’s military service along with dark suggestions of disloyalty and even treason. The irony of these being promoted in service of the draft dodger who would eventually take office was, as is usual, ignored by a media willingly reporting the smear as fact.
The main smear of the 2016 campaign so far, Sanders’s alleged “inability to connect with African American voters” shares a family resemblance to both of these although it more recalls swift boating in that the suggestions of racial insensitivity derive from the camp of a candidate who conducted one the most transparently racist campaigns since the Jim Crow era and who cheered on mass African American incarceration via the notorious crime bills and inner city immiseration through her support of welfare “reform”.
No matter. The smear will compliment Sanders’s already conspicuous exclusion from mainstream media appearances. In the few occasions where he is provided access, Sanders will be badgered, as he was recently by Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, with the charge of being “dismissive” of the concerns of the African American base, preventing his positive program from being heard.
A few poor showings in states will be seen as confirming the perception of Sanders message as lacking mainstream appeal and he will be forced to withdraw.
When the inevitable happens, Clintonites will privately congratulate themselves on having taken down their prey.
But so will some of Sanders’s detractors on the left who have, in some cases, circulated the same smear knowing it to be as baseless as the Clinton loyalists who gave rise to it.
In doing so, they’re making a mistake. The only reason why left candidates such as the Green Party’s Jill Stein haven’t been targeted is because of their failure to pose even a minimal threat to the hegemony of the ownership class.
Were they to do so, one can be certain that a barrage of smears would follow.
Whether or not these stick depends on whether the public takes them seriously or laughs them off as the dishonest absurdities the cynics perpetuating them know them to be.
We either disavow the tactic now when it is directed at Sanders, helping to expose the lies on which it is based, or prepare to be defeated by it when it is turned against us–as it has been in the past and surely will be in the future.