Bernie Sander’s Debate Performance Raises Questions about His Preparation to Defeat Hillary Clinton April 19, 2016
At the outset of his campaign Bernie Sanders acknowledged that even if he could not wrest the nomination from Hillary Clinton, he could use his campaign to help build a progressive movement. From his performance in the ninth debate held on April 14, it seems Bernie has concluded that capturing the nomination is out of his grasp, but building a progressive movement is quite possible.
There are several indicators that Bernie’s focus has turned to building a progressive movement. First, Bernie decided to postpone his campaign for a visit to a papal conference in Rome. Although Bernie characterized the trip as something that he thought was important, the astonishment voiced by political pundits at the loss of even 36 hours campaigning in must win crucial New York State was palpable.
More importantly, however, Bernie was simply not prepared for Thursday’s debate with Hillary. One glaring example of ill preparation occurred when Bernie was asked, as he had repeatedly been asked, if he had an example of how Hillary’s acceptance of fees and donations from banks had affected her behavior as a public official. As on previous instances when asked for an example, Senator Sanders was unable to respond.
In a 2003 book (The Two-Income Trap), Senator Elizabeth Warren recounted an incident in which she, as a Harvard Law Professor, met in 1998 with First Lady Hillary Clinton to gain her help in opposing a bill that would limit the applicability of bankruptcy law. Clinton, characterizing the bill as awful, agreed to fight it. Although President Bill Clinton was supporting the bill when Senator Warren first met with Hillary, the President Clinton vetoed the bill in 2000.
In 2001 the bill was reintroduced at the behest of big banks, including MBNA, without any substantive changes. As the newly elected Senator from New York, Hillary received $140,000 in contributions from banking industry executives; one of the two leading recipients of banking donations in the Senate. Senator Clinton voted for the “awful” bill.
While Senator Sanders was unable to relate this account of Senator Clinton’s evolving attitude toward a bill that harmed families, especially women and children, during the debate, he was able to cite this incident two days later on of the Sunday talk shows. Regardless of whether Senator Sanders was not briefed on this incident, was inadequately prepared for the debate, or simply forgot about it in the moment of the debate, his failure to refer to it shows his ill-preparation. It would seem that he would have prepared well if he thought the nomination was a possibility.
As in the previous debates, when Sanders’ raised the issue of the donations and speaking fees that Secretary Clinton has received, Hillary responded by tethering herself closer to President Obama. She claimed that even though Obama took contributions from Wall Street bankers, he signed the Dodd-Frank bill regulating banking, and by implication, that she would be able to regulate Wall Street while taking their money.
Bernie, failed to point out that Obama took the bulk of his Wall Street contributions in 2007, before the crash, before the investigations attributing blame to the reckless behavior of Wall Street, before the big banks had received a bailout from U.S. taxpayers, and before the banks had used some of bailout money they received to award lavish bonuses to the very people who had crashed the system. When Hillary received her extravagant speaking fees, she knew these facts about the banks. Another example of Senator Sander’s poor preparation was his inability to adequately respond to Hillary’s attack on what she characterized as pro NRA voting record. As she had on many previous occasions, Hillary Clinton attacked Bernie for voting for the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), legislation that made the arms manufacturing industry immune from manufacturing liability lawsuits and failing to vote for the Brady Act, an act that would have mandated background checks and waiting periods to purchase firearms.
As on previous occasions, Bernie responded by claiming that he had lost his first election for Congress in 1988 because he supported a ban on assault rifles and had a D- voting record from the NRA, although he represented a rural state with virtually no gun control laws. Senator Sanders, justified his support of the PLCAA saying he was concerned about Mom and Pop gun dealers being put out of business for selling a legal product to consumers who are entitled to buy that product. Opponents of the PLCAA argue that the law was designed to penalize gun manufacturers who failed to take any steps to help ensure that their products did not illegally wind up in the hands of consumers. Some manufacturers, for example, habitually shipped more firearms to their distributers than could legally be sold to the consumers in those areas. The obvious conclusion is that the excess firearms were to be sold illegally.
Senator Sanders justified his opposition to the he Brady Act because it did not represent the values of the voters in his Vermont and because he viewed the imposition of waiting periods as a decision best left to the states. Needless to say, his states’ rights justification is not popular in today’s Democratic Party.
Senator Sanders should have been prepared to reverse his position on firearms based on the new evidence provided by the school shootings and epidemic of urban violence. The imposition of superfluous firearms regulations in Vermont could be justified on the basis of unity with urban areas that certainly need additional firearms regulation.
Ill-prepared to win the nomination, Bernie is extraordinarily well positioned to help build the progressive movement. A key part of building that movement is to convince young politicians, one of whom could pick up Bernie’s mantle, to campaign as progressives. To capture as many votes as possible to demonstrate to young politicians that the votes are there for a progressive, Senator Sanders needs to continue to campaign as long as possible; he has legitimized continued campaigning with a big fig leaf. The fig leaf the Sanders campaign floats is that if they can win enough primary elections and caucuses, then they will be able to wrench away enough super delegates to beat Hillary. Of course, the very notion that super delegates who are party regulars will overthrow Hillary, the party regular, in favor of an outsider is ludicrous. But, it provides cover needed for an ill-prepared candidate to keep campaigning.