Here’s Everything That’s Wrong with the ‘Bernie Sanders Makes My Skin Crawl’ Ad


Independent Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders released an ill-advised campaign ad that literally opens with the line “Bernie Sanders makes my skin crawl,” but that’s just one of the many things that are wrong with this ad. Here they all are.

The ad in question centers around a clip of MSNBC legal analyst Mimi Rocah saying “Bernie Sanders makes my skin crawl, and I can’t even identify for you what exactly it is. But I see him as sort of a not pro-woman candidate. And so, having the two of them there — like, I don’t understand young women who support him.”

That declaration, unchallenged by host David Gura, got a lot of attention thanks to outraged Sanders campaign advisers, who have decided to give it even more attention by turning it into a campaign ad. Rather than curse the darkness, I’d like to offer Sanders and his campaign some excellent and free advice as to how they went wrong here, and how they could have fixed it. You’re welcome.

Number 1: It’s a campaign ad that opens with the line “Bernie Sanders makes my skin crawl.”

This might seem obvious, but amplifying a quote like this is just not a great idea. If the campaign had wanted to engage the criticism, they could have opened with the more substantively vulnerable “I can’t even identify for you what exactly it is. But I see him as sort of a not pro-woman candidate,” which more effectively sets up the thesis of the ad.

Number 2: The ad asserting Bernie Sanders is “pro-woman” is an attack on an actual woman.

Bernie Sanders and his campaign certainly had a legitimate axe to grind over the Rocah segment, which they have held up as an example of MSNBC’s bias against Sanders. But the “crime” here isn’t Mimi Rocah having an opinion, or even not being able to support it. She’s a legal analyst, not a political one. The host, David Gura, should have pressed her on the remark, on the spot or in the following segment.

But the focus on Rocah prompted a social media backlash that caused her to step away from and lock her Twitter account for several days. The reaction to this new ad won’t likely be much different.

Number 3: Some of Bernie’s #Receipts are really, really old.

The rebuttal portion of the ad kicks off with Sanders senior adviser Nina Turner introducing a 1996 clip of feminist icon Gloria Steinem declaring Sanders an “honorary woman,” and another supporter describes  a 1963 photo of Sanders “being dragged away by police” as the photo is shown onscreen, and adds “but that photo doesn’t show is that he was chained to two black women who were protesting discriminatory school policies.”

And yet another supporter declares “He has been voting for a woman’s right to choose since before I was born” over shots of old newspaper clippings.

The age of these receipts isn’t necessarily a problem on its own, but in their political context, they reinforce a prominent narrative among those who aren’t Sanders supporters — the “what have you done for me lately?” critique that earned him well-publicized jeers at a black women’s forum earlier this year.

But the purpose of these receipts — to demonstrate Sanders’ consistency and willingness to take unpopular stands — is undermined by a lack of context. For example, Steinem spoke for a good fifteen minutes during her 1996 endorsement of Sanders, but the ad doesn’t make any effort to explain why she dubbed him an honorary woman.

The faded clippings of Sanders discussing abortion aren’t accompanied by any more recent examples of Sanders defending abortion rights, like his recent pledge to make Roe v. Wade a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees.

Number 4: The ad smears women candidates by implication.

One of the claims made in the ad is that “Bernie Sanders is the only candidate in this race who is prepared to address” the maternal mortality crisis among black women, which is a flat-out lie that’s particularly galling because several of the women in this race  have introduced plans and actual legislation to do just that.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), for example, has introduced a bill called the “Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies Act” that has been co-sponsored by fellow presidential candidates and women Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) — as well as “honorary woman” Senator Bernie Sanders.

And pretty much every candidate in the race has “addressed” the issue, men and women.

Number 5: The policies don’t match the #Receipts.

Several of the arguments the ad makes don’t reference policy at all, like the undocumented immigrant who says she supports Sanders because “he has never made me feel like I was any different from any other constituent that he has.”

To quote Chris Rock, what, you want a cookie? The implication of this strange boast is that Sanders doesn’t treat immigrants worse than any other constituent, which would seem to be the lowest of bars for a Democratic candidate.

But it also works the other way; undocumented immigrants actually do have a different set of needs and challenges than other constituents. Those needs could have been addressed in this ad by mentioning any of the six immigration reform proposals listed on Sanders’ website — or even the fact that undocumented residents of the United States would be eligible for Medicare for All.

But every policy that is mentioned in the is something that benefits everyone, and none are targeted specifically at women. The closest they get is saying that Medicare for All ensures “that women get the health care that they need and that they deserve,” which heavily implies abortion care, but doesn’t explicitly mention it.

The ad says that the aforementioned issue of maternal mortality disparities is “due to the fact that many women in this country, black women in this country, are uninsured,” a problem that M4A fixes for everyone. But the maternal mortality bill that Sanders himself co-sponsored focuses on eliminating implicit bias in health care.

The policy accompanying the clip of Sanders railing against the gender pay gap is Sanders’ $15 an hour minimum wage bill, and not the women-specific policies listed on his website.

And the ad contains two testimonials in favor of Sanders’ student debt cancellation plan, which is, once again, a policy that is targeted at men and women equally.

It’s too late to unring this bell, but maybe the next time someone on cable news says something nasty about Bernie Sanders, this helpful advice can help them figure out how best to produce an ad about it. Mainly by not producing an ad about it.

[Photo by Frederic Brown/AFP/Getty Images]

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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