Ruben Navarrette: Sanders' record of disrespecting female candidates should not be ignored

Summary: As we are constantly reminded, female candidates don't have it so easy. They are often held to different standards than men.

Ruben Navarrette column
Ruben Navarrette commentary
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SAN DIEGO — Conservative radio host Ben Shapiro hawks a tumbler that lets fans drink "liberal tears." Liberal presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren offers supporters a coffee cup to hold "billionaire tears."

Where can I buy a mug to catch "white male tears"?

In politics, being a white male is the golden ticket. When a white male runs for president, he might encounter doubts about whether he is the right person for the job — just like anyone else. But it is highly unlikely that these doubts will have to do with his race or gender. After all, we recognize his profile. Throughout U.S. history, there have been 44 white males who have served as president — with Barack Obama as the only exception.

As we are constantly reminded, female candidates don't have it so easy. They are often held to different standards than men. And if they falter, the story is never about how an individual failed but rather how women aren't ready to lead the country.


In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic nominee for vice president, was grilled by the media because of her husband's business dealings. When was the last time a man running for president was asked about his wife's finances?

In 2008, Sarah Palin, the GOP nominee for vice president was asked how she would balance the demands of the job with raising five children. Mitt Romney also has five children. I don't remember anyone asking the 2012 Republican presidential nominee that question.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, was criticized for — among other things — yelling and unlikability. Bernie Sanders is known for both those things, but you don't hear many pundits questioning whether this makes him unqualified to be president.

Clinton has a lot to say about Sanders. In a new documentary, she basically accuses the Vermont senator — who competed against her for the Democratic nomination — of being a sexist. She believes Sanders tolerates, even promotes, attacks on women who dare to run against him.

"It's the culture around him," Clinton said. "It's his leadership team. It's his prominent supporters. It's his online Bernie Bros and their relentless attacks on lots of his competitors, particularly the women."

The former secretary of state also thought the recent "he said, she said" flap between Sanders and Warren had a familiar ring. During this month's Iowa debate, Sanders denied that he told Warren that a woman couldn't be elected president. Warren claims otherwise, and, after the debate, she was heard on an open mic taking Sanders to task for calling her a liar "on national TV."

Clinton believes Warren's version of events.

"It's part of a pattern," Clinton said in the documentary. "If it were a one-off, you might say, 'OK, fine.' But he said I was unqualified. I had a lot more experience than he did and got a lot more done than he had, but that was his attack on me."


The word "unqualified" is a tell. So is the fact that, while insisting that a woman can be elected president, Sanders notes that Clinton got more votes than Donald Trump in the general election. Yet Sanders' ego won't let him add that she also got more votes than him in the Democratic primary.

This is something that Clinton has not forgotten. She reminded the interviewer that she got "more votes both in the primary, by about 4 million, and in the general election, by about 3 million."

Clinton also warned that voters in the current Democratic primary should not "reward the kind of insulting, attacking, demeaning, degrading behavior that we've seen from this current administration."

The 2016 nominee obviously thinks Democrats should focus on defeating Trump, not producing their own version.

Born in 1941, Sanders didn't grow up seeing women accomplish much outside the home. For most of his life, prejudice and discrimination kept many women out of many professions. In the 1970s, when he was in his 30s, the women's rights movement started to change things. Affirmative action programs helped bring white women to the table, and white men had to make room — often reluctantly. And we're supposed to believe that, from all this life experience, Sanders somehow emerged as a feminist ally? Not likely.

Perhaps Sanders does support women — as long as they're not vying for something he wants, like the presidency. From the looks of it, Sanders is no ally for women. Rather, the 78-year-old is a relic of an earlier time that we should not be so eager to revisit.

That's what Clinton and Warren are trying to tell us. We ought to listen.

Ruben Navarrette can be reached at

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