Edwards vs. Race and Gender in 2008

I am an upper-middle-class white male.

Because of this, I realize that my talking about race or gender politics has the potential to get me into a very dicey situation. I know that one thing said wrong and my credibility instantly crumbles. However, I've been noticing a trend here in the blogosphere regarding race and gender and the presidential election, so I think it's worth talking about.

I am also writing because of this:
Esquire - August 2007

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Why are married people more likely to vote Republican?

This week I stumbled upon a study by the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research that looked at the marriage gap in American politics.  Their findings are stunning:

2006 saw a 9 point gender gap with Democratic congressional candidates winning among both men and women; it also saw a 32 point marriage gap overall and a 35 point marriage gap among women.

Looking at the national exit poll in the 2006 congressional elections (Edison/Mitolsky/CNN Network exit poll) shows that married people tended to vote Republican and unmarried people overwhelmingly voted Democratic:

Married Men voted Democratic 47%; Republican 51%
Married Women voted Democratic 48%; Republican 50%
Unmarried Men voted Democratic 62%; Republican 36%
Unmarried Women voted Democratic 66%; Republican 32%

Right now marital status trumps gender, age, education, and income in explaining how someone is likely to vote.  

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner conclude by saying:

"If unmarried women participated in elections in greater numbers, they would change the course of our country's politics.

True!  But that seems like only part of the issue! We also need to get more single men to vote and we need to erode the enormous marriage gap in the first place.  

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What's With So Many Movement Candidates Being Dudes?

Last month, my ward in Philadelphia hosted a candidate's forum for the city council at large seats in Philadelphia. Democrats are capped at a maximum of five at large seats in the city council, and this year there is an exceptionally large number of challengers running to unseat the incumbents. At our forum, a total of fourteen candidates showed up, including twelve challengers. One thing a number of us noticed during the forum was how all of the candidates were men. Towards the very end, one woman did show up, but for most of the night is was just a lot of dudes sitting in a row. And it isn't just the at-large races where male candidates proliferate in Philadelphia. Much of the same can be found in the local district races, where all but one of the strong challengers, Maria Quinones Sanchez, to sitting incumbents on city council are men.

I am not really sure what to make of this, but it certainly does seem odd to me that most of the Democratic, "progressive movement" candidates in both local areas like Philadelphia, and national areas like prominent, Act Blue fundraising pages for high trafficked blogs are male. And by "most," I mean more than a supermajority. Looking back at the 2006 electoral cycle, off-hand I can only think of nine women candidates for federal office who made positive waves throughout a wide swath of the progressive netroots: Christine Cegalis in IL-06, Victoria Wulsin in OH-02, Darcy Burner in WA-08, Linda Stender in NJ-07, Francine Busby in CA-50, Donna Edwards in MD-04, Angie Paccione in CO-04, Lois Murphy in PA-06; and Kirsten Gillibrand in NY-20. By contrast, there were around three or four-dozen male candidates who drew regular, prominent, positive attention from the progressive netroots. I'm not going to list them all here, because I don't want the length of the list, or quibbles over who belongs on the list, to dominate discussion. But I do think it is fair to say that there is about a 3-1 or 4-1 male-female ratio among "progressive movement candidates," no matter how that term is defined.

Now, the percentage of women among "progressive movement candidates," is pretty similar to the overall percentage of Democratic candidates for, and elected officials in, federal office. Right now, that percentage is about 22% (click here for a complete list). Thus, the situation online may simply be the result of problems already present within the overall progressive ecosystem, rather than new causes specific to the progressive netroots and progressive movement. However, while one would think that much of the imbalance is slowly being corrected over time, that no longer seems to be the case. Even after a wave election such as 2006, with only nine of forty-one freshman House Democrats being female, and only two of nine freshman Senate Democrats being female, women actually make up virtually the same percentage of Democrats in Congress that they made up before the election. That points to stagnation and a potential plateau, not continued progress. Considering the male-female ratio of the candidates we end up strongly supporting, the progressive netroots and progressive movement might actually be contributing to this stagnation and plateau, rather than combating it.

