The Sanders phenomenon always depended on leaving the personal attacks implicit. Mr. Sanders’s supporters have, to a much greater extent than generally acknowledged, been motivated by the perception that Mrs. Clinton is dishonest, which comes - whether they know it or not - not from her actual behavior but from decades of right-wing smears. Mr. Sanders, meanwhile, got to play the issue-oriented purist, in effect taking a free ride on other peoples’ character defamations. There was plenty of nastiness coming from Sanders supporters, but the candidate himself seemed to stay above the fray.
But it wasn’t enough, largely because of nonwhite voters. Why have these voters been so pro-Clinton? One reason I haven’t seen laid out, but which I suspect is important, is that they are more sensitized than most whites to how the disinformation machine works - to how fake scandals get promoted and become part of what “everyone knows.” Not least, they’ve seen the torrent of lies directed at our first African-American president, and they have a sense that not everything they hear should be believed.
So now, in a last desperate attempt to beat the arithmetic, the Sanders campaign is turning the implicit character attack explicit, and doing so on the weakest possible ground. Mrs. Clinton, who has said that coal is on its way out, is supposedly a tool of the fossil fuel industry because some people who work in that industry gave her money? Wow.
Still, maybe it can work - although you need to remember that Mr. Sanders needs landslide victories in what’s left of the primary. The problem is that if it doesn’t work, Mr. Sanders will have spent a couple of months validating Republican attacks on the Democratic nominee (or, if he somehow pulls off an incredible upset, deeply alienating lots of progressives he’s going to need himself).
What an ugly way to end a campaign that was supposed to be positive and idealistic.