At the first Democratic Debate free of male moderators, Andrea Mitchell opened up by calling bullshit on Pete Buttigieg: “You were elected mayor in a Democratic city receiving just under 11,000 votes. and in your only statewide race you lost by 25 points. Why should Democrats take the risk of betting on you?”
It was a particularly sweet moment to see a 73-year-old woman pointing out the sexist double standard Pete’s been riding. Voters judge men on potential regardless of their puny qualifications. Women have to have qualifications, and receipts.
Buttigieg hit back with a broadside against his opponents’ “traditional establishment Washington experience.” Except he’d be every bit at home in D.C., where his Harvard and McKinsey credentials hardly stand out, something Cory Booker underscored when he reminded the audience that, "I happen to be the other Rhodes Scholar Mayor on this stage.”
As Amy Klobuchar and Tulsi Gabbard both highlighted Buttigieg’s lack of experience Wednesday evening, the millennial mayor now leading the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire looked cowed at points. But off the debate stage the 37-year-old and a rising cabal of centrist men have been aggressively going after the most senior woman in the race, 70-year-old Elizabeth Warren, in clearly gendered terms.
They’ve been doing it for a reason: It works.
Mitchell asked Klobuchar at one point about her comment that the women on the stage wouldn’t be there if they had Buttigieg’s résumé, and she elaborated on it while declining to attack him directly: “What I said is true. Women are held to a higher standard,” she said. “I think any working woman out there, any woman that's at home knows exactly what I mean. We have to work harder, and that's a fact.”
One reason Warren has to work harder is that Buttigieg, Joe Biden and latecomers Deval Patrick and Mike Bloomberg are all gleefully handwringing every chance they get about the “divisive,” “angry,” “unyielding,” “elitist,” big-thinking bitch.
The solution? A reasonable guy. Each of them just happens to know one.
“We have to bring some humility alongside the brilliance and creativity in the field,” Patrick said last week, offering his “uniquely broad” skill set to justify a late entry into the race. Bloomberg has framed Warren’s concrete plans as unworkable, impractical and even unconstitutional, even though he’s yet to offer any plans of his own. “I think there’s got to be some humility in our policy here,” Buttigieg bloviated in an interview earlier this month, positioning himself in a two-person race against a woman who has plenty more to boast about.
But on stage with Warren, Buttigieg didn’t seem to have the guts or gravitas to openly disagree with her. Despite his farmboy act, Mayor Pete knows exactly what he and his surrogates are doing by dog-whistling about what a crazy, unlikable woman she is. It’s easier than actually debating her on their essential differences like whether healthcare should be a privilege or a human right.
Yes, people have been calling Bernie Sanders a crazy socialist for decades, but the implication for a woman is about her competence, not just the merits of her ideas. Given the history of women getting locked up and institutionalized for “outbursts” which the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual defined as “hysteria” until 1980, this woman-specific disease (literally “of the womb”) cuts straight to the question of electability.
It’s a potent attack as Warren tries to consolidate her frontrunner status in what remains a crowded and fluid field, and polls show voters declaring that of course they would vote for a woman but that they’re not so sure about their family members and friends.
Beware the cabal of reasonable men.