Tag Archives: election 2008

ferraro and why the media sucks

So Geraldine Ferraro revealed her cluelessness about race issues with her “I’m being attacked for being white” comment. She also revealed, as my partner astutely pointed out, that she must have almost no people of color in her close circle who could help her out by explaining exactly what was wrong about the comment about Barack Obama succeeding because he is black.

But somehow lost in all of this fulmination about race is any fulmination at all about gender, which is pretty much the story of this 2008 campaign. For all the “women voters are doing X” and “Hillary played the sexism card” and so on, we have heard very little media analysis about whether there actually is sexism in the electorate, punditocracy, handling, or media coverage of the race. Ferraro’s comment is a perfect example: Her comment had multiple parts, including the clueless and offensive part about Barack Obama’s race, that was rightly jumped on by people who pointed out that it was clueless and offensive. Her follow-up implying some sort of “reverse racism” demonstrated thoroughly that she doesn’t understand the systematic and systemic effects of racism, and how it is not simply about “noticing skin color”.

But Ferraro also commented about sexism in the campaign when she noted that Barack Obama would not have been so successful had he been a black woman — or for that matter a white woman or a woman of any race — and that observation has gone completely unremarked upon. Which is really unfortunate, because this part of her comment was much more astute. Can we imagine for a minute that a woman who was a junior senator, with good lefty credentials and remarkable oratory, could have done this well? Having seen the outright way people talk about Hillary’s voice and whether a woman could run the country — presumably a question of experience and temperament — would a woman with only four years on the national scene even be treated seriously? even by her own party? I honestly doubt it, and I wish that — instead of simply relishing the catfight aspect of politicians and their staff sniping at each other and then being outraged and then ritually firing their outspoken staffmembers — instead of all that, I wish the media would actually, occasionally, examine the issues that they bring up.

Wouldn’t we all be a lot better if, instead of reporting that Ferraro said this, and Obama’s campaign expressed that, and then the Clinton campaign responded, and blah blah blah ad nauseum — if the media said, “is it true that Obama would not have done so well if he weren’t black?” and then analyzed it and did some talking about race in this country and how it is hardly a benefit no matter how much some white people blather on about so-called reverse racism, and looked at the studies about unconscious beliefs that people form about other people based on knowledge or presumptions about race. And while we’re at it we could look at the classism that infects discussions of Obama’s family, too.

And the media could also then analyze the comment about whether Obama would do as well if he were a woman, and look at sexism and how that affects things, and you know there are actually quite a lot of studies that show that editors are less likely to accept a paper if they think it’s by a woman, and reference writers are more likely to talk about the person’s family credentials if it’s a woman, and professional musician auditions are less likely to hire a woman unless the audition is done “blind”, and oh yeah people routinely allow themselves to be filmed on national television saying things like they just don’t believe a woman can really run the country, and what kind of effect does that have on people when another study has shown that simply hearing some unknown person in another room describe people as “like animals” makes one much more likely to administer higher-level shocks to people.

Couldn’t we have some interesting conversations if we looked at the issues and the substance?

Isn’t this just another lament about the horse-race aspect of the campaign? Yes, it is.
update: See, this is why I love Katha Pollitt. Pollitt wrote:

that the “sulfurous emanations” about Mrs. Clinton made her want to write a check to her campaign, knock on doors, vote for her twice — even though she’d probably choose another candidate on policy grounds. “The hysterical insults flung at Hillary Clinton are just a franker, crazier version of the everyday insults — shrill, strident, angry, ranting, unattractive — that are flung at any vaguely liberal mildly feminist woman who shows a bit of spirit and independence,” she wrote, “who puts herself out in the public realm, who doesn’t fumble and look up coyly from underneath her hair and give her declarative sentences the cadence of a question.”

That’s pretty much exactly how I feel. And although Hillary isn’t interesting enough for me to read a whole book about her, I might try to get this essay by Pollitt.

To make things even better, this quote was actually from an article in the NYT that is actually on this exact topic: Postfeminism and Other Fairy Tales by Kate Zernike. It’s just a start but it’s good to see it, and maybe a little NYT coverage (albeit in Week in Review) will start at least a little self-reflection in other media.

the missing “than”

The NYT had the germ of an interesting idea today: What I’d Be Talking About if I Were Still Running, op-eds from presidential candidates who have dropped out. It was only a germ because it turned out that the op-eds were only very short, virtually substance-less talking point-level comments. Now if the NYT followed this up with, say, articles doing journalism that examined the current candidates’ positions on these issues, comparing rhetoric to record, we might have something.

Anyway, I was browsing through these and — I should have known better but I clicked on Sam Brownback’s “A Family Crisis”. He had very little of interest to say — more of the tired “marriage is in a crisis” bullshit — but he did this nice little rhetorical dance that I thought was worth noting. He says:

Children brought up with a mom and dad bonded in marriage are, on average, far more likely to succeed in school, avoid crime and live happier and healthier lives.

