The Huge Trump Opposition Research File on Bernie

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(This is not the actual file.)

I really, really, wanted to take a break from politics this week. I’d rather be writing about flowers and butterflies and HeroRATs and inspirational people. But I’m writing with a sense of urgency.

After watching the Democrats, led by the brilliant Adam Schiff, weave a compelling case for the President’s guilt—and knowing the impeachment trial will probably result in acquittal—I feel even more strongly that the Democrats must present a unified front if they have any chance of defeating Trump and saving our democracy. 

In that regard, Bernie is really, really getting on my nerves and making me worry that he’s increasing the likelihood of a Trump victory. And I hope that the press, which did a poor job of focusing on Hillary’s “damn emails” while giving Trump and his background a pass, will start looking into Bernie’s past.  

A lot of it ain’t pretty. In fact, I fear that if he’s the nominee, we’re in for a disaster that could even help the Republicans retake the House.

As I try to practice lovingkindness, I don’t wish Bernie ill. I wish him a long, healthy, productive life—back in Vermont. To me, he has forfeited his right to be the Democratic nominee by once again slashing and burning his competition. 

I acknowledge that he’s attracted young people to politics with the Democratic Socialist ideas he has consistently espoused. He probably has the most devoted core of followers of any of the Democratic nominees. 

Unfortunately, a portion of the “Bernie Bros” are vindictive, misogynistic young men with so much anger that they have been compared to Trump’s adoring fans. 

And though they seem willing to follow Bernie anywhere, they didn’t listen to him when he called for them to vote for Hillary in 2016 (after he did what may have been permanent damage to her electability during the primaries). Instead, many of them voted for the totally unqualified Jill Stein, thereby helping Trump win.

Why am I so upset with Bernie? Because at a time when we need all the Democratic nominees united against Trump, he’s attacking them one by one. While the kerfuffle over whether he told Elizabeth Warren that a woman couldn’t be elected got a lot of play, the fact that his canvassers were badmouthing her door-to-door as an “elitist” received little attention.

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U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Image courtesy of flickr.com.

And now it’s Biden. As Paul Krugman wrote in The New York Times, 

“While the news media has been focused on the ‘spat’ between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, something much more serious has been taking place between the Sanders campaign and Joe Biden. 

“Not to sugarcoat it: The Sanders campaign has flat-out lied about things Biden said in 2018 about Social Security, and it has refused to admit the falsehood.

“This is bad; it is, indeed, almost Trumpian. The last thing we need is another president who demonizes and lies about anyone who disagrees with him, and can’t admit ever being wrong. Biden deserves an apology, now, and Sanders probably needs to find better aides.” (Emphases mine throughout.)

He’s also attacking Biden on his racial record, telling South Carolina voters, where Biden has a strong lead among African-Americans, that Biden has betrayed them.

I know, I know. Politics ain’t beanbag. And before I go more deeply into Bernie’s past, I agree that we have to give people credit for changing their positions.

Bernie has changed some of his, but he doesn’t give such leeway to others; he’s still castigating those who voted for the Iraq War, insisting his opposition alone makes him the candidate with the best judgment. 

As I note subsequently, he’s taken some highly questionable positions on international affairs in the past.

And when Trump has the megaphone, Bernie’s record, I believe, would make him more vulnerable than any other nominee. That’s a risk I don’t think our country can bear.

Writing in The Guardian, Geoffrey Kabaservice begins by saying that although his own politics are center-right, he has a “strange liking” for Bernie—for his authenticity, among other things. 

Kabaservice points out that the Democratic Socialism that would have been unthinkable not long ago is now as popular as capitalism among those ages 18-39, which explains Bernie’s popularity with young people. (If you’re struggling financially, free college tuition and college loan forgiveness sound quite attractive.)

But, the author also points out about Sanders: 

“The gentle treatment he received in 2016 from the media and the Hillary Clinton campaign (which ran few negative television or media ads against him) means that many Democratic voters haven’t yet learned about the distinctly non-progressive positions he has taken on certain issues throughout his senatorial career.”

What are some of those positions? To appeal to the social conservatives in his home state of Vermont, a largely white, older, pro-hunting population, Bernie has… 

—Long opposed gun safety legislation, voting against the Brady bill and legislation to make gun manufacturers accountable for their products’ destructiveness;

—Voted for the “Charleston loophole” by which the killer of nine African Americans in a South Carolina church obtained his weapon;

—Opposed gay marriage until at least 2006;

—Supported the 1994 crime bill that led to mass incarcerations of African Americans;

—Opposed various reforms to assist immigrants on the grounds that they would negatively affect American workers.

