So Bernie Sanders, the rumpled old senator from Vermont, has defeated the former heir apparent to the Democratic nomination, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
This was not totally unexpected; as I mentioned last week, Bernie’s practically home folks in the Granite State, and he’d been leading the polls there by double digits in the past few weeks.
Secretary Clinton can also comfort herself with the fact that she holds commanding leads in polling in the more racially diverse states of Nevada and South Carolina, which are coming up.
One surprising thing that’s developed over the last few weeks, however, has revealed something that might be an Achilles heel for the former secretary of state: Bernie Sanders is eating her lunch when it comes to younger voters, particularly young female voters.
In Iowa, Sanders beat Clinton 84 to 14 percent among Democratic caucusgoers age 18 to 29, according to a recent report on the “PBS NewsHour.” Perhaps even more surprising is Sanders’ support among young women: A poll sponsored by that liberal rag The Wall Street Journal found Sanders leading 64 percent to 35 percent among Democratic women younger than 45 in New Hampshire.
The reaction of some well-known female Clinton supporters could be described as “frustrated.” It could be described better as “cranky.” Feminist icon Gloria Steinem, 81, told Bill Maher that young women only supported Bernie to meet guys: “When you’re young, you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys?’ The boys are with Bernie,” she said.
It was a statement she later retracted and apologized for, possibly after she remembered that being condescending and dismissive of women, whatever their age, ill becomes a feminist icon. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a pioneer in her own right, told an audience, “Always remember, there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
Being scolded and told they’re going to hell for not backing Hillary went over about as well as you’d expect among young women.
“I'm frustrated and outraged by being constantly attacked by older feminists for my refusal to vote according to my gender,” UConn sophomore Ariana Javidi told CNN. Thirty-year-old “lifestyle blogger” Vera Ezimora agreed: “I don’t think that being a female and not voting for Hillary means you’re a bad person.”
Meanwhile, Sanders moved quickly to address an issue that might cause him his own problems with young female voters, namely the small but noisy cohort of young male supporters, the so-called “Bernie Bros,” who take to the Internet to go after Clinton and her supporters using their own condescending, sexist and occasionally downright vile language.
I can’t really quote any of it in this family newspaper, but just think of some of the things the Republican frontrunner has said about various women and you’ll get the gist.
Bernie, however, was having none of that. “We don’t want that crap,” he bluntly told CNN. “Look, anybody who is supporting me that is doing the sexist things is — we don’t want them. I don’t want them. That is not what this campaign is about.”
Indeed. Attributing support for Sanders or for Clinton to one’s gender is the kind of shallow and one-dimensional thinking that should be left to the Republicans. There are some real differences in the two candidates that have nothing to do with gender.
Hillary’s biggest problem with young people, for example, is that they’re tired of her brand of Middle Way, “triangulated,” timid and mild progressivism. Barack Obama got young voters to the polls and himself to the White House by making bold proposals and saying, “Yes, we can.” Hillary looks at the ideas put forth by Bernie Sanders, such as free college tuition and single payer health care, and goes, “No, you can’t.” That’s not a winning message among young people, and it has nothing to do with X and Y chromosomes.
Did Obama accomplish everything he said he was going to do? No, but he accomplished a heck of a lot more than the naysayers on both the Republican and Democratic parties told them he could. Now Hillary Clinton says she wants to preserve the gains that Obama’s boldness helped make. All well and good, and that’s the reason I’ll vote for her if she does become the nominee.
But a lot of people, male and female, young firebrands and old curmudgeonly lefties like me and Bernie Sanders, still aspire to more.
Dusty Rhoades lives, writes and practices law in Carthage. His new novel, “Ice Chest,” is out now.