September 22, 2008

DISTURBING ATTACK ON FEMINISM: The Insidiousness of the Palin Circus

Friday, 05 September 2008. Heard on “Talk Of the Nation” on NPR.

A woman is interviewed about her perceptions of Governor Sarah Palin and her voting intentions. She describes how a media pundit has raised questions about Governor Palin’s suitability as prospective Vice President because of her family circumstances. The interviewee is offended that these questions are being raised about Governor Palin. The offending question suggests that Palin may have especially demanding and conflicting claims on her time and attention, since she is a parent, a member of a family, and a woman.

“Conservatives” abound in breathless, exuberant joy about the choice of ms. Palin, specifically because she is a woman and mother. Certainly, no questions are raised about this. Great stuff. Church, kids and jello-mould. Moose-mould. Great things are made of what these, specifically sexist, differences bring to her suitability as a candidate. Her presumed leadership, her integrity, her strength, her judgment, her compassion, must be at least in part conditions of her gender, of her sex. So it is argued. Most importantly though, they are a result, a true, causal result, of the fact that her experience in the world is different because she is a woman. This is the most profoundly sexist, and hypocritical, premise of all. She is good, she is better, she is sanctified, because she is a woman, and women live in a different world from men. There is no other logic here. It can only be so.

But wait- it is an unconscionable, damnable sexist attack on this woman to ask whether her world and how she lives in it is relevant to her selection as a running-mate! Running-mate. Hmmm. Gonna runnem-down them carry-boos. Killem. ‘N eatem. Feedem childrens.

And! Her experience as a person who gives birth makes her extremist religious beliefs, and her positions on matters of public health policy, categorically different from those of men. Even extremist, fundamentalist Men claim to decide such things on the basis of sober, detached consideration about the public merits of policies; avowedly moral consideration, but presumably reasoned nonetheless.

But Ms. Palin’s passions, beliefs, intractability and extremism are unquestionable, honorable, unchallengeable, even sacred somehow, because they come from someplace in her body other than her head. Her beliefs are sacral; hence they cannot be wrong. How could Motherhood be wrong? Clearly, the extremism of Ms. Palin is not an opinion or a belief or a good heavens a policy position. Or ideological or “partisan.” It is Something Else- and the entry of this Something Else into a presidential election is decidedly ominous and dangerous.

If these are matters of public policy that are subject to appropriate consideration and debate among responsible citizens, is not Ms. Palin excluded from such deliberations? I mean, how fuckin’ sexist is that? How many goddamn ways do you want this, people?

The interviewee avers that the questions raised –the questions themselves– are reprehensible and prejudicial. She then says that the event has caused her to be more likely to vote for McCain in the Presidential election. No questions are raised about this woman’s teleology by the interviewer. But we think it might be stupid. It’s not because she’s a woman. It’s because she’s stupid.

In observing this, we have had a moment of clarity about how political persuasion works. In our popular lexicon, we can understand this as “push” marketing.

McCain, his political party, his associates and affiliations, the policies and the positions he advocates, and the consequences of his possible election have not been raised in this dialogue. Yet, the interviewee describes a significant, perhaps determinant, experience in her voting decision.

This woman is now more likely to vote for candidate McCain, on the basis of something said by a television “journalist.” That person does not appear at all in the radio piece I heard. She must be a woman, though.

Firstly, we think this is a dangerously ignorant and inappropriate way to decide such things. While this was not obviously apparent to the interviewer, the interviewee, and to NPR as an editorial mechanism, we hope that it is clear to you.

It is the privilege of television “journalists” to state their inane prejudices and tautological conclusions without reflection, or reason, or support of any basis in reality. Often they proffer them as “questions.” We claim the same privilege in stating, without evidence,  that the “journalist” in question is ignorant, wrong, offensive, immature and rude. This may not be true, but so be it. We don’t care. It is our privilege to be wrong. But perhaps we should phrase it as a question. As long a we can avoid claims that we are Not Fair or Balanced…

Of course, I do not mean to suggest that the questions raised by this “journalist,” in themselves, are inappropriate. Likelihood is, they are meaningful and important questions, and help illuminate the issue. Questions are good. Great questions. Necessary questions. She must be a woman. Most questions are not “irresponsible” unless they are ideological statements cloaked as questions. Then, they are unequivocally and categorically dishonest, deceitful and wrong, whatever the ideological position. This happens all the time. Especially among these here so-called “journalists.”

We can hope that the voter in question is simply rejecting, in an entirely appropriate indignance, this whole way of conducting our public conversation and selecting of who will represent us. Hurray! But confusion reigneth beneath, and the ultimate effect on her thinking –and on her acting as a serious member of a polity- is contradictory, wrong and very, very damaging.

The interviewee has been influenced in her voting decision by her distaste for the conduct of this “journalist.” Without referring to her own beliefs or her self-interest. She is so off the hook! Like the jury that acquitted O. J. Cut-Throat Simpson. Just like it.

Let’s call this “Push” Electioneering. She votes, based on her dislike of someone she do not know, whom she has never met, of whose opinion she have a very low regard (and is objectively of no consequence at all), who has offended her, and who has nothing, literally nothing, to do with the opinions and intentions of any candidates. Someone who she believes to be ignorant, wrong, offensive, immature and rude.

