On Wednesday December 12, 2018 Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) met at Warren’s Washington DC apartment. The two were longtime friends. Sanders, who had come up short against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, was considering another run for the nomination. Warren, who had passed on the opportunity to seek the nomination in 2016, and who was on Hillary Clinton’s shortlist for Vice President, was considering seeking the nomination this cycle. They met to establish ground rules should they face each other in the Democratic primary, both to ensure civility and to prevent a situation where the two primary progressives in the race split the vote allowing a less progressive candidate to sneak past both of them and into the general election.
As the political rivals met inside, the #MeToo movement raged on into its second year outside, with the New York Times breaking news earlier that week describing how sacked CBS head Leslie Moonves had potentially lied and destroyed evidence to cover-up a much broader history of sexual abuse at the network.
The nation was still reeling from the recent Senate hearings into the sexual assault allegations by Christine Blasey Ford against President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh several months before. What came to symbolize those Kavanaugh hearings, and what is especially relevant to the current dispute between Senators Sanders and Warren over the context of their meeting, was a simple phrase as powerful as the #MeToo hashtag itself: “Believe women.”
The simple truth is, sexual assault rarely happens in a crowded room, or on a rush hour train, or in a nightclub. They can, and do, certainly, and the location and circumstances of an assault should not lessen the credibility of the victim. But most sexual assaults happen in private, with one man and one women and not a witness to be found.
The same is true of many conversations.
Christine Blasey Ford testified under oath in the United States Senate that the man President Trump had nominated to a lifetime appointment on the nation’s highest court had sexually assaulted and attempted to rape her when they were in high school. Brett Kavanaugh testified under oath that he had done no such thing.
When the testifying ended, 50 Republican Senators decided Christine Blasey Ford was not to be believed but Brett Kavanaugh was.
Why is that meeting between Senators in Warren’s apartment suddenly relevant again now, more than 15 months after they shook hands and agreed to play nice, and what do the Kavanaugh hearings have to do with it?
The meeting is relevant because on that December night in 2018, Senators Sanders and Warren had a conversation in private that exploded into the national spotlight this week and onto the stage for the sixth Democratic debate Tuesday evening in Iowa.
The Kavanaugh hearings provide the context, one woman’s word against one man’s.
Senator Elizabeth Warren claimed in a statement released this week about a part of that December 2018 conversation, that, “I thought a woman could win; he disagreed.”
When the story first broke on CNN, Sanders surrogate Shaun King launched a series of tweets claiming Warren had “embellished” the story and that the reporters who broke the story had not confirmed the conversation directly with Warren.
Sanders himself said in a statement that “staff who weren’t in the room are lying about what happened.”
Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir added, “We need to hear from her (Warren) directly, but I know what she would say: That it is not true, that is a lie. I welcome her coming out and disputing this and putting this to rest.”
On Wednesday, Sanders’ wife Jane offered her take on the dispute, “Maybe people sometimes misremember things that happened. But I know without a doubt that it is not anything Bernie would ever say. It is inconceivable because it’s not what he believes. And there’s proof of that going back many, many years.”
To be clear on that last one, a woman who was not in the room is saying with 100% certainty that a woman who was in the room is not to be believed because the alleged behavior of the man who was in the room runs contrary to that man’s longstanding public persona?
Did Jane Sanders really offer-up the very defense every pedophile and predator uses as their first line of defense, that a rich and powerful man (often white and a pillar of the community) must be reflexively believed when the victim making the accusation is a woman or a child?
Not a single member of the Sanders campaign went on the record to say something like, “While that would be out of character for Senator Sanders to say, I believe Senator Warren if that is what she claims was said.”
The Sanders campaign, much of the media, even Senator Sanders himself, everyone looked at a dispute between two United States Senators (and close friends) seeking the nomination to compete for the presidency of the United States and decided that the weight of the word of the man tipped the scales over the word of the woman.
Even now that Senator Warren publicly restated her claim before a national audience on the debate stage, much like Christine Blasey Ford had done in the Kavanaugh hearings, Senator Sanders denied the Warren claim and way too many people believed him based solely on his gender.
Making matters worse, Senator Sanders acknowledges that gender did come up during that conversation in Warren’s apartment. Sanders stated, “What I did say that night was that Donald Trump is a sexist, a racist and a liar who would weaponize whatever he could.”
To be clear, what Sanders is alleged by Warren to have said is that a woman could not win. What he admits saying is that the 2020 election fight would be a brutal one against a racist, sexist liar who will stop at nothing when seeking to weaponize those evils against an opponent.
