The awful transformation of Bernie Sanders has been absolutely breath stopping to see. Sanders has gone from a charming, engaging, provoking, and supremely principled Democratic presidential candidate to a scheming, conniving, devious, supremely unprincipled Democratic presidential contender. In quick succession, Sanders has been accused of being a tax cheat, a special interest money grabber, a foreign policy dim wit, a Nixonian dirty trickster, and a racial bigot. What will it be next? Bernie will be accused of being a chronic wife beater, serial philander, or closet pedophile? Now keep in mind Sanders, like any other politician or want to be politician, can and should be vetted, intensely scrutinized and where warranted criticized. The public's antenna should be sky high to not listen to what politicians say, but what they do and have done; namely their actions. Sanders, again, is no exception.
However, there's a huge world of difference between leveling principled criticism, demanding accountability, and truth in action from Sanders, and the over the top factually challenged, and plain out right slander and lies against him.
As long as Sanders was viewed as a politically marginal, even nuisance, to the Clinton march to the nomination, he was ignored by much of the mainstream media, Democratic regulars, and Clinton boosters. Then suddenly something funny happened. Bernie actually started winning, and equally important he started piling up delegates. This radically changed the game. Sanders was no longer the eccentric Uncle that everyone smiles at in knowing amusement at family functions and then turn away to more important family business. Now he was a real threat. This instantly made him a marked man.
The hit pieces now started with a vengeance; hit pieces that had little to do with Sanders actual Senate record, positions on the issues, and his actions on the campaign trail. They now suddenly became all about Sanders' character.
Let's take a couple of issues that have been kicked around to supposedly expose Sanders' mendacity. He purportedly repeatedly blew off African-Americans in his home state of Vermont who sought support on issues of discrimination. But the truth is as Mayor of Burlington, Sanders was outspoken in prodding and pushing diversity, tolerance and anti-discrimination measures to make virtually lily white Vermont into an open and welcoming climate for refugees, minorities, and immigrants. Sanders consistently got high marks for his effort.
Sanders has been accused of propounding the big lie that he doesn't take Super Pac money, whereas Clinton hauls it in by the bucketful. Open Secrets, which tightly monitors and watch dogs elected officials and candidates to see where they grab their money from, detailed every penny that Sanders took in his campaigns from 2011 to 2016 and found that he raked in a grand total of $15,000 in Pac (not Super Pac) donations. The cash added up to a stupendous one percent of his overall campaign funding total. As Sanders has repeatedly and truthfully said, and Open Secrets documented, 97 percent of Sanders' money came and comes from individual contributors.
I could cite a checklist of other accusations made about Sanders' alleged hypocrisy and deceit but it wouldn't serve much purpose. Since in every case the distortion has either been debunked or cast in the proper and accurate perspective.
The real truth is that he is running a campaign that in the beginning was laughed at and scoffed at as a lark. He's winning in places that supposedly he had no business winning in. He has broken every record in the book in garnering nickel and dime donations from individuals. He's fired up millions and breathed a hurricane proportion breath of fresh air into what might have otherwise been a campaign that likely would have been another bland, hum drum, scripted recitation of pro forma political talking points on the issues, with his challenge to really do something about grotesque wealth and income inequality, hideous corporate bought and paid for special interest campaign financing, and the gaping health care and criminal justice disparities.
But most importantly, he's turned the Democratic presidential nomination fight into a real dogfight. This is healthy, much needed, and if anything strengthens both the Democratic Party and Clinton as a Democratic presidential candidate. The thanks Sanders has gotten for that is not thanks, but an awful and ugly transformation by the Sanders' loathers into him as the second coming of Ivan the Terrible.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is From Sanders to Trump: A Guide to the 2016 Presidential Primary Battles (Amazon Kindle) He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Saturdays 9:00 AM on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network