GETTING OLD

01.18.16 5:01 AM ET

Hey, Berniebros: Quit Whining

Fans of the insurgent can’t get upset when someone asks a 75-year-old presidential candidate for his medical records.

So did Hillary Clinton make yet another off-key attack on Bernie Sanders over the medical records? That was certainly the weekend consensus, at least among the Berniebros, although “off-key” would be putting the matter too mildly. After Politico reported that Clinton ally David Brock demanded that the 74-year-old Sanders release his medical records, the Feel the Bern Twitterverse exploded in indignation. Desperate! Hypocrite! Outrageous! Et cetera.

The Sanders team, who are turning out to be pretty crafty capitalists for a group toiling away for a socialist, immediately went out and raised money off the fracas. Brock went up on Twitter to say that a number of the assertions in the Politico article were wrong—that he and his pro-Clinton Super PAC are not, for example, planning on running any attack ads. John Podesta, who is with the Clinton campaign, tweeted at Brock to “chill out,” indicating that Brock was not acting on orders from the campaign but was freelancing on this one. And Sanders’s spokesman says the campaign will release the records before anyone votes, as it has always planned to.

Berniebros: Grow up. First of all, it’s a legitimate issue. The man would be 75 years old when elected and sworn in, which would make him the oldest president ever elected. The current holder of that record is Ronald Reagan, who was 69. Clinton would also be 69, so she’s up there, too. Donald Trump, incidentally, would be 70 (he’s 15 months Clinton’s senior).

But anyone who’s ever watched their parents age knows that 75 is different. My dear Mom was still playing a little tennis at 75. At 79, that was out of the question, and there were days that she was in such excruciating back pain that she could barely sit up. That 75-to-80 window is often an unforgiving one on the body. And if Sanders were elected and served two terms, he’d be 83 in his last year in office. Brains deteriorate, too. When Mom was 83, I still valued her counsel and insights, but I’m not sure I’d have wanted her to be the president.

Now for all I know Sanders has the mind and body of a 60 year old. Great for him if he does. But surely his health is a fair question, and surely his advanced age makes it a more relevant question than it would be in the cases of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio (Clinton released her records last summer). I get that Brock’s a lightning rod. But it’s a fair question.

But the more important thing is this. Sanders partisans can’t insist that their guy is a serious candidate and then start whining when…he gets treated like a serious candidate. He’s doing as well as he is in the polls in the first instance because he’s clearly tapped into something that is resonating with a lot of people. Much of what he says resonates with me. I’d certainly proclaim Medicare for All, if I could wave a wand. He’s a skilled politician, he’s struck a chord, and the Clinton camp and the whole political class underestimated him.

However, there’s been another reason he’s been polling well. Until just recently and on a small number of matters, Sanders has never been attacked. He gets no negative press to speak of. He could get negative press; I mean, to be frank, that he’s earned some. On foreign policy questions, for example, in one of the debates he was, as I wrote, less than honest about the extent to which he’s supported Barack Obama’s positions on Syria. OK, I guess that counts as bad press, but I’m not the front page of The New York Times. I don’t recall seeing much scrutiny there and in the other major outlets, and let’s be honest, if Clinton had said in a debate that she’d backed Obama on matters she didn’t, it would’ve been a story, and maybe a big story.

But the media haven’t been interested in Sanders dirt or criticism. The reasons are fairly mundane and obvious: He’s a good story, the political press doesn’t like Clinton so anything that gives her agita is great, the political press also wants a competitive race because it’s more interesting and their stories will get more traffic, and so on. It’s all fine.

But if I were an intense Sanders partisan, I wouldn’t be fooling myself about this reality. But that’s exactly what I hear when I hear Sanders people brag about how he’s doing better in some polls in head-to-head match-ups against the Republican contenders than Clinton is. Of course he’s doing better—the Republicans haven’t spent a dime attacking him yet.

Say what you will about Clinton; if you combine her and her husband’s various election campaigns with Ken Starr’s prosecution efforts, they’ve probably spent a couple hundred million dollars going after her. Yes, a couple hundred million (Starr alone spent nearly $50 million, and remember that Hillary was every inch as much in his gun sights as Bill was). And in this cycle, she had three months of relentlessly negative press over her emails. Some of that she brought on herself, but some of it wildly irresponsible and false, like the not-one-but-two major Times stories that suggested she broke a law that didn’t exist yet and that she was the target of a criminal FBI probe. She was not and still is not, as far as we know, despite what many people think and say.

It’s a presidential race. It’s going to get tough, even in the primary phase. Just remember the Clinton-Obama contest, or the way Newt Gingrich and some of the other Republicans tore into Mitt Romney. You have to be able to take punches. Major part of the audition. Clinton knows this very well, since she’s taken them for years. It’s water Sanders is going to have to get used to sooner or later.