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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dems Should Stay on High Road in Primary Season — Especially This Year

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is taking some heat for his statement that Hillary Clinton is “not qualified” to be president. Here’s what NYT columnist Paul Krugman said about it:

Mr. Sanders wasn’t careful at all, declaring that what he considers Mrs. Clinton’s past sins, including her support for trade agreements and her vote to authorize the Iraq war — for which she has apologized — make her totally unfit for office.
…This is really bad, on two levels. Holding people accountable for their past is O.K., but imposing a standard of purity, in which any compromise or misstep makes you the moral equivalent of the bad guys, isn’t. Abraham Lincoln didn’t meet that standard; neither did F.D.R. Nor, for that matter, has Bernie Sanders (think guns).
…The Sanders campaign has brought out a lot of idealism and energy that the progressive movement needs. It has also, however, brought out a streak of petulant self-righteousness among some supporters. Has it brought out that streak in the candidate, too?

At The Daily Beast Michael Tomasky wrote:

…Sanders’s blunt statement Wednesday night that Clinton “is not qualified” to be president ratchets up the arms race considerably.
…Now–Sanders apologists will scream that she started it, and even neutral observers, if there are any, may be confused. But there’s a big difference between saying “raises serious questions” and “I’ll leave it to the voters to decide,” and saying flat out that one’s primary opponent is “not qualified.”
…At the end of the process, Clinton will be ahead, and Sanders will have to endorse her. Not certain, of course, but likely. So the question is, how can he endorse her after saying flat out that she’s not qualified to be president?…won’t it ring awfully hollow? For her part, Clinton, looking toward a future mending of fences, brushed off Sanders’s remarks. It’s worth noting, too, that back in 2008, Clinton gave up the fight in early June right after the primaries ended and endorsed Obama. One has trouble picturing Sanders doing the same, if it comes to that, and what he said Wednesday night makes it even less likely.

For Democrats that’s a worrisome scenario. The Sanders campaign has so far done a lot of good in advanciing the issues of Wall St. reform, reducing income inequality and restricting unfair trade as Democratic priorities. It has also mobilized younger voters, who could help defeat Republicans in the fall.
Until recently, the Clinton-Sanders contest has provided a model of civility, in stark contrast to the Republicans’ increasingly ridiculous mud-slinging. The value of being perceived as the party for grown-ups at a time when Republicans are acting like unusually-immature jr. high schoolers should not be underestimated. There are swing voters out there who are looking for evidence of maturity and wisdom. Let’s not make them stay home on election day.
Democrats have not had a better opportunity for a game-changing, landslide election in decades. To risk blowing it now with escalating intemperance would feed the meme that both parties are pretty much the same, even though the policy priorities are vastly different.
To be fair, the Clinton campaign has flirted with unduly harsh personal criticism of Sanders on occasion, but it has wisely stopped short of saying outright that Sanders is “unqualified” to serve as president. Going forward, the Sanders campaign should exercize similar restraint, and get back on track with the high road tone that has served it so well.
It is understandable that the Democratic presidential primaries would heat up at this juncture. But the Democratic party has two excellent presidential candidates, either one of whom has the record, policies and debate skills to beat Trump, Cruz or Kasich decisively. Let’s keep it that way.

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