So, a few days ago, Bernie Sanders "responded to a question about Clinton's endorsements [from Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign] with a broad criticism of the 'establishment,' explaining, 'What we are doing in this campaign—and it just blows my mind every day, because I see it clearly, we're taking on not only Wall Street and the economic establishment, we're taking on the political establishment. And so I have friends and supporters in the Human Rights Fund [sic], in Planned Parenthood. But you know what, Hillary Clinton has been around there for a very, very long time and some of these groups are, in fact, part of the establishment."
Lots of people, myself included, criticized Sanders for these comments. Yesterday, Aphra_Behn explained what had pissed her off about Sanders calling Planned Parenthood part of the establishment he is seeking to dismantle.
Today, I read this MSNBC headline: "Sanders walks back Planned Parenthood, Clinton 'establishment' comments." The story reads:
"That's not what I meant," Sanders told NBC News in an interview during his campaign swing through the first-in-the-nation primary state. "We're a week out in the election, and the Clinton people will try to spin these things."Okay, first of all, that headline is rubbish. Sanders did not "walk back" his comments. He made a specious distinction that he was talking about the leadership of a prominent pro-choice organization and a prominent LGBT rights organization, who are key to "fighting the important fights that have to be fought."
Pressed on whether he views the groups as "establishment," Sanders said: "No. They aren't. They're standing up and fighting the important fights that have to be fought."
Sanders said he was specifically talking about the leadership of those groups and their endorsement decisions.
That isn't, for the record, a distinction that is relevant in terms of much of the criticism of his comments. Even had Sanders explicitly said, "We're taking on the political establishment... But you know what, Hillary Clinton has been around there for a very, very long time and some of the leadership of these groups are, in fact, part of the establishment," my reaction and criticism would have been no different, given that he is calling "part of the establishment" people who seek from the establishment inclusion and access on behalf of marginalized people.
And further given that the entire comment was vituperative sniping from someone who clearly felt entitled to their endorsements.
Sanders says, "That's not what I meant," as if his critics had misunderstood him, and then grouses, "The Clinton people will try to spin these things."
That's some gaslighting bullshit, right there. You didn't hear what you think you heard—and, even if you did, you're just looking for things to get mad about.
It's also a neat way of discrediting any critics by accusing us of operating in bad faith. We're all, to a person, just a bunch of political operatives with an agenda.
Gee, where have I seen that behavior before?
Talking about this via email, Aphra_Behn wrote (which I am sharing with her permission):
By calling the criticism from "the Clinton people," he is once again reinforcing the conspiracy theory framework.All Sanders had to say was: "That was a really poorly thought-out statement, and I regret it. Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign are not part of the establishment that I want to dismantle, and I apologize for suggesting otherwise." That's it. Done.
People like me and you and Sady Doyle and any other feminist criticizing Sanders aren't giving him pushback from the feminist trenches. We're "the Clinton people."
Which frankly is another dogwhistle to his supporters that it's okay to attack us. Including the people who don't even support Clinton, for God's sake.
He's reinforcing the "conspiracy of the establishment" even as he claims that's not what he meant.
Seriously, Sanders can fuck right off with this shit. WE SEE YOU.
But that would have meant conceding that he'd said something reactionary, careless, and unfair in a moment of pique. Which he doesn't seem able or willing to acknowledge, even to himself.
I just said yesterday regarding my assessments of presidential candidates: "I look at how capable they seem of being able to pivot, when they are proven wrong. I look at their willingness to be accountable for mistakes and fuck-ups and endorsements of shitty policy. I look at the quality of their apologies, and whether they are willing to apologize at all."
This is not how I want my president to behave. I don't want my president making crabby and thoughtless statements like this in the first place, and I don't want them responding to criticism for making them with non-apologies and accusations of corrupt agendas.
Part of the reason I wrote that piece yesterday, and its follow-up, is because I have increasingly been hearing from people, especially women, that they don't feel like they can express support for Hillary Clinton without getting shit for it from Sanders supporters.
That is so upsetting to me. And if the fact that so many women I know are, quite understandably, intimidated to publicly support Clinton doesn't speak to the misogyny on which Sanders is trading, I don't know what would.
And instead of refusing to trade on it, instead of challenging it at every opportunity, Sanders doubled down by implying that his critics are bad faith actors and they're all in the bag for Clinton. Which puts a target on the back of any woman, in particular, who says she supports Hillary Clinton.
Because "the Clinton people" attack Bernie, you know.
We see you.