And his legislative accomplishments are thin at best, in large part because of his “go-it-alone approach.” In 2018, he got the least number of bills out of committee and to the floor (1 bill).

 Similarly, only 1 of his 31 bills and resolutions had a cosponsor from a different party. The Lugar Center’s Bipartisanship Index placed him last among all Senators for the past two Congresses.

So the man sets forth an incredibly ambitious agenda, and tells us that he’ll be able to pass it because of the “political revolution” he’s inspiring.

But his track record doesn’t indicate he’s got the temperament or relationships to do the hard work of enacting such transformative legislation.

Kabaservice calls Bernie’s chances of actually becoming President “close to nil.” He elaborates:

“I say this because in 2016 I got a glimpse of the Republican party’s opposition research book on Sanders, which was so massive it had to be transported on a cart. The Newsweek reporter Kurt Eichenwald, who got to see some of its contents, declared that ‘it was brutal…’”

Of course, I had to check Eichenwald’s 2016 article to see what was so damning.

It’s worth reading this piece because Eichenwald is describing “The Myths Democrats Swallowed That Cost Them the Presidential Election.”

Myth 1 is that the Democratic National Committee was all-powerful and engineered Hillary’s nomination by being unfair to Bernie. Eichenwald factually demolishes this premise and its implications.

Myth 2: That Sanders Would Have Won Against Trump

“I have seen the opposition book assembled by Republicans [against Sanders] and it was brutal. The Republicans would have torn him apart. And while Sanders supporters might delude themselves into believing that they could have defended him against all of this, there is a name for politicians who play defense all the time: losers.”

That comment hit me hard, as we know that one thing Trump and his minions are very good at is going on the attack. I could just picture him at his rallies, dropping one after another of the morsels that Eichenwald described.

“Here are a few tastes of what was in store for Sanders, straight out of the Republican playbook: He thinks rape is A-OK. In 1972, when he was 31, Sanders wrote a fictitious essay in which he described a woman enjoying being raped by three men. 

“Yes, there is an explanation for it—a long, complicated one, just like the one that would make clear why the Clinton emails story was nonsense. And we all know how well that worked out.

“Then there’s the fact that Sanders was on unemployment until his mid-30s, and that he stole electricity from a neighbor after failing to pay his bills, and that he co-sponsored a bill to ship Vermont’s nuclear waste to a poor Hispanic community in Texas, where it could be dumped.

“You can just see the words ‘environmental racist’ on Republican billboards. And if you can’t, I already did. They were in the Republican opposition research book as a proposal on how to frame the nuclear waste issue.

“Also on the list: Sanders violated campaign finance laws, criticized Clinton for supporting the 1994 crime bill that he voted for, and he voted against the Amber Alert system” [to alert the public to help when a child has been abducted]. 

Eichenwald states that Sanders is also vulnerable for his advocacy of universal health care (now “Medicare for All”) because it was tried in Vermont and failed due to excessive costs.

“Worst of all, the Republicans also had video of Sanders at a 1985 rally thrown by the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua where half a million people chanted, ‘Here, there, everywhere/the Yankee will die,’ while President Daniel Ortega condemned ‘state terrorism’ by America. Sanders said, on camera, supporting the Sandinistas was ‘patriotic.’

Eichenwald reported that he knew there were at least four other “damning” videos  but didn’t know their content. The folder holding the “oppo“ research was nearly two feet thick.

One piece called Bernie a communist who had ties to Castro, which Eichenwald says would automatically have resulted in the loss of Florida if he were the nominee.

“In other words, the belief that Sanders would have walked into the White House based on polls taken before anyone really attacked him is a delusion built on a scaffolding of political ignorance.”

And this stuff doesn’t even take into account all that the Trump crowd will make up about Bernie out of whole cloth. Fake news, doctored videos. None of it’s fair, none of it’s the way we want our politics to work, but we know it will happen. 

Sure, the Republicans will dig up dirt and make up stories about whoever is the Democratic nominee. I have my worries that if it’s Biden, the fake corruption involving Ukraine and his son will dominate the campaign.

