Project Wonderful

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Let's Have a Little Chat About Identity Politics

A lot of (mostly male, mostly older, exclusively white) people have accused me of engaging in identity politics lately. First of all, like "liberal," "Feminist," and "sorority girl" the accusation that I am aware of the interplay of power and identity in our political system is one that is intended as provocative or pejorative but that I am proud to own. Second, the term "identity politics" refers to a broad range of movements from social to cultural to political, a very small slice of which is referenced by the fact that I am supporting a woman for President. So let's talk about that.

When it comes to women's political representation (or that of any marginalized group), we generally consider the topic in two ways: descriptive and substantive. Descriptive representation refers to the number of women in elected office. When people accuse me of "identity politics" or voting for Hillary "just because she's a woman" they are really accusing me of disproportionately valuing descriptive representation. Descriptive representation is important because women carry a different set of life experiences and perspectives than men do. American women have faced social, economic and physical oppression for decades and there is value in electing leaders who cannot just sympathize, but empathize. When we are talking about deliberative bodies, studies have shown that diversity of opinion leads to a better outcome. And I needn't explain to you the importance of having a woman in the room when we debate issues like abortion access and equal pay. For more on the merits of descriptive representation, click here. In general, I believe that being a member of any marginalized group brings with it an understanding of the nature of power and privilege that the vast majority of our traditionally cis straight white male politicians (ahem, Bernie Sanders) are without. Of course, descriptive representation is not without its limitations. Identity does not exist in a silo and one size does not fit all. If that were the case I would be equally jazzed about Carly Fiorina's candidacy as Hillary Clinton's.

Substantive representation refers to politicians advocating on behalf of women. Representative and substantive often coincide but not always. A male politician can fight for access to birth control, stronger protections for victims of domestic violence (shout out to Joe Biden), or paid parental leave. Based on their actions and statements so far, Hillary Clinton blows Bernie Sanders out of the water in this category as well. As legislators, they voted pretty much the same, but as executives it is clear to me that Hillary will be a fiercer advocate for and more likely to prioritize women's equality. Substantive AND descriptive.

I hope that helps provide a vocabulary so that we can more accurately discuss the role that a candidate's race, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, etc plays in his or her candidacy.

One final point: the vast majority of elections in this country have consisted primarily of white men voting for white men and that was no coincidence. Before you claim that you don't participate in identity politics, consider that you probably already have and white men are so the default for elected leadership that you haven't even realized it.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Dude With No Money and No Endorsements Wins Mississippi Gubernatorial Primary

From the Clarion-Ledger:

State Democratic Party leaders and politicos on Wednesday were still trying to figure out what the !@#$ happened Tuesday night, when an unknown candidate with no financial or political backing won the party’s nomination for governor, handily dousing the assumed frontrunner.

They’re also wondering what it means for the party — already flagging as the state turns more red — in the long term and for down-ticket candidates this year in the short term.

“I’m calling every political consultant, anthropologist and witch doctor in the Southeast to help me understand what happened yesterday,” said Brandon Jones, director of the Mississippi Democratic Trust. “… Anybody who offers a clear-cut formula for yesterday is probably a little ahead of their skis right now.”

Political science professor and longtime observer of state politics Marty Wiseman said, “It’s the freakiest thing I’ve ever seen. … It’s a low point for the Democratic Party, which doesn’t need any more low points. You’d like to think it’s a perfectly pulled off conspiracy by the Republicans, but that’s too far a stretch.”

Terry truck driver and first-time candidate Robert Gray, who goes by “Silent Knight” as his CB handle, carried 79 of 82 counties in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. He pulled more than 147,000 votes, or 51 percent, to presumed frontrunner Vicki Slater’s 87,000 votes, or 30 percent, in a three-way race.

Slater, a politically active attorney, raised more than $235,000 for her campaign and pumped in thousands of her own money. Gray raised and spent zero. He bought no advertising. No yard signs. He made only a couple of public appearances. His own family didn’t know he was running, and he didn’t vote for himself.

