A friend of mine shared this essay on her Facebook wall earlier this week. It’s titled, “Bernout: Why I’m Supporting Hillary Now,” and written by a well-respected academic from my alma mater, the University of Buffalo.
While I’m firmly in the Bernie camp (which I’m sure is shocking to everyone reading this blog, lol) I decided to have a look and see what had changed Professor Jackson’s mind. Sadly, what I found was a disappointing essay full of vague statements and misinformation.
Point by point, here are just a few of my issues with the piece.
1. Jackson talks about how Scalia’s death changes the playing field for him. Okay, but he never actually finishes the “sentence” of why he thinks Bernie wouldn’t be just as capable of picking a Supreme Court justice as HRC would be. He says, “Presidents matter” in the context of Bernie having to pick a justice – but throughout this primary season (and the run up to it) one of the major arguments of this election has been that the next President could pick as many as 3 or 4 justices. If that wasn’t a concern of Jackson’s early on during his support, why is Scalia’s sudden death such a game changer?
Jackson also cites Republican obstructionism of Obama’s efforts, but the idea that HRC would be better situated to get a nominee through than Sanders *because* of that obstructionism – especially given that almost the entirety of Congress is up for re-election this cycle -lacks any real discusssion. Where are the examples of Republican stonewalling of Sanders’ proposals? Where is Jackson’s evidence that Sanders is less able to negotiate with the opposition? Given that Sanders sponsored or cosponsored over 200 bills that eventually became law, while Clinton’s stats show just 77 of over 3,000 sponsored or cosponsored bills finding their way into law , my guess is that evidence was hard to come by.
2. Jackson is right about one thing: the Sanders campaign sends a lot of emails asking for money. Sometimes multiple emails in a day. You know what else is in those emails? An unsubscribe button. If you don’t like getting emails, just unsubscribe from the list. It’s cool. Nobody will be offended.
But then Jackson goes on to express an accusation that Bernie gets support from a SuperPAC, essentially saying that Bernie is a hypocrite. Jackson doesn’t give the name of a SuperPAC, so I can only assume this is a reference to Sanders’ support from the Nurses’ Union. Said union does indeed operate a SuperPAC – one that is funded by member dues, not massive donations from Sanders’ political cronies. Maybe it’s just me, but I think a union-supported PAC made up of small, working-class member dues, spending money on a candidate who was endorsed after winning a majority of members’ support, is a far cry from a millionaire, billionaire or industry-supported SuperPAC headed up by former members of major corporations and ones’ own staff, as is the case with many of the SuperPACs supporting his opponents.
3. Accusations of Bernie being vague on his proposals and a “one issue candidate”. Sanders hasn’t been vague. He’s released the details of where the money is going to come from. Again, a lack of specifics when it comes to these accusations hurts Jackson’s argument and overall credibility in the article, and comes across as parroting the current HRC-party line. I would expect someone like Jackson, particularly as a former supporter, to back the accusation up with facts…except that the accusation itself is false.
“They hate foreigners; he hates Wall Street. They have no foreign policy; Bernie has no foreign policy. They are pissed off; he is pissed off. They have no ideas about how to run a country; Bernie has no ideas about how to run a country.” – Bruce Jackson, The Public
Yes, Bernie has been an outspoken critic of what run-rampant capitalism has done to the country, as symbolized by “wall street” corporate greed and high-risk speculative trading, and how those things affect middle and working-class Americans. He has also made a point of talking about how the government can help small businesses. He believes small farms and businesses should reap the benefits of subsidies, not big agra and big business. As Senator from Vermont, he worked — and succeeded – at getting help for Vermont’s small businesses. His tax reform plans place a higher burden on big business than small (can’t think of many mom & pop stores that are going to move offshore to avoid paying millions in taxes), Medicare for All reduces the amount small businesses will have to pay towards employee premiums, and his agenda for Wall Street reform includes having the head of the Fed draw up a list of what financial institutions are “too big to fail” – so that they can be broken up, and the risk of America’s middle class having to bail out banks so our economy doesn’t tank (again) can be minimized.
