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Taibbi writes: "While Sanders can't eat a corn dog without taking a hit, frontrunner Joe Biden is testing the limits of editorial slack."

Bernie Sanders talks to supporters during a rally at the University of Washington, in Seattle. (photo: Joshua Trujillo/
Bernie Sanders talks to supporters during a rally at the University of Washington, in Seattle. (photo: Joshua Trujillo/

Bernie Sanders' Chances Depend on Taking Support From Biden, and Soon

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

13 August 19

“Scranton Joe” has proved a more difficult foil for Bernie Sanders than Hillary Clinton, particularly with working-class voters

op campaign staffers for Bernie Sanders held a press call Monday, and the message was positive. The senator, they said, is doing well and won the last debate. And polls show, they added, that the country cares about his favored issues, particularly health care.

But that’s not always, his staff noted pointedly to listening reporters, reflected in the coverage.     

“It seems like there’s a direct correlation,” said senior advisor Jeff Weaver, who was on the call alongside campaign co-chair and Ohio state senator Nina Turner and pollster Ben Tulchin. “The better [Sanders] does, the less coverage he receives. The worse he does, the more.”

Sanders still can’t walk in a straight line without attracting negative press. A New York Times story this week about Bernie’s trip to the Iowa state fair dinged him for having “power-walked by the Ferris Wheel” and “gobbled a corn dog” during a journey in which he “spoke to almost no one.” This, reporter Sydney Ember concluded, underscored the peril of a campaign based on ideas rather than “establishing human connections.”

The Times wrote the same story four years ago, when Bernie’s crime was walking down 6th Avenue, “swinging hands with his wife, Jane,” and “talking as little as possible to people.” Observing that Bernie signed the cast of a 9 year-old girl without schmoozing her undecided-voter father, reporter Patrick Healy concluded he was “surprisingly impersonal.” Headline: “Bernie Sanders does not kiss babies. That a problem?”

While Sanders can’t eat a corn dog without taking a hit, frontrunner Joe Biden is testing the limits of editorial slack. Biden struggles constantly with bizarre or flat-out inappropriate statements, an issue that goes beyond the speech impediment he had as a child. This year he’s putting together a George W. Bushian mashupof goofs,with “We choose truth over facts!” and the more troubling “poor kids are just as talented as white kids!” the latest. Tweeting about Biden’s lack of a “full deck” seems among Donald Trump’s favorite things to do of late, an ominous sign for a potential general election.

Biden’s gaffes have earned press, some negative (he’s “raising questions” about “electability,” says The Hill), but some defiant (the idea that gaffes are important in the Trump age is “particularly offensive,” says aWashington Post columnist). The question of whether Biden’s verbal fumbles deserve censure, laughter, or a break has become the prevailing controversy around the front-runner.

Meanwhile the larger issue of what Biden’s politics are, and whether they’re an improvement over the platform that lost to Trump four years ago, recedes. Even Sanders has seemed unsure if he should or shouldn’t throw his trademark vituperation at his old Senate colleague.

Hill/HarrisX poll from last week had Bernie as the second choice of 27% of Biden voters, with Kamala Harris second at 15%, Beto O’Rourke third, Pete Buttigieg fourth, and Elizabeth Warren fifth at 8%. An April Morning Consult survey likewise had Sanders as the second choice of 31% of Biden voters, again followed by Harris (13%), with Warren third at 10%.

The second choice of most Sanders voters, meanwhile, is Biden, not Warren.

Basically, Biden is taking working-class votes away from Sanders, and Sanders has seemed slow to grasp this.

The strength of Bernie Sanders as a politician has always been his believability as a bringer of change. His unsparing attitude on the stump has always been a part of this formula. Whether or not you feel Bernie has the right policy prescription, there’s no doubt what side of things he’s on. His distaste for insurance companies, tech plutocrats like Jeff Bezos, fast food chains, Disney, bankers, the “mainstream media,” corporate cash-gobbling pols in both parties, and other vermin is too visceral and obvious to miss.

In 2016, Bernie’s disagreements with Hillary Clinton were profound. He stressed he was a different kind of person than Clinton, not just someone who clashed on policy.

“The first difference is I don’t take money from big banks,” he said. Another oft-quoted line: “I am proud to say Henry Kissinger is not my friend,” a reference to Hillary Clinton saying she was “flattered” by Kissinger’s praise.

2020 is different. Sanders has long referred to Biden has his friend. In 2016, Biden was one of few conventional Democrats to make an effort to say nice things about Sanders, even in contrast with Clinton.

This exchange with CNN’s Gloria Borger in January of 2016 was an example:

BIDEN: Bernie is speaking to a yearning that is deep and real, and he has credibility on it. And that is the absolutely enormous concentration of wealth in a small group of people with the middle class being left out…

CNN: But Hillary is talking about that as well?

