If Bernie Sanders Is a Sexist, So Is Everyone Else

If Bernie Sanders Is a Sexist, So Is Everyone Else

Is civil conversation possible—or even worth having—when words like ‘sexist’ have lost all their meaning? A recent Fifth Column podcast has us asking.
Caroline D'Agati
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As the woke revolution pushes on, the left is proctoring a massive vocabulary test of the American public. Unfortunately, the definitions keep changing in the middle of the test. In a recent episode of The Fifth Column podcast, we all got our failing grade. The word that tripped us up? “Sexism.”

Hosted by Vice’s Michael Moynihan, Reason’s Matt Welch, and Freethink’s Kmele Foster, The Fifth Column doesn’t shy from guests of different viewpoints. However, recent guest Miriam Elder of BuzzFeed shows just how deep the language divide in America has become.

While discussing allegations of sexism against Bernie Sanders, Elder explained that she believed “all men and most people” are sexist. Going a step further, she said she believed sexism had nothing to do with a person’s intentions, but how his actions are perceived by the woman receiving them.

After the episode aired, Fifth Column fans grilled Moynihan and Welch for not pushing back harder on Elder’s comments. Then they had a follow-up conversation without Elder—and Twitter lost its mind. This kerfuffle begs the question: as words like “sexist,” “racist,” and even “woman” are redefined, is it still possible to have constructive conversation with our ideological opposites?

‘Most People’ and ‘All Men’ Are Sexist

About 40 minutes into the episode, hosts Moynihan and Welch begin discussing Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s allegations that Sanders said a female candidate could not beat Donald Trump. This was from an alleged conversation solely between Warren and Sanders—creating a literal “he said, she said” scenario.

Citing an instance where Warren explicitly lied about sending her kids to public school, the hosts said Warren has a credibility problem. They also felt that it was an unimportant issue to be discussing at such length in the media. At this point, Moynihan jokingly says to Elder, “Miriam, I see you stewing over there…so tell me why we’re all wrong.” (This is quoted at length in an effort to fairly represent the speakers.)

Elder: First, I don’t think it’s a stupid fight…We’re coming down to the wire here and you have two of the four front runners duking it out because either one of them wins, one of them loses or both of them lose. The stakes are pretty high…as for using her history of ‘lying,’ I mean, we could play the same game with absolutely anybody who has ever run for office.

Moynihan: And we do, on this show.

Elder: Exactly, as you should. But to me, the question of whether you believe Bernie or you believe Warren, my personal take on the whole thing is that they are probably both right. They probably remember it different ways. Men and women remember things differently. I really believe that he doesn’t believe that he was being sexist. I also really believe that Warren thinks that he said something sexist. And where does that charge of sexism come? Same thing with charges of racism. If I take it that way, then it was. 

Moynihan: [clarifying Elder’s point] ‘If I take it that way, then it was.’ That if I perceive something is sexist it doesn’t matter if you intended to be sexist or not, you were being sexist…? 

Elder: It doesn’t have to be intended. 

­­­­As the conversation continues, Elder and the hosts discuss whether Sanders has any history of sexism. Elder concedes that he supports women’s causes and that she believes he doesn’t realize his remarks were sexist. At that point, Moynihan asks her point blank if she thinks Sanders is a sexist.

Elder: I haven’t met Bernie Sanders.

Moynihan: But you’ve seen him on the debate stage, you’ve seen him in public life for a long time. 

Elder: I think basically—I think that I’m going to out myself here—I think most people are sexist and it’s just a matter of actively working…

Moynihan: Most men or most people?

Elder: All men; most people. And I think it’s about actively working against it—and again I think it’s a problem that this isn’t the default stance. I think we’ve gotten to a kind of amazing place with racism, where [we understand that] we have all been imbued with these racist principles just from the education that we received, from being white people in the world with certain kinds of privilege, and we have to be consciously working against it all the time. I think that the only thing that works is to have a similar approach with sexism.

While all speakers have moments of subtle frustration, it’s important to note that the whole tenor of the conversation is respectful and pleasant. At no point does anyone lose composure or lash out. It’s an edifying conversation between professionals.

The Fifth Column’s Fans and Blue Check Brigade React

Several days later, The Fifth Column released a follow-up episode (behind a paywall) to address the feedback of their fans about the episode. Elder was told about the episode, but was not a part of the follow-up discussion. Listeners were frustrated that Moynihan and Welch did not push back enough against ideas they found to be ridiculous.

One listener complained, “You guys talk a big anti-identity politics game, but the second that someone actually asserts that the quality of an action is defined not by intention, but by the perspective of the offended, you all clam up. Moynihan possibly excepted. That was a —damn softball.”

Moynihan and Welch both expressed regret at not speaking up more, but also offered reasons for why they directed the conversation as they did.

“A couple of things are actually existing in your head,” said Moynihan. “You’ve got more to do in the episode, you’ve got more to talk about. You try not to alienate people—we try to have a smarter podcast where it’s not just throwdown, Bill O’Reilly kind of stuff.”

There is also the practical consideration that going after a guest will cause her to be uncomfortable and affect the rest of the show. That said, they also made no bones about how ridiculous Elder’s comments were.

“I asked her if Bernie Sanders was sexist and—like a politician—she dodged it by saying ‘I think everybody is sexist.’ No, no, no—I’m asking about one specific person. If everybody is sexist and Bernie is one of those people, then you must say Bernie is sexist. Say it. You don’t want to say it because you know it sounds dumb.”

The episode prompted a Twitter tirade from Elder and others of the blue checkmark mafia:

Given her professional demeanor in the episode, this rant is beneath Elder. As my colleague Inez Feltscher Stepman pointed out, The Fifth Column’s liberal guests have lashed out at conservatives like her in the past. When you’re expressing ideas in the public forum, you must be prepared for those ideas to be discredited.

When You Argue with a Fool, You Are a Fool

In the follow-up episode, Welch asks the question that really gets to the core of the issue: is there any point to continuing this discussion with this person? Will this conversation be fruitful?

From Elder’s perspective, she felt that having the follow-up discussion without her was exclusionary and cowardly. The rude and unfortunate truth is that, as the hosts remarked, a follow-up conversation would have been pointless.

While Moynihan and Welch clearly respect Elder’s intelligence and her competence, they—along with most of America—think her opinion is patently wrong. Her subjective, “sexism is in the eye of the beholder” perspective shuts down any room for debate.

As Moynihan pointed out, “We don’t have to have that debate anymore because all of you are [sexist]. Everybody is. And so therefore I don’t have to defend the actual definition of it anymore because there is no definition, it just is you…It makes you this person that has no agency…and the problem with that—beyond the fact that it’s incredibly f—ing stupid—is that it allows for that to be the explanation for everything. It’s always lurking.”

The left is embroiled in a massive game of dirty pool, continuously redefining the victim and oppressor hierarchy and mandating what is socially verboten. Instead of cowering in ideological ghettos, The Fifth Column continually works to engage with the woke set. But like all those who have the courage to try to catch a falling knife, sometimes they catch it—and sometimes they get cut.

Caroline D'Agati is a writer, former park ranger, and New Jersey expatriate living in DC. She studied English at Georgetown and media studies at The New School. You can follow her on Twitter at @carodagati.

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