But I find it telling that even as Trump is pushing those Biden conspiracy theories, he’s also encouraging the “Bernie as victim of the Democratic establishment” motif. He’d love to run against Bernie. If Bernie isn’t the nominee, Trump’s faux sympathy may win points, and votes, from disgruntled Bernie Bros in 2020, just as it did in 2016. 

In the meantime, I think every thoughtful person trying to decide who can best beat Trump—and be as effective a President as anyone can be in these polarized times—needs to consider what we really know about these candidates. 

And the press needs to do its job!!

Annie

Continue reading “The Huge Trump Opposition Research File on Bernie”

About Those Guns…

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The front page of Sunday’s New York Times and the story within carry snapshots of the 126 most recent victims of mass shootings. “Inside a Deadly American Summer,” reads the page 1 headline. “An American Summer Stained in Blood,” is the inside title.

Both tap into the fear, anxiety, even terror that the overwhelming majority of us feel about mass shootings. “And all we could do is ask why,” notes The Times. “And wait for it to happen again.”

What if I told you that the media’s approach to these clearly horrendous mass shootings, which are increasing in number and frequency, may actually be making us less safe?

Suppose we are viewing the issue of gun violence through too narrow a lens—and we are therefore standing in the way of what could be real progress in reducing and preventing the deaths and serious injuries in our gun culture-run-wild?

A friend who spends a great deal of his time trying to make us all safer by volunteering for a prominent gun control organization alerted me to a most informative segment of NPR’s program On the Media. I’m linking to it here, but for those who can’t listen to the entire discussion, I’m also summarizing it (with some added references).

The segment is titled “How to Report on Gun Violence in America.” The host, Brooke Gladstone, interviewed Lois Beckett, a senior reporter for The Guardian, who has been covering gun violence for seven years.

Gladstone began by quoting journalist Margaret Sullivan, who said that whenever a mass shooting occurs,

“we reflexively spring into action. We describe the horror of what happened, we profile the shooter…we talk about the victim’s lives…we get reactions from public officials.”

This is gut-wrenching work, she says. But…

“If journalism is supposed to be a positive force in society, and we know it can be, this is doing no good.”

And that’s a problem.

Beckett says the same thing, perhaps more emphatically. Media reporting of mass shootings is misguided, she says. Even now, these rampages account for 1%-2% of all gun deaths. They’re so dreadful that they’re making us view our institutions and ourselves differently—and to take what may be the wrong steps in reducing gun violence.

Almost 2/3 of gun fatalities result from suicides, she points out. And many other victims are caught in “everyday” shootings in poverty-stricken segregated areas in cities.

With the focus on mass shootings, “We’re trying to prevent 1% from dying and not caring about the other 99%.”

Beckett credits the Parkland students, who rose far beyond the trauma of their own ordeal to call attention to the fact that “America’s gun debate has been racist for decades.”

According to statistics reported by Everytown Research, black Americans are 10 times more likely to die of gun homicides than are white Americans.

Everytown also reports that “firearms are the second leading cause of death for American children and teens and the first leading cause of death for Black children and teens…, and Black children and teens are 14 times more likely than white children and teens of the same age to die by gun homicide.”

The situation is untenable, and these awful crimes are committed by only a small proportion of individuals in these areas.

So we know that if we’re serious about preventing gun violence among those most affected, the media must draw our attention to approaches that actually help people at risk for suicide and/or living in poverty-stricken segregated areas.

And though suicide is a mental health issue, guns are a critical component: Everytown reports that access to a gun triples the risk of death by suicide, gun suicides occur mostly in states where there’s heavy gun ownership, and guns increase the fatality of a suicide attempt dramatically: less than 5% of suicide attempts succeed when a person doesn’t use a gun, but 85% are lethal when guns are used.

In her work with The Guardian, Beckett and colleagues have been exploring efforts that have made a difference in poverty-stricken areas, and she points to some “tremendous programs at the state level” that need more visibility to push back against the immobilizing views that nothing is possible; nothing can be done.

The Guardian is giving those efforts more visibility, and I found them so encouraging that I’ll describe them in Part 2 of this post.

“Looking at the big picture,” Beckett observes, “we need a real public health approach.” That’s a position that physicians’ groups and others have been advocating for years.

