Well before folks could get their hands on Hillary Clinton’s new memoir of the 2016 presidential election, “What Happened,” word was out that VIP tickets for her book tour were running upwards of $2,000. In contrast, Bernie Sanders launched “Bernie Sanders’ Guide to Political Revolution” with a few media interviews and a slate of agenda items for the new Senate session to consider. Folks wanting a copy of the book could find it in the teen non-fiction section of their local bookstore.
The contrast between high priced VIP tickets to an event for a memoir about losing the election and a down-to-earth how-to guide for progressive politics aimed at young readers offers us clear evidence of the vastly different ways that Clinton and Sanders see their roles as national leaders.
Sanders is looking forward and Clinton is looking back. Sanders is engaging the young and working to build momentum for his progressive agenda. Clinton is naming names, bristling at her unfair loss and cashing in.
While Clinton’s book hits stores on September 12, enough of it has been leaked to show that at least one goal of the memoir is to blame Sanders for inflicting “lasting damage” on her campaign during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. Even more, she argues that the Sanders campaign helped Trump win.
She also has some blame for President Obama, whom she faults for telling her to hold back in her attacks on Sanders. According to Clinton’s version of events, if she had gone after Sanders more aggressively, she might have won. She felt, she writes, like Obama put her in a “straitjacket.”
Before I move on to comparing the tenor of these two books and the fact that they confirm the vast difference between Clinton and Sanders, not just on policy but on leadership itself, let’s start by saying something obvious. If anyone should be writing a “what happened” memoir, it is Sanders, not Clinton.
While the lawsuit that alleged fraud over the Democratic National Committee’s handling of the 2016 presidential primary came to an end a couple of weeks ago, the legal proceedings, along with the hacked DNC emails, showed that the DNC leadership exhibited a clear case of bias against the Sanders campaign. DNC lawyers argued that they did not have a legal obligation to be neutral. And so the case was dropped.
The lawsuit is really only the tip of a much larger iceberg that surrounded the #DemExit movement. From the debate schedule to superdelegates to the disputes over the DNC platform itself, Sanders and his supporters had plenty to gripe about.
But rather than write a book about all of the ways that he got screwed by the DNC, Sanders took the high road and helped campaign for Clinton, then, after she lost, he focused on advancing his agenda. Meanwhile basically every public statement Clinton has issued since the election has focused on how the presidency was stolen from her.
After he lost his presidential run, Sanders launched the “Our Revolution” website to help continue his campaign’s momentum well after he was running. Its goal was to support and empower a new generation of progressive political leaders. In contrast, Clinton supporter Peter Daou just launched Verrit, a site endorsed by Clinton which offers users verified pro-Clinton quotes they can share online. Many of these sharable quotes are meant to show how awesome she is.
The leaked sections of “What Happened” portray Clinton as a victim of Sanders, of Obama, of Putin, of Comey and so on, but also as someone still indignant about the reality of her loss. Despite the fact that the book is meant to offer an intimate side of her, it reads like the petty account of a sore loser.
In contrast, Sanders offers his book as a gesture of solidarity towards future political activists. When he discusses his campaign in the opening of the book, he does so with pride, mentioning the fact that he won more of the millennial vote than Clinton and Trump combined.
He also dedicates the book to the younger generation, which he praises as the most tolerant and intelligent in U.S. history. "The current generation of young people is the smartest, most idealistic, and least prejudiced generation in the modern history of the United States," Sanders writes. "This is a generation that is prepared to think big and move this country in a very different direction than we have been traveling for years." The goal of his book, he explains, is to help the young turn their idealism into action.
Where Clinton’s attacks on Sanders get really low is in her resuscitation of the Bernie Bros myth. In the passage where she complains about the Sanders campaign, she goes on to write, "Some of his supporters, the so-called Bernie Bros, took to harassing my supporters online. It got ugly and more than a little sexist.”
Now, here’s the problem: Clinton was, in fact, the target of a whole lot of misogyny, but the sources of those attacks were not the so-called Bernie Bros. In fact, the “Bernie Bro” narrative, as Glenn Greenwald explained for the Intercept back in January 2016, was a potent political tactic and a journalistic disgrace:
It’s intended to imply two equally false claims: (1) a refusal to march enthusiastically behind the Wall Street-enriched, multiple-war-advocating, despot-embracing Hillary Clinton is explainable not by ideology or political conviction, but largely if not exclusively by sexism: demonstrated by the fact that men, not women, support Sanders (his supporters are ‘bros’); and (2) Sanders supporters are uniquely abusive and misogynistic in their online behavior.
Back when Greenwald wrote the piece, an Iowa poll showed Sanders with a 15-point lead over Clinton among women under 45, while one-third of Iowa women over 45 supported him. Even more recently, Sanders had a 58 percent favorability rating among all women voters and an 80 percent one among Democrats. That poll, conducted in April of this year, concluded that Sanders was the most popular active politician in the nation.
But, still, for Clinton, she lost because Sanders impugned her character and allowed his supporters to hurl sexist epithets her way.
Another stark difference between the new books by Sanders and Clinton is the way that they treat the idea of party loyalty. Sanders’ volume really doesn’t talk about political parties per se, although it does clearly divide what he describes as left and right political agendas. Instead it focuses on policy, platforms and effective means of political action. Nowhere does he speak of loyalty to a party or even a cause. Instead the key word he uses to link his readers to his vision is “solidarity.”
Meanwhile, Clinton goes on a tirade about Sanders as a disrupter of the Democratic Party. She points out, rightly, that Sanders was not a DNC insider and professed no “loyalty” to the party. But when she ends her adulatory jag about the Democrats, she writes, “I am proud to be a Democrat and I wish Bernie were, too.”
She wishes he were proud to be a Democrat too? Seriously?
