I started this election cycle feeling the Bern. Unlike many of Bernie Sanders’ current supporters, I’ve been watching him for years. I’ve enjoyed his passion and willingness to speak his mind, cheered his unabashed socialist tendencies and loved his determination to do what is right. I was so delighted when he announced his candidacy for President of the United States that I actually was yelling at the TV and jumping up and down. I even adored his low-key announcement outside the Senate building in-between sessions.
One of the reasons I was so excited though was because I was pretty certain that he didn’t truly want the job. Why would he? Bernie is older than most candidates for the position – in a job that ages you quickly, this has to be a concern for him – and doesn’t appear to suffer fools gladly. He would probably go insane trying to deal with recalcitrant foreign leaders and stubborn members of Congress. Right now, he can yell at them, make his speech, cast his vote and be on his way. As president, he’d have to compromise and I doubt that would be fun. He’d also probably despise the many trivialities he’d have to endure as president (e.g., the endless dinners, time spent with donors, Press Club events, Easter Egg hunts, pardoning turkeys). But by far the biggest problem would be that he’d have to wrestle with a number of issues that fall way beyond the realm of income inequality. While Bernie is no one-trick pony, income inequality is his baby. So no, I didn’t believe that he was overly invested in becoming president.
I suspected that he was attempting to do what so many of us have wanted for a while: move Hillary, the presumptive candidate, to the left. I think he wanted her to see that there is a progressive base upon which she can rely and, as his campaign gained traction, he was succeeding. However, what he didn’t count on – something Hillary herself knows all too well – was the ingrained misogyny that is rampant in this country.
There is a reason why Hillary tacked to the center in the first place and it isn’t because that’s where she wants to be. It’s where she’s had to be for far too long. If you look around, there are only two women who could possibly have a chance at the Oval Office: Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren. Warren is essentially a newcomer to politics (meaning that she doesn’t have the sway an established politician does) and, thus far, doesn’t seem to want the top job. This leaves Hillary as the only viable woman candidate. This isn’t merely coincidental.
Americans love to talk about equality but, when it comes to women, we are woefully behind, especially in politics and leadership. No matter what they do, women leaders tend to suffer from a likeability problem and those who have the highest profiles endure humiliating insults, comments, slights, digs and unflattering portrayals the likes of which most of us couldn’t stand. Unlike male leaders who can pretty much do what they want with impunity, female leaders have their every move critiqued. This is particularly true of progressive women who battle on two fronts: their gender and their beliefs.
Since they can do nothing to change their gender, progressive women who want to lead on a larger scale often find themselves going toward the center in order to appeal to more mainstream voters. That’s why Hillary – a woman who spent her time in college fighting for the rights of African Americans, migrant workers and children, a lawyer who began her professional career working for the Children’s Defense Fund, a First Lady who tried to implement universal healthcare and gave an historic speech at the United Nations Fourth World Congress on Women despite incredible pushback from her husband’s administration – now looks like a centrist (at least on some issues). If she hadn’t looked moderate, then she’d be a radical and what is more dangerous than a radical woman? And that is particularly true for Hillary who has had to endure controversies, probes, and investigations into so many aspects of her life.
Given that they were Senate colleagues who voted together 93% of the time, Bernie knows that Hillary shares most of his beliefs. However, it’s likely that he didn’t understand the true impact of her gender. He thought that all he needed to do was show her that a progressive base was out there – highlighting the millions of Americans who want the system to change – and that it was okay for her to come home to her true ideological roots. Instead, what happened was that, in addition to the thousands of people who were honestly excited by his message, Bernie also appealed to thousands more who were desperate for anyone other than a woman, especially this woman, to vote for.
That’s when the campaign turned ugly. That’s when we got the Bernie Bros, the “centrist” complaints, and Bernie himself talking about how damaging her ambition is, as if anyone running for president is without it. That’s when we got people saying that Bernie’s anger is refreshing while Hillary’s is puzzling and that she’s “establishment” while he’s not although both of them have been in DC politics for decades. That’s when all the underlying misogyny that often gets overlooked came roaring into public discourse full throttle.
That’s also when I started getting angry and I haven’t stopped. Every time I watch Bernie wave his finger around, most especially towards Hillary, I see all the men who’ve mansplained to me. Every time I hear one of his supporters go off on how dishonest, conservative or unlikeable Hillary is (and they never forego an opportunity even in conversations that have little to do with her), I see the lack of women in the top ranks of business, leadership, education, entertainment, journalism, clergy and other decision-making positions. Every time Bernie doesn’t stand up to the virulent misogynistic attacks on Hillary, I remember all the times I’ve fought alone. None of it feels good to me and none of it seems to move us forward. If anything, it feels like we’re sliding back.
I still admire Bernie Sanders as a man of principle and hope that he continues to fight for liberal issues (especially income inequality) but, given his refusal to understand the reality of Hillary’s battle, I just want his campaign over. Bernie has done what I think he set out to do. Hillary now knows that there are millions of progressives in the United States who want to see change and she has started to move her positions to the left. So it’s time for Bernie to go, especially since he apparently cannot appreciate just how much the establishment has forced her into untenable situations and how misogyny has influenced both of their campaigns, his supporters in particular. He started his bid for the presidency with what I hope were the best of intentions but, somewhere along the way, misogyny reared its head and turned the conversation hostile. And, in an election cycle in which the other side has been such a disaster, we simply cannot afford to turn against each other.