Sunday, August 31, 2008

What Republicans Really Think About Women

Often times, when Democrats run a candidate for office who is not a White male, Republicans unleash with a familiar refrain. "He's an affirmative action candidate", to Barack Obama. "She only got there because of her husband", to Hillary Clinton. And when these candidates do well, it's not evidence of any merit on their part, or that voters critically evaluated them and decided they were best for the job. It's because of "identity politics": Blacks mindlessly voting for Blacks, women mindlessly voting for women.

I always kind of assumed that this was an argument made in bad faith. But the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin to be McCain's VP candidate made me realize that conservatives really do seem to believe it. They really do seem to think that the only thing one has to do to appeal to women is to put a female candidate on the ticket. The idea that women might be critically evaluating the positions of their choices and voting for the person who best matches up to their interests seemed utterly foreign to them. We saw the same thing with Michael Steele and Alan Keyes -- Republicans ran them both for Senate, and were really perplexed when Black voters didn't show the slightest inclination to bite. The idea that Black people are, just like everybody else, analyzing their preferences and selecting the best candidate for their interests regardless of color seemed to escape them, then and now.

And so we get Gov. Palin, whose putative appeal to women seems to lie solely in the fact that she's a woman. Policy-wise, her rabidly pro-life outlook is a poor match for most women. The fact that she laughed when a female political opponent was called a bitch, appointed a sexual harasser to succeed the civil servant she fired in trooper gate, and that her supporters booed her latest reach out attempt to Hillary Clinton isn't going to help. I've yet to hear a single policy position she's taken that is supposed to give her a comparative advantage with the female vote compared to Obama/Biden. In terms of appealing to women, there is absolutely nothing there beyond biology, which leads one to the inevitable conclusion that Republicans think that's a sufficient credential.

My mother, who was a Clinton supporter, called her selection an insult to her intelligence, and other former Clinton fans seem to agree. Indeed, Palin polls significantly worse with women compared to men -- with a statistical dead heat between those who say it makes them more and less likely to vote for McCain (actually, 1% more say they'd be less likely to vote for him, but that's in the margin of error). As Ta-Nehisi Coates says, part of that has to be chalked up to the "insult" factor, more than anything else. Women aren't going to respond well to a selection that screams "we think you're morons who will vote for anyone with breasts."

At the end of the day, the choice comes off as patronizing more than anything else. Republicans bungled this choice badly, and they did because they believed their own identity politics rhetoric. Running women isn't enough to get women to vote for you. For women, like men; for Blacks, like Whites; it's fundamentally the policies, the record, the experiences, the background, the intellect -- all the things we expect voters to look at -- that count.


Huma Shah said...

Agree with you, that it is not the gender of a candidate but what the candidate has to offer that is important in any elections.

Sweating Through fog said...

"In terms of appealing to women, there is absolutely nothing there beyond biology, which leads one to the inevitable conclusion that Republicans think that's a sufficient credential."

McCain isn't going for the disgruntled Hillary supporters, because the feminists among them would never vote for a Republican anyway. He is trying for a far larger demographic: women with kids who don't hate their husbands, and who realize that if they have any economic security at all, it will be taken away by Obama and Biden to pay for unmarried women with kids.

If you are a happily married women with kids and health insurance, what do Obama and Biden have to offer you? Higher taxes? Restraining orders? Taxpayer funded abortion clinics? Gay marriage?

And experience? Please. Palin won her office on her own merits, in contrast to Hillary who won it as a gift from her husband. Some feminist!

PG said...

Bill Clinton can just give totally unqualified people high political office? It's odd he couldn't give the presidency to Al Gore, who being male (and white!) obviously must have been more qualified for it than Mrs. Clinton for the NY Senate seat.

women with kids who don't hate their husbands, and who realize that if they have any economic security at all, it will be taken away by Obama and Biden to pay for unmarried women with kids.

Gov. Palin's stepmother-in-law would appear to be a woman with kids who doesn't hate her husband -- at least, not enough to have divorced him -- and yet even she hasn't decided in favor of the McCain-Palin ticket, apparently because she disagrees with the Republicans on whether abortion should be prohibited.

