It is, or it can be, easy to get caught up during a hotly-contested campaign and make statements that one might reconsider making after the fact. But if that is the case, the wise thing to do is “walk back” the offending statement as elegantly as possible and if the statement was based on a gross error, or dog forbid a blatant lie, then admit the misstep, apologize, and move forward with the campaign.
Over the past couple of days all the rage has been the two Democratic candidates for the nomination claiming their opponent is “unqualified to be president.” The only problem is that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton never said Senator Bernie Sanders is unqualified to be president; even though she was given three prime opportunities to do so.
In fact, Mrs. Clinton was pressured by MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, three times, to state categorically that “Senator Sanders is not qualified to be president.” She refused to be dragged into what is typical of Republican politicians Scarborough is used to easily manipulating into saying what he wanted to hear. Hillary Clinton is not a Republican, and since she is very dedicated to maintaining Democratic unity, she was not about to be manipulated by the likes of “Morning Joe.”
Apparently, Senator Sanders, or his staff, failed to verify reports that Mrs. Clinton said on national television that he was unqualified to serve as president, so he reciprocated during a campaign speech. He said,
“She has been saying, lately, that she thinks that I am quote-unquote ‘not qualified to be president.’ Let me just say in response to Secretary Clinton that I don’t believe she is qualified if she is, through her Super Pac, taking tens of millions from special interests.”
Now there are two specific problems with the Senator’s remarks. First and foremost; Hillary Clinton never said Sanders is unqualified despite being aggressively pressed on the issue three times. Second, taking special interest money does not make a candidate “unqualified to be president.”
If that were the case then Senator Sanders is as unqualified as he claims Mrs. Clinton is because he takes millions in special interest money as well; including from wealthy Hollywood elites and there is nothing wrong with it. It is, unfortunately, the nature of American politics and not a reason for either of Democratic candidates to be considered “unqualified” to serve.
What is wrong is that the Senator reacted negatively, and hastily, to something that never occurred. It is curious that no-one on his campaign staff alerted him that regardless what he might have heard, or wanted to believe about Mrs. Clinton, she refused to stoop so low as to say he was unqualified to serve despite being “aggressively pressed” three times. As one writer noted “Mrs. Clinton did what a ‘statesman’ would do;” take the high road to maintain unity with the Democratic base.
It took a day or so, but Senator Sanders did kind of walk back his statement regarding Mrs. Clinton’s qualifications to serve, but he blamed the media during a press conference yesterday for instigating his untoward remark about Mrs. Clinton’s qualifications. Senator Sanders even said he did not want to get into “that type of politics.”
“This is not the type of politics that I want to get in, I know it’s what the media loves. It is not the type of politics that I want to get in, but let me also be very clear. If Secretary Clinton thinks that I just come from the small state of Vermont, we are not used to this, we will get used to it fast.”
Maybe that is how they apologize and say I made a mistake in Vermont, but if that is the case it was unconvincing and likely irritated a few more on the left. The simplest thing to tell the press, his supporters, and the American people was not about being a victim of the media, but that he simply overreacted before vetting what he believed was a slight against his character and qualifications.
As noted by other columnists, “Simply calling your opponent ‘unqualified’ isn’t necessarily the wisest thing to do, but if it’s how you feel, it also isn’t necessarily earth-shattering heresy.” Unless, however, that comment is based on a blatant lie with video verification it was a blatant lie; no matter where the lie originated. Senator Sanders’ comment rankled Hillary supporters and no small number of Democrats, but a different response from the Senator would have allowed them to get over it and have a new sense of respect for Bernie and his campaign.
Even after learning it was lie, it was unforgivable to shift the blame to the media; it is what Republicans do and it is beneath Senator Sanders as a man of integrity. It does not take any effort to say “I was wrong, I overreacted and I shouldn’t have; I apologize.” A comment like that would go a long ways to combat the “Bernie Lied” articles making the rounds on the Internet. What Bernie did was overreact to a lie, but made it worse by blaming the media instead of his campaign.
As yet another columnist commented, this nominating primary is not some kind of amateur game without serious consequences for the entire nation. It is all well and good to fight for the nomination, but as noted here, here, and here, anything serving to divide the left is a win for Republicans. It is exactly why the Karl Rove types are spending tens-of-millions to feed the “Left’s” smear campaign against Mrs. Clinton’s character.
Senator Sanders says he does not want to get into dirty politicking and that he wants to lead the most powerful nation on earth. But as mentioned here, “if he can’t admit a simple mistake or apologize for it – which is what blame-shifting amounts to – his qualifications for the Democratic nomination may be fine. It’s his character that becomes a matter of debate.”
It is too bad that instead of a simple apology and “a strong walk-back by Senator Sanders himself,” Bernie made it look like he can be easily manipulated by a headline; one he was quick to blame for leading him to engage in exactly “the type of politics” he says does not want to get into. It is too late though, because blaming the media just defined the “type of politics” the Democratic campaign is now into and that is indeed very sad and unproductive.