Editor’s note: Susan J. Demas is editor and columnist of Michigan Advance, a sister organization of Minnesota Reformer, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news outlet.
The 2020 Democratic presidential race, which, at one point, was brimming with promise with a high water mark of six women contenders, has dwindled to one.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) exited the race Thursday, leaving just U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii). In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m crying as I write this.
It’s a time of mourning for women of all generations. Baby Boomer and Silent Generation feminists, who fought in the trenches for our most basic rights, are coming to grips with the fact that they may never see a female president in their lifetimes.
Generation X women like me are doing our best not to become hardened as eminently qualified women keep getting told to move aside for mediocre men — and not just in politics. Our mothers, who grew up before abortion was legal and it was normal for women to go to college, told us we could do anything. And we believed them. The reality, however, has often been depressing.
Younger women — Millennials and Gen Zers like my daughter — still have hope (I hope). I mean, the odds are that we’ll have a female president in the next 70 years — let’s just hope it’s not because we’ve basically reverted back to a monarchy and we get the reign of Queen Ivanka I.
I’ve never run for office — as my Democratic consultant husband has told me, my big mouth makes me completely unelectable — so I don’t know the wrenching process Warren went through. But I am quite certain that it sucks. She is a fighter. She has the best plans. She had the promise of uniting the Democratic base with progressive insurgents.
And in the end, none of it mattered.
Meanwhile, the two male frontrunners, former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), are desperately trying to woo her behind the scenes after months of condescension on the debate stage, even as she routinely cleaned everyone’s clock.
Sanders — whose most ardent and unhelpful supporters have buried Warren’s posts with snake emoji responses for supposedly being dishonest and “betraying” Bernie by continuing to run against him (a cute sexist biblical reference it’s not clear they get) — condemned that behavior in the strongest terms he has to date on Wednesday.
Of course. Men always have your back when they need something from you.
The guiding assumption for progressives is that Warren’s support will automatically go to Sanders, thus lifting him to the nomination. However, most polls show her support will be divided. If I put my musty pundit hat on briefly again, I’d say that her younger supporters will break for Bernie and her older ones (Gen X and up) are more likely to go for Biden, but that’s just a broad-strokes calculation.
I know that’s absolutely incomprehensible to a lot of Bernie fans, but many women, like me, are still scarred from the Bernie bro pile-ons from 2016 when we dared to say we wanted a woman to be president. We’ve been told, time and time again, that if we agree with Sanders’ agenda, as I do, that we are morally obligated to back him, even if we think women candidates are more qualified or could do the job better.
Warren supporters who plunk for Biden probably won’t do so because they’re convinced he’s a feminist hero, either — it just comes down to trusting that he’s better suited for the job. And don’t underestimate the President Obama effect. One of the worst cards new progressives have played is to take aim at the first Black president as a neoliberal corporate shill. Obama is still beloved by Democrats — and the fact that he picked Biden as his veep carries weight.
I have to wonder how different this race would be if three members of the Squad — U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) — had endorsed a woman for president, instead of saving Sanders’ campaign after his heart attack. They’re known as the future of the progressive movement — and the party — who frequently call out misogyny on the right and left.
And yet, no one seemed to bat an eye that there was no female solidarity in their presidential pick.
They, of course, could have endorsed Warren, as the fourth member, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), did. Or they could have endorsed another woman of color in U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who was unfairly savaged by Sanders supporters, even though she backed the Green New Deal and had the most feasible Medicare for All plan. Ask yourself right now: Would you rather be faced with Biden as the Dem standard-bearer or Harris? (This is why primaries in the social media age are a cesspool).
There’s no way around it. If you want a female president, you’re going to have to back a woman running for that job. You can find flaws in any candidate; there is no perfect politician. Go ahead and wait around for AOC to get on the ballot. There will inevitably be a male opponent some progressive will tell you is purer.
If you read through the history of the anti-slavery, civil rights and LGBTQ rights movements, a depressing picture emerges of women being told, time and time again, to sacrifice their own ambitions for the good of the cause. There are reams of beautifully written justifications for women to be in service to men and the nobility of it all.
It’s never your time. No matter how good you are; no matter how smart you are. That’s the message. That’s why so many women like me are sobbing today.
And the only way that will change is if women decide that we are the ones we’re waiting for. I hope to God that’s what my daughter’s generation does.