This is now officially a post-Rachel blog

I used to really like Rachel Maddow.  I would listen to her first Air America show, the morning program, although it aired at the ridiculous hours of 5-7 a.m. my time, because she offered a point of view that was utterly absent in any of the traditional big media networks.  I was encouraged when she started getting more and more guest spots at MSogynNyBC, because that network was particularly egregious in its white manitood, and I thought her snappy queer sensibility might shake things up a bit.  (Aside:  as hinted at in another post, the bratty boyz at MSogyNyBC are shaking things up enough already!  Good luck with that crowd, Rache.)

She disappointed me during the Democratic primary in cheering along with all of the femophobic bullcrap over at MSogyNyBC.  If this is what a “member of the family” is doing for us, I’ll take crazy Uncle Chris Matthews over that faux-diversity, any day.  (Apparently, I’m not the only one who can’t listen to her any more, although I think Roxie and her mothers are trying to keep an open mind.)  Now apparently she’s gone around the bend:  she is claiming that Obama represents a rejection of “Clintonism,” which is just silly (as I could have told her last spring!), and she’s now claiming that any former supporter of Hillary Clinton who doesn’t support Barack Obama for President is “post-rational.”

It makes no sense—Hillary has asked them to back Obama, and yet they are still holding out…supposedly because they back Hillary, who backs Obama. It’s just post rational. You know? It doesn’t make any sense, which is why I call it post-rational.

(H/t to Blogenspiel and commenter Nathaniel for the link.)  First of all, what the heck does “post-rational” mean?  And secondly, maybe Maddow missed this, but Clinton’s supporters are actually free to vote for whomever they prefer.  They didn’t sign any contracts pre-awarding their general election votes to anyone, not even to Clinton.  Although she has a degree in politics, Maddow must have missed class the day they covered winning elections, and how it’s the candidate’s job to win votes, rather than to suggest that anyone who doesn’t vote for him is stupid, irrational, or lacking in virtue.  And here’s something that even George W. Bush seems to know:  that goes double for your base.  One more thing:  if Rachel had been paying attention for the past twenty years or so, she might have noticed that there are a whole lot of people–perhaps even the majority of the electorate–who regularly vote against their best interests because they get sidetracked with “likeability” issues or other such trivia.  So, obviously, appealing only to people’s “rationality” is a strategy that will yield–shall we say?–minimal success.

Politics is about emotions and feelings, whether Democrats like it or not.  That’s why they keep getting their a$$es handed to them in presidential elections.  Obama and Biden are right now taking Historiann’s advice and are bus-storming Pennsylvania and Ohio right now.  They’ll be largely ignored by the media this week because of the Republican National Convention and Hurricaine Gustav–but that may not be all bad.   They can mend and forge new relationships with people whose interests they want to serve and whose votes they need, and maybe that will all go better out of the media limelight.  They’re going to show the people in these struggling, post-industrial states a little love and pay a little attention to them.  Obama and Biden seem to get it–thank goodness!–why doesn’t Rachel Maddow?

I am so over you, Rachel Maddow.

Another reason to consult some women's historians

Via TalkLeft, we learn that some presidential historians are popping off about Sarah Palin, calling her “the least experienced, least credentialed person to join a major-party ticket in the modern era.”  Notice who wasn’t consulted in the reporting for this article:  maybe some women’s historians could have pointed out how women’s paths to political power–what few examples in this country we have–are very different from men’s paths?  And maybe they could have said something about how there isn’t exactly a deep bench of women senators or governors to choose from in either party?  (I think it’s only 16 Senators and nine governors of either major party.)  And they might have asked people to consider how exactly do they think women will ever achieve anything close to parity in national political leadership unless some elder male statesmen take some chances on grooming and promoting women candidates?  In other words, consider this a follow-up post to my post last week about the total absence of women’s historians on the PBS panel of historians commenting on the Democratic National Convention. 

Since as the McCain campaign points out, all of these guys (plus Doris Kearns Goodwin!) are major donors to the Obama campaign and other Democrats, and one is even a former Dem speechwriter, you’d think that they would want to help their presidential candidate instead of highlight an argument that the Democrats will lose.  (And what about all of those comparisons to failed one-term Congressman Abraham Lincoln, which was such a useful rejoinder to people who questioned Barack Obama’s lack of experience?)  Silly me:  I forgot that when girls presume to rule, there will be different rules for girls!