BIDEN: Well, it is relatively new for Hillary to talk about that…

Sanders, raised by Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn, grew up in much meaner circumstances than Biden, but their backgrounds aren’t dissimilar. Biden is the son of a down-on-his-luck car dealership manager from Scranton, and has a reputation as an old-school church-and-factory man, who enjoys hanging out in diners and bowling alleys.

While reporters who cover Biden have long understood the “Scranton Joe” image to be as much caricature as reality, voters don’t see it that way.

The Malcolm Gladwell/Blink response many Democrats, particularly older ones, have to Biden is that he’s an affable, try-hard representative of the little guy. Biden sells himself as a “union man” who eschews the Martha’s Vineyard-and-Davos image of neoliberal Democrats.

Intellectually, the Sanders campaign has pushed back. In April, after Biden displaced him from the poll lead, Bernie went on TV to talk about his policy differences with Biden.

He seemed put out that Biden kicked off his campaign with an endorsement from the International Association of Fire Fighters. Sanders, who’s described his campaign as a Trade Unionist revolution, pointed to Biden’s support of trademark union betrayals like NAFTA, Most Favored Nation trading status for China, and the Trans Pacific Partnership.

But Bernie hastened to remind everyone he and Biden were friends, and he would run an “issue-oriented campaign, not based on personal attacks.” He has since tried repeatedly to draw civil distinctions between himself and Biden, including a July clash over health care.

In a typical example of how Biden’s political style works, he trashed Bernie’s Medicare for All plan in a rambling, inscrutable speech that asked audience members who’d lost loved ones to terminal illnesses to raise their hands. Then he said:

Every second counts. It’s not about a year, it’s about the day, the week, the month, the next six months. It’s about hope. And if you have these hiatuses, it may, it may — this may go as smooth — as my grandpappy said — smooth as silk. But the truth of the matter is, it’s likely to be a bumpy ride…

Underneath all the homespun “grandpappy” verbiage, Biden seemed to be suggesting the Sanders plan would create coverage “hiatuses” for people who might literally die any second. Underneath the oddball messaging, it was a classic corporate scare-tactic talking point.

The Sanders camp pushed back, but Bernie still didn’t name Biden when he countered soon after in a speech at George Washington University blasting “half-truths, misinformation and in some cases outright lies that are being spread about Medicare for All.”

Sanders has a million volunteers, 2.5 million contributors, and a campaign-leading $27.3 million in cash on hand. His campaign is correct this week to point out that rumors of his demise are absurd. Still, he’s not wildly outperforming expectations the way he did in 2016.

Some of his issues are due to coverage, like the insistence that Sanders and Warren are fighting over the same finite patch of votes, when polls increasingly show Sanders and Warren are succeeding with different groups.

Warren has made inroads among traditional Democrats and older female voters who eluded Sanders last time, suggesting that there’s more support for progressive policy ideas out there than commonly believed. While Warren has votes to win among the supporters of Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg (whose supporters view Warren as a second choice), Bernie’s immediate challenge is Biden, in particular his grip on low-income voters.

Biden’s appeal is that he’s a vote for a return to a kind of status quo, which should be a pitch in Bernie’s wheelhouse. Sanders’ campaign is based on the notion that a return even to pre-Trump norms is unsustainable – for the underinsured, for the climate, for union and non-union workers, for customers of banks, for holders of student debt, and so on.

Hillary Clinton, with her defiant “that’s what they offered” response to questions about bank-funded speaking fees, made finding outrage on this front easy for Sanders. The conundrum of “Scranton Joe” is no less real, but it’s been politically more difficult, and Sanders is running out of time to solve it.

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+42 # USADUDE 2019-08-13 15:01
Phony Joe Baloney the corporations bestie has been wrong on so many issues over the decades. He sold out human beings for the benefit of corporate power at most every opportunity. Student Debt is non dischargeable in bankruptcy nor is credit card debt. Corporations can use bankruptcy for protection. That’s just 2 examples of Fake working class Joe. He voted for war in Iraq. He voted for the repeal of Glass Steagle. His record is worse than HRC’s.
+45 # PABLO DIABLO 2019-08-13 17:22
Sanders is NOT "running out of time" We have 15 months until he is elected President.
+12 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-08-14 05:33
PD -- that's right. Time is actually on Sanders' side. Everyone else has a lot of negatives that will be uncovered as time goes along. Sanders has already been examined nearly to death.

