“Sexism Still Tolerated In A Way Racism Isn’t”: Why Clinton’s Gender Problem Will Not Be Like Obama’s Race Problem
Here’s an SAT analogy question for you: Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign IS TO race as Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign IS TO _______. If you said “gender,” you’re only half right.
I’ll get to what I mean in a moment, but this is something Isaac Chotiner raises today at The New Republic: in 2016, we’ll get into a similar dynamic we see now, in which “the attacks on Clinton will be seen as sexist by liberals, which in turn will lead to conservatives feeling falsely accused of sexism. You can count on MSNBC, for example, to turn nearly every attack on Clinton into an attack on Republicans for hating women.”
It’s true that there will be an extraordinary amount of sexism directed at Clinton, just as there always has been. But unlike Barack Obama, who spent years planning how to make white people comfortable with his race (which worked for a while, until his victory became a real possibility), Clinton has never tried to make her gender unthreatening. I suppose we could mention the way she stepped back from policy and did more traditional First Lady stuff after the Clinton health care plan failed in 1994, but that was a brief interregnum between times when she in effect told the country that she was going to be just as smart and knowledgeable and ambitious as a man in her position, and if they didn’t like that, then it was their problem and not hers.
The other thing that’s different is the way people, and particularly conservatives, talk about gender versus the way they talk about race. To put it simply, a lot of conservatives are still unashamedly sexist. When MSNBC calls out Rush Limbaugh for saying something sexist about Clinton, he doesn’t try to convince people that it’s a calumnious charge and he is in fact deeply committed to gender equality. He doesn’t much care, and neither do a lot of other people.
To what degree that ends up working in Clinton’s favor politically, we’ll have to see. Race both helped and hurt Obama (researchers are still sorting through which way the scales tipped on net), and on first blush something similar is likely to happen with Clinton: there will be people who won’t vote for a woman, and there will be people excited about voting for the first woman president. There will also be women who are so disgusted by the misogynistic attacks on her that it pushes them toward voting for her.
But there is going to be absolutely no subtlety in the sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton, and the people making them will barely attempt to argue that they aren’t being sexist. Instead of “How dare you call me that!” their response to the accusation will be more along the lines of, “Shut yer trap, girlie!”
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 9, 2014
All the way back in 1946, with Nazi Germany defeated and the cold war commencing, George Orwell wrote a brilliant essay on James Burnham. The author of The Managerial Revolution and a leading political philosopher, Burnham was a frequent contributor to the young National Review, and, more broadly, a leading voice of postwar American conservatism.
What Orwell found in his analysis of Burnham was that this ostensible democrat and cold warrior held deep regard for–and even envied–authoritarian or totalitarian powers, including Stalin’s Russia. This is why, Orwell explained, Burnham originally predicted a Nazi victory in World War II. (Britain, typically, was considered “decadent.”) In later years, Orwell continued, Burnham would write about Stalin in “semi-mystical” terms (with a “fascinated admiration”), comparing him to heroes of the past; Burnham didn’t like Stalin’s politics, but he admired his strength. Of Burnham’s odd quasi-regard for Stalinism and its supposedly destined victory over the forces of sickly democratic regimes, Orwell added: “The huge, invincible, everlasting slave empire of which Burnham appears to dream will not be established, or, if established, will not endure, because slavery is no longer a stable basis for human society.”
Orwell, then, was not merely critical of Burnham’s pessimism (Orwell himself could be overly pessimistic.) He also saw this pessimism as reflective of a mindset that prioritized vicious power-wielding and coercion over other things that allowed states to succeed and prosper.
This variety of pessimism did not end with Burnham, unfortunately. During the nearly 50 year Cold War, Americans were informed time and again by rightwingers that the Soviet Union did not allow dissent, and could therefore pursue its desired policies without protest. While the Soviets were single-minded, we were, yes, decadent. Soviet leaders could fight wars as they pleased, but freedom-loving presidents like Ronald Reagan had to put up with what Charles Krauthammer laughably called an “imperial Congress.” (Some of the same type of commentary shows up about today’s China: look how quickly the Chinese can build bridges! And, as Thomas Friedman proves, it isn’t coming solely from the right.) But more unique among conservatives is the desire for a tough leader who will dispense with niceties and embrace power.
