Female supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders are not taking kindly to a MSNBC political pundit who said Friday—in a clip that has since gone viral—that there "may be something to" the charge that voters who prefer Sanders over rival Elizabeth Warren are inherently sexist.
Though not a remark from someone as a high a profile as former secretary of state Madeline Albright—who in 2016 said there was a "special place in hell" for women who didn't back Hillary Clinton in that race—the comments by Emily Tisch Sussman, a Democratic strategist and former vice president of campaigns for the Center for American Progress, drew scorn from the many women who work for or support Sanders for a wide range of substantive reasons.
"I actually heard someone saying something that I thought was an interesting point. But basically, if you are still supporting Sanders as opposed to Warren, it's kind of showing your sexism," Tisch Sussman said Friday morning.
"Because [Warren] has more detailed plans and her plans have evolved," Tisch Sussman continued. "I think it was an interesting point and I think there may be something to it."
In response, Sanders campaign national co-chair Nina Turner said she was having trouble wrapping her mind around such "foolishness":
I’m truly trying to wrap my mind around this foolishness https://t.co/v493SsYILO— Nina Turner (@ninaturner) September 28, 2019
Briahna Joy Gray, who serves as national press secretary for the Sanders campaign, also weighed in:
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but sexism and racism are too real and to important be weaponized for political gain. : https://t.co/inQCDpXIY2— Briahna Joy Gray (@briebriejoy) September 28, 2019
Not a new phenomenon, but one of the central critiques of charging Sanders supporters of being sexist is the degree to which it disregards just how profoundly his agenda—including a $15 federal minimum wage, paid parental and family leave, Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, free public college, cancellation of medical debt, universal coverage for reproductive care and abortion access—would specifically improve the lives of women and reduce gender (and other) inequities throughout society.
"Here's the thing," columnist Arwa Mahdawi wrote for the Guardian earlier this year: "universal healthcare is a feminist issue. Widening access to education is a feminist issue. A foreign policy that doesn't involve constantly bombing other countries is a feminist issue. Refusing to cozy up to Saudi Arabia is a feminist issue. Calling out Israel for its treatment of Palestinians is a feminist issue. As far as I'm concerned, Sanders is the most feminist candidate in the race."
I’m a 66-year-old woman with a cardiac condition Rent alone is equal to my Social Security check. Living off my savings & terrified that even with Medicare, a medical emergency will bankrupt me. I see plenty of others who are even worse off than me. #WomenForBernie #BERNIE2020 https://t.co/L3SvSI7RRf— psyche27 (@psyche27) September 28, 2019
I'm a #WomenForBernie because I believe in fighting for medicare for all, education for all, a green new deal, and a living wage. We have enough politicians... I can't wait for an activist, leader, and public servant to be our President. @ninaturner @berniesanders #Bernie2020 https://t.co/AOi5MYjDrH— emmy1690 (@emmy16901) September 28, 2019
In addition, female supporters argue, denying that Sanders polls consistently well among women—especially young women and women of color—erases, in effect, all those women and their well-reasoned justifications for backing his political vision and presidential campaign.
For journalist and podcast host Katie Halper—outspoken in her support for Sanders as well as her dismay at how the corporate media and Democratic establishment figures operate to undermine and smear him, said Tisch Sussman's comments were clearly "offensive" but also "helpful" in terms of understanding this dynamic.
"They were offensive because they dismissed all Sanders supporters as sexist," Halper said in an email to Common Dreams. "Is she ignorant or disinegenuous? Does she not know or is she intentionally concealing that people support Sanders for many reasons that have nothing to do with his gender? Does she really not get that economic issues and foreign policy issues are women's issues?"
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Using the tactic of "I overheard someone say" this about Sanders supporters, added Halper, was "cringe-worthy" detail of Tisch Sussman's remarks.
"That is an obvious and baseless-smear tactic," she said. "At least have the courage of your convictions—even if they're bad ones."
