The trouble with Elizabeth Warren’s claims about Bernie Sanders telling her privately that a woman can’t win the presidency is that Elizabeth Warren is a known liar. And it doesn’t help that Bernie Sanders is just about the last person you’d expect to make that comment. Never mind the fact that the alleged comment — even if he did make it — is perfectly innocuous and not remotely sexist, if properly interpreted. “A woman can’t be president” is an insult to the electorate, not to women.
At any rate, Warren does have a couple of factors working in her favor. For one thing, she has CNN openly campaigning on her behalf. At the debate on Tuesday night, the CNN moderator flatly dismissed Sanders’ version of events and proceeded to question Warren on the assumption that the comment was in fact made. She wasn’t asked to justify, prove, explain, or even reiterate her accusations. Instead she was asked how she reacted “when Senator Sanders told [her] that a woman can’t win the election.” It was one of the worst examples of naked partisanship that we’ve seen in a political debate in recent memory, and that’s saying something.
And Warren has another advantage: She’s a woman. According to some of Warren’s supporters, her gender alone is enough to vindicate her. As the observant among us expected, and the obtuse are no doubt surprised by, the “Believe Women” slogan from the MeToo movement has now been broadened into a universal dictum. Don’t just believe women when they accuse a man of rape; believe women when they accuse a man of anything at all.
A number of Warren’s fans in media and politics have spoken up over the last few days to declare that disbelieving women — in any circumstance, not just with sexual assault allegations — is automatically sexist. Julia Loffe, a correspondent for GQ, explained: “Still thinking about the Warren-Bernie squabble and I have a question to people who have accused Warren of lying: Isn’t the lesson of #MeToo and the last few years that we believe women and don’t call them liars?”
This sentiment was echoed by Neera Tanden, president of Center For American Progress: “Believe women — unless it doesn’t work for your ambition, apparently.”
And the reliably nutty Amanda Marcotte: “I think that Warren got the better of Sanders in that exchange, but who knows how it will play out. I also thought that [eight] women accusing Al Franken of groping was rock solid evidence that he’s a groper, but apparently a lot of people prefer to believe women love lying.”
And Jessica Ellis: “Just FYI I double checked and there is no ‘except Elizabeth Warren’ clause in that whole BELIEVE WOMEN deal.”
And former Obama staffer Natalie Montelongo: “Elizabeth Warren is fire right now. Quickly confirming what was said in the private conversation, then pivoting to pointing out that only the women on the stage have won all of their races. But all I gotta say is — Believe Women.”
These people are making exactly the argument they appear to be making. We must believe women, period, in all situations. We must not “call them liars.” Because, in Julia Loffe’s fantasy world, women never tell lies. We went from the absurd insinuation that women never lie about sexual assault to the patently psychotic claim that women never lie about anything.
But back on planet Earth, of course, individual human beings are not cumulative representatives of their gender. When you call a lying woman like Elizabeth Warren a liar, you aren’t calling all women liars. You aren’t saying anything about women. Rather, you’re saying something about that particular woman, and the thing you’re saying — that she’s a liar — has nothing to do with her being a woman and everything to do with her being a person who seems to lack integrity. Reasonable people don’t believe women or disbelieve women wholesale. We believe people who give us good reason to believe them. Their reproductive organs do not count as evidence, for or against.
Hopefully it is now apparent why the MeToo movement fell out of favor with many Americans. He said/she said controversies are difficult enough to sort through. Our only hope of ascertaining the truth, or something close to it, is to judge each case individually, weighing the evidence presented by both sides and the track record of both people involved. Hysteria and pitch fork mobs do not make this job any easier. And emotional slogans like “Believe Women” make it impossible. Which, in the end, was always the point.