As the Democratic debate in Iowa wrapped Tuesday night, Sen. Elizabeth Warren confronted the extended hand of Sen. Bernie Sanders. He was plainly after one of those no hard feelings, good game handshakes. We’re cool, right?
Warren (D-Mass.) wasn’t cool. It’s hard to have the presence of mind to refuse the near-mandatory displays of collegiality, but she did, folding her hands. Noli me tangere. Touch me not. CNN had cut the sound by this time, but in the pantomime she seemed to be lecturing Sanders.
Watching the Tuesday night kabuki in slo-mo, you can see that Sanders (I-Vt.), who’s notoriously irritable and suffers from cardiac issues, was riled by whatever Warren said, and by her refusal to be touched. He shook a finger at her. Then again. He seemed intent on freeing her right hand to grab it.
We all know this stock male move: Come on, baby, give me a hug; we’re still friends.
Sure, during the debate, Sanders had gaslighted Warren over whether he told her a female candidate couldn’t win the 2020 election. But now he wanted her to forgive and forget. If he could be seen shaking her hand, he might be off the hook. But... nope. Warren didn’t play along. Sanders huffed off.
When the Sanders campaign said Warren lied, and Sanders himself insisted outrageously on his feminist bona fides (in a million years), and then tried to buttonhole Warren into a handshake only to storm off when he couldn’t seal the deal — all that only enacted the sexism he was at pains to deny.
“What I saw on Elizabeth Warren’s face,” said the political scientist Jason Johnson later, “is the face of... every single person who has heard someone say something racist, offensive or sexist — you know you heard it and then you see them deny it in public.”
Warren won. She also proved she’s a master strategist. She didn’t let Sanders get away with denying he’s sexist Tuesday night. Instead, she checkmated him into proving it.