Elections

It’s Still Not Because She’s a Woman

Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the spin room after the Democratic presidential candidates debate in Los Angeles, Calif., December 19, 2019. (Kyle Grillot/Reuters)
Elizabeth Warren’s campaign failed not because of misogyny but because she’s a dishonest, incompetent politician.

It’s not hard to understand why Elizabeth Warren will not be the Democratic presidential nominee.

Unless, that is, you’re one of her most zealous fans, in which case getting to the bottom of her departure from the race requires careful scrutiny of the apparent sexism lurking beneath the crust of American culture — a practice that her defenders have been engaged in since her campaign began.

Never mind that, if misogyny of any kind is responsible for Warren’s demise, it is that of Democratic primary voters, who overwhelmingly chose the senator’s opponents, including in her home state of Massachusetts, where she, a second-term senator, came in a distant third place. (Bernie Sanders, by contrast, won his own home state of Vermont on the same night with a whopping 50 percent of the vote.)

Don’t expect Warren’s progressive devotees in the media, arguably her most passionate constituency, to consider these realities any time soon. “America Punished Elizabeth Warren for Her Competence” was the headline of Megan Garber’s article published in The Atlantic after Warren ended her campaign. “The country still doesn’t know what to make of a woman — in politics, and beyond — who refuses to qualify her success,” reads the subtitle.

Garber went on to list various criticisms Warren faced during the campaign, including that she is “sanctimonious,” “condescending,” and “a know-it-all.” “The accusation of condescension, however, is less about enforced humiliation than it is about enforced humility. It cannot be disentangled from Warren’s gender,” Garber opines, before concluding that misogyny — the desire to “reinforce a patriarchal status quo” — explains why Warren failed.

One New York Times op-ed bore the worrisome headline “I Am Burning with Fury and Grief over Elizabeth Warren. And I Am Not Alone,” with a subtitle contending that Warren had “lodged herself” in “the female psyche.” Author Sarah Smarsh opened her article with a slightly melodramatic request: “Consider every moment, since the dawn of woman, when a female aspired but to no avail.”

“Imagine the sadness and frustration of every such instance as a spark, their combined energy the size of many suns,” Smarsh went on. “That is the measure of grief and fury I felt rise inside me as I watched Elizabeth Warren’s bid for the Democratic nomination wane.”

An article in The Nation took a similarly dismal tone. “Sexism Sank Elizabeth Warren,” read its headline, with the subtitle “Warren was a brilliant candidate who would have made a great president. The problem? She’s a woman — and she isn’t ‘perfect.’” So wrote Elie Mystal, adding that Warren’s campaign was doomed by the supposed fact that “we live in a deeply sexist culture, and that misogyny is broadcast and reinforced through every cultural vector available.”

Feminist pundit Jessica Valenti found herself in the depths of despair after Warren’s poor performance on Super Tuesday. “It Will Be Hard to Get Over What Happened to Elizabeth Warren,” ran the headline of her story, in which she lamented that “even just supporting Warren has come with an unbearable amount of misogynist condescension.” “Once again we’re going to watch a race to leadership between old white men,” she added, as if someone other than her fellow progressives had put those two old white men where they are.

Shockingly, none of these articles grapple with that rather inconvenient fact: It was Democrats, not hateful Republicans, who voted in the Democratic primaries and who preferred other candidates over Warren. It’s difficult to blame misogynistic conservative white men for Warren’s failure when the people voting against her were Democratic women, very liberal Democrats, college graduates, and African Americans.

Worth noting, too, is the fact that Hillary Clinton — also a woman — won the Democratic nomination not four years ago and went on to win the popular vote in the general election. Perhaps, then, the problem is not with pervasive sexism but with Warren herself and the way she conducted her campaign. Let’s consider where she might’ve gotten her reputation for insincerity.

She falsely claimed to have faced pregnancy discrimination and was still repeating this untruth in the days before she dropped out. She campaigned against school choice and charter schools while falsely claiming that her children had not gone to private school. She refused, several times, to say whether her Medicare for All plan would raise taxes on the middle class — and she subsequently falsely claimed that it would not.

That’s not even considering her absurd, decades-long fiction about being of Native American heritage, a falsehood she took every chance to deploy by listing herself as a minority while employed at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University and referring to herself as Native American during her political campaigns. After facing a good deal of criticism for this particular flight of fancy, Warren shot her burgeoning campaign in the foot by informing the public via genetic-test results that she was, in fact, 1/1,024th Cherokee.

If anything, Warren explicitly benefited throughout the campaign from being female, using her gender to play the victim card, even when doing so required fudging the facts or entirely reinventing them to suit her purposes, as in the case of her disproven allegation of pregnancy discrimination.

Perhaps the best example was when Warren spun several news cycles out of her assertion that Bernie Sanders is a sexist, alleging that he had once told her a woman could never be president. He strongly denied this several times. Moderators raised the matter in a debate, only to deny him time to respond. They treated Warren’s unproven assertion as a fact and instead repeatedly silenced Sanders on the topic, while Warren continued to attack him unchallenged.

The notion that Elizabeth Warren’s presidential hopes were dashed by an American electorate not ready for a female president is pure wishcasting, indulged in only by media elites who believed that her campaign was destined to succeed largely because they had thrown their weight behind it. For anyone watching the race with clear eyes, it is evident that Warren’s biggest flaws were not her chromosomes but her inept political maneuvering and her pattern of dishonesty.

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