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6/26/19

Are Sanders supporters actually equating Elizabeth Warren with Hillary Clinton?

There's a curious tension in Liza Featherstone's new piece in Jacobin on Elizabeth Warren.

On one hand, she rightly notes that problematic Bernie Bros are, at least in part, a matter of statistical inevitability:
Of course, Bernie Sanders surely has some sexist supporters. Given the prevalence of knuckleheads in the population, if he lacked any appeal to such people, he'd probably still be hanging out in Burlington, Vermont.
This is a point that most critics never bother to make, so it's to her credit that she makes it. And if we take it seriously, I think that it cautions us against singling out Sanders supporters for the marginal bad takes and ridiculous politics that will appear in any sufficiently large movement. Certainly, for example, we should call out sexism when we see it - but does it contribute anything to the call-out to add, "and by the way, this person supports Bernie Sanders!" In my view, it usually won't!


I'm glad that Liza and I seem to be on the same page about this - which is why I'm puzzled that, in the same article, she also suggests that "some misguided online Bernie Sanders supporters seem to be trying to cast [Elizabeth Warren] as the archvillain in the sequel to 2016's horror flop, Hillary."

Is this actually a thing? To be fair, I am not even sure how to judge this comparison, since some versions of it are obviously true and fair (they're both capitalists and imperialists!) while others are less plausible (she's not coordinating with David Brock, for example). But even if all comparisons to Clinton are inadmissible, the question remains: how many people are actually doing this? Because we just insisted that of course big movements have people who say all kinds of things, and a lot of Liza's article takes to task these "narratives" that only have a trivial basis in reality.

So what does it mean to say that "some" Sanders supporters are unfairly comparing Warren to Clinton? We can begin by looking at the evidence that Liza gives us: a tweet that calls Warren a Clintonite. That one gets 18 favs from the author's 53,725 followers. Reviewing the past month of tweets, I found a grand total of...eight where she is arguably described as "Clintonite":


Note that I've censored the names: this is because most of them have extremely low follower-counts, and a few of them appear to be young teenagers.

Obviously if we broaden the net to include any comparison to Clinton (instead of ones that describe Warren as "Clintonite") we'll get more hits - but if this sample is at all representative, it's not very compelling. And paging through major left publications like Jacobin, or the social media feeds of prominent Sanders supporters, I am having a hard time finding any casual comparison of Warren to Clinton, much less one that seems illegitimate or unfair. 

Entirely possible that I'm missing something here, but until I see any kind of real trend, I want to propose a slight modification to Liza's argument. Yes: as she notes, centrists have begun cynically hyping Warren's campaign. But one of the ways they are doing this is to smear the opposition as petty Bernie Bros who think that she's just another version of Hillary. Centrists are pushing this narrative, even though it has little basis in fact, in the exact same way that they constantly smear Sanders supporters as petty, sexist, cultish, and so on.

Sanders supporters can give these narratives the respectability that the center wants them to have; we can amplify them, and then scold the teens in our midst who may or may not be giving Warren a fair shake. But instead of letting centrists bait us into apologizing, I'd like to propose some discipline: let's call out sexism when we see it, and let's call out unfair comparisons to Clinton when we see them, and let's be very suspicious when centrists try to spin a narrative that these incidents are part of a significant and significantly leftist trend. Sometimes they will be - but more often, they'll have little basis in reality.