For all the lingering controversies surrounding his 2016 presidential campaign, one cannot deny the fact that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders generated so much momentum during that effort because of his clear moral vision concerning such issues as universal health coverage. That clear moral vision was on display this morning, during his appearance on CNN’s State of the Union.

Sanders was flawless in his description of the fundamental immorality of the Republican effort to obliterate Obamacare, the daily fear so many Americans have of being deprived of the coverage and care they need, the de facto death penalty that a pre-existing condition would be in a post-Obamacare world, and the urgent need to move towards a Medicare-for-all system. While there’s no question that Sanders would have been the target of a brutal rhetorical assault from Republicans and right-wing media entities had he secured the Democratic nomination last year, there’s also no question that Sanders would have gone down fighting aggressively against the wrath of the wingnuts.

Sanders also suggested that the federal investigation into his wife, former Burlington College president Jane Sanders, is little more than a right-wing witch hunt, and he makes a plausible case. Does anyone trust the motives of Trump acolyte and Vermont Republican Party vice chairman Brady Toensing, who spearheaded the effort to have Jane Sanders investigated? If Sanders takes Bill Maher’s advice and runs for the Presidency again in 2020, this alleged scandal will be all Trump needs to smear Sanders beyond recognition. Even if Sanders doesn’t run, this supposed controversy can be hyped endlessly in right-wing media circles as an example of the “inherent corruption of the left.”

Last week, MSNBC’s Joy Reid noted the curious phenomenon of some Democrats buying into the right-wing narrative about Nancy Pelosi. Will we also see some Democrats buying into the right-wing narrative about the alleged corruption of the Sanders family? Yes, Sanders is not a Democrat, but he embodies the vision that so many progressives want Democrats to embrace. By branding Sanders as corrupt, the right is trying to brand the left in toto as corrupt. Will Democrats fall for that sick trick, or forcefully declare that this investigation has itself been corrupted by the partisan nature of how it commenced?

The right knows how powerful Sanders is; conservatives understand that to millions of Americans, Sanders is an icon, an unbought and unbossed symbol of progressive principles in action. Right-wingers would love to see him contaminated by controversy–and if they can trick Democrats into helping with that effort, so much the better.

If this smear campaign destroys Sanders’s reputation, the politics of personal destruction will sink to new lows in this country. Last year, Sanders used the classic Simon and Garfunkel song “America” in one of his campaign ads. If this right-wing effort to injure Sanders through innuendo succeeds, it will prove the accuracy of another famous lyric from Paul and Art: Still, a man hears what he wants to hear/And disregards the rest.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.