U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has been Mr. Nice Guy in his bid for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. He has had to contend with being sidelined and disrespected by the mainstream media, criticized by pundits of all stripes, and condescended to by frontrunner Hillary Clinton. His competitor for the nomination has subtly mocked his ability to “get things done” and his speech-making. She has overtly criticized his past votes on gun control.
Recently, she insinuated that Sanders was sexist. This abuse of the gender card may have been the last straw for the self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist. He is now on the offensive, and I cheer him for it. At the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa, Sanders finally spoke out against Clinton’s flip-flops and her questionable character. Though his attack may have surprised many observers, it is a political necessity now that vice president Joe Biden will not be entering the Democratic race.
Nice guys finish last, and Sanders must show that he has the fire in the belly to handle 3:00 AM crises as Commander-in-Chief.
Going on the offensive against Clinton may not just be a result of his anger about being falsely accused of sexism: It represents shrewd political strategy. In 2007, the Jefferson-Jackson dinner was seen as the beginning of Barack Obama’s surge in popularity against frontrunner Clinton. If there is a time to take the gloves off, it is in late October, when the January primaries can first be seen on the horizon. The timing may simply be optimal for a change in Sanders’ previous “nice guy” strategy. For months, he has shown that he can play nice…but many undecided voters want to know that he can stand tough.
Secondly, going on the offensive is vital in that it shows that Bernie Sanders and his supporters truly disagree with Clinton. One of the harmful ideas perpetuated by the mainstream media is that Sanders’ supporters will quickly fall in behind Clinton when she wins the Democratic nomination. The stereotype is that populists and progressives will blindly support any Democratic nominee in order to keep a Republican out of the Oval Office. By contrast, it is said that Clinton’s supporters, who are often more conservative than Sanders’ supporters, will not fall in behind Bernie Sanders if he is the Democratic nominee.
Democratic Party leaders evidently think that a Sanders nomination would result in ceding many conservative Democrats over to the GOP.
Bernie Sanders must show that Hillary Clinton is not a suitable substitute and that his supporters have deep disagreements with her character and policy positions. This strengthens Sanders’ cause and shows that he and his supporters want what is right. They will not compromise.
Third, going on the offensive may inspire many undecided voters to support Sanders. There is lots of public animosity toward Hillary Clinton, and many unattached liberals, moderates, independents, and even conservatives may be convinced to finally support Bernie Sanders after seeing that he is not afraid to call her out. These voters likely believe that the only way for Sanders to win is by being tough on Clinton…and he has finally given them what they want.
By showing some steel and righteousness, Sanders stands to net considerable new support. He has proven that he is willing to fight, to confront what he sees as opportunistic corruption, and to stand up for his ideals. Hillary Clinton is not a suitable substitute for Bernie Sanders, and every voter must know it. If you value the idea of universal health care, tuition-free public higher education, and a job-creating infrastructure rebuilding, you will only get that with Bernie Sanders.
Hillary Clinton will try to “get things done” by abandoning these ideas and making Vichy agreements with the GOP.