Katha Pollitt, the Nation magazine columnist, has been one of the most unapologetic die-hard supporters of Hillary Clinton's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. You might guess that Sen. Sanders never had a chance with her, but while admitting in last week's column that "in important ways his politics are closer to mine than Hillary Clinton’s are" Pollitt stuck with Clinton -- despite missing the deadline for her absentee ballot -- because "Bernie didn't ask for my vote." Here we go again, right? Translating herself, Pollitt explains, "He never convinced me that gender issues, specifically the persistent subordination of women in every area of life, were of much concern to him" What she means is that addressing these issues is, in some irreducible way, separate and not to be inferred from Sanders' consistent attention to class issues. In other words, solving the problem of class will not solve the problem of gender -- or race or sexual orientation, as Pollitt dutifully adds. To some extent, she sees racism and male chauvinism as causes of capitalism rather than effects. Sanders "doesn’t seem to understand that the economy, like society generally, is structured by gender and race," Pollitt writes, "If women and men are funneled into different kinds of work by race and gender, with men’s jobs valued more because men are valued more, and if women are hobbled economically by doing most of the domestic labor and having to contend with prejudice against working mothers to boot, equal pay alone doesn’t solve the problem." If Sanders really wanted her vote, Pollitt thinks, he should have "given a major speech about his plans to make women’s lives better—safer, fairer, less dominated by men."
If anything, Pollitt contemplates a far more radical transformation of society than Sanders does -- so far as Pollitt or I know -- in order to undo and prevent "domination by men" or by a dominant ethnic or religious group. And yet she entrusts this sociosexual agenda to Hillary Clinton, whose only positive attribute mentioned by Pollitt is that she "gets the awful reality we're facing" from a possible Republican presidency founded almost entirely, as far as Pollitt can tell, on bigotry. Clinton "gets it," presumably, because she's always talking about breaking barriers in a way that apparently doesn't come naturally -- the talking if not also the breaking -- to Sanders. But if Sanders is an incomplete radical in Pollitt's eyes because he doesn't seem to recognize the need of a revolution beyond socialism, Clinton is just as incomplete if, as some critics claim, her barrier-breaking agenda is all about opening the capitalist elite to both sexes, all races, etc., without doing away with elites. It may be that Clinton and Pollitt are two kinds of feminist, the latter possibly more radical than the former yet so convinced of the necessity of a revolution beyond socialism that she can pin her hopes on Clinton, because she says the right things sometimes, while deeming Sanders hopeless. If that sounds foolish, it could be worse if Pollitt seems to dismiss socioeconomic radicalism as inadequate to her purpose. After all, it may be that Pollitt's hoped-for sociosexual revolution against all forms of "domination" is possible only on a socialist foundation, yet to support Clinton over Sanders is virtually to say that socialism isn't necessary, no matter how many idiots see Clinton herself as socialist. The socialist and feminist revolutions ought to be complementary agendas, but the Democratic primary campaign seems to have forced them into rivalry, with feminists like Pollitt siding with Clinton because they're (to some extent) understandably fed up with having been told for ages to wait until after higher-priority revolutions are accomplished.
Rather than close with a curse on feminism, however, I have to concede that Sanders shares blame for the situation. Since it should have been clear to him long ago what feminists like Pollitt wanted to hear, it's fair to ask why it's seemed so hard for him to say it. If Paris is worth a Mass, as the French say, why can't Sanders sell himself to feminists when it should be so easy, and when women like Pollitt seem poised to abandon Clinton upon hearing the right words? Instead, Sanders disgusted Pollitt with an apparently tone-deaf disavowal of male chauvinism.“No one has ever heard me say, ‘Hey guys, let’s stand together, vote for a man.’" Sanders said, "I would never do that, never have.” To Pollitt this betrayed a "vast ... deep ... historically embedded [and] unconscious" sense of entitlement on Sanders's part -- a failure, if I get Pollitt's meaning, that Sanders is where he is only because guys have been standing together for a man without needing to be told to. It's quite an overreaction, but unless you want to say that there is nothing Sanders can do to win over women like Pollitt so long as Clinton is in the race you should concede that Sanders and whatever speechwriters he has could fix these rhetorical problems easily if they really wanted to. Maybe the fact that they don't is a truly unconscious admission that they aren't going to win, so why bother tweaking the speeches? If they weren't willing to compete for the feminist vote you might conclude that the whole Sanders campaign has been less about what he's for than about who he's against. If so, I suppose they shouldn't be surprised if feminists feel that Sanders is against them, too.