Why Sanders’ ‘unqualified’ Clinton barb rankles women


When Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders declared that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was “unqualified” for the presidency, women across America heard it, and we knew what he meant. And we didn’t like it.

Sanders caused an uproar when he called Clinton — a two-term senator, a secretary of state, a lawyer who worked on behalf of poor children, a first lady of a state and a country — “unqualified” to be president. Even though Clinton’s got the best credentials since Thomas Jefferson.

He walked it back — partway, at least — in an interview with CBS News’ Charlie Rose, where he said, in effect, “She started it.” Sanders accused the Clinton campaign of “attacking” and “distorting” his words, his campaign, and his record daily. Even though (and this is particularly important) Clinton never called Sanders unqualified to be president.

This was in the same week in which Sanders demanded that Clinton apologize to all the victims of the Iraq War. Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, blamed Clinton for the rise of ISIS. He said she had made a “deal with the devil” (so now she’s a witch?) to run for president because Wall Street money went into her super PAC (which she has no control over, it needs to be pointed out). In perhaps his most ridiculous comment, Weaver warned Clinton supporters during an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, “Don’t destroy the Democratic Party to satisfy the secretary’s ambitions to become president of the United States.” This, about the candidate who’s raising money for other down-ballot Democrats across the country while Sanders and his team keep every penny for themselves, saying, “they’ll think about” raising money for anyone else.

Remind me again of who’s attacking and who’s distorting.

Now it’s true that Clinton, in an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, echoed the rest of journalistic world in its criticism of Sanders’ train wreck of an interview with the New York Daily News editorial board — an interview in which he displayed a lack of understanding about government roles in his signature issue, breaking up the big banks, often answering questions with “I don’t know.” Clinton failed to take the bait to call Sanders unqualified; she said that it sounded like he hadn’t “done his homework” about all of the details of his proposals. When asked later about Sanders’ “unqualified” remark, she took the high road, stressing that her qualifications made her more prepared to be president, but that she’d still take Sanders over any of the Republican candidates.

But Sanders can’t seem to get beyond the “tit-for-tat” mode. From his interview with Charlie Rose on CBS:

ROSE: I just wanna come back to the Iraqi thing one second, and one more question. You have said that she voted for the Iraqi war. Other people did as well. Many other people. Do you hold all of them responsible for the deaths of Americans?


ROSE: Then why say it, Senator? That’s the question.

SANDERS: I am saying it because I was attacked.

ROSE: That’s not a reason, I promise you, to say, “I’m saying it because they attacked me.”

If you’re a woman of a certain age, even if your career is outside of politics, you’ve heard these kinds of smears and felt these kinds of slights before. You’ve seen it when you got dumped on at work because you spoke out. You’ve seen it when a man was hired before you were, because no one was sure you could make a commitment, when you had children at home. You’ve seen it when male co-workers got raises when their wives had a new baby, “because they’d need more money with a growing family,” while your paycheck remained the same. You’ve heard it when successful women are described as “bossy,” “pushy,” or “overly aggressive” when they’re trying to be assertive.

This seems to be the new approach from the Sanders team. Even as they’ve had a successful run in the last several contests in Wisconsin and Western state caucuses, they’re so behind in votes and the delegate count that it’s all but impossible to catch up. The Sanders campaign once derided Clinton’s overwhelming advantage of superdelegates; now they openly say they’ll try to persuade those superdelegates to come to their side.

In effect, now they’re blowing the sexist dog whistle. “They seem to have been working on a new framing of Hillary, one that relies on old biases about how we prefer women to conduct themselves and how little we like those who flout those preferences,” says a piece in New York magazine.

It’s a message that some of Weaver’s colleagues have been nosing around for a couple of weeks, but Weaver’s comments seemed to make the argument cohere. It goes like this: Bernie Sanders is a kind man whose relaxed and respectful approach to power has led him to come in second to a woman who works too hard and wants to triumph too much; Hillary’s unembarrassed commitment to winning the race not only makes her unappealing but could be ruinous to the party she’s vying to lead. … It’s too bad this is where Sanders’s invigorating campaign, one that is passionately supported by many ambitious feminist women, may be turning in the final stretch: to a depiction of a female rival that is reliant on some of the very double standards that have helped to ensure that there have been too few female rivals — and no female victors — in presidential politics to date.

The feminist blog Shakesville spelled out why this attack from Sanders hits home for women.

When I heard you say that Clinton is unqualified, repeating it over and over, and citing reasons that did not render President Barack Obama and former nominee John Kerry undeserving of your support, I heard the voice of every man who’s ever told me, in spite of my eminent qualifications, that I am unqualified. That I am not good enough. That I am less than.

And I heard the voice of every woman who’s ever told me, in spite of her eminent qualifications, that she’s been told she’s unqualified. Told explicitly. Told obliquely, by getting passed over for jobs and promotions; by being paid less; by being discouraged from reaching for more; by being told she still has to do more, always more, to earn it.

By being denied access, autonomy, space, safety, equality, justice.

Women have heard these kinds of arguments before. And Hillary Clinton has heard them her entire adult life.

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2 Comments on “Why Sanders’ ‘unqualified’ Clinton barb rankles women”

  1. If you listen to what Bernie said about Hillary you should realize he’s not calling her unqualified because of her gender but because of her political actions. That’s fair game because she did the same to him.

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