Identity politics and presidential politics


This post is just a brief follow-up to a comment by David to the Ay-O Way to go, Ohio post below.  In it, he writes that while talking to an older woman colleague who has a granddaughter, “she started talking about how proud she is that she has a granddaughter who can play Little League, about how when she was a kid she was never allowed to play. And then she added: And now we could have a woman president, now that Hillary has won Texas and Ohio!”  David then writes, “When I hear comments like these, I think I understand better why so many women support Hillary.”

Related to this, I wanted to share a story about something that happened to me and a four-year old girl of my very close acquaintance.  I was out grocery shopping with her last week, and she was wearing a tee-shirt from the Henry Ford Museum that says, “FUTURE PRESIDENT” (see the image above–sorry it’s such a blurry photo.  You can see a clearer image here.)  Now, she doesn’t have long hair, and is often called “he” by people who don’t look beyond the haircut.  But that day, despite also wearing a skirt on top of pink tights and shoes with pink and orange flowers on them, she was called “he” by three different people who noticed “him” or made a comment about “him.”  I’d like to think it was just the short-hair mistake, but getting called “he” or “him” three times in twenty minutes suggests that it’s not just the haircut, but an avoidance of the category mistake that a “she” might be a “future president.” 

This is an exciting time for Democrats, because whomever we select as our candidate will help enlarge our vision of who can be president, and what a president looks like.  I think that’s one thing that unites all of us, whomever we support in the primary. 

0 thoughts on “Identity politics and presidential politics

  1. Also, on this post, that kind of stuns me that a girl wearing that shirt would get that reaction, and as the father of a four-year-old girl myself, it also sickens me. It is probably true that men have have a harder time noticing this kind of stuff.


  2. My students often use “he” when hypothetically speaking of the presidency. I ask them to consider what they’re saying and still, they can’t stop saying “he”. This is probably not that unusual but to call a little girl, who in my opinion looks like a little girl, (if it’s the one I’m thinking of) is really sad. Luckily her parents don’t perpetuate the idea that a female can’t be the president.


  3. Eh, after today I’m back on the side of sitting it out if Hillary is the nominee. She’s compared Obama to McCain unfavorably several times now. She’s purposefully trying to give McCain ammunition for the fall. She’s signaling to the party that if she isn’t given the nomination, she will make sure that Obama loses.

    You can completely forget about the “unity ticket” now. I hope Barack comes back from this and hits her squarely in the jaw, metaphorically speaking.

    My daughter will have to live with the stereotype that the presidency is a male occupation for a while longer, until a female candidate with some actual decency comes along and is able to run a campaign that is positive rather than destructive.


  4. Hi Historiann!

    Does being called “he” bother your young friend? I hope not.

    I think it’s great that she fashions an appearance that confuses social categories. If more children followed her example they would precipitate a “category crisis” that would deconstruct gender.

    I wonder if stores sell the “Future President” T-Shirt in adult sizes. I hope to purchase one for myself.

    I noticed the Henry Ford Museum sells a T-shirt called, “Ladies Presidential Campaign T-Shirt.” The T prominetly displays Lincoln’s head. The caption under his disembodied head reads, “You too can be PRESIDENT! start your campaign today.” It’s an uplifting and inspiring message. However, the website markets the shirt as follows, “Remind family and friends of your white house potential with this humorous shirt. Offering a more flattering and comfortable women’s fit, this presidential campaign t-shirt is a wonderful addition to your wardrobe.”

    Oh the humor! A “woman” who thinks she can be president? Please remind me to laugh the next time I see a she wearing this “more flattering and comfortable women’s fit” T.


  5. Ugh, Ortho: I hadn’t investigated the merchandise that thoroughly–thanks for pointing out the obnoxiousness of it!

    As for the child: she doesn’t mind it, she just thinks it’s funny. The weird thing is, she’s a big girly-girl, and would happily wear pink dresses and skirts every day, so she thinks it’s self-evident that she’s female. When her father takes her out (usually butched out in jeans and a tee-shirt, like him), he doesn’t correct all of the people who call her “he” and “little buddy.”


  6. I have a serious question, and I don’t know where to put it in your comments: what are your thoughts on Hillary’s CIC comment re. McCain and Obama? I ask because you helped me refine my thoughts about the race the other day. And then, after the results from OH/TX — which seem to have been a split, by the way, rather than two wins for Hillary — I reconsidered much of what I had been thinking about HRC’s responsbilities to the party and the country. But now I’m back to being pretty bummed at her. And you’re my favorite Hillary partisan (the only other such person I know is my dad, and he and I can’t talk about the issue right now). So what say you? And by the way, I know that you’re under no obligation to say anything at all. I just thought I’d ask you to drop some Historiann wisdom.


