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Is Bernie Really The Anti-Politican?

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Is Bernie Really The Anti-Politican?

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Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally at Key Arena in Seattle, Washington March 20, 2016. REUTERS/David Ryder

This article was originally published in The Washington Monthly

Bernie Sanders has campaigned as the anti-politician. Much of his message is based on the conceit, even as he takes funding from those who work for fossil-fuel interests, even as he dodges questions about his tax returns.

There’s actually nothing wrong with those things per se. But Sanders acts as if Hillary Clinton is the only more-of-the-same politician, even though she released eight years of tax returns, even though she gets money, as Sanders does, from people who work for oil and gas companies, not from the companies themselves.

It’s time to set aside purity tests. They are unbecoming. Especially for Sanders.

Let’s consider his biggest weakness: guns.

When it comes to the priority of gun control to the base of the Democratic Party, Sanders is the outsider looking in. Sanders has in fact a mixed record, but that’s not enough. So the former secretary of state has made much of the fact that he voted against her husband’s proposal in the early 1990s to stiffen background checks in gun sales. Sanders opposed the Brady bill no fewer than fives times.

Sanders has explained his position, and others like it, in terms of constituency.
He has for decades represented Vermont, a state with a strong gun culture of hunters, hobbyists, and firearms manufactures. It has few laws regulating guns. His voting record is the result, he says, of listening to the will of the people.

“Bernie’s response is that he doesn’t just represent liberals and progressives,” said his former chief of staff, Anthony Pollina, in a 1991 interview with a Burlington newspaper, explaining Sanders’ views. “He was sent to Washington to present all of Vermont. It’s not inappropriate for a congressman to support a majority position, particularly on something Vermonters have been very clear about.”

That sounds like Sanders. What the people want, the people get.

But the rationale can’t justify every pro-gun vote, particularly a major piece of legislation that gave legal immunity to gun sellers and firearms manufacturers. If a gun is used to commit crimes, the seller or maker can’t he held liable, according to a provision of the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

This is the same provision being tested in federal court by the families of the 20 schoolchildren massacred in 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. The plaintiffs say that Remington’s Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, used by Adam Lanza to blast into Sandy Hook Elementary School, was designed and marketed for one purpose: to kill.

Sanders has defended his vote, saying that it doesn’t make sense to hold manufacturers liable for the criminal behavior of legal consumers. That’s fine, but his vote had the real consequence of protecting gun sellers and firearms manufacturers. It wasn’t for “the people.” It was for Vermont’s business elite.

Now that Sanders is running for the presidency, he has been under increasing pressure, especially from the Clinton campaign, to recant. In Iowa in January, he told an audience: “I think we should take another look at that legislation and get rid of those provisions which allow gun manufacturers to act irresponsibly.”

Clinton pounced, calling this flip-flopping, and the Politifact concurred.

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong, per se, with a Senator serving powerful business interests in his home state. And there’s nothing wrong with flip-flopping if circumstances demand it—if, say, your constituency goes from a rural state populated by white hunters to a racially diverse and urbanized America. A purist could accuse him of pandering, but really, Sanders didn’t have a choice.

But there is something wrong with the claim that Sanders is more authentic than his opponent, that he is the anti-politician while Clinton is the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with the two-party system, and that he’s the solution.

That’s nonsense. Sanders is a political animal.

Let’s stopping fooling ourselves.

 

John Stoehr is a lecturer in political science at Yale and the 2016 Koeppel Journalism Fellow at Wesleyan.

Photo: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally at Key Arena in Seattle, Washington March 20, 2016. REUTERS/David Ryder 

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28 Comments

  1. RED April 6, 2016

    I can never keep up with which attack angle they’re gonna use today on Sanders. Is it the he’s too much of a purist and can’t compromise or is it he isn’t enough of a purist and therefore not really a progressive? Looks like today we’re on the he’s not really a progressive routine. I’ve also found fascinating with the line that Hillary doesn’t take money from the fossil fuel industries, only employees of that industry. Which is simply not true, “57 registered oil, gas, & coal lobbyists have directly donated or bundled more than 1.3 million to the Clinton campaign.” The media really likes to keep things simple, I guess for the stupid. Now, like most progressives I think we could do better on gun control. But how to do and and what we can accomplish are difficult questions and reporters seem to prefer to just push this Bernie has no heart for the Sandy Hook victims line. Which is ridiculous because there is only one person in this race who has consistently shown compassion and concern for others in all their positions even when they were unpopular and complicated. And it “ain’t” Hillary Clinton.

