By Laurie Dobson
In the current race for the Democratic presidential nomination, there have been two prevailing narratives. One is the battle between the so-called “moderates” (actually neoliberals) vs. “progressives,” in which candidates like Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang and, at least until recently, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, are pitted against “lefty” Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The other is a contest between the two “progressives”: the “socialist” Sanders vs. the “capitalist-to-my-bones” Warren. Worth mentioning as well is the anti-war campaign of Tulsi Gabbard, although not specifically progressive in many respects (she backs Sanders as she did in 2016).
There certainly is a competition between the conservative, neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party (and the party leadership in the DNC) and the left, but the media storyline that on the left there are two candidates vying for the nomination is misleading.
With the blow-up this week between Warren and Sanders, ignited by a cheap-shot hit-job of a story on CNN published and aired a day before the CNN-produced Democratic candidates debate in Iowa, it has become clear that there is really only one true progressive in the Democratic primary race: Sanders.
The CNN article, which was based upon unsubstantiated claims leaked to the network by several unidentified Warren campaign staffers, asserted that in a one-on-one private meeting with Warren (no other witnesses present) held in her home over a year earlier, Sanders had claimed that “a woman cannot win the Presidency.” Sanders, contacted by the CNN reporter on that story, firmly denied that it happened, noting that while he and Warren had met, it was “inconceivable” he would have said such a thing. His explanation: Hillary had just clearly “won” the 2016 election by garnering three million more popular votes than Donald Trump. Also since he noted that he had, in 2015, encouraged Warren to accept the call of a draft-Warren movement and run against Clinton, only entering the race himself after she had declined to take her on.
Warren only confirmed the leak about the alleged conversation after letting the CNN story run with no comment from her for a day, apparently so that other media would pick it up. CNN used its article to promote and boost ratings for the next day’s debate, predicting fireworks. Warren then obliged the network by sticking to her story when she and Sanders were asked by the CNN debate panel about what they deceitfully presented as a fact: that Sanders had made the alleged statement. No context was provided for how this may have been said, or meant, if true.
In the wake of that farce of a debate, the false equivalency between Sanders and Warren is now appearing to crumble. Instead, the conversation has turned in a new direction. A new theme is emerging: identity-style politics, in this case, the ‘feminism vs. the patriarchy’ conflict, formerly milked as a wedge issue, taking a hit. It is taking a backseat to the inclusive ‘not me, Us!’ progressive movement.
Democratic and independent voters seem to be getting it, even if candidates and some liberal pundits are being obtuse. The issue has now come to a head: Warren can’t have it both ways anymore, posing both as a progressive candidate and as a woman wronged and victimized in a campaign fight that she brought on. And neither can centrists, handwringing over lost unity and encouraging the false equivalency while in actuality just resorting to a dirty-pool late-stage takedown attempt of Sanders posing in virtuous garb. This revolts progressives for good reason. It is a necessary issue to confront, and a good and worthwhile fight which is finally being made visible.
This is how we “move on,” differentiate, and move forward. The nomination race is not just about Bernie’s specific policies. It’s that he is attempting to reshape our political future as a nation, as we have come to know it. This is the truly significant thing that is happening, and why he is continuing to rise in the polls since the debate. Sanders is leading us, or at least the Democratic Party, into a new era and we need to let him lead, not allowing him to retreat or be beaten back.
We cannot allow Warren to portray herself or allow herself to be used as a foil to slice women out of this fight, which is about much more than gender. At this point she has entered into or allowed herself to be used in a classically if artificially manufactured female/male power struggle — one which Bernie must not let himself get sucked into. It will weaken all the people fighting for the progressive cause and it will look like yet another man-shaming embittered women’s group leading a charge and tarring any opposition. It’s a charge which men are unfortunately but understandably loathe to speak out against. Example: Warren could, on a live mike (which she almost surely knew was live), accuse Sanders of calling her a liar, which he didn’t. But Sanders, had he called her out as a liar during the debate as she claimed in that post-debate confrontation, would have been pilloried. All he could do was say he had not said what he was being accused of saying. (Post-debate, not knowing he was being recorded by her mic, he did respond by saying she had lied about him.)
Warren is being naive, and dangerously deluded, by allowing herself to be used due to her self-perception as a female champion of vulnerable women. She, viewing things through her lens of single-issue identity politics, sees herself as being accosted as a woman. She may have been told by Sanders that her politics couldn’t win. That would be a fair accusation, and one she may have taken personally, not looking at it from a larger, more objective perspective.
Question: could this attack from Warren and CNN on Sanders signal the end of the domination of the Democratic Party by so-called “centrists”? Is the Clinton centrist/elitist royalty love affair finally crashing? Have we entered a new era? Warren was not the standard bearer for this massive new shift. She can’t do it on her own. It’s not due to her being a woman that support for her is fading. Rather, it’s due to her being too centrist, as evidenced by the mess she made of her health reform roll-out, where she couldn’t bring herself to explain, as Sanders has done forthrightly, how moving to Medicare for All from our current health system would inevitably entail a general increase in taxes for the middle class, but would end up costing the middle class far less than the premiums, deductibles, co-pays and out-of-pocket costs they and their employers currently have to pay.
If the old order is giving way, it’s high time, after we’ve had 30 years of a failed Democratic centrist strategy that has produced the election of mostly Republican presidents, seen the Senate and House, until the last election, falling into Republican hands, and a majority of state governorships and legislatures controlled by Republicans. Getting rid of centrist control of the Democratic Party is the most necessary fight of this time, and we need to help Bernie call it out and bring it on. Retreating when you can finally advance is not the way to keep the pressure on. Bernie needs to hold his base together and to continue to articulate the true nature of the fight. He seems so far to be doing this. Let’s not let him to quit while he’s ahead!
This is a new day, happening on MLK’s anniversary over a half century after King famously took a stand and called out US militarism and imperialism as the major issue in the United States in his memorable (and sadly fateful) speech at Riverside Church in New York City.
It’s not just Bernie’s pet policies; it’s that he is entirely reshaping the Democratic Party. This would be the biggest win ever. But to do it he needs our help.
We all need to be part of this, and we need to be working together to help this campaign that Bernie brings forward, because it helps all our people. It is best inspiration to defeat Trump, and that means that we can’t be calling each other out on false “woke” charges. If the issue is important beyond age, race and gender (and it is!), then please consider the candidates as humans first, and consider whether they are running to help ordinary folks out against the powerful interests, or for some other reason.
This is the fight. Warren got confused. She has been focused on her personal signature battles, but the war has to be the main focus and that war, for too long, has been on the powerless, male and female, black, brown, red, yellow and white. Sanders is that candidate who is fighting on their side.
Which side are we on, boys and girls?
Laurie Dobson, who contributed this article to ThisCantBeHappening!, says: I am a peace-and-justice activist who ran in Connecticut for Dem State Rep in ’02, as an Indie for US Senate in Maine in ’08, and as a Bernie candidate for State Rep in Maine in 2016. I worked hard for the 2016 Bernie primary campaign but, unhappy with his decision after Hillary’s nomination to quit his campaign and endorse her, I attended his pro-Hillary rally Nov. 1st, 2016, where I was arrested for waving a green scarf for Jill Stein. I am supporting Bernie again now because, though I am a mother and well educated #metoo feminist, I refuse to fall for liberal, divisive, single-issue identity politics. Stereotypes don’t apply.