But hey, why bother looking at real people when there are fantastic generalizations to make? Can we throw in something about the Cadillacs those welfare sluts drive?

Anonymous said...

Gov. Palin offers a Western-style conservatism which is very appealing to those of us with Western sensibilities.

If you had already made up your mind about whom you were voting for based on the top of the ticket, then Gov. Palin will not influence your choice. However, I think she does nothing to undercut Sen. McCain's strengths, while Sen. Biden does undercut Sen. Obama's.

Jake Liscow said...

Rovian strategy continues to upset and depress me.

PG said...

I thought Western-style conservatism was supposed to be more libertarian than the standard Republican -- small-government, keep-government-out-of-our-lives type conservatism. Palin increased taxes on the oil industry, is an abortion prohibitionist and despite having smoked marijuana herself thinks it should be illegal. When did Western conservatism get taken over by the Southern Baptist Conference?

Sweating Through fog said...

"Bill Clinton can just give totally unqualified people high political office? It's odd he couldn't give the presidency to Al Gore, who being male (and white!) obviously must have been more qualified for it than Mrs. Clinton for the NY Senate seat."

Sure - pick a solidly Democratic state, and point your political machine at it. After all that's how Ted Kennedy got elected. You don't even have to be President to do this - look up Laurleen Wallace.

Even with all the advantages of name recognition, money, and the ability to promise - and deliver - criminal pardons, Hillary ran behind the national Democratic ticket in 2000, demonstrating 8 years before this last election how little she's ever learned from the (then) 27 years of "experience." After all, it had been decades since she had a paying job. For some reason, she thought being in her husband's political circle made her qualified for something.

"But hey, why bother looking at real people when there are fantastic generalizations to make?"

At least I know when I'm making generalizations. For some reason you seem to believe that women only care about abortion, and that those who feel strongly about it naturally take Democratic extremist side. There are millions of women out there who don't exist as far as the Democratic party is concerned.

PG said...


As you should know if your Blogger profile that says you're from NYC is accurate, New York is only "solidly Democratic" at a national level, i.e. for presidential elections. Republican Pataki won every gubernatorial election in which he ran, and was governor for 12 years, including the period during which Clinton ran both of her NY Senate campaigns. Schumer's seat, won in 1998 when Republicans were coming into disrepute for sidetracking the country in order to look at semen stains, was held for three terms by Republican D'Amato. Moreover, when the Republicans put up a plausible candidate like Giuliani against Clinton, the race was a tossup. Speaking of Giuliani, again as a New Yorker you must be aware that NYC and the downstate area are the most liberal parts of the state, yet Giuliani and his Republican successor Bloomberg could win the mayoralty repeatedly and easily. The Republican label isn't poison in NY.

After all, it had been decades since she had a paying job.

FYI, a single decade is 10 years. Mrs. Clinton made $203,172 as a partner at Rose Law Firm in 1992, her last year practicing there. Putting a little more high-level math into the discussion:
2000 - 1992 = 8 years since Clinton left her job.
8 years < 10 years (1 decade).

I realize that by the Republican standard of $5 million as "middle class," $203k ain't much, but it still qualifies as a "paying job" to most people. Or is that because she was Bill Clinton's wife, her partnership at Rose Law Firm is as meaningless as you believe her Senate seat to be?

You know, she met Bill back at law school; perhaps we should question whether the little lady really earned that Yale JD, or if it too was all the magic of Bill. And then she authored "Children Under the Law," which became a significant work in the area of children's rights, but how could we attribute that to her own abilities when there was a man standing beside her?

I don't think most women vote solely on the abortion issue, or else they wouldn't have supported George W. Bush for the presidency. Your statement that I "seem to believe that women only care about abortion" is yet another strawman that doesn't even attempt to find a source for the claim. Again, why bother doing research when there are gross generalizations to be made? Actually looking at what I've written for years about abortion would force you to realize that liberals are well aware that some women are abortion prohibitionists. But the reality that one's opponents have such knowledge is so much less fun than the fantasy that they are all ever so stupid and ignorant.