Let me get the obvious joke out of the way and point out that Gray won having purchased no yard signs. It probably did not help Vicki Slater that the other woman in the race had a similarish name (Valerie Short) nor that Gray's name was listed first. Nor did it help that no one is expecting a Democrat to win the general election, although Slater was the best candidate they've had in years. From that perspective, this is a real shame. The Mississippi Democratic Party is never going to be able to improve its standing without some real national investment.

“You hear people talk about low-information voters or elections,” Cole [Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman] said. “I think this may have been one of those.”

Oh Mississippi Democratic Party, bless your hearts.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Republicans make asses out of themselves in order to qualify to make asses of themselves

I don't know how you're reading my blog if you don't know, but the Republican debate is tonight. Because only the top 10 candidates make it to the "big kids table" the candidates did some pretty goofy things to boost their name recognition and pander to the their base. Donald Trump was Donald Trump.

Ted Cruz did this:

and Rand Paul did this:

So now you get to do this: First Republican debate drinking game.

Happy Watching!


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Donald Trump Insult Generator

Let's be clear. Donald Trump is not running for President. Donald Trump is running for World's Most Confrontational Circus Clown. That said, I consider it a testament to my personal branding that as soon as this Donald Trump Insult Generator went viral, I got a flood of Facebook messages. I'm hesitant to blog about his many ridiculous exploits 1) because it perpetuates an air of legitimacy and 2) because there are too damn many to keep up with, but when there is humor in elections there I am.

I don't know who this Nancy Leeds is, but he should be ashamed of himself.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Laws That Prohibit ONE IN EVERY 13 BLACK AMERICANS from voting

Earlier this week, President Obama became the first US President to visit a federal prison (really? yes) and also made a very important comment in a speech to the NAACP's 2015 National Convention, “If folks have served their time, and they’ve re-entered society, they should be able to vote.”

From Vox: 5.8 million Americans weren't legally allowed to vote due to their criminal records in 2012, according to data analyzed by the Sentencing Project. Several states prohibited 6 to 11 percent of their electorate from voting. And since black Americans are likelier to go to prison, this had a disproportionate impact on the African-American electorate: While the overall disenfranchisement rate didn't break 11 percent for any state, the black disenfranchisement rate topped 20 percent in Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia.

The link between the systematic disenfranchisement and systematic incarceration of black people is real and harrowing. It is not an accident and it is not a coincidence. It is not that far a leap from other measures that have been used to reach the same ends. Breaking the link won't cure a racist system, but it is an important step. Watch for this issue moving forward and ask your candidates about it in 2016. I'm going to leave you with a quote from President Obama's NAACP speech.

“Today I’ve been talking about the criminal justice system, but we have to recognize that it’s not something that we can view in isolation. Any system that allows us to turn a blind eye to hopelessness and despair—that’s not a justice system. It’s an injustice system. But that’s an extension and a reflection of some broader decisions that we’re making as a society. And that has to change.”

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Also, Don't Be Sexist To Republicans

In the video above, Republican Presidential Carly Fiorina helps illustrate common instances of sexism in the workplace. As many comments have pointed out, Fiorina might better serve women by supporting pro-woman policies than making BuzzFeed videos, but that doesn't make the examples in the video any less real or relevant.

In fact, I came across the BuzzFeed video when I did a Google Search on Carly Fiorina to make sure she was still in the Presidential race. I had just read this article about human dumpster fire Donald Trump saying John McCain is not a war hero because he was a POW (wow) and noticed that it included a reaction from every GOP Presidential hopeful besides Fiorina. (I hate you, Politico.) Carly Fiorina, I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it without facing sexism. Why? See the below comment on the BuzzFeed video.

Look you know I'm supporting Hillary, and also that I would vote for Bernie Sanders over Carly Fiorina (or any Republican) in a heartbeat (and also that men can and should be vocal Feminists), but "We don't need a female Presidential candidate to be a role model for women in the workplace because we need men to do it" is about the worst argument I have ever heard and sort belies its own point. And speaking of points, here is mine: sexism in politics hurts everyone even when it's aimed at our opposition and it is never okay.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

I'm Voting for Hillary Because She's A Woman.

As an organizer for John Edwards in 2008, identity politics was not my friend. In particular, I was routinely frustrated by women's insistence on caucusing for Hillary Clinton (and challenging my choice to support of Edwards) despite the fact that I felt Edwards had been and would be a greater champion for women. Eight years later, with a Master's Certificate in Gender and Public Policy, I can see how wrong I was.

