I delayed a few days in writing this as I didn't want to rain on Paul Krugman's Nobel parade, an award he richly deserves, but even he says it's time to move on from that.
I was disgusted by Krugman's blog post on October 10, Not about the Financial Crisis, but not for the reasons most people had. Most writers focused on the comments about the right-wing hatred towards Obama and how afraid Krugman felt seeing this hatred. Part of me is just tired of the "They're all out to kill me!" story line Obama has been pushing since last year. News flash, Precious: Anyone who runs for or occupies the office of President becomes a potential assassination target. Ask George Wallace. Ask Gerry Ford. Why was Krugman so shocked, shocked, at the sight of angry right-wingers chanting violent threats? Political violence in this country is overwhelmingly from the Right, with a few notorious examples on the Left. It is often mixed with racism and always linked to authoritarian personalities who believe that they have some cause or mission that justifies their use of violence to achieve their ends. This is what ties William Ayers to Timothy McVeigh, and why ethical people shun Ayers to this day. He ordered the murder of people for ideological reasons and has never repented of his acts. It is to the credit of the Left that we don't have many like this. But what bothered me most about Krugman's post was not what he said, but what he left out.
We've seen this before. One thing that has been sort of written out of the mainstream history of politics is the sheer insanity of the attacks on the Clintons - they were drug smugglers, they murdered Vince Foster (and lots of other people), they were in league with foreign powers. And this stuff didn't just show up in fringe publications - it was discussed in Congress, given props by the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, and so on.
What it came down to was that a significant fraction of the American population, backed by a lot of money and political influence, simply does not consider government by liberals (even very moderate liberals) legitimate. Ronald Reagan was supposed to have settled that once and for all.
The problem, Paul, is that the Left has been doing the exact same thing to the Clintons and Clinton Democrats for the last eight years. The Incomparable Bob Somerby gently takes Krugman to task, as he does all self-styled progressives who avert their eyes to the sins of the SCLM (my emphasis):
THE DECLINE OF THE REST: Paul Krugman has long been our favorite top-level columnist-the one who almost always says something accurate and/or relevant. And of course, Krugman is the only high-end columnist who would have typed what follows. As we noted yesterday, this material appeared last Friday, on his New York Times blog: [quoting same paragraph as I did above]
There are shortcomings to that paragraph-which appeared as part of a short post on a larger subject. In our view, it's always a mistake when liberals fail to mention an obvious fact-the fact that the insanity of the attacks on the Clintons was quickly transformed, in March 1999, into the insanity of the attacks on Candidate Gore. And that twenty-month Group Insanity "didn't just show up in" conservative editorial pages, like that of the Wall Street Journal; it was heavily driven by famous "liberals" on the op-ed page Krugman shares. We especially think of Frank Rich and Bob Herbert, who were still driving the most inane critiques of Gore even after his first debate with Bush. But the sheer insanity of the 1990s was widely purchased, all around. Even "liberals" signed up for the Clinton-hatred, then agreed to extend it to Gore.
None of these giants has ever explained why this insanity happened.
As Krugman put it, this history-changing episode has been "written out of the mainstream history of politics." Most career liberals still won't discuss it. For that reason, most voters have never heard that it even occurred.
Among top-end pundits, only Krugman will ever discuss this insanity.
Somerby's point, expressed mildly towards Krugman in recognition of the work Krugman has done to call out the idiocy, is that it is not just the Right that launched broadsides against some of the most talented and capable leaders we currently have, but the Left was fully involved in it, too. This election season, all of the worst attacks on the Clintons have been from the Left, right down to repeating the lies about murdering a personal friend, about their aberrant sexuality, about their criminal business dealings, about their insatiable lust for power. Cover the names and you couldn't tell Scaife from Josh Marshall.
What the two best critical voices on the Left have also left out in these criticisms, particularly glaring in Krugman's post given his focus on violence and assassination, is that this election season has not been marked by racism, but by misogyny of a very violent kind, and that this violence has come overwhelmingly from the Left. I don't think this is because the Left is inherently more misogynistic than the Right, but see it as a sign that expressing hatred of and desires to inflict violence upon women is as acceptable across the political spectrum as racism was in the first half of the 20th Century. While Krugman was consistently critical of Obama and the more general lies his campaign promoted about Hillary Clinton throughout the primaries, he has a single blog post after the primaries were over scolding a general audience (Sexism? Who, us? )about the presence of "raw sexism" as one of a number of factors that made for a bad primary, but immediately walked back his criticism by saying "So this is no time for a protest vote."
And why not?
While he has a public freak out over some typical wing-nuts yelling violent threats, Krugman did not say a single word at the time (nor anything since) about Keith Olbermann's very public exhortation on national TV for some Democratic delegate to kill Hillary because she was politically inconvenient. As I said then:
...However, certainly within the liberal blogosphere and the MSM (I do not venture into the wingnut fever swamps), there is no drumbeat for violence against Obama.
This is not the case with Hillary. I have myself read comments advocating rape and murder. I have read main posts saying she was inciting violent acts against her, or saying they could "understand" the position of those who wished violent harm to befall her, her husband and her daughter. The descriptions of what Obama should do to Hillary verge on the pornographic. Not a day goes by that some prominent voice on the left or in the MSM does not demand her submission, subordination and public humiliation.