I do, however, think that egregious disrespect for women's abilities is a good way to lose their votes. I look forward to Gov. Palin's explanation of why she supports McCain in his opposition to the Lily Ledbetter Act, which would help women enforce their right to equal pay for equal work.

Sweating Through fog said...

I don't count being a partner in a law firm when your husband is the governor as a paying job. Yes, I believe that partnership is meaningless.

She went to Yale? She wrote a book? Accomplishment noted, but these are not a demonstration you are fit for high office. Winning a high elected office - on your own merits - is an accomplishment of a different order. Kudos to Obama, Biden, McCain and Palin for doing that. Maybe someday Hillary will.

Yes, liberals are well aware that some women are abortion prohibitionists, and that many women support some restrictions on abortion. Such women are especially hated by pro-abortion extremists.

PG said...

I don't count being a partner in a law firm when your husband is the governor as a paying job. Yes, I believe that partnership is meaningless.

Interesting. Does this extend to your spouse being a Supreme Court justice? (Thus invalidating the paying jobs allegedly held by Mrs. Jane Roberts at Pillsbury and Mr. Martin Ginsburg at Fried Frank, although perhaps Ginsburg's accomplishment is real because he is merely of-counsel.) Does it extend to children too? (Eugene Scalia sure looked like a real partner at GDC-DC.)

I guess you don't count parental influence, since you perceive McCain as having succeeded in Arizona purely on his own merits without any help from his father-in-law.

I just never had heard before that if you are a partner at a law firm while your spouse has a high government office, it's not a real partnership. I shall have to tell my husband that he can't run for any government office until I've decided against partnership track at my firm. It is really annoying because as Mrs. Clinton was while her husband was in Arkansas government work, I would be the higher earner and supporting the family during my husband's public service. And it would be nice to have a relatively sensible and intelligent Republican like him in politics, but I suppose too many such make the mistake of marrying women who want to have their own accomplishments.

Sweating Through fog said...

"I just never a partner had heard before that if you are a partner at a law firm while your spouse has a high government office, it's not a real partnership."

No - quite the contrary. Becoming a partner when your husband is governor is a sign you have great tenacity, intelligence and acumen, and hence you deserve consideration for high government office. After all, it is much harder to bring business to your law firm when your husband is governor of the state. Law firms are well known for their reticence about using personal connections to garner business. The fact that Hillary was able to overcome that, and still rise up into the august inner circle of the Rose Law Firm shows the true mettle of this extraordinary woman.

And McCain? No doubt his influential family members were right there, using their influence to calm the winds and still the waters so their namesake could successfully land fighter jets on aircraft carriers. That job is well known as a safe, easy refuge for untalented family members, where there is little chance of damaging the family name. I'm sure the McCain name - well known in Hanoi at the time - was the reason for his "country club" conditions. That's why, once he married the right person, he went right for the Senate, rather than serve a few terms in the House like those naive, unconnected neophytes who think politics means relating to voters.

PG said...

Once again, StF fails to address the substance of a reply to his comment. According to his views, when a politician's spouse becomes partner at a law firm, it can't due to her own abilities, despite having been Congressional legal counsel prior to being chosen as partner, and subsequently listed by the National Law Journal as one of the one hundred most influential lawyers in America.

(Note: merely having a spouse in high government office doesn't get you on this list; Ray Hutchison and Diane Patrick, also law firm partners, don't seem to have received that honor. And Diane Patrick is black, which means that due to the existence of affirmative action, Republicans can't believe she ever accomplished anything even if her husband weren't a politician. I guess only Clinton's meaningless partnership, despite being at a less well known firm than V&E or R&G, qualified her.)

McCain's father and grandfather were admirals, so I'm guessing it wasn't his future (then unknown) in-laws who would have had influence over his selection for and retention at the Naval Academy.

Sweating Through fog said...

I didn't say it wasn't due to her abilities. I'm saying that the fact that she achieved it when her husband is governor is unimpressive.

This thread started when I said that as of 2000 she hadn't had a real job in decades. You felt that her 8 year old partnership qualified as a job. I disagree, because while technically a job in terms of producing an income, I don't see it as a job measuring her, and only her, abilities. The fact that she was the wife of a governor makes that issue uncertain at the very least. I am skeptical, you are impressed.

