Bernie Sanders Needs To Replicate Parts Of Tulsi Gabbard’s Strategy To Win The Nomination [Opinion]

Senator Bernie Sanders addresses the crowd during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Sean Rayford / Getty Images

For many supporters of the centrist wing of the Democratic Party, the outcome of Robert Mueller’s FBI investigation into Donald Trump’s 2016 election already seems to be a foregone conclusion. That the investigation will find proof of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia seems to have been accepted, even as the investigation itself continues.

This ideological rush to conclusions is not due to Mueller himself — the special counsel has, if anything, remained admirably reserved about his work — but because of the clamor purposely being generated by the Democratic Party establishment, along with its allies in the media and the intelligence community.

What this onslaught has created is a toxic atmosphere in which anything that is perceived as dissent against the party line must be unequivocally opposed, ridiculed, and pushed aside. It has been established, without evidence, that Donald Trump is “doing Putin’s bidding,” and those who dare as much as question the veracity of such claims are labelled as, at best, unwitting agents of the Kremlin. Predictably, the already broad net of this narrative has been aggressively expanding to the left wing of the Democratic Party. It is now coming to influence progressives within the party as well.

Offering a glimpse into what the election year is set to bring is NBC News‘ smearing of Tulsi Gabbard. Thoroughly debunked by the Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald, NBC News‘ hit piece is only the latest in line of attacks launched at the Hawaii representative.

It is quite telling that NBC News chose to rely on the so-called Russiagate narrative to smear Gabbard. Associating those who dare depart from foreign policy interventionism and other orthodoxies of official Washington with the Kremlin has become the weapon of choice for media propagandists. It would have been easier and arguably more effective to criticize Gabbard’s conservative roots, evident in her past opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion, and atrocious posture toward Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

By the supposed left, Gabbard is being criticized from the right. Traditionally left-wing positions, and Gabbard’s progressive platform of non-interventionism, diplomacy instead of aggression, humanitarianism — all embodied in a catchy message: “Say no to nuclear war” — are being challenged from the right.

Indeed, such positions can only be challenged from the right, which is indicative of where the Democratic Party stands and where it is rapidly moving: further to the right, as its constituency moves to the left. Meant to fill the ideological gap, the vacuum between the party and its voters, is the ever-expanding Russia narrative.

Guaranteed to continue, these McCarthyite smears will be aimed at the left and used indiscriminately. Clearly aware of this, Gabbard is changing and sharpening her rhetoric.

“As commander-in-chief, I will work to end the new cold war, nuclear arms race, and slide into nuclear war. That is why the neocon/neolib warmongers will do anything to stop me,” she wrote in a recent Twitter message.

Gabbard could have fine-tuned her rhetoric without significantly modifying her platform, but that would have been a futile effort. Taking the gloves off, as she has, is not only politically courageous, it is also wise. Those Gabbard is seeking to reach stand outside of the Russia vortex, and those in it are unsalvageable.

Already reverberating across social and conventional media are McCarthyite smears aimed at Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Like Gabbard, Sanders is being associated with and tied to — sometimes by six degrees of separation — the Kremlin.

Offered as proof of Sanders’ devotion to official Moscow’s sinister agenda are the senator’s supposed refusals to vote for sanctions against Russian oligarchs, and his alleged spoiler role in the 2016 election.

Sanders’ significant and principled disagreements with Washington orthodoxies are, unsurprisingly, painted and interpreted almost exclusively as proof that he has a role to play in the broad and elaborate Kremlin plot to subvert democracy in the United States.

As the election approaches, these attacks will accelerate and intensify: virtually all polls have shown that the Vermont Senator is among the most popular politicians in the United States. Inasmuch as this makes Sanders a threat to the Democratic Party establishment, it makes him a target.

Bernie Sanders needs to turn up his rhetoric. Trying to appease the center will do him no good. Moving closer to it, if only rhetorically, will not counter, impair, or even slightly de-escalate the torrent of smears, lies, and character attacks that await him. Walking the line will do nothing except make him look weak. It will compromise him in the eyes of his constituency.