  7. Historiann wisdom? Ha! That’s rich. But since you’ve kindly asked:

    I think her comment was dumb and I disagree with both the content of the comment and the fact that she said it. But, there may be a logic about using language and ideas like this to make people start associating her with McCain, who is the other party’s official nominee. It might be a way of boxing out Obama, but people who are better students of rhetoric and George Lakoff will be much better equipped to judge. I’m not sure this is a great way to play it when you’re looking for Dem votes, however.

    There are a lot of people who are saying dumb things now, because they’re agitated and they want to win. (As in, the “monster” comment by one Obama aid yesterday, and the other one who foolishly suggested that “neither” Clinton nor her own candidate had great foreign policy experience.) People will say and do a lot of dumb things between now and November, and the blogosphere tends to obsess and worry these things to death until the next outrage comes along. I’ll disagree with you slightly: I don’t think there’s any question that Clinton won Tuesday’s contests going away, and although it looks like Obama is going to come out pretty much where he was before Tuesday with the TX caucus results, the TX Democrats taking their own sweet time with getting the results out haven’t done him any favors. The headlines and talk on Wednesday couldn’t have made the Hillary camp any happier. And she’s raked in the dough this week–$6M in 48 hours, and they’re still going.

    I think it’s way too early for the Obama camp to panic, and am kind of surprised that they’ve been as thrown by HRC’s wins this week. Did they really think they’d win every single caucus and primary? That seems a little fatuous, like they’ve fallen for their own hype. I myself was pessimistic about Ohio, because I had the opportunity to see ads run on Toledo TV last week, and every other ad was an Obama ad (and despite that, Clinton even won Lucas Co., the home of Toledo–the only major metro area that she won, because Obama took Cleveland, Columbus, Cinci, and Dayton.) He had major money there, but his message just wasn’t sinking in.

    There are a lot of older, less well-educated people who known the Clinton brand and think fondly of the 90s. I lived in Ohio for 4 years back in the late 90s and early 2000s, and life was good for a lot more of those people than it is now. The Ford plant in Cincinnati and the GM plant in Dayton were running 3 shifts to pump out the SUVs and pickup trucks that everyone wanted back when gas was 89 cents a gallon. A guy like Obama can win with them–or with more of them, anyway, but I think he’s got to get them get to know him better. Racism is certainly one reason Clinton still has an advantage–but I think he could win a lot of those people over if he can establish a relationship with them. Eugene Robinson had a good article in the WaPo recently–he’s clearly an Obama fan, but his advice is that Obama needs to write some new speeches that will reach that crowd in PA and MI, where they are a large chunk of the electorate.

    Are you going to make good on your promise to “campaign for Hillary” in the Michigan and Florida do-overs? Looks like it might well happen! (I think it’s more the Obama camp that would prefer just to let those delegates go.) But, if it’s a MI caucus and a Florida primary, then both candidates will get a chance to play to their strengths and show their moxie in other important swing states.


  8. p.s. to David: sorry, that Jon Chait article is just a bunch of whining about how he doesn’t really want to see a campaign. If Obama really is the superior candiate with the superior strategy and the superior message, then he’ll win, right? Let the people vote, and if Clinton really is such a bitch that everyone hates so much, then she’ll be put right back in her place, right? (Somehow though, that Bitch has won over ripe-red upstate New York and won re-election with more than a 2/3 supermajority of the votes–probably through witchcraft or something!)

    So many complaints from the Obama camp seem to boil down to “she can’t possibly win, so she should drop out now!” Why not prove it at the ballot box?


  9. Ann, I couldn’t disagree more. I think it is perfectly legitimate for Clinton to run a campaign based on issues and qualifications. But that’s not what she’s doing. She’s now running an extremely negative campaign, in the classic Clinton style of saying anything to keep the news churning and get past the next day. Frankly, it’s repulsive, and Sullivan for once was right today when he points out that, if Clinton wins in this way, it will turn off a whole generation of voters for a long time.

    I have a hard time understanding why you can’t be more critical of your candidate. Stop giving her so many passes for her behavior! This kind of campaigning should not be rewarded.

    As for the “monster” comment, the Obama campaign immediately denounced it. Given that Wolfson compared Obama to Ken Starr the other day and there was no denunciation of that–despite how ridiculous it is–I doubt Clinton would have done the same.

    And yes, Clinton is a bitch. Tina Fey herself said it on Saturday Night Live as a reason to vote for her, and Clinton obviously approved of SNL’s message, since she went on the show the next week and urged everyone to watch that episode. She has officially embraced her bitch label. Bitch is now on the table, I would say. At this point, Clinton WANTS people to think of her as the tough and dirty politician who will say anything to get elected. This is precisely what many Democrats think will make her more competitive in the fall. Maybe they are right, but it’s a shitty way to try to win an election.

    I live in upstate New York, voted for Clinton twice, and will NEVER do so again.


