Going Negative: Sanders, the Clintons and the Exploitation of Dead Children

It wasn’t long ago—just a couple months—that Hillary Clinton was whining about Bernie Sanders “going negative” in their debates. You see, in Hillary’s alternate reality (one unfortunately shared by the Democratic establishment, the corporate media and a large portion of left-leaning voters), any and all criticism leveled at her or her degenerate husband is unfair and just flat out mean.

To criticize a Clinton is to be a “hater.” After all, look at everything they’ve done for us! What’s not to love? Remember: we’re dealing with The Most Qualified Presidential Candidate Ever. This designation, say the great pundits of our age, is indisputable. If you don’t agree, well then you’re probably sexist, or else a closet Republican. Either way, you don’t have a point worth making, let alone listening to. And even if your criticism is legitimate, well, Donald Trump is so much worse anyway—so grab a gun and start firing into that barrel with everybody else. Just leave poor Hillary alone. Don’t you know that “paying your dues” not only guarantees you eight years in the White House but also exempts you from scrutiny and critique?

If there’s one bone I have to pick with Bernie Sanders (I have several), it’s that he hasn’t gone remotely “negative” enough. The degree to which this has cost him is debatable; but it has cost him. Only recently has Sanders begun treating Hillary Clinton as an opponent, and the congenital liar that she is, rather than an old friend and political ally. Remember his famous email line? The one Larry David immortalized on SNL? It may have pleased a good number of Democrats—and it certainly pleased Hillary, whose mirth in that moment might have actually been natural—but it made me cringe as I sat watching the debate.

The email scandal has been minimized by virtue of the fact that Republicans decided to latch onto it. That’s all it takes to kill a scandal in this country. Nobody wants to make common cause with the bozos at Fox News and Breitbart, least of all a good, wholesome, “Democratic Socialist” like Bernie Sanders. So he was obliged to downplay the email narrative, lest he be charged with helping the GOP sully the queen of the modern left. It’s a shame, because Hillary’s use of a private email server to send and receive classified information is not exactly a nonissue. If nothing else, it serves as further evidence of her arrogant and devious character; her notorious “untrustworthiness.” Hillary’s defense—that others have done the same thing—is almost as uninspired as the one she used vis-à-vis the exorbitant sums of money paid to her by Goldman Sachs in exchange for a few lousy speeches (“that’s what they were offering”). Clearly, she doesn’t feel that she really needs a defense, which gets back to the idea that, in bringing this stuff up, we’re just being unsportsmanlike.

By dismissing the email scandal as basically a red herring, Sanders passed up an early and crucial opportunity to undermine Hillary’s credibility among borderline progressive voters. He had yet to “go negative” at that point; he was still playing nice. Why? He knew, and we knew, that eventually the gloves would have to come off, so why did he wait? It’s possible, or perhaps probable, that he did not seriously expect to challenge The Most Qualified Presidential Candidate Ever anywhere close to the extent that he has, and so was initially content to broadcast his nominal socialism as a sort of public service announcement—run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes. Of course, that all changed when he tied Hillary in Iowa. People were indeed saluting; droves of them. The primaries, then, wouldn’t be the formality everyone expected (and the DNC hoped for).

Inevitably, cracks in the “friendship” between candidates started to surface, and Clinton’s Wall Street shenanigans became a central aspect of Sanders’ populist rhetoric. It was around this time that Hillary enlisted husband Bill to cry foul on her behalf. (This was at least less sordid than what he was enlisted to do in 2008, which was to argue that Obama’s early primary success could be ascribed to his skin color. Alas, this blatantly racist nonsense seems to have been largely forgotten, with most black voters pledging allegiance to Hillary this time around.) Speaking to a herd of Clintonoids prior to the New Hampshire primary, Bill lamented the “vicious trolling and attacks that are literally too profane often—not to mention sexist—to repeat.” The trolls of whom he speaks are, of course, Sanders supporters (“Bernie Bros,” as the media gloatingly dubbed them). It’s more than a little rich to hear Bill Clinton feign offense to profanity and sexism; but I’ll leave that alone for now.

For someone ostensibly concerned with upholding political decorum, Hillary Clinton has become remarkably crass in her attacks on Sanders. Dragging things into the proverbial gutter, she recently contended that, because he opposes the liability clause for gun manufacturers, Bernie Sanders doesn’t care about the parents of the children killed in the Sandy Hook massacre. Good grief. Talk about “going negative.” What, precisely, should Sanders be feeling guilty about? Did he vote in favor of Adam Lanza gunning down over 20 school children? This sort of garbage makes The Donald’s reviled smear tactics look ethical.

But it may do some good, because Sanders’ response to Hillary’s cheap shot is actually a strong one: perhaps she should apologize to the families of the many thousands of people who lost their lives as a result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq—a monstrous crime that Hillary, supposedly taken in by fabricated intelligence, voted for as Senator from New York. Sanders might also have called on Clinton to apologize to the people of Libya, who, because of the “Hillary Doctrine,” now live under the worst circumstances imaginable.

If there’s one thing we should never stop talking about, it’s Hillary Clinton’s record as a ruthless warmonger. After all, the only thing more despicable than war is unnecessary war—a specialty of the American Empire. I know I’m not the only one who finds the president’s crocodile tears for victims of gun violence nauseating. Barack Obama, the man whose secret drone war Noam Chomsky described as “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times;” who reportedly once boasted that he’s “really good at killing people;” who has bombed seven different countries (most of them unilaterally); and who rationalized Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014 as an act of self-defense—this guy cares about gun violence in America? And enough to cry about it? It’s the worst of bad jokes.

The same goes for Hillary Clinton. Gun control is the sole issue on which it can be said (maybe accurately, maybe not) that Hillary is to the left of Sanders. It’s her only opening, so she’s going to do everything she can to exploit it, even if that means claiming that Bernie Sanders is unbothered by mass killings like Sandy Hook. Does she care about gun violence? Maybe. I suppose it’s possible that, in her twisted psyche, American lives are simply more important than Iraqi and Libyan and Palestinian ones. But more likely is that she really couldn’t care less about gun violence—that she perceives it cynically, as an opportunity to pad her progressive credentials. Either way, it’s plain to see that Hillary’s sympathy (whether feigned or sincere) does not extend to the victims of American military aggression.

All of which should have been pointed out by Bernie Sanders in January, or preferably last fall. It’s a pity that he’s just now starting to hit back with valid points about Hillary’s complicity in the murder of tens of thousands of people. This is a fact that should be brought up over and over again—just as much as (if not more often than) Sanders brings up the Wall Street bailout and Citizens United. A political revolution in this country presupposes the deconstruction of the American war machine. That’s a fact. As long as the Pentagon remains a law unto itself, with an astronomical budget that can’t be audited, nothing changes. That’s another fact. So while Hillary’s neoliberalism matters, it’s imperative that we don’t let her ties to the ruling class overshadow her penchant for killing people with bombs.

Running a “positive campaign,” as Bernie Sanders was so bent on doing, only makes sense if you’re up against a scrupulous opponent with a commendable record. There is nothing admirable, or even defensible, about ignoring the corruption and misdeeds of America’s answer to Margaret Thatcher. The Sanders campaign accepts this now, about three months too late.

Michael Howard’s essays and short fiction have appeared in a wide variety of print and digital publications, Dissident Voice among them. He lives in Vietnam. Read other articles by Michael.