It’s times like this that I wish Alice Roosevelt Longworth were still around.

Wailin' about Palin!

This is the kind of "humor" Democrats should avoid!

Smart party, foolish politics

Sarah Palin is lighting up the feminist history blogosphere!  Our friends Knitting Clio and Tenured Radical also posted their thoughts this morning.  New Kid offers some thoughts about Palin and the discourse about aborting trisomy fetuses (Palin’s youngest child has Down’s Syndrome.)  Many of the different feminist law professors at Feminist Law Professors offer their views too.  John Fea at Religion in American history discusses Palin’s possible pentacostalism.  Please note–the image at left is an example of the kind of juvenille, patronizing, femophobic and ageist “humor” that Dems should avoid.  See here for a playbook about how to lose an election!  Yuk yuk yuk.  (This means you too, Bing!)

I’m sorry to say that I disagree with WOC Ph.D.‘s post on Palin.  Clinton’s brief statement yesterday on the historic nature of Palin’s achievement does nothing to undermine Clinton’s full-throated support for Obama/Biden or her sustained attack on McCain’s candidacy.  She clearly stated that the McCain/Palin ticket’s “policies would take America in the wrong direction,” and her radio address today elaborates once again as to why McCain would be bad for America.

For astute blogging and intelligent commenters outside of the feminist history blogosphere, you might want to drive on over to TalkLeft or Corrente.  I agree with Big Tent Democrat at TalkLeft in that the inexperience argument is a loser, and that if Dems want to go after her they should stick to highlighting her egregious policy positions.  And once again, I’m in total agreement with Paul Lukasiak in the comments here and here at Corrente.  Palin was smart politics for McCain, provided that she stands up to the scrutiny of the national stage.  Dems are of course free to dislike her, and they should because of her policy positions, but they’ll discount or patronize her at their peril.

Sarah Palin

Well, when we all went to bed on Thursday night, we didn’t dream that we’d be thinking and talking about the Governor of Alaska all day Friday now, did we?  Maybe the McCain campaign has more chops than Democrats would like to believe.

Palin’s biography and career seem to be tailor-made for the McCain campaign.  Western state governor?  Check.  “Family values” conservative?  Check.  Lifelong NRA member?  Check.  Washington outsider?  Check.  Appealing family?  Check.  Not a millionaire?  Check.  Regular joe husband?  Check.  Looks good in Camo and eats what she kills?  Check.  Reinforces McCain’s “Maverick” image?  Check.  Reputation as a reformer?  Check.  Proves Historiann’s point about how great Republicans are at using biography to drive a campaign narrative?  Check. 

Ability to drive so-called “liberals” crazy and expose the misogyny that drives so-called “progressive” politics?  Check! 

Never mind that several of the men bandied about as possible VP picks had no more experience than Palin, and we never heard what a totally ridiculous choice other first-term governors like Tim Kaine, Charlie Christ, or Bobby Jindal would be.  (No–youth and relative inexperience in a male candidates make them “bold” choices about “change” and “the future!”)  So-called “liberals” like Jon Stewart and Bill Maher immediately started yukking it up about her “beauty pageant” experience.  So-called “progressive” women in the media are at it, too:  I made the mistake of flicking past the Randi Rhoads show this Friday afternoon just in time to hear her go after Palin in the same demeaning language that she used during the primary when speaking about Hillary Clinton, and apparently Stephanie Miller called Palin a “bimbo.”  (And you don’t even want to know what the boyz on teh “liberal” blogs are saying.)  Never mind that Palin ran against a sitting governor in her own party (Frank Murkowski), beat him in the primary, and then beat a former Democratic governor in the general in 2006.  Say what you will about her policies and her stand on the issues, but the girl knows what she’s doing.  As this commenter said at TalkLeft, “Yes, women are either too old, too status quo, or too young. A guy is either seasoned, or a bold and fresh choice.”  See how easy that is!  We can always find a reason to hate on women politicians and hold them to impossible standards, but it’s so easy to forgive a man any perceived vulnerabilities.  (Remember all of those pious insistences from all of your incredibly liberal, well-meaning, and totally feminist friends that “I would love a woman president, just not this one,” ?)