    Reply
    1. Independent1 April 6, 2016

      And it “ain’t” Hillary Clinton. Really?

      Would you care to enlighten us about all this wonderful legislation that Bernie Sanders has authored which has shown such great compassion and concern for others?? Was it his refusal to help Hillary when she was pushing to enact an improved healthcare law back in the 1990’s?? Was it his refusal to support a comprehensive immigration reform package? Was it his refusal to help get an improved gun background check law enacted a couple years ago?? When was all this compassion shown by Bernie??

      And let’s compare what he’s done to Hillary a little:

      From SunSentinel.com:

      Overall, however, Hillary Clinton is smart, steady and able to rebound quickly from defeat. When her attempt at health care reform failed during her husband’s first term, Clinton worked with senators from both parties – Democrat Ted Kennedy and Republican Orrin Hatch — to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which cut the uninsured rate of American children in half. More than eight million children have coverage because of the program.
      (Failed partly because Bernie at the time refused to give her any support whatsoever for her efforts in getting an improved healthcare law passed.)

      She helped secure more than $21 billion for World Trade Center redevelopment. She led investigations into the health problems of 9/11 first responders. She promoted increased National Institutes of Health funding for research into cancer and asthma. She was the principal author of sanctions – particularly on oil imports to the European Union — that brought Iran to the negotiating table. She helped bring about a 2012 cease-fire between Hamas and Israel that headed off an Israeli invasion of Gaza. She named an “ambassador at large” for women’s rights. And “Nearly every foreign policy victory of President Obama’s second term,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., “has Secretary Clinton’s fingerprints on it.”

      And how about this from the Daily Kos:

      But that night in the theater two years ago, the other six brave women came up on the stage. Anabella De Leon of Guatemala pointed to Hillary Clinton, who was sitting right in the front row, and said, “I met her and my life changed.” And all weekend long, women from all over the world said the same thing:

      But that night in the theater two years ago, the other six brave women came up on the stage. Anabella De Leon of Guatemala pointed to Hillary Clinton, who was sitting right in the front row, and said, “I met her and my life changed.” And all weekend long, women from all over the world said the same thing:

      “I’m alive because she came to my country and she talked to our leaders, because I heard her speak, because I read about her.”
      “I’m alive because she went on our local TV and talked about my work, and now they’re afraid to kill me.”
      “I’m alive because she came to my village, put her arm around me, and had a photograph taken together.”

      And none of that even covers the millions upon millions of dollars that Hillary and Bill’s foundation have invested around the world in helping improve the lives of millions upon millions of people in underdeveloped countries around the world.

      Reply
      1. RED April 6, 2016

        Fascinating!! I wish I had more time to explore the veracity of your non-sense!! But alas, I do not, so we will accomplish what we can. First let’s start with your screen name, Independent. Seriously? Independent of what? It clearly is not referring to your political leanings. Now, as to your first paragraph…it’s kind weird how I saw Hillary Clinton thanking Bernie Sanders for all his support in attempting to get healthcare reform back in the 90’s. I wonder why she would personally thank someone who refused to help. But then of course this is the basic crux of your entire diatribe, your presenting one sided, if not completely fabricated arguments. I wonder how many girls of all ages were hurt, suffered or went hungry because of the Iraq War, decimation of welfare, & “bringing to heel” non-existent super predators and incarcerating more people than any other country? I wonder how many girls will be saved when Hillary gets the U.S. involved in the next war she most certainly will. But I guess we can just expect more “independent” analysis of how wonderful Hillary is from you when she does. Feel free to entertain the notion that Hillary “changed the world” all you want, don’t let the simple truth or facts get in the way. Do you think all those oil, gas, & coal lobbyists are donating to Hillary hoping she will change the world? And since I already know that you are swallowing the Clinton Kool Aid and I know exactly what popped in your head, that Sanders campaign is lying and that Hillary only takes money from employees of those companies. It’s not true but I’m sure that’s what you thought and believe. It’s not even true that that comes from the Sanders campaign. But as is always the case with Hillary and her supporters,truth and honesty is never an option.

        Reply
        1. Independent1 April 6, 2016

          You clearly have a misguided memory on a lot of things – virtually everything you just posted is a total load of BS!! Including the notion that Hillary has thanked Bernie for his help on the healthcare reform she was trying to get going:

          See this from Mediaite.com:

          :Hillary Clinton went on the attack against Bernie Sanders yesterday on the issue of health care, questioning his commitment to the issue.