In addition to the time Tisch Sussman spent at the Center for American Progress, the liberal think tank with deep ties to the Clinton apparatus in Washington D.C. and consistently hostile to Sanders' bold policy ideas and grassroots progressive support, many critics also noted that her father happens to be billionaire financier Donald Sussman, a hedge fund manager, liberal philanthropist, and major Democratic donor.
Given that Sanders at the outset of the week unveiled in his updated proposal to institute a wealth tax in the country and declared forthrightly, as Common Dreams reported, that he doesn't believe "billionaires should exist" in the world, Tisch Sussman's family wealth was relevant to at least some of her detractors.
Amy Vilela, state co-chair for the Sanders campaign in Nevada, was having none of it:
Not here to be vote shamed by the 1%. I am supporting the only candidate who will always put the needs of people first.#MedicareForAll #GreenNewDeal #CancelStudentDebt #HousingForAll The list goes on & he literally writes the damn bills!#Bernie2020 https://t.co/XZLWUyVpuf— Amy Vilela (@amy4thepeople) September 28, 2019
"I am a lifelong feminist and an ardent supporter of Bernie Sanders," said writer and poet Kathryn Levy in a tweet of her own. "He was marching for women’s rights when Warren was a Republican. But of course this isn't about sexism. It's about his being the only candidate who is a threat to corporate interests."
As part of her pushback, Turner called on fellow women nationwide to share their stories about why they support Sanders:
As of this writing, the request had garnered over 200 responses and thousands of likes and retweets. A small sample:
- "I'm with #WomenForBernie because I have student loans I took to buy health insurance so I could get a good job with health insurance! Then I got sicker. Now I have medical debt and student debt, and I want a better world for my adorable grandson!" (link)
- "Here in the Silicon Valley, most of the many organizers for Bernie are women & also majority Asian American. For us everything abt Bernie's history & policies evinces the strongest commitment to equality, dignity & justice for all, and that's what we care about. #WomenForBernie" (link)
- Sanders "has been on the right side of issues his entire life & for 37 years of my life. He’s consistent. He’s not a talker, he’s a doer, he acts & that’s the difference. He is the only one I trust when it comes to fighting for us. #WomenForBernie" (link)
- "How do I know my Grandma, who passed in 2000, would be #WomenForBernie? She was smart, compassionate, and UNION. She always looked out for workers and the less fortunate. Like Bernie. (link)
On the "Fight for Women's Rights" section of the Sanders campaign website, it says, "Despite major advances in civil and political rights, our country still has a long way to go in addressing the issues of gender inequality and reproductive freedom."
Offering a substantive debate on the Warren-Sanders divide, Halper this week, along with co-host Matt Taibbi and Current Affairs editor Nathan J. Robinson, discussed the two candidates on Halper and Taibbi's "Useful Idiots" podcast. Watch:
Collectively, the argument from most Sanders supporters appears not be that they dislike Warren or her policies, but that they have come to believe that Sanders—largely based on his concept of political power and his lifelong commitment to a host of issues and values—is a truly unique and superior candidate overall.
"People of all genders and backgrounds," Halper told Common Dreams, "trust admire Sanders for his consistency, courage, and moral clarity. And they support him for his championing of issues that politicians and the echo-chamber media dismiss as fringe but are in fact mainstream and popular."
And as another female Bernie supporter put it in a tweet on Saturday, "I grew up with a strong feminist single mother, a women's studies lecturer, who took me marching for the Equal Rights Ammendment in the 1970s. She taught me to [make judgements] based on shared values and integrity—not based on gender. "
And, she concluded, "There's a special place in heaven for #WomenForBernie."
Correction: The photograph at the top of this article was not correctly identified or attributed as it was gleaned from a social media post in which the origin was not clear. The screenshot is of Sanders with Cosmopolitan staffers, not necessarily supporters, during a recent visit to the magazine's offices. Read the Q&A Sanders had with Cosmo editors and editorial staff here.