Beckett didn’t elaborate on this point, but my understanding is that a public health approach must begin with sufficient funding to yield solid data (that doesn’t solely rely on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as Brady, the oldest gun violence prevention group, has explained), and include background checks, banning assault weapons and the magazines and ammunition that enable the quick, devastating damage we’ve seen, and other interventions that we have reason to believe will be effective.

We know, for example, that banning assault weapons works because we had such a ban from 1994 until its expiration in 2004.

Discussing current proposed gun laws, Beckett said something I found concerning: When Colorado and Washington state passed background check legislation, the number of checks didn’t increase much because the laws weren’t being strictly enforced.

If, as a vast majority of Americans hope, strong federal background check legislation does finally pass, perhaps a newly aroused public will demand greater accountability.

We also know strong gun laws make a difference. According to Giffords Law Center, “On average, fewer people die from gun violence in states with strong gun laws, and more people die in states with weak gun laws.” Alaska has both the highest gun death rate and some of the weakest laws, while Hawaii is the reverse: strong laws, few gun deaths.

Beckett says she looks for legislation based on policies with science behind them, such as red-flag laws that depend on the judgment of people closest to the person at risk: law enforcement, social workers, schools, parents—laws that don’t remove a person’s gun rights forever, but try to line up with what’s happening now. Some states have already enacted such laws.

She says that although these proposals, which have support among some conservatives, have gained attention because of mass shootings, they can also help with many people who might be in danger of harming themselves or others—the 99% noted earlier.

One positive that has emerged from these dreadful mass shootings, she feels, is the numbers of white suburban parents getting involved in the gun control movement—and learning, for example, that homicides of black children often occur in circumstances different from what they expected.

I’m assuming she means that in so many of these fatalities, the child is doing nothing wrong—is simply in the wrong place, is the victim of mistaken identity, or other tragic situations.

Beckett cautions that advocating for the wrong thing is extremely dangerous. She believes almost all the efforts to make schools safer are having the opposite effect. This comment led me to further research.

In The Conversation, three researchers discuss efforts that have been called “target-hardening”:

“attempts to fortify schools against gun violence through increased security measures. These measures may include metal detectors, lock-down policies, ‘run, hide, fight’ training, and surveillance cameras.”

The researchers, who have collaboratively written about these approaches elsewhere, point out that surveillance cameras didn’t stop Columbine, and school lockdown policies didn’t save the children at Sandy Hook.

“We believe what is missing from the discussion is the idea of an educational response. Current policy responses do not address the fundamental question of why so many mass shootings take place in schools. To answer this question, we need to get to the heart of how students experience school and the meaning that schools have in American life.

“An educational response is important because the target hardening approach might actually make things worse by changing students’ experience of schools in ways that suggest violence rather than prevent it.”

All these target-hardening methods tell students that schools are “scary, dangerous and violent places,” the researchers say. And they may lead teachers to begin assessing students “not as budding learners, but as potential shooters…The more teachers think of students as threats to be assessed, the less educators will think of students as individuals to nourish.”

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Beckett believes the press must focus on the things that readers or listeners have the power to do. They need to think more about providing information for people who are worried about someone close to them and don’t know what to do. She believes that:

“The biggest enemy is not the NRA: it’s cynicism and exhaustion of everyday Americans who don’t see evidence of help.” 

When Gladstone asked Beckett how she felt about the Walmart CEO’s determination to no longer sell assault weapons and ammunition, Beckett observed that Walmart had actually stopped selling handguns in 1993.

“Walmart’s policies on the dangerous threats are more in line with data than our whole debate is.”

She added that actions like Walmart’s do matter, and change is possible. Gun owners are a minority in the US (and many of them now support gun safety legislation). Seventy to 80 percent of Americans don’t own guns, and 60% live in homes with no guns.

“It’s important to recognize that extreme gun absolutists are fewer than 10% of gun owners”—a very aggressive group, but a small number of people.

“If even a small number with a different view can organize against them, they can change the debate. It’s taken a long time, but we’re seeing it happen now.”

Unquestionably, these mass shootings have increased, and they have caused an enormous level of fear and anxiety. The danger Beckett finds is that the reflexive focus on these shootings is leading more Americans to arm themselves—which could result in more suicides and domestic violence (as well as accidents). “Our fears are going to make us less safe.” To counter that, she says,

“We need to remind ourselves to de-escalate and trust each other and not be afraid.”

Please join me next week when, in Part 2, we explore programs that do just that.

Annie