It’s interesting to see Bernie Sanders attack Hillary Clinton for her positions on the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, since Hillary has embraced the Bern on both. That’s besides the point, Sanders argues in his pretaped Meet the Press interview, which will air in its entirety on Sunday. Sanders tells NBC’s Chuck Todd that Hillary’s sudden shift to unanimity should have Democratic primary voters very, very afraid:
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: From day one, I opposed the Keystone Pipeline because I believe that if you’re serious about climate change, you don’t encourage the excavation and transportation of very dirty oil. That was my view from day one. TPP. I believe that our trade policies going way back when. I voted against NAFTA, CAFTA, PNT, all with China. I think they have been a disaster for the American worker. A lot of corporations that shut down here move abroad. So people will have to contrast my consistency and my willingness to stand up to Wall Street and corporations, big corporations, with the secretary.
In this, Sanders is singing to the choir. Yesterday, Todd wrote that “this flip-flop isn’t believable at all,” and that it was only intended to co-opt the enthusiasm of Sanders’ base:
For starters, there was the time as secretary of state when she said TPP “sets the gold standard in trade agreements.” In her book, “Hard Choices” (which she sent out to all the GOP candidates), she called TPP “the signature economic pillar” of the Obama administration’s strategy in Asia. And then there’s the wiggle room she left for herself, as well as the fact that she hasn’t even fully reviewed the trade accord because it’s not public yet. “I’m continuing to learn about the details of the new Trans-Pacific Partnership, including looking hard at what’s in there to crack down on currency manipulation, which kills American jobs, and to make sure we’re not putting the interests of drug companies ahead of patients and consumers. But based on what I know so far, I can’t support this agreement,” she said in her statement yesterday. And because this opposition is so unbelievable, it feeds every negative stereotype about her — despite the short-term political benefits.
So why did Clinton flip? It was all about protecting her left flank. As one of us wrote yesterday, Clinton’s newfound opposition to TPP protects her against Bernie Sanders’ challenge (especially before Tuesday’s debate; it helps solidify her support with organized labor; and it makes Biden the only Democrat in favor of the accord (if he gets into the race).
In other election cycles, this might look like shrewd political maneuvering. The problem is that, in this cycle, shrewd political maneuvering looks dishonest in general, and this looks much more dishonest thanks to its obvious nature. Sanders wisely isn’t attacking the position — after all, he holds the same position — but Hillary’s authenticity in taking it. You can’t trust Hillary to look after your interests, Sanders is signaling, because the only interests she protects are her own. And it’s difficult to argue with that point.
In a very real sense, Hillary’s fighting the last political war — or really the 1995-6 political war, in which her husband Bill successfully “triangulated” around the Republican agenda. There are only two problems with that strategy. First, Bill was triangulating back to the center, where the voters are, not to the hard Left. Second, Hillary is not Bill, who could fake authenticity better than most truly authentic people can demonstrate it. In this cycle, that’s what voters crave, as I wrote yesterday at The Fiscal Times:
In 2010 and again in 2014, Republicans won back control of Capitol Hill by promising not just to stop Barack Obama’s agenda but reversing it, even though simple majority control in Congress isn’t sufficient to do so while Obama remains president. The GOP overpromised and under delivered–a classic set-up for discouragement and backlash.
Democrats have not performed much better with their own base. Obama and the party’s leadership have sounded the usual progressive-populist alarms about Wall Street and supersized banks and corporations, but have done nothing to address those issues. The Obama administration has never prosecuted any corporate leaders over the financial collapse that led to the Great Recession, a point made by Ben Bernanke this past week, despite their fanning of Occupy Wall Street’s rhetorical flames.
Therefore, it’s not a big surprise to see people in both parties turn to outsiders, whether they’re named Donald Trump, Ben Carson, or Bernie Sanders. Voters are tired of hearing promises and heated rhetoric that turn out to be mere posing, and they want people who say what they think and mean. They crave connections to real people, not prepackaged politicians regurgitating focus group tested talking points. As one Wisconsin voter told me, “Bernie Sanders is connecting with people because he’s not flapping with the wind. We know what he believes. That’s important to a lot of people.”
Sanders just wants to remind Democrats that Hillary Clinton is making herself into a political windsock, which bodes ill if Hillary has the opportunity to actually govern. It’s the right attack on the right person, and Republicans should be taking notes.