Feeling the Bull: Bernie’s biggest con

    Sen. Bernie Sanders

    Sen. Bernie Sanders

    You’ll get no argument from me that Hillary Clinton is a flawed candidate — stonewalling the release of those Goldman Sachs chats is merely Exhibit A — but when it comes to bull-slinging and empty sloganeering, she’s no match for her self-righteous rival.

    Watching Bernie Sanders in last night’s Democratic debate — the last of the season, if we’re lucky — all too often I was Feeling the Bull. I realize that my perspective is anathema to those who shriek with Beatlemaniac delight at his every thunderous utterance, but what can I say. His passion for fantasy speaks for itself.

    His climactic con came late in the debate (stay with me, it’s a few paragraphs down), but he riffed ridiculously from the opening bell. He re-conjured his dreams of free college tuition and government health care without once explaining how either would pass a Republican House or a non-filibuster-proof Senate; suffice it to say, those will happen on the day that unicorns cavort down your local avenue. And like any other inside-the-Beltway politician, he kept saying stuff like “I have introduced a bill … I have introduced legislation,” which means squat, especially in light of the fact that he has done virtually nothing of significance during his three-decade congressional career.

    He had no explanation for his failure to release years of tax returns (“Jane does ’em”), he again had no coherent explanation for his votes against the gun-controlling Brady Bill, and his vote to protect gun manufacturers from lawsuits, and when asked to substantiate his standard portrait of Clinton as a special-interest lackey, he whiffed like Ryan Howard chasing a breaking ball in the dirt.

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    That’s not the con I’ve promised to highlight — give me a few more paragraphs — but that particular exchange about Clinton is worth a longer look. It began when CNN’s Dana Bash asked him a very specific question:

    “Senator Sanders, you have consistently criticized Secretary Clinton for accepting money from Wall Street. Can you name one decision that she made as senator that shows that she favored banks because of the money she received?”

    And here’s what he said:

    “Sure. Sure. The obvious decision is when greed and recklessness and illegal behavior of Wall Street brought his country into the worst economic downturn since the Great Recession — the Great Depression of the ’30s, when millions of people lost their jobs, and their homes, and their savings, the obvious respoinse to that is that you’ve got a bunch of fraudulent operators and that they have got to be broken up.”

    Was this guy going to answer the question or what? He kept going:

    “That was my view way back, and I introduced legislation to do that. Now, Secretary Clinton was busy giving speeches to Goldman Sachs for $225,000 a speech. So the proper response in my view is we should break them up. And that’s what my legislation does.”

    Swing and a miss, strike three! He had nothing. Rest assured that if he did have something on Clinton, any real evidence of the cause-and-effect bribery that he so rotely insinuates, we would be hearing it daily.

    But his biggest con was when he opined like a pundit about the status of his campaign. I get that it’s no fun to be losing so decisively — he’s trailing by more than 200 pledged delegates, a wider deficit than Clinton’s vis a vis Obama at this point in ’08; he’s trailing by an insurmountable 2.4 million popular votes nationwide — but it insults the intelligence of the unbesotted to rationalize it away like this:

    “Secretary Clinton cleaned our clock in the Deep South. No question about it. We got murdered there. That is the most conservative part of this great country. That’s a fact. But you know what? We’re out of the Deep South now.”

    That’s a line he’s been floating for weeks now, most recently on Larry Wilmore’s Comedy Central show (“we started off this campaign having to run in the Deep South … it’s a very conservative part of the country … having so many southern states go first kind of distorts reality”), and on so many levels, it’s a laughfest.

    For starters, he’s basically saying that Clinton’s wins shouldn’t count as much as his wins; that her primary wins in big racially diverse states shouldn’t count as much as his lower-turnout caucus wins in smaller, overwhelmingly white states. Second, he’s specificially claiming that Clinton owes her southern victories to right-wing voters. Whereas, in truth, she won big thanks to robust turnout from African-Americans – who just so happen to be among the most liberal of all Democrats on economic issues.

    Sanders, who has yet to break through with blacks virtually anywhere on the map, does himself no favors by insinuating that their votes are worth less than those of his young white legions.

    Third, he seems to have forgotten the primary results in Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida. Perhaps those states don’t meet his definition of “Deep South.” But all three are below the Mason-Dixon line, and all three are racially diverse states that were key to the Obama coalition. (Virginia and Florida went blue in ’08 and ’12; North Carolina went blue in ’08.) None of the three can be typecast as “very conservative,” at least not in presidential election years. All three, with heavy black and Hispanic turnout, slaughtered Sanders in the primary balloting.

    Fourth, it’s a howl to hear him dismiss the “Deep South” as unimportant, considering the fact that he stumped in Dixie last year, telling Louisianans about how important they are: “I’m here to tell you that the time is now for us to fight in 50 states of the country.”

    Fifth, Sanders’ bid to pin his deficit on the “Deep South” ignores the fact that he was beaten in Ohio (by 14 points in that swing state), Illinois, Missouri, Arizona, Nevada, and Massachusetts. Yes, he has run a stronger race than anyone envisioned, and, yes, a big slice of the Democratic base is wary of Hillary and weary of the Clintons, but the delegate math – undergirded by the popular vote gap – is inescapable.

    And fatuous spin can’t defeat it.

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

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