With each passing day now in this unexpectedly engaging primary season on the Democratic side, someone on the “centrist left” will find a novel, silly thing to be angry at Bernie Sanders or his supporters with. And one that has now come fully to the surface has been the painting by a constant set of black journalist Sanders critics of the Vermont Senator being a regional elitist and, worse, a passive racist for saying why he felt Hillary Clinton dominated him in Southern states in the Democratic presidential primary.
Although this latest over outrage has flamed up over the last week, this whole incongruous narrative of claiming Sanders is disrespecting the South actually started way back on the night he was trounced in the South Carolina primary in February. As he was giving a speech at his Minnesota rally ahead of that state’s causes there, Sanders complimented the crowd who uttered his now synonymous $27 average campaign donation phrase.
“There’s no way we are going to lose Minnesota, I can see that you are just too smart,” Sanders told the crowd.
That response prompted consistently and occasionally erroneous Sanders critic Jamil Smith of MTV News to imply that Sanders was passively slamming the intelligence of South Carolina’s black voters. When I and many others called out Smith on his intentional implication there, he quickly backtracked by saying, “Folks, if I wanted to call him ‘racist.’ I’d have done that.”
That represented how the narrative was already in place on framing or thinking that Sanders has an antagonism towards Southern voters. And it further aggrandized after Clinton won every state in the region, including Missouri by a whisker. Large defeats in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and Louisiana gave more fuel to the fire for that “storyline” of Sanders clever distain for the South to be reignited.
And it has indeed come to the forefront again.
In an appearance on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos on April 10, Sanders expressed again why he would be the stronger candidate than Hillary Clinton in the general election. When Stephanopoulos countered by replying, “She’s getting more votes,” Sanders offered a retort. “Well, she’s getting more votes, a lot of that came from the South.” And cue the latest, irrational Bernie chastising, with some feeling those words was another subtle jab at Southern black people.
The usual, notable online Sanders skeptics, besides Smith, instantly presumed that the septuagenarian was once again dissing Southern voters entirely for Clinton’s shellacking wins in the region, outside of Missouri, over him. Slate’s Jamelle Bouie claimed Sanders was being “dismissive in large part because Sanders touts wins in the rural West.” When asked if he was overanalyzing Sanders’ simple take of being dominated in the South, Bouie scoffed, “It is entirely possible if you ignore the context of what he said and his general rhetoric the past few days.”
In responding to Bouie’s critique, MSNBC’s Joy Reid continued her own inane takes on Sanders, claiming that Sanders was making a “seamless argument” of Southern states getting more attention than the Northwest states he was winning, only that he was never making that argument in the first place. “It it so serving and frustrating because Sanders is demonstrably better than that,” Bouie replied. Continuing in their overreaching, vapid analysis, Reid added, “He’s giving in to the temptation to do and say anything to dismantle his opponent.”
Smith wasn’t far behind with his poorly contemplative take on the Senator. “Sanders argument that Clinton’s wins in the South somehow mean less doesn’t just discount her votes in that region, it discounts his own,” Smith wrote on Twitter. “Neither the Sanders nor Clinton camp should not be using any rhetoric that delegitimizes or discounts votes, it’s undemocratic.”
If their vain slams weren’t galling enough, Sanders bringing up again how he was completely handled in the South by Clinton in the Brooklyn Democratic debate and accurately saying that the South is “more conservative” drew the ire of the usual suspects again. New York Times columnist Charles Blow, never hesitating to express any single disgust he has with Sanders, said he found Sanders words “odd and unsettling” and labeled his debate comments as having a “racial dimension” about them. Bouie decided to write a post himself on Slate, saying again that Sanders was “dismissing” the South with his comments and that Southern Democrats weren’t far off from being as liberal as Vermont voters. “If Bernie Sanders wants to bring about a political revolution, he should refrain from spurning the Democrats who are most likely to make it happen,” Bouie chided.