Sanders admits that warning he claims to have given Warren about Donald Trump was given in the context of a discussion of gender. How is that not sexist?
Bernie Sanders is still seeking the Democratic nomination.
At the time of the 2018 conversation between Sanders and Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden was still in the “will he, won’t he” stage that did not finally end until his announcement he was entering the race in April 2019. But it was expected even in 2018 that Biden would run.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Congressman John Delaney (D-MD) had already announced their candidacies by the night Sanders and Warren met.
Did Senator Sanders decide not to run for president based on the disgusting campaign Donald Trump he was sure Trump will run?
Of course, he did not.
The only person Sanders feared was not tough enough to withstand Trump 2020 campaign was Senator Elizabeth Warren.
So, let’s stop the nonsense, shall we?
During Tuesday night’s debate, Senators Warren and Sanders expressed their positions on the conversation publicly. Warren reiterated her position that Sanders claimed a woman could not win. Sanders vowed, “Anybody knows me knows that it’s incomprehensible that I would think that a woman cannot be president of the United States.” He added, “How could anybody in a million years not believe that a woman could become president of the United States?”
Methinks he doth protest too much, to paraphrase Shakespeare.
As they walked off the debate stage, Sanders extended a hand to Warren. She rebuffed him. Audio later released caught Warren saying, “I think you called me a liar on national TV.” Sanders put his hand up between them, as if to cut her off, and is heard responding, “Let’s not do it right now.”
That is what guys do, right? Tell women to calm down. Push women to talk about it later.
“Let’s not do it right now.”
Do you know what that translates to, if one takes it out of the guy-speak?
“What you are accusing me of, or what you want to talk to me about, will be very embarassing or very damaging to me. The more public the discussion we have of my offense, the less ability I will have to direct the conversation, to threaten and intimidate, or to maintain plausible deniability. I did what you say I did, or I said what you say I said, and we both know it. But if I can get you alone, just us two in a room, maybe I can convince you to not rat me out for my offense?”
Six words, “Let’s not do it right now.”
Now you ALL know exactly what those six words REALLY meant.
Political scientist Jason Johnson nailed the moment. “What I saw on Elizabeth Warren’s face is the face of every single person who has heard someone say something racist, offensive, or sexist – you know you heard it and then you see them deny it in public.”
Bernie Sanders is learning the hard way that the coverup is almost always worse than the truth.
I believe he said what Warren alleges he said. And if he did, many people would have agreed with him at the time.
America has made great strides in the last 50 years, but many still don’t think a woman can be elected president in 2020. Sure, plenty of politician and pundits thought back in 2007 and 2008 that a black man could not be elected president.
Barack Obama was, twice.
The thing is, that 2008 election was about hope, and change, about moving past what America was becoming in the years after 9/11, to gaze forward at what America could be. Things still might change, but it is shaping up like the 2020 election will not be about the future, will not be about blazing new trails nor achieving new firsts.
So far, it seems voters feel the antidote to Donald Trump is not to go forward but to go back, to a time before Trump, when they felt safe, when they felt that an adult was in the Oval Office, back to a time when things felt normal.
That likely means being inclined to vote for an old, white dinosaur like Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, as neither has changed one bit since the 1970’s.
That was all Bernie needed to do to diffuse this entire mess, provide some context. “Yes, I said it, but here is why I said it.” He could have been the front-runner and maybe down the road Warren could have been on the ticket with him.
But he did not offer that explanation.
Instead, he and his surrogates called his close friend a liar. Repeatedly, with every synonym and in every format they could find.
Every last one of them took the position that when a man and a woman offer differing perspectives on what happened or what was said behind closed doors, the man is to be believed without equivocation and the woman is not to be believed as she either misheard, is misinterpreting, or is embellishing.
Those are their own words read back to them.
That very predisposition of determining truth by gender, that Kavanaughesque line of defense to a woman’s accusation, is more offensive and more sexist than the original statement Sanders is alleged to have made.
It is, frankly, disqualifying.
The Democratic Party will need a huge turnout from women voters this November, and those women are not willing to settle for another man who wags his finger at a woman when she accuses him of wrongdoing, who casts himself as the victim, and who demands no one believe her just because he said so.
Bernie Sanders is alleged to have said America could not elect a woman as president, and maybe he was right. America never has, after all, and even the two tickets with women as nominees for Vice President failed.
But you know what?
America MUST try again as it is the only way a Democrat can win this November.
Bernie Sanders dropping out of the race, apologizing, and endorsing Elizabeth Warren would be a good start.