I like Bernie Sanders, I really do. I like a lot of his policies and respect his passion. I also think he has some shortcomings. Not least of which is his insistence that economic inequality is the only real problem in this country and that racism, sexism, etc. would all be solved by breaking up the big banks, enacting campaign finance reform, and raising the minimum wage to $15/hour. Thanks to the continual prodding of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, he has begun talking more about the realities of race, but even in his answers at Monday night’s #DemTownHall it is evident that he still really believes fixing economic inequality should be our main (if not only) focus. I’m all for fixing economic inequality, but it is more than a little disheartening that the most “progressive” candidate in the race seems not to realize that structural racism cannot be fixed through economics alone. But I digress.
I have some legitimate concerns with some of Sen. Sanders’ stances and policies, but those are not keeping me from supporting him. In fact, I have been inclined to support him since he got into the race, though I am still far from convinced he has any chance at winning a general election. But what is making it the hardest for me to #FeelTheBern is his supporters. Support for Bernie Sanders has become something of a litmus test on the left; support him or else you’re not a true “progressive.” No matter that I am probably left even of Sen. Sanders. And beyond this, many of his supporters appear to have made it their life’s mission to track down any Democrat who doesn’t support them and berate them, as if this would suddenly open their eyes.
I experienced more of this while live tweeting Monday night’s #DemTownHall than I have to date. In response to a question that Hillary Clinton was asked about young people believing her to be dishonest, I remarked on the gender bias in politics and how women in positions of power are perceived as less trustworthy than their male counterparts (Carly Fiorina has been on the receiving end of similar claims). You would think I had said that Hillary Clinton was Jesus and that Bernie Sanders was the anti-Christ. Some Sanders supporters could not stand that I was suggesting that gender bias is real (and apparently that I wasn’t being effusively positive about Sanders). Because they believe Hillary Clinton to be a “liar” and “crooked,” then she must be and this must mean that gender bias doesn’t exist.
But just as winter does not disprove climate change, feminist women who support Sanders and think Clinton is a liar do not disprove the existence of gender bias in politics.
I was not the only one who felt the burn of Sanders’ supporters. It was so bad during the #DemTownHall Monday night that Sanders’ own Rapid Response Director had to tell Sanders supports to be respectful.
I am not so naive as to think that all of Sen. Sanders’ supporters are acting like this; in fact, many of my close friends support him and are nothing like this. But those followers of Sanders who cannot stand for any non-negative thing to be said about Hillary Clinton and who are focused not on dialogue but on telling you why you’re wrong are having the opposite of what I imagine is their intended effect. They are pushing me towards Hillary Clinton.
I remain undecided. I think that Clinton is much more electable than Sanders and that even though her policies are fairly mainstream Democratic policies (and are mostly right of Sanders) she has a greater chance of getting any progressive policies passed as President and that a Clinton presidency would thus result in a the enactment of more progressive policies than an ideologically more-liberal Sanders presidency. But what may push me over the fence are Sanders’ supporters who are not determined to join together to defeat Donald Trump or Ted Cruz and ensure that the Affordable Care Act is not rolled back, that we win more protections for the LGBTQ community, etc. but rather to lecture all of us Democrats who are not head-over-heels in love with Bernie Sanders about how we don’t understand politics, how we’re supporting a crooked liar, and how we aren’t really progressives.
I know that Sen. Sanders doesn’t control his supporters, but I’ve had enough of the demands for ideological "purity," the arbitrary litmus tests, and the more-progressive-than-thou attitude. So, well done, supporters of Sen. Sanders, you just may have succeeded in getting me to vote for Hillary Clinton.
Image via Gage Skidmore