Who’s Dummying the Election?

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Sage words, but sad in their probable Cassandrian import, from Bob Herbert today:

The general election is about to unfold and we’ll soon see how smart or how foolish Americans really are. The U.S. may be the richest country on earth, but the economy is tanking, its working families are in trouble, it is bogged down in a multitrillion-dollar war of its own making and the price of gasoline has nitwits siphoning supplies from the cars and trucks of strangers.

Four of every five Americans want the country to move in a different direction, which makes this presidential election, potentially, one of the most pivotal since World War II.

And yet there’s growing evidence that despite the plethora of important issues, the election may yet be undermined by the usual madness — fear-mongering, bogus arguments over who really loves America, race-baiting, gay-baiting (Ohmigod! They’re getting married!) and the wholesale trivialization of matters that are not just important, but extremely complex.

While we’re waiting for the Republican Swiftboaters to appear and do all that Bob Herbert warns against, the Democratic Swiftboaters have arrived! They may or may not be Democrats, but they play them on TV, and they’re beginning to live up to the ugly stereotype they publicly stand so firmly against.

How can I, a male, comment on feminine stereotypes? Secondhand, of course. In 1986, I attended a training led by Pauline Lyttle, who along with Jinx Melia, had devoted her career to helping women and others accustomed to paths less macho (clergy qualified, it seems) understand those paths more macho.

Their guide book, Why Jenny Can’t Lead: Understanding the Male Dominant System, is still available. Their thoughts guide my criticism that these Democratic Swiftboaters are in fact are living up to sexist stereotypes. Three thoughts grow from this:

1. These people are too successful and smart not to know how to play in “a man’s world,” as it were.
2. Therefore this retro-whininess passeth not the smell test.
3. These DemSwifts are tactically clever in that they attack from within by appealing to victimization, unlike the original swiftboaters, who attacked John Kerry from the outside by challenging his manly war-hero credentials.
4. These DemSwifts probably are carrying water for some unknown and nefarious someones.

Consider their narrative threads:

“Women felt this was their time, and this has been stolen from them,” said Marilu Sochor, 48, a real estate agent in Columbus, Ohio, and a Clinton supporter. “Sexism has played a really big role in the race.”

Ms. Sochor’s sentiment would not be mentionable if it did not mirror a widespread idea that 2008 was somehow Hillary Clinton’s turn to be president. But we don’t take turns being president. We compete for votes. There are no dibs on the White House. I’ve no argument that sexism hasn’t played a role, though. So has racism. Ask that uppity elitist Muslim who belongs to that crazy radical black power Christian church. But at least he didn’t go ad hominem and call it a kitchen sink.

Mrs. Clinton’s supporters point to a nagging series of slights: the fixation on her clothes, even her cleavage; chronic criticism that her voice is shrill; calls for her to exit the race; and most of all, the male commentators in the news media who, they argue, were consistently tougher on her than on Mr. Obama.

After the last debate, hosted by Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, anyone still saying this is full of prunes. Yet whining has been a staple of the Clinton campaign, and it seems to have caught on. A helpful snippet from my past: when we boys used to say “let the baby have his bottle,” we never let the crybaby have much of a bottle. And 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is a BIG bottle.

Some even accuse Mr. Obama of chauvinism, pointing to the time he called Mrs. Clinton “likeable enough” as evidence of dismissiveness. Nancy Wait, 55, a social worker in Columbia City, Ind., said Mr. Obama was far less qualified than Mrs. Clinton and described as condescending his recent assurances that Mrs. Clinton should stay in the race as long as she liked. Ms. Wait said she would “absolutely, positively not” vote for him come fall.

First of all, although “you’re likable enough” was a mistake, it could just as likely have been dismissive of the gushing he might have been expected to gush in order to reciprocate Hillary Clinton’s gushing. Lots of guys are just uncomfortable gushing.

And at least he didn’t say she should get out of the race, which would have been worse than saying she should do what she wants, no? Or maybe he should have kept his mouth shut, telling reporters “I refuse to answer any questions about my opponent’s status in this race on the grounds that it might be perceived as sexist.” Or is being snarkily logical sexist?

But on to the big fish havin’ their say:

[Geraldine] Ferraro, who clashed with the Obama campaign about whether she made a racially offensive remark, said she might not [vote for Obama] either. “I think Obama was terribly sexist,” she said.

Cynthia Ruccia, 55, a sales director for Mary Kay cosmetics in Columbus, Ohio, is organizing a group, Clinton Supporters Count Too, of mostly women in swing states who plan to campaign against Mr. Obama in November. “We, the most loyal constituency, are being told to sit down, shut up and get to the back of the bus,” she said.

Hey, so did John Edwards supporters count too. And Howard Dean supporters. And Bill Bradley supporters. And Paul Tsongas supporters. And Jerry Brown supporters. And so on. But guess what? When their candidate lost fair and square, they did not throw their support — tacitly or otherwise — behind the opposition party candidate who stands for the opposite of everything their candidate stood for publicly. And why?

Because they believed in more than their own resentments.

Sad to say, Mr. Herbert, somebody really wants to dummy up the election. Who? Where are Ferraro and Ruccia getting their juice? That would be worth finding out.


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