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EDITORIAL: Candidates are not their supporters

Former Vice President Joe Biden attacked Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) over the behavior of the latter’s supporters, according to The New York Times.

A portion of Sanders's supporters have been noted for their vicious behavior, mainly on the internet.

"Since the start of Mr. Sanders’s first presidential campaign in 2016, his colossal online support base has been by turns a source of peerless strength and perpetual aggravation — envied and caricatured by rivals who covet such loyalty, feared by Democrats who have faced harassment from his followers and alternately cherished and gently scolded by the candidate himself," according to The New York Times.

Sanders, as well as his supporters, were consequently shunned by Biden, who believes that the harassment is excessive and harmful.

“‘If any of my supporters did that, I’d disown them ... To say ‘I disassociate’ is one thing. Find out who the hell they are, if any of them work for me. Fire them. Find out. See what’s going on,’” Biden said according to the article.

Sanders has no control over what his base says, whether that be online or in person. Biden is misconstruing his foe in this election — it is not Sanders’s supporters but Sanders himself, and attacking his proponents does nothing to further his cause as a viable candidate nor debase Sanders as he wishes to do.

There is also an air of hypocrisy from Biden. Sanders’s supporters are noted for their questionable attacks, but is that not the case for all politicians? Every candidate with wide-support is bound to have a few radical fanatics under their belt.

And while Sanders cannot control who votes for him or what they say, Biden can control what comes from his mouth — and much of what has left it is far more concerning than the shoddy rhetoric used by the Sanders crowd.

For instance, Biden once conflated race and class in a racist gaffe. 

“(Biden) raised eyebrows on Thursday during a speech in Iowa when he said that ‘poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids,’” according to The New York Times.

And in another instance, he challenged an Iowa man who questioned his fitness — considering his relatively old age — to a push-up contest.

“(Biden) raised eyebrows on the campaign trail Sunday when he jokingly called a university student a ’lying dog-faced pony soldier’ after she asked him a question about his apparent fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses,” according to USA Today.

This all goes to show that Biden should take further precaution about what he says prior to worrying about what the supporters of another candidate are saying. In a more general sense, politicians and the voting public must hold politicians accountable for their own words and not the words of their supporters. 

Biden clearly hopes the public will begin to view Sanders’s base as a representation of the politician himself, which is an act of shady, underhand politics that aims to hide his own shortcomings and attacks. 

Issues arise when a politician's base gets out of hand. First, a base contorting the ideals of a politician contorts the public’s perception of that politician, causing people to join the cause or rebuke it for the wrong reasons — reasons that the politician does not stand for.

But the lesson here is a relatively simple one: Unless the politician in question is actively fueling the harsh and bitter rhetoric used by their base, it is unfair and disingenuous to attack them for it. By attacking each others’ bases, the onus of scorn is lifted from the politicians themselves, which is exactly where it must rest to assure accountability.

Most of us at Rutgers are old enough to vote. Therefore all national political issues are our issues as well, considering that we all have a ballot we must put to good use in November. 

When considering your vote — whether that be in the New Jersey Primary, the general election or any other matter — it is important to evaluate a candidate independent of the behavior of their supporters. 

Candidates are best viewed as a set of policies running for office. Other aspects — their tact and manner, for example — are important, but when it comes down to it, the policies that a politician is pushing for are what will create legitimate change when they take office and as a result, have to be what voters use to dictate their vote. 

By misconstruing a candidate's most ardent supporters — or any other political fluff surrounding their campaign — for the politician, poor policy can, as it has before, take office. But politicians do have a responsibility to quell their base, or at least deliver a genuine attempt to do so, when these issues arise. 

It is their responsibility as leaders to do so and their responsibility as people with power to prevent any attacks committed by their supporters, especially against the marginalized. Though, the electorate must be advised to vote for the ideals of the politician — not the ideals of their proponents.

The elected official is the one taking the oath of office — not their base.


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 152nd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.