It’s always invigorating to see Democrats and progressives energized and turning out to vote. We have Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to thank for that.
Tempering my enthusiasm is my profound concern, expressed repeatedly over the past few weeks (and the past year), that some of the excitement is coming at the expense of Hillary’s public image. Unjustly and undeservedly so. And that it sends a chilling signal to women and girls who are excited about her historic candidacy.
Last June, Tom Watson and I launched #HillaryMen to fight the methodical assault on Hillary’s integrity. As far back as May, I wrote about the swiftboating of Hillary, cautioning that her supporters should understand which playbook was operative in 2016:
The 2016 election is not a replay of 2012 (the data election); it is not a replay of 2008 (the dueling histories election); it is a replay of 2004 (the swift boat election). The well-coordinated assault on the Clinton Foundation, the pillar of the Clintons’ many achievements, is analogous to the brazen assault on the pillar of John Kerry’s career, his decorated military service.
For months, Tom and I chronicled the steady flood of smears, lies and innuendo designed to paint Hillary as a liar. We tracked the sophisticated character attacks crafted on the right, disseminated by the national media and imbibed and regurgitated by some on the left. We explained the frames used to tarnish her and the methods used to inject the frames into the public consciousness.
We called out the New York Times for false reporting, we held reporters and pundits accountable for anti-Hillary spin, and in September, we debunked a dishonest and deceptive Quinnipiac poll that claimed Hillary was seen as a liar by all voters, when in fact it was only Republicans who responded that way.
While the overhyped email story was being hammered relentlessly, we warned about the rise of Trump and the fact that the media and commentariat were singularly and dangerously focused on tarnishing Hillary to the exclusion of all other 2016 reporting.
We identified the gradual increase in sexist commentary and the ever-worsening trolling and intimidation directed at Hillary’s online supporters. We traced the systematic attacks on Hillary to shadowy conservative groups funded by Republican billionaires.
All the while, Bernie Sanders built his campaign on a positive message, one that reflected my personal values as a progressive and that inspired many of my peers. Although I was dismayed and angry at the coordinated attempts by the GOP and media elites to savage Hillary’s public image, I was confident that Democrats would see through the smears and choose her as their best candidate for the nomination. And I was thrilled to see Bernie raise crucial causes that I’ve spent my political life fighting for.
But the wave of anti-Hillary trolling that was bubbling and churning all year intensified as voting approached. By December, it had become a mob effect, an uncontrollable surge of vile language, false memes, deceptive allegations and outright misogyny. It took on a life of its own and infiltrated every corner of social media, infecting the national discourse and turning many younger voters who consume their news online into rabid Hillary-bashers.
Bernie’s advisers, seasoned political operatives, realized they could surf that rising wave of anti-Hillary sentiment to victory in the early states. Sadly, Bernie went along for the ride, embracing the not-so-subtle message that Hillary is the establishment, that she embodies corruption, that she is the system that the “movement” aims to destroy. She is not.
Bernie never had to directly attack Hillary in personal terms, but the code words were clear: Wall Street, Establishment, and similar terms ceased to be about believing in something but about taking down someone. Taking down Hillary. The strategy barely failed in Iowa and succeeded swimmingly in New Hampshire.
The pendulum will swing back, and back again several times, as it always does in politics. I’ve been doing this a long time and some days the sky is falling and the next you’re soaring.
I believe in the issues Bernie raises and I know Hillary does too. I share the excitement of his sincere supporters, the sense that they can make a difference. Like Hillary, Bernie is great for American politics. I hope he returns to his core message and explicitly disavows a strategy that involves mangling Hillary’s reputation and undermining one of the most admired and accomplished women in the history of American politics.