Monday, September 26, 2016

A Few Words About Misogyny

Misogyny. There are a couple of problems that I have with it in this campaign. This year, misogyny is the poisonous idea that anyone who does not intend to vote for Hillary Clinton is taking that position because Clinton is female. At their worst, the misogyny crowd does not even give credit to those who try to prove gender is not an issue for them by supporting Jill Stein. The truth is, gender is an issue for all of us if we are honest, but there are other reasons why someone could not support Hillary Clinton that don’t get addressed as soon as misogyny enters the discussion.

It is certainly true that Hillary Clinton is being held to a much more rigorous standard than her opponent by the media. But blaming that on gender ignores other important reasons for this. I see one standard for coverage of Clinton that amounts to the normal vetting of a presidential candidate in years past. In the last two elections before this one, Barack Obama was held to this standard, but so were Mitt Romney and John McCain. Reporters and pundits believed that any of them might become president, and so the coverage focused on what that might mean for the country. This year, only Clinton is being covered that way, although there are some signs that that may be changing. But up to now, Donald Trump has been held to the same standard as Gary Johnson and Jill Stein; they are interesting side shows, but only Clinton has the chance to actually become president. Trump is more interesting than the other two because he was somehow the best the Republican Party could offer the American people this year, but he is obviously not suited to be president, so no vetting is needed. That attitude in the press has created a situation where a horrible accident could occur, and Trump could actually get elected. But gender has nothing to do with it.

Another reason someone might withhold support from Hillary Clinton is an honest difference of opinion on the issues. This goes back to the primary campaign, where supporters of Bernie Sanders were accused of misogyny, but it still comes up now. In the primary campaign, if you said that Sanders was the more electable candidate, were you saying that you personally would not vote for a woman? If your answer to that question was, no but I don’t think the country is ready, the misogyny police came out in force. But I never saw anyone in the Sanders camp actually say that. Sanders was supposedly more electable because he wasn’t burdened with all the scandals that had gathered around Hillary Clinton over the years. This had nothing to do with gender, since the scandals had begun as attacks on Bill Clinton. More recently, the email scandal has played differently for Hillary Clinton than it did for Colin Powell, for example. But that is because the Republicans and their allies in the right wing media don’t go after their own. In bringing up misogyny in this context, an important difference between the two major Parties gets ignored.

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly believe that misogyny is real, and that it is a factor in some people’s voting decisions this year. But calling someone out as a misogynist is not going to win hearts, minds, or votes. In 2008, the best answer to racism was to elect President Obama, and let him prove as he has so well that a black man was well suited to the job of president. So it is now. Hillary Clinton will prove that a woman can do the job by doing it. Until then, we who intend to vote for her do her a great disservice by crying misogyny whenever someone disagrees with us. Name calling is not a way to win an election, especially if it is a substitute for a real discussion of the issues.

I said at the beginning of this article that I had a couple of problems with misogyny. The second problem is the word itself, and what it tells us about the use of language in this campaign. Misogyny is a beast of a word to spell. Sexism is a rough definition, but it lacks the nuance one gets with the word misogyny. Hillary Clinton is a very intelligent person who thinks hard about the details. She tends to try to use exactly the right word to say what she means. Trump, on the other hand, deals in generalities. His language is blunt and lacking in precision, but, unlike Clinton, he uses language in much the same way his supporters do. This is why, with all the documented lies Trump has told, a recent poll showed that people think he is more honest than Clinton. Her use of language involves a precision that feels to some people like she is showing off her big vocabulary. She is a member of the elite, in this view, who don’t understand the problems of real Americans. If she uses words and phrases that voters don’t hear from the others in their social circles, it can also reinforce the idea that she speaks in this manner to conceal important matters from the electorate. Someone who feels this way would say instead, “She talks that way because she is hiding something.” If Hillary Clinton wants to inspire trust, she can start at tomorrow night’s debate by simplifying her language. She will lose some precision, but she will gain a connection that has eluded her up to now. She will help voters decide that she is someone they would enjoy having a beer with. This is a completely shallow standard for choosing a president, and it has nothing to do with the ability to govern, but study after study has shown that it is how many people vote. And it has everything to do with use of language, and very little to do with misogyny.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

An Open Letter to Hillary Clinton

Dear Madame Secretary,

I will be voting for you in November, because I believe this country faces a stark and obvious choice in this election. I live in a solid blue state that you will carry with or without my vote, but I also believe it is important to participate in the process if you wish to change it. I also hope that your margin of victory will have a bearing on the agenda you choose to pursue. That said, I am disturbed by what I have seen so far in this campaign. In particular, I watched the Commander in Chief Forum, and I was not comfortable with what I saw. This event marked the beginning of the real campaign, the post Labor Day period where the American people turn their focus in earnest to the choosing of the president. This is where you have to get us to trust you, and your performance last night did not do that.

“Performance” is exactly the problem, in fact. You gave good answers to the questions you were asked, but, as is so often the case, they felt rehearsed and planned. I know that is part of running for office, but it is especially important for you to make us feel that we are hearing not what you think you should say but rather what you genuinely believe. Donald Trump may inspire fear and disgust with the things he says, but no one doubts that they are seeing him for who he is. I have read articles that say that, in private, you are a great listener, and you inspire great loyalty as a result. We the American people need to see that side of you. We need to see you not explaining, but just caring. That is how you will earn our trust. That is how you will turn my vote of necessity into a vote of enthusiasm. And that is how you will make it harder for your enemies to get these endless scandals to stick to you.

