Stop freaking out, Democrats!: Why Bernie & Hillary's war of words isn't the outrage we're making it out to be

Yes, hostilities between the two campaigns have escalated — because that's what happens in any primary

Published April 7, 2016 4:48PM (EDT)

Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton   (Reuters/Mary Schwalm/Mark Kauzlarich/Photo montage by Salon)
Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton (Reuters/Mary Schwalm/Mark Kauzlarich/Photo montage by Salon)

Now that the 2016 presidential campaign has reached New York, things are getting, well, New York-ish. Ted Cruz was chased out of the Bronx. Hillary Clinton invaded a subway, for one stop. And Donald Trump spoke to his natural constituency -- a huge crowd of angry Long Islanders.

So it's no accident that some of New York's aggressive zeal followed Bernie Sanders to Philadelphia on Wednesday, where he declared that Hillary Clinton was not "qualified" to be president because of her Super PAC money, her vote for the Iraq War, her support for free trade and a host of other things he's been criticizing Clinton for over the past year.

Cue the freakout!

Clinton's spokespeople and surrogates immediately pronounced themselves horrified that Sanders would say such things. The Washington Post duly fact-checked Sanders' assertion that Clinton had said he wasn't qualified before he said she wasn't qualified. (It turned out that Clinton hadn't directly said Sanders wasn't qualified, but had just refused to say he was qualified when repeatedly pressed about the matter in an interview. Yes, this is the level we're working at, people.) Clinton, presumably satisfied with her campaign's churning of the waters, gamely laughed off the fracas during a walkabout in the Bronx on Thursday.

What's next? Can Bernie ever walk his comments back? Can Hillary ever unite the party now? Is Donald Trump going to be president???

Let's all take a deep breath, everyone, and have a little perspective. People fight during political campaigns! The Democratic primary has already given us both Susan Sarandon/Debra Messing AND Rosario Dawson/Dolores Huerta feuds. That's just how it goes. You get into a candidate, you have arguments about them, things get heated and intense. It happens literally every single time. The difference in 2016 is that Twitter exists, and Twitter makes all politics even more horrible than they already were. It turns people into volunteer opposition researchers endlessly litigating every single sentence of the campaign, and it gives political hacks their biggest, most unimpeded platform in history. If someone could invent a button on Twitter that would shut off all 2016 tweets until December (including mine!), I would donate half my salary to that person.

This flap over qualifications has everything you would find in an overdone Twitter fight. So of course everyone's instantly going to Code Super-Red. But, seriously, this is what these things are like! Clinton is the frontrunner and is trying to push Sanders out of the race. Sanders doesn't want to go anywhere, so he's upping his game.

Doesn't everyone remember the 2008 campaign, which was much more bitter, nasty and prolonged? Here's how the New York Times described a single debate between Clinton and Barack Obama:

If the debate was full of memorable moments — Mrs. Clinton accusing Mr. Obama of associating with a “slum landlord,” Mr. Obama saying he felt as if he were running against both Hillary and Bill Clinton, the two candidates talking over each other — the totality of the attacks also laid bare the ill will and competitive ferocity that has been simmering between them for weeks.

“You know, Senator Obama, it is very difficult having a straight-up debate with you, because you never take responsibility for any vote, and that has been a pattern,” Mrs. Clinton said, drawing a chorus of jeers from a crowd at the Palace Theater in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Mr. Obama shot back that Mrs. Clinton was conducting a brand of negative politics that, he suggested throughout the night, she and her husband had perfected: “comb my 4,000 votes in Illinois, choose one, try to present it in the worst possible light.” He added that he had sought to maintain “a certain credibility” in the race.

Compared to that, the Clinton-Sanders race has been all sweetness and light. And, lest we forget, after that primary, when Hillary supporters had formed a group explicitly opposed to party unity, when the two camps were at each other's throats, everyone got back together and Obama won. It was fine. It'll be fine this time. Need we remind ourselves that the Republican Party is currently Donner Party-ing itself? If there's a contested GOP convention, is anyone going to still be thinking about that one thing Bernie said in April? Bernie Sanders is not about to say, "Sure, vote for Ted Cruz, I don't care, me and Hillary were fighting earlier." And one nasty exchange is not going to land Donald Trump in the White House. That's not how it works. So maybe everyone can just calm down for a minute, step away from Twitter, and take a nice long walk.

By Jack Mirkinson

Jack Mirkinson is a writer living in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @jackmirkinson.

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Bernie Sanders Dem Primary Elections 2016 Hillary Clinton