Basing one’s decision on whom to vote for on such bullshit is wrong. II guess not so obviously so, though, unless we tease this thing apart. We’re clear, though, right? This is Bad decision-making?

In our public discourse, it is implicit and unquestioned that events like this, and the reporting of them, are a meaningful part of our public conversation about how we will govern ourselves. This is “journalism.” Does this suggest that the “reporting” of this, the airing of the interview itself, is a newsworthy and responsible, even significant, part of what we are to know and how we are to decide? More, does it suggest that this important “journalism” might in itself affect how others vote? Wow.

Wow. This is what we humbly submit may be called “Push” Electioneering. You and I, having listened to this third-hand “journalistic report,” will decide how to vote. We’ll decide who will be President of the United States, in distaste, in our rejection of the final, crowning stupidity and offensiveness of some person on television, whom we don’t know and will never meet, who has no proper role in how we govern ourselves, and whom we categorically disrespect and distrust. Appropriately distrust. And whose actual interview we never heard.

So much for “Push” Electioneering. Let’s look at the “political” dynamics of this.

Questions are raised about whether Ms. Palin may have been chosen in order to appeal to supporters of Ms. Clinton, disaffected (“pushed”) by their bitterness about candidate Obama’s nomination. The suggestion is implicit, that bitterness, specifically on the part of women, will affect how votes are made. Republican electioneers believe this to be so. The choice of  Ms. Palin supports the conclusion.

Questions are raised whether this may be a “political” choice on the part of the McCain campaign, as opposed to a “governing” choice. It is implied that if this is so, it is unsavory, but why or how is never examined. Why indeed? Why might we care, why might it matter, if a Presidential candidate does such things? If it matters, especially if it is wrong, how should we understand it? Do we infer that a better choice than Ms. Palin would result from a more responsible decision? That Ms. Palin is an irresponsible choice? A wrong choice? Yes, it does. A Wrong Choice. The veiled suggestion of such things, but not their exposure and analysis, might be the work of “journalists;” NPR in this case.

Difficult analysis such as this is needed to excavate how questions, inferences, and possible answers about matters such as the choice of Ms. Palin are truly sexist. They truly do violence to honest public understanding and debate about real issues.

But don’t overlook the grim but unexamined sexism in the grounding of the whole sequence in suppositions about the bitterness and irrationality of woman supporters of Ms. Clinton. Ms. Clinton is obviously right in her refusal to engage in this whole matter of accusations of prejudice, sexism and personal acrimony surrounding Ms. Palin.

The selection of Ms. Palin as a running-mate for McCain is much more insidious, clever and destructive of public discourse than appears from events like the interview described above.

Take a look. People are angry. Tropes, old wounds, stereotypical assumptions, old lies and dissimulations about feminism and  the Right and the Left are upside down, confused, muddled and now seemingly unstable. Sexism, raw and ugly, is an invited guest in this campaign, and it is indiscriminately damaging our public process and injuring us all. But it wears a nice, new pantsuit of sheep’s clothing.

Right reactionaries are defending and espousing “feminism.” They are decrying supposed attacks on a woman, made supposedly because she is a woman.

Clinton supporters are infantilized, derogated and further embittered. They are allegedly “pushed” by right-reactionary trivialization of the substance of feminism and its commitments.

Left critical thinkers (and “journalists”) are demonized not only as sexist, but as low, deceitful, cynical (and hypocritical) manipulators, stooping to blunt personal attacks to “play politics.”  To “win” without regard to the principles and commitments that actually distinguish “liberals” from “conservatives.” As we know, painting the left as cynically hypocritical manipulators is an opinion-management technique that obscures and whitewashes the deceit and hypocrisy of the right. (See our essay Liberal Bias.)

We submit the following.

The choice of Ms. Palin is more insidiously cynical, deceptive and sexist than we could have iunderstood, without examining what is happening now. Tossed into the presidential campaign, irresponsibly and dangerously, it has clouded, disrupted, confused and veiled the commitments and convictions of all liberation politics. It has undermined and simultaneously obscured the foundations of liberation, of inclusion, of the entire post-colonial project. It is far more dangerous than first appeared to the history and unity of movements of resistance to the reactionary powers that impoverish and disenfranchise us.

This is discursive, rhetorical deceit at its best. Simultaneously, in one super-swell fell swoop, the unity and solidarity of feminism, liberalism, progressivism and liberation politics in general have all been confused, obscured and erased. Worse, the language of feminism and the voices of resistance in general, have been co-opted, hijacked, contaminated and ultimately possibly silenced by “conservatives.” Listen to the indignance, the anger, the pain and resentment in the voices of this interviewee, and our “journalists,” about the avowed prejudiced transgressions of the “liberal left media.” We now see the incredible power of “Push” Electioneering.

We all owe a monumental debt to feminism and to feminists, whether or not we see it or know it or accept it. Losing any of the power, the meaning, the substance and the ennobling history of what feminism has brought to the politics of inclusion and liberation would be an enormous and unrecuperable loss. To us, this looks like a profoundly critical moment. Let’s not overlook the dangers of this kind of subversion of public discourse and theft of our language.

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editor @ 10:09 pm

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