There's only one thing more painful to me than watching Joe Biden make a comeback--watching a small number of Bernie supporters shoot themselves in the foot by antagonizing droves of Warren supporters.
I get it, I really do. I donated, I dialed, I schlepped around the neighborhood with a satchel full of doorhangers and had an attack dog try to rip my right arm off. I pleaded with Warren supporters to see the writing on the wall and switch to team Bernie before it was too late. But here we are, and it's still not too late. If enough Warren supporters pull for Bernie, he can inch out Biden. But we're not going to win them over by blaming, shaming and attacking them.
The day after Super Tuesday, this tweet by @emilycheath caught my eye: "Away we go, count me in on Team Bernie. But also, the more I see folks blaming Warren and her supporters for Bernie's performance last night, the less passion I have for knocking doors. Just being honest. And I want to knock lots of doors."
What Emily is saying makes perfect sense given that it's human nature to get defensive when we feel we're under attack. But look at @WelcomeBackAnt's sarcastic reply: "Bernie's supporters were rude and mean to me online. I will now use that as my reason to support a candidate that shares almost none of my values and deny people the help they need."
@WelcomeBackAnt's mockery was exactly what @emilycheath was helpfully warning Bernie supporters to knock off. But some still haven't gotten the memo. And now we've got #warrentobiden trending on Twitter.
We cannot browbeat our opponents into coming around. Antagonizing Warren and her supporters makes it less likely that Warren will ever support Bernie in any meaningful way. So as hard as it is when we're feeling aggrieved, angry, despondent and scared, reaching out respectfully is a better strategy than blaming and insulting.
Many Warren supporters will vote for Biden for reasons that have nothing to do with having their feelings bruised by Bernie fans. Some may disingenuously blame "Bernie bros" for their decision. It doesn't matter. Bernie needs every vote he can get.
Ilhan Omar is modeling unity,
tweeting with the #ThankyouElizabeth hashtag, "Let's not undersell the power of
Elizabeth Warren's candidacy. She set the pace for policy on everything from disability
justice to racial justice to a wealth tax. She is a giant of our movement. I
can't wait for our progressive movement to build together." Likewise, AOC called
for Warren and Bernie supporters to #Buildtogether and threw in a heart emoji
for good measure.
But while AOC and Omar are graciously
holding out olive branches, others are doubling down on spiteful recriminations
like this one from @Foxxy_Kittenn: "If you are a Warren supporter who refuses
to support Bernie and is now voting Biden not because of his actual policy that
would help Americans, but because Bernie's supporters made rude jokes and said
mean things to you on twitter, you absolutely deserved it because your are an
This type of retaliatory vitriol yields responses like this one: "Only 25% of @ewarren voters had @BernieSanders as the 2d choice. The Bernie bros isolated themselves on an island when they attacked, harassed and belittled fellow Democrats. [Snake] emojis are all fun and games until you're begging for Warren's supporters! #WarrentoBiden."
I'll pause momentarily while you bang your head against the wall...Okay, let's continue"Yes, the Bernie Bros trope is exaggerated. Yes, a lot of them are probably agent provocateurs working on God knows whose behalf. Yes, it would be wonderful if people had the emotional resilience to ignore trolls and vote for Bernie because Bernie is the only decent candidate still standing. But people get defensive when they're attacked--not just Warren people, all people, it's human nature, and there are approximately a million studies that demonstrate this.
So let's bow to human nature and be practical and strategic now because we freaking have to be. The other night, right after Super Tuesday, I gave a talk in connection with my book, Beyond Contempt, which is about how leftists can reach swing voters by dialing back on self-righteous condescension and scorn and speaking passionately and straightforwardly about our beliefs and values. In the book, I'm primarily concerned with the left-right divide, but the principles of effective communication apply to intra-left discourse as well. After the talk, a young woman in the audience said that she had voted for Warren and was now going to vote for Biden because she's so pissed off at how Bernie supporters have vilified Warren. She and every Warren supporter she knows feel this way. #thisisveryverybad.
Being respectful toward Warren and her base doesn't cost anything and could make or break Bernie's prospects. If he loses, it shouldn't be because a handful of his supporters persisted in lashing out at millions of people whose hopes and dreams so closely resemble their own.
Erica Etelson is a resistance activist and the author of Beyond Contempt: How Liberals Can Communicate Across the Great Divide (New Society Publishers, 2020).