Is it Time for a Feminist President?: The Difference Between Biden and Sanders in Addressing Women’s Issues

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We’ve had to reluctantly assume that this time we won’t see a woman sitting in the White House either.

Despite the strength of movements like #MeToo and #TIMESUP, gender politics has been more successful in the race for the Democratic nomination, and we’ve been left with two male, white and straight candidates… again.

It is now time to ask ourselves — or perhaps we should have done so some time ago — which of these options will represent a real change in women’s rights in the country, and in the representativeness of gender in the political debate.

After the vast majority of former primary candidates gave their support to former Vice President Joe Biden in the final stretch, organizations such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) have urged Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the last woman to leave the race, “to not endorse Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2020 Democratic race,” according to Newsweek.

Announcing the end of her campaign, Warren left many women with the bitter taste of another defeat in the search for a woman president. But that doesn’t mean community support is available to everyone.

NOW President Toni Van Pelt told the Associated Press, “We think that our constituents, our members, will not necessarily think of Sanders as the best choice,” similarly stating that “we wouldn’t have the Violence Against Women Act if it wasn’t for Biden’s leadership.”

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994 was cosponsored by then Senator Biden and Senator Orrin Hatch, and passed Congress with bipartisan support. It was signed by President Bill Clinton in September of that year and became a key resource for gender-based violence investigations and the imposition of automatic and mandatory restitution for convicted offenders, allowing for civil redress in cases where prosecutors chose not to proceed with a trial.

According to Van Pelt, Sanders, on the other hand, “doesn’t have a record.”

“He’s really, as far as we know, done next to nothing for women and for our issues,” the NOW president claimed.

However, that’s just one point of view.

Although Biden sided with the majority in the presidential debates and said he was in favor of abortion in the country — “It’s a woman’s right to do that. Period,” he said emphatically — his record on the issue appears to be different.

“Up until last summer, Biden supported the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion under programs like Medicaid, enforcing a hideous denial of affordable care to poor people,” Natasha Lennard wrote in her column for The Intercept.

“One might generously frame Biden’s changing stance on abortion as a righteous journey, navigating his Catholic faith with a willingness to learn and change in the interest of women’s rights. As vice president, Biden actively worked to undermine reproductive rights by trying to cut mandated coverage for contraception from the Affordable Care Act,” she added.

What about Bernie?

Sanders has been pro-choice since his campaign for reelection as mayor of Burlington in 1983, campaigned for the state version of the Addison County NOW chapter of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1986, and has been on the organization’s side for the past several decades.

As Jacobin Magazine explained, NOW has endorsed Senator Sanders several times over the last few decades, and has even set his “100 percent voting record on women’s rights issues.”

Historical revisionism, this time, has more to do with electability and the ability of Sanders’ proposals to actually pass in Congress.

“While Sanders votes the right way and has put significant abortion rights protections into his single-payer bill — a measure NOW has long backed — the bills he puts forward are much broader in scope, eschewing those focusing on specifically women’s issues to legislation focusing on groups like workers, veterans, consumers, and the elderly, all of whom include women,” the magazine added.

This seems to indicate that, in order to defeat Trump in November, even the most radical militants are willing to change history.

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