Eh, why is Jane Sanders at Tent City giving Joe Arpaio a voice? pic.twitter.com/5MVKOsLSwP
— Matt McDermott (@mattmfm) March 15, 2016
As I was planning to do a post about Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ problems attracting black and Hispanic voters earlier yesterday afternoon, the news broke that Bernie’s wife Jane Sanders visited Maricopa County’s Tent City Jail in Phoenix. She was there for the laudable purpose of calling attention to mistreatment of inmates and immigrants but, of course, Arpaio hijacked the event and turned it into a PR photo op. Most of the local news coverage (warning, autoplays) featured Sanders and Arpaio disagreeing amicably about the jail and about Donald Trump’s candidacy, with Arpaio getting (yet another) earned media opportunity to promote himself in an election year.
Because I try not to attribute malice that which can be more easily attributed to ignorance, I’m not joining the horde on social media alleging that the Sanders camp orchestrated the whole thing in a cynical bid to appeal to angry white “independent” voters in Ohio on the eve of today’s Rust Belt primary. No, I think the Sanders campaign simply isn’t as familiar with how Arpaio operates as we are here and that Jane Sanders unwittingly walked into Arpaio’s trap. It’s a mistake along the lines of Hillary Clinton’s recent ill-informed comment about the Reagans and HIV/AIDS, for which Clinton apologized.
Sadly, no apology appears to be forthcoming from Jane Sanders, which is of a piece with what author Glen Retief, in his excellent essay for the Tampa Bay Times: refers to as the “caucasian-tinted glasses” of Bernie Sanders and his campaign:
Like Tintin, Sanders brought great gifts: a promise to fight for a $15 minimum wage, free college tuition and government health care. Unlike Tintin’s guide, Sanders’ allies stuck with him: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Angela Davis and Killer Mike all endorsed Sanders and explained to black voters why he was the best candidate to represent their interests. Yet in the end most voters of color haven’t been moved so far.
Explanations for the demographic pattern abounded, some of them reasonable, others less so. Lack of information, said some pundits. The blond Dollar Store cashiers in Concord, N.H., presumably had the political acumen and education to talent spot a great, honest leader. The African-American woman at the till of the Piggly Wiggly — she, on the other hand, was clearly duped, misinformed and hoodwinked. The racial condescension in this line of argument hardly needs belaboring.
Charles Blow, in his op-ed column for the New York Times, talked about Sanders’ lack of commitment to the southern half of the country. Writing in Fast Company, David Holmes focused on Sanders’ mishandling of his first Black Lives Matter protest.
The website FiveThirtyEight.com’s Farai Chideya explained how African-American history teaches black voters to prize legislative prowess and pragmatism, of the kind necessary to pass both emancipation and the Civil Rights Act, over soaring ambition.
Reading all of this, I wanted to ask, why the kid gloves? Why soft-pedal the obvious? For 30 years Sanders has lived in, and represented, the whitest state in the union. Sorry Berners, but it shows: Everything about the man’s language, rhetoric and world view screams “Caucasian-tinted glasses.”
If you don’t believe how obvious it is, here’s Bernie Sanders, in his own words, in 2014:
On African-American support for Democrats
Well, here’s what you got. What you got is an African-American president, and the African-American community is very, very proud that this country has overcome racism and voted for him for president. And that’s kind of natural. You’ve got a situation where the Republican Party has been strongly anti-immigration, and you’ve got a Hispanic community which is looking to the Democrats for help.
But that’s not important. You should not be basing your politics based on your color. What you should be basing your politics on is, how is your family doing? … In the last election, in state after state, you had an abysmally low vote for the Democrats among white, working-class people. And I think the reason for that is that the Democrats have not made it clear that they are prepared to stand with the working-class people of this country, take on the big money interests. I think the key issue that we have to focus on, and I know people are uncomfortable about talking about it, is the role of the billionaire class in American society.
I guess it didn’t occur to Sanders that one’s race might have a big influence on how well one’s family is doing. Sanders also appears to be using “working class” and “white” interchangeably, which is not a good look. But there is at least some merit to the idea that addressing economic inequality could mitigate the some of the harms of racism. And the white savior-ism displayed by Jane Sanders at Tent City doesn’t come from a bad place either, more like cluelessness.
It is, however, difficult to find anything redeeming in a vote Bernie Sanders took back in 2006, when he supported an amendment protecting the so-called Minutemen border vigilantes. It was sponsored by Rep. Jack Kingston, an anti-immigrant kook from Georgia, and Sanders joined all the Republicans and several Blue Dog Democrats to vote for it. This wasn’t like the 1994 omnibus crime bill, which Sanders claims he voted for despite objecting to several provisions in because of the overall good he felt it would do. No, the Kingston amendment was a standalone that did one thing: forbid the US government from alerting Mexican authorities to the possible whereabouts of angry idiots playing soldier at the border.
Now, none of that alerting was actually happening because Kingston’s amendment was a response to a dumb conspiracy theory circulating among right wingers at the time. On that basis alone it’s a vote that should embarrass Sanders, but it’s worse than that. The Minutemen included actual terrible people like the late JT Ready and Shawna Forde, who planned and carried out the brutal murders of two innocent people in Arizona.
I get why some cowardly Dems voted for it, but what was Sanders’ excuse? Sanders gave the demonstrably untrue “part of a larger bill” rationale for it at recent debate and his campaign has attempted to distance him from the vote by claiming it simply “codified existing practices”. Why not just apologize for it? Admit it was wrong to legitimize, even symbolically, a hate movement. It’s not that hard.
Hillary Clinton has certainly done some regrettable things around race, in her statements supporting welfare reform and the crime bill as First Lady, and in her behavior when running against Barack Obama in 2008, for example. She has also undeniably gone to great lengths to atone for them. The same can’t be said for Sanders, who seems to think you should focus on his great economic policies and not on actual things he has said and done that have ignored, condescended to, and hurt people of color. He may not have done any of them out of overt racism, but he still hasn’t gotten to the point where he understands that voting to protect the Minutemen is something a Democratic Presidential candidate in 2016 should disavow without hesitation. I would say the results of primary elections thus far have vindicated Hillary Clinton’s approach.