Don't worry about time. Worry about the elite media who will fight against Sanders with increasing vehemence as time goes along. When the primaries start, the media will go full-Steele Dossier on Sanders. Get ready.
+5 # diamondmarge7 2019-08-16 10:33
As if they haven't already? BERNIE and Tulsi and Marianne are the Holy Trio IMO who represent the greatest threat to the Establishment. OMG--cut into profits of doctors? Big Pharma? heresy! Stop ENDLESS REGIME CHANGE WARS? sacrilege!
IOW : In any way REALLY point out the legalized bribery that is Congress-the MICC-BigOil; yadda yadda!!!
+6 # economagic 2019-08-13 17:40
Yep, seems increasingly as if I'm going to have to vote Green yet again instead of wasting it on some corporate shill who will continue virtually all of the bipartisan policies of the duopoly of the past 75 years, and likely do their best to eviscerate the few policies that might have helped to saved humankind from becoming part of the Sixth Extinction. It's here, people, NOW. Today's Democratic party makes Nero look like a piker. See Chris Hedges' latest Jeramiad on Truthdig.
+4 # Jack Ox 2019-08-16 12:11
Will you please let the DNC know this? I try and tweet it regularly that if they reactivate super-delegates on the 2nd vote in the convention- and shove Biden on us- I will not vote for President. If all of us were to do this regularly, perhaps they will listen?
-2 # JCM 2019-08-17 08:16
economagic: Awhile back we had a conversation and it seemed that you came to the conclusion that voting third party did nothing to elevate the Democrats and only helped the republicans remain in power. We saw in 2016 how splitting the vote or staying home brought to us the most destructive administration in history. The consequences of voting third party or staying home are: a stacked supreme court making it nearly impossible to move the country to the left, Climate Change denial and reduction of regulations that are increasing CO2 into the environment, loss of civil rights and an increase of hate and violence throughout the country. And this is just a small part of the destructive republicans agenda.
We can see in 2018 how we voted together and won significant seats in congress. Yes, the Democratic Party needs overhauling but the only way to do that without empowering the repubs is to support progressive candidates during the primaries, and we must always vote for the nominee. Any Dem, including Biden, is better than the republican insanity. Don’t let 2016 happen all over again.
-1 # librarian1984 2019-08-19 03:10
There IS an alternative: have the establishment stop rigging the primaries so we can get candidates who actually inspire people to get out and vote, and have an agenda that reflects the will of the people rather than donors.
+12 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-08-14 05:31
"Sanders still can’t walk in a straight line without attracting negative press."

Why isn't everyone raising hell about the elite media in the US meddling in a presidential election. Journalists should cover news, like the Sanders' campaign, honestly and fairly. Clearly they are not. They are campaigning FOR Biden and AGAINST Sanders. This is an affront to democracy itself.

The elite media in the us is trying to sow chaos and divide the nation. It is undermining democracy from the inside.

This is a true crisis. Everyone gets their information about the world from the elite media. And they are being defrauded.
+1 # economagic 2019-08-14 12:39
Rodion, you know well at least one part of the answer to your question, which I therefore take as at least partly rhetorical. The elite media are all subsidiaries of Global Megacorp, and thus by definition fascist. You've read the Manifesto and know what it says.

It IS a crisis, which is the reason we need RSN and all of the sources whose work it publishes, and all of the other outlets that are not blatantly fascist, so by comparison leftist to some degree.
+12 # economagic 2019-08-14 12:50
And while I don't do "thoughts and prayers," that is the reason I sincerely hope that Marc will realize that berating potential contributors several times each day for not contributing is unlikely ever to lead them to contribute more.
+6 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-08-15 08:18
econo -- yes, I agree with you here. Long ago, Marc announced that RSN was officially a Sanders site. There was a lot of energy on the site. We had a lot to look forward to. There was hope and promise. Then RSN turned to a Hillary site and all the hope and energy died.

Marc needs to get the energy back. He can do it. He knows what needs to be done. Or if he does not, I can say in very quickly -- get over the Russiagate-hate -Trump BS. Get on to the future. Trump is what he is. No one will change him. Impeaching him is of no importance. Electing Sanders is important. Sanders needs a very broad base so his administration can work. We can help broaden that base.
-4 # yolo 2019-08-14 15:55
We know who owns the media, but the question is who are they loyal to? There is a war going on to influence the American mind. How things get reported on or ignored influences how we perceive our world. When the oligarchs in Russia dominated that society while the majority of the population suffered after the fall of the Soviet Union, the media was friendly to Russia. But since Putin has been in office he has improved life in Russia and has stood up to the Oligarchs, who are almost all of jewish origin, yet all we hear about in the US media is how evil Putin is and blame him for everything bad in the world. Why is this?
+7 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-08-15 08:21
yolo -- " but the question is who are they loyal to?"

This is a really excellent question. It has bene answered by very many good people in medis studies including Chomsky, Ed. Herman, Bob McChesney and dozens more.

Journalists keep their jobs when the demonstrate the correct loyalties. No one has to tell them what to do. They will do it by themselves. But if they fail to do it, they will be out of work.
+2 # davehaze 2019-08-16 08:36
What's with all this talk of a Biden threat when he will be gone in six months or less? Can't see past the manipulated polls to watch him stumble over his tongue EVERY day?

I say this often: do not believe!! the media.
-1 # librarian1984 2019-08-19 03:12
Biden is a stalking horse for Kamala Harris.

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