Is The Sanders Campaign “Going Negative”?

Dave Johnson

The Clinton campaign is accusing the Sanders campaign of “going negative.” It’s all over the news today. Did Sanders really “go negative”? Or is this Clinton accusation just an attempt to “muddy the waters” as Clinton’s attacks on Sanders’ health care plans backfire?

In The News: Clinton Campaign Says Sanders “Going Negative”

The Clinton campaign has accused the Sanders campaign of “going negative.” Here are a few examples of what’s going on in the news:

ABC: Clinton Campaign Accuses Bernie Sanders of Breaking Pledge Not to Go ‘Negative’,

The Clinton campaign held an abruptly scheduled conference call with reporters this afternoon to respond to the ad.

“We were very surprised today to see that Bernie Sanders had launched a negative television advertisement against Hillary,” Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said.

“This ad does something that Bernie said he wouldn’t do,” campaign pollster Joel Benenson added, referring to how the Vermont Senator has said he will not run negative campaign ads.

Similar story in The Guardian: Clinton campaign ‘surprised’ over Bernie Sanders’s new ‘negative’ TV ad

The Hill: Clinton campaign decries Sanders’s ‘negative ad’

What Are They All Talking About?

Here is what they’re talking about. The Sanders campaign is running this ad.

Negative? You might have to play that ad a few times to even get what the Clinton people are upset about. MSNBC explains what it is, in, New Sanders ad takes aim at Clinton’s Wall Street donors,

In what is by far his most toughest TV ad yet, Bernie Sanders took a not-so-subtle swipe at rival Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street donations in a new spot that will soon be broadcast in Iowa and New Hampshire.

“There are two Democratic visions for regulating Wall Street,” Sanders says, looking straight at the camera. “One says it’s okay to take millions from big banks and then tell them what to do.”

“My plan: break up the big banks, close the tax loopholes, and make them pay their fair share. Then we can expand health care to all and provide universal college education,” he continues. “Will they like me? No. Will they begin to play by the rules when I’m president? You better believe it.

The Clinton campaign is upset that the Sanders ad refers to the millions of dollars Clinton has received from Wall Street firms for “speaking fees” in the last several years.

That is the basis for the accusation that Sanders is “going negative.” The Clinton campaign is complaining that it is out-of-bounds to say Clinton has received millions of dollars in “speaking fees” from the companies she will be responsible for regulating if she becomes President. They are upset over the implication that this is a conflict of interest.

Clinton Healthcare Accusations Backfiring

These attacks on the Sanders campaign come just as an earlier attack appears to be backfiring. Over the last week the Clinton campaign has made a number of accusations over Sanders’ “Medicare-for-All” single-payer universal health care plan. Because it combines all current healthcare programs (Obamacare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program known as “CHIP”, etc.) into a single Medicare-style plan they said it “dismantles” those programs. They said it will “strip millions and millions and millions of people off their health insurance.”

The Clinton campaign has even gone so far as to accuse Sanders of lying, saying Sanders “can’t level with the American people” about his healthcare plan because it means there will be taxes to pay for it even though almost all of the public will have more money in their pocket at the end of the day because it eliminates premiums, co-pays and deductibles, as well as ends the necessity for employers to provide health insurance.

The Clinton accusations appear to have backfired on Clinton because 81% of Democrats favor the idea (and 58% of the public-at-large). There is widespread outrage at the Clinton campaign for “attacking” an idea so favored by so many.

In a Thursday Clinton interview on the Rachel Maddow show, Maddow confronted Clinton on thsee accusations, saying, “He’s a very well respected figure. Your campaign is essentially fighting with him now in a way that is casting aspersions on his character, calling him dishonest.” Maddow pointed out the Clinton campaign has said Sanders “has not done what he has promised,” and “has shifted answers.”

Muddying The Waters?

In the middle of this controversy it appears that the Clinton campaign is trying to turn things around and “muddy the waters” by accusing the Sanders campaign of being the ones who are “going negative.” CNN sums it up, in Bernie Sanders grapples with promise not to go negative against Hillary Clinton

[A]s the race for the Democratic nomination gets tighter and nastier, Sanders’ campaign is confronting that promise when it considers how to respond to attacks from the Clinton campaign, walking the fine line between drawing contrasts with the former secretary of state and outright attacking her.

Old-Style Politics VS A New Politics Of Issues

The Sanders campaign has brought a new style of campaigning to our country’s politics. Sanders is campaigning entirely on issues. He refuses to play along with the corporate media’s politics-as-entertainment style of covering the “horse race” aspect of campaigns. He does not get involved with personality discussions, etc, always reverting to his “message.” This is winning him converts.

The Clinton campaign is a perfection of an older style of politics. They are raising tremendous amounts of campaign cash, they have a “SuperPAC” that is raising a tremendous amount more, they have built up a solid “machine” in the states, they are racking up “top-down” endorsements, and doing what they can to bring a sense of “inevitability” to her nomination.

These are contrasting styles, and it is not clear which is the best approach to winning a campaign in the modern United States with its entrenched corporate media fixated on entertainment-style coverage. The Clinton campaign might just be doing what it takes to win an election. This may be especially the case as the election draws near and the less-informed voters, with little time or inclination to study the many issues involved, look for the kinds of queues on who to trust and who will deliver.

On the other hand, we might be entering a new era when people are “fed up,” are paying more attention, studying the issues and seeing through the old-style manipulations that have defined our country’s political process for so long.

With the Republicans looking more and more like they are going to nominate Donald Trump, and with Ted Cruz running second it is vitally important to Democrats, the country and the world to win the November election.

So will that take the old-style politics, or will the new issues-oriented politics take over? We will see between now and November and we had better be right.

Get updates in your inbox