Bernie Sanders and the Chicago Way

    Democratic Candidate for President Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters inside Temple University's Liacouras Center Wednesday. (Brad Larrison/for NewsWorks)

    Democratic Candidate for President Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters inside Temple University's Liacouras Center Wednesday. (Brad Larrison/for NewsWorks)

    In the famous film “The Untouchables,” Sean Connery counsels Kevin Costner on how to fight dirty: “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago Way!”

    Now it’s the Bernie Way.

    I get why Sanders is desperate these days. He’s way behind Hillary Clinton in the crucial delegate count, and not even huge landslides in the big remaining states can erase her popular vote lead, which now stands at 2.4 million nationwide. Tempers frequently flare when the heat is on, and on that score Sanders is no different than any other politician.

    That helps to explain – but not excuse – his scattershot demagoguery. It happened during a Wednesday rant to his acolytes in a Philadelphia arena. Hillary was his target:

    She has been saying lately that she thinks that I am not qualified to be president. Well, let me, let me just say in response to Secretary Clinton: I don’t believe that she is qualified, if she is, through her super-PAC, taking tens of millions of dollars in special interest funds. I don’t think that you are qualified if you get $15 million from Wall Street through your super-PAC. I don’t think you are qualified if you have voted for the disastrous war in Iraq. I don’t think you are qualified if you have supported virtually every disastrous trade agreement which has cost us millions of decent paying jobs. I don’t think you are qualified if you’ve supported the Panama free trade agreement, something I very strongly opposed and, which as all of you know, has allowed corporations and wealthy all over the world people to avoid paying their taxes to their countries.

    Five times he declared that the clear frontrunner, and likely nominee, of the Democratic party – the party to which he supposedly pledges allegiance – is not qualified to be president. The beleaguered GOP, currently stuck with two detestable candidates, should send Bernie a bouquet of roses as thanks for teeing up their autumn attack ads.

    There’s so much wrong with what Sanders said, on so many levels, that I’m at pains to sustain my normal word count.

    He might just as easily have said that Barack Obama was not qualified to be president either, because he took Wall Street money as well, and he too endorsed free trade deals. And Sanders had no problem with Clinton’s Iraq vote when she was tapped by Obama to help guide foreign policy as Secretary of State; back then, he lauded her as “one of the brightest people in Congress.”

    And what are his qualification criteria, anyway? His hero, Franklin D. Roosevelt, had previously served only one gubernatorial term, and his rich family had longstanding ties to Wall Street. Lyndon B. Johnson, architect of the liberal Great Society, rose to power with herculean help from the special-interest multimillionares who helmed the construction firm Brown & Root. Heck, Abraham Lincoln, prior to becoming president, had served a grand total of two years in Congress, and he made his bones as a special-interest lawyer for the railroads. These are factual nuances that Bernie bros would never know, given their pauncity of knowledge of American history.

    And tactically, Sanders undercut the most important mission of all: Democratic unity. If he’s ultimately compelled to endorse Clinton, his words will ring hollow. Didn’t he just condemn her – in five successive sentences – as unqualified? He has previously said, “On our worst days, we’re 100 times better than the Republican candidates,” but how does he square that with saying now that Clinton is unqualified? Why should his fans believe that a summer endorsement is sincere?

    Worst of all, his entire condemnation was founded on a lie. Remember how he began: “She has been saying lately that she thinks that I am not qualified to be president.” That’s what set him off. She supposedly brought a knife to the fight, so he responded by bringing a gun.

    But Clinton has never stated that Sanders is not qualified. In fact, during a Wednesday morning appearance on MSNBC, she stiffed Joe Scarborough’s repeated attempts to make her say that. You can read it for yourself. He tried three times. She spurned him three times. It happened while they were discussing Sanders’ disastrous meeting with the New York Daily News editorial board.

    Scarborough: In light of the questions he had problems with, do you believe this morning that Bernie Sanders is qualified and ready to be president of the United States?

    Clinton: Well, I think the interview raised a lot of really serious questions, and I look at it this way. The core of his campaign has been break up the banks, and it didn’t seem in reading his answers that he understood exactly how that would work under Dodd-Frank and exactly who would be responsible, what the criteria were…

    Scarborough: So is he qualified?…

    Clinton: Well, I think he hadn’t done his homework and he’d been talking for more than a year about doing things that he obviously hadn’t really studied or understood, and that does raise a lot of questions and really what it goes to is for voters to ask themselves, can he deliver what he’s talking about…

    Scarborough: But do you think he is qualified… 

    Clinton: Well, lemme put it this way, Joe. I think that what he has been saying about the core issue in his whole campaign doesn’t seem to be rooted in an understanding of either the law or the practical ways you get something done. And I will leave it to voters to decide…

    So Sanders lied in Philadelphia. Clinton basically brought a fork to the fight, and he brought a gun. 

    Turns out, he had seen a Washington Post headline that twisted Clinton’s MSNBC remarks (“Clinton questions whether Sanders is qualified to be president”), and that’s what got into his head. It’s still in his head. He brought up the headline again this morning. On TV he grumped, “What am I supposed to do? Just sit back?….Let’s get back to the issues.”

    Yeah, let’s. Because garden-variety slime ill serves his “revolution.”

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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