Hillary Breaks Silence on Bernie — and She's Not Wrong

Hillary Clinton

For Hillary Clinton's supporters frustrated with and beleaguered by the Bernie or Bust movement — those on the left willing to burn down the system and allow a Donald Trump presidency if Bernie Sanders’s policies were not adopted wholesale by Clinton — it was about time someone laid out how futile it was to deal with their implacability and condescension. And who better to say it than Clinton herself?

Leaked pages from Clinton’s upcoming book, What Happened, due out Sept. 12, reveal that Clinton, who exhibited restraint in not attacking Sanders during the primaries even as he painted her as a corporate shill with a wholly different values system (although her policies were not all that far from his), was itching to counter Sanders’s accusations, but remained mum at the behest of President Barack Obama, she wrote in the pages of What Happened

“Throughout the primaries, every time I wanted to hit back against one of Bernie’s attacks, I was told to restrain myself. Noting that his plans didn’t add up, that they would mean raising taxes on the middle-class families, or that they were little more than a pipe dream — all of this could be used to reinforce his argument that I wasn’t a true progressive. My team kept reminding me that we didn't’ want to alienate Bernie supporters. President Obama urged me to grit my teeth and lay off Bernie as much as I could. I felt like I was in a straitjacket.” 

But, of course, "laying off" of Sanders did little to sway the hardcore "Bernie or Bust" crowd, who were never about to get on board with Clinton even if it meant saving the country from the most jingoistic, hate-filled Republican candidate in modern history. They screamed "purity," but many of her supporters felt something else was at play, and it wasn't lost on Clinton as she wrote in her book, "Some of his supporters, the so-called "Bernie Bros," took to harassing my supporters online. It got ugly and more than a little sexist." 

Already, a faction of that bunch is calling for Sanders to run in 2020 at the same time they decry “#NeverKamala” on Twitter in response to Democrats who would love for California Senator Kamala Harris, who was crucial in holding Republicans’ feet to the fire during a hearing on Trump and Russia and who just committed to co-sponsoring Sanders’s single payer health care bill, to run for the presidency. 

Clinton’s passage about biting her tongue in response to Sanders's attacks strikes a chillingly familiar chord, especially for women who may feel validated by Clinton's experiences of being asked to remain quiet in the face of male authority. In a passage from her book that was released last month, Clinton wrote about the choice to remain calm even as Trump stalked her around the stage during the second debate. 

“Maybe I have overlearned the lesson of staying calm, biting my tongue, digging my fingernails into a clenched fist, smiling all the while, determined to present a composed face to the world,” Clinton wrote about her decision not to turn and tell Trump off as he attempted to physically intimidate her. 

As was bound to happen in a country that’s not ready to face its internalized misogyny even on the left, the headlines around Clinton telling the truth about Sanders have been interpreted as her laying blame (although she’s prostrated herself plenty for decisions she made, something male politicians are never asked to do), as her bashing him, and as her attempting to cause division among Democrats. But where were those headlines and analysts when Sanders blatantly bashed Clinton and the Democratic Party before campaigning against Trump and never actually in favor of Clinton?

"When I finally challenged Bernie during a debate to name a single time I changed a position or a vote because of a financial contribution, he couldn't come up with anything. Nonetheless, his attacks caused lasting damage, making it harder to unify progressives in the general election and paving the way for Trump's 'Crooked Hillary' campaign,” Clinton wrote. “I don’t know if that bothered Bernie or not.”

If Sanders felt any remorse for the narrative he handed Trump, he's never let on. And, unlike Clinton, he's never been repeatedly called upon to apologize for decisions he made or even the accusations he flung that may have swayed people to pull the lever for Trump, or a third party, or to stay home on election day. Even so, Clinton did not go as hard on Sanders in her book as she might have. 

“He certainly shared my horror at the thought of Donald Trump becoming President, and I appreciate that he campaigned for me in the general election. But he isn’t a Democrat — that’s not a smear, that’s what he says. He didn’t get into the race to make sure a Democrat won the White House, he got in to disrupt the Democratic Party,” Clinton wrote.  “I am proud to be a Democrat and I wish Bernie were too.”

And it's true. Sanders is not a Democrat, something he’s proudly admitted along with the fact that he did hope to disrupt the Democratic party, but that hasn’t stopped writers responding to Clinton's passage about Sanders from resorting to accusations that smack of sexism. 

Washington Post writer Aaron Blake wrote in an op-ed that he knew Clinton would do a lot of “blame-sharing” in her book, but, “What wasn't as clear was how much she would dwell upon Sanders's shockingly competitive challenge to her in the Democratic primary.” The implication, of course, being that Clinton wasn't up to the challenge; although she won the primaries, and she did it without attacking him. 

Meanwhile, as writers like Blake focus on Clinton’s retelling of events that validate the sentiments of her supporters (especially women) who felt bullied by the Bernie or Bust crowd, they’re letting the festering “Never Kamala” movement off the hook.  

TRACY E. GILCHRIST is the feminism editor of The Advocate. Follow her on Twitter @TracyEGilchrist.

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