During a press conference on Tuesday, President Obama made some critical remarks about Donald Trump and the entire field of GOP presidential candidates. As usual, he spoke the truth, saying essentially that the contenders are anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-science, and he made the obvious point that such rhetoric is a problem for “foreign observers,” especially the denial of climate change:
I think that’s troubling to the international community, since the science is unequivocal. And the other countries around the world, they kind of count on the United States being on the side of science and reason and common sense, because they know that if the United States does not act on big problems in smart ways, nobody will.
It is that last part, that part about the United States acting on big problems in smart ways, that should have led Mr. Obama to also honestly show his hand regarding the current race on the Democratic side and tell his Democratic supporters where he stands on the Bernie-Hillary contest. If you have followed the matter closely, it isn’t hard to figure out that he believes Hillary Clinton gives Democrats the best chance to win in November. He just doesn’t want to say so this early, instead saying silly things like this on Tuesday:
…the great thing about primaries, is everybody is trying to differentiate themselves, when, in fact, Bernie and Hillary agree on a lot of stuff and disagree pretty much across the board with everything the Republicans stand for. So my hope is, is that we can let the primary voters and caucus-goers have their say for a while, and let’s see how this thing plays itself out.
Hooey. He should, before things get out of hand, just call out Bernie’s electability problem and tell Democrats, most of whom still love and respect Mr. Obama, the truth, before too many people start to believe that he actually has a chance to win in November—as some meaningless national polls seem to show right now.
It may be correct for the President to say that “Bernie and Hillary agree on a lot of stuff,” but it is certainly not true that they agree on things that will matter in a general election against Republicans. And I’m not just talking about that whole democratic socialist thing. For sure Republicans will exploit that glaring weakness, using the public’s ignorance or misunderstanding of what democratic socialism is. That is a given. But what hasn’t been talked about much at all is another issue that will even trump the Bernie-is-a-Marxist meme that he will face. It is his problem with national security and our military, two subjects Bernie doesn’t talk about that often. And there are good reasons he doesn’t.
Michael Crowley, former senior writer for The New Republic and now a senior foreign affairs correspondent for Politico, has done Democrats a favor with his latest article (“Bernie Sanders versus the Pentagon“) detailing Bernie’s past positions on military spending and by implication giving us his overall view of what Obama said should be America’s crucial world role in acting “on big problem in smart ways” because if we don’t, “nobody will.” The very first sentence of Crowley’s piece is this stunner about Bernie’s record:
In 1995, he introduced a bill to terminate America’s nuclear weapons program.
What? Huh? You have to be kidding, right? Nope, he’s not kidding. You can go here and see for yourself: H.R.1511, introduced by Congressman Sanders, a bill with exactly zero co-sponsors. Needless to say because we still have nukes, Bernie’s bill was not successful. And needless to say, that bill will come back to haunt a general election Bernie in ways that will make his democratic socialism look like an asset.
And before you shout out, “But that was in 1995! It was so long ago,” let me introduce you to a woman named Judy Elliott, who in May of last year, after Bernie announced his intent to run for president, had this exchange with him at a town hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire:
JUDY ELLLIOTT: “Senator Sanders, I’m Judy from Canterbury NH. The United States already has thousands of nuclear weapons in its active military stockpiles, many of them on hair-trigger alert. And yet there is a plan, which the Administration apparently buys into, for a massive rebuilding of our nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles. A new fleet of submarines, heavy bombers, cruise missiles. It’ll cost a trillion dollars. Big profits for the corporations, but what do you think of this plan?”
BERNIE SANDERS: “Well, I’ll tell you what I think of it. It takes us right back to Carol’s question [previous question about a disabled child]. How does it happen that we have a trillion dollars available to expand our nuclear arsenal, but we don’t have the money to take care of the children in this country? What that’s about … What all of this is about is our national priorities. Who are we as a people? Does Congress listen to the military-industrial complex who has never seen a war that they didn’t like? Or do we listen to the people of this country who are hurting? And that’s what, in a sense, this campaign is about.”
Is that what his campaign is about? Really? Because I don’t hear him talk about it in those terms anymore. Oh, I hear him talking about a lot of good and necessary things that we ought to do with our national money, but I haven’t lately—since people have begun to take him seriously as a candidate—heard him talk about dismantling, or allowing to fall into disrepair, our nuclear defenses. Have you? But I can guarantee you that you will, should he become the Democratic nominee. If you don’t think Republicans will grossly exploit Bernie’s stand on not just our nuclear arsenal but on our military and its use in general, then you don’t know how politics works and how effective such attacks can be under the right circumstances.
It is true that we have a lot of nuclear weapons, and it might be true that we have more than enough to do the job, should that sad day ever come. And it is certainly true those weapons cost a lot of money to maintain and modernize, since our nuclear arsenal is aging. And there is no doubt, as Bernie has said, there is plenty of waste in the Pentagon’s budget and that we could and should spend some of that wasted money on people-helping policies. But like his revolutionary rhetoric regarding economic justice, it should be obvious that his radical proposals on our nuclear deterrent, as well as his past attacks on the Pentagon, are perfect targets for Republicans to exploit and to paint him as not only a radical socialist, but a dangerous radical socialist who will not keep the country safe.
Yes, you might say, that’s what Republicans always try to do to Democrats. Just ask John Kerry, a war hero who in 2004 was made out to be a lying coward who would coddle terrorists were he to become president. They always paint us as weak and dangerous. But in Bernie’s case, they won’t have to make up stuff. It’s right there in his record.
I will leave you with this paragraph from Michael Crowley’s excellent article:
The last Democrat to propose deep cuts in Pentagon spending was the party’s 1972 nominee, George McGovern, who campaigned on a nearly 10 percent reduction to its budget. McGovern’s defeat in a historic landslide prompted deep soul-searching within the Democratic Party and kindled a new movement of pro-defense Democrats.
There’s that George McGovern shellacking again coming up in the context of Bernie Sanders’ campaign. It keeps coming up for a reason. It keeps coming up because it is relevant for Democrats to think about, when they are thinking about who their nominee should be. And more than anyone else, President Obama has the pulpit from which he can make Democrats think about it long and hard. He should do so soon and not wait and “see how this thing plays itself out,” because this thing might not play itself out in the way he thinks.