Her position as Congressional council was truly a measure of her abilities - a 30 year old one. Big deal.

Getting your name in a book about influential lawyers? Not really a job. Hardly an objective measure of ability. Hardly a qualification for Senate. Nobody could get to the Senate on the basis of being a law firm partner and being in that book alone.

Using McCain's father-in-law as equivalent to the sponsorship pf your husband, the President is ridiculous, since the job he held required pretty demanding standards that few men can meet. Either you can land on a carrier or you can't.

And I can just see McCain's prospective father-in-law's disappointment over his slim resume:

"Jeez, is this the best you can do, Cindy?"

"Dad - he's a fighter pilot."

"What the hell are the voters supposed to make of that?" (pulling down his copy of the 100 Most Influential Lawyers from his shelf)

"He spent years as a POW"

"Has he made partner yet?"


"Voters want lawyers. I mean what am I supposed to to with this - what's his name? - McCain?"

"He isn't a lawyer, Dad But he comes from a military family. Real patriotic. The guys love him..."

"Let me tell you about voters. They can spot a phoney - they know how easy it is for some family to get their kids seen as war heroes. I mean look at the strings the Kennedy family pulled to get Joe Jr's guts splattered all over the English channel. And the way they got that Jap destroyer to cut Jack's PT boat in half. Voters see right through that Hollywood PR stuff."

"But everybody respects him."

"Listen, if he was in this book, or at least a partner somewhere, I can get him in the Senate. No problemo - voters know this book separates the wheat from the chaff. But a so-called war hero? The media doesn't care about these silly war stories. They're sharks, they want meat - they want treatises, motions, appeals... without that he isn't even qualified for the House. I mean maybe I can pull a few strings..."

"Oh, Dad..."

"Listen, if you insist on marrying this mediocrity, maybe, just maybe I can set him up in the House. It isn't easy. I mean Joe Kennedy wanted the Senate for Jack, but even Joe knew that's too much for a war hero. A fighter squadron commander? Didn't you say he got blown out of his plane? He wouldn't last 5 minutes in the Senate cloakroom!"

"Yeah, but Dad, but when he tells these stories, the voters hang on every word..."

"Yeah but wait till they find out he doesn't have a law degree! Even if I can get him in the House, I'll be goddammned if I lift a finger to get him out of there. Let him sit there till he gets his JD. Let him sit there till he gets his name somewhere in a book like this - something that shows me he's got game. I'm not going through the embarrassment of a Senate run, and risk my daughter's reputation on some pretty boy in a fancy uniform"

PG said...

You said that Clinton had not held a paying job in "decades" at the time of her 2000 Senate run. Your basis for this, when I pointed out that she was a partner at Rose Law Firm until 1992, was that holding a partnership when your husband is the governor is not a real paying job. You provide no substantive basis for saying that Clinton MUST have been unqualified for the partnership; when I point out her Ivy League law degree, experience as an attorney prior to marrying Bill, and the acclaim of her peers for her legal abilities, you simply say that because her husband was governor, she couldn't have been qualified. When I ask if all the other people who are law firm partners while their family members hold high office also must be unqualified for their positions, you refuse to answer. This appears to be precisely the kind of rule lawyers try to avoid: the one that applies only in a single case. (It is of course the type quite popular with Republicans; see Terri Schiavo and the massive lack of interest in actually reforming laws on decision making for incapacitated patients so that they would apply to everyone.)

You want to base McCain's qualification for political office on his ability to successfully fly and land planes? From what I understand, the planes he was flying crashed twice and once collided with power lines. If I were making the case for McCain, I'd stick with his fortitude in the face of torture, and stick to Character generally rather than proven abilities to be superior at doing anything specifically.

Sweating Through fog said...


I did acknowledge her work as a congressional attorney. I acknowledged her Ivy League degree. I said they don't impress me as qualifications for high office.

