Does anyone really believe that Bernie Sanders is a blatant sexist?
If not, why is the Hillary campaign trying to paint him that way?
The alleged Sanders offenses are kind of amusing—unless his opponent thinks it’s smart politics to kick up a gender-related controversy.
Hillary Clinton keeps reminding us that she’d be the first female president, and that’s fine, though it seems pretty obvious to me.
And it can be tricky to run against a woman, as Rick Lazio learned when he was running against Clinton in 2000, walked over to her during a debate and was widely criticized for having invaded her space.
Hillary did face some sexist taunts in her 2008 presidential run, but the Sanders back and forth doesn’t quite fall into the “iron my shorts” signs that some protesters waved that year.
The contretemps began at CNN’s Democratic debate, when Clinton was making a pitch for stronger gun control, an issue where she outflanks the Vermont senator from the left. Sanders said that “all the shouting in the world” wouldn’t fix the gun violence problem.
Never mind that the comment wasn’t aimed at Clinton. A few days later in Iowa, she said: “I haven’t been shouting, but sometimes when a woman speaks out, some people think it’s shouting.”
Hillary didn’t mention Bernie, just as Bernie hadn’t mentioned Hillary, but the press was immediately shouting that she had punched him with the shouting rejoinder.
The next horrifying offense came from Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver, who told Bloomberg, possibly tongue in cheek: “We're willing to give her more credit than Obama did. We're willing to consider her for vice president. We'll give her serious consideration. We'll even interview her.”
Was this condescending, coming from the guy working for the socialist who is running a clear second to the former first lady? One could make that argument.
But was it sexist??
Presidential candidates often say they’re willing to consider a rival for VP, both because they insist they will be the nominee and it’s a good way of sucking up to the opposing candidate’s fans. Many men have said it about other men. How is it a sexist slam?
But one Hillary ally, former New York City Council president Christine Quinn, is outraged: “How arrogant and sexist can you be? It’s not OK to let people with a long progressive record get away with being sexist,” she told Politico.
Quinn wasn’t done: “I’m stunned that a man like Bernie Sanders, who has clearly committed his life to making the country a better place, would get sucked into this very dangerous rhetoric, which perpetuates sexist and misogynistic stereotypes.”
From there, Politico totally buys into this as a serious issue, reviewing Sanders’ history in running against female candidates and noting that his top brain trust consists of men.
Sanders told MSNBC that he has “a lot of respect for Secretary Clinton” and that some statements from his campaign were “inappropriate.”
What all this suggests to me is that the Hillary camp is a bit more worried about Bernie than they’re letting on. Why drop all this tonnage on a 74-year-old socialist who no one thinks can win the Democratic nomination?
What’s more, Sanders isn’t even attacking her personally, limiting his criticism to such issues as Wall Street, trade and the Keystone Pipeline. He even criticized all the focus on her “damn emails!” And this is his reward?
Hillary and her campaign could face a backlash if they keep playing the gender card without much provocation. And that could wind up muddying the waters when real sexist incidents surface.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.