The reason for all this ancient history is the situation today in Ukraine, where an autocratic Russian leader who exudes manly vibes has ordered his armed forces into Crimea. It is unclear whether this move on Russia’s part will prove successful, but, amidst uncertaintly among western leaders over what to do, there has arisen a new strain of the Burnham syndrome. Conservatives don’t just see the west and President Obama as weak; they also seem envious of Putin’s bullying. “There is something odd,” Benjamin Wallace-Wells wrote in New York magazine, “about commentators who denounce Putin in the strongest terms and yet pine for a more Putin-like figure in the White House.”
Sarah Palin, for example, said this last night to Sean Hannity:
Well, yes, especially under the commander-in-chief that we have today because Obama’s — the perception of him and his potency across the world is one of such weakness. And you know, look, people are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates. We are not exercising that peace through strength that only can be brought to you courtesy of the red, white and blue, that only a strengthened United States military can do.
Put aside the syntax for a moment and ask: is there not a bit of envy here? Isn’t Palin very clearly desirous of a tough-guy president who wrestles bears and drills for oil? (The swooning over Bush’s landing on that aircraft carrier was a telling sign.) Now read Rush Limbaugh:
In fact, Putin—ready for this?—postponed the Oscar telecast last night. He didn’t want his own population distracted. He wanted his own population knowing full well what he was doing, and he wanted them celebrating him. They weren’t distracted. We were.
If only America wasn’t distracted by silly things like the Oscars, perhaps we would have the strength to stand up to the tough Russia. (On his web page, Limbaugh has a photo of a shirtless Putin.) In case the point isn’t obvious enough, Limbaugh continues:
Well, did you hear that the White House put out a photo of Obama talking on the phone with Vlad, and Obama’s sleeves were rolled up? That was done to make it look like Obama was really working hard—I mean, really taking it seriously. His sleeves were rolled up while on the phone with Putin! Putin probably had his shirt off practicing Tai-Chi while he was talking to Obama.
Limbaugh quite clearly wants this kind of leader.
Also on view over the past few days is the idea that Putin must be smarter and cagier and stronger: “Putin is playing chess and I think we’re playing marbles,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. The Russians are thus necessarily craftier than our weak and vacillating (key word) democratic leader.
The silliness inherent in all this talk is that when American presidents have generally acted above the law, or engaged in stupid and immoral wars, or bullied neighbors, or cracked down on domestic dissent, it has backfired in the worst ways on them and the country. (The examples are too obvious to list.) Moreover, I notice that conservatives seem to view some of Obama’s domestic actions–appointing czars, for example–as being the result of a vindictive, bloodthirsty, and authoritarian mindset. However absurd the particular claims may be (Cass Sunstein as Stalin), it is proof that the people who seem to secretly pine for an American Putin don’t really want one.
Orwell’s response to this sort of thinking was to write, of Burnham, “He ignores the advantages, military as well as social, enjoyed by a democratic country.” Of course this is not a guarantee that this crisis will play itself out in a way that is beneficial to American or Western (or Ukrainian) interests. But the presumption that Russia has just masterly played the Great Game, and that our weakness will doom us, is nearly automatic among large segments of the American right. (Olga Dukhnich, in The New York Times, makes the point that this crisis may backfire just as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan did. Whether correct or not, it is a nice counter to the reigning right-wing ultra-pessimism.)
Orwell closed his essay as follows:
That a man of Burnham’s gifts should have been able for a while to think of Nazism as something rather admirable, something that could and probably would build up a workable and durable social order, shows what damage is done to the sense of reality by the cultivation of what is now called ‘realism’.
It is now Team Obama that styles itself realist, in quite a different way than Orwell was talking about. And large chunks of the American right would now also scorn the term. What they haven’t scorned is the mindset, which is the problem in the first place.