"You want to base McCain's qualification for political office on his ability to successfully fly and land planes? From what I understand, the planes he was flying crashed twice... "

First of all I am not making any case for McCain. Second, I don't think I'm out in left field in my view that a good measure of qualification for office is your performance and voter satisfaction with your work in lower offices. The general track is starting with a small constituency and moving up. McCain started in Congress, and worked his way up to Senate. Obama started in the legislature and moved up. Skill in retail politics at some level is a usually seen as a possible qualification for higher level. Hillary thought she was better than that, more skilled than that. Why I don't know - perhaps she believed the acclaim of her husband's peers. But as former President Patriarchy's influence waned and even turned into a liability, she had only the most limited and narrow skills to fall back on when the nomination that every pundit thought was hers for the taking slipped away.

Trust me - even now she thinks it's all Bill's fault. It isn't - Bill is the politician, not her.

So McCain's skills as a fighter pilot vs. Hillary's partnership? Please. McCain was skilled at something tangible and measurable, where a failure sometimes means death. Influence and clout means little in a job like that, unlike making partner when your husband runs the state. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought a lawyer's ability to bring business to the firm is the main factor in considering someone for partner? I mean, are people and businesses with legal problems hesitent to employ the governor's wife's firm as their advocate? Maybe I'm naive, but I always supposed that your Rolodex, not your diploma, was the real ticket to the corner office. Of course most lawyers build that Rolodex on their own over the years, but I bet most lawyers never get the governor's private number.

The proper comparison - comparing measurable, somewhat objective accomplishments for Hillary vs. McCain is McCain as a fighter pilot vs. passing the bar exam. I'm more impressed with what McCain did.

So in my view, her partnership as a measure of her ability to do a job and earn its salary on her own merits - not her husband's - is suspect. You suppose that writing a book, and being an influential lawyer mean she is accomplished enough to win high office? Does legwork, being accountable to a constituency and navigating issues of public concern mean nothing? Even a talented politician like Obama was wise enough to labor in the minor leagues before he tried for the Senate. Even though he wrote a book. And had an Ivy League degree. That's why he won ans she lost.

David Schraub said...

This is inane. First of all, it's aggravating to me that we're using Senator Clinton's past qualifications for Senate as a proxy for her governmental talent, rather than, you know, her performance as a Senator. We don't need a proxy, we have the data right in front of us! And by all accounts, Senator Clinton was known as a stellar legislator, with a great work ethic who garnered bipartisan praise for her knowledge and desire to know all the facts. Had Senator Clinton been an appalling failure as a Senator, then maybe we could wonder whether she got the job due to Bubba. But seeing as that didn't happen, this is ridiculous.

Likewise, with Senator McCain I don't need to wonder whether he was a good, bad, or average pilot to measure whether he'll be good in governmental office. I have his Senate record in front of me. The instinct to ignore actual performance in favor of sniping about whether one "really earned" their law spot 18 years ago is the product of small politics and even smaller minds.

Second, you're shifting grounds. You don't need to acknowledge her Ivy degree, Congressional staffing experience, or book as a qualification for becoming President. But you're going further than that and saying its immaterial to her qualifications as a law partner either. Basically, nothing Hillary Clinton does counts for anything. It's all meaningless -- she exists in a nihilistic void where all is sucked up by Bill. Sexist much? I think so.

Third, even insofar as I grant that Clinton is not the strongest retail politician, that doesn't bother me that much, and I hardly think it's a question of arrogance as you say. At worst, Clinton had the temerity to think that she could win based on the fact that she's a Grade-A policy wonk, and that knowing policy is the most important thing for a President. This frankly idiotic "populism" that demands we dumb down our politicians so they show they have the "common touch" is a pox on the country. If Clinton's failing is that she's not as much a fan of drinking peers with the fellas as some politicians, I'm not faulting her as much as I am the faux-populist condescending elites who say its important. In my view, Clinton's downfall was first and foremost, that she voted for the Iraq War (otherwise she coasts to the nomination), and then after that, that she faced someone who was roughly her policy equal but is one of the most talented and inspiring politicians (without, importantly, casting his primary qualification as getting drunk at bar) we've seen in generations. Losing to Obama is no shame on Clinton.