I want to make it clear that this post is mainly trying to ask a question, rather than arguing that there is an inherent problem in our movement that we must correct. Why is it that we in the progressive netroots seem to end up throwing our activist and media weight behind male candidates far more often than we do so for female candidates? Or, to put it another way: what's up with all the dude movement candidates? I think it is useful to ask the question in that phrasing, because in many instances movement candidates quite literally are "dudes," and not just more generally male. Are we simply a reflection of problems that arise elsewhere? Is it an indication that the personal and cultural characteristics the progressive netroots both displays and tends to look for in candidates--fighting Dems, bar fight primaries, straight-talking combativeness--skew masculine? Is it a simple statistical fluke? Is it somehow a combination of these factors, in that the personal characteristics we look for in candidates are not viewed as positive attributes by the electorate when those same attributes are displayed by women candidates? Is it something else entirely?

I honestly don't know. I also know that a candidate's gender is not a factor I at least directly take into account when evaluating candidates to support, and I can't imagine that changing. My suspicion is that the problem lies in indirect, cultural aspects of both the progressive netroots and the American political scene in general. However, that is just a vague guess. I would like to hear your thoughts on the matter. Why are so many "progressive movement candidates" male? It is a reasonable question, and it deserves to be discussed. To simply bristle at the notion that this issue doesn't need discussion would be a very, very bad sign.

The Link Between War, Terrorism, and Intimate Violence

Most leaders and the press view violence against women and children as just "a women's issue" or "a children's issue" - in their minds, a secondary issue. But it's not only that millions of women and children are victims of violence in their homes every year; the fact is that intimate violence provides a basic model for using force to impose one's will on others.

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Popular misogyny

This is seriously unacceptable:

BECK: I don't want to sound like the old ball-and-chain guy, but Hillary Clinton cannot be elected president because -- am I wrong in feeling, am I the only one in America that feels this way? -- that there's something about her vocal range. There's something about her voice that just drives me -- it's not what she says, it's how she says it. She is like the stereotypical -- excuse the expression, but this is the way to -- she's the stereotypical bitch, you know what I mean? She's that stereotypical, nagging, [unintelligible], you know what I mean? And she doesn't have to be saying -- she could be saying happy things, but after four years, don't you think every man in America will go insane? Is it just me? I mean, I know this is horrible to say, but I mean it not -- I would say this if she were Condi Rice and she sounded like that. Condi Rice doesn't have that grate to her voice. You know what I need to do? I need to talk to a vocal expert, because there is a range in women's voices that experts say is just the chalk, I mean, the fingernails on the blackboard. And I don't know if she's using that range or what it is, but I've heard her in speeches where I can't take it. [...]

BECK: Am I alone? Dan [Andros, producer]? Have you noticed that about her?  

ANDROS: Oh my gosh, she could be talking about how she's giving every American a million dollars, and I'm hearing, "Could you take out the garbage now, please?"

I strongly agree with Garance Franke-Ruta at TAPPEDwho notes that: "When Ann Coulter called heterosexual John Edwards a "faggot," the blogs erupted. But when someone calls the Democratic front-runner, who is female, a "bitch," we get total radio silence." This is just as offensive, just as revealing of a bigoted attitude toward women, probably even moreso.  It is a clear attempt to imply that it's perfectly normal and justifiable to think that women have no place in politics because any time they grow powerful enough to be threatening, they must ipso facto be a stereotypical "bitch."

That such misogyny can come out of the mouth of a prominent political commentator with no apparent consequences is, frankly, disgusting.

You may not like Hillary Clinton's politics much, but if you let them get away with smearing her because she sounds threatening to their masculinity, you are doing a huge disservice to Democrats, progressives, women, and men.  We may criticize Hillary and we may or may not decide to nominate her, but she is part of our family, part of our society, a long-time and dedicated public servant, and an important example that women are powerful and meaningful political agents on their own terms.  And we will absolutely not stand to have her slandered like this.

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