By: Isaac Chotiner, The New Republic, March 4, 2014
“Pete Sessions And The GOP’s ‘Immoral’ Conservatism”: Allowing People To Die To Advance A Political Philosophy Isn’t Just Bad Policy
“It is immoral.”
That was the judgment of Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican and committee chairman, on the House floor this week. But the subject of his sermon wasn’t the Assad regime in Syria or human trafficking. What Sessions found immoral was the repugnant notion that the government would help Americans who lost their jobs and are looking for work.
Sessions was preaching in response to Democrats’ pleas that the Republican majority hold a vote on restoring unemployment-insurance benefits to the 1.7 million who have lost them since the benefits expired six weeks ago and the 70,000 or so who are losing them each week. Sessions, on the floor to usher through the House “sportsmen’s heritage and recreational enhancement” legislation, explained why he wouldn’t bring up jobless benefits: “I believe it is immoral for this country to have as a policy extending long-term unemployment to people rather than us working on creation of jobs.”
In fact, the economy has added about 8.5 million private-sector jobs in the last 47 months, and overall unemployment, at 6.6 percent in January, would be substantially lower if Sessions and his colleagues hadn’t been so successful in their “work” of cutting government spending when the recovery was fragile.
One result of the Great Recession, though, has been historically high long-term unemployment — 3.6 million people out of work 27 weeks or more, according to Friday’s Labor Department report. This is falling — by 1.1 million over the last year — but those still searching, from all parts of the country and all walks of life, need help.
Republican opponents of the benefits extension said they would consider extending that help if it were “paid for” by saving money elsewhere. So Senate Democrats drafted a three-month extension that was paid for using an accounting method Republicans have supported in the past. Republicans responded with another filibuster — and on Thursday they again succeeded in blocking an extension of benefits.
Those opposing unemployment insurance were conspicuously absent during the debate. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) was brave enough to issue a statement: “We can get Americans back to work and our economy booming again, but this is not achieved by Washington turning a temporary federal benefit into another welfare program.”
That echoes the Sessions complaint that extending benefits is “immoral.” And, as is often the case, these complaints, in turn, echo Rush Limbaugh. After President Obama on Jan. 31 signed a memorandum directing the federal government not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed, the radio host responded: “So he says, ‘I’m directing every federal agency to make sure we are evaluating candidates on the level, without regard to their employment history.’ What if they’re fired because they’re drunk? What if they’re fired because they were having affairs with the boss’s secretary? Doesn’t matter. Can’t look at that.”
Of course, the memorandum says no such thing. Limbaugh and his congressional apostles are justifying indifference to the unemployed much the way one denies a panhandler under the rationale that he would use the money only to buy more booze. But these are not panhandlers; these are, by definition, people who had been working and are trying to work again.
The Sessions/Inhofe/Limbaugh definition of morality is based in the ideal world of universal productivity they’d like to see, but it offers little help for human misery in the real world. This morality can be seen, too, in the attempt, led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and embraced by many conservative lawmakers, to repeal the “risk corridors” that protect health insurers from unanticipated losses under Obamacare. That would likely bring down the entire health-care law, as its foes desire. But a collapse would also cause 30 million to 40 million additional people to lose their health insurance suddenly, with no obvious solution or easy way back to the old system. “It would precipitate a crisis,” says Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
This morality is also at work in the decisions by 25 states under Republican control to reject the expansion of Medicaid offered under Obamacare. The states generally object because they are philosophically opposed to entitlement programs. But a new study from researchers at Harvard Medical School and City University of New York calculates that 7,115 to 17,104 more people will die annually than would have if their states had accepted the Medicaid expansion. The researchers, who favor a single-payer health system, examined demographic data and past insurance expansions.
Conservatives dispute the study’s findings, and I hope the critics are right. Allowing people to die to advance your political philosophy isn’t just bad policy. It’s immoral.
By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 7, 2014
Yesterday, congressional Republicans released a set of principles on immigration reform which are supposed to guide the writing of an actual plan. This has led some optimistic people to say that perhaps some kind of compromise between the two parties might be worked out, and reform could actually pass. I’m sorry to say that they’re going to be disappointed.
