There’s a very odd and persistent pathology in the minds of liberals and neoliberals who supported Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary: They hate Bernie Sanders. Sure, they hate Trump too—a lot—but man, they really, really hate Bernie. This can seem confusing, because as most of us know, the primary ended back in June. They’re a bit like that Japanese soldier who hid in the Filipino jungle for 27 years after World War Two, not realizing his country had surrendered. There’s just one key difference: They actually won!
Yet victory hasn’t dimmed their deep antipathy for Bernie, and they will do anything to discredit him, ethics be damned. Here’s why it matters: There’s a fight going on for the heart of the party, and until the fight is resolved, opposing Trump will be that much harder. To beat centrism, and bury it in the graveyard of history, it’s important to understand how it operates on the propaganda level.
Enter Sally Albright, with this tweet that you may have missed over the long weekend:
Me, sputtering as I reach for a pitchfork:
Other me, who bit the bullet and did some research: Stop sputtering! Put down your pitchfork! Follow me on a journey of enlightenment as I show you the hidden treachery of the neoliberal!
Let's begin with our new friend.
1. Who is Sally Albright?
Sally Albright describes herself on Twitter as a “comms strategist, political organizer, progressive activist, and rock & roll girl.” (Note to the astute reader: A good way to tell if someone is actually a progressive, and not just trying to co-opt the term, is whether said progressive spends his or her time on social media slandering actual progressive leaders.) She is, per her Facebook and LinkedIn pages—the former is a pro-bono Bernie attack page, the latter is just too long—a political strategist for hire. She worked for Hillary, but she really loves Obama. She was an elected delegate for the Democrats and Bill Clinton as far back as the 1996 party convention. But she's also worked for Newt Gingrich and various other Republicans, so her principles are flexible, in a way that it's probably impolite to point out in D.C. circles. She seems to be well-employed and well-connected. She has over 20,000 Twitter followers. “Important” mainstream media figures interact with her there. She likes to gloat about how bad progressives are at winning elections, when her own record is Donna Brazile-like. You get the picture.
As for being a “rock and roll girl,” we can only speculate. On one hand, a friend of hers once described her as “having the personality of a friendly line of cocaine.” But in 2002 there was a case in Dewey Beach, DE, where one Sally Albright sub-leased a summer rental for $3,800. The kids who rented it threw a “noisy (drinking) party,” at which time Albright got charged for a noise violation—pretty unfairly, it has to be said. She kicked the kids out, and wouldn't refund them their money even though they'd only been there for two nights.
Now, I cannot confirm that this is the same Sally Albright—though our Sally Albright has nine Pinterest pins for Dewey Beach—but if it is, I think it's fair to ask the question: Is that truly rock and roll, Sally?? Do you deserve that line in your Twitter bio?? But again: It could totally be a different Sally Albright. Presumably there are lots of Sally Albrights! Did you know that the main character from When Harry Met Sally is named Sally Albright? It's true!
2. The Tweet
I seem to have gotten sidetracked with the “rock and roll” issue. Let's fixate instead on the events of this weekend. Why did Sally Albright tweet what she tweeted about Sanders?
Well, perhaps she was inspired by Paste. Or one of the dozens of other media outlets who wrote a story last week about how Sen. Cory Booker and some other Democrats voted against a symbolic (but potentially precedent-setting) amendment introduced by Sanders that would have allowed Americans to import prescription drugs from places like Canada, thereby saving lots of money. We, along with everyone else, also included the fact that Booker and some of the other “nay” Democrats get lots of money from the pharmaceutical industry every year. Booker later tried to claim that he was mostly concerned about safety, which seems like nonsense, and is exactly the dumb excuse the pharmaceutical industry uses—he's basically quoting from their playbook. He even did a tricky thing where he voted for a later importation amendment which supposedly included a “safety certification” clause—one which will never be implemented, and which they can use to pretend they support importation. The funny thing is, that amendment didn't say a word about safety in the first place.
As you might guess, Bernie didn't hide his displeasure:
“The Democratic Party has got to make it very clear that they are prepared to stand up to powerful special interests like the pharmaceutical industry and like Wall Street, and they're not going to win elections and they're not going to be doing the right thing for the American people unless they have the guts to do that. That 13 Democrats did not is disappointing. I absolutely hope that in the coming weeks and months you're going to see many of them develop the courage to stand up to Pharma.”
Which brings us back to Sally. What's the best way to discredit Bernie on this one? Well, that's easy—show that he's a big ol' hypocrite who takes lots of money from Big Pharma too! So she tweeted her tweet…
...and got 250 retweets and 250 likes and lots of righteous anger from other liberals, and blah blah blah it won’t matter at all in the end because the world is post-truth and Daddy Trump is going to kill us all. But it’s still worth investigating the tactic; it’s something we saw over and over again from the center-left during the primaries, and we’ll surely see it again between now and the nuclear holocaust. And in the off chance the apocalypse doesn’t come about, we need to be ready.
3. The Truth
So let’s take a deeper look. Albright cites data from 2016 which seems to show that, yes, Bernie has received $309,575 from the “pharmaceutical and health products” industry in the 2016 cycle, to just $56,678 from Booker. Here’s a screenshot of the biggest earners:
Look closely, and you may notice something a little weird about Sanders’ name. Unlike the other Senators on the list, you only see his party affiliation listed, but not the state. I wonder why that is? I mean, he’s the Senator from Vermont, right? And Albright said he was third among all Senators in taking that sweet pharma cash, right? And this thing is sorted by Senators, right?
Well, let’s try something: Let’s sort by donations to all political candidates and see what our new top ten looks like:
Hey, now that’s interesting! Hillary Clinton is on the list now—way out in front, actually—and she also only has a D next to her name. What gives?