When people accuse me of supporting Hillary Clinton because she's a woman it's often meant pejoratively, the implication being that my reason is shallow, ill-considered or frivolous. Having spent the past 10 years both as a woman in politics and studying women in politics, I can promise you it is anything but. Yes, I support Hillary because she is a woman and frankly I think you should too.

Before you ask, that does NOT mean I would would vote for Carly Fiorina or Michelle Bachmann. The truth is that the Republican Party by and large does not support the rights of women. I have no intention of supporting politicians who do not support me, my rights, or those of others. In a paper I wrote in graduate school in 2012, I found that states with legislatures holding Democratic majorities favored maternity and childcare policies that supported working women while legislatures holding Republican majorities did not, irrespective of the percent of women legislators. Yet, research has reliably shown that female legislators are more likely to prioritize issues that impact women than are their male counterparts. One could theorize that Republican women could do as much or more than Republican men to jeopardize the rights of women, depending on the policy.

In the interest of full disclosure I will share that neither did I support a run by Elizabeth Warren. I am huge fan of Senator Warren, but setting aside the fact that she publicly declared that she was not interested in running, I did and do not believe her to be a viable Presidential candidate in the 2016 general election. I also believe the presence of two women in this year's Democratic primary fight would diminish the chances of either securing the nomination.

I think it's fair to assume that most readers of this blog will support the Democratic nominee for President no matter who s/he is. Whether your first choice or your last it's a good bet that whoever the Democrats choose as our standard bearer will represent your interests better than whomever is chosen by the Republicans. Yet when I wake up in the morning even before I am conscious that I am a Democrat, I am a woman. So why is it so much easier to accept me as a Yellow Dog Democrat than a Pink one?

Perhaps the fact that we have never had a woman President is the best argument as to why we need one. It is no coincidence that there is a staggering political ambition gap between men and women. In order to want to run for office and eventually ascend to the highest office in the land, women need to see role models who remind them of themselves. What does it look like for a woman to be President? Asking why so few women aspire to run for office or are recruited to run for office is like asking why so few women aspire to colonize Mars. Without a rubric or precedent or role models, why would it even occur to them? It's vicious cycle to be sure, but if women's political ambition is the egg, Hillary is the proverbial chicken cracking the eggshell/glass ceiling.

Until we have had more female chief executives, there will be little reliable research on their character as a group. However, we do know that as legislators women are more likely than men to address long under-prioritized issues that impact women, including reproductive justice, breast cancer research, equal pay, and military rape to name a few. It is worth noting that Hillary Clinton specifically mentions paid family leave and equal pay on the issues page of her website, whereas Bernie Sanders does not. Considering the amount of time I spend worrying about soft sexism and violence against women, I want a President who gets it.

Women legislators are more likely to reach across the aisle, more responsive to constituent requests, and more likely to sponsor legislation. It is easy to conclude that a female chief executive would be similarly effective. Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto and Indira Gandhi, for example are among their respective countries' most memorable and transformative Prime Ministers. Of course what is true is of women in general is not necessarily true of one woman in particular, but as clicking on the links above will help demonstrate, Hillary Clinton is far from the exception to these rules.

Apart from her gender, Clinton is exceptionally qualified. She is a Yale educated lawyer and children's advocate. Yes, she was first lady of the United States, (a position of diplomatic and political import, especially the way she held it, that should not be trivialized and discounted), but she is also an effective and accomplished former US Senator and Secretary of State. Given the extra scrutiny applied to women in the public eye, Clinton's biography is doubly impressive. Her resilience in the face of public inquiry into her marriage, media sexism during her 2008 Presidential campaign, and decades of partisan witch hunts prove not only her viability, but a strength of character that is extremely desirable in a Commander in Chief.

If you remain unconvinced to support Hillary Clinton for President in 2016, that is your right. But at very least I demand that you accept the validity of my choice and reasons for supporting her. For the overwhelming bulk of our country's history women were barred, on the basis of our gender, from becoming President either explicitly or implicitly. Consider my insistence on supporting the first viable woman for the office (who also happens to be the most qualified) a minor attempt to level the playing field.