New York is an electoral microclimate that is in many senses distinct from the rest of the United States, yet the storms that develop in New York sweep across the American political landscape. We know; The Nation was founded in New York, and we have been covering this city and its outsized influence on this country for 150 years. Because so much economic, social, and media power is concentrated in New York, it shapes not just a local debate but a coast-to-coast dialogue. Perhaps it is true that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But what happens in New York goes national.
So as the 2016 Democratic presidential race crashes into New York City in advance of the April 19 New York state primary, it is no surprise that everything is blowing up. The charges and countercharges are flying, the tabloid headlines are rolling off the presses, and the pundits say that “Wisconsin nice” has been replaced by “New York nasty.” We don’t quite buy that. What’s happening is that a race that has been reasonably genteel—especially when compared to the brutal battle Republicans are experiencing in this Trumped-up campaign season—has intensified because so much is at stake. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton retains her front-runner status, with a clear lead in the race for delegates. But Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is winning the momentum race, having secured overwhelming majorities on six of the last seven contests—including a Wisconsin primary fight where both candidates ran hard and Sanders carried 71 of 72 counties and won 57 percent of the statewide vote.
The morning after the Wisconsin primary, all attention shifted to New York and it seemed as if the volume was suddenly turned up to 11. Unfortunately, the New York fight started with less focus on issues and ideas and more focus on foibles and mischaracterizations. Let us break through the New York noise and state a few things up front: Bernie Sanders has a lot of good ideas for breaking up big banks, he cares a lot about victims of gun violence, and he knows that subway tokens are a thing of the past. Hillary Clinton knows how to use a MetroCard, she understands that mass incarceration must be addressed, and she is qualified to serve as president of the United States.
It is on that last question of qualifications that the Democratic contest has turned particularly edgy. On April 6, Clinton was asked on the MSNBC show Morning Joe if she believed Sanders is “qualified and ready” to be president. Clinton said responses by Sanders to questions from the New York Daily News editorial board “raised a lot of really serious questions.” The headline writers at The Washington Post wrote: “Clinton questions whether Sanders is qualified to be president.” Sanders responded by noting the questioning of his qualifications and said of Clinton: “I don’t believe that she is qualified if she is, through her Super PAC, taking tens of millions of dollars in special interest funds. I don’t think that you are qualified if you get $15 million from Wall Street through your Super PAC. I don’t think you are qualified if you have voted for the disastrous war in Iraq. I don’t think you are qualified if you’ve supported virtually every disastrous trade agreement, which has cost us millions of decent-paying jobs.”