Russ Baker on How Moral Differences Between Sanders and Clinton Were Obscured

Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders at campaign rally Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
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Did the public ever really get to know Bernie Sanders — or understand what the choice between him and Hillary Clinton was truly about? That’s the subject of this online chat between Joan Brunwasser of the site OpEd News, and WhoWhatWhy’s Russ Baker.

Joan Brunwasser (JB): My guest today is Russ Baker, forensic journalist, author and founder of WhoWhatWhy. Welcome back to OpEdNews, Russ! On April 5th, you posted an article entitled: Newsflash: Sanders’s Strength of Character Hurt His Campaign. I’m puzzled by the headline. What can you tell us about it, Russ?

Russ Baker (RB): Well, Joan, the essence of the headline was that Sanders may have harmed his potential as a candidate by choosing, in certain instances, to do something that he perceived to be right rather than what was most expedient. That was the buried point in an interesting New York Times article, and I thought it important enough to highlight, lest it get missed. Now that we’re past the New York Primary, and we see how well Hillary Clinton did among the Times‘ traditional constituency, there’s no question in my mind that the Times failed to really focus on fundamental moral and ethical differences between the candidates, and thereby did real damage to Sanders.

JB: Fascinating to think that something as simple as that could make such a difference in the voting. I’d like to hear more, please.

RB: From my interactions with voters, I found that Clinton backers were not really differentiating between the candidates on their personal nature, their very real decisions and philosophical cores, their historical allies and funders. They were so singularly focused on a few talking points — first woman president, fuzzy good vibe around the Clintons in their mind, the general notion (unconnected to actual policy or behavior in office) that she is somehow especially well prepared for the job, a vague unease with Sanders and his backers (too radical somehow, too impractical), that nothing else really entered into it. But the point the Times made, albeit very buried, was that Sanders had failed to seize on some key opportunities to damage Clinton and stand further apart from her, though he could have — because of his own essential decency.

JB: In a perfect world, if you were called in to advise the Sanders campaign at this late date, how would you change how they’re running it? Let’s keep in mind that no one, and I mean no one, expected him to still be in the running at this point and putting up a darn good fight.

RB: Not sure there is much more he can do at this late date. If he had really gone full frontal to educate people on Hillary Clinton’s deep investiture in the global arms trade racket (which is made clear in an important new documentary — albeit too late to matter), and how her main legacy as secretary of state may have been agitating for new wars, he would have done irreparable damage to her candidacy. I guess he’s ambivalent, based on the usual “lesser of evils” balancing.

JB: What can his supporters do, Russ? Are we all out in the cold, stuck with an unpalatable, perhaps soon to combust candidate?

RB: I think that Sanders and his supporters play a useful role by continuing to bring up substantive matters, to, if you will, remain the conscience of their party. The longer they remain active, the more of an impact they have on the discussion. We can see that with the New York Times Magazine‘s (very belated) piece on Clinton’s astonishing hawkishness, and how deep-seated it is. These are the kinds of issues Sanders brought up long ago in debate, some of which took a long time to gain traction. Plus, they could make for a very exciting convention. Virtue combined with persistence has incalculable value.

JB: Scant comfort…. On another front, I just read that while Bernie lost in NY state, he won 50 of the 62 counties, some by large margins, and therefore picked up a sizable number of delegates. Admittedly, that doesn’t include NYC, which has a large proportion of the population. But why do the media not mention this noteworthy fact — or even that Bernie did far better in NY than Obama did in 2008 against Clinton? There’s no nuance, no context. Isn’t it news? And why hasn’t there been much talk about the massive voter disenfranchisement mess in NYC, particularly Brooklyn, where whole blocks disappeared from the voting rolls? That’s certainly news. Or is it? I’m so confused!

RB: At WhoWhatWhy, we have published numerous articles on the media’s blatant failure to accurately or properly cover the Sanders campaign. (See for example this and this .) Many developments that could have been interpreted as signs of strength and success have been ignored or buried. Had the media covered these, they would have created a “success” aura around the campaign that would have logically generated additional momentum. The failure to highlight the kinds of things you’re talking about here is a perfect example. It’s why we started our news organization in the first place — because we so badly need a whole new media.

JB: Agreed. And I’m grateful for WhoWhatWhy – and the work we do at OpEdNews, while we’re at it. Let’s talk about one more aspect of this whole Democratic race. The press and the Clinton campaign have been quick to note that Bernie’s campaign has gone negative. Is this also semantics, slant, bias or something else I didn’t mention? Where does aggressively making points leave off and running a negative campaign begin? Also, where does the Republican primary race fit in with this? From the tenor of the debates to various candidates’ statements to the coverage of the issues, it’s as if we’re inhabiting two different and distinct universes. Your thoughts, Russ?

