The Worst Moment of Last Night’s Democratic Debates
by
Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders (YouTube screenshot)

A woman can’t become president with a debate performance like this.

The low point of last night’s Democratic debates in Iowa came when one of the moderators played along with Elizabeth Warren in her charges of sexism against Bernie Sanders.

The faceoff between the two “friends” had been brewing online since Monday, when CNN reported that Sanders told Warren in a private conversation in 2018 that a woman couldn’t win the presidency.

How sexist of him! How regressive! How … old!

All feminist sirens went on red alert. Or at least they were supposed to.

Warren’s remembrance of her chat with Sanders was fortuitously timed. After all, she’s had a lot of time to think about her friend’s chances at the nomination since he’s polling ahead of her in Iowa’s tight caucus race. Sanders dismissed the incident, pointing out the obvious: a woman beat Trump in the popular vote three years ago.

But last night, both Warren and CNN moderator Abby Phillip showed that they aren’t living in quite the same election cycle as we are. In the first half of the debate, Phillip asked Sanders about his supposed sexist remarks. He denied Warren’s narrative.

“I didn’t say it [that a woman couldn’t be president]. And I don’t want to waste a whole lot of time on this, because this is what Donald Trump and maybe some of the media want,” Sanders said. “Anybody knows me knows that it’s incomprehensible that I would think that a woman cannot be president of the United States.”

Phillip: “I do want to be clear here. You’re saying that you never told Senator Warren that a woman could not win the election?”

Sanders: “That is correct.”

So far, so not sexist.

But then Phillip turned to Warren and asked this baffling question: “Senator Warren, what did you think when Senator Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?” (My emphasis.)

Either Phillip wasn’t listening, or the audience got a glimpse of the Narrative she had sketched out in her notes.

Warren’s response: “I disagreed.” She went on to tally up how many elections the women onstage had won versus the men. She earned some applause for her math skills. Or something.

I know people of my chromosomal disposition are supposedly programmed to scream and cheer and tweet #Warren4President when a female candidate sticks it to a white male. But I wasn’t the only one whose heart failed to wing its way up to the glass ceiling when Warren started flapping her “As a woman” argument around. 

I was busy being puzzled about why a moderator had sided with the accuser and then ignored the defense of the accused. And I was busy being disturbed by a candidate gloating from the moral high ground after taking such a cheap shot.

Warren has cried “As a woman” enough, and her claims to credibility are a bit hoarse by now. From her ethnicity to her employment history — she claimed last fall to have lost a teaching job because she was pregnant — she has left a trail of questionable rewritings of her past that have edged ever further into identity politics.

Warren and Sanders’ split last night left the former looking desperate and the latter looking consistent in much the same way that Trump’s blunt approach makes him immune to liberal PC-shaming. He’s too old for that newfangled stuff, an old dog who prefers his old tricks.

So far in this election cycle, progressive left candidates have gone in two directions: chasing the approval of the identity-politics camp or focusing on economic issues. Warren and Bernie used to be on the same side, but after last night, Bernie is alone on the path less traveled. For him, that could make all the difference.

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