Primarily Speaking: Primaries & Dem Debate

[Content Note: Racism; misogyny; disablism.]

Over the weekend, the Democrats held primary contests in Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, and Maine. Hillary Clinton won Louisiana; Bernie Sanders won Kansas, Nebraska, and Maine.

The Republicans held primary contests in Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, and Puerto Rico. Ted Cruz won Kansas and Maine; Donald Trump won Kentucky and Louisiana; Marco Rubio won Puerto Rico.

Next on the schedule: The Republicans hold contests in Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan, and Mississippi tomorrow. The Democrats hold contests in Michigan and Mississippi tomorrow.

So, after the latest round, nothing has changed substantially. Clinton is still leading the Democratic nomination, and Trump is still leading the Republican nomination.

* * *

Last night, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders met in Flint, Michigan, for another debate. Time has a complete transcript. I live-tweeted the debate and have Storified those tweets.

One of the major topics of the debate was the water crisis in Flint, Michigan—and because the crisis is largely a result of environmental racism (which neither of the candidates successfully identified), systemic racism was another major topic. They were asked, among other questions, given their policy histories and their white privilege, "why should black people trust you to get it right this time?"

It's kind of a bullshit question, because it treats trust like an on-off switch, when trust is something that has to be earned every day. But neither of them gave a particularly great answer.

This was an opportunity for Clinton to give a full-throated repudiation of the language she's used, and the associated policies, which engendered mistrust, and she did not do that. What I think she should have done is acknowledged that history, apologized for it, and turned the question on its head with something like, "I don't think the question is whether black people should trust me, but whether I earn their trust. And that is something I will have to do every day, during this primary, during the general election, and during my presidency."

Sanders also failed on the topic of race, on several occasions, but perhaps none more so than on the question of "what racial blind spots do you have?" He first told a story about a black man being unable to get a cab, and then a story about a Black Lives Matter activist telling him he doesn't understand the terror in black communities, and then he said:
So to answer your question, I would say, and I think it's similar to what the secretary said, when you're white, you don't know what it's like to be living in a ghetto. You don't know what it's like to be poor. You don't know what it's like to be hassled when you walk down the street or you get dragged out of a car.

And I believe that as a nation in the year 2016, we must be firm in making it clear. We will end institutional racism and reform a broken criminal justice system.
There are a lot of problems there, starting with the implication that all black people are poor and live in ghettos, and that no white people know what it's like to be poor—even though, as Propane Jane noted, "the majority of Americans receiving government assistance are White," and erasing them serves to uphold racist narratives about who is poor in this country.

And, of course, there are a lot of white people who know what it's like "to be hassled when you walk down the street," like women, like trans people, like LGB people, like fat people, like people with visible disabilities. Even if he meant "hassled by cops," lots of those people get hassled by cops, too. And it's important not to engage in erasure of those identities for a lot of reasons, not least of which because black people share those identities. A black trans woman, for example, may not only be harassed on the street because she's black.

Sanders also had a bad night on the subject of mental health, twice referring to mass shooters as "lunatics"—even though most mass shooters are not, in fact, mentally ill—and making this reprehensible joke: "You know, we are, if elected president, going to invest a lot of money into mental health. And when you watch these Republican debates, you know why we need to invest in that."

The Republican candidates are not mentally ill. They are indecent. And this "joke," such as it was, suggests that white supremacy, patriarchy, heterocentrism, warmongering, nationalism, etc. are the result of mental illness, when they are absolutely not. Naturally, it also harms all of us with mental illness by catching us in the rhetorical buckshot.

Finally, this was the perhaps the most talked-about moment after the debate last night:

Clinton: —I voted to save the auto industry; he voted against the money that ended up saving the auto industry!

Sanders: Whoooooooa.

Clinton: I think that is a pretty big difference.

Sanders: Well, I— [chuckles] If you are talking about the Wall Street bailout, where some of your friends destroyed this economy—

Clinton: You know—

Sanders: Excuse me, I'm talking. [applause]

Anderson Cooper [offscreen]: Let him [inaudible]

Clinton: If you're gonna talk, tell the whole story, Senator Sanders.

Sanders: Well, let me tell my story; you tell yours.

Clinton: I will.
When I saw that exchange, with Sanders using a tone that suggested he was reprimanding a naughty child, my heart started pounding in my chest. It was only the first of several times he used that tone with Clinton, and I was furious watching it.

I tweeted: "Even if you've been a First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State, and presidential candidate, you're still Just a Woman when a man is speaking."

Naturally, my mentions are a shitshow as a result. Because Clinton is a bitch. Because Sanders said "excuse me," which is obviously polite. Because Clinton isn't even a woman. Because it's demeaning to women to suggest she can't take it. Etc.

Of course she can take it. The point is that she shouldn't have to.

* * *

I don't think the debate was a homerun for either candidate. Clinton's biggest failure was another missed opportunity to be more fully accountable for her '90s record. It's apparent that she's tired of relitigating the '90s, but part of the reason these questions keep coming up is because she hasn't provided responses that feel like sufficient accountability.

Sanders' biggest failures were his tunnel vision and temperament. He is a one-issue candidate, and he gets visibly annoyed when people disagree with him, especially on the subject of that one issue being the solution to all problems. But Sanders is himself a case study in the bankruptcy of the idea that economic equality solves oppression. Wealth doesn't magically make you not racist or misogynist or ableist. Clearly.

I'll say once again: The more I see of Bernie Sanders, the less I like him.

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