“Bernie has no foreign policy” is absolutely ridiculous. From Sanders’ website, on foreign policy:
“Senator Sanders believes that the test of a great and powerful nation is not how many wars it can engage in, but how it can resolve international conflicts in a peaceful manner. From the Middle East, to Ukraine, to North Korea, to the South China Sea, to civil war in the world’s newest nation – South Sudan, we face a multitude of serious foreign policy challenges.” — BernieSanders.com
I’ve talked about Bernie’s foreign policy with people before. Sanders starts from a different perspective on foreign policy than most US officials have in the recent history. His foreign policy is, you build coalitions, you don’t go in unilaterally, you support your military both during AND after a fight (and factor those costs in from day one). His foreign policy is based on the idea that America lives in the world and is part of a wider global community, not a law unto itself. Jackson may or may not agree with this foreign policy, but to say it doesn’t exist is a false statement.
Regarding what Jackson touches on with Hillary in this item: some people, myself included, don’t like her approach to policy and think Sanders has better ideas that will ultimately be better for the United States. By reducing objections to “people don’t like her on a personal level” (for a variety of reasons) he’s dismissing the very real position of Bernie supporters who feel that Hillary is not calling for policies that will help reverse the destructive effect of wealth inequality on our nation.
4. I don’t even know what this “Eternal life” argument is. Almost every seat in Congress is up for re-election in the current cycle, so again, “Congress is not going to change a year from now” is 100% false. Jackson’s also repeating the “it’s going to be hard so we shouldn’t try it” argument that HRC has brought up in connection with Medicare for All. His argument, essentially, is “Bernie’s an old dude.” Some very weird ageism going on here, as well – Jackson is 80, Hillary is 68 – Bernie is only 5-6 years older than she is, and 5-6 years younger than Jackson. Regardless, and I’m sorry to be reductive here, this section is a non-argument. Bernie is 74 years old. His medical records show that he’s in excellent health, and his vigor on the campaign trail and in his speeches make me wonder why “he’s an old dude, why can’t he lower his sites” is a valid argument.
5. “Homogenizing Wall Street,” which then grows within the section to be “homogenizing everything” – categorizations of police, of teachers, etc. Jackson then talks about how there is a need for further regulation – exactly what Bernie has called for. Jackson talks about how every American is involved, via their 401k, with Wall Street, but then ignores the fact that allowing risky behavior by financial firms deemed “too big to fail” actually puts all those Americans at risk. Bernie has never called for ending all Wall Street activity and has gone on record with a disambiguation of the meaning of democratic socialism and how it involves responsible capitalism rather than the run-rampant variety currently at play with the major players of the financial sector.
6. “Tarring Dr. Califf”[EDIT: I originally noted the title of this section as saying “Cardiff,” when I double checked this I realized that this was just one instance of misspelling in a quote, not a misspelling in the section title] is Jackson’s next point, and here I disagree with how he has categorized Bernie’s attitude towards the man nominated to head the FDA. One of Sanders’ major talking points is that the price of prescription drugs in America is too high, and his position is that the FDA plays a roll in controlling drug costs in America. When Sanders questioned Califf about why we pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, Califf said “we need them available.” When Sanders asked Califf if Medicare should be able to negotiate the prices of drugs, Califf refused to give an opinion despite the fact that “the issue of affordability” certainly fell under the FDA’s purview. Sanders’ summation of the questioning ended thus: “I believe we need a commissioner who is going to stand up to the pharmaceutical industry, and I have to say to you, with regret, that I think you are not that person.” Since when did facts become attacks?
7. Jackson homogenizes Sanders supporters by talking about “their” objections to HRC — those objections not actually being what a decent-sized chunk of Sanders’ supporters feel towards the former Secretary of State. (Yes, there are misogynists and haters among Sanders’ supporters. Misogynists and haters exist, much to my disappointment, pretty much everywhere.)
Clinton has offered explanations for problematic behavior, which Jackson is satisfied with but many of us are not. In comparison, Sanders’ votes against the Brady Bill are trotted out yet again; Sanders has explained those votes and I as a supporter am satisfied with them. Jackson might not be, and that’s his call, but it’s disingenuous to pretend that every Bernie supporter hates on Clinton because of unproven/disproven allegations.
