Hillary Clinton & Bernie Sanders Both Flubbed The Subway, But Here's Why She's Mocked And He's "Adorable"
Key to earning street cred as a "Real New Yorker" is mastering the subway. In their race to out-New-York each other before the Empire State's primary, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have become uncomfortably familiar with this. Both Clinton and Sanders tried and failed to tackle the subway (mightier have fallen before the MTA). Clinton took five tries to swipe her subway card, while Sanders revealed that he thought the MTA still used tokens. But though both flubbed while playing the "I'm a true, tough, gritty New Yawker" card, only Clinton has been mocked and satirized for it.
I think this clearly speaks to how Clinton is held to a different standard than Sanders, due to her perceived persona as a disingenuous try-hard. There's a bias working against her that isn't present for Sanders.
Last Thursday, Clinton rode the 4 train to the Bronx for one stop to prove that she was just like your regular subway commuter. The former New York senator strode up to a turnstile, swiped her card decisively, and then ... had to swipe again. And again. And again. I personally found nothing more authentic than her in that moment, swiping and sweating as a throng of people grew behind her. It's one of those experiences everyone has in order to be baptized as a New York resident. But people seized upon the snafu as an example of how she really didn't understand the subway — how inauthentic she was. Saturday Night Live even did a skit mocking her.
A week before, Brooklyn-born Sanders revealed in an interview with The New York Daily News that he was just as "out of touch" — a phrase often used to describe Clinton's attempts to be relatable — in regards to subways. Though he claimed to have ridden the subway "about a year ago," when asked how one rode the subway, he said, "You get a token and you get on.” Tokens were phased out over a decade ago. He followed up by joking, "You jump over the turnstile."
Instead of being mocked, Sanders was called "adorable" by the media and praised for "recovering well." New York’s transit workers union even endorsed Sanders in the aftermath. Union chief John Samuelsen told The New York Daily News that he thought the token comment meant Sanders was "old school," and station agent Christine Williams said, "He was born in Brooklyn. He’s been out of town for a while. I have no problem with that.”
Sanders was able to play his gaffe as a strength. Rather than seeming out of touch, he seemed like the real deal, the OG New York native. Clinton, on the other hand, was seen as pandering. I can imagine the "cute grandpa" comments Sanders would earn if he had difficulty swiping at a turnstile.
The circumstances surrounding each misstep enforce these perceptions. Clinton's subway ride was fairly transparent as a campaign attempt to curry New Yorkers' favor. She rode the train itself for only one stop. Sanders, on the other hand, was sprung the question of how one rides the subway in an interview. It was apparent no campaign strategist had advised him on the logistics of subway rides. His mistake was all him, but Clinton's mistake reflected not only her, but also her campaign — and that could be why she fared worse.
Still, the "adorable" versus "shrew" assessments of Sanders' and Clinton's respective flubs is fascinating and telling to me. Whether Clinton was treated harsher due to underlying sexism in the coverage of her campaign, as some have suggested, or due to an array of other reasons is up for debate. What I think is clear, though, is that all things being equal, Clinton and Sanders were not treated equally in the media over their gaffes.