Why is Harvard Professor Laurence Tribe Lying About Bernie Sanders on Twitter?

Politics Features Bernie Sanders
Share Tweet Submit Pin
Why is Harvard Professor Laurence Tribe Lying About Bernie Sanders on Twitter?

This happened yesterday afternoon:

Tribe is a professor of constitutional law at Harvard law, and has built up a nice little corner of influence on Twitter, with 190,000+ followers. In this tweet, he makes three basic claims:

1. Sanders is “going after” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), a potential presidential candidate in 2020.

2. His attacks resemble an earlier foray against Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), indicating that perhaps Sanders is motivated by sexism.

3. In conducting these sexist attacks, Sanders proves himself shameless.

Now, if you've got somewhere to be, you're in luck, because debunking these arguments takes no time at all.

1. Sanders hasn't said a single negative word about Kamala Harris.

2. Sanders never said a single negative word about Elizabeth Warren.

3. Not sure about his shame levels.

Seriously—these critiques, attacks, broadsides, etc…they never happened. You can search until your fingers get sore, but you won't find a single item of substance. It's an outright fabrication by Tribe, and if the 2,000+ retweets and 4,000+ likes (and counting) aren't evidence that certain types of liberals are just as credulous and outrage-prone as the Trump voters they like to mock, I don't know what is.

Harris has been a prominent figure of late, and there's a raging debate between progressives who have problems with her political record and the specific type of Clinton liberal who insists that any criticism of a female or minority politician is sexist and/or racist on its face, regardless of substance.

Writing for the Outline, Ryan Cooper summarized the left's anti-Harris position:

The former attorney general of California, Harris is mistrusted by the left mostly because of her roots as a prosecutor. The Black Lives Matter movement has put anyone with law enforcement history under close scrutiny, and California's criminal justice system is notoriously brutal (though it has improved recently). While she is obviously no Jeff Sessions, Harris has sometimes displayed a rather Hillary Clinton-esque tendency to say the right thing but not follow through in a vigorous way. Most notoriously, she refused to prosecute Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's old company OneWest for numerous instances of almost certain illegal foreclosure, against the advice of her own Consumer Law Section, and has so far refused to say why. (She was also the only Senate Democratic candidate to get a donation from Mnuchin himself in 2016.)

(Unsurprisingly, Cooper was forced to defend himself from charges of racism after the article.)

Nevertheless, the in-fighting on the left is a very different matter from Sanders himself going after Harris, and it's hard to see Tribe's tweet as anything other than a malicious lie designed to smear the man. Ditto for the Warren accusation, which is doubly ironic because Warren is actually the one who hurt Sanders in the primary by not endorsing him—an endorsement which would likely have swung the state of Massachusetts in his favor (Sanders lost by 17,000 votes). Again, Sanders' supporters may have reacted against Warren, as you'd expect, but Sanders never said a word against her. In fact, they've mostly been allies in the Senate, and Sanders was one of the first to defend her earlier this year when Republicans tried to keep her from reading a letter from Coretta Scott King on the Senate floor.

So what is Tribe going on about? Essentially nothing, and he knows it—for a good laugh, watch him try to walk back his initial lie as the criticism started to land:

“Okay, maybe he didn't attack her himself, but he's encouraging his underlings to attack her.”

“Okay, maybe there's no evidence that he's actually telling his people to attack her, but people that like him have attacked her, so that's basically like HIM attacking her…right?”

“Hmm, looks like I've been wrong about literally everything, but I still INSIST that Bernie must say exactly what I want him to say on every issue. On that topic, why hasn't Bernie disavowed genocide? If he doesn't like genocide, why hasn't he said one single word about genocide in the last week or so? HIS SILENCE SPEAKS VOLUMES.”

“I know how to fix this: I'll tweet something directly at him, and just for good measure, I'll botch the grammar so it's completely unintelligible.”

You get the point—not only is it impossible for someone like Tribe to imagine valid criticism of Kamala Harris, but he wants Bernie Sanders to spend all his time disavowing any whiff of negativity directed at the California senator—regardless of whether the negativity is justified. This is beyond stupid, beyond deceitful, and beyond disgraceful for someone in his position. Glenn Greenwald probably summarized the whole debacle best:

But there's one final wrinkle here—it's a doozy—and it comes courtesy of Ryan Cooper:

He's referring to a Denver Post piece titled “Bankrupt Peabody coal hires legal icon Laurence Tribe to fight climate plan,” which includes this excerpt:

Peabody Energy Corp. is set to pay President Barack Obama's Harvard Law School mentor $435,000 this year to help the bankrupt coal producer challenge the administration's signature environmental law.

The payments to Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law expert and legal icon — spanning May to December this year — were disclosed in a legal filing tied to Peabody's bankruptcy proceedings. They do not include any money Peabody sent Tribe before its April bankruptcy filing as part of the company's crusade against Obama's Clean Power Plan, which is designed to slash carbon dioxide emissions from power plants 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The program encourages states and utilities to burn less coal and use generate more electricity from cleaner sources such as wind, solar power and natural gas.

So there you have it—the man accusing Bernie Sanders of fictitious attacks moonlights as a complicit agent in the poisoning of our environment.

Imagine that—another neoliberal isn’t just making up wild accusations about Sanders, but happens to be a complete hypocrite as well. We hereby demand that Laurence Tribe disavow himself.