No question has preoccupied the progressive camp in America more in recent months than the choice between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Ostensibly, as an Israeli who is only sojourning in New York for a few years, I ought to sit quietly on the sidelines and hold my tongue while my Democratic friends fight among themselves. But in reality, as a feminist of 45, the age which, according to polls, is the dividing line between the level-headed Hillary supporters and the cool Bernie fans, I’m not really capable of sitting on the fence and ignoring what’s happening.
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As I always tell my children, there’s no such thing as a perfect candidate. The disadvantages and advantages of both are fairly clear. He’s an elderly socialist who sprung up out of nowhere; she carries the baggage of too many incidents from the past that don’t photograph well. He’s attractive because of his captivating passion; she embodies the promise of another historic candidacy that, by its very existence, will move the hearts of half of humanity.
But having said all this, I must also risk saying that in the America of 2016, there’s no chance that Bernie will be elected. Therefore, every ballot cast for him is a ballot for Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio or one of the other xenophobes in the top ranks of the Republican candidates.
So how is it that so many young people, and especially young women, can’t see this?
Unlike Gloria Steinem, who says that young women are supporting Bernie in the hopes of meeting young men, I derive my explanation from a weekly column published in Haaretz many years ago. It was a regular Q&A feature on the last page of the weekend magazine that hosted a different cultural figure, most of them young, every week.
When the guest was a woman, they almost always asked her whether she described herself as a feminist. Most said no. When asked why, most explained that it isn’t because they oppose equality between men and women; of course they’re in favor of that. But feminism? That sounded terribly aggressive to them. Outdated. Unfeminine. All of the above.
I recall that when I used to read that back then, when I was in my twenties or early thirties, it infuriated me. Every time I encountered an answer like that, I would roar out loud at the page before me, proclaiming the subtext as I read it between the lines of the paper: They don’t describe themselves as feminists because they’re ungrateful for the fact that they’re riding on the backs of achievements their sisters attained with much toil. That’s why. And instead of repaying their sisters for the roads and paths they opened for them, they’re spitting in their faces.
In many ways, I can’t think of a more Republican mode of behavior. Someone worked hard to break the glass ceiling for them, but now, they mock the outdated view that a woman at the top could change anything at all. They turn their backs on Hillary and then go complain about the lack of diversity in the Oscar awards.
I’m willing to risk sound like a moldering aunt and whisper to this community of sophisticates, who are so delighted by Bernie Sanders’ upturned, inverted race, that if they want to see how it will all end, I invite them to take a look at the Israeli left. There, too, more centrist voices, like Shelly Yacimovich or even the late Yossi Sarid, got a cold shoulder from certain segments of the left, who didn’t feel comfortable with some of their statements, votes, or even some involuntary eye movement they once made. Or with some of the political constraints that forced the politicians to bow to reality.
I know this well, because I too sometimes tend to sit in judgment and tut-tut for my own pleasure, and to cast my vote based on all the mistakes of those who presume to represent me. And, which is the most fun of all, to post a tweet or a Facebook status that’s 100 percent justice and zero percent realpolitik.
True, Hillary voted for the Iraq war, was late in climbing on the bandwagon of support for gay marriage, stood by her skirt-chasing husband, was careless about the State Department’s email confidentiality rules, made a huge amount of money and, worst of all, has simply been in the public eye for far too long. We know what we’re getting, for better and for worse.
We know that she’ll mount a serious, well-crafted candidacy, with a vast amount of political experience and a vast capacity for work. And perhaps it’s all time for someone to say this: She’s a certified progressive, who doesn’t need Bernie Sanders to teach her on which side her heart is beating.
And if I’ve gone that far, perhaps I should add that I’m very happy she got $600,000 from Goldman Sachs. It’s not that I have any great affection for the big banks. I don’t even have a close relationship with the small ones. But if anything would have disappointed me, it would have been the if the first woman president of the United States had been so wimpy that, when a well-padded financial institution invited her to lecture in exchange for a ridiculous amount of money, instead of leaning in, she preferred to turn down the fee out of false modesty and offer to do it for free instead. That isn’t how I imagine the person who will fight to prevent wage discrimination against women.
Vered Kellner is a journalist who has worked in Israel for publications including Kol Ha'ir, Maariv and Globes and now lives in New York.