On Monday, the 2016 Democratic presidential campaigns exploded in vitriol.
Despite nearly three years of cool off, staffers for the former campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton exchanged insults through a series of interviews in Politico to begin the week.
“I’m not shocked that while thousands of volunteers braved the heat and cold to knock on doors until their fingers bled in a desperate effort to stop Donald Trump, his Royal Majesty King Bernie Sanders would only deign to leave his plush D.C. office or his brand new second home on the lake if he was flown around on a cushy private jet like a billionaire master of the universe,” said Zach Petkanas, the former director of rapid response for the Clinton campaign.
This is the first quote of the article. It doesn’t get much better from there.
Petkanas and a number of other named and unnamed staffers for the Clinton campaign reported generally similar complaints against Sanders, all mainly focused on his use of private jets and how that clashes with the populist, green image he often has championed.
Sanders’ campaign staffers responded in the article, noting that chartered jets were the standard form of transportation given by nominees to major primary rivals who plan to campaign in support of the nominee in the general election.
But since that just wouldn’t be a dramatic enough answer on its own, Michael Briggs, campaign spokesman for Sanders, also decided to step in with a bit more.
“You can see why she’s [Clinton] one of the most disliked politicians in America," said Briggs. "She’s not nice. Her people are not nice. [Sanders] busted his tail to fly all over the country to talk about why it made sense to elect Hillary Clinton and the thanks that [we] get is this kind of petty stupid sniping a couple years after the fact.” Briggs continued his statement, using explicit language to express his disagreement with Clinton staffers.
There’s a lot to unpack in both these comments, most of which should be left to someone with a background in grief counseling and conflict negotiation to handle.
Petkanas does raise valid, if excessively angry, criticisms of Sanders. I’m by no means the “if you love socialism why do you have an iPhone” type person, but private jets and multiple homes aren’t exactly features of the proletariat. Even if they are commonplace among the political elite, I don’t really see this as excusing the populist Sanders.
But the comments from the Clinton staffers are out of left field. Sanders has become one of the favorites for 2020 while Clinton remains in whatever deep pit of Tartarus that the DNC banished her to following 2016. Sanders’ staff has a rightful reason to be upset that her staffers are targeting the 2020 campaign, especially when her campaign is in no position to be offering advice.
But there is something to be learned from Clinton’s shortfalls. Remember that one of the initial things that drove the Sanders campaign in his 2016 run was that people wanted an alternative to Clinton. They didn’t want her to enter the election without a Democrat to challenge her and make sure she was held accountable to voters on the left.
Just because Sanders is the favorite now, doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be the same people holding him accountable. Sanders shouldn’t get a pass to do what he wants; he still should be scrutinized and questioned before anyone will allow him to hold the party reigns and challenge President Trump next year.
Clinton staffers say Sanders was asked to take commercial flights initially, and that a plane would only be chartered if special circumstances dictated a need, such as when time or security was an issue. Other high-profile surrogates of the Clinton campaign were treated in the same manner, and it was Sanders who reportedly asked for the upgrade.
The environmental impact of private flights are in firm conflict with Sander’s stated views of climate change. Private flights burn excessive amounts of fossil fuel to transport usually only a small number of individuals.
Sanders hasn’t exactly been making a commitment to reduce his use of chartered flights, either. Sanders has continued to use private planes to attend speaking events following the 2016 election, when the pressures that would have required him to need a private plane on the Clinton campaign are far less prevalent. The $342,000 Politico reported Sanders spent on chartered flights after the 2016 election seems sensible when trying to win a presidential election – not when you’re just that senator the kids like to listen to.
These actions show a lack of integrity on the part of Sanders. There are alternatives to him who are running, and they are sure to take notice of this episode. Sanders needs to think more deeply about the image he puts out and the lifestyle he lives, and he needs to make that more reflective of what he says. If he’s unable to do this, he shows the same qualities that made Clinton a weak candidate in 2016.