Conventional wisdom holds that things get nasty pretty quickly between candidates during primary season. But then again, Bernie Sanders is hardly a typical candidate for the office of President of the United States and it seems that some major media outlets are having a tough time getting their collective heads around that. Thus far, the Vermont Senator — a plain speaking, self-described democratic socialist — has largely resisted the time-honored tradition of directly attacking his political rival since he announced that he is challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party’s nomination.
Most recently, Sanders appeared on CNN for an interview with Wolf Blitzer. Although Sanders has been stumping to promote his plan for free college education, the CNN anchor repeatedly turned his conversation with Sanders to concerns regarding Hillary Clinton. A partial transcript of the interview was posted by Real Clear Politics.
“WOLF BLITZER: What is your reaction when you hear [Hillary Clinton] say that about income inequality? Which is a huge issue for you.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VERMONT): Well, it is an issue that I have been talking about for a long time. I think what we need to do is be very specific about what we are going to do about it. Today, Wolf, 99% of all new income is going to the top 1%. The top of one tenth of one percent!
WOLF BLITZER: You would put her in that top ten one percent? Is that what you are saying?
BERNIE SANDERS: I don’t know exactly, maybe. I don’t know if they are that high.
WOLF BLITZER: Is that a problem that her husband made 30 million dollars from speaking alone?
BERNIE SANDERS: It is a problem, but the more serious problem is what do we do about it. What we need to do is create millions of decent paying jobs rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. What you need to do is say to the wealthiest people and largest corporations that you need to start paying your fair share of taxes. You can’t stash your money in the Cayman Islands, what you have to do if you really want to save the middle class, is to say to everybody in this country that can qualify, they’re going to get a college education.”
Shortly thereafter Blitzer again raised Clinton in their conversation, prompting Sanders to put the kibosh on the topic with a terse reply.
“WOLF BLITZER: Is Hillary Clinton committed to this cause as are you?
BERNIE SANDERS: Wolf, you have to ask Hillary. I don’t work for her. I don’t know.”
To be sure, Sanders’ restraint in aggressively criticizing Hillary Clinton is both strategic and multifaceted. On one hand, Sanders is presently seeking to roll back longstanding perceptions that he is irascible and unapproachable. But the senator also has professed some degree of respect and admiration for his former colleague, indicating that he doesn’t intend to engage in personal attacks and character assassination.
“I’ve never run a negative political ad in my life,” Sanders said in further comments quoted by the Guardian “…I believe in serious debates on serious issues. I’ve known Hillary Clinton for 25 years. Maybe I shouldn’t say this: I like Hillary Clinton. I respect Hillary Clinton.”
With over eight months to go before the Iowa caucuses, there are still a number of issues that will likely bring about sharp disagreements between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. With a critical need for endorsements on both sides as well as the likelihood that the candidates will meet face-to-face at debates and other forums, it will be no small miracle if they can stave off urges and provocations to garner support by going negative. With a polarized electorate that is primed by confrontational media and reality television, Bernie Sanders is finding himself in the familiar position of swimming against the current of popular culture.
[Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images]