          And boy did she get busted…

          I don’t know where he was when I was trying to get healthcare in ’93 and ’94; a fired up Hillary Clinton said of Bernie Sanders.

          http://www.mediaite.com/online/hillary-where-was-bernie-during-my-health-care-fight-sanders-camp-literally-behind-you/

          Reply
  2. charleo1 April 6, 2016

    It seems to me, the writer should take his own advise when it comes to stopping with the purity tests. The facts are many rank and file Democrats, agree with the majority of gun owners, and NRA members, that assault weapon bans, and expanded background checks would be a good idea. But, it’s not the hill they choose to die on, nor the battle they are most inspired to wage. Unlike the gun nuts, and their politically powerful gun lobby, that would back old scratch himself, if they thought it meant more AKs all around, with some RPGs thrown in, just to make the pansy liberal elites squirm. But let’s acknowledge something else. If you think holding gun manufactures liable, when a man legally purchases it’s product, which works properly in it’s intended use to kill people. And that man’s 5 year old ge his hands on it, and kills his sibling. And you believe the manufacture is responsible. That’s radical nonsense, and can undermine the entire effort to get some control over the proliferate gun violence that’s tearing at the very fabric of our society. And similarly, if we discard those who will gladly sign common sense gun regulation, because they have failed to embrace the most extreme proposals, that’s not the way things get done in a democracy.

    Reply
    1. yabbed April 7, 2016

      You don’t understand the legislation re immunity for gun manufactures and gun dealers. You are misrepresenting the legislation.

      Reply
      1. charleo1 April 7, 2016

        You’re right, I don’t understand any theory of law upon which a plaintiff would have standing to sue a manufacturer due to it’s product being illegally used, stolen and misused, or misused due to owner neglect. If the maker was following the laws, the dealer was doing likewise, where is the logic? However, on the other hand, if a manufacturer, because of certain proposed actions in Congress, created insurance concerns, concerns over future profits, or any number of a host of other concerns, created a need thru prohibitive legislation against the possibility of such future lawsuits, (re- immunity,) Such a case would seem to me to have merit, in that it makes sense from a business standpoint. You’re free of course to educate me on
        this.

        Reply
  3. Otto T. Goat April 6, 2016

    Not having gun control works fine in Vermont, which is a problem for Bernie and the Democrats.

    Reply
    1. yabbed April 7, 2016

      Bernie isn’t a Democrat. 🙂

      Reply
      1. elw April 7, 2016

        He always votes with the Democrats, he is a progressive – he will get my vote. Saying he is not a Democrat is not much different than when a Conservative claims another Conservative is not real conservative because he/she is not conservative enough. You want to be like the other side – go ahead. As for me I will let Bernie decide what he is, anything is just petty and nasty rhetoric.

        Reply
    2. elw April 7, 2016

      Strange, have you tried listening to what he actually says about gun control. He is very clear about it, the press and Hillary are misrepresenting his words and what he did, he is currently support a revision of the original bill that is more specific about when gun shop owners can be held accountable. He is for reasonable gun control.

      Reply
      1. Otto T. Goat April 7, 2016

        In Vermont you can concealed carry without a permit, if you are at least 16. Has Bernie ever spoken about that?

        Reply
        1. elw April 7, 2016

          Yes he has, a number of times. Are you blaming that on Bernie?

          Reply
  4. elw April 6, 2016

    There is not a candidate in the County that would pass a purity test. So talking about it makes no sense. Like in every single election in which I have voted for the last half century, I will pick the candidate with a record that matches most closely to what I consider to be the best for me and my families future. Right now that person is Bernie, which in no way reduces my regard for Hillary. I have watched her and voted for her husband, do not pay one ounce of attention to the right-wing attacks on her, but the truth is she is far more moderate than Bernie. Right now we need a shift to the left to continue to make-up for the damage to the middle-class after 30 years of moderate and conservative Presidents. President Obama has done a great job of beginning the process, in spite of the Congress he has had to work with. It is my opinion that Bernie is the one who is most likely to keep the improvement on the right track. Using analogies like “purity test” to try and make him look bad, does not change how feel about it, but it does makes me laugh at the silliness of it. Bernie 2016

    Reply
    1. yabbed April 7, 2016

      Bernie has not one single qualification for the Presidency.

