Good politics

102694294-472283274.530x298One of the most powerful and memorable moments of the Democratic debate – a debate which has been followed by two actual and one potential candidate withdrawing – was Bernie Sanders telling his viewers that what he was about to say was bad politics. It wasn’t. It was very, very, good politics.

Sanders moment of “bad politics” was telling Hillary Clinton, or rather Democratic primary voters, that he was “fed up with hearing about your damned emails”. This resonated for a number of reasons. Firstly, his audience agreed with him. Democrats have been fed up with this issue for some time. Republicans and independents, not so much, but his audience is Democrats, and they agree with him. Secondly, it was good politics precisely because he described it as bad politics. Voters are in an ornery mood. It is one reason why Sanders – who is not even a Democrat, but an independent who calls himself a “democratic socialist” – is running well in the Democratic primaries and why the top two – in some polls, top three – candidates on the Republican side are people who have never held political office. The anti-politics mood is not as strong among Democrats, but it is strong enough for it to be good politics to describe yourself as a bad politician, especially when running against one of the most carefully crafted and scripted politicians in the land. Thirdly, it was good politics because there is a subtle and unsaid message there: “vote for me, and you won’t keep hearing about her damned emails”.

You will notice that Sanders did not say that he thought Clinton did nothing wrong. He did not say her handling of the issue has been clean and above-board. He didn’t even say Republicans are wrong to pursue the matter. He just said he was fed up with hearing about it, and would rather be debating other issues. In that, I am sure he was sincere. He is passionate about issues of equality and in his burning hatred for bankers. He is genuinely annoyed at the focus being diverted from these issues to Clinton’s “damned emails”, but he didn’t say he thought that diversion of focus was the fault of Republicans or the media. He left open at least the possibility that he thought it was the fault – or partly the fault – of Hillary Clinton.

To have attacked her – as former Rhode Island governor and senator, Lincoln Chafee did – would have been foolish. Chafee has already withdrawn from the race, and his complete inability to make any impact in the debate undoubtedly contributed to this. Sanders would have looked disloyal to the party and its likely future nominee. 

Was Sanders aware that his moment of “bad politics” was actually very good politics? Almost certainly, though it is possible he did not actually intend the third implication: that people fed up with the issue can kill it by voting for him. The other two – the appeal to partisan Democrats and the self-deprecating suggestion of bad politics – he almost certainly intended to be good politics.

Otherwise, Clinton seemed to have a good debate, though it is fascinating that the most played moment was one which was only superficially good. Three distractions – Chaffee, Jim Webb, and possibility of a Biden candidacy – have now been eliminated. That suits both Clinton and Sanders just fine. 

qlQuentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com

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    Good politics – The Libertarian Press

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