What general rhetoric is Bouie or any of these colleagues referring to that indicates Sanders and his campaign being irresponsible, clumsy or insulting to Southern voters, in particular Southern black voters? There is none whatsoever.
It was always going to an arduous task for Sanders to make any headway in a short amount of time in that region compared to the decades long public ID Hillary and Bill Clinton have. Moreover, the black community is primarily focused either on voting to make sure Republicans don’t severely harm us even more, don’t want to vote with how the political process has done little to truly eviscerate systematic racism or have had their voting rights taken away in a myriad of more systematic racism ways. With how Sanders was barely known with Southern black voters (and still some black voters in general now) he was never going to get past the natural skepticism those voters who don’t know him would have. A prime example was him going to South Carolina churches and basically be ignored with church goers thinking he was just another white politician coming only when it’s election time for their vote.
Southern black voters aren’t blessed to see different choices within the Democratic party and have to either settle for what’s given to them or not, if they even have their rights to vote secured in the first place. Moreover, Southern black voters are a small representation for black voters in general with turnout being low in presidential primary years outside of Barack Obama’s 2008 historical election, or just non-presidential years in general.
Dealing with Democrats not liberal enough against the already legacy and structural advantages conservative Republicans have in their devastation of Southern communities, many Southern black voters don’t have the desire to deal with the nonsense that constant political engagement brings. The challenges and daily struggles they deal with make little room for seeing what nonsense centrist cable media like CNN and MSNBC spew on, or centrist to centrist left media figures on Twitter argue about on a daily.
Sanders isn’t saying the South is more “conservative” because Southern Democratic voters are more conservative than Democrats elsewhere across the country. Rather, he is indicating that the conditions in these states are so conservative that Democrats there in total aren’t able to see the full view of liberal ideas such as free state college tuition, single payer health care, and making sure public schools are fully invested in over private charter schools who want to get public dollars. Being liberal is much more than saying “I’m liberal,” and why actions matter.
It’s why Jim Clyburn’s clever but diabolical insinuation that Sanders’ free state college tuition plan would hurt Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) could not be firmly shutdown as it should because of the infrastructure in place allowing that sketchy claim to exist. It’s why the idea of “free college” combined with Sanders virtual anonymity in Southern voters’ minds leads to an instant quick dismissal of him over the vastly familiar, “friendly” presence of the Clintons. It is why this insinuation that Sanders is being, at the very least, a Northern elitist continues to persist.
That would be a problem if Sanders did indeed show vocal apathy towards Southern voters. A really big problem.
But there is no clear, substantive indication that he did dismiss or lessen the value of Southern voters, or any voters for that matter, by just stating an opinion about the South that has a lot of evidence to back it up. None whatsoever. Instead, it’s this persistent, stringent psychoanalysis of Sanders and trying to show that he is just a typical politician like everyone else continuing to reach more disturbing grounds by centrist-left journalists showing how obvious their hackdom is. If Sanders said that purple was his favorite color, some would automatically assume that he was being blatantly disrespectful to all other colors. It would then lead to more deranged Twitter comments from those who either are dedicated Hillary supporters, creepy paid autoturfers or easily annoyed Sanders haters declaring in every trolling tweet how “worse” and “toxic” Bernie is getting.
The process is so predictable now that it was inevitable some backlash would happen each time Sanders says those words. At the very least, anyone who has consistent sagacity would at least hold off on even thinking that Sanders was dismissing any voters. If Sanders literally said, “The South just doesn’t matter in the general,” then condemn him at all costs for even saying something as foolish and awful as that. But again, he didn’t say that, or even come close to uttering those words.
Moreover, if you had such an outrage over him assuming that the former Secretary of State publicly called him unqualified to be president when she technically did not, then maybe it would be consistent and fair of you to not assume what Sanders was saying as a direct insult to Southern voters. It would make those out there look less hypocritical than the embarrassing level of non-pensive scolding Sanders has received from them. And even as this primary winds down, you can be sure that Sanders will endure more twisting of his simple words made into more controversial phrases for those same characters to “condemn.”