Bernie never had a good track record with women. Little wonder Liz Warren has broken their truce
Senator Sanders may have a great plan for Americans in 2020 — but it only extends so far
I have little stomach these days for the debate between Bernie Sanders acolytes and those who support other Democratic candidates for the 2020 nomination.
In 2016, when I offered a vocal and full-throated backing of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, I came face-to-face with the reality of Sanders' political movement. That movement, it seemed, was willing to sacrifice a whole set of principles in service of the so-called greater good: getting Sanders elected.
But Sanders lost the primary election to Hillary Clinton by around 2 million votes, in an election that many of his supporters believe to be "rigged." It’s no secret that he dragged out his endorsement for months, and by the time he offered his flaccid support for Clinton, it was too late. His most entrenched supporters had staged a mutiny, vowing not to vote for her. Anger and populism gave credence to third-party candidates like Jill Stein, who likely shaped the outcome of the general election.
All of this backstory is enough to upset a rational person who dislikes the current direction of the country, of course, but what's even worse is Senator Sanders' history with women. One year ago, The New York Times published an exposé that got little traction, alleging that Senator Sanders paid his female staffers less, treated them worse, and overlooked obvious instances of sexual harassment taking place within his own campaign. And just last night, Senator Elizabeth Warren, a top contender for the Democratic ticket, alleged that Senator Sanders told her, during a private meeting in 2018, that he did not believe a woman could win the presidency.
“Among the topics that came up was what would happen if Democrats nominated a female candidate,” Warren reported of her meeting with Senator Sanders. “I thought a woman could win; he disagreed.”
With the debate approaching this evening, it’s worth speculating about how this recent news will impact the Sanders-Warren relationship, which up until now has been unusually friendly onstage. Will they turn on one another? More importantly, how will Sanders navigate that recent revelation on his own?
To be clear, the latent misogyny infects American politics has been pointed out many times before. Certainly Senator Sanders could have been reflecting, in an admittedly off-putting way, on the difficulties faced by female candidates during that meeting with Warren. He had, after all, seen how Hillary Clinton was treated during her presidential run against Donald Trump just a couple years earlier.
Still, even if Sanders’ intention was to sound a warning shot about the inherent challenges faced by women when it comes to getting into the Oval Office, his history paints a darker picture. Several female staffers reported that they were paid half of what men in lower positions were paid during the 2016 campaign. More than one woman came forward to report that the campaign’s position on sexual harassment was not to deal with it at all. Sanders’ response to the allegations against him regarding the treatment of women was a watery non-apology. He told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “I certainly apologize to any woman who felt she was not treated appropriately.” It didn't sound like he was apologizing for misconduct or mistreatment; it sounded like he was apologizing if any women felt like they had been mistreated. That’s an important distinction.
There is, of course, the issue, too, of Bernie Sanders’ supporters. The “Bernie Bros” — a catchall term devised to identify the largely white, male, and middle class contingent of the Senator’s — supporters, became a rabid online gang, often targeting female Clinton supporters, and female reporters covering the Clinton campaign, with vitriol and venom. And while no candidate can fully own the language or behavior of his or her supporters, Sanders did nothing to pull these people back from the brink. He wavered in his position toward Hillary Clinton, toggling between derision and conditional support. His inability to decry attacks on his former opponent as reprehensible, or to call out his supporters’ radicalism as unacceptable, speaks volumes.
And so, what Senator Warren has alleged makes perfect sense. Bernie Sanders may have a great plan for Americans in 2020, but what he does not have is a vision that includes a female president. In this new decade, our expectations should be higher than what Sanders is offering. We should be reaching out with hammers, eager to shatter the glass. It’s time.