Mainstream Democrats never tire of smearing the socialist senator from Vermont. Hillary Clinton is calling Bernie Sanders a sexist yet again. But his feminist credentials are solid — neoliberals like her are the ones failing women.

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton speaks at a panel discussion during the Vital Voices Global Headquarters for Women’s Leadership on May 5, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Paul Morigi / Getty Images)

They just never stop, do they?

In a new book, Hillary Clinton accuses Bernie Sanders of being a sexist, reports the New York Post. Of her former rival for the presidency, she hints, with disgraceful innuendo, “I know the kinds of things that he says about women and to women.”

The neoliberal Democrats never tire of these low-blow attacks on Sanders. Remember when they claimed he was exerting male privilege (or something?) by pointing his finger too emphatically in a debate? In the book, Clinton revisits an incident from the 2020 campaign, when Elizabeth Warren publicly accused Sanders of having told her privately that a woman couldn’t be elected president. When Sanders denied saying that, she huffily made a public incident of it, accusing him of calling her a liar.

At the time, Sanders said, “Do I believe a woman could win in 2020? Of course! After all, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by three million votes in 2016.” Both candidates — and people on both sides familiar with the conversation — agreed that Sanders said that Trump was sexist and would weaponize sexism, but the Sanders and Warren camps disagreed about what conclusions Sanders drew from that point.

It’s important to note that no one, not even the Warren camp, claimed at the time that Bernie Sanders thought a woman should not win the presidency, or that women were weaker candidates. That would have been sexist. Warren’s claim was that Sanders implied Trump would successfully use misogyny to beat Warren. This analysis might be wrong, shortsighted, or overly pessimistic — and in any case Sanders denies saying it — but it wouldn’t have been sexist even if he had.

At the time, it looked as if Elizabeth Warren was desperately trying to draw attention to her campaign by making Sanders look bad. Reviewing the facts two years later, it still looks that way.

But regardless of how this game of telephone began, Sanders is clearly not a sexist. And it’s simply absurd for Clinton to make insinuations about “the kinds of things he says about women and to women.” The guy has been in politics for more than forty years. There is nothing the media loves more than reporting on the sexism of left-of-center men. While some women working on his 2016 campaign accused Sanders surrogates and staff of sexism and sexual harassment — which the candidate has apologized for — no one has ever publicly accused Sanders of genuine personal sexism or sexual harassment.

A man doesn’t deserve praise for meeting such a low bar. Still, it’s worth noting that the list of prominent male neoliberal Democrats who can’t compete with Sanders on this front is a long one. An abridged list might include not only old Clinton pal Harvey Weinstein, but the current president of the United States — and, of course, Hillary Clinton’s own husband, Bill Clinton.

When Clinton makes such accusations, it looks like projection. Perhaps she feels guilty about all the terrible men she’s covered for over the years. But even more so, such plainly false accusations seem intended to draw attention from the many ways that mainstream Democrats have failed women — and Bernie Sanders’s far better record on feminist concerns.

Let’s take abortion, for example, a matter of special salience given that the Supreme Court just overturned Roe v. Wade. Bernie Sanders has not only been pro-choice without caveats or reservations for his entire career; he’s has been a proactive fighter for abortion rights. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, in 2016, chose a running mate, Tim Kaine, whose views on abortion were described politely by the media as “complicated,” and “evolving.” In 2005, his state’s NARAL Pro-Choice chapter had declined to endorse him even against a right-wing Republican because he was not sufficiently pro-choice. That means Hillary Clinton knowingly decided that it was okay to risk putting an anti-choice Democrat in the White House.

And consider her wing of the party’s failings here, too. Barack Obama should have enshrined the right to abortion into law when he was not only president but had a Congressional majority. He did not, and now millions of women are living with the consequences. Biden, for his part, is failing to lead the backlash against Roe’s repeal, partly due to his own ambivalence on the issue.

Sanders not only has never waffled on the right to choose an abortion, he also has the right idea on how to guarantee abortion rights: Medicare for All should provide full reproductive health care, including abortion on demand. Not only should you have the legal right to abortion, under this social democratic logic: you should be able to have one regardless of your income.

Single payer health care, while we’re on the subject — which Bernie Sanders has also championed for decades, and Hillary Clinton has opposed for almost as long — benefits everyone, but especially women, since they use more health care services and are more likely to be the primary caregivers — the ones navigating the health care system — when family members are sick. Women are also more likely, under our current shit show of a system, to have medical debt.

There are numerous other economic issues that affect women even more than men. Sanders has always supported a higher minimum wage than Clinton, and far more women than men work for low wages. Sanders has championed legislation to strengthen union organizing rights — opposed by many neoliberal Democrats — and unions are one of the most proven remedies to pay disparity and other forms of discrimination that women face in the workplace.

Then there are the problems that mothers face trying to make ends meet in a society that provides so little help to those raising children. During the pandemic, Democrats briefly gave families a tax credit in the form of a monthly subsidy of up to $300 per child, a lifesaving boost for many Americans, and one that allowed many more to worry a little less. Of course, Congress allowed it to expire, and “moderate” Democrat Joe Manchin blocked an effort last month to reintroduce it. In the most recent iteration of the reconciliation bill this month, only Bernie Sanders fought to add it back in.

With neoliberal Democratic men failing women so badly — and Republicans waging an all-out war on our basic rights — Sanders, a four-decade champion of women, is a counterintuitive target of feminist ire. But Clinton’s attacks aren’t actually about Sanders’s failings as a feminist, nor his alleged toxic masculinity. Her moves here are ideological, part of a long-running, but not notably successful, effort by the ruling-class wing of the party to discredit socialism among women, especially the young and progressive. The accusations are just as ridiculous now as they were in 2016 and 2020. But the effort seems so strained this time around — a panicked, last-ditch effort to save neoliberal feminism from irrelevance.

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