My guest today is Peter B. Collins, veteran radio talk show host with daily podcasts [at peterbcollins.com].
JB: Welcome to OpEdNews, Peter. You recently wrote a piece entitled, "Swiftboating of Bernie Sanders Escalates" [4.8.2016]. For me, the term 'swiftboating' will forever be associated with the 2004 presidential election and the vicious, unfounded attacks on John Kerry's military service. Aren't you using a bit of hyperbole here?
PBC: That's a common first reaction. To me, swiftboating is a political assault on the candidate's perceived strength(s), not the typical approach of exposing vulnerabilities. In 2004, dark money funded the attacks on John Kerry's Vietnam war record, which was central to his appeal. When the Swiftboaters successfully sowed doubts about Kerry's bio as a courageous warrior, he was forced off-message and on the defensive. He didn't recover.
On the night of the Sanders win in Wisconsin, Clinton operatives leaked to CNN that they're taking the gloves off, and plan to "disqualify and defeat" Sanders and work to unite the party later. Immediately, campaign operatives, surrogates and pundits implemented the strategy.
Almost every poll shows that Bernie Sanders' greatest strength with voters is that he is "honest and trustworthy"--and his positive numbers are double to triple Clinton's. Since the opinions voters have of Hillary Clinton are quite firmly fixed, the only path available is to attack him on his strengths, confuse voters, and drive up his negatives.
Thus, we heard from a range of voices that Sanders doesn't really have a plan to break up the banks, that he wasn't sure how to do it and what role the Federal Reserve might play, and that he actually said he didn't have an answer to a trick question about the MetLife decision, which had not yet been published. All these memes were extracted, out of context, from the interview Sanders did with the New York Daily News on April 1. Everyone who has actually read the interview transcript can see the cheap shots based on cherry-picked quotes, but so far "everyone" seems to be me and maybe 50 other people nationwide. [Read the transcript for yourself here.]
So the Clinton Chorus sings variations of "Sanders isn't qualified", allowing their candidate to float above the scrum with "he hasn't done his homework" but deny she called him "unqualified". The April 6 headline in the Washington Post "Clinton Questions Whether Sanders is Qualified to Be President" baited Sanders, and he stepped into the trap by saying at a rally that she had "quote unquote" called him unqualified. Moving in for the kill, the Bezos-owned Post on April 7 headlined their "Fact Checker" column "Sanders's Incorrect Claim That Clinton Called Him 'Not Qualified' for the Presidency".
Over the past 20 years, I have worked as a media and message consultant on local and state campaigns, as well as races for the House and Senate. Had I been advising Sanders, I would've suggested that he wave a copy of the Washington Post at the rally, and quote it verbatim. And instead of saying that Clinton was "unqualified" due to her Wall Street supporters, I would've said she was "disqualified".
Once the swiftboat meme was launched, the Post hammered it home with an editorial titled "Mr. Sanders's Shocking Ignorance on His Core Issue", also on April 7; they moved so fast that they lived up to the "swift" in "swiftboat"! The editorial rehashed the same themes, saying the Daily News interview proved that Sanders "seemed to have no idea" of how to break up the banks, and questioned the need to break them up at all, which Sanders clearly addressed at the Daily News.
Next day, Paul Krugman used his perch at the New York Times to pile on with "Sanders Over the Edge", a screed that sees Krugman so eager to slime Sanders that he contradicts himself on the role of big banks in the 2008 meltdown. He inserts the knife, then twists with "Yet going on about big banks is pretty much all Mr. Sanders has done. On the rare occasions on which he was asked for more detail, he didn't seem to have anything more to offer." Then, he generalizes from this false specific and adds, "And this absence of substance beyond the slogans seems to be true of his positions across the board." A few lines down, he falsely states that Sanders "repeatedly seemed unable to respond when pressed to go beyond his usual slogans".
Have I made the case that this is "swiftboating"?
JB: Yes, indeed. First the press ignored him. Then, they downplayed his victories. Now, they're distorting and cherry-picking to make him look shallow, inexperienced and naive. What's in store and how does Bernie counteract the full court press [pun intended]?
PBC: I've interviewed Bernie many times, including the hour-long "Brunch with Bernie" when I subbed for Thom Hartmann on his radio show. Sanders is smart and tenacious, and can weather the attacks. But I just saw a series of really nasty tweets aimed at Jane Sanders that are, well, crude and revolting. But I think they can handle it.