So, I have a suggestion. As often as possible, set up events where you meet one on one with a private citizen. It should be someone who does not totally agree with you, maybe even someone who is leaning towards voting for Donald Trump or Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. Present a private conversation with this person on live television. There should be no moderators, no live audience, and most importantly, you must have no idea in advance what questions this person will ask. Just sit down to talk for an hour, and let the cameras roll. Be yourself, and let us see who that is.

I know how this sort of thing works. I can not ask this of you unless I hold up my end of the bargain. So yes, if you wanted to have one of these conversations with me, I would be willing. There is actually a lot I would like to tell you and ask you, and it wouldn’t be all softball questions. I don’t want to put my contact information out in this public forum, but I should not be hard to find if you are interested. I would not accept any compensation, because I do not want this to have any appearance of impropriety. Having said all that, I really don’t expect you to choose me. But I hope you will somehow see this, and will consider doing these events. Thank you.

Darius Rips

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Lady Doth Protest Too Much

A few days ago, I posted an article on Facebook which raked Jill Stein’s platform over the coals, and demonstrated that her proposals are not based on reality. The author used this to make the case that Stein is completely unsuited to be president. In sharing this, I missed the point, and so did the article. I expected that the article would set off a firestorm of comments, and it did. What I did not expect is that no one really bothered to refute the points the article actually made. Instead of arguing that they believe in Stein, my friends instead began lining up their attacks on Hillary Clinton. Others came to Clinton’s defense, including me, but we did not stress Stein’s faults either. The argument is still raging. In thinking about all this, I realized that Jill Stein’s fitness to be president is beside the point. Almost no one is voting for her to be president. They are voting to express their anger at how the Democratic nominating process was handled. They are expressing their displeasure with Bernie Sanders for wanting to work within the system for change, and surrendering his perceived ideological purity to do so. And most of all, they are voting to express their mistrust of Hillary Clinton.

When you understand this kind of voting, you begin to see it everywhere. The Republican Party establishment had coronated Jeb Bush as their standard bearer before their nominating process ever got going. They knew he was a weak candidate, but they thought that, by flooding the field with Tea Party protest choices, they could get Bush through to the nomination. The field of extremists would cancel each other out, making the size of the field the perfect defense against further encroachment. They did not expect that Donald Trump would quickly master his role as a protest candidate. As with Jill Stein, Trump’s fitness to be president does not matter to his faithful, because they do not expect him to be elected. Instead, he is a figurehead who gives them an avenue to express their anger. The absurd proposals he reiterated this week regarding immigration do not matter, because his followers don’t want real policy proposals from him. They want his anger at trade policies, perceived preferential treatment of minorities, and his disdain for elites like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, who think they know what is best for the people Trump speaks to.

Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate, has been pushed as a possible counter-protest choice for Republicans who can not bring themselves to support Trump. Johnson and his party stand, more than anything, for severe limits on government. Keep in mind that establishment Republicans like Mitch McConnell have dedicated themselves to the refusal to govern for a Democratic president, and the choice of Johnson as a protest becomes understandable. In some ways, a Republican vote for Johnson is an expression of anger at themselves for failing to control their own party. For a progressive voter, a vote for Johnson is a rejection of our political process. It is an exercise in bomb throwing, saying that the process does not work, and the only way to fix it is to destroy it. Neither a progressive nor a Republican who votes for Johnson is saying anything about whether Johnson is fit to be president.

The most interesting protest candidate to consider in this light is Bernie Sanders. I have no doubt that Sanders began his campaign as a protest. As an avowed socialist who lived most of his life during the Cold War, Sanders must have started with the assumption that he would not win. He also must have known that, as a Jew, he would have to deal with anti-Semitic attacks if he became the nominee. Hillary Clinton would never have stooped so low, but Donald Trump certainly would have, and I am grateful that we never had to find out how well it might have worked. A vote for Sanders then, as he framed it, was a vote for the economically dispossessed who were being ignored by the establishment wing of the Democratic Party. For Sanders, this was always a protest from within, which is why he ran as a Democrat to begin with. Of course we know what happened. Sanders drew far more support than even he expected. His socialism proved not to be an obstacle for far more Americans than he ever dreamed. It was when it started to get real that the Sanders campaign began to slow down. Faced with the possibility that he might actually become the nominee, it suddenly began to matter how he would actually govern, and Sanders got bogged down somewhat in the details. In the end, he came up short of the needed delegates. At that point, he did what he had said he would do from the very beginning. He fought for, and won, concessions to his positions, and then he came out in support of Hillary Clinton. Up to now, his is the only protest candidacy this year that has succeeded on its terms.

Growing up as I did in a family that placed a great importance on politics, I lived through many arguments about the value of protest voting versus supporting an actual potential president. The conclusion that I reached is the one I am sticking to this year. Primaries are the times to support protest candidates, the time to express one’s ideals for what the president should be and do. In the general election, especially one where the differences between the candidates are as stark as they are this year, I vote for the best potential president available. By refusing to opt out of the process by protest voting, I believe I am letting the Democratic Party know that I must be counted, this year and in elections to come, as a likely voter. A Republican who wants to influence his or her party this way can vote for Trump if they believe he represents the direction the Party should go in, or he or she can let the Republican establishment know that things have gotten out of hand by voting for Hillary Clinton. The system we have is not going to be destroyed by the protest votes of perhaps 15% of the electorate, (a generous number). Instead, I believe, these voters are telling the two major parties that they can ignore their votes, and govern only for the ones who actually put and keep them in office. There is nothing ideological pure about this, and I hope for the chance to criticize President Hillary Clinton in this space starting next year. But I will not withhold my vote from her, given everything that is at stake.