I’ll admit I’ve had a hard time warming up to Bernie. Maybe it’s because he’s always shouting, yet giving me few concrete policy points. I feel I’m being lectured by the mean old man down the street who is telling me to “get off my lawn” but giving me no more rationale than “because I said so”. I am not a personality voter and I wouldn’t waste my vote for the frivolous reason that I’d like to have a beer with a particular candidate. I’ve been trying to study the nitty-gritty of both Bernie’s and Hillary’s positions. On the face of it, I see little daylight between them as evidenced by their stated policy goals — and the New York Times’ analysis which found they voted in synch 93% of the time. In addition, Bernie isn’t making it easy to compare. In contrast to policy wonk Hillary’s detail heavy website, he’s spoken mostly in platitudes and campaign stump speech generalities about how he’d accomplish his goals. He did come out with a plan for paying for his health care proposals, but many are noting, it’s still pretty vague. And he’s not realistically addressing how he’s going to get it through a hostile Republican controlled Congress dominated by Tea Partiers. I’m pretty much getting the answer that he’ll get it passed because, like that old man on the lawn, he says so.
Hillary, by contrast, has been praised, even by grudging Republicans, for being someone who can effectively work across the aisles. The consensus is that she is a voracious reader, a formidable intellect, with an unprecedented grasp of the facts. Yet she is a respectful listener, which is always the approach that gets the most result in tense situations. By contrast, Bernie’s a screamer and — to my ears and by the accounts of those who have worked with him in Vermont, a somewhat arrogant one — who is known to have few allies and eats lunch alone in the Congressional cafeteria. Not a good approach to getting something done in today’s Washington environment. I fear that he’d rather have every one of his initiatives go down in flames than salvage 70% with compromise. So on the question of who I think would best be able to operate as an effective President, hands down, it’s Hillary on experience, temperament and demonstrated record.
Let me pause here to say that despite my misgivings about the breadth of Bernie’s experience — especially outside of domestic issues — and my inability to warm up to him, if he gets the nomination, I will work as I’ve never worked before to ensure his election. I am appalled at the “Bernie or nothing” attitude I’m hearing from voters who should know better. The willingness to throw Planned Parenthood — one of the key healthcare lifelines for many poor women — under the bus because they had the temerity to come out for Hillary. The threats that, if Bernie doesn’t get the nomination, they will sit at home election day or spend their vote on a fringe candidate who has no chance. Maybe I’ve just been through enough election cycles in my life where my first choice didn’t make it out of the primaries. I’ll take second, third or fourth choice as long as most of my key issues are addressed and I think the candidate is open to evolving on the issues he isn’t where I think he should be. Besides, eight years of Dubya are still fresh in my mind. Maybe President Gore wouldn’t have moved the needle as far as many of us would have liked it to go, but he sure as hell wouldn’t have set us back so far that I’m not sure we’ll overcome his damage in my lifetime.
Here’s my big beef. When the fuck is it my turn? I know many Gay friends who became increasingly frustrated when told they should support candidates who paid lip service to Gay Rights, but after the election were fobbed off with “the time isn’t right to push forward that agenda”. African Americans were given the same line and Martin Luther King, Jr. made a good case for why their time of patiently waiting had to end. Well, I’ve been a good Liberal soldier while I waited through more than half a dozen election cycles for the opportunity to vote for a candidate who looks like me. Somehow that candidate never arrived. There weren’t enough “seasoned” women. Or some White male, I was told, had a better chance of getting elected and pushing forward the agenda. Yet, here we are in 2016. You have to go to Saudi Arabia to find a developed country with worse gender parity than the U.S. Women’s basic rights are being rolled back to what feels further than when I graduated from college lo! these many years ago. Worse yet, misogyny is alive and well and in surprising places. Scroll social media and the comments section of stories on the election and see how many self-professed Progressive Bernie supporters have no hesitation in framing their opposition to Hillary in shockingly misogynist terms.
Of course I wouldn’t vote for a candidate just because she was a woman. Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Carly Fiorina — no way! I’m under no illusion that a female President would end misogyny any more than Barack Obama’s election ended racism. But it matters, damn it, it matters. I’m much younger than Hillary and didn’t face nearly the opposition and limited opportunities she and others her age battled. But I’m old enough to remember when it was just assumed that there were whole areas that were closed to me because I was born with the wrong genitalia. Some of that exclusion was overt. When helming a student radio show on AFN, which was listened to across Europe, I was told by the station manager that I was one of the most talented young radio announcers he’d come across. “But of course, you’ll never have a career in radio because listeners find women’s voices ‘inauthentic’.” Some of it was systemic. I was told I wasn’t being considered for a promotion because I was engaged “and you’ll just leave when you become pregnant.” Some of it was passive. When I was a kid and my father was teaching at the Military Academy, all of us base kids were given coloring books. My brother’s was called “I Will Be a West Point Cadet”. Mine was “I Will Be a West Point Cadet Girlfriend”. So it matters, damn it, it matters that we get a woman President.
