I almost always agree with Katha Pollitt; she’s the main reason I still subscribe to The Nation, but I part company with her in her recent Nation article, Why Bernie Didn’t Get My Vote. She argues:
The problem is less that Bernie focuses on class and economic inequality than that he doesn’t seem to understand that the economy, like society generally, is structured by gender and race.Yes, Sanders could have done a better job explaining the impact of his proposals on women and people of color and demonstrating that he does indeed understand how the economy is “structured by gender and race.” But Sanders has made the critically important issue of economic inequality a front-burner issue.
When I taught Women’s Studies at Community College of Philadelphia, I always stressed the interconnections of race, class and gender, and always tried to bring an intersectional analysis to whatever issue my students and I were grappling with.
However, there is something to be said for the argument made by some veterans of the civil rights movement and the second wave feminist movement, that sometimes it’s critically important to focus on gender or on race. From Lillian Ciarrochi one of the veteran NOW members I interviewed for my book, Feminism in Philadelphia: The Glory Years, 1968-1982
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s as former Philadelphia NOW President Lillian Ciarrochi stated, “the focus was laser-like on gender.” Ciarrochi was making the argument made by many in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s: it was necessary to focus on civil rights for African-Americans and not get distracted by other issues. Ciarrochi now sees the feminist movement as at different stage: “Now I think the other issues are all intertwined. We’ve always known that but we had to focus [on sexism] in that way, in the early 1970s. If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have gotten as much done. It’s the same with Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement.”Fortunately, NOW has moved on to prioritize the struggle for racial justice as well as for gender justice.
Would Sanders have been as successful getting Americans (whose leaders have generally shied away from issues of class) to take income inequality seriously if his stump speech had given equal time to issues of race/gender? Sander has been far more successful than most of us would ever have imagined in rehabilitating the term "socialism" and forcing Clinton to move left on economic justice.
I wish Sanders would pay more attention to the way (as Pollitt puts it) the economy is structured by race and class. However, I see Sanders as far more capable of incorporating a focus on race/gender into his economic analysis than I see Clinton as likely to advance policies that would seriously address income inequality.
But she is the presumptive nominee and now our task is to make sure she doesn’t pivot to the right in a foolhardy search for the votes of disenchanted Republicans.