April 16, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Russia Paved the Way for Sanders
The costs of winning should not include help from enemies.
I don’t care that Bernie Sanders is a millionaire.
He and his wife, Jane Sanders, released 10 years’ worth of federal tax returns Monday evening. They show that the couple has been part of the 1 percent for years.
That fact can and will be used against him. How can a man who demonizes the “millionaires and billionaires” credibly claim to be serving the working class? Meh, that’s a dumb question. If you like Sanders’ message, his being a millionaire probably isn’t going to make you reconsider. If anything, it might deepen your respect for him.
I don’t care that Sanders is causing chest pains among Democratic elites.
He railed against “the establishment” in 2016. He intimated, but never said, that the party system was rigged against him. That left a bitter taste in people’s mouths. But whatever. If Sanders can make hay by trolling Neera Tanden and the Center for American Progress, and if such elites keep falling for it, bully for Bernie Sanders.
To be sure, all this can seem disgusting. Sanders said there was something morally wrong about Hillary Clinton giving speeches to Wall Street executives for hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop. And yet now we find out he and Jane were 1 percenters all along. We didn’t know that. They didn’t release his tax returns. Things would’ve been different if they had. (They don’t come close to Bill and Hillary’s net worth.)
Bernie Sanders’ hypocrisy isn’t out of bounds, but other things are.
Sanders’ hypocrisy, however, isn’t out of bounds. I think of it as part of the factional and ideological conflict that’s necessary to the health of a democratic republic. You may not like it. He might win in spite of it. He might lose because of it. But all that is part of the political conflict that goes into choosing political leaders. Very broadly speaking, Bernie Sanders’ hypocrisy is, if not acceptable, at least it’s tolerable.
There are, however, limits.
The costs of winning should not include treason. It should not include coordinating with foreign enemies. It should not include standing by while propagandists sabotage one’s opponents. It should not include theft. It should not include crimes in general. (It should not include turning the public square into a dump, but that’s for another time.)
As Adam Schiff said, there’s a lot that’s not OK when it comes to winning:
“You might say that’s just what you need to do to win. But I don’t think it’s okay. I think it’s immoral, I think it’s unethical, I think it’s unpatriotic and, yes, I think it’s corrupt, and evidence of collusion.”
Schiff, of course, was talking about President Donald Trump. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team did not find sufficient evidence to support a criminal charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States, but that’s a low bar. If that’s the standard, asking Russia to lend a hand, as Trump did, is OK. Schiff said no, it’s not OK, because doing so is immoral, corrupt and unpatriotic. Every single Democrat should agree.
Which brings us back to Bernie Sanders. I think the Russians paved the way for his second presidential bid. Consider they amplified his 2016 campaign to undermine Clinton’s. Their disinformation was specifically “designed to appeal to [Sanders’] backers, urging them to do anything but vote for Clinton in the general election,” according to a Clemson University study of Russian tweets reported in the Post.
“I think there is no question that Sanders was central to their strategy. He was clearly used as a mechanism to decrease voter turnout for Hillary Clinton,” said one of the Clemson researchers, Darren Linvill, an associate professor of communications. The tweets examined in the new analysis “give us a much clearer understanding of the tactics they were using. It was certainly a higher volume than people thought.”
To be sure, Sanders stumped for Clinton. What the Russians did to her was “disgusting,” he said. But he gave credence to their lies even as he decried them, because he ran as the underdog fighting a “Wall Street Democrats” bent on putting down his insurrection. Worse, he denies that Russia played a role in creating “Our Revolution.” His hypocrisy might be disgusting, but that—that’s just incredible.
I don’t care that Sanders is a millionaire. I don’t care that he’s provoking Democratic elites. I don’t especially care that he’s hypocritical. (I’m sufficiently pragmatic to tolerate certain levels of hypocrisy. For me, Sanders’ policy goals are enough to compensate.) But I do care about Russia’s desire to poison our republic. There are limits to winning. One of those is not getting aid from our country’s enemies.
Sanders needs to come clean. The first step? Looking in the mirror.
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.