I might be proved wrong in the end. But I doubt it, because the fundamental incentives and the dynamics of the issue haven’t changed. You still have a national party that would like very much to pass reform, and individual members of that party in the House of Representatives who have nothing to gain, and much to lose, by signing on to any reform that would be acceptable to Democrats and thus have a chance of passing the Senate and being signed by the President. So it isn’t going to happen.
Now it’s true that in the wake of the government shutdown and the various debt ceiling crises, House conservatives have slightly less power to force the rest of the GOP to bend to their will. But only slightly. One thing hasn’t changed: the average House Republican still comes from a safe district where the only real threat to his job is a primary challenge from the right. He knows that his primary voters are people who watch Fox News and listen to conservative talk radio, where they hear things like Laura Ingraham telling them that jingoistic Mexicans are trying to take over America, which is why “your language [that'd be English] is gone,” while Rush Limbaugh rails at the Republican immigration principles as the wolf of “amnesty” in sheep’s clothing. Today’s Drudge Report featured a graphic of John Boehner in a sombrero, and it wasn’t a compliment. As one Southern Republican member of Congress told Buzzfeed, “If you go to town halls people say things like, ‘These people have different cultural customs than we do.’ And that’s code for race.”
Even in the slightly less bombastic reaches of the conservative media, forces are pushing against doing anything on immigration. “Bringing immigration to the floor insures [sic] a circular GOP firing squad, instead of a nicely lined-up one shooting together and in unison at Obamacare and other horrors of big government liberalism,” advises the Weekly Standard. “Since there really is no need to act this year on immigration, don’t. Don’t even try.” The National Review offers the same counsel, for the same reason. “The correct course is easy and eminently achievable: Do nothing…the last thing the party needs is a brutal intramural fight when it has been dealt a winning hand on Obamacare.”
And here’s the thing: they’re right. The best outcome for the Republican party as a whole is the passage of reform with their cooperation, which might at least begin the process of healing all the damage they’ve done to their image with Hispanic voters. But the worst outcome is a lengthy, angry debate about immigration in which there are lots of ugly comments made by their more conservative members, and which ends in reform failing, which would of course be blamed on the GOP’s antipathy toward Hispanics. And that is by far the most likely outcome.
In theory, John Boehner could bring to the floor a bill like the one the Senate passed last June, with increases in border enforcement and a long and difficult process for undocumented immigrants to eventually find their way to citizenship. But he’s already promised never to do so. Too many House Republicans—and not just the most ardent Tea Partiers—won’t accept a bill that includes any path to citizenship.Somebody obviously told Republicans that they are no longer allowed to use the phrase “path to citizenship,” but must now use the phrase “special path to citizenship” when saying they oppose it. It’s ridiculous, because of course any path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is going to be special—it will be particular to them, and different from the path that a documented immigrant will take, in that it will be much more difficult and take a lot longer. But saying they oppose a “special” path to citizenship is a handy excuse for opposing any path to citizenship. (This may remind you of how conservatives used to say they opposed “special rights” for gay people, which meant things like the right not to get fired or kicked out of your home for being gay.) The statement Republicans put out yesterday is a bit vague, but it seems to imply some kind of second-class citizenship for undocumented immigrants, wherein after jumping through a whole bunch of hoops, they’d be given some kind of legal status, but they couldn’t become citizens.
And for lots of House Republicans, even that’s too much. So I’m pretty sure that before too long, Boehner and the rest of the House leadership are going to realize that there’s just no point in moving forward. If anyone asks, they’ll say they put out a proposal, but it couldn’t go anywhere because of dastardly Democrats who wanted to give every undocumented immigrant amnesty. But mostly they’ll just try to find something else to talk about.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 31, 2014
As you’ve heard, yesterday Mike Huckabee stepped up to the plate and smacked a stand-up double in the GOP’s ongoing effort to alienate every woman in America, when he said, “If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government then so be it! Let us take that discussion all across America because women are far more than the Democrats have played them to be.”
