No, Bernie Sanders is not the Tonya Harding of this primary season

Minutes ago, I was forwarded this article from Mitch Lerner, describing Bernie Sanders’ audacity in challenging the handpicked Democratic nominee as the equivalent of physically assaulting his opponent in an effort to steal the nomination.  With five days until California, the panicking pro-Clinton punditry has reached a new level of self-victimization and we need to have a conversation about it.

Let’s compare the tools.  Nancy Kerrigan was famously attacked with a police baton, brutally physically assaulted with a cheap shot designed to prevent her from competing.  The attacks on Clinton, meanwhile, are questions about her policies and her behavior.  The insinuation is that asking Clinton about her own actions and her own platform is a type of unforgivable assault that could cost her the race.

For example, to ask why Clinton took millions in speaking fees from major banks and to question what she said behind those closed doors is neither violent nor inappropriate.  These questions speak to her ethics and her transparency on any promises made behind closed doors.  The voters deserve answers.  This directly impacts her ability to lead without lobbyist influence.

To ask Clinton why she’s the right person to lead the fight against climate change while she has been an evangelist for hydraulic fracking and continues to support the devastating practice is not some kind of personal attack.  It is a glaring conflict in her platform and voters have a right to know her answers before they visit the polling place.

Now, let’s compare the anticipated outcome of both “attacks.”  Harding wanted an unobstructed path to a gold medal.  Sanders spent the first few months of 2015 encouraging progressives to run for president, ultimately noting that he would assume the role if nobody else stepped forward.  If anything, he was reluctant but felt the call of duty.  His entire campaign has been about advancing progressive goals, something that seems pretty integral to the role of the Democratic Party in US politics.  If that has changed, maybe Sanders (and the millions supporting him) didn’t get the memo.

Finally, let’s compare the “victims.”  Nancy Kerrigan, as I recall, was a hard-working and talented competitor.  She wasn’t known for taking shortcuts or pandering to judges.  She was the type of competitor that didn’t court controversy and was well-respected.

Clinton has been dogged by controversy throughout her career, including the scathing IG report last week in which it was confirmed that she had been consistently lying to the media and voters about the details of her unsecured e-mail server holding state secrets.  She and her husband have taken millions from lobbyists while championing their causes.  They have taken millions in foreign donations while selling weapons to countries linked to terrorism.  They brought us Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Defense of Marriage Act, Workfare, Three Strikes and NAFTA.  They’ve openly electioneered in front of — and even inside, at least once — polling places (illegally) in several states.  And I’m barely scratching the surface.

What I’m saying is that for Clintonites to challenge Sanders on ethics takes a powerful suspension of reality and self-awareness.

Sanders has ran a campaign on the issues, and he has worked hard to draw contrasts between himself and Clinton on those issues without making it personal.  To suggest that he should stop doing this is to suggest that the Democratic Party is somehow allergic to democracy, and that the best path forward is unquestioning loyalty.  Progressives didn’t win marriage equality and higher minimum wages by silencing dissent, and we won’t win universal healthcare or paid parental leave unless we continue speaking up.

Candidates holding each other accountable for their actions and platforms won’t damage the candidates with the ethics and ideas to carry us forward.  To propose that a strong primary season is detrimental to progress is embarrassing.  Our leaders should be challenged daily, by each other, by the media, and by the voters.  Anything less is undemocratic.