Saturday, February 16, 2008

But in the Morning, Sir, I will be Sober

Old Joke:
Society Woman, to Winston Churchill "You, sir, are Drunk!"
Churchill "Yes, Madam, and you are ugly...but in the morning, I will be sober."

Or something like that. I don't want to beat a dead horse on this one but I do, do, do, wish that bloggers and Obama supporters would remember that the morning after the Democratic convention they are going to wake up in bed with a lot of people they've been calling ugly, and we will all be quite sober enough to be really, really, angry about it. Case in point. I wandered over to Kos this morning and found a highly recommended, many posted diary headlined "Hillary is Selfish." The following three hundred approving comments take for granted that all her motives are evil, and the evil-est portion of the whole thing is that her wishes run contrary to those of Obama and his supporters. Part of the fun, in these often two line posts, is to recapitulate things that "Hillary supporters" those poor, deluded, women, might say against these attacks. Female Obama supporters enter the lists to explain that something is never sexist if a woman says it--as though we hadn't just endured years of Ann Coulter and other femmes for hire offering cover for rampant misogyny.

Qua anthropologist I'd argue that we can't talk about the two candidates without sex and sexism intruding because we don't have a gender neutral language to begin with. Words have associations and meanings, histories and cultural backstops that give them a different valence depending on who is using them and who is being referenced. For example, while its trivially true that both men and women can be accused of being "selfish" -- they aren't accused of being selfish *for the same things.* And selfishness, too, is understood differently when applied to men and women. We have a long history in this society of seeing the singular male actor, acting selfishly for his own benefit, in fairly noble terms. We have *no* history or cultural appreciation for "elle, seule" the woman who makes her own way and does what she wants despite the needs and desires of those around her. Nevertheless, Kos and his commenters feel very comfortable continually demonizing HRC with sexist and sexed language while at the same time telling others that they are, essentially, crazy old biddies if they criticize it.

In a race where both candidates are performing the same political tasks can we honestly say that we can present any evidence about the two candidates that isn't sexed, or classed, or raced to a degree that makes it hard to grasp the political reality without at the same time commenting on it and shaping it? I don't think so. At this point the campaign to control the meaning of the campaign seems to me to be utterly focused on demonizing Clinton and her supporters by continuously transforming ordinary political acts into extra-ordinary forms of evil, anti democratic, selfishness. Another case in point? If you see a headline "Hillary outspends Obama on Ads" it is sure to come with an attached storyline that goes "Hillary's in trouble, needs to use paid advertisements to persuade the voter while Obama's authentic outreach enables him to reach voters directly." On the other hand, I saw a headline over at Buzzflash "Obama outspends Hillary on Ads" but we are merely to understand that as a strength of his fundraising--another knock on her.

Ezra Klein, I think, alluded to the phrase "conservation of virtues" in which what one candidate lacks the other is assumed to have and vice versa. If Obama is warm, Hillary must be cold, if Obama's supporters are X, then Hillary's supporters must be Y. I think of this more as the pathetically manichean model of political thought and action. But its certainly there, underlying a lot of commentary and a lot of ex-post facto rationale for how the candidates are doing and should do. The final manichean difference between the way Obama's supporters represent what is going on and the way the rest of the world may see it is the continued invocation of the idea that Obama alone, transformatively, represents the majority of voters. This underlies the accusation that Hillary is "selfish" while Obama is "unselfish"--- Obama's desires and actions are seen as unselfish because they are undertaken, we are assured, *for us* rather than for Obama. The more of "us" there are, therefore, the more unselfish Obama's actions become because the responsibility for them is shared among many. By contrast, if you believe (as many of Obama's supporters do as an article of faith) that Hillary represents a small number of deluded or angry or old line female supporters, well, her actions are deemed the more selfish because either she represents only herself or the voters she represents are too insignificant to dissipate the selfishness of her actions. Because Obama's supporters are assumed to be in the majority, and to be in the right, so--well, we can all do the math. When democracy has spoken, the one who speaks in opposition to the majority must be anti democratic.

But of course democracy hasn't spoken, yet, we're still in media res. And there is something quite disturbing to me in continually seeing the exact same behaviors lauded for one candidate and attacked for the other. As far as I can see Hillary's time has come and gone and she will go down to defeat and Obama will be the nominee. I don't quarrel with that and I don't even think its a bad thing for the party or the country. But there is something deeply disingenous about reading popular democratic bloggers and progressive bloggers continually smearing both Hillary and her voters when you know that tomorrow they are going to wake up in bed next to them and need to start pleading for understanding and forgiveness. And not only that, they are going to ask us to get up and make breakfast for them.