In December of 2017 — at the height of the #MeToo movement, days after as Sen. Al Franken had announced his exeunt from the political stage — Sen. Bernie Sanders appeared on CNN to discuss a “revolution” that didn’t (necessarily) involve the proletariat.
“Right now, as we speak, in restaurants all over this country, in offices all over this country, there are folks who are not famous who are harassing women, making demands on women that are obscene,” Sanders told CNN‘s Jake Tapper.
“We need a revolution in the way we treat women in the workforce from the bottom on up.”
That revolution, evidently, didn’t start from Sanders’ office: The 2016 silver-medalist in the Democrat primary process and a favorite in the 2020 competition was back on CNN just a little over a year after that appearance, apologizing for a report in The New York Times that his campaign didn’t respond quickly — if at all — to complaints of sexual harassment during his run for the nomination.
In an interview with Anderson Cooper on Wednesday, Sanders claimed he was unaware of the allegations, saying, “Uh, yes. I was a little bit busy running around the country, trying to make the case.”
“I certainly apologize to any woman who felt that she was not treated appropriately, and, of course, if I run, we will do better next time,” he added.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper asks Bernie Sanders about alleged sexual misconduct that happened on his campaign: “Just to be clear, you seemed to indicate that you did not know at the time about the allegations. Is that correct?”
Sanders responds: “Uh, yes. I was a little bit busy…” pic.twitter.com/7p55F1PxA7
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) January 3, 2019
The Times article — “Sexism Claims From Bernie Sanders’s 2016 Run: Paid Less, Treated Worse” — begins with one such incident that was allegedly met with relative indifference by the campaign.
“In February 2016, Giulianna Di Lauro, a Latino outreach strategist for Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential operation, complained to her supervisor that she had been harassed by a campaign surrogate whom she drove to events ahead of the Democratic primary in Nevada,” they write.
“She said the surrogate told her she had ‘beautiful curly hair’ and asked if he could touch it, Ms. Di Lauro said in an interview. Thinking he would just touch a strand, she consented. But she said that he ran his hand through her hair in a ‘sexual way’ and continued to grab, touch and ‘push my boundaries’ for the rest of the day.”
“I just wanted to be done with it so badly,” she told the paper. Di Lauro identified the surrogate as 49-year-old Mexican game show host Marco Antonio Regil.
However, when the incident was reported to one of the campaign managers on the Latino outreach team, his reported response was, “I bet you would have liked it if he were younger.”
Another woman told The Times she witnessed the exchange.
This apparently isn’t an isolated episode. The Times reported that similar stories “have circulated in recent weeks in emails, online comments and private discussions among former supporters.”
Then there were issues with unequal pay: “Pay disparity became another source of frustration among some women, according to former staff members, especially given that labor was one of the senator’s signature issues. During his campaign, Mr. Sanders earned kudos for paying his interns, a relatively unheard-of practice,” The Times reported.
“(Samantha) Davis, the former state director, said that she was originally paid about $2,400 a month as a senior staff member and saw in the campaign’s records that a younger man who was originally supposed to report to her made $5,000 a month. She said that she brought the issue to the campaign’s chief operating officer, who adjusted her salary to achieve parity.”
She also told The Times that sexual harassment was a serious problem. “I did experience sexual harassment during the campaign, and there was no one who would or could help,” she said.
As for Di Lauro’s accusation, the campaign claims that it reached national field director Rich Pelletier, where it seems to have died on the vine — even though high-ranking officials said they believed Di Lauro.
“It was as if nothing happened,” Di Lauro said.
And then there was Arturo Carmona, a manager on the Latino outreach team who ended up running for Congress in 2017 and “appeared smiling in a photograph in early December with Mr. Sanders’s wife, Jane, at a symposium hosted by her organization, the Sanders Institute,” according to The Times.
After that, Masha Mendieta — who had backed up Di Lauro’s story — said that “Carmona had demeaned women during the 2016 campaign.” She also said she had reported the behavior and was told to rationalize it as “macho” by one staffer, who told The Times he doesn’t remember making the remark.
The campaign and everyone involved seems to be taking cover.
“With the benefit of hindsight, the surprise explosion of the campaign resulted in there being less-than-ideal training infrastructure,” a statement from Sanders’ senatorial campaign committee said.
Regil, meanwhile, said, “I sincerely apologize for any interactions or behavior on my part that could’ve made anyone feel uncomfortable.”
As for Carmona, he told The Times in an email that: “All sexual harassment and issues of discrimination should be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly.”
There are several profoundly dispiriting aspects to this, of which I will highlight just two.
First, the Sanders campaign was supposed to be an oasis of progressivism, sort of Eugene McCarthy 2016. Given that whatever denials that were given were hardly unequivocal — even though individuals involved did try to provide some exculpatory information, if not necessarily evidence — it clearly doesn’t seem to have been. (Sanders rhetoric doesn’t always match reality. That’s a continuing problem with Democrats, especially when it comes to treatment of women.)
Second, the role of a president isn’t just to push an agenda and say things millennials like. They actually have to do tough organizational work. Say what you will about turnover in the Trump administration, but picture a Bernie presidency, where he was too busy flying around the country and saying very important things to worry about organizational issues.
It’s 2019 as we speak. Given that the election is next year, I would suggest a cram course in organizational leadership and logistics for Sanders and his top aides. The buck stops with them, no matter how socialist they may believe themselves to be.
And as of now, nobody seems to have faced consequences beyond a very public outing by The Times.
I guess Bernie’s too busy for that “revolution.”
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