As she’s periodically done since losing the 2016 election to the former host of TV’s The Apprentice, Hillary Clinton today issued yet another salvo against Bernie Sanders.
In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter intended to promote a forthcoming (and reportedly fluffy) documentary set to debut on Hulu in March, the former Secretary of State offered up a by-now-familiar series of complaints concerning her unexpected defeat. Much of the conversation is therefore a kind of greatest hits collection showcasing all the top-charting Clinton A-sides, from Bernie Bros to a series of intensely generic observations about Fox News. The exception, if it even deserves to be called that, is a particularly hostile comment about Sanders that arguably exceeds anything Clinton has said before in terms of sheer noxiousness:
He was in Congress for years. He had one senator support him. Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done. He was a career politician. It’s all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it.
(The comment in question is actually a quote that will appear in the documentary itself, so it may even come with supplementary material when the film debuts in a couple of months. Stay tuned …)
Their bitterness notwithstanding, nothing about Clinton’s remarks adds anything to the mix that hasn’t been swirling around since November 2016, and the rebuttals to the self-serving narrative they’re intended to perpetuate practically write themselves.
Sanders, it hardly needs saying, both endorsed and campaigned for Clinton — holding some seventeen events in eleven states during the last week of the campaign alone. Breaking with much of the US media, he actively discouraged focus on the scandal surrounding her private email server and conducted a campaign far less negative in tone than the one she herself had waged against Obama in 2008 (never once suggesting he intended to remain in the race because his opponent might be assassinated, as Clinton quite literally did eight years earlier). Contrary to the risible story Clinton and her apologists like to tell, women are actually more likely to support Sanders than men — a basic demographic fact demonstrated so regularly by opinion polling that anyone saying otherwise is trading in quite deliberate falsehood.
All this, and much more in the same vein, is old hat at this point.
As many were also quick to note, Sanders continues to rank as America’s most popular Senator while Clinton’s subterranean approval ratings quite literally rival Donald Trump’s. Clinton’s dismissal of Sanders, a longtime political outsider, as a “career politician” is also a bit rich given her own history as Washington’s consummate political insider, and her contention to have known nothing about the activities of close ally Harvey Weinstein (whose behavior was an open secret) deserves to raise some eyebrows.
But in her claim that “nobody likes” or “wants to work with” Sanders, Clinton is inadvertently telling us how little she has seriously reflected on the events of 2016 or the actual causes of her historic defeat. Though absurd on its face — Sanders is hugely popular and innumerable people in different capacities have long sought to cooperate and collaborate with him — Clinton is almost certainly saying something less literal and a lot more contemptible than it might initially appear. In her lexicon, and in this context, “nobody” plainly refers to the likes of elite pundits, establishment politicians, and big donors more than it does to members of the public or rank-and-file supporters of the Democratic Party.
In this sense, she’s actually quite correct: Sanders is widely disliked within the upper echelons of the American political class and throughout the corporate media. Despite securing the endorsement of only a single fellow senator in 2016 he drew huge crowds across the country and secured even more support from young voters than Obama in 2008. Much of his appeal, then as now, was due to a career spent rejecting the politics of triangulation and elite brokerage preferred by Clinton and other elite Democrats in favor of movement-building and mass democracy.
In short, Sanders embraces a broader and more inclusive definition of whose interests and opinions should ultimately matter. Though Clinton’s latest round of comments undoubtedly have a personal and self-serving motivation, it’s this that has always constituted her real beef with Sanders and his supporters — and what lies at the root of the elite contempt he’s inspired since he deigned to challenge Liberalism Inc.’s heir apparent just four years ago.