Anti-Sanders rhetoric: judging the candidate by his followers

Published online 16 October 2015.

I’m thinking this will be an easygoing, relaxed anti-Sanders rhetoric diary.  My subject today is a piece by Amanda Marcotte, “The ugly Bernie Sanders’ fans freakout: Hipster left melts down with media conspiracy theories” (Salon, Friday, October 16, 2015 04:07 AM PDT).

Most of this piece, it appears, is about the 2008 primary campaign, between Clinton and Obama, about which Marcotte claims:

But, for a small subset of Clinton supporters, Obama supporters, particularly if they were young and female, were subject to all sorts of accusations of nefarious motives. Robin Morgan penned an unfortunate piece suggesting that Obama’s support was rooted solely in misogyny, characterizing his female supporters as “young women eager to win male approval by showing they’re not feminists (at least not the kind who actually threaten the status quo), who can’t identify with a woman candidate because she is unafraid of eeueweeeu yucky power.” The fact that many of those women liked Clinton was ignored. Morgan’s candidate was losing. It must be because forces were aligning against her unfairly and not because Obama was running a better campaign.Clinton supporters who thought like this named themselves “PUMAs,” which stood for “Party Unity My Ass.” They were a small subset of Clinton supporters who became so sure of the dark motives of Obama supporters that some ended up turning their backs on the Democrats entirely.

So, generally speaking, Marcotte’s piece is about candidate supporters who discredit the candidacy itself.  Now, much as it is true that we should all be on our best behavior if we want our candidates to win, it behooves me to ask why any of us would vote for a candidate on the basis of “she or he has nice supporters.”  I’m sure the supporters of Carly Fiorina or Jeb Bush are nice people.  Knowing this, however, will not make it any more likely that I will vote for either of those two candidates.  And even if the supporters of Carly Fiorina or Jeb Bush weren’t nice people, I would still feel obliged to scrutinize Fiorina and Bush as candidates for office regardless.

At any rate, here is the part of Marcotte’s piece which bears most relevance to this diary:

The Sanders fanatics are running the same risk now. His biggest stumbling block is the perception that he’s the vanity candidate of the hipster lefties, and especially that he’s the pick of men who like feminism more when it’s pushing birth control pills than pushing women into office. You have to convince the undecideds he’s a candidate for more than the self-important blowhard division of the left. That process is not going to be helped by having the biggest boors hollering about how they’re victims of a conspiracy to suppress the truth about 9/11, err, Sanders polling.

Well, given that Sanders attracts sizable crowds throughout the US, and that he’s widely polled as having won the national televised debate, I have to wonder who these people are, who think “he’s the vanity candidate of the hipster lefties.”  Do vanity candidates win national televised debates by significant margins while leading the pack in small donations?

I might also ask about why Sanders is a candidate of “hipster lefties,” framed in terms of what Sanders is promising.  Is it only “hipster lefties” who want universal “single payer” health care, or more progressive taxation, or free college for all, or medical leave, or more money for infrastructure, or an expansion of social security?

And I’d like to ask a question about Marcotte’s interesting comment about feminism.  Is feminism defined by electing female candidates?  I would like to see Marcotte’s take on how electing Margaret Thatcher allowed the UK to become a feminist’s paradise, or on how electing Carly Fiorina would improve life for women here.

To be fair, Marcotte argues in her previous piece for Salon that:

Bernie Sanders is not a nut. He’s a smart man with good ideas who has played a valuable role in this race, even if he doesn’t win the primary.

But she then modifies this sentence of praise with:

He already has to overcome suspicions in mainstream media circles that he’s some kind of radical.

Here’s the central question for Marcotte, then.  Do we elect Presidents because we want someone in the White House who will be in the good graces of Important People — the ones who might have decided that Sanders is a “vanity candidate” or (switching positions entirely) “some kind of radical”?  Or are we looking for Presidents who might actually grant us something in return for our hard-earned tax monies, and look at Sanders as someone who might be especially electable in that regard?  A recent piece in the New Republic by Elizabeth Breunig highlights the difference between Sanders and Clinton using this frame:

The distinction to be drawn between Clinton and Sanders and the present American left and its future exists along these lines. Will our state benefits be big and strong, or small and weak?

Will we be seeing a future Salon column by Marcotte on this topic?

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