Thursday, June 12, 2008

A campaign legacy of shame

I've been busy offline and finally caught up with a backlog of reading. The following piqued my interest.

Criticism of the deeply-entrenched sexism in America came from across the pond in Andrew Stephen's article, Hating Hillary, for the British New Statesman (via Judith Warner). Stephens opened with a candid assessment, one that I have pondered from a historical vantage. His essay of May 22 offers more to explore than the grafs I'm excerpting (with emphasis):

History, I suspect, will look back on the past six months as an example of America going through one of its collectively deranged episodes - rather like Prohibition from 1920-33, or McCarthyism some 30 years later. This time it is gloating, unshackled sexism of the ugliest kind. It has been shamelessly peddled by the US media, which - sooner rather than later, I fear - will have to account for their sins. The chief victim has been Senator Hillary Clinton, but the ramifications could be hugely harmful for America and the world.

I am no particular fan of Clinton. Nor, I think, would friends and colleagues accuse me of being racist. But it is quite inconceivable that any leading male presidential candidate would be treated with such hatred and scorn as Clinton has been...

...I will come to the reasons why I fear such unabashed misogyny in the US media could lead, ironically, to dreadful racial unrest. "All men are created equal," Thomas Jefferson famously proclaimed in 1776. That equality, though, was not extended to women, who did not even get the vote until 1920, two years after (some) British women. The US still has less gender equality in politics than Britain, too. Just 16 of America's 100 US senators are women and the ratio in the House (71 out of 435) is much the same. It is nonetheless pointless to argue whether sexism or racism is the greater evil: America has a peculiarly wicked record of racist subjugation, which has resulted in its racism being driven deep underground. It festers there, ready to explode again in some unpredictable way.

To compensate meantime, I suspect, sexism has been allowed to take its place as a form of discrimination that is now openly acceptable. "How do we beat the bitch?" a woman asked Senator John McCain, this year's Republican presidential nominee, at a Republican rally last November. To his shame, McCain did not rebuke the questioner but joined in the laughter. Had his supporter asked "How do we beat the nigger?" and McCain reacted in the same way, however, his presidential hopes would deservedly have gone up in smoke. "Iron my shirt," is considered amusing heckling of Clinton. "Shine my shoes," rightly, would be hideously unacceptable if yelled at Obama.

Evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, American men like to delude themselves that they are the most macho in the world. It is simply unthinkable, therefore, for most of them to face the prospect of having a woman as their leader.

I argued the last point in 2006 (Sophia aka Wisdom men take no offense as this is not directed at you):

What all the Hillary bashing boils down to is patriarchal resentment of powerful women. Primate brains just can't handle the presence of a modern woman treading upon the same sacred ground upon which the founding fathers once stood. The ingrained pattern to objectify the master's previously-held chattel manages to frog-leap DNA memory strands generation after generation despite women's liberation in the 20th century.

The exhibition of primate brain vs. modern woman closed with chest-thumping, triumphal grunts from the press corps and its allies in the 'sphere. Stephens:

The massed ranks of male pundits gleefully pronounced that Clinton had lost the battle with Obama immediately after the North Carolina and Indiana primaries, despite past precedents that strong second-place candidates (like Ronald Reagan in his first, ultimately unsuccessful campaign in 1976; like Ted Kennedy, Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson and Jerry Brown) continue their campaigns until the end of the primary season and, in most cases, all the way to the party convention.

None of these male candidates had a premature political obituary written in the way that Hillary Clinton's has been, or was subjected to such righteous outrage over refusing to quiesce and withdraw obediently from what, in this case, has always been a knife-edge race. Nor was any of them anything like as close to his rivals as Clinton now is to Obama.

The media, of course, are just reflecting America's would-be macho culture. I cannot think of any television network or major newspaper that is not guilty of blatant sexism - the British media, naturally, reflexively follow their American counterparts - but probably the worst offender is the NBC/MSNBC network, which has what one prominent Clinton activist describes as "its nightly horror shows". Tim Russert, the network's chief political sage, was dancing on Clinton's political grave before the votes in North Carolina and Indiana had even been fully counted - let alone those of the six contests to come, the undeclared super-delegates, or the disputed states of Florida and Michigan. . .The unashamed sexism of this giant network alone is stupendous...

...But never before have the US media taken it upon themselves to proclaim the victor before the primary contests [were] over or the choice of all the super-delegates [were] known, and the result was that the media's tidal wave of sexism became self-fulfilling: Americans like to back winners, and polls immediately showed dramatic surges of support for Obama.

The press corps persists in their stubborn, indignant denial of their sexist, misogynistic treatment of Hillary Clinton and women in general. See the WMC video for irrefutable evidence of the media's "sins." If media have been projecting American machismo attitudes toward women to which the Obamasphere marched in lockstep, then we have a lot of work to add more than 18 million cracks "to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling."

