Why does Clinton keep getting away with saying that gun manufacturers are the only industry in America that is immune from being held accountable for criminal acts by the purchasers of their products? Almost NO manufacturers are, by law, accountable for criminal acts by purchasers of their products. Someone should ask her to name one that is.

Senator Sanders did vote five times against the Brady Bill. Since it was passed, more than 2 million prohibited purchases have been prevented. He also did vote, as he said, for this immunity provision. I voted against it. I was in the Senate at the same time. It wasn’t complicated to me. It was pretty straightforward to me that he was going to give immunity to the only industry in America — everybody else has to be accountable but not the gun manufacturers. And we need to stand up and say, “Enough of that.”

 Hillary Clinton, at Tuesday night’s debate

It was pretty straightforward that Sanders was going to vote to give immunity to gun manufacturers for crimes committed by purchasers of their guns.  It also, I assume, was pretty straightforward to her that no other industry is liable for crimes committed by customers using their products.  She does, after all, have a law degree from Yale, and practiced corporate law in Arkansas.

It also, of course, was straightforward to her that although most people do know that, she could make this statement, unchallenged, in a debate forum in answer to a question that she knew Sanders would have no opportunity to respond to, since she was being asked to respond to his answer to a question.  And she knew that, in the moment, it would sound correct to the public.*

But, folks, gun manufacturers are not the only industry in America — actually, almost nobody else has to be accountable.  Maybe in the next debate, the moderator will ask her to name, maybe, two or three manufacturing industries that are held liable for wrongful use of their products by customers.  Can’t wait to hear the answer.

This is, of course, a different issue than the one O’Malley mentioned: that gun shop owners and others who sell guns and ammunition are not held liable when they themselves commit acts of gross negligence by selling several guns and huge amounts of ammunition to a single person, or failing to conduct a background check before selling guns or ammunition to someone.  I believe that this is what O’Malley said occurred in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting in 2012.

By claiming that gun manufacturers are the only industry in America that has immunity from civil lawsuits for improper use of their product by customers who purchased it—a claim that most people know is false—Clinton was inviting the public to think she was stating a fact that she was not stating.  A fact that is not true.*

Lawsuits against businesses for faulty manufacturing that caused injury, and lawsuits against businesses for negligent or unlawful sales—bartenders serving alcohol to obviously-already0intoxicated customers, for example—normally fall within state personal injury law, not within federal law.  What was different about the statute that Sanders voted for was that it removed this area civil product liability from state control and barred the few states whose laws were allowing such lawsuits to proceed from continuing to do so.

Clinton has a penchant for ridiculous (but politically effective) sleights of hand.  Sanders should call her on it.  So should the political media.

Off-hand, the only other instance I can think of in which this happened was federal legislation protecting the pharmaceutical industry against liability for certain vaccines, such as the polio vaccines.  This clearly was in the public interest. The protection of gun and ammunition manufacturers, not so much, in my opinion.  And in Hillary’s opinion.

But that’s not what Clinton said.  What she said is that everybody else has to be accountable but not the gun manufacturers.  That is plainly false.  But it does make a good soundbite, which is what this uncommonly slick, studied, coached candidate always reaches for.  And she has highly paid handlers to provide a steady stream of soundbite suggestions.

Which likely is why she thought it was a terrific idea to respond to O’Malley by saying that he trusted her enough in 2008 to be a strong supporter of hers, and to say to someone else that Obama trusted her enough in December 2008 to ask her to become his secretary of state.

The media loved it; I keep reading all the praise of her for that.  The public?  Not so much, I suspect.  Most people recognize that the questions about her honesty, trustworthiness and judgment stem mostly from the email controversy and from her opportunistic-seeming switches in some important policy positions.  Neither O’Malley nor Obama is clairvoyant. That they trusted her in 2007 doesn’t necessarily mean they would now.

This is not to say that they wouldn’t.  It’s just to say that it doesn’t mean that they would.  The comments seemed like classic packaged cleverness.

The most brazen and preposterous of her sleights-of hand Tuesday night, though, is one that already is starting to backfire, I think.  It’s the one about Denmark.  Specifically:

We are not Denmark — I love Denmark — we are the United States of America.  We would be making a grave mistake to turn our backs on what built the greatest middle class in the history of the world.

