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Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Least Valid Reason To Vote?

Strange things to do with gender are afoot in this election.  The blatant misogyny coming from the front-runner on the Republican side is contrasted with a debate among Democrats over whether or not women should vote with their vaginas.  It's the "vagina voter" issue that is most curious to me.

It started, I guess, when Susan Sarandon said she felt like women were shaming her for not supporting a woman.  She responded by saying she did not vote "with her vagina."  True, some have suggested that a vote against Hillary is a vote against women.  Susan Sarandon thought they were saying that you should vote for Hillary just because she's a woman. That doesn't seem like the right way to look at it, though.  It's not a question of whether or not Hillary should be supported just because she's a woman.  It's a question of whether or not support for Hillary is support for women.  It's a question of whether or not Hillary represents women.  And looked at that way, the question of "vagina voting" is a lot more complicated.

Some say Bernie Sanders is more of a feminist than Hillary, and that he represents women's interests better than Hillary does.  That is debatable, but Hillary has a distinguished record of standing up for women's rights all over the world.  She has earned the support of feminist leaders and institutions devoted to serving women's interests.  Bernie has a great record on civil rights, but he has not shown as much leadership when it comes to women's issues in particular.  And, as it happens, he is not a woman.  He can represent women's issues, but he cannot represent women as such.

There are two related issues here:  Who is more of a feminist and who better represents women?  I think Hillary is the answer to both questions, but it's the second question that really matters here.  You may still think Bernie is a better feminist, and we can debate that (see the comments below), but considering leadership on women's issues and having the right gender, it is obvious to me that Hillary is the one that represents women.

Does that mean that a vote against Hillary is a vote against women?  Can't Bernie represent women a little bit?  Why is it all or nothing?

To address those questions, let's look at some other issues.  First of all, while gender is clearly a significant factor in the current election, it does not have to be the deciding one.  You can think gender is important but still think other things are more important, like Wall Street or the 2002 Iraq vote.  Personally, I think the heat Hillary gets from those issues is often unfair.  Unlike Bernie, Hillary does not believe Wall Street is inherently corrupt.  She sees the financial sector as a problem child that needs a firm hand, but also care and support. This is why I don't support the movement to pressure her to release her paid speech transcripts.  Nothing in those speeches is going to win her any "Progressive Of The Year" awards.  Obviously she was fostering a friendly, working relationship with big banks.  That does not mean she is in their pockets, and it doesn't mean she is lying when she says she is going to be tough on Wall Street.  She has nothing to gain from releasing those transcripts:  It would only validate the witch hunt and give her opponents tools to spin against her. True, her position on Glass-Steagall is questionable, but her economic plan has been praised by Elizabeth Warren, Paul Krugman and other liberal economists.  As for Iraq, Hillary has been clear that her one mistake was trusting that the Bush Administration would follow the letter and the spirit of the law.  I admire and respect her 2002 speech explaining her vote authorizing the use of force in Iraq and I don't think it should be held against her.  Other people disagree, and that's fine. Maybe you think her ties to Wall Street and her 2002 Iraq vote are more important than her ability to represent women.  I don't.

Maybe you just think Hillary is slime, an untrustworthy politician who would say and do anything to get elected.  Bernie, in contrast, is pristine and incorruptible.  I disagree strongly, and I believe that the people who promote this view are responding to years of smear campaigns which have more than a hint of sexism to them.  Hillary is far from perfect, but she is the most qualified, experienced and intelligent candidate for President I have seen in my lifetime, and I believe her heart and mind are leaning in the right direction--which is to say, towards the left.  Yes, she has made mistakes, but part of her appeal is her willingness and readiness to learn.  (Bernie's record isn't so pure, by the way.)

"Okay," you say.  "Hillary may not be the Devil.  That doesn't mean a vote for Bernie is a vote against women, does it? It certainly doesn't mean gender is a good reason to vote for Hillary."

I've heard it said that gender can be a good reason to choose a candidate, but only if everything else is equal.  In other words, if anything puts one candidate above another, no matter how slightly, then gender is no longer a valid reason.  This view makes gender the least valid reason to vote for a candidate.

That is unacceptable.  When sexism is a national problem of dire proportions, womanhood cannot be the least valid reason to vote.

As bad as it is, the "least valid reason" argument is one step above Bernie Sanders' comment that, unlike Hillary, he would never try to win votes by appealing to his gender.  Bernie says elections should be voted on issues, not gender.  On that view, gender is not the least valid reason: It is not a valid reason at all.

Bernie and many of his supporters are undermining Hillary's ability to represent women.  They are denying that there is a need for women to rally behind a woman.  If you claim that women don't need a woman to represent them, you hurt women.  If you do it while flying the banner of feminism, then you hurt feminism, too.

You can say that Bernie was just being tone-deaf and that, if you look at other statements and his overall record, you will see that he really is a feminist.  Maybe so, but my point remains:  Bernie's response to the "vagina voter" issue hurts women and feminism.

So here is the context:  On the Republican side, we have a male front-runner who is dangerously misogynistic, and on the Democratic side, we have a female front-runner who has fought for women's issues while being subjected to sexist smear campaigns for decades, yet whose supporters are shamed for rallying behind her womanhood.  In that kind of political climate, yes, a vote for Hillary is a vote for women.

I'm not saying gender is the most valid reason to vote in the present campaign.  I'm not saying it trumps every other reason, and I am not claiming it should be the deciding factor for anyone.  But I do take seriously the proposition that a vote against Hillary is a vote against women.