In a Q&A with TIME, Bernie Sanders positions himself as arbiter of the Democratic Party’s future, goes hard negative on the Clintons, calls a progressive activist (and a BNR founder) “scum of the Earth,” and reiterates one of the most delusional talking points of 2015—that he’s the “strongest candidate to beat Donald Trump.” We are longtime activists, advocates, and Democrats, and we reject the hubris that would have one man disparage the work of millions who don’t happen to agree with him.
Reading your recent TIME interview, we felt the need to respond.
First, it says so much that you’re willing to use the term “scum of the earth” about someone who has helped build progressive infrastructure, but not about Donald Trump and his sleazy operatives, who you’re obsequiously hoping will breathe new life into your campaign.
Second, when you speak about the Democratic Party as its self-appointed savior, do you realize how that offends millions of rank and file Democrats who support the nominee-to-be Hillary Clinton? Not to mention the thousands of elected Democrats who have worked their hearts out to promote Democratic and progressive causes?
Do you really imagine that, at the local level, Democrats—elected and activists—are only debating whether or not they are beholden to Wall Street billionaires? We’re working ourselves to early graves fighting for clean water, good schools, early childcare programs, abortion access, jobs programs, equality measures, library funding, needle exchanges, infrastructure improvements, dog parks, lunch programs, fair housing, and countless other issues that are more immediate and personal than the sweeping broadsides you make against “the establishment.”
We support Hillary Clinton, but Hillary Clinton is not the entirety of the Democratic Party. The DNC is not the entirety of the Democratic Party. Do you not appreciate the irony that, by constantly attacking the Democratic Party as a monolith, you’re doing more to alienate and treat as irrelevant the average Democrat across this nation than the Democratic Party leadership ever has?
With all due respect, you are not the arbiter of what the Democratic Party should be. You don’t even seem to truly understand who the Democratic Party is! You are dismissing rank-and-file Democrats and their representatives in state legislatures, in places like Indiana and Texas and Wisconsin, where elected Democrats left their states and went into hiding to try to stop various assaults on decency by their Republican counterparts.
And if all of that weren’t bad enough, you again reiterated your bizarre rationale for why you’re staying in the Democratic primary, despite having no path to victory: “I am the strongest candidate to beat Donald Trump. That is objectively the truth. You may like me, you may not like me, but that is the fact.”
That is not a fact. It is not the truth. It is a willful misreading of meaningless national polls, a self-aggrandizing belief based on data points which do not (and cannot) take into account that you have not been vetted by the media or exposed to even a glancing blow from the brutal rightwing attack machine. A machine that transformed the image of a war hero like John Kerry into that of a cowardly flip-flopper.
A couple of noteworthy pieces have been written lately on your fantasy that you’d breeze through a general election: Michael Tomasky’s “Why Bernie’s Crushing Trump” and Trevor LaFauci’s “Too Easy: How Republicans Would Tear Apart an Unvetted Bernie Sanders in the General Election.” You should read them!
But I’m guessing you won’t, Bernie, so let me sum them up for you: They essentially make the same point: That all the vetting the media have declined to do on you—because they never really regarded you as a serious contender—and all the oppo research the GOP has declined to release on you (because they would much rather see you defeat Hillary so they can run against you) would be unleashed on you as soon as you were the nominee.
Hillary is undoubtedly the most vetted presidential candidate in US history. Every smidgen of her professional and personal life has been thoroughly investigated, sometimes officially. There is nothing new under the sun to uncover about Hillary, which is why her opponents are reviving decades-old attacks. Their best hope is that people will ignore long-discredited conspiracy theories, because they’ve got nothing substantive or new to use against her.
You, on the other hand, have been subjected to virtually the precise opposite amount of scrutiny on a national scale. And while Hillary’s campaign won’t stoop to making hay of your personal history, the Republicans would not be so generous.
Every inch of your existence, every meeting, every decision, every vote, every word, every private moment, would instantly and prominently be featured in attack ads, in every Donald Trump speech, on front pages of newspapers. The minutiae of your life would be dissected and debated by cable news panels, who would rip you apart with a fury the likes of which you’ve never seen.
Not because it’s relevant, but because that’s what they do to Democratic nominees for the presidency.
You are apparently suffering from the misapprehension that you’re a special snowflake who’s uniquely immune to this treatment. You seem to imagine that, because none of these personal issues became media fodder during the primary, they are simply of no interest. But you’re utterly mistaken. You’ve been given a pass because the media, for the most part, hate Hillary and because the Republicans believe you’d be infinitely easier to beat.
So, not only do you appear to know very little about the Democratic Party and the people in it, you don’t even know this basic truth about yourself. We’re supposed to take advice and censure from a man who doesn’t even understand a most basic truth about his own candidacy? HARD PASS.
We are not asking you to leave the race, but you know in your heart that it’s time to wind things down, not up.
The fact that you’re doing the opposite is why you’re rapidly squandering the legacy you spent your life building. There is only one way to regain it: Do the right thing, the ethical thing, the dignified thing, and join with Hillary to bash Trump, not the reverse.
[Peter Daou contributed to this article.]