Don’t get me wrong:  I won’t vote for McCain/Palin, and I’m pretty darned sure the vast majority of liberal feminists won’t either, because we think Palin is wrong on the issues.  But the choice of Palin isn’t really about picking up votes from people like me, it’s about 1) shoring up the cultural conservatives in the Republican base, and 2) reaching out to independent and moderate Republican women, who were appalled at the way that Hillary Clinton was savaged by the media and her own party, and 3) possibly depressing the Democratic women’s vote.  If Palin does reasonably well and avoids making any obvious gaffes, she could really help McCain.  (James Dobson climbed up on his Unity Pony, and that ain’t hay.)  I had coffee yesterday  Thursday with a Republican friend who couldn’t believe that Obama didn’t pick Clinton for VP.  “He would have won in a landslide if he had,” she said, and an e-mail from her today Friday sounds like she’s paying close attention to Sarah Palin.  Another friend, a Republican who’s become disgusted by her party in the Bush years, sat in my office today Friday and told me that she’s giving the McCain ticket a serious look because she likes the notion of a Westerner and a hunter as a VP.  And there’s no question but that Palin’s stance as a tough working mother appeals to me and my friends, across partisan lines.

So, go ahead Democrats and the Obama campaign, and make fun of Sarah Palin.  Mock her for her supposed inexperience and small-town background.  Make fun of her because she was in a beauty pageant.  Demean her because she’s the governor of Alaska, and not a more populous state.  (A lot of people in the large square states take that kinda personally, and I thought you were looking for votes out here.  Besides:  Delaware?)  Democrats have gotten really good at not taking their opponents seriously and acting superior to them.  Any fool could see how completely superior Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, and John Kerry were to their opponents!  But guess what we’re not so good at?  Winning presidential elections.  Go ahead and have a laugh–you can cry in November when you realize that the voters never thought you were laughing about Sarah Palin–they think you’re laughing at them!

NOTE:  Edited slightly to clarify the timeline–when I wrote this post, sleepless in the middle of the night, I was still thinking of Friday as “today,” when of course it was very early Saturday morning.

Happy Birthday, ej!

Happy birthday to Historiann commenter ej!  You may be in your late thirties and therefore well on the way to decrepitude, but as the cake says, at least you’ve still got your looks.  (No matter what that jerk of a husband of yours says!)  Cake catered today by CakeWrecks.

By the way, I don’t know if you’re a big believer in astrology or not, but did you know that you share a birthday with this guy?  (Not so pretty!)  He’s celebrating his birthday in Dayton, Ohio this morning of all places.

Everybody hates Chris!

No matter what happens in November, I hope we will live to see more of the mad political skilz of Chris Matthews, who is reportedly considering a run for Arlen Specter’s U. S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania.  After a contorted non-answer to a question about the Defense of Marriage Act, Matthews replied to a few follow-up questions from a member of the Pennsylvania delegation in Denver this week:

MS: Well, where are you on the issue [of gay marriage]?
CM: I have an open heart. I’ll have to live with it.

MS: In other words, you won’t answer the question.
CM: I can answer it the way I have, which is any f***ing way I want. I can answer in my way even if it isn’t your way.

Tasty!  This guy could make Alan Keyes look like Seneca.

Is this all a part of the wheels coming off of the bus at MSogynNyBC?  Who cares, but it sure looks like everybody hates Chris!  (Be sure to click on that last link to see a video of Keith Olbermann making the “flapping jaw” signal with his hand in reference to Chris!)

"Be" candidates versus "do" candidates, or, how feminist theory may help elucidate contemporary politics


I like to assign a little Judith Butler the first week of class to weed out the weak and/or uncommitted students.  It’s nothing strenuous (for Judith Butler, anyway)–just the first chapter of Gender Trouble, which serves as an introduction for the book.  It’s in this chapter that she introduces her notion of gender as a performance, which was a signal insight in feminist theory.  Embodiment versus performativity.  “To be” versus “to do.”  It’s an especially helpful idea for historians, because we are all about the contingent and variable nature of everything.