RB: The term “negative campaigning” is just another in a long list of essentially meaningless concepts that imply morality but are by design misused. The fact is, a campaign is for candidates to show who they are, and to distinguish themselves from their competitors. Merely stating views, without pointing out — aggressively — where candidates disagree, is not a public service.

I’ve never seen Sanders making gratuitous attacks on Clinton. In fact, if anything, I think he’s been either too much of a nice guy or even perhaps too afraid of being labeled a “negative campaigner.” There was and still is so much to be said about Hillary Clinton, her life, views and actions, that the public ought to know in making up their minds.

Re: the Republican primary race, it is the ultimate example of how a portion of the electorate is totally off the rails. There’s really no clear vision or qualifications evident for any of their candidates. It’s basically reduced to performance art and ability to push people’s buttons. The actual, doable substance is close to zero.

JB: I’m with you there. Anything you’d like to add before we wrap this up?

RB: Whatever the outcome, I think that both Sanders and Trump, each in his own way, have shaken the political system to its core. And that is a good thing. Now, we need to move forward with resolve and concrete objectives, to make something permanent, and valuable, from this experience.

JB: Thanks so much for talking with me again, Russ. I can’t get over that while Bernie has been lambasted for being too harsh, all along, he’s just been guilty of being too nice! What an upside down political world we live in!

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7 responses to “Russ Baker on How Moral Differences Between Sanders and Clinton Were Obscured”

  1. US White Trash says:

    Why all the 502 Gateway stops for the links? Has the Hillary campaign jammed the site?

    • Comments editor says:

      Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I will inform the technical department immediately.

  2. Kevin says:

    I remain astounded that WhoWhatWhy and even Russ are fooled by Bernie. Recently when asked if he thinks the current method in which the White House decides which suspected terrorists are added to the ‘kill list’ is constitutional and legal, he added:

    “In general I do, yes.”

  3. Thomas Simonet says:

    Respectfully disagree, Russ. I don’t see Sanders bringing up “substantive matters” when he promises single payer with no practical, detailed plans or hopes of enactment; or free tuition at public colleges, despite the unfeasibility and unlikelihood of passage; or making the first financial priority the breakup of big banks. He might as well promise us all free ponies.I don’t know what you could mean by Sanders’ “historical allies” when he has the endorsement of only one U.S. senator, Merkley, and 10 MCs, despite serving in Congress since 1991. Twenty-five years is a long time to make just 11 allies. (Clinton has about 120 – more than I had time to count – just in the House, where she never served.) Saying Clinton’s main legacy at State “may have been …” is about the weakest attribution I have seen you use. I’d like to see you stick with your outstanding journalism and stay away from loose, TV-like commentary.

    • Whoopsiedoo says:

      It is to Sanders’s credit that he only made 11 allies in the halls of the best political system money can buy. One wonders why so many of his fellow senators just don’t seem to see, what their constituents obviously see in Sanders?

      Single-payer healthcare is the fiercely guarded institution of many countries that are just as smart as the US.

      When Sanders attended public college it was practically free. What’s so radical about that?

      Big banks, by their criminal activity, brought not only the economy of United States but that of the world, to its knees and had there been a few more like Sanders in Congress, some of the ******** would’ve gone to jail.

    • Kevin says:

      That last sentence. Couldn’t agree more.

    • US White Trash says:

      No matter how it is shaped Hillary has some of the worst judgement ever when it comes to foreign affairs. Ignoring the lie about being sniped at on the tarmac while she ran for cover in Bosnia, she has yet to vote against any war presented to her. She was instrumental in the take down and destruction of Qadaffi which has resulted in the one leader pouring money into the country and its people to be replaced by Islamic Radicalism (perhaps this is what she wanted). She pushed to arm Syrian Rebels without vetting them resulting in ISIL being armed and trained to use the weapons provided. She was all for the Iraq War. She is pushing NATO forces to the border with Russia by wanting to bring into NATO the Ukraine which is now ruled by a government that overthrew the elected president and replaced him with people whose allegiance is towards the old fascists of the Great Patriotic War.

      Mean, incompetent, incapable of the truth and addicted to power, Hillary is almost as bad as Trump and less competent as a role model (neither is worth a damn if you ask me….and the less said about Cruz, the better). But the will of the Elites will not allow Bernie a chance. Hence, the Super-delegates create the fix.

      The next 4 years will make 2008-2012 look like the good old days……..

  4. VoxFox says:

    Bernie demonstrates that “Nice Guys finish Last”, as most political cynics know.

  5. feliznavidad says:

    Great discussion. The democratic party has been had. Bernie has to hang in there!