Something fairly shocking happened Friday night on a story that I hadn't been paying all that much attention to, if I'm being honest. A few weeks ago, HIV/AIDS activist Michael Rajner came out blasting Bernie Sanders for not returning his group's emails and phone calls when even Donald Trump's campaign had responded.
That bit of pressure yielded immediate results, and Sanders did indeed meet with the group. Mission accomplished, I thought. Then, Rajner contacted me last night to share an open letter his group released slamming Sanders for "exploiting" their meeting, and "misleading" voters about it with a press release that focused on an ancillary part of the meeting, and implied that the group endorsed a ballot initiative that they did not actually endorse.
This is not unusual. Especially in this campaign, activists often apply the most pressure on the candidates who seem like the most natural allies, but who are also just as likely to take those groups' votes for granted. It has been true of Hillary Clinton, who has faced massive pressure from black activists, and it's true of Bernie Sanders.
What's shocking is that I reached out to the Sanders campaign at 6:02 pm for a response to the group's letter, and instead of responding, Sanders Policy Director Warren Gunnels sent this now-deleted tweet six minutes later, and 15 minutes before my piece was published:
Then, Gunnels fired off an email response to the group accusing them of being shills for Big Pharma, rife with indignation that they would question Bernie's liberal street cred, but utterly lacking any mention of the merits of their complaint. It was a really disgusting response, but one which I stubbornly chalked up to a hasty, ill-advised retort by an indignant aide.
Still, the response smacked of the indignation that Sanders and his supporters displayed when #BlackLivesMatter pressed him at Netroots last summer, the idea that black people were insufficiently grateful and/or aware of Bernie's Civil Rights era resume', and it reinforced a general feeling I've had about the disconnect between Bernie and marginalized communities. Sure, he's got all the "right" positions (for the most part), he says the right things when you ask him, but he and his supporters treat them like extracurriculars on a college application. He doesn't campaign on them.
The stars of the Bernie Sanders show are "Millionaires and Billionaires" and "Working Families," and everything else be damned. For the most part, I've chalked this up to the forces of political gravity that have led him to his success, but a friend of mine pointed me to a 2013 interview that reveals this wasn't some natural evolution of Bernie's political revolution, but was the plan all along.
Bernie Sanders has talked about the importance of persuading white voters in the past, but in this 2013 interview with Ed Schultz, he makes an explicit connection between attracting white voters and reducing the focus on issues like gay rights and reproductive freedom, and connecting both to some familiar-sounding themes:
Bernie Sanders has certainly managed to avoid getting "hung up" on any issue that doesn't relate to his Holy Trinity of Millionaires and Billionaire, College Affordability, and Healthcare for all. If he throws anyone else a bone, he amd his supporters don't want to hear how it tastes.