It turns out, that dirty money Sanders supposedly got from Big Pharma was for his presidential election. That’s why there was no state next to his name on the first list—the money wasn’t meant for any Senate race. Right off the bat, we see that when Albright says he was “third among all Senators,” she was telling a bit of a fib. There were extraordinary circumstances at play.
But honestly, that’s the smallest of her fibs. Enjoy it, by all means, but understand it’s merely an appetizer to the appetizers. As your parents may have warned you the first time you ate at a nice restaurant, don’t fill up on the bread.
Continuing, let’s notice one other aspect of the OpenSecrets list—it’s sorted for the 2016 election cycle, and at the top of the list, it’s all Senators who are running for re-election this year. Blunt, Portman, Murray, Burr—they were all at the end of six-year terms, and they needed money. So did Hillary, and so did Bernie. You know who wasn’t up for re-election this cycle? Cory Booker. So it makes sense that he didn’t get as much money as his colleagues. But what if we look at the 2014 cycle, when Booker was actually running?
There’s our guy! No. 2 on the list, and the top Democrat. Only Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, took him down—and it was close. Gee, I wonder why Albright didn’t sort for the 2014 cycle…
But hey, let’s not dodge the central issue. Senator or presidential hopeful, it’s still pretty messed up that Sanders took so much damn pharma money when he claims to be an advocate for single payer, right? When you think about it, it really doesn’t make sense that they’d give him anything, unless the guy is a double agent or something. Hillary? Sure. She’s a Big Pharma gal, and always has been. But why is Bernie getting so much from an industry he basically wants to decapitate?
To understand that, we need to look at a little disclaimer at the bottom of the list:
Ahhh, okay—this money could either come from a PAC or a person who donated more than $200. For example, I gave Bernie Sanders more than $200 during the primary. I work here at Paste. So when OpenSecrets tallies up the money Bernie made during his campaign, they count my contribution, and they know my industry (because I had to fill it out). So it gets added to the industry tab titled “ultra-hip millennial journalism.” Or whatever.
Now, knowing this, you may remember that Bernie raised a good deal of money from individuals before he dropped out of the primary in 2016. In fact, he raised $228,171,330—almost a quarter of a goddam billion dollars. That’s a veritable shit ton.
Have you begun to formulate a theory about this money? I have too. It goes like this: Is it just possible that, of the $200 million-plus total, $309,575—.136 percent of the overall sum—came from individuals donating more than $200 that just so happened to have worked in the pharmaceutical industry? And that Albright’s implication that he’s some kind of hypocrite and mastermind who pulled the wool over all our eyes is bullshit, because that money came from people who might be secretaries or sales reps or, who knows, CEOs, but who were forking over their own hard-earned cash? Which added up to around $300,000 when it was all said and done? And that it makes way more sense that way, since there’s no planet on which any pharmaceutical company with half a brain would ever give money to Sanders as he crusaded around the country taking a rhetorical flamethrower to every repugnant principle they hold dear?
Well, to prove that, we’d first have to prove that Bernie didn’t take money from any PACs associated with Big Pharma, and that sounds sorta hard, so…oh…wait…all that information from his campaign is right here. And you can find the data from his entire Senate career here, which shows that he’s only ever taken $94,554 from “Health” PACs in almost 30 years, most of which probably came from party war chests that get split thinly among everyone who caucuses with the Democrats.
To verify, I called OpenSecrets, and they confirmed the obvious: If donations did not come from a PAC, they came from individuals. They also directed me to the full, giant spreadsheet of Sanders donors, which lists all the individuals who gave him money—hundreds of whom, at least, came from the pharmaceutical industry.
Well, hot damn. The man’s clean!
To summarize: Sanders only made so much money from Big Pharma because he was running for president. He was not the third amongst Senators—that was bullshit. Booker takes way more from pharma PACs, not to mention Wall Street, and is a compromised stooge. Finally, the money Sanders supposedly made was all from individual donors employed in the pharmaceutical industry, not from the companies themselves, or their PACs.
4. Why They Do What They Do
Of course, Sally Albright knew all this. Just like she knew that Cory Booker has already accepted four times the money that Sanders has from health PACs, despite the fact that Sanders first joined Congress in 1991 and Booker got there in…2013. (I’m not here to make the case that Booker is a mind-numbingly corrupt neoliberal, but if you want that case made, start here.) She’s a savvy D.C. vet, and while it’s possible that she was ignorant about how campaign finance works in this case, it would be a humiliating error for someone with so much experience.
Albright is no dope. She was hoping you were, which is why she framed the tweet the way she did, but I believe she knew exactly what she was doing, just like countless liberals knew exactly they were doing when they attacked Sanders and other progressives with these underhanded quarter-truths during the primary. It’s not a particularly profound discovery—gasp, politics is dirty!—but it can’t hurt to stay informed. This is how a losing faction that has no business holding the reins of power tries to fool you into voting against your interests, thereby preserving their place at the top of the Washington dung heap. I can’t emphasize this next part enough: They are just like Republicans.
Except unlike Republicans, they constantly lose. And they hate anyone, like Bernie, who sees through their bullshit and has the audacity to hold them accountable. So the next time somebody tells you that all this in-fighting on the left will hurt the anti-Trump cause, remember that it’s the cry of a dying establishment hoping to silence progressives, tone police a movement to death, and steer the ship of party into the same massive iceberg. Over and over and over again.
But look, even after all this, you can understand where Albright is coming from. She has a political goal, just like Bernie does. He attacks his goal one way, she attacks hers another. In the interest of extending an olive branch, I’d even be willing to call her tactic “efficient.” Just look at the evidence: It took me a whole bunch of words and research to make my argument. It only took her 140 characters. It costs time and effort to chase down the truth, but lying? That’s fucking easy.