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4 Mar, 2020 23:33

Sanders critics feel the ‘bern’ after socialist candidate releases ‘Obama endorsement’ ad

Sanders critics feel the ‘bern’ after socialist candidate releases ‘Obama endorsement’ ad

A Bernie Sanders campaign ad featuring former President Barack Obama appearing to endorse the Vermont senator has outraged the democratic socialist’s critics – though he’s not doing anything his rivals haven’t tried already.

The ad features Obama’s voiceover saying positive things about Sanders, footage of the two politicians grinning and walking together, and a killer clip of Obama shouting “Feel the Bern!” in front of an oversized flag backdrop.

It’s currently airing in Florida, according to the New York Times journalist who posted it on Wednesday. At first glance, it could be mistaken for an explicit endorsement, ending on a still of Obama and Sanders with text reading “Bernie for President – Join Us.”

Obama never endorsed Sanders, however. He allegedly even told an aide he would intervene in the primary contest if it looked like Sanders was going to become the nominee. But Obama hasn’t endorsed any of the other candidates who have used his image and voice to sell themselves to a nostalgia-addled electorate, either.

In refusing to explicitly endorse one candidate, the former president has unwittingly ended up endorsing all of them, as they have fallen all over themselves to play up their connections with Obama.

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Until Wednesday, Sanders had largely stayed out of that particular fray. He has criticized Obama in the past for being insufficiently progressive, and has always presented himself as to the former president’s left. But desperate times call for desperate measures: and Biden, fresh off his Super Tuesday victories, is polling at more than twice Sanders’ support in Florida ahead of that state's primary.

Fact-checkers pounced on the ad, with CNN noting it “leaves out important context.” The clip of Obama and Sanders walking and smiling dated from a June 2016 meeting between the two. While the meeting was called at Sanders’ request, Obama took the opportunity to ask Sanders to quit campaigning against Hillary Clinton, begging for a show of party unity heading into the Democratic convention. Sanders turned him down and contested Clinton’s coronation.

While Obama did say everything in the voice-over, the ad removed the context in which Obama was acknowledging he didn’t know the Vermont senator as well as Clinton. Another laudatory moment was lifted from a speech supporting Sanders’ 2006 Senate run.

Even the “Feel the Bern!” moment at the end came from a speech Obama gave at the 2016 Democratic convention in which he urged disgruntled Sanders supporters to transfer their loyalty to Clinton, only to be drowned out by chants of “BerNIE!” A somewhat exasperated Obama acknowledged the crowd with the candidate’s slogan. So, the opposite of an endorsement then. Oops?

Sanders’ detractors on Twitter were frothing with rage. Sanders didn’t even like Obama – how dare he claim an endorsement?

Worse, Sanders was a self-described democratic socialist who’d said nice things about Fidel Castro a few times, and Florida is full of rabidly anti-Castro Cubans… who wouldn’t vote for him anyway.

While many understood that Sanders gained nothing from trying to be the one honest candidate in a field of dissemblers, they wondered why he hadn’t pulled out the big guns earlier. Surely even the phoniest Obama endorsement would have helped him on Super Tuesday, when Biden cut a swath through southern states based – in the opinion of some – solely on black voters’ fond reminiscences of his boss?

Obama has not commented on the Sanders ad, just like he hasn't commented on ads from Bloomberg or Biden. The former president is rumored to be working behind the scenes on Biden’s newly-revitalized campaign, but has previously said he would not endorse a candidate until after the primaries.

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