Commentary

Bernie's Artful Smear

Is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders engaged in an “artful smear” of the Hillary Clinton campaign with regards to her relationship with big business and Wall Street? It depends on how you look at it.

In last week’s Democratic debate, Bernie Sanders attempted to pin Hillary Clinton as an establishment candidate and himself as a candidate of the people. One of the exchanges culminated with Clinton getting noticeably irked and saying: “I think it’s time to end the very artful smear that you and your campaign have been carrying out.”

Certainly, Sen. Sanders has repeatedly questioned the progressive credentials of his opponent, pointing to Clinton’s close relationship with many of the banks that were involved in the economic collapse at the end of the last decade.

Sanders notes in the debate that in the last quarter, a pro-Clinton super PAC raised $15 million from Wall Street and that throughout her life she “raised a whole lot of money from the drug companies and other special interests.”

The argument that Clinton may be hiding something about her relationship with big banks and corporate America holds, especially in light of her campaign’s unwillingness to release the transcripts of talks and speeches she gave over the past many years.

As Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post puts it, any coziness with Wall Street executives “could look really, really bad in the context of the campaign.”

Voters can interpret Clinton’s decision not to release the transcripts in one of three ways. Either she actually has something to hide, or she just doesn’t want it look like she’s been put on trial by progressives in the Democratic party. Or, she doesn't want to be treated differently. No other candidate, Democrat or Republican, has been asked to release speeches.

So far, not so much of an artful smear on Sanders’ part, just politics.

However, if we look at a recent Bernie Sanders campaign advertisement titled “The Problem,” Clinton’s claim of a smear looks stronger.

The 30-second spot doesn’t refer to Clinton by name but artfully alludes to the capture of Washington lawmakers by Wall Street. The ad names Goldman Sachs, which according to a CNN analysis, is one of many banks that paid Hillary Clinton a total of about $1.8 million in speaking fees.

Sanders has done well bringing up the former Secretary of State’s relationship with banks as often as he can. He seems to be trying to connect Clinton with Wall Street in voters’ minds, while highlighting the campaign finance issue that he has made a pillar of his campaign.

“The Problem” ends with: “As long as Washington is bought and paid for, we can’t build an economy that works for the people,” a clear slight at candidates who take money from big business and Wall Street, which includes Hillary Clinton.

Clinton defended her scruples during the CNN town hall the evening before the MSNBC debate. When prompted by Anderson Cooper, she said: “Name anything they’ve influenced me on, just name one thing.”

It is fair game in politics to smear your opponents. It is likewise fair to call it out, as Clinton has been doing: “Enough is enough. If you’ve got something to say, say it directly.”

1 comment about "Bernie's Artful Smear".
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  1. Nina Lentini from MediaPost Communications, February 9, 2016 at 1:17 p.m.

    Thanks, Philip, for providing an objective look at the art of the smear. I'm certainly curious to see how this unfolds.

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