Tag Archives: Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Supporting Bernie Sanders is a Feminist Choice

Lela Spielberg is a lifelong advocate for gender equality. She has worked in the education and social services field as a teacher, policy analyst, and program designer at a local family foundation in Washington, DC.  In this post, she describes how the dialogue about Bernie Sanders and his supporters illustrates some of the problems with a particular brand of American feminism.

Lela Spielberg

Lela Spielberg

Over the last month, as Bernie Sanders has gained popularity in the polls, the media and prominent political figures have ramped up their attacks against him. At first, these attacks were unsurprising to me: “he’s inexperienced;” “he’s too idealistic;” “he’ll never get anything done.” These statements are part of the typical chorus of attacks that Washington insiders and committed capitalists have used against progressive candidates since the beginning of time.  I won’t spend my time debunking these myths, as there have been several articles, including ones on this blog, that have done so already. However, about a month ago, a new strand of attacks emerged that I have found more troubling – as a woman, as a millennial, and as an American. These attacks allege that Bernie and/or his supporters are anti-feminist. Not only are they untrue, but their language also demonstrates the deep sense of elitism and entitlement that pervades traditional American feminism.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. I’m a Bernie supporter. I’ve identified as a socialist ever since I learned about the concept in my eighth-grade world history class, and I’ve admired Bernie’s activism since I moved to Washington over six years ago. Until Bernie jumped into the race, I had planned on casting a rather unenthusiastic vote for Hillary Clinton. While I believe Clinton to be smart and hard-working, her past support for bad trade deals, aggressive war, and welfare reform are not aligned with my values of fairness, peace, and economic equality. Bernie, on the other hand, has spent decades fighting for these values and has a record to prove it.

Moreover, all of these issues are at the heart of what I believe feminism to be—fighting for fairness for all women, regardless of their race, sexual identity, education level, and economic position. Consider, for example, that two thirds of workers who earn the minimum wage are women. While Clinton has voiced support for raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour, only Sanders has embraced and aggressively campaigned for the $15 minimum wage that thousands of women throughout the United States are demanding. Or think about the young women and girls being rounded up and deported by the Obama Administration. Clinton defended these actions six months ago and still won’t commit to ending them. Sanders, on the other hand, has spoken out strongly against the deportation raids and in support of Central American children. To me, feminism is not just about abortion rights and breaking the glass ceiling; it’s also about making sure that all women have access to good, reliable prenatal care and early screenings for breast cancer under a Medicare for All health care system, which Bernie Sanders supports and Hillary Clinton does not.  Feminism is about fighting for the empowerment of disadvantaged women both in the United States and around the world.

Yet powerful public figures, including two “feminist icons,” have called my feminism (as well as the seriousness of my convictions) into question by mocking my choice to support Bernie over Hillary. While they’ve since issued partial apologies for their most egregious comments – Gloria Steinem’s assertion that young women only support Bernie because “the boys are with Bernie” and Madeleine Albright’s statement that “there is a special place in hell for women who won’t help other women” by voting for Hillary Clinton – the fact that they made them at all, and their failure to really own them, propagates an American feminism that isn’t about supporting all women, but is about supporting wealthy, powerful, white women. So do comments by the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who said in an interview with the New York Times in January that she sees “a complacency among the generation of young women whose entire lives have been lived after Roe v. Wade was decided.”

The idea that young women are complacent and don’t have a sense of history is wrong. I appreciate the strides women have made, in politics and in boardrooms across the country. These accomplishments are wonderful, and they should be celebrated and continued. However, in crowing about these accomplishments without acknowledging that most of them only benefit middle- and upper-class white women, it is Steinem, Albright, and Wasserman Schultz who forget the lessons of history. Even with Roe v. Wade, poor and working-class women still lack access to safe, affordable abortions and family planning choices that their wealthier female counterparts have. This deep inequality that has only grown in recent generations is one of the reasons I am voting for Bernie Sanders.

As it turns out, my peers feel similarly – Sanders leads Hillary when it comes to female voters under 45, and he beat Hillary by 11 percentage points among all women in the New Hampshire primary. Yet many media voices continue to paint Bernie supporters as mostly male by using the term “Berniebro.”  Coined in an article in the Atlantic, the Berniebro label originally characterized Bernie supporters as “white; well-educated; middle-class (or, delicately, ‘upper middle-class’); and aware of NPR podcasts and jangly bearded bands.”

Numerous other commentators, including Paul Krugman, have now picked up on this label.  In their estimation, the Berniebro is not only a privileged white man, but a sexist, online harasser, too. In reality, however, the term Berniebro is sexist. When it isn’t accusing women of being “bros,” it’s ignoring the voices of women (and, for that matter, the people of color and working-class people) who support Bernie.

Let me be clear: I am not defending anyone, Bernie supporter or otherwise, who makes sexist, nasty remarks about Hillary Clinton. Nor am I denying that Hillary Clinton encounters sexism that Bernie Sanders and other men never will – she absolutely does. However, I am challenging those writing and speaking about the election, and about Bernie and Hillary in particular, to broaden their thinking and definition of feminism. Kevin Young and Diana C. Sierra Becerra wrote a wonderful piece for Alice Walker’s blog where they eloquently sum up this tension within the feminist community. They write:

In the US feminism is often understood as the right of women — and wealthy white women most of all — to share in the spoils of capitalism and US imperial power. By not confronting the exclusion of non-whites, foreigners, working-class people, and other groups from this vision, liberal feminists are missing a crucial opportunity to create a more inclusive, more powerful movement.