“Does that offset Bernie’s five votes against the Brady Bill? His refusal as Veterans Committee chair to heed the calls for a Senate look into problems at the VA when people died because they couldn’t get help? Or his almost total failure to engage gender issues, environmental issues, education issues, race issues?” — Bruce Jackson, The Public
Sanders voted down the Brady bill because, per his explanation, he was not willing to make gun manufacturers responsible for liability when people were killed with their products. Now, I know a lot of people have very strong feelings on gun control, but here’s the thing: it is legal to make and sell and own guns in America, so long as one follows the laws and regulations pertaining to these actions.
Suggesting that a manufacturer be held liable for a seller’s actions when their product is sold by someone else, and that person fails to comply with legal restrictions? I can’t even come up with a suitable analogy. That’s ridiculous. . Do we sue Jack Daniels when a bartender serves someone who’s over the limit, and they then go on to have a drunk driving accident? Of course we don’t. The bartender can be held liable, and a gunseller should absolutely be following the law.
You know what’s not ridiculous? Sanders was, at the time he made this vote, representing Vermont in Congress. It’s the responsibility of a member of the House of Representatives to represent the people of their state. Vermont is a small state, mostly rural, with gun control laws that seem astonishingly lax to a New Yorker like yours truly. When he cast his Brady Bill vote, Sanders represented the feelings of the people of his state. He has supported instant background checks and other types of controls since his early days in office, and since the San Bernardino shooting has come out in favor of the White House’s position on gun control. (And before anybody calls that out as a flip-flop…that’s one of the only positions where Sanders has changed his stance in four decades in politics. Sanders legitimately shifts his stance once he gets into a Democratic primary, based in particular on current events and White House policy, and that’s too much? Please.)
Sanders refused to investigate issues at the VA? From Sanders’ page:
“Amid reports of unacceptable wait times at many VA medical facilities last year, Sen. Sanders spearheaded a bipartisan effort to pass the most comprehensive veterans’ legislation in decades. The landmark Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act increases accountability within the VA and ensures that all veterans have access to timely health care.” — BernieSanders.com
Bernie was instrumental in one of the most expansive Veteran’s care bills that has ever passed in this country. If Jackson had cited a source on this claim, I could more abley offer specific evidence, but since there’s no source cited (much like the Nurses’ Union support earlier in his essay), the factual errors and intentionally misleading characterizations earlier in the essay dull the teeth of this accusation.
The next line is where Jackson goes off the deep end, calling out Sanders’ supposed “almost total failure to engage gender issues, environmental issues, education issues, race issues.”
What. Has Jackson. Been smoking. (And apologies, I know that’s not the most professional way to question someone’s writing, but like the “eternal youth” “argument”, this one whacks reality out of the park.)
Those are Bernie’s policy points. Those are things Bernie has fought for, consistently, for over forty years. Sanders was f*cking arrested for civil disobedience. He had an extended series of conversations with rapper Killer Mike (because he kills it at the mic) wherein he talks at length about all of these things. (For real, whether or not you’re a Sanders supporter, it’s worth taking an hour out of your day to watch this series of six videos. It really, really is.) I have personally been following Sanders since his 2010 8-and-a-half-hour fillibuster, a tour de force of off-the-cuff speaking on the subject of just how much the American people were going to get screwed with that year’s proposed budget. Eight and a half fucking hours. (An aside: I couldn’t stand for eight and a half hours, speaking off the top of my head the entire time. Maybe I, too, am too old to be interested in changing our country’s political paradigm.)
8. This point is reduced back to “we don’t live in a perfect world so Sanders is an unrealistic pick.” Not buying it (and it makes me wonder how much of the “Sanders is too old” point might be simple projection), but thanks for playing.
The friend who posted Jackson’s article on my wall later messaged me privately, saying that she didn’t have the time to research the claims she read about Sanders, which makes Jackson’s failure to give well-argued, clear, factually accurate reasons even more galling.
A lazy and harried electorate is hardly Jackson’s fault or responsibility, but hack journalism has an effect. “Contributing” to the debate with a vague and ill-argued hit piece was irresponsible, and one hopes that next time around Jackson brings something more substantial to the table.
Thanks for sticking with me, folks. This turned out to be a long one – far longer than Jackson’s original piece – and I hope it helped clarify some of the misinformation in that essay. I appreciate your patience. I didn’t expect to write a 2500 word blog on this, but there you have it.
Now, regardless of who you support (and please forgive the obviously biased URL, the info there is valid no matter who you support) go make sure you’re registered to vote!