As expected, Huckabee quickly explained to his supporters who the real victim is here (“I am apparently the worst conservative ever or at least the most annoying one according to the left wingers in Washington today”), but the question is, why do they keep doing this? After all, every Republican knows by now that their party has a problem with women; Mitt Romney lost their votes by 11 points. The simple answer is that they can’t help themselves, but more specifically, it’s a combination of ignorance, contempt, and Puritan morality that inevitably leads to these eruptions. And it’s going to keep happening. Let’s look at the particulars:
Ignorance: These kinds of statements tend to come from older conservative men who have no idea how ladyparts work, and really don’t want to know. That extends to contraception, which as far as they’re concerned is something that is women’s responsibility and therefore there’s no need to understand it. That accounts for the bizarrely widespread belief that all forms of contraception work like condoms: a one-use kind of thing that is employed whenever sex is desired. Which is why Rush Limbaugh said that Sandra Fluke was obviously a “slut” if she wanted contraception to be covered by the insurance she was paying for, because “She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception.” And Huckabee believes that you only need birth control every month if you have a rampaging libido, while if you were more chaste, it would be something that would sit at the back of the cabinet, seldom brought out but there if necessary, like that little container of tumeric you once bought for a particularly exotic recipe and might some day use again.
Since Mike Huckabee doesn’t have 18 kids, I’m guessing his wife has used contraception throughout their marriage. But a Baptist minister and his wife have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” arrangement when it comes to that sort of thing, just like millions of other couples, which enables him to continue believing that only a fallen woman would need to take a contraceptive pill every doggone day like she was some kind of insatiable sex machine who barely had time to cook his food and do his laundry in between all that rutting. Which brings us to…
Beliefs about sin: The morality clearly reflected in these statements is that sex is inherently sinful. It’s a tiny bit sinful for the man—the kind of thing you might feel a little guilty about, but you can get over quickly—but it’s hugely sinful for the woman. An unwanted pregnancy is the just punishment a woman receives for having sex, and a virtuous woman doesn’t have sex except for those rare occasions when her husband wants to impregnate her. That’s why Huckabee can say—sincerely, I’m sure—that it’s an insult for Democrats to say women should have access to contraception, because that’s the same as saying women lack virtue. Women who don’t need contraception “are far more than the Democrats have played them to be.”
The conception of sex as inherently sinful drives pretty much every conservative policy position that touches on sex, perhaps most notably the support for abstinence-only sex education. The fact that abstinence-only sex education has been shown over and over to fail is of only passing concern to them, because what they want out of sex education isn’t so much practical things like a reduction in teen pregnancy and the spread of STDs, but a moral statement: sex is bad. If you talk to kids about sex without telling them it’s bad, you’ve cooperated with immorality. Conservatives seem to be constitutionally unable to discuss anything that touches on sex without including some kind of moral condemnation in everything they say.
Tone-deafness: Huckabee’s position is that saying “Democrats are treating women like dirty sluts by saying they should have access to birth control!” is very, very different from just saying women are dirty sluts. He feels he’s been falsely accused of saying the latter, when he was really just saying the former. I’m sure that he thinks that if women just understood the full context of his statement, they’d realize he respects and honors them. What he doesn’t get is that women actually want and need contraception, and 99 percent of women who have had sex have used some form of contraception at some point in their lives. So when he tells them that contraception is for sluts, what they hear isn’t “Because I care for you, I don’t want you to become a slut,” what they hear is, “You’re a slut.”
This seems to come up again and again: Republicans think they’re talking to a nation of nuns, when in reality they’re talking to actual women whose lives and experiences are different from what Republicans imagine them to be. If you told them that, guess what, your wife uses contraception, and so does your sister, and so does your daughter, and not only that, so did your mom, they’d cry “Nuh-uh!” and stick their fingers in their ears.
Which is why this is going to keep happening. Maybe Republicans can be convinced to steer clear of saying appalling things about rape, but the subject of contraception is going to keep coming up because of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that it be included in insurance plans. And every time it does, they’re going to keep pushing women away. They can’t help themselves.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 24, 2014