In September 2015, I got an email from a young editor at Buzzfeed who wondered if I could contribute an essay to their coverage of Hillary Clinton. She had noticed I posted a lot about Hillary. I had several Hillary T-shirts and a #IFeelLikeHillz button, I was always Instagramming old photos of Hillary in her college days or even in the White House. It’s no exaggeration to say that in many ways, I loved Hillary. I never wrote the essay.
I tend to get very invested in politics: I was an activist teen and I’m still extremely vocal on social media. In 2008, when Hillary was up against Barack Obama in the primary, I was torn. I loved the idea of a first lady becoming president, especially one who had dealt with disgrace and humiliation. Like many American women, I related to both Hillary and Monica Lewinsky. Women mattered. I had always – since my Riot Grrl days at least – identified as a feminist.
In 2016 election, the flame roared back into life. When it looked like Bernie could win the primary, I was incensed. For one thing, I didn’t know too much about him. He was my dad’s choice – he happened to look almost exactly like dad, too – and everything he said sounded so forward that maybe it was backwards.
A friend was shocked I wasn’t onboard. Socialism? I scoffed. Are you kidding? Most Americans think universal healthcare means we all die in communist labor camps.
I didn’t listen to Bernie. He looked like just another old white guy. He seemed scoldy – that always-pointing finger – and grumpy. Hillary smiled and laughed and cracked jokes. Bernie was always so serious. And the Bernie bros, his fans who were baiting and poking me on social media, 24/7, were the worst. His only supporters, I convinced myself, were white men.
When it came down to why I wanted Hillary over Bernie, the truth was that I wanted a woman as president.
I still think that was a legitimate sentiment, one I am not entirely rid of today.
Maybe I just needed to know a woman could win. Like everyone I knew, I was crushed when Trump took office. The last few years seem like a bad dream. I have taken comfort in knowing Hillary won by nearly three million votes, a fact I have reached for as misogyny has only grown more mainstream. It is a fact that tells me a woman can still be president of the United States.
You know who else believes that? Bernie Sanders.
A couple weeks ago, I went all in for him. I was torn for a long time between Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The two of them were my dream ticket, after all. Even if Sanders sometimes rubbed me the wrong way, progressive leadership was my ultimate wish. Something about the two of them together just worked. Given the two senators’ respect for each other, it seemed entirely possible.
Boy, was I wrong.
When reports circulated that Bernie had told Warren a woman could not beat Trump, Warren lost me. The news should have had the opposite effect but because I had begun following Bernie even more closely I knew it could not be true. I also knew the timing, right before a critical debate, was suspect. It seemed desperate. Warren fans began flooding my social media, any time I said anything even remotely critical about her. They had the same vibe as the old Bernie bros, who from my timeline at least seem mostly absent this time round.
I realized Warren might not be who I thought she was. Maybe I had ignored some things. Her claims of Native American ancestry never sat well, her ideas on capital punishment disturbed me. She seemed more and more like an establishment choice. Perhaps a rocky one, if you really paid attention.
What was the real reason I wanted Warren? Why does it still feel hard to walk away? Is it this dream of a woman president?
That’s part of it, of course. But I realized there was something else, something I did not dare admit four years ago. There was the old fear. I didn’t have confidence in Americans. I didn’t think my political beliefs could prevail. Democratic socialism, my ultimate dream, didn’t seem to stand a chance against wild nativist Trumpism, or even the liberal ideology of most white women I knew.
I realized a lot of the aspects I struggled with in Bernie were qualities I have always loved in others. His inability to sugarcoat and fudge the truth, for example, is one of the qualities I most admire.
He told the New York Times editorial board: “Look, I don’t tolerate bullshit terribly well, and I come from a different background than a lot of other people who run the country. I’m not good at backslapping. I’m not good at pleasantries. If you have your birthday, I’m not going to call you up to congratulate you, so you’ll love me and you’ll write nice things about me. That’s not what I do.”
His disability plan was amazing – most chronically ill friends I have consider him their candidate. His views on prison reform were awesome. His take on racism and xenophobia was inspiring, particularly his willingness to say “Palestine” without flinching and stand with Ilan Omar and other outspoken Muslims, especially given that he is Jewish.
Wasn’t it time for a Jewish president? Especially in an era of revived antisemitism. Didn’t that matter just as much as having a woman up there?
The other night, when the Times announced its endorsement of two women, Warren and Amy Klobuchar, I felt nothing. I wasn’t afraid. Even the Times meant little to me in this context. In 2016, its endorsement of Hillary felt life-changing.
Last week, when Hillary chose to badmouth Bernie – “Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done” – I felt nothing. I barely recognized her voice.
Why can’t we have a candidate that believes in the Middle East and Muslims? Why can’t we have a candidate that fights for universal healthcare and a livable minimum wage and paid leave? Why not a candidate who supports tuition-free college and student debt cancellation? Why not a candidate who is all in for legalizing marijuana and scrapping past convictions? Why not a candidate who wants to slash the defense budget and bring troops back home? The list goes on and on.
My friends marvel at what a Bernie superfan I have become. I joke I am now a “Bernard brother”. I do Instagram posts with the winky hashtag #Berniebabe. I threaten to work full-time for his campaign if I can get hired. And I mean it.
Bernie is everything I ever dreamed of in a leader. He probably won’t enlist any trendy celebrities or attempt to dab on talk shows. But I do think he will love us and for once I am not afraid to find myself worthy of that.