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July 15, 2015

Daily Beast contributor and Democratic consultant Cliff Shecter crossed a serious line the other day, accusing Bernie Sanders of racism over the senator’s stance on guns: Bernie Sanders Parrots the NRA. Shecter didn’t complete the full Trump, but he slithered just shy of it.

Shecter doesn’t outright call Sanders a racist, but you’d have to be Congressman Louis Gohmert (“viciously stupid”) or Ted Nugent (“pants-pooper-for-freedom”) to miss it. Gohmert and Nugent make appearances in the article as fellow-travelers of Sanders.

I’m not going to get into Sanders position on guns because since I am only going on Mr. Shecter’s column I lack a reliable source. However, here are the quotes in which he accuses Sanders of adopting the NRA’s language:

parroting wholly inane, sometimes racist talking points from the National Rifle Association . . .

you’ll have no trouble hearing the dog whistle that usually emerges from the most right wing, racist precincts of Gunistan . . .

Of course, the worst part of this answer is the blatantly racist mention of “Chicago” . . .

Shecter really gets wound up in rebuking Senator Sanders for suggesting he could bring the two extremes together:

As if some guy living in a bunker, recycling his own urine and surrounded by enough weaponry to reenact Antietam, is the equivalent of a mom who wants background checks, an assault-weapons ban, and her kids not have to do “active shooter” drills in third grade.

I know, the writing is awful, but let's move beyond that.

Mr. Shecter says the gun stance will cost Sanders dearly if he is to have any chance of capturing the nomination. But as political science research such as The Party Decides shows, Sanders has no chance.

However, we can learn something else here. One of the reasons that outsiders like Sanders don’t get nominations is that party leaders don’t endorse them. In fact, party insiders like Shecter can be depended upon to assail challengers thus assisting the party’s favored candidate and limiting the front runner’s need to launch her own attack. (See 2012, House members who served with Newt Gingrich testifying to his mental instability).

Shecter’s wild rhetoric also illustrates other lessons in political science. For one, elites tend to be more polarized than the party in the electorate. Another lesson, and this also applies to the party’s rank and file, is that increased polarization is not coming from growing attachment to one’s own party but from rising fear and mistrust of the other party, the NRA being a component of the Republican coalition.

It shouldn’t be surprising that a senator from a rural, hunting state has an accepting attitude toward gun ownership. No rural state politician would describe the hunters he knows as “some guy living in a bunker, recycling his own urine and surrounded by enough weaponry to reenact Antietam.” 

Conservatives often cry foul when they believe Democrats accuse them of racism unfairly. Here is a case where a party functionary levels the charge against perhaps the most leftward pol in the party.

We’re living in the age of Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston, and Donald Trump. Frivolous cries of racism to make some political yardage are the last thing we need.

The GOP has Trump, but the Democratic left has its own Trumpism.

Cliff Shecter, Bernie Sanders

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