      Reply
      1. elw April 7, 2016

        If you feel that way – do not vote for him. I think he is as qualified as Hillary, I like better and I am going to vote for him.

        Reply
  5. Lynda Groom April 6, 2016

    The short answer is no. Anyone in office for over a generation is a politician. A tad different than the rest, but a politician.

    Reply
  6. Aaron Jackson April 6, 2016

    Bernie Sanders is a politician, I don’t necessarily use that word as a pejorative. I mean will do what he feels is politically advantageous. His gun votes were politically advantageous in Vermont. Becoming a Democrat to run for president was politically advantageous. Saying I have never run a negative ad, while running negative ads is politically advantageous. I am not saying any of this is bad or detrimental to Bernie, but they are unequivocally the things all politicians do. In that regard he is absolutely no different than any politician.

    Reply
  7. dtgraham April 6, 2016

    To answer Red, today the attack angle on Bernie is, “hey c’mon…Bernie is just as much of a sh*thead as Hillary is you know.”

    Reply
  8. @HawaiianTater April 6, 2016

    I’m a person who is strongly in favor of gun control laws. I live in Hawai’i, where we have the lowest rates of gun violence in the country thanks to our tough gun control laws. That said, holding gun manufacturers liable for guns used in murders is ridiculous. Should we hold car manufacturers responsible if someone gets drunk and kills someone with their car? What about baseball bats or hammers or battery acid or bleach? There’s a lot of ways to kill someone and we don’t hold the manufacturers liable for any other industry. I’d like to see limits on how many guns a person can own. I’d like to see limits on what kind of ammunition can be bought. I’d like to see much stronger limits on what kinds of guns can be owned. But, holding the gun manufacturers liable for gun deaths is not only absurd, if they were sued for every time a gun was used to kill someone, they’d be sued out of business and there wouldn’t be any more gun manufacturers. Maybe that’s the point. If you don’t want AR-15s on the market, then outlaw the manufacture, selling and ownership of them. Suing someone for selling a legal product isn’t how you solve the problem because it does nothing to get rid of AR-15s.

    Reply
    1. yabbed April 7, 2016

      Manufacturers of every product but for guns are held responsible for defects. If the product is faulty, you can sue the manufacturer but not in the case of guns. Sellers of every product are held responsible for the sales they make. If a bartender sells liquor to a drunk who does harm to someone, you can sue that bartender. But you cannot sue a dealer who sells a gun to someone who is not supposed to have a gun. You can sue a used car salesman or a realtor who knowingly sells you faulty goods, but you can’t sue a gun dealer.

      Reply
      1. ralphkr April 7, 2016

        There is one major problem with your theory, yabbed, and that is a gun killing someone does NOT mean the gun in defective, far from it, it proves that the gun is not defective (unless the person was killed by the gun exploding in which case it was defective). Saying that the manufacturer should be held liable if his gun is used to kill someone is the same as claiming that I should be able to sue a car manufacturer for getting a ticket for speeding (by your reasoning I was only speeding because the car allowed me to speed and, therefore, the car is defective). Sorry, yabbed, but if I get a ticket for doing 130 mph in a 20 mph zone it is NOT the car that is defective but the driver.

        Reply
  9. itsfun April 7, 2016

    Like it or not Donald Trump is the only non-career politician running for the office of President now.

    Reply
    1. iamproteus April 7, 2016

      Now you’ve done it, itsfun! You’ve said something I can agree with. What’s wrong with you anyway?!

      Reply
    2. The lucky one April 7, 2016

      Yes, too bad he is a career narcissist.

      Reply
  10. FT66 April 7, 2016

    Sanders is 120% typical politician he can’t deny it. What annoys me most is him doing quite opposite of what he has been saying that he never go negatively attacking anyone. What he did yesterday in Philladephia is beyond anyone’s belief. We never have such a behavior in our Party. If one realises can’t win, they just lose graciously without attacking anyone. Sanders must understand Super Delegates are not sleeping. They are watching every step.

    Reply
    1. yabbed April 7, 2016

      Sanders isn’t a Democrat so he doesn’t understand Democrats any more than he understands Dodd Frank or how government works.

      Reply
  11. yabbed April 7, 2016

    For Sanders to excuse his vote on the legislation to provide immunity to gun manufacturers and gun shops by saying, “well, hammers kill people, too” was the ultimate contempt for the parents of those 5 and 6 year old children who were massacred in their classrooms. It is impossible to have any respect for Sanders.

    Reply

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