CNN recently reported on the biggest political he said/she said dispute of the new decade. According to sources, Bernie Sanders told Elizabeth Warren in private meeting that a woman couldn't win the presidential election. Presumably, the conversation was about the upcoming election and not all future elections.
Sanders and his campaign denied any such comment was made. "It is a lie," Faiz Shakir, Sanders' campaign manager, said in response to media reports. "Bernie Sanders has always fought and stood for woman and women's rights."
Warren and her campaign were initially silent on the issue after it broke Monday afternoon, but eventually felt obligated to respond. "Among the topics that came up was what would happen if Democrats nominated a female candidate," Warren said later in a statement. "I thought a woman could win; he disagreed." Warren added,"I have no interest in discussing this private meeting any further because Bernie and I have far more in common than our differences on punditry."
The operative word there is "punditry". That's the lifeline that Warren tossed Sanders. It is punditry to say a woman can't (or won't) win the presidential election in 2020. It is an opinion. It's not a demand. The opinion may be wrong or it may be correct. Sanders is not a misogynist to express the opinion that a woman won't defeat Donald Trump.
In 1931, before Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected, some people probably thought that a man confined to a wheelchair would not be elected president. In 1959, pundits said that a Catholic couldn't be elected president. John F. Kennedy proved them wrong. In 2008, Barack Obama proved wrong the usually politically astute people who said a black man would not be elected president. In 2016, some observers thought that a woman couldn't be elected president or that at best she would be at disadvantage.
Today, there are people on news channels and websites who hold the opinion that a gay man cannot defeat Donald Trump. That's including people who like and agree with Pete Buttigieg on the issues. Many observers express doubts that an elderly man, especially one who is a self-described socialist can be elected president.
The point is that people who express opinions about who will or won't be elected are not saying that certain categories of politician should not be elected, they are predicting that they will not be elected in a particular election. They are not necessarily anti-woman, racial bigots, anti-Catholic, homophobes, anti-paraplegic, anti-elderly or anti anything else.
Instead, Sanders denied that remark, which sets up the inevitable conclusion that either Sanders or Warren isn't telling the truth.
Sanders should have said that he was merely expressing his opinion that a woman won't defeat Donald Trump, a man not above using sexist insults and fighting dirty. Sanders should have said if Sen. Warren or Sen. Klobuchar are our nominee, I will be happily proven wrong and will work my hardest on her behalf to elect her president.
Sanders missed the opportunity to gracefully put an end to this ugly news story. Sanders should know that the media will be on it like a pit bull terrier and not let go until one of the combatants recants. Unsurprisingly, the unresolved issue was raised in the debate.
CNN's Abby Phillips asked "Sen. Sanders, CNN reported yesterday, and Sen. Warren confirmed in a statement, that in 2018 you told her that you did not believe that a woman could win the election. Why did you say that?"
"Well, as a matter of fact, I didn't say it," Sanders responded. He went on to offer his bona fides as a champion of women's rights and opportunities. He invited people to look at his YouTube videos in which he apparently says nice things about women. (That night, Stephen Colbert puckishly warned people who look at Sanders' videos but not to look below in the comments sections, in obvious reference to the reputation of the Bernie Bros.)
Then Phillips turned to Warren: "Sen. Warren, what did you think when Sen. Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?" (That's rather an unfair presumption. I wondered if that question was written in advance anticipating that Sander wouldn't deny the remark.)
Warren replied, "I disagreed. Bernie is my friend, and I am not here to try to fight with Bernie. But, look, this question about whether or not a woman can be president has been raised, and it's time for us to attack it head-on."
In making her case for women's electability, Warren went on, "so, can a woman beat Donald Trump? Look at the men on this stage, collectively, they have lost 10 elections."
"The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they've been in are the women," she said, offering sisterly praise for Sen. Klobuchar. "Amy and me. The only person on this stage who has beaten an incumbent Republican anytime in the past 30 years is me."
A few questions later, Sanders who apparently took umbrage at Warren’s remark about the men in past thirty years of elections, piped up: "Well, just to set the record straight, I defeated an incumbent Republican running for Congress".
"When?" Warren asked.
"1990," Sanders said.
Warren gave Sanders a comically quizzical look and appeared to count the years mentally.
"That's how I won," Mr. Sanders said. "Beat a Republican congressman."
"Thirty years ago," Warren interrupted Sanders, "But wasn't it 30 years ago?"
Sanders defeated a Republican on November 6, 1990 when he defeated Rep. Peter Smith which was 29 years and two months ago. That's not a great counterargument to Warren's point that none of the men on the debate stage had won against an incumbent Republican in a long time. Incidentally, Sanders accounted for seven of the ten losses that Warren mentioned. Sanders made a mathematical point that Andrew Yang would have appreciated, but to many it will seem petty. It doesn't help Sanders against Joe Biden who is seen by many, according to polls, as more electable.
The debate questions moved in other directions, but it was clear that Warren and Sanders hadn't moved on. At the end of the debate, even though we couldn't hear what was being said, the two progressives had a testy exchange behind the podiums, as you can see in the video below. This apparent bad blood will trickle down to the volunteers and the online supporters. It also resurrects the hard feelings between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Sanders' supporters. Until now, the Warren and Sanders campaigns had a non-aggression pact. That seems to have been violated. The beneficiary is Joe Biden who though the front runner has managed to stay above the fray.
Innocently, a smiling Tom Steyer wanted to say good night to both Warren and Sanders but quickly realized it was "an awkward moment". You can see the stricken look on Steyer's face. Steyer remarked later that "the last thing I wanted to do was to get in between the two of them."
The prolonged episode was not a good look for either Sanders or Warren, but it made Sanders look especially bad. He comes across as stubbornly irascible. The "OK, boomer" crowd might conclude that old man Sanders forgot what he said. In the current "I believe her" era, Sanders should have taken Warren's lifeline saying that it was simply punditry on his part, and a privately expressed opinion at that. Instead he took her lifeline and formed a noose and tied it around his neck.
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