My political career was forged in the flame wars that followed the (s)election of George W. Bush. In 2001, I discovered a community of like-minded progressives at Democratic Underground and I never looked back. In the 15 years since I joined DU and began battling “Freepers,” I’ve lived in the bubbling, churning cauldron of online politics, from the rise of blogs to the advent of social media. Like anyone else who engages in vigorous online debate, I’ve been attacked and smeared and insulted and I’ve developed skin thick enough to brush it off and keep fighting.

As an anti-war protester (who grew up in a war zone), I battled the “101st Fighting Keyboard Brigade” and was labeled a traitor and an America hater. As an adviser to John Kerry, I fought the reprehensible swiftboaters in the online trenches and endured threats to my family from gun-toting, warmongering loudmouths.

In all my years of online advocacy, nothing has matched the unhinged attacks generated by my unabashed support for Hillary Clinton, someone I admire tremendously and for whom I’ve worked as an adviser. For the first time in my political career, I have a sense of what it must be like to be a feminist on the front lines of politics, where each day brings a new wave of venom from predominantly young men. That so many of these verbal assaults come from the left is deeply troubling.

Here’s my sincere question to a segment of Bernie Sanders supporters: Why do you have to hate Hillary to love Bernie? Why do you have to echo Karl Rove and the GOP in their misogynistic rhetoric? Why do you have to do the dirty work of the far right and tear down one of the most accomplished women in the history of American politics?

The title of this piece is purposely direct. Every time I raise the issue of sexism in 2016, every time I point out that the blind, irrational hatred of Hillary is driven by more than just support for her opponent, I get the same response: Elizabeth Warren.

Somehow, it’s OK to bash one female politician if you can name another one you like. Here’s the problem for these Hillary detractors, as articulated by FiveThirtyEight:

Clinton was one of the most liberal members during her time in the Senate. According to an analysis of roll call votes by Voteview, Clinton’s record was more liberal than 70 percent of Democrats in her final term in the Senate. She was more liberal than 85 percent of all members. Her 2008 rival in the Democratic presidential primary, Barack Obama, was nearby with a record more liberal than 82 percent of all members — he was not more liberal than Clinton.

Clinton also has a history of very liberal public statements. Clinton rates as a “hard core liberal” per the scale. She is as liberal as Elizabeth Warren and barely more moderate than Bernie Sanders. And while Obama is also a “hard core liberal,” Clinton again was rated as more liberal than Obama.

According to the New York Times, Hillary and Bernie “voted the same way 93% of the time.”

Yes, it’s fair to assert that Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren differ on certain issues or that Bernie is further to the left than Hillary, but it’s an entirely different (and blatantly sexist) thing to claim that Hillary is the devil incarnate when in fact she’s a pragmatic progressive Democrat who has done incalculable good for women and children over her long career. As Sady Doyle puts it: “It is the tendency for people to decide, at regular intervals, that Hillary Clinton is not a mainstream Democrat who’s carved out a groundbreaking career in politics, but a blood-drenched, boner-killing, venom-dripping hellbeast who is out to destroy America.”

Suzanna Walters elaborates: 

At first glance, you’d probably guess that I would proudly don a “Feel the Bern” T-shirt and make a generous donation to the democratic socialist firing up the Democratic Party. Born to leftists themselves born to leftists, I am what is known in some circles as a “red-diaper baby.” So why do I support Hillary—and in the fairly resolute manner that I do?

Yes, I’ve read most of the critiques of her, and, yes, I’m aware of her record and her complex, often vexing history. But I am no more ambivalent about her than I am about any American politician who will inevitably be found wanting in any number of crucial ways.

I want a woman president—and, no, not any woman president. Hillary is not, as her detractors would have it, Margaret Thatcher or Carly Fiorina—or Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann, or some other female candidate whose platform rests on antipathy to any feminist concerns. Like most in the Democratic Party, she is a centrist. In her political orientation, deep intelligence, and policy wonkishness, she is similar to Obama—and not as dissimilar to Bernie as one might imagine.

My point is this: Nothing in Hillary’s record or positions warrants the kind of wild-eyed rage directed at her in some quarters of the left and right. The rational, the logical position for a Bernie supporter is that Clinton is OK, but they like Sanders more. Not: “Hillary is pure evil and Bernie is pure good.”

I don’t have any doubt that what drives the endless Hillary-bashing on the left and right is institutional gender bias. Were Elizabeth Warren to run for president, she’d slam head-first into the same gender barrier that Hillary is trying to smash. If Warren were subjected to three decades of rightwing negative frames gleefully disseminated by the mainstream media, she’d eventually get the same reactions as Hillary.

Which brings me to another myth, namely that Hillary supporters think she should be elected simply because she’s a woman. That is utter horse manure, to be perfectly blunt. Hillary Clinton is one of the most experienced, knowledgeable, disciplined and thoughtful candidates ever to run for the U.S. presidency. She is incalculably better than her GOP rivals.

The straw man accusation that Hillary’s supporters want her to win simply because of her gender is wrongheaded and frankly, another instantiation of the gender barrier.

Quoting liberally from my friend Jessica Valenti:

On the world stage, the US ranks 72nd in women’s political participation, far worse than most industrialized countries – and with numbers similar to Saudi Arabia’s. A United Nations working group late last year called attention to this disparity in a report that found massive discrimination against women across the board, an “overall picture of women’s missing rights”.

And so it seems strange that at a time when the country has the opportunity to elect the first female president, the idea that gender might be a factor is considered shallow in some circles.

Only in a sexist society would women be told that caring about representation at the highest levels of government is wrong. Only in a sexist society would women believe it.

There has been an extraordinary amount of scorn – both from the right and from Bernie Sanders supporters – around the notion that Hillary Clinton and women planning on voting for her are playing the “gender card”. The criticism comes in part from Clinton’s unabashed embrace of women’s issues as a central part of her presidential campaign, and in part – let’s be frank – simply because Clinton is a woman.

The absurd conclusion these detractors are making is that if gender plays any role in a woman’s vote, it must be her sole litmus test. (If that were the case, you’d see throngs of feminists supporting Sarah Palin or Carly Fiorina.) As author and New York magazine contributor Rebecca Traister has written, “Somehow the admission of gender as a factor in support for her creates an opportunity to dismiss not only enthusiasm for Clinton as feminized and thus silly, but also a whole body of feminist argument that concerns itself with the underrepresentation of women in politics.”

Jessica is absolutely right, and it’s time for those on the left who contribute to the right’s anti-woman agenda to do some serious soul-searching.