Stephens quoted studies of the bias against females in which "women are seen as ambitious and capable, or likeable - but rarely both."

Gender stereotypes trump race stereotypes in every social science test," says Alice Eagley, a psychology professor at Northwestern University. A distinguished academic undertaking a major study of coverage of the 2008 election, Professor Marion Just of Wellesley College - one of the "seven sisters" colleges founded because women were barred from the Ivy Leagues and which, coincidentally, Hillary Clinton herself attended - tells me that what is most striking to her is that the most repeated description of Senator Clinton is "cool and calculating".

This, she says, would never be said of a male candidate - because any politician making a serious bid for the White House has, by definition, to be cool and calculating.

Just as Stephens withheld no punches in identifying rampant sexism, he didn't hesitate to clarify the political instigator who introduced sexism and the race card:

Obama himself prepared the ground by making the first gratuitous personal attack of the campaign during the televised Congressional Black Caucus Institute debate in South Carolina on 21 January, although virtually every follower of the media coverage now assumes that it was Clinton who started the negative attacks. Following routine political sniping from her about supposedly admiring comments Obama had made about Ronald Reagan, Obama suddenly turned on Clinton and stared intimidatingly at her. "While I was working in the streets," he scolded her, ". . . you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board of Wal-Mart." Then, cleverly linking her inextricably in the public consciousness with her husband, he added: "I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes."

One of his female staff then distributed a confidential memo [contained in this post] to carefully selected journalists which alleged that a vaguely clumsy comment Hillary Clinton had made about Martin Luther King ("Dr King's dream began to be realised when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964") and a reference her husband had made in passing to Nelson Mandela ("I've been blessed in my life to know some of the greatest figures of the last hundred years . . . but if I had to pick one person whom I know would never blink, who would never turn back, who would make great decisions . . . I would pick Hillary") were deliberate racial taunts.

Another female staffer, Candice Tolliver - whose job it is to promote Obama to African Americans - then weighed in publicly, claiming that "a cross-section of voters are alarmed at the tenor of some of these statements" and saying: "Folks are beginning to wonder: Is this an isolated situation, or is there something bigger behind all of this?" That was game, set and match: the Clintons were racists, an impression sealed when Bill Clinton later compared Obama's victory in South Carolina to those of Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988 (even though Jackson himself, an Obama supporter, subsequently declared Clinton's remarks to be entirely inoffensive).

African-American congresswomen Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) as Clinton supporters both disputed Tolliver's spin as did Obama supporter Jesse Jackson:

"I don't read anything negative into Clinton's observation," Mr. Jackson said in a phone conversation late Sunday night from India...

...In his conversation with Mr. Obama on Saturday, Mr. Jackson said, "He told me what Bill had said. And I said to Barack, as a tactical matter, resist any temptation to come down to that level. There may be temptations, especially when the media keeps saying 'Barack is black,' and they never said 'Dukakis is white' or 'Hillary is white,'' he said, referring to Michael Dukakis, who won the Democratic nomination in 1988.

But, Mr. Jackson said, "Bill has done so much for race relations and inclusion, I would tend not to read a negative scenario into his comments." He said his chief concern was that Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton not "bloody themselves" so much that they can't unite against the Republicans in November.

So much for Jackson's counsel. Obama--replying to ABC News This Week George Stephanopoulos' question about Bill's comment--spurred the anti-Clinton momentum ever so subtly by stating, "I think people want change. I think they want to get beyond some of the racial politics that has been so dominant in the past." He didn't address directly Jesse Jackson's assessment, leaving unanswered the inference that Bill Clinton had utilized the decades-old tactic of racial politics. "Well, you know, I think that that's his frame of reference was the Jesse Jackson races. That's when, you know, he was active and involved and watching what was going to take place in South Carolina. I think that a lot of South Carolinians looked at it through a different lens," he said.

The candidate true to a promise of change and unity would have countered that, with all due respect to Jackson's presidential runs, he, unlike Jesse, had won Iowa, a watershed moment, and that he, like Jesse, didn't perceive malicious intention behind Bill Clinton's remarks. That would have been the high road, proof that his unity slogan isn't mere hype. But he left the question dangling, open to doubt, fostering mistrust of the Clinton campaign when he summed up, "No, I don't think they were trying to demonize me, but I do think that there is a certain brand of politics that we've become accustomed to, and that the Republican Party had perfected and was often directed against the Clintons, but that all of us had become complicit in, where we basically think anything is fair game." [transcript here]. This from a candidate who played good guy on camera and on stage while his staff circulated memos of the Clinton campaign's alleged "deliberate racial taunts" and later hawked Rupert Murdoch's trashy tabloid, the NYPost, with its article and Olbermann's diatribe imbuing Hillary's RFK assassination remark with diabolical meaning. Obama demonstrated "anything is fair game."

