In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s campaign compiled a list of potential vulnerabilities on Bernie Sanders (All campaigns do this, and they are occasionally leaked). The initial document is around 100 pages long, but also features is an extended dossier of over 600 pages. Since then, more material has come out from a variety of sources. Democratic establishment critiques, media critiques, and conservatives have found plenty to potentially hit Sanders with. As he picks up steam, these criticisms are worth a response.
I. Sanders is a Communist Sympathizer.
Bernie Sanders has ran quite openly as a Democratic Socialist. He’s painted his policy views in line with FDR and Scandinavia. Sanders has a more extreme past. He was an elector for the far left Socialist Workers party in 1980 and 1984, a party that prominently backed Fidel Castro. Sanders himself praised the Soviet Union in 1988 and the Cuban Communist government in 1989. He honeymooned in the USSR. According to the Mueller Report, he was also favored by Russia in the 2016 Presidential election.
Fact Check: The Mueller report mentions Sanders once. A source is quoted as saying “We like him”. Sanders’ positive statements about Communist governments were references to highly specific aspects-like the subways system near Moscow. No one agrees 100% with a political party, and the Socialist Worker’s Party backed reasonable ideas like Single Payer health care.
II. Sanders has some ethical issues.
While decrying corruption, Sanders has ethical issues. Sanders wife was investigated for running a sham college in which she benefited to the tune of 200,000 dollars, a matter investigated by the FBI. He has been more secretive about his taxes than other candidates, and his 1995 tax return showed only 1% in donations to charity. He received a pension from the city of Burlington while being a Senator as recently as 2014.
Fact Check: Sanders wasn’t involved with the college. It was poorly managed rather than outwardly corrupt. The FBI investigation showed no wrong doing, and quotes from the investigation very clearly say Sanders was never even suspected of impropriety. He’s released a few years of taxes, and they’re normal to the point of being boring. The pension he receives is about 3,000 yearly and is a common political practice.
III. Aversion to Identity Politics
Sanders also has a blind spot on identity issues, particularly race and gender. He claimed that business community wanted to “lynch” him in 1983 and didn’t have a nonwhite member of his staff until at least the year 2000. His campaign has bred a holier than thou subculture that viciously attacks opponents and even allies. Former female staffers made well publicized claims of harassment and discrimination on his 2016 campaign for which he had to issue an apology.
Fact Check: Sanders has a staff that is now far more diverse than his home state’s population. He has the first Muslim campaign manager in US history. He was arrested protesting for Civil Rights and was at the March on Washington. He was an early Jesse Jackson supporter. He’ likely to pick a nonwhite non-male VP. Gloria Stein called him an “honorary woman” in 1995 and Burlington was called the “Trans Mecca” in the 80s. He was among the first to call for equal rights and protections for LGBT people. He can’t be held responsible for what reporters do, and unfortunately gender workplace issues are far too common on campaigns.
IV. Ineffective Politician
He’s an ideologue whose inability to compromise have failed to secure progress for what he professes to want. Most of his plans are unlikely to pass, and Sanders doesn’t have a history of getting anything done as a legislator.
Fact Check: Sanders was widely praised across the political spectrum as Mayor for his efficiency as an executive. He built Burlington into an incredibly successful city. He was actually criticized by his more radical allies for moderating when entering politics. He was called the amendment king for getting so many amendments passed, particularly as Senator. He got Republicans like John McCain to back some of his truly important legislation-like a bill to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act (the repeal of Glass Steagall contributed to the Great Recession). He’s had the highest approval of all Senators for 5 straight years. A lot of his plans are unlikely to pass-but that’s true of the entire field, but Sanders has shown the willingness to take major political stands that are unpopular and would likely do so with many executive actions.
As the campaign has continued, all of these issues have been re-raised. They are not a deal breaker for most people and should be answered. As the favorite for the nomination, Sanders should knock these down as quickly as possible.