The Bernie Sanders Double Standard

Lanny Davis Former Special Counsel to President Bill Clinton
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Last week, Bernie Sanders decided to focus his message ahead of New York’s upcoming primary on the assertion that Hillary Clinton was not qualified to be president.

Eight years as first lady and an active participant in former President Clinton’s policy-making. Eight years — twice-elected — as a U.S. senator from New York. Four years as secretary of State.

Seriously, Sen. Sanders?

As Clinton herself said recently, she has been accused of a lot of nasty things in her political career, but one of them is not “unqualified to be president.”

While Sanders tried to take this absurd charge back, here is his direct quote that he continues to repeat as his basic stump speech:

“I don’t think that you are ‘qualified’ if you get $15 million from Wall Street through your super-PAC,” the Vermont senator said. “I don’t think you are ‘qualified’ if you have voted for the disastrous war in Iraq. I don’t think you are ‘qualified’ if you have supported virtually every disastrous trade agreement.”

I like and admire Bernie Sanders. But respectfully, this statement shows his willingness to use one standard when judging Clinton versus applying a different standard to himself. Let’s take a look.

Taking money from Wall Street through super-PACs: Sanders knows that President Obama took large donations from Wall Street and had a big political action committee. He uses innuendo to suggest that Clinton would be influenced to pull her punches on Wall Street due to these donations to her campaign. Yet he never makes that ugly accusation directly. He also almost never mentions that Obama took the same big donations from Wall Street-connected individuals and firms.

And Sanders omits the undisputed facts that both Obama and Clinton take positions strongly opposed by Wall Street interests, such as closing the carried interest loophole favored by big hedge funds and investment banks; supporting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the tough financial services regulatory body sponsored by [crscore]Elizabeth Warren[/crscore]; and supporting the landmark Dodd-Frank law, which contains power to break up the big banks if they are shown to be abusive.

Sanders also never mentions that Paul Krugman, the Pulitzer-prize winning progressive columnist for The New York Times, has described Clinton’s stance on Wall Street reforms and accountability as more effective than Sanders’s proposals.

The Iraq War vote: Sanders says this showed flawed judgment by Clinton when she voted for the war resolution 13 years ago. But here’s the undeniable double standard: He forgets to mention that 28 other Democratic senators also voted for that resolution, including Joe Biden and John Kerry.

Does Sanders say the vice president and the secretary of State, both of whom served multiple terms in the U.S. Senate, are not qualified to be president, because of flawed judgment? Even once? No.

Clinton has said many times that she made a mistake on that Iraq War vote. Yet when Sanders is asked about his repeated opposition in the 1990s to the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and its requirement for background checks for all gun buyers, he said he made a mistake in opposing that bill many times. Nor does he mention that he voted to support special immunity granted only to gun manufacturers to escape liability, whereas Clinton showed the good judgment to defy the NRA and vote against that special privilege.

Of course, Sanders doesn’t describe those votes as showing flawed judgment such that he is not qualified to be president. Double standard?

Supporting virtually every trade agreement: Again, notice that Sanders rarely mentions Obama’s name as a target of criticism, such as for the president’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But he does strongly criticize Clinton for changing her mind after her early support of the TPP, well before its final details were negotiated. She decided to oppose the final version once she saw the fine print. So it’s not OK that the former secretary changed her position on the trade agreement but it IS OK that Sanders changed his position on the Brady Bill — only after he began running for president?

Finally, there is an obvious double standard by the Sanders campaign in its desperate attempt to pressure superdelegates to switch over from their public commitments to Clinton. He and his talking heads conveniently ignore that as of now, after 37 primaries and caucuses, Clinton leads Sanders by more than 2.4 million votes — a lead of 57 percent to 43 percent, a landslide by any measurement. And she leads in pledged delegates by a margin of 250 votes — a substantial 55 percent-45 percent.

Why does Sanders omit this substantial deficit when measured by pure democracy standards — the will of the voters? And why do so many in the media ignore that question?

I see a double standard often applied here. Sanders and his “feel the Bern” supporters use one standard to judge Clinton’s qualifications, use harsh language that go over the line into personal attacks and then use quite another standard when judging Sanders.

Does this have anything to do with politics, with more than a little dose of cynicism by the “revolutionary” self-described socialist senator from Vermont?

You decide.

Lanny Davis served as special counsel to former President Clinton and is principal in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates. He is the author of a recently published book, Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life (Threshold Editions/Simon and Schuster).