Unreliable witnesses in the press corps and the Obamasphere whipped themselves into a frenzy to label the Clintons as racists, a blatant lie, and "no more real than Al Gore’s claim that he invented the Internet." They unleashed a barrage of false accusations against Hillary Clinton, her hemming and hawing about whether Obama was a Muslim to exacerbate resentment toward her, conjuring a Nixonian specter of "Clinton Dirty Tricks."

Stephens described the resulting fallout of a dirty trick smearing Hillary and a sexist ploy joining the Mrs. to her Mr. in the "amorphous creature called 'the Clintons', an aphorism that stands for amorality and sleaze." When I spy a reference to the Clintons, I earmark the writer, blogger, or speaker as potentially one who might as comfortably misname the Democrat Party, a political epithet. Shame on fauxgressives who carried water for the Republican talking point bureau against the Clintons by imitating Andrew Sullivan's dubious Clinton shtick.

Those of us who weren't willingly deluded and/or avid readers of The Daily Howler knew who sent the dogs out of which Stephens surmised were Obama-Axelrod objectives:

The pincer movement, in fact, could have come straight from a textbook on how to wreck a woman's presidential election campaign: smear her whole persona first, and then link her with her angry, red-faced husband. The public Obama, characteristically, pronounced himself "unhappy" with the vilification carried out so methodically by his staff, but it worked like magic: Hillary Clinton's approval ratings among African Americans plummeted from above 80 per cent to barely 7 per cent in a matter of days, and have hovered there since.

I suspect that, as a result, she will never be able entirely to shake off the "racist" tag. "African-American super-delegates [who were supporting Clinton were] being targeted, harassed and threatened," says one of them, Representative Emanuel Cleaver. "This is the politics of the 1950s." Obama and Axelrod have achieved their objectives: to belittle Hillary Clinton and to manoeuvre the ever-pliant media into depicting every political criticism she makes against Obama as racist in intent.

Have I mentioned that I consider Obama's campaign the most underhanded, lowdown political operation on the Democratic side that I have ever had the misfortune of witnessing? Yup. He is a Democratic presidential nominee? Wow! Why isn't the party ashamed of itself for blessing this conniving, macho-pandering, two-faced, sexist, calloused, race-baiting, snake-oil selling politician? I would add other adjectives but I'm attempting to keep it clean. And millions have fallen for Obama's manipulative BS. Well, I guess it was the Democrats' turn to swoon for their faux version of "a uniter, not a divider."

I wonder how much time will pass before the SCLB realizes its error. Did I just make a funny? They will compulsively preoccupy themselves with attacking John McCain and then defending Barack against the evil Republicans and the noise machine and they will proceed ignoring their failure to document the atrocities. Kevin Drum responded to my Hillary's unreliable witnesses post in comments for criticizing bloggers like him who jumped on the right-wing Drudge bandwagon to "wrongly [finger] the Clinton camp for the photo of Obama in a turban and Somali garb." To my thinking, Drum's excuses didn't absolve his "lapse in judgment." He should have known better from the start. Matt Drudge! GIGO.

I highly doubt the Blog Boyz will admit their mistake of backing the wrong candidate if Obama loses or when his presidency reveals that he's mostly an orator of spiel, not an executive. Stephens:

The danger is that, in their headlong rush to stop the first major female candidate (aka "Hildebeast" and "Hitlery") from becoming president, the punditocracy may have landed the Democrats with perhaps the least qualified presidential nominee ever. But that creeping realisation has probably come too late, and many of the Democratic super-delegates now fear there would be widespread outrage and increased racial tension if they thwart the first biracial presidential hopeful in US history.

But will Obama live up to the hype? That, I fear, may not happen: he is a deeply flawed candidate. Rampant sexism may have triumphed only to make way for racism to rear its gruesome head in America yet again. By election day on 4 November, I suspect, the US media and their would-be-macho commentators may have a lot of soul-searching to do.

I'm not as hopeful as Stephens about media's "soul-searching" examination. They savaged Bill and Hillary in the 1990s only to return unrepentantly to lambaste the Clinton's campaign by using misogyny, sexism, and the faux race card as political weapons.

I have the same sinking feeling in my gut as I did in the spring of 2000. Bad times ahead whether McCain or Obama wins in November, a tragedy of the missed opportunity of President Hillary Clinton lost by a campaign legacy of shameful sexism and race-baiting.

CREDITS: Time and New York Post covers from Mark Pasetsky's Cover Awards, The New Republic cover from Voices in their heads, and Chris Matthews Hardball graphic from The aria of Tweety.