It’s not just a weird passage that exposes how Clinton favors party loyalty over listening to the needs of the people; it’s also completely tone-deaf politically. In the latest Gallup poll numbers, only 28 percent of American identify as Democrats and 41 percent are Independents. It’s Clinton’s attachment to party loyalty that is the problem. It favors a cronyist DNC oligarchy over paying attention to what voters want.
Sanders is a leader who advocates solidarity. Clinton wants party loyalty. It’s a clear breakdown in political leadership. One vision is of a leader working with and for the people. The other is a vision of how the people serve the leader and the system. Clinton’s assumption that Sanders voters should have been hers is another clear sign of how she thinks of voters as belonging to her, rather than having their own right to vote the way they want.
But perhaps the best sign of how these two books teach us about the radically different leadership styles of Clinton and Sanders takes place as Clinton dismisses Sanders on policy. Clinton mocks Sanders for what she saw as copying her ideas and then “super-sizing” them to make himself more appealing to voters. She describes him as a “serial over-promiser.”
She goes on to recount how Jake Sullivan, her top policy aide, told her that Sanders' campaign strategy reminded him of a scene from the movie "There's Something About Mary," where a hitchhiker says he has a plan to roll out seven-minute abs to top the famous eight-minute abs.
"Why, why not six-minutes abs?" Ben Stiller's character asks.
Clinton mocks: "That's what it was like in policy debates with Bernie. We would promise a bold infrastructure investment plan or an ambitious new apprenticeship program for young people, and then Bernie would announce basically the same thing, but bigger. On issue after issue, it was like he kept promising four-minute abs, or even no-minutes abs. Magic abs!"
But here’s the thing. The Sanders vision is not equivalent to “magic abs.” In fact, as his book clearly shows, his policy ideas are progressive, practical and possible. And even more, they are what the nation wants.
“The Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Action” is actually filled with clear and helpful information designed to help young activists better understand the challenges facing this nation. It contains infographics, illustrations and resources that help break down issues like income inequality, climate change, healthcare, law enforcement reform, prison system reform and student loan debt. Each chapter includes ways to learn more about an issue and ways to get involved. It is straightforward, concise and inspiring.
While Clinton is going on about “magic abs,” Sanders is writing a book that helps his readers understand how current government structure works and what they can do to make it better. The contrast couldn’t be starker.
In one excellent example, Sanders walks readers through the effects of a low minimum wage, revealing how a “starvation wage” that has workers earning less than the cost of living but putting in 40 hours a week actually serves to subsidize companies like Walmart. He shows how it is middle class taxpayers who help subsidize the cheap labor used by Walmart since their employees need federal and local assistance to survive.
And, while Clinton mocks Sanders for his idealistic desire to think big, Sanders starts his book reminding readers that his views are those of the bulk of Americans: “On major issue after major issue, the vast majority of Americans support a progressive agenda.” For Clinton, though, the progressive agenda wanted by the majority is nothing more than the hocus pocus of magic abs or the dreams of those who want a pony.
This tweet from David Sirota says it all:
That’s the real tragedy to Clinton’s discourse. She literally sees political vision as nothing but a fantasy. She has so thoroughly imbibed the corporatist, pro-status quo version of the Democratic party that she can’t even notice how pathetically uninspiring her positions are for those young voters she referred to as basement dwellers on the campaign trail.
Against the snarky, negative tone of Clinton’s book, Sanders offers his readers a combination of political passion and practical advice. When it refers to him personally, it does so by quoting a Sanders tweet that links to the issue being covered. The tweets are used to show how Sanders has been standing up for these issues for years. It is a technique that privileges the cause, not the ego. The effect is a subtle form of leadership that is grounded in the idea that a progressive leader is only as strong as the people being inspired and mentored.
"Young people are the future of our country," Sanders explained to Teen Vogue. "As citizens of the United States, they have a responsibility to participate in our democracy and to help create a government which works for all, rather than just the few. This book will expose them to an unusual political campaign, the excitement of politics and what being a progressive is all about."
Some will likely say that it is not fair to compare two books that have such radically different goals. Clinton’s is a look back at what happened with her campaign; Sanders’s is a book designed to help energize and guide future progressive political action. Hers is a memoir; his is a political guide to action. One is personal. The other is about political vision and action.
Or maybe comparing these books is exactly what we should be doing because they portray vastly different ideas for the future of left politics in this nation.
Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that media coverage of the two books has been vastly uneven. Article after article has covered Clinton’s attacks on Sanders. Not one piece I have seen thus far on Clinton’s Bernie-bashing has considered the fact that he has a book out now, too.
Those stories that have covered it often missed the point. Chris Cuomo on CNN’s “New Day” interviewed Sanders about his new book and suggested that some have been reading it as a sign of a potential future run for the presidency. Cuomo asked Sanders whether he planned to run again or back a younger candidate with a progressive message.
Demonstrating why Sanders is a completely different type of leader than Clinton, he quipped back, "Well there is a third school of thought, Chris, and that is that the media never, ever gives up," said Sanders. "And instead of focusing on real issues, they keep talking about never-ending campaigns."
Perfectly demonstrating that for Sanders, as it is for many of us, the goal is political progress, not ego-building, he went on: "We never stop elections, people are sick and tired of it. They want me to go back to Washington to deal with climate change, to deal with healthcare, to deal with education, to deal with issues that impact their lives," he continued. "They do not want to see never ending elections."
And they really don’t want to spend all their time thinking back on a lost election.
These two books offer different visions of political leadership, different narratives about political possibility and different views about our future. One is constructed to build collective support; the other is a story about a leader betrayed and unfairly thwarted. One offers a practical guide to political action; the other is filled with stories of magic abs and ponies. One hopes to make a real difference in our nation; the other mocks the idea of even trying.