What We Learned From That Sanders-Warren Spat

What We Learned From That Sanders-Warren Spat

On Monday, singer John Legend, a star by any measure, tweeted his choice for president to his 13.2 million followers:

“I’ll be voting for Elizabeth Warren in the CA Democratic primary.”


Soon after, Legend felt the need to add this:

“Some of you Bernie supporters do quite the disservice to your candidate, who seems to be a great human being. Try not to drive people away with your nastiness. I will happily vote for him if he wins the primary. Chill.”

I have loved John Legend for a long time. You see why.

His follow-up tweet resonates for a lot of us who are enduring another round of Bernie Sanders supporters who mistakenly view his candidacy as their excuse to act like the mirror image of Donald Trump’s extremists. This is not a good look, and it’s a tired rerun from 2016.

This is where I insert the “not all” statement in an attempt to thin the herd avalanching toward me. Of course, not all of Sanders’ supporters behave like this. I know a lot of his supporters who are thoughtful and respectful. If you’re one of them, this isn’t about you. Past experience compels me to add this: I struggle to understand how people can read something they swear doesn’t describe them and yet react as if it did.

We’ve seen a recent dust-up between Sanders and Elizabeth Warren over what he might or might not have said to her two years ago when they were discussing the 2020 presidential race. The early coverage had only allegations from their campaigns. Warren staff claimed Sanders told her a woman couldn’t win in 2020. His campaign staff denounced that as a lie. Soon enough, Sanders was ardently denying it, and Warren was confirming it had happened.

My husband is their Democratic colleague, and so I know both Sanders and Warren, and respect both of them, which only makes this harder, it seems. Fortunately, after a brief exchange about this on Tuesday’s debate stage, they seemed eager to move on. There’s a man in the White House to defeat, you understand.

This does not seem to be true of many of Sanders’ followers. Dare to express the slightest doubt about their candidate or, far worse, support someone else, and they will circle like vultures over roadkill. They can save their energy. We’ve been through this before, and their aggression is lost on women like me.

None of this is happening in a vacuum. There is a bigger discussion to have about why, in 2020, we’re still talking about the electability of a woman. Yet, so many want to derail it.

Some dismiss Sanders’ alleged comment as just an echo of the same conversations going on in Democratic circles around the country. Sure. Many feminists who’ve been my friends for decades have told me they worry a woman can’t win in 2020. This is fear speaking, and it’s laser-focused not on the candidates but on the history of the voting public. We talk it through and hash out the what-ifs. But a woman running for president surely hears this message differently. It feels personal because it is, and can we please not lose sight of this difference?

And, yes, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in 2016. Yet, she isn’t president, is she? Why do we have to keep explaining why this doesn’t feel like a victory for women?

Some have wanted to know why Warren didn’t mention the exchange with Sanders sooner. Where’ve we heard that before?

It piles up, this stuff that forces women to explain ourselves, over and over. And it never ends, which brings me to 22-year-old Michigan Advance reporter Allison Donahue.

She is one of the state’s youngest Capitol reporters. Recently, she approached the majority whip, Republican Sen. Peter Lucido, for an interview. He was standing with about 30 boys from his high school alma mater.

On Wednesday, she wrote about what happened next:

“As I turned to walk away, he asked, ‘You’ve heard of De La Salle, right?’

“I told him I hadn’t.

“‘It’s an all boys’ school,’ he told me. ‘You should hang around! You could have a lot of fun with these boys, or they could have a lot of fun with you.’

“The teenagers burst into an Old Boys’ Network-type of laughter, and I walked away knowing that I had been the punchline of their ‘locker room’ talk.

“Except it wasn’t the locker room; it was the Senate chamber. And this isn’t high school. It’s my career.”

Why am I bringing this up in a column that started with the ongoing debate over whether a woman can be president?

Please tell me you don’t wonder.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. Her novel, “The Daughters of Erietown,” will be published by Random House in Spring 2020. To find out more about Connie Schultz (schultz.connie@gmail.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Photo Credit: AFGE


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