Now, words like “more” or “less” are comparative terms. Good grammar requires we include the concepts being compared. Political rhetoric, apparently, permits leaving these things unvoiced. Politicians say the positive, and leave the negative for the readers’ minds to fill in. Grammatical deniability.

These children are “on average far more likely to succeed in school, avoid crime and live happier and healthier lives.” More likely than whom? The unmarried parents discussed in the editorial, sure, but also this clearly suggests same-sex parents. The “on average” lends it a bit of scientific gloss, and ties it into the false and misleading reports of research that are frequently circulated by rightwingers like Brownback.

Pretty slick way to politick.

gender and politics

My partner and I agree on one thing about the Democratic race: That sexism has played a major role in the treatment of Hillary Clinton. A friend of ours recently pointed out that if the genders were reversed — if Barack Obama were a woman, with little experience but inspiring rhetoric — Obama-as-woman would never have gotten as far as he has — the Democratic front-runner, or, at least, tied for front-runner.

What we’ve also noticed is that, although mainstream media commentators regularly bring up her gender, they have rarely if ever brought up the question of sexism. That virtual media silence has recently broken, precipitated, apparently, only by Hillary Clinton making the observations herself.

The NYT ran the numbers and showed that Clinton was indeed correct — that far more first questions in debates had been directed at her than at other candidates.

Then yesterday on WBUR, on On Point, Geraldine Ferraro was amazing. Sure, she ran roughshod over the host and some callers, but I loved it. Her co-guests were Ellen Goodman, Pat Schroeder, and Katha Pollitt! What a line-up. How many times have we had to listen to whole line-ups of men? Or line-ups of mostly men leavened with one woman? Such a rare pleasure to actually hear so many smart women talking together on air. It’s like real life, where I get to hear many smart women talking together all the time.

Southern “mistrust”

Okay, still on hiatus, but this NYT Magazine article on Democratic presidential contenders Clinton & Obama annoyed me:

In other words, if you condescend to Southerners or simply don’t show up, then it’s all but impossible to erase the legacy of mistrust left over from the era of desegregation.

“Legacy of mistrust left over from the era of desegregation”? Please. I am so fucking sorry for the white southerners who feel so “betrayed” by whoever forced desegregation down “their” throats.

Earlier in the article the author, Matt Bai, described the South as a “less-welcoming political culture” for Obama and Clinton.First of all, let me just say that what we’re pussyfooting around here is racism and sexism. Can we just say the words?

Also, what fucking mistrust? White racist southerners may be pissed that segregation ended and that civil rights were enforced, but there was no “trust” that was “betrayed” — that implies some kind of innocence betrayed by a wrongdoer. Instead of innocence, we’re talking about ending the equivalent of apartheid in the US — state-mandated political, economic, and civic racial segregation, backed up by lynchings and mob violence.

Second, allow me to just fucking point out that “The South” includes people other than racist, sexist white people. The majority may be racist, sexist, white people, but it’s grotesque to write an article about racism and sexism in the South, never even straightforwardly label the phenomena, and worse yet, fail to acknowledge that there are people of color in the South. Not just Black people, but Brown people too. And while I fled, I’m pretty sure that there are at least one or two feminist atheist antiracist queers who are white down there.

Can we talk about the “mistrust” now, please?

Okay. My special anti-racism-in-the-media rant over. Happy MLK Day. Back to hiatus.

positive about civil unions

In last night’s Democratic candidate debate about The Gays, Clinton explained that she’s not anti-gay marriage: “I prefer to think of it as being very positive about civil unions.”

As Michele (my Massachusetts spouse) said: “If she’s so positive, why doesn’t *she* get one.”

political grandstanding: SO annoying

I really can’t stand it when politicians engage in cheap & sleazy grandstanding, knowing that what they’re doing is actually irrelevant. I’m speaking of Mitt Romney’s “lawsuit” to get the Mass. courts to step in to force the Mass. legislature to vote on an anti-same-sex-marriage amendment. [nyt 11/25]

Cheap & sleazy political grandstanding may be characterized by (a) someone making a gesture that appears potentially functional, but (b) is actually known to be ineffective, and (c) is undertaken for purposes of making a point.

I have no objection to Romney just making the frickin’ point, already. He could, and should, decry the legislature for not voting on the amendment. Sure, it’s tedious, hateful, and boring, but it’s to the point.

On the other hand, filing an obviously meritless lawsuit, rather than just making speeches, wastes government resources. I honestly think Romney and his co-litigants should be sanctioned for filing frivolous litigation.

Not only is this lawsuit legally frivolous, but it’s stupid: Even if he did force a vote, he doesn’t have the votes!

Thanksgiving weekend research questions: (1) Does Massachusetts have a political question doctrine to get this thing done with quickly; and (2) what are the possible sanctions for filing frivolous litigation.

Update 10 minutes later:

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