Let’s take them both at their word.
Here’s what he said:
Donald Trump is a sexist, a racist and a liar who would weaponize whatever he could.
Here’s what she said:
I thought a woman could win; he disagreed.
Despite the heated charges of lying being thrown around, anyone with the slightest knowledge of how perception and memory work, and interact, can easily accept that neither is lying. Both are reporting what they heard in that conversation.
Is it any surprise they heard different things in the same words?
Bernie Sanders is a privileged white man who has live a life relatively untroubled by the problems that beset many people. His family was lower-middle class; never suffering from want but not able to afford the niceties of upper-middle class life. He was able to pursue his political passions as a young man, held a variety of jobs over the following years, and then, in 1981, became a life-long politician and elected official.
Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, grew up, to paraphrase Mal Reynolds in Firefly, on the raggedy edge of civilization. Her parents did struggle, mightily; the family home was saved because her mom was able to get a job at Sears. Warren got her own first job at the age of 13. She lost her first teaching job because she got pregnant. She struggled as a single mom trying to complete her college education. And once she had that education, she faced the challenges of being a law professor in male-dominated academia.
In short, two experienced life in dramatically different circumstances. She’s known struggles and challenges he’s been blessed to avoid – including that of being a woman. So again, I ask: Is it any surprise they heard different things in the same words in that conversation in 2018?
Sanders left that meeting no doubt thinking he’d said nothing more than “It’s going to be hellishly difficult for a woman to beat Trump”. Warren heard what she apparently reported to friends: Bernie doesn’t think a woman can win.
Neither is lying. Both are accurately reporting what they heard and remember. The fact that both are being honest goes to the heart of white male privilege in this country.
Sanders’ biggest problem as a progressive politician is that he sees everything through the lens of his democratic socialism; for him, that puts class and economics at the center of his politics. Time and again, he has to be pushed to expand that perspective. In 2016 he literally had to hire a black woman to be the face and voice of these issues for his campaign.
I’ve known of Sanders since his time as Burlington mayor; as a SANE/Freeze activist in the 80s, I became interested in democratic socialism and Bernie was our shining star. Then he got into Congress, and boy howdy; what a triumph! The only reason I didn’t support him in 2016 was that, as an activist Democrat, I resented his attitude towards the party while taking our money and demanding our support. (I didn’t much care for Clinton, either; I wrote in Howard Dean in remembrance of the glory years of 2003.)
I first “met” Warren in 2006 when I read her book “All Your Worth”, easily the best personal finance book ever written: clear, simple, usable. Like many other, after the shock of 2016 I was looking forward to her running in 2020. I had no idea she’d present a campaign so full of great ideas, ground-breaking ideas, and that she’d back them with compassion and decency we see so little of in modern politics.
I like them both. I don’t support Sanders for president, but that’s irrelevant. I do not think he is lying about that meeting, nor do I think Warren, and by extension those who reported what she told them, are either. What we have to understand and accept is the working of human memory and perception.
The privileged white man heard himself say what he wanted to believe: that a woman would have a hard time being Trump.
What the woman who grew up with adversity heard is the message men have dumped on her, and all women, her entire life: You can’t do this. You can’t win. Men rarely deliver that message directly; it tends to lead to problems with HR and the media. They deliver the bad news indirectly, in ways like “It’s going to be difficult for you to do that”.
Warren knows the code. She’s been hammered by it her entire professional life.
Sanders? He’s lived free and clear of that adversity. He doesn’t even know when he’s delivering that kind of message.
Let’s take them both at their word.