We have a long way to go before we have the truly inclusive, powerful feminist movement that the authors envision. Electing Clinton won’t get us there. To be fair, neither will electing Sanders. But not shaming women for casting a vote against economic, racial, and myriad other forms of inequality is one place we can start.

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Filed under 2016 Election, Gender Issues, US Political System

Why I Reject Lesser-of-Two-Evils-ism

If Hillary Clinton ends up winning the Democratic nomination for president, some Bernie Sanders supporters will vote for her anyway.  I can respect that decision.  While the differences between Democrats and Republicans are often overstated – to give just two examples (there are many), the same people advise Clinton, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz on foreign policy and Hillary Clinton is at least as cozy with Wall Street as most Republicans – there are some real and important reasons to worry about a Republican White House.  The Supreme Court and heads of agencies are, in my view, the biggest concerns in this vein.  I’d have low hopes for Hillary Clinton’s appointees but no doubts that they’d be better on balance than those offered by a Trump, Cruz, or Rubio.

Yet I will not vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016.  While I understand the lesser-of-two-evils mentality, I disagree with it; most of Clinton’s policy positions are unacceptable to me.  If Sanders loses the primary, I will probably vote for Jill Stein.

Wouldn’t that be a strategic blunder, some friends and family ask me?  Democrats who aren’t quite as polite ask if I’m an idiot.  Don’t I realize that this type of thinking led to George W. Bush becoming president in 2000 and that I may similarly “blow this election” by deciding to vote my conscience?

The premise of these questions, however, is completely wrong, and not just because, as Jim Hightower documented at the time, voting records show that “Gore was the problem, not Nader,” in the 2000 election.  In fact, refusing to vote for Hillary Clinton in the general election is both a principled and strategic decision that I encourage more people to embrace.

There are two possibilities when it comes to my vote: it will either impact the outcome of the election or it won’t.  If my vote won’t impact the outcome of the election, I might as well vote for the candidate with the best policy positions, regardless of his or her supposed electability.

If my vote will impact the outcome of the election, I may have to decide which matters more: (a) the differences between a bad Democrat and worse Republican over the next four years or (b) the degree to which I’d undermine our chances to enact fundamental change to a broken political system in the long-run by pursuing a lesser-of-two-evils voting strategy.

As I’ve noted before, the type of political “pragmatism” that would lead someone to choose (a) undermines power-balancing policy goals.  Because politicians and Democratic party officials know that many voters think this way, they have little incentive to listen to our concerns.  Instead, they can pay lip service to progressive values while crafting a policy agenda and decision-making process more responsive to wealthy donors than to their constituents.

That dynamic is on full display already in the 2016 Democratic primary election. Clinton is campaigning against priorities, like single-payer health care, that Democrats are supposed to embrace.  While early union endorsements for Clinton initially improved her rhetoric on education issues to some degree, she is already backtracking to assure corporate donors that her positions are unchanged.  The unions who endorsed Clinton early have no negotiating power relative to rich donors who make their support contingent on Clinton pursuing their interests; given that fact and her record, she seems unlikely to keep her promises if elected.

The Democratic National Committee’s actions are also illustrative.  The party establishment lined up behind Clinton before the race even started, and the DNC’s debate schedule is, despite their protestations to the contrary, quite obviously constructed to insulate Clinton from challenge.  DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s recent decision to suspend Sanders’ campaign’s access to its voter data (in response to a data breach by a since-fired Sanders staffer; the access was restored after the Sanders campaign sued the DNC) has caused even party loyalists to believe that the DNC “is putting [its] finger on [the] scale” and pro-Clinton journalists to acknowledge that the DNC’s behavior “makes Clinton’s lead look illegitimate, or at least, invites too many ‘what ifs.’”

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Hillary Clinton (source: Mark Wilson/Getty Images, via http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2015/11/12/9699836/democratic-debate-schedule)

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Hillary Clinton (source: Mark Wilson/Getty Images, via http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2015/11/12/9699836/democratic-debate-schedule)

Both Clinton and party leaders are making a mockery of many of the principles the party is supposed to stand for.  And pledging to support Clinton in the end – no matter what she and the DNC do – enables this kind of behavior.  It’s hard for me to see how we will ever fix our political process and reclaim our democracy by refusing to draw some lines in the sand.

I could accuse those who disagree with that assessment of propping up a sham political system.  I could say that, by downplaying the unfounded smears the Clinton campaign has spread against Sanders and insisting that we must support Clinton in the general if she wins the nomination, they are destroying the Democrats’ credibility and thus helping to ensure ever more privilege-defending and corrupt elected officials and government policy.  But it would be a lot fairer of me to acknowledge that a lot of the Republicans are really scary, that my strategy isn’t guaranteed to work the way I think it will, and that people evaluate the risks differently than I do.

Similarly, those who disagree can continue to accuse people like me of “helping the GOP” in the 2016 election by pointing out that the Democrats have extreme flaws and don’t always deserve our support.  But it would be a lot fairer of them to acknowledge that millions upon millions of people have suffered at the hands of lesser-of-two-evils candidates over the years, that an open commitment to support a lesser-of-two-evils candidate robs voters of bargaining power, and that the Democratic Party has brought voter discontent upon itself.

Hopefully Sanders will win the Democratic primary and this discussion will become a moot point.  In the meantime, it’s good for those of us who believe in social justice to push each other on our tactics.  We would just do well to remember that reasonable people with the same goals can disagree about which electoral strategy is most likely to help us achieve them.

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Filed under 2016 Election, US Political System