And here, after all these years, the most qualified candidate in either race is a woman. Hillary spent eight years in the White House, stepping out of a traditional First Lady role to get in the trenches and learn the hard realities of drafting policy and trying to get it through a hostile Congress. She’s served as Secretary of State during wartime. She’s had a successful two terms as the Senator of a major state with a massive urban population, but also a large isolated rural one. Yet, somehow that’s not enough. How much more experience does a female candidate have to have to where she can be as accepted as a male candidate with thin political experience whose bona fides are never questioned? “Oh”, but the Progressive and Liberal doubters say, “Of course we should have a woman candidate, but Hillary is just the WRONG candidate. I would fully support Elizabeth Warren or the Green Party’s Jill Stein.” How convenient that the only “right” female candidates are the one who has been very clear for a very long time that there is no chance she will run and the fringe candidate who hasn’t a hope in hell of even being a blip at the ballot box. How very convenient.
But let’s look at the issues. There is a reason Planned Parenthood came out for Hillary. She has consistently led on women’s issues and unabashedly places them front and center to her agenda. Bernie, bless his heart, has always voted right, but he’s never led. He doesn’t propose legislation on gender equality. He doesn’t talk much about it on the campaign trail. Some of his supporters tell me that his economic reforms will lift all boats, including women. But rebuilding the Middle Class will only go so far for poor women who are one unplanned pregnancy away from losing jobs and whatever tenuous hold they have on moving forward. All the potential opportunities in the world are useless if 50% of us are denied the most fundamental control over our bodies. Some would point out that the anti-abortion factions have effectively won their battle. In most states, safe, affordable family planning outlets are shuttered or hundreds of miles away. If you are a single mother, working two jobs and one stroke of bad luck away from not being able to make the rent, leaving work for a six hour bus ride to and from a family planning clinic — and the lost wages from that trip and the post-surgery recovery time — may be the difference between a shitty apartment and homelessness.
So it matters that women’s issues are front and center in a candidate’s platform. That just isn’t so with Bernie. I don’t care how rabidly you support Bernie, you just can’t make the case that women’s issues are a priority for him.
My last qualm about Bernie could be seen as superficial, but I find it telling. In last night’s final Democratic debate, Bernie showed the kind of disrespect so many of us have lived with as women trying to move ahead in a White man’s world. He mugged and interrupted all the way through Hillary’s speaking time. He even tried to shout over Andrea Mitchell’s questions — although, tellingly, not over Lester Holt’s. But what made me sit bolt upright was his use of the most heinous White man’s tactic of marginalizing women in professional situations. It’s our equivalent of being called a Fag or the N word. While Hillary was speaking, in addition to mugging, murmuring and interjecting comments, he — not once, not twice, but three times — put out his hand in front of her face. Again, sisters, especially of my age, know this move. It’s the single most disrespectful, demeaning, dehumanizing thing you can do to a woman in a professional setting. It says, “I can silence you and discipline you as I would a child or as Cesar Millan would a dog”. For Bernie to pull that shit on a former colleague of equal or greater stature and accomplishment is unforgivable.
Now I do believe Bernie is a good man. He’s not a Trump, a Cruz or a Huckabee. He’s a grumpy old radical, a rough around the edges reformer. But I can’t stop noting that he didn’t interrupt or mug at Martin O’Malley or Lester Holt. And the former attacked him just as heartily as Hillary and the latter asked questions that were just as tough as Andrea’s. When Lester told him time was up, Bernie shut up. When Andrea did, he didn’t.
Admittedly, it’s a small detail. It could be just something he did in the heat of the moment. But if he really really wants to speak authentically to 50% of the population on issues that are central to our lives, you’d think even rough and rumpled Bernie would have worked out how he could debate Hillary vigorously without pulling the usual White Man Privilege Shit. Clearly the sensitivity of the situation didn’t occur to Bernie, he didn’t plan for it, he probably didn’t consider it. And that concerns me.
If Bernie gets the nomination and becomes our President, he’ll take the right side on women’s issues, I’m sure, when they are pushed and presented by someone else. But, even in this battleground time, where we are set to lose practically every gain we’ve made in the last 40 years, these issues still won’t be a priority to him. That worries me.
I once correctly predicted to disbelieving Liberal friends that, regardless of the depth of racism in this country, the United States would elect a Black man before it would a White woman. I’m amending that to conclude that we’ll have a Gay President, a Hispanic President, probably even a Muslim President before we ever get a female Commander in Chief. So yes, if it comes to it, once again, I’ll bow my head and support the greater good. As longtime adult voters do, I’ll weigh it all up and accept 70% of what I want to avoid 100% of what I don’t want. But when do Liberals and Progressives decide that women’s issues are the line in the sand? That a candidate who is pledged to actively and aggressively protect the health, opportunities, economic and civic rights of 50% of our population matters so much that other issues have to take a back seat? And when can that candidate actually look like me? Read something like this and tell me that having women in powerful positions isn’t much more important than settling for yet another White man who claims to support women’s issues. Some estimates put LBGT citizens at 10-15% of our population, African Americans are 12%. It was and is critical that they be afforded all the rights and privileges and opportunities that all Americans should enjoy. We are HALF the population! Yet, even people who should be on the ramparts — young women who have benefited directly by the struggles of women before them — are perfectly comfortable saying, “I’m not a feminist…” Even a populist as fiery as Bernie doesn’t seem to feel the need to reach out to women as resolutely and strategically as he’s currently reaching out to African American voters.
Damn it, when is it our time? When do we matter? Will I get to see a woman President in my lifetime? I hope, I hope. But some days my hope ebbs.
Top image of Bernie Sanders from Politico.