No Accident: How Bernie Sanders Needed a Culture of Misogyny to Compete in 2016
Times Up for Bernie Sanders.
After successfully playing the lovable old grandpa for nearly four years, karma caught up to the Vermont senator in a big way on Wednesday when The New York Times published a scathing article, chronicling months of neglect of both sexual harassment and equal pay during the 2016 presidential primary. To make matters worse, Sanders gave an interview to CNN Wednesday night where he stated he was a “little bit busy running around the country” to take seriously all the claims of his female staffers at the times of the alleged incidents. Sanders’ closest allies were forced to twist themselves into human pretzels to defend their messiah with Cenk Uygur bemoaning that the media never writes positive stories about Bernie, Walker Bragman insisting this is exactly the same as when Hillary Clinton demoted a staffer accused of sexual harassment, and David Sirota going on radio silence for 18 hours and counting. From both Sanders and his team, there has been no denial of what happened but rather a half-hearted promise that systems will be put in place to do better next time.
But Bernie Sanders doesn’t get to get off so easily. Not when you fully unpack the allegations in the Times article. Because the people mentioned in the article all have a history and that history was well-known to Bernie Sanders. You don’t get to play dumb when it’s your name for president on the buttons, t-shirts, and yard signs. The buck stops with you, regardless of how many levels your campaign may or may not have. If important information about these allegations did somehow not reach Bernie Sanders then that in itself should disqualify him from any future presidential aspirations. If there is no chain of command where very serious concerns about the safety and well-being of women is addressed then Bernie Sanders can stop pretending he values the lives of women. If, on the other hand, he knew and didn’t do anything that should once and for all end the argument that he is a champion for the common person and that he cares about how others are treated. Either way, Sanders comes off looking uncaring, unmoved, and utterly unprepared for a future presidential run.
According to the Times article, the devaluation of women on the campaign started from the beginning. One of Sanders’ first hires was a man named Arturo Carmona, who joined Sanders’ staff in October of 2015 to serve as his Latino Outreach director for the campaign. Throughout his time, Carmona served as a divisive figure and despite not being generally seen as a policy wonk, he was promoted to deputy national political director as the campaign wore on. In a March 2017 article, former Sanders staffer Masha Mendieta described how Carmona had essentially been “demoted up” and that several staff had severe reservations about both Carmona’s work as well as his treatment of staff, particularly female staff. Mendieta went on to describe how dismissive Carmona was of his female staff and saw them simply as coffee-fetchers rather than qualified, talented individuals and how he would rudely dismiss them in the presence of other men. Mendieta’s article came out after the campaign as Carmona was then pursuing a House seat in California’s 34th congressional district. He would deny the allegations but immediately following his denial, ten additional women came forward to share their experiences with Carmona and these experiences closely mirrored those of Mendieta.
For whatever reason, the Sanders campaign didn’t feel the need to address these allegations during Carmona’s time on staff. But even more troubling than an individual like Carmona is the fact that other prominent female Sanders staffers were also subject to harassment. Take, for instance, the case of Lucy Flores. Flores was a Sanders darling, who worked on his staff before choosing to run for Congress in 2016. In fact, Flores was such a strong surrogate that Sanders made her one of only three candidates that he would fundraise for throughout the entire 2016 election cycle after he was shamed into doing so. Flores recently confessed to NPR that she was aware of allegations of misogyny during the campaign and that there was “essentially a cover up” in dealing with it. She left Our Revolution in May of 2018 after she felt they weren’t addressing the needs of the Latino community. Combine that that the experience of Sarah Slamen, Sanders’ Louisiana state director. Slamen rose to national prominence in 2013 when she was removed from the Texas state senate for forcefully speaking out against a proposed 20-week abortion ban so she had experience dealing with controlling men in politics. However, even Slamen took issue with the Sanders campaign’s treatment of women and she would go on to resign from Our Revolution when her concerns over sexist behavior would go unanswered. Slamen said of Sanders, “I don’t think he has the vehicle or the platform that emerged from this campaign” to deal with the misogyny and sexism that her and others were forced to deal with.
The question now becomes who else was mistreated? Because if strong, powerful, independent women like Mendieta, Flores, and Slamen were on the receiving end of this type of behavior, what was it like for the more timid women who were scared to tell anyone what they saw, heard, or experienced? If people like Arturo Carmona could openly exist with a Harvey Weinstein-type reputation, how many other men on Sanders’ staff felt empowered to verbally and perhaps even physically abuse women? We’ve seen how complaints went unaddressed and we’ve seen how Bernie Sanders himself was allegedly unaware of what was going on. Why would a presidential campaign in the year 2016 think that any of this was okay?
The answer to those questions resolves around the candidate himself. Bernie Sanders is no friend to women, he never has been. From his now-infamous rape essay to his voting against the Amber Alert system to his attempt to dump nuclear waste on the majority-Latino town of Sierra Blanca, Texas, Sanders had a distinguished track record of voting for policies that would not protect women or children. Combine all this with his abysmal track record on guns including voting against the Brady Bill five times, voting to allow guns on Amtrak trains, and voting in favor of the “Charleston loophole” and you’ll see a career Washington insider with an obvious record of voting against common sense legislation that would improve the lives of women. His horrific record of voting for pro-women legislation and his inability to point to one specific piece of legislation that he composed that would actually become law, initially left Sanders on the outside looking in of the 2016 presidential race. Combined with the fact that Sanders was going up against Hillary Clinton, who had a chance to become the first female president, it became obvious that Bernie Sanders had a woman problem and that he would have to make major adjustments if he were to be considered a serious contender for president of the United States.
