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‘Excuse Me, I’m Talking:’ Clinton Campaign Attack Diminishes Important Debate In Flint

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders participated in a debate hosted by CNN in Flint, Michigan. It was one of the more substantive debates of the 2016 election, and the debate was specifically aimed at calling more attention to the plight of Flint residents, who continue to endure the impacts of living with a water supply that is poisoned.

Flint residents asked questions about what the candidates would do to address systemic problems, which led to the water crisis. They were both asked what they would do in their first 100 days in office to take care of the problem of lead pipes in public water systems throughout the United States. Yet, when the debate ended, the Clinton campaign was more interested in manipulating a trivial moment in the debate to attack Sanders instead of focusing on the struggles of Flint residents.

Correct The Record, a political action committee run by David Brock, which coordinates with the Clinton campaign, immediately cut together an attack ad called, “Bernie Sanders’ Cringeworthy Debate.” Particularly, the campaign focused on the fact that Sanders had used the word, “Excuse me, I’m talking,” when Clinton interrupted him.

Here is the full exchange from a transcript of the Flint debate:

CLINTON: Well — well, I’ll tell you something else that Senator Sanders was against. He was against the auto bailout. In January of 2009, President-Elect Obama asked everybody in the Congress to vote for the bailout.

The money was there, and had to be released in order to save the American auto industry and four million jobs, and to begin the restructuring. We had the best year that the auto industry has had in a long time. I voted to save the auto industry.

(APPLAUSE)

He voted against the money that ended up saving the auto industry. I think that is a pretty big difference.

SANDERS: Well, I — If you are talking about the Wall Street bailout, where some of your friends destroyed this economy…

CLINTON: You know…

SANDERS: … through — excuse me, I’m talking.

COOPER: Let him (ph) (inaudible).

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

CLINTON: If you’re gonna talk, tell the whole story, Senator Sanders.

SANDERS: Let me tell my story. You tell yours.

CLINTON: I will.

SANDERS: Your story is for — voting for every disastrous trade agreement, and voting for corporate America. Did I vote against the Wall Street bailout?

When billionaires on Wall Street destroyed this economy, they went to Congress and they said, “please, we’ll be good boys, bail us out.” You know what I said? I said, “let the billionaires themselves bail out Wall Street.” It shouldn’t be the middle class of this country. [emphasis added]

CNN’s Anderson Cooper, one of the debate moderators, asked Clinton to let Sanders finish. She was done with her point when Sanders replied with his rebuttal. The transcript clearly shows Clinton talked over Sanders. However, Brock and operatives for the Clinton campaign knew they could essentially claim Sanders was rude to a woman and potentially make him unlikable to voters in Michigan and throughout the United States, especially Americans who still know very little about Sanders.

While the debate was still ongoing, Blue Nation Review, a media outlet owned by Brock which focuses on publishing attacks on Sanders and his supporters, published a post, “Women React To Bernie Sanders Telling Hillary ‘I’m Talking.'” It was brazen in its attempt to smear the Sanders campaign.

John Podesta, a campaign chairman for Clinton, told a CNN correspondent after the debate, “I thought his tone tonight bordered on the disrespectful.” Podesta added, “He kept jumping in, stopping her from speaking, and waving his arms as she was trying to talk.”

Correct the Record’s ad cuts together parts of the debate to make it seem like Sanders would not let Clinton get a word in edgewise, and explicitly suggests Sanders was behaving like a Republican presidential candidate.

For example, when they were talking about their positions on gun control, Clinton interrupted Sanders to say, “That is like the NRA position. No.” Sanders turned to her and said, “Can I — can I finish, please? Alright?”

The Clinton campaign is blatantly trying to swiftboat Sanders over words, which were meaningless and clearly a product of frustration. They are taking moments out of context and claiming his “tone” was rude, or even sexist, because he aggressively defended his stances and passionately rebutted her when she made points during the debate. In other words, they are working to drive voters away from Sanders by complaining that he was too spirited during a debate.

This latest attack fits into a pattern of sleaziness that has become a hallmark of her current presidential campaign.

By the way, Brock, whose super PAC is behind this mendacious attack, is one of the last people who should be using buzzwords to insinuate Sanders was engaged in sexism last night. As Lloyd Grove summarized, Brock is best known for his “scurrilous hatchet jobs on Anita Hill—whom he famously derided as ‘a bit nutty and a bit slutty’—and Bill Clinton, whose extramarital dalliances (facilitated, Brock claimed, by Arkansas state troopers on the governor’s security detail) were the subject of a 11,000-word exposé rife with seamy details that he never bothered to verify, part of the so-called ‘Arkansas Project’ to delegitimize the Clinton presidency, generously funded by right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife.”

Peter Daou, who Brock hired to be the CEO of True Blue Media, which operates Blue Nation Review, immediately agitated people on social media so women would get upset with Sanders’ debate performance. Daou is a fervent Clinton supporter, and as one VICE column noted, he “served” in the Lebanese Forces militia, which was once involved in perpetrating the “infamous 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre.” He is adept at using Internet trolls to play the victim, even when it is the Clinton campaign that holds the power.

By focusing on this largely insignificant moment in the debate, Clinton is able to steer the establishment media, including CNN, away from moments in the debate, which could negatively impact her prospects in the primary. Talking about Bernie interrupting her distracts from her record pushing destructive free trade deals, which resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in Michigan. Talking about Bernie’s hand-waving distracts from her refusal to release transcripts of paid speeches to Goldman Sachs. Talking about Bernie’s “tone” distracts from her support of natural gas fracking.

Lee-Anne Walters, who is “one of the first people to report problems with the water in Flint” and whose children have health problems because of the water, asked what the candidates would do in their first 100 days in office so public water systems removed all lead pipes from their service lines. Walters told CNN after the debate, “The fact that Hillary Clinton said it would take five years actually made me vomit in my mouth.”

Manufacturing this attack on Sanders distracts from the dissatisfaction Flint residents might have with Clinton’s answers. It also reduces the debate to a few seconds and diminishes the substantiveness of the debate, which was markedly superior to the last GOP presidential candidates debate.

Instead of talking about Flint’s poisoned water or how corporations and government officials have transformed numerous cities into human sacrifice zones, the Clinton campaign engineered a superficial controversy to captivate voters’ attention. It may score Clinton political points against Sanders, but it is hugely offensive and disrespectful to the people of Flint, who were led to believe they would be more than just a set piece in her journey to the White House.

Creative Commons Photo from Flickr by Hillary For America
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."