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Opinion

Vetting Democrats is not ‘eating our own’

Democrats, please, I’m begging you.

Let’s call a moratorium on the phrase “eating our own,” and all of its variations, for the duration of the Democratic presidential primary season.

Exploring and discussing candidates’ strengths and weaknesses is a crucial part of the primary process. Sharing our views and listening to the opinions of others — informed and otherwise — is part of the process, too. So is hashing out coverage of candidates and responding to how they evolve, or don’t, on the campaign trail.

An opposing viewpoint about your favorite candidate is not an act of sabotage. Disagreeing with a candidate — out loud, in public — is not an attempt to hand over the 2020 election to Donald Trump, nor is it providing fodder for Republican attacks for the fall. For that to be true, Trump and his cabal would be planning a fair fight. That will not happen, and anyone who believes otherwise needs to leap out of that animated Disney movie and join the rest of us here on Earth.

This column began as a repeated refrain on my public Facebook page. Every time I post a story offering the slightest scrutiny of a Democratic candidate, accusations of “eating our own” swarm like fruit flies to a putrefied peach. We are vetting candidates, not consuming them.

It started with Beto O’Rourke, who last month said his wife is the primary caregiver for their three children. Some of us — millions of women, for example — couldn’t help but notice the double standard at work. No woman could say her husband is the primary caregiver for her children and be a viable candidate for anything other than worst mother on earth and contiguous planets.

It is not “eating our own” to address continued gender disparities in politics, which, in theory, all Democrats care about. And there’s no better time to talk about this unfair standard than now, when so many women are running for president. No, really, they are. I realize daily news coverage often fails to reflect this, but it’s true. Women are out there, and they’re running for president!

Which brings me to last week’s selfie on Twitter of Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, cheek to cheek and smiling. They are two of the women running for president. I retweeted the photo, adding that I know them to be strong women who carry as they climb.

Well.

Let me just that my sharing a photo of two women running for president does not mean I hate all men who are running for president. If you think it does, maybe don’t say that out loud. I do think now that the perfect costume for spooking misogynists is to show up dressed as Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, smiling. Who says primaries can’t be fun?

On Tuesday, I shared for discussion a New York Times story about how Bernie Sanders says he will finally release 10 years of tax returns. This is news. Several Democratic candidates have already done this, and in 2016 Hillary Clinton released three decades worth. Donald Trump has refused to release even a single year of tax returns.

Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg mentioned to Sanders that he is now a millionaire. His response: “I wrote a best-selling book. If you write a best-selling book, you can be a millionaire, too.”

On behalf of writers everywhere: Ouch.

My sharing Sanders’ quote is not an attempt to question his career-long identity as a democratic socialist, except when he’s running for president. He made a flip reference to good fortune that eludes the overwhelming majority of Americans, and I am not being a disloyal progressive in saying I hope he does better.

I see this happening too often, even in earnest debates about candidates. Someone raises a concern about a Democrat, and another Democrat lunges. Accusing someone of “eating our own” is not a call for unity. It’s a reprimand, and it often feels like an attempt to intimidate and silence.

Let’s make the case for our candidates. Nothing makes me curious faster than another person’s obvious signs of inspiration. A face lights up, the voice pitches hopeful, and I want to hear all about that source of hope.

We are fellow Americans, and if we don’t lose sight of our common cause, we’ll get through this primary in stronger shape for the general election. Again, I am reminded of my favorite definition of a patriot, by the late Rev. William Sloane Coffin:

“There are three kinds of patriots, two bad, one good. The bad ones are the uncritical lovers and the loveless critics. Good patriots carry on a lover’s quarrel with their country, a reflection of God’s lover’s quarrel with all the world.”

On we go.

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