Of course, we have already made that mistake. We followed Ronald Reagan and the party he created right down the rabbit hole they dug, and by and large remain there. But Clinton says it’s Denmark whose middle class is in big trouble.  And it’s Sanders who, wanting this country to emulate Denmark, would promote policies that turn our backs on the middle class. The middle class presumably being the finance industry and the healthcare insurance industry, among others.

As I said here and here, I don’t see any way to interpret those two consecutive sentences as other than a statement that Denmark is a nation whose manufacturing and retail businesses are owned, or at least controlled, by the state and as a result has a small middle class.  And that Sanders proposes a similar system for our country.  Thus wanting us to turn our backs on what built the greatest middle class in the history of the world.

The editors at Forbes magazine must be deathly embarrassed about such a large error of recent reportage about the nature of the Danish business model and its effect on that country’s middle class. As Timothy Egan pointed out in his column in yesterday’s New York Times, we are, indeed, not Denmark.

What seems odd to me is that she and her consultants think she could get away, long-term, without having to acknowledge that Denmark is in fact one of the most successful capitalist countries on earth.  And that universal health care, a highly regulated finance industry, and a highly empowered workforce vis-à-vis the owners of the corporations they work for, have not caused a collapse of Denmark’s, or Sweden’s, or Germany’s, middle class.  Clinton sings the praises of small businesses yet trashes wealthy capitalist countries whose mainstay of their economy is small and midsize businesses.

Clinton’s been praised to the skies by the media for her response to a question about Carly Fiorina’s claim that mandated paid family and medical leave will cause the loss of jobs in small businesses.  Clinton pointed out that California now has mandated paid family and medical leave and that it has not caused a loss of jobs in small businesses. Denmark does, too. And it has not caused a loss of jobs in small businesses.  Sanders could have told her that, had he been given an opportunity.  But really, she already knew.

This is part of what is becoming a pattern for Clinton in this campaign.  She starts talking about one thing, then finishes the statement with a snappy sentence or two that “we shouldn’t”, or “it shouldn’t be”, or some such, that is not apropos of what she was talking about but that—precisely because it is inapropos—has the effect of asserting a fact that is false.  Casual conflation and sleights-of-hand are, it appears, an intricate part of her modus operandi in this campaign.

She has gained somewhat in a couple of polls, including one from New Hampshire, in the immediate aftermath of the debate, partly because Joe Biden is losing his appeal as a candidate and partly because of her smooth performance on Tuesday night. But once the afterglow dims and people start thinking about specifics, some will wonder why she thinks universal healthcare coverage, stringent regulation of the financial industry, a much more progressive tax code, taxes on certain types of Wall Street trading, and tuition-free public colleges and universities amounts to turning our backs on what built the greatest middle class in the history of the world.  And why she claims to not know the difference between Denmark’s social capitalism and Soviet-style socialism.

Gun and ammunition control is, I think, the only domestic-policy issue on which I agree mostly with Clinton rather than with Sanders.  There also is the issue of regulating the shadow banking industry, which as Paul Krugman pointed out on Thursday Clinton has announced a specific set of policy proposals about and Sanders has not yet, but as this terrific article published yesterday by liberal writer David Dayen on the Financial Times website (h/t Greg Sargent) about a just-published book awesome-sounding book by John Kay, a professor at the London School of Economics and weekly Financial Times columnist, makes clear, near the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall law nor the regulation of the shadow-banking industry, alone, is anywhere near sufficient to both regulate the financial industry and greatly reduce its percentage of GDP in the country.  And there’s a significant foreign-policy issue on which I agree more with Clinton than with Sanders.  But Clinton sooo needs to stop her Jeb Bush/Marco Rubio-like conflations.  For one thing, she won’t continue to get away with it.  It really makes Sanders’ point that Clinton is the quintessential establishment, politics-as-usual candidate.

I have not been among the Democrats who think Clinton is dishonest and untrustworthy.  But I’m beginning to change my mind.  I wish she would stop it.  If she wins the nomination, I’ll certainly support her.  But I’d like to do so contentedly, not gritting my teeth.

Ultimately, Democrats will make their decision about whom to vote for in primaries and caucuses on policy considerations like these.  And on whom they believe will be the strongest candidate in the general election. Which will, I think, be determined exactly on the basis of policy considerations like those.  This does not necessarily favor Clinton.*  And Democrats, journalists and consultants who think otherwise have their heads buried in the sand.


*Paragraph edited slightly for clarity. 10/18 at 4:26 p.m.