Sandra Bland And Email Scandals: Is Bernie Sanders Changing How We Conduct Political Campaigns?

The jury is still out on whether Bernie Sanders can win the Democratic presidential nomination, but the “clean” campaign tactics and passion of the Vermont senator have shown other politicians — and American voters — that there is an alternative to the politics-as-usual negativity of smear campaigns and scandals, whether real or manufactured. Is Bernie Sanders helping redefine American politics and how candidates conduct their campaigns?

The New York Times noted the stark contrast between the Democratic presidential debate last Tuesday and the squabbling among Republican candidates, saying that the “grown-ups” took the stage that night, and calling “civility” the big winner. How big of a role is Sanders playing in this shift in politics, at least on one side of the political fence?

Even before Tuesday night’s debate, Sanders told voters he wasn’t running a negative campaign against Hillary Clinton, and he proved it with his now famous “enough about your damn emails” line when Clinton was questioned about her pending email scandal investigation. The “sound byte heard ’round the world'” prompted a huge response and standing ovation from the crowd, and made Bernie Sanders a household name overnight.

But even back in April, during a campaign stop in Vermont, NPR reported Bernie Sanders was pushing for a focus on real issues affecting everyday Americans, and lamenting media coverage focusing on trivial issues and completely irrelevant topics.

“We don’t talk about the real issues facing the American people. We don’t talk about it. We talk about Hillary’s hairdo. Or my hairdo!”

The Democratic presidential candidates did talk about real issues in the debate, and numerous media polls showed Americans responded favorably to this different tone, with the Nation calling for many more debates given the refreshingly positive and focused tone of this first one. Was it influenced by the grassroots campaign of Sanders who has been picking up tremendous steam — and voters — with his novel approach?

Another breaking story involving Bernie Sanders this week didn’t come from conventional big media but from a blog, although HuffPost then picked up the story. Sanders happened to be dining at Union Station in Washington at the same time as Sandra Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, when Rev. Hannah Bonner invited Sanders to join them.

According to Bonner, Sanders didn’t ask for any photos, and only obliged the pair for a photo at their request. Nor did he call the media or release any statements regarding his meeting. In fact, Bernie Sanders did nothing to politicize what could have been a huge campaign sound byte and boost from his chance meeting, according to Bonner, but simply promised to say Sandra Bland’s name at the Democratic debate.

“[Bernie Sanders] took no record, he made no statement. He did not try to turn it into a publicity stunt. He simply made space for a sacred moment, and then let it pass without trying to gain anything from it.

“For that, I respect him. For that, I am grateful. That choice may not have made him a very good politician, but it made him a better man.”

Without Bonner’s blog (and HuffPost) no one would have ever known.

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Supporters of democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) show the wide demographic of voters the candidate appeals to during the Democratic debate Tuesday. Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images

With so much talk about campaign contributions and billionaires “buying” politicians through huge fundraisers, the alleged “most hated man in America” decided to try to buy a meeting with Bernie Sanders. Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli, who notoriously raised the price of an HIV medication from $13.50 to $750 per pill overnight, tried to make a contribution to the Sanders campaign to get a meeting with Bernie.

Shkreli failed. According to the Boston Globe, his $2,700 donation went to the Whitman-Walker health clinic in Washington. Bernie Sanders’ campaign spokesman, Michael Briggs, did not mince words about why Sanders forwarded the money to a clinic serving those who are HIV positive.


“We are not keeping the money from this poster boy for drug company greed.”

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Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks to an overflow crowd after a campaign event at the New England College in Concord, New Hampshire. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

It’s clear politics is hardly business as usual in the Bernie Sanders camp, and other candidates in the Democratic party seem to be following his lead. Is Sanders responsible for this kinder, gentler campaign trail in the blue party, or has the politics on the other side simply gotten so ugly — with one candidate literally commenting that another was too ugly to hold the office — that we’re seeing a backlash demanding a new civility?

It’s hard to say, but New Yorker writer Andy Borowitz has taken notice of this new brand of politics in the Sanders camp in his latest faux news satire that would make Stephen Colbert proud.

“‘Bernie Sanders’s failure to become a member of either major political party excludes him from the network of cronyism and backroom deals required under our system to be elected,’ said Davis Logsdon, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota. ‘Though that failure alone would disqualify Sanders, the fact that he is not beholden to a major corporate interest or investment bank would also make him ineligible.'”

It may be satire, but if only it weren’t so true.

Bernie Sanders will be on Real Time with Bill Maher Friday night on HBO.