Neera Tanden assured the Senate on Wednesday that she has never called Bernie Sanders an “ignorant slut,” bringing her one step closer to becoming the first Twitter-addicted American to lead the Office of Management and Budget.
To official Washington, Tanden is best known as the president of liberal think tank the Center for American Progress (CAP). But to the community of serotonin-depleted, irony-saturated, attention-starved sadomasochists who perpetually refresh Twitter for new signs of affirmation and objects for our rage, Tanden is known simply as “a poster.” Even as she occupied some of the most powerful positions in Democratic politics, Tanden made time to tussle with extremely online socialists, conservatives, and tankies alike. She tweeted more frequently than Donald Trump, and (at least during campaign season) with nearly as much belligerence.
During the first round of her confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Tanden was called to account for her posts about various Republican senators. “You wrote that Susan Collins is the worst, that Tom Cotton is a fraud, that vampires have more heart than Ted Cruz,” Ohio senator Rob Portman solemnly informed the OMB nominee. “You called Leader McConnell: Moscow Mitch and Voldemort, and on and on.”
But Tanden’s bitterest online enemies lie to her left.
Tanden’s status as the longtime head of a policy shop that has put forward proposals for sectoral wage bargaining, a federal job guarantee, and the slow-motion socialization of the health-insurance industry might lead lay observers to consider her nomination a concession to the Democrats’ left flank. But progressives with iconoclastic sensibilities (and/or an intolerance for abetting apartheid) have long seen Tanden as an avatar for a morally compromised Democratic Establishment. The tension between Tanden and the left traces back to 2011, when AIPAC attempted to smear several writers at CAP’s ThinkProgress blog as anti-Semites, based solely on their adversarial posture toward Israel’s far-right government. Among the ThinkProgress staffers caught up in these attacks were Matt Duss, future foreign-policy adviser to Bernie Sanders, and Faiz Shakir, Sanders’s 2020 campaign manager. Tanden did not rally to her staffers’ defense. And bad blood from the incident still boiled years later when (in a hacked email published by WikiLeaks) Tanden derided her former employees Zaid Jilani and Lee Fang as “freaks” and Faiz’s “spawn.”
Tanden’s denunciations of Sanders and his sympathizers in 2016 were about as pointed in public as they were in private. And subsequent allegations of Tanden’s mishandling of sexual harassment at CAP only fortified the left’s distrust of her. Thus, while chairing her confirmation hearing on Wednesday, the Vermont senator felt compelled to address the beef. “Your [Twitter] attacks were not just made against Republicans,” Sanders noted. “There were vicious attacks against progressives, people who I have worked with — me personally.”
“I feel badly about that,” Tanden said. “My approach will be radically different.”
Republican senator John Kennedy of Louisiana pressed the issue, informing Tanden, “You called Sanders everything but an ignorant slut” — a reference to a 42-year-old Saturday Night Live sketch.
“That is not true, senator,” Tanden replied. By this, Tanden appeared to mean that she had never come close to denigrating the Vermont senator in such oddly sexist terms, and in any case, did not consider him to be a poorly read philanderer.
Kennedy, for his part, made his own faith in Sanders’s intelligence and chastity explicit.
Sanders also pressed Tanden on CAP’s acceptance of corporate patronage during her tenure. “Before I vote on your nomination,” Sanders said, “it is important for me and members of this committee to know that those donations that you have secured at CAP will not influence your decision-making at the OMB.” Tanden vowed that corporate donors would have “zero impact on my decision-making.”
The Vermont senator ultimately sought to establish a basis for unity between progressives and the Biden administration, giving Tanden the opportunity to confirm her support for a $15 minimum wage, tuition-free college for low-income students, universal pre-K, and paid family leave, among other things. The CAP president readily affirmed her commitment to enacting those policies.
Meanwhile, in the dank confines of Twitter.com’s left corner, a portion of the posting community expressed grudging satisfaction at seeing their kind represented in the halls of power.