The Double Standard against Bernie Sanders
It must be acknowledged, and often is, that Hillary Clinton faces tremendous prejudice as a woman in politics. We are quick to point out otherwise-benign remarks that become negatively gendered when directed at a woman. But what about Bernie Sanders? No, he does not face obstacles as a result of being a man, but I find it remarkable that it is such a huge deal that we may elect our first woman president, but not as exciting that we may elect our first Jewish president, our first secular president, our first president not to shy away from the word socialism, our first president in a long time who is not funded by big industry money, and our first politically independent president. Further, Bernie Sanders has a leg up in experience, both domestic and foreign. He spent eight years as mayor of Burlington, VT — a city with fewer than 50,000 residents, to be fair — but it’s certainly eight years of executive experience that Secretary Clinton does not have. He has predicted almost every policy disaster, giving his condemnations years before the disasters manifested. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton supported most, if not all, of these disastrous policies and has a horrific agenda and unacceptable experience when it comes to her main strength, foreign policy. Clearly, discussion is warranted around the privileges Hillary Clinton has, as the wife of a former president, that Bernie Sanders does not. Yes, I’m coining Establishment Privilege.
“It’s always a little bit challenging because, you know, if Sen. Sanders doesn’t agree with how you are approaching something, then you are a member of the establishment.” -Hillary Clinton at the New York debate on April 14, 2016
The first lady becomes instantly beloved in the Democratic Party. (Indeed, you would have trouble finding a Republican who expressed disdain for Laura or Barbara Bush.) Perhaps we are so fascinated because she is unelected, yet still has power to effect changes in policy, culture, and even the decisions of the president! She is undoubtedly a role model and her approval ratings generally remain positive, even when her husband’s dip — though Hillary’s fluctuated more than what’s typical.
Only a first lady could use her positive favorability, in lieu of previous elective experience, to launch a bid for the U.S. Senate. And as a carpetbagger, to boot! When Scott Brown ran for senate in New Hampshire, after Elizabeth Warren unseated him in Massachusetts, voters did not exactly take a liking to him: He became the first man to lose two consecutive senate races to two different women. Clinton was practically unopposed in the New York primary, naturally backed by the Democratic establishment. If she was branded the wife of the former president, she quickly convinced us that she was the one in office now. In 2006 she was re-elected in a landslide. Only a year later she launched her presidential bid, again with the weight of the right people in powerful places. She was heavily favored to win the Democratic nomination long before and long into the primary race. If it wasn’t clear before, Hillary Clinton is now officially a member of the Democratic Establishment. In fact, the media spoke of Obama then similar to the way it describes Sanders now:
Of Obama's first-quarter receipts, $24.8 million was for the primary election and just $1 million for the general…www.nytimes.com
If not for a certain Manhattan billionaire, Bernie Sanders's surprising strength and Hillary Clinton's relative…www.washingtonpost.com
Having a former president campaign on your behalf is invaluable, but her recognition also picked her up endorsements from Maya Angelou, Janet Jackson, Hugh Hefner, The New York Times, and an impressive number of Democratic politicians in 2008. In 2016 she now has a former president, effectively a current president, national organizations like Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign (which are both peculiar), Snoop Dogg; her political endorsements have multiplied immensely. She boasts almost every Democratic woman senator, including Tammy Baldwin, and plenty of foreign leaders. This year’s list is much more overwhelming than in 2008, the first time she was poised to win the Democratic nomination. The makeup of Bernie Sanders’ endorsements is more eclectic, even intelligent and academic, but it pales in comparison, even when he has important and influential backers.
A proven politician, Hillary Clinton has reaped the financial benefits, too. From big banks to Time Warner, 21st Century Fox, big industry names, even some universities. Yes, that Time Warner, the Time Warner that owns CNN and Warner Bros. has spent a lot of money over the years to get Hillary Clinton elected. She enjoys not only direct campaign contributions from news media networks, but a slight (or not-so-slight) bias built into reporting on her and on her opponents. Incidentally, she also has the advantage of the Democratic National Committee chairwoman’s conflict of interest: Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz had a leadership role in Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign. Perceivably to mend differences, President Obama appointed her to lead the DNC in 2011. Four years later, Hillary Clinton was the first Democrat to announce her candidacy for president in 2016. The minute another candidate entered the race, Wasserman Schultz should have immediately stepped down as chair and put to rest suspicions of favoritism.
Even DNC vice chair R.J. Rybak says that he has seen, over the years, several insurgent campaigns who “get a sense that everybody’s against you” and is on record criticizing Wasserman Schultz for failing to put the candidates on equal footing and make everybody feel accepted. Another vice chair, Tulsi Gabbard, was disinvited to the first debate by Wasserman Schultz after she publicly disagreed with the decision to have so few debates. In fact, everybody except Wasserman Schultz wants more debates to learn more about the other candidates, since the only well-known candidate prior to this race was Hillary Clinton…whose 2008 campaign she co-chaired. Former candidates Jim Webb and Martin O’Malley also accused the DNC of scheduling debates so that the fewest number of people would watch them and never learn about other candidates.
We know there are built-in policies privileging those already in office over new candidates who might seek to challenge them. For example, Debbie Wasserman Schultz herself has been re-elected to Congress five times. This year a progressive Democrat, law professor Tim Canova, is challenging her in the primary. Tim Canova wrote about his experience requesting voter database information from the Florida Democratic Party:
I was told that our campaign would be denied access to this database because I am running against an incumbent Democrat, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I was also told that any Democratic candidate running against an incumbent Democrat would be denied access — even a lifelong progressive challenging an out-of-touch incumbent.
The Democratic Party likes to pretend Hillary is the incumbent being challenged by Bernie. Wasserman Schultz actually also took away the Sanders campaign’s access to the national Democratic voter file, coincidentally the day after it announced having received over 2 million donations, more than any non-incumbent president had ever raised by that point in a campaign. She said that she did so to reprimand the campaign for accessing the Clinton campaign’s data during a time when a software glitch broke down the firewall, ignoring the fact that Bernie Sanders immediately fired the one employee who accessed Clinton’s database, and that employee alleges that he was doing so to alert the DNC that the firewall was broken. Further unethical behavior favoring establishment Clinton over grassroots Sanders includes offering up its offices to the Clinton campaign, whose campaign materials dress the walls, while the Sanders campaign never received such offers, and even the DNC finance chief somehow deciding it would be okay for him to help plan a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton last summer. Rarely do we see this seriously questioned, or when questions are raised they somehow disappear from the media narrative, similar to Hillary Clinton’s many gaffes and lapses in judgment.
There are serious perks to being Establishment. Even putting aside the bias by the party itself, there is a high-profile Hillary Clinton supporter with power in every industry and every form of media, either promoting her or suppressing Bernie, usually both. She also has Obama’s support, if invisible (it’s not), pretty much the Democratic National Committee locked down, and every state Democratic Party. Still, and perhaps above all, it’s not just Hillary Clinton. Joe Biden never ran for president, but in 2015 every outlet tirelessly speculated about him meanwhile Bernie couldn’t get the time of day. The double standard created by the establishment, a privilege of nepotism, is one that’s not called out nearly enough, if it’s even recognized at all.