Are my Warren doubts rooted in misogyny?

It seems my inner sexist escaped its cell and now ransacks my soul. It’s obvious. I no longer lean toward a particular female candidate vying for the 2020 Democratic nomination, although I remain open. Never mind that I previously favored another Democratic woman and now lean toward yet another – and forget about my support for the 2016 Democratic nominee (a woman) and my votes for women in state elections.

I’m a bigoted chauvinist. Who knew?

I actually sympathize with my accusers: Elizabeth Warren’s partisans are shocked. They’re mourning. She had surged in early polls and was held aloft as the near-front runner, but then she fell prey to a classic American political tradition, dating back to Edmund Muskie’s 1972 debacle: Her popularity crumbled amid her own missteps and she did poorly in Iowa and miserably in New Hampshire. That doesn’t bode well for future caucuses and primaries, although a strong Nevada debate performance on February 19 may rally support.

Anger often wells from grief, so some Warren supporters are lashing out: Chauvinist America still has no place for an intellectually powerful woman, they say. Columnist Monica Hesse lamented that Warren was the “kind of woman everyone had decided they didn’t like or couldn’t win.” Amy Sullivan reported on Twitter: “I’m not sure anyone appreciates the deep well of anger and pain among Warren supporters—many of whom are the women whose activism drove 2018—listening to experts write off Elizabeth Warren’s campaign … Boomer women are especially livid at the idea that a smart, eminently competent woman isn’t enough. That isn’t to say her campaign has been perfect or that she’s even the right nominee. But I haven’t seen this anger noted anywhere.”

But anger, however understandable, isn’t always logical. Consider the following what-abouts:

What about Joe Biden’s simultaneous downfall? The one-time front-runner seems to be tramping on his well-worn path over two previous presidential runs: He has yet to win a caucus or a primary and he’s following Muskie’s trail this year. Are dark motives lurking within churlish anti-Bidenites? Or are the Iowa and New Hampshire votes the inevitable consequences of a lurching campaign accompanied by lackluster debate performances (like Warren, he was strong in Nevada)?

What about Amy Klobuchar? Why has she suddenly surged? And, if I’m such a sexist, why am I now considering her after my Warren disappointment? And why did I initially lean toward Kamala Harris? Surely my inner sexist could have found a suitable male and concocted the requisite rationalizations.

The accusations bring back memories. I remember the 2008 battle for the Democratic nomination. I was ready to support Hillary Clinton but winced at her campaign’s disorganization and inner-feuding. It was all so eerily familiar: It seemed the 1990’s Clinton soap opera was upon us again. My admiration for Obama increased as my support for her plummeted: I saw his well-honed campaign and his maturity and I heard his eloquence. So I changed camps. Some of her supporters looked past her campaign’s unsavory tactics in the South Carolina primary and levied accusations of female hatred. That didn’t exactly win me back.

I remember 2008 again. The Republicans nominated Sarah Palin for vice president. Ripples of fear cascaded across the land as we whispered, “a heartbeat away from the presidency.” She didn’t know basic facts; her viewpoints suggested intimate familiarity with the John Birch Society’s world view; and, in at least one interview, she couldn’t string together coherent sentences.

How did her minions respond to the critical onslaught? We didn’t like women – which was laughable.

Again, I’m far more sympathetic with Warren’s advocates. Fact is, she’s brilliant; fact is, she published detailed policy proposals; fact is, she fought for more stringent banking regulations after the 2008 economic collapse and has championed consumer protection. But she has real weaknesses, and I feel obligated to consider them as I weigh my vote: She seems to be hermetically sealed in Eastern liberalism’s echo chamber. She snubbed those with traditional marriage beliefs in an October debate, winning laughs from the chamber’s crowd but frowns from the hinterland. A good politician – like Obama or Bill Clinton – instinctively reaches out. Remember Obama in 2009: “Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion …”

And then there was her sweeping “Medicare For All” health insurance proposal, hanging out there without a funding plan until November, when she revealed it would cost over $20 trillion over a decade. And her ill-conceived wealth tax – which, among other things, may not pass constitutional muster.

But even more important are the intangibles. I cannot ignore them even in the face of her loyalists’ wrath: Like it or not, intellectual brilliance is not enough. Both Obama and Clinton were smart as whips (indeed, Clinton filled-in The New York Times crossword puzzle in ink), but they also possessed political and social intelligence. Every pore in their skin declared, “I like you. I care about you.” Democrats need a candidate with this kind of intelligence if they’re to win in November – and, alas, I’m not sure Warren has it.

Unseating the current president must rank as the highest priority, which means we must consider a would-be nominee’s political instincts.

Supporters of any candidate – including Warren’s – must remember: We do not owe your would-be nominee our votes. A candidate is obligated to convince us that he or she is the lone politician worthy of occupying the oval office for at least four years. Second-guessing our motives implicitly switches the tables: I must give you reasons why I opted for someone else.

Sorry, but that’s not how it works.

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About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

View all posts by Charles Redfern


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