Bernie supporters are shocked — shocked! — at how politics works

Sanders supporters are pointing to the hacked DNC emails and voicemails as proof that the system is rigged, but the leak has produced no smoking guns.

by Michael Moynihan
Jul 28 2016, 6:55pm

Photo by John Minchillo/AP

The hissing and booing has been contained. The chants demanding that Hillary Clinton be deposited in the nearest prison, on loan from Donald Trump's campaign, were sporadic. After Clinton officially secured the Democratic nomination on Tuesday in Philadelphia, the "Bernie or bust" contingent had largely been silenced. And after President Barack Obama brought down the house on Wednesday night, they seemed to have formally surrendered, while still muttering that the system was rigged.

But before Obama took the stage in Philadelphia, the Berniacs made their final stand, greeting Clinton's vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine with a banner accusing his ticket of "election fraud," and advising the conspiracy-minded to visit the Wikileaks website for proof.

This latest evidence to support the rigged-system claim comes in the form of voicemail recordings from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which were stolen — possibly by Russian government-sponsored hackers — and made public by the anti-secrecy organization. Earlier in the week, Wikileaks published a searchable database of stolen DNC emails. But while the hack has embarrassed Democrats and ousted DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, it has produced no smoking guns.

Related: DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigns over Wikileaks scandal

The emails do appear to show Democratic officials, who are supposed to remain neutral, advocating for Clinton over Sanders. They also vividly show the DNC coddling big donors who pay $200,000 for a private dinner with the candidate or who join the "Rittenhouse Square," a rarefied club of access for those who bundle at least $1.25 million for the candidate. For a candidate and a campaign that prided itself on its $27 donors, it had to be infuriating.

But while that may surprise those unfamiliar with the sharp-elbowed world of presidential politics, it's hardly unexpected that the DNC would prefer an established Democrat with centrist views over a fair-weather party member who self-identifies as a democratic socialist. In his speech on Monday, Sanders called on Democrats to unite behind Clinton — but barely 24 hours later he announced that he'd return to the Senate as an independent.

The leak confirmed that political parties and their surrogates attempt to spin the press, that wealthy donors often angle for — and are appointed to — ambassadorships, and that people tend to say rude things via email. For the pro-Bernie camp, it was all further confirmation that the deck was stacked against the Vermont senator.

The most frequently cited email saw a DNC apparatchik suggesting that Sanders' irreligiousness be underscored in religious states. The sender apologized, the outrage machine churned, and the DNC was accused of the unconscionable crime of putting its finger on the scale for Hillary by questioning her opponent's beliefs.

Related: Sanders quiets 'Bernie or Bust' contingent with plea for unity

Trump, who has questioned the confessional commitments of both Clinton and Obama, complained that the DNC was "using even [sic] religion against Bernie!" Jewish publication The Forward denounced the DNC for trying to "weaponize Bernie Sanders's Jewishness," though it was trying to weaponize his supposed lack of Jewishness.

There's no evidence that the DNC ever acted on any of this, and stressing Sanders' supposed atheism in states where atheists aren't particularly popular doesn't rise to the level of sleazy politics. It may be unseemly, but it's quotidian stuff during election season. Mitt Romney's Mormonism — and the beliefs of his church— has dogged him since his 1994 Senate run, as has Donald Trump's unfamiliarity with basic religious dogma. (It's important to note that, although he claims to be a believer, Sanders typically speaks about his faith with vague references to "spirituality.")

But among the Berniacs, whose passion for the Vermont senator has a habit of mutating into vitriol against his critics, the real complaint is that the party's governing body wasn't enthusiastic about a candidate who once denounced the "greed and vulgarity" of Democrats.

According to the New York Times, the emails also show that Wasserman Schultz "sought private meetings with prominent journalists from several leading news outlets," including the Times and MSNBC. Perhaps this sounds like a mustache-twisting conspiracy among liberal elites, but messaging to the media is what an organization committed to electing Democrats is supposed to do — and something done by surrogates of all parties.

Related: The DNC's pro-Bernie protesters won't go away

But as undignified as this all is, conspiracy mongering vastly overstates the influence the DNC exerts on primary voters. As former DNC chairman Ed Rendell admitted to MSNBC, the organization is "pretty ineffectual. The DNC is by nature ineffectual in a primary."

It's entirely possible that Wikileaks is preparing an "October Surprise" — waiting to dump documents that are more interesting and more incriminating at a time when they can inflict maximum damage on Clinton's campaign. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has indeed promised "a lot more material," and suggested that he would prefer a Trump presidency to the "liberal war hawk" Clinton.

But this isn't Watergate — the attempted bugging of DNC headquarters that toppled President Richard Nixon by exposing his disparaging remarks about Jews and blacks, proving that he perjured himself, and revealing an immense criminal conspiracy. Assange has given us a few puerile jokes from establishment Democrats who preferred Clinton to Sanders.

Should the DNC abrogate its commitments to objectivity and agitate on behalf of a preferred candidate? It's not supposed to, but one would have a difficult time identifying an election when it hasn't.

Follow Michael Moynihan on Twitter: @mcmoynihan

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