  10. Well, I don’t feel like I have to agree with absolutely everything “my” canididate says or does. I also don’t think I need to pile on in my own blog, when the rest of the internets are hatin’ on Hillary plenty already. Politics is about winning, man, if if your guy wins, then his strategy is the right one. Many people seem uncomfortable with the notion that Hillary is running a campaign right now, but I’m cool with that! She takes her chances, and she’ll have to live with the consequences, even if that means losing your vote and perhaps others.

    But, think on this: 4 years ago Kerry blew it, many say (and I happen to agree) because he didn’t look like enough of a fighter. I think HRC has decided that that won’t happen to her. There are real risks with this plan–most especially because we don’t know how people will respond to a woman candidate fighting back and fighting to win. She may go too far–but that’s her mistake to make, and she’s got at least half of all Democrats with her:

    (Actually, Rasmussen has her 6 points ahead today. Take it for what it’s worth.)

    Interestingly, here’s Josh Marshall’s take on the state of the race, and you probably know that he and nearly all of his contributors and commentators have really pushed Obama against Clinton:

    He disapproves of the Clinton strategy, but ackowledges that it’s really working for her, and that Obama and his team had better get real.


  11. I have to say, although an Obama supporter, I agree with Historiann that the fight needs to go on. I think the Dems were way too quick to pull out the race last time after Kerry won a few early contests, and we know how that turned out. While I support his position fully, I do think Obama needs to be tested. Taking the high road against Republicans is going to be a very difficult path, and if Hillary makes him an even better candidate, so be it.

    And in spite of all the pro-Hillary talk in the last few days, I think she’s still walking a very narrow line. Her success in Ohio and Texas (though I don’t think it was quite the victory that her campaign and the press made it out to be) was due in part to the shift in her campaign to emphasize her as a fighter and an underdog. Unfortunately, people still have a hard time dealing with a woman on top, and for a lot of this campaign, she was just that. The trick is, what happens if she beats Obama, and is no longer the underdog? Will she be able to win in the fall. I agree with David-if she beats Obama through negative tactics, and then blows it in the general, the career of the Clintons will be o-v-e-r.


  12. Actually, I think the Dems will be much nicer to Obama if he loses. I can honestly see him getting a pass because of his inexperience, and surviving to fight another day. He is a man, after all…the rules of the game are just different. Strangely enough, the playing field for them seems to be even. Not so for HRC.


  13. Here’s one case where I’ll disagree with you that Hillary would have it rougher (surprised?): whomever wins the nomination but loses to McCain is toast, at least in terms of presidential politics. There are no second bites at the Democratic apple. Democrats turn on their own with a startling fury. The last Democrat to get a mulligan to run for President after losing and win was Andrew Jackson! (As far as I can recall–later 19th and 20th C historians help me out, here.) Adlai Stevenson was famously chosen to run against Eisenhower twice in 1952 and 1956–he also was the guy who was above politics, and had the egghead vote. The Democrats won’t let that happen again anytime soon.

    Maybe Obama could beat the odds–but I think Democrats will be more skeptical of giving a black man a second try. No one makes the argument that Southern white men can’t win as Democratic candidates, despite the fact that Al Gore in 2000 and John Edwards in 2004 (on the Kerry ticket) couldn’t even win their home states’ electoral votes! But you know the same courtesy will NOT be extended to either Obama or Clinton, or to other candidates who resemble them. We’ll get all kinds of stories about how the country just “isn’t ready” for an African American and/or female president. Of course, what people will say privately but not put in print will be even more depressing.


  14. Since I have a strong contrarian streak, I think Hillary’s CinC remarks may end up helping Barack if he is the nominee, assuming he can formulate a decent answer.

    The question she is raising, in her blunt way, is a question that I think will be on people’s minds in October. While Barack is leading now in the polls against McCain, I think the race will tighten in October as people (although the primary turnouts have been high, I don’t think they fall into a general election turnout, but I could be wrong) start focusing on the race and the experience factor.

    JFK had the same problem. He was leading in September but the race tighten in Ocotber over the question of experience. Arthur Schlesinger said in Journals that if the the election had been held one week later, he thought that Nixon would have won over this issue. Since Schlesinger was a very ardent admirer of JFK, I think this is a very telling remark. Remember, that JFK was a Cngressman for 6 years and a US Senator for 8 years when he ran.

    By raising the CinC question openly now, he has the chance to formulate an answer. But he has to answer it in a convincing fashion.

    As for the question of does Hillary comments give aide and comfort to Republicans, I think that is the risk anytime we have a contested nomination process. Unless the candidates ask meaningless questions and make fluffy type comments, how will we get any sense of what the candidates think and how they react to tough questions? The process is messy, it is ugly, but like democracy itself, its better than anything else.

    I voted for Hillary in the primary. If Barack is the nominee, I will vote for him, doubts and all, because he will be a better President than McCain.


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