So what did Sanders do? Did he hire qualified female staffers, pay them equally, provide an inclusive safe environment, and then create a comprehensive platform to appeal to the women of this country?
Of course not. Instead Bernie Sanders would go in the opposite direction and would create a culture where his campaign and his supporters openly engaged in misogyny and sexism in order to demean Hillary Clinton and her supporters. It started early in Iowa where Sanders, although clearly having lost the Iowa caucus, spun it as a victory and a “virtual tie” in the state. By using this type of language from the get-go, Sanders was creating a culture that sought to delegitimize Hillary Clinton’s successes. In Nevada, we saw outrageous behavior from Sanders’ staff and supporters including trying to infiltrate a Las Vegas union to get them to support their candidate. Throughout the Nevada caucus, there were reports of rampant sexism among Sanders’ supporters including the grotesque treatment of civil rights icon Delores Huerta, who had the audacity to offer her services to translate the caucus into Spanish for those in attendance. Rather than issue any sort of statement of apology, Sanders doubled down on his supporters’ actions as his surrogate Rosario Dawson would pen an open letter to Dolores Huerta, attempting to lecture her on why supporting for Hillary Clinton was foolish. Here we were after only three primaries, and already Sanders was fully supportive of his campaign’s attacks against women, including prominent women of color.
And these attacks would continue, often led by Sanders himself. After being passed over for an endorsement for Planned Parenthood in January, Sanders would go on to claim that the organization was part of some mythical “establishment” and that their endorsement of Hillary Clinton (a lifelong champion for women’s rights) was somehow delegitimized because the organization happened to have a long, successful track record of providing services to women in low-income communities, as if the organization’s longevity was somehow a bad thing. Within a week, Sanders would also make the same claim against the Human Rights Campaign, an organization whose fundamental goal is to protect the rights of the LGBTQ community. Rather than thank each organization for their work and acknowledge he did not receive their endorsement, Sanders instead chose to demonize these organizations in a way that sought to undermine the importance of their work, and, in turn, undermine the value of their endorsement.
Sanders’ message was simple: any organization that is against me is my enemy, regardless of the work that they do to protect and empower women.
But as disheartening as all this was, Sanders saved up the bulk of his vitriol of women and directed it at Hillary Clinton. Despite promising to run an attack-free campaign when he first announced in April of 2015, by the time the debates rolled around, Sanders would break this promise. After claiming Hillary Clinton’s emails were of no importance during a televised debate in October, Sanders would eventually cave to pressure from his campaign staff and would then attempt to portray Clinton as being untrustworthy and part of some mythical “establishment.” By February of 2016, he would adopt the Karl Rove-inspired attack on her due to her speeches to Goldman Sachs. His campaign messaging what that she was a political insider, beholden to special interests and hidden within this message was the inherent sexism of questioning the very common practice of a former administration officials giving a paid speech who also happened to be a woman. By April, Sanders surrogates were publicly calling Hillary Clinton a “corporate whore”. Later that month, Sanders supporters were throwing dollar bills at Clinton’s car as she would leave fundraisers for her Victory Campaign, which would end up raising nearly $380 million for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot. Despite being officially eliminated by mid-May, Sanders would continue to demonize Hillary Clinton up through the California primary in June and it wasn’t until six weeks after the California primary that Sanders would quietly, unceremoniously offer his endorsement to the Democratic Party’s official nominee.
This was all by design and none of it was an accident. Sanders and his staff played on the far left’s misogyny and sexism. It’s why Sanders did nothing when his supporters would harass superdelegates and even go so far as to create a ‘hit list’ at a time when Hillary Clinton’s nomination was seemingly more and more likely. It’s why online Twitter users found themselves targeted for those that had the audacity to vet Bernie Sanders. It’s why Sanders’ supporters felt empowered as late as July when they attempted to disrupt the Democratic National Convention. It’s why Hillary Clinton supporters, primarily women and people of color, chose to say silent in their support for her, for fear of being harassed both in person and online. It’s why online websites like Daily Kos were overrun with Sanders supporters and why site managers refused to address their online bullying and harassment. This was a culture that Bernie Sanders himself had created, one of misogyny and sexism, in an attempt to weaken a strong, independent woman in Hillary Clinton. By the end of the campaign, it should be no surprise that over half of Sanders supporters saw Hillary Clinton as untrustworthy as this was a direct result of the vicious campaign that Sanders had all-too-willingly chosen to run.
Bernie Sanders can deny the New York Times allegations all he wants. He can deny that he ever heard about the sexual harassment claims on his campaign. That’s his choice. What was also his choice was to refuse to address the culture that his campaign created over 18 months. A culture that put this BernieBro mentality front and center of everything they did. A culture that saw no problem in attacking a civil rights icon. A culture that saw no problem in harassing superdelegates. A culture that saw no problem in bullying women and people of color online and in-person. A culture that willing adopted Republican talking points and attacked longstanding Democratic allies simply because their candidate did not receive an endorsement. We don’t need a New York Times article or a Medium piece by a former Bernie Sanders staffer to tell us about this culture. We lived it. We saw it firsthand. We were bullied, harassed, demeaned, and degraded because we had the audacity to support the Democratic Party nominee, Hillary Clinton. At no time did Bernie Sanders or his campaign even contemplate the physical and emotional damage they were doing to everyday Americans. They knowingly turned a blind eye to their campaign staff and supporters because their actions helped accomplish their goal: to take down the strongest female presidential candidate our country had ever seen.
For that, we will never, ever forgive Bernie Sanders.
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