Perhaps this “to be” versus “to do” distinction is a useful way of describing two different strategies for American politicians on the national stage.  This year, both the Republican and Democratic nominees have leaned heavily on their personal biographies, selling themselves primarily on who they are rather than on what they will do.  This approach has its advantages, because a compelling personal narrative helps distract people from a candidate’s voting record or his overall record in public service, if there are discrepancies he’d rather not explain or dwell on.  John McCain, who this year is a far cry from the effective insurgent of 2000, clumsily brings every political quesiton he’s asked back to his five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.  He strikes me as an oddly tone-deaf and inept candidate, but it seems to work for him:  the polls are close, and the Democratic National Convention appears not to be improving Barack Obama’s polling against McCain.  McCain has wiped out the lead that Obama had earlier this summer.

Bill and Hillary Clinton are and always have been “do” politicians.  Their campaigns have been built around not who they are, but rather what they will do for their constituents.  For all of the boneheaded media indignation about how “the Clintons think this convention is all about them!  ZOMG!  Because we can’t stop talking and writing about them!,” their speeches in Denver on Tuesday and Wednesday nights illustrate the “do” strategy.  In her speech Tuesday night, Hillary Clinton gently chided her supporters,

Were you in this campaign just for me? Or were you in it for that young Marine and others like him? Were you in it for that mom struggling with cancer while raising her kids? Were you in it for that boy and his mom surviving on the minimum wage? Were you in it for all the people in this country who feel invisible?

Those are the questions of a candidate who is about doing, and not about being. 

Barack Obama sold himself to the Democratic party on his life story, as told in two biographies and in repeated iterations on the campaign trail:  the son of a Kenyan man and a Kansan woman, born in Hawaii, raised in part in Indonesia, a scholarship kid who made good at Columbia and Harvard and then moved to Chicago to serve his adopted community there.  It’s a classic American story with an appealing multi-ethnic, international twist:  the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin plus impressive Ivy League achievements and a global perspective.

Democratic presidential candidates in the last seventy-five years have had limited success with the “be” candidate strategy.  I would classify Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and Bill Clinton as “do” candidates.  Their biographies were part of the way they sold themselves, but they were fundamentally about politices and not personality.  John Kennedy and Jimmy Carter were “be” candidates and presidents–Kennedy the dashing World War II hero with the attractive young family, and Carter the honest Southern evangelical Christian who would “never lie to you,” in direct contrast to the disgraced Richard Nixon.  Democrats have had more success with the “do” strategy, because Democratic policies are usually more popular than Republican policies.

Because Republican policies poll less successfully, Republicans have made an art of the “be” campaign, especially with candidates whose resumes were thin and acheivements few.  Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush are probably the best examples of the “be” campaign in action, even with dubious backgrounds (respectively) as a Hollywood B-lister and as an underachieving drunk.  Republicans also get away with playing dressup to burnish their embodiment of their supposed virtues:  Reagan with his cowboy hat on his California “ranch,” Bush in a flight suit or with a chainsaw clearning brush on his Texas “ranch.”  (Contrast this with the way Democratic presidential candidates Michael Dukakis and John Kerry were mocked for riding around in a tank and wearing camoflage and blaze orange on a hunting trip.)  “Do” Republican candidates and Presidents like Bob Dole and George H. W. Bush, who each had long careers in public service before running for President, have been notably less successful.  (I think I would put Richard Nixon in the category of a “do” President, although he was a very successful “doer” so long as his presidency lasted.)

Although I think that the “be” strategy is fraught with peril for a Democratic candidate, particularly against a war hero with a (largely unearned) “maverick” reputation, we’ll see what happens in November.  The good news for Obama is that the weather here in Colorado will be gorgeous for his outdoor acceptance speech and rock concert–none of our late summer thunderstorms or hail storms in the forecast–sunny and 85 degrees today, cooling off to about 65 by the time the candidate speaks.  But the campaign will continue, and Obama will hear himself re-defined the Republican way next week in Minneapolis.  I think he’s got all of the votes he’s going to get as a “be” candidate.  It might be time to try it the “do” candidate way.

UPDATE 8/29/08:  Nice speech last night–less about the biography, more about the policy positions and the things he wants to do.  He wasn’t too specific on how he’s going to get all of that stuff done, but I respect that it’s probably wise to hold some of his cards close to his vest.  He talked about the Democratic tradition and explained how he saw himself fitting into it.  I agree with Big Tent Democrat’s analysis–I may be even more enthusiastic about it than BTD, if you can believe that.  It was a heck of a conclusion to the convention–fireworks and all.  Well done!  And I hope all of those people cooped up in the stadium all day long weren’t too uncomfortable and that they got home reasonably quickly last night.