And now a major MSM celebrity and talking head, not some anonymous commenter on some obscure blog, has openly and unapologetically advocated that Hillary Clinton be marched into a dark room and murdered.
Think that is too far? A real stretch? Just a tad bit hysterical? Replace Hillary Clinton with Barack Obama in that formulation and you tell me what that means. If someone said this about Barack Obama, it would mean that this man be lynched to remove him from a path to power. Period. Full stop. No equivocations. It would be understood as nothing less than a call for the man's murder, and there would be an outcry from EVERY Democrat, even those of us who do not much care for Obama as a candidate, condemning those words, because that is what we are called upon to do when confronted with evil.
And, when those kinds of threats were made towards Obama, they were instantly and vehemently denounced and not just by Democrats. It was called for what it was, on the spot, and McCain was rightly held responsible for tacitly condoning the threats. The Right needs to be called out and condemned for its reliance on threats and acts of violence to advance its political goals. It is the party of Timothy McVeigh, of clinic bombers, of Abu Ghraib.
But the Democrats and the self-proclaimed progressive blogosphere have shown themselves to be more than willing parties to misogyny and violence against women. Along with Olbermann's homicidal fury, there were the widespread comments after the Kentucky Derby that the euthanized filly was a good example for what should be done to Hillary. The language and imagery I mentioned when writing about Olbermann resurfaces every time there is a breath of a rumor that somehow Hillary isn't campaigning hard enough for Obama. How she is going to pay if he loses, because... well, because she is there and women are the usual targets of violence when men feel disempowered, disrespected, disappointed that they didn't get what was owed to them. The deep irony of the Obama campaign's self indulgent "She wants us dead!" yowling over the RFK reference is that the parallel was between Hillary and RFK - trailing in the delegate count but persisting to the end despite threats and danger. She was the person in RFK's shoes and the one at risk of murder, not Obama, especially given the constant agitation against her at every level of the media.
I started to write up a post about misogyny and this election cycle and found I have been writing about it since November 4, 2007, almost an entire year. I doubt I will be finished after November 5th, 2008. This campaign has been defined by false claims of racism and the brutal enactment of misogyny. The assaults on women as women show us that using misogyny to intimidate and eradicate female participants (voters as well as candidates) is excusable in a way that racist assaults are not. Racist attacks have to be dog whistled because they cannot be made openly without immediate backlash and condemnation by people in power and major opinion makers. Allan's "macaca" moment is an example of this, and I think the McCain campaign rally tapes will be another. Public imagery of Obama that has any racist overtones (such as the New Yorker cover, which I do believe was intended as satire) is greeted with anger and derision. There are words you just can't say in connection with Obama without having hot coals heaped on your head.
This is a good thing.
It is how our society should respond to attacks upon anyone for what they are. It is how any true progressive will respond, regardless of how the larger society behaves. But this outrage does not extend to women. Language and imagery denigrating women as women (bitch, shrew, whore, cunt, slut) are available on most of the well-trafficked locations of Left Blogistan, in the spring referring to Hillary, this fall referring to Sarah Palin. Cannonfire presents a few ugly examples of just how unfiltered the hatred has become, and is probably not safe for most workplaces.
The people at McCain's rally were indefensible, and we did not see any mainstream, reputable new reporter of public figure saying that he could "understand" why people would want to murder Obama, or even something less than that level of violence. We saw and heard exactly that kind of excuse summoned to dismiss threats and smears against Hillary and we are in a rerun of even worse with Gov. Palin. Violence and maltreatment of women has as long and, yes, as violent a history in this country as racism. Neither women nor minorities have been treated all that well, and both have placed their hopes in the Democratic Party to right past wrongs and prevent more in the future. This election cycle, whether the mainstream media will acknowledge it or not, whether the A-List blogs will cop to their gleeful gang bang of women they love to hate, has been a very public repudiation of one groups' hopes.
That female identification with Hillary and later Palin has been dismissed as either irrational (vagina voting) or actually a sign of secret racism exposes the ease with which misogyny is mobilized to try to belittle, badger, and dominate. Its very ubiquity makes it unremarkable and difficult to problematize. Our arguments and explanations on how we perceive our interests to be best served are trivialized as the whines of "bitter knitters" instead of serious challenges by engaged citizens. Insisting that we be heard garners a mix of aggressive bluster and wide-eyed faux-innocence.
Misogyny deniers try to focus on just a few figures, and explain away broad actions as being reasonable responses to these despicable, polarizing broads. No, no, it's not that we are kicking women down; it's that Hillary's a cold bitch! We'd like someone else. But not Ferraro, that racist, shriveled up old hag. And Chelsea is really just letting herself get pimped out. Then we defend teenage sexuality, except for that wanton slut, Bristol Palin, and her bigger slut, the mother I'd like to fuck (MILF), Sarah. But then how to explain the fury expressed at women who do not support Obama? It's any woman who does not toe the line, not just the politicians.
Too many doing this, male and female alike, will not accept that the modes of attack "work" because they rely on a background of bigotry and denigration that attaches itself to all female bodies. They can laugh at images of a fist smashing into Palin's face until her bones are broken and her teeth are knocked out because that is an excusable, if not precisely acceptable, way to treat women in this culture. I think of the photos of the faces of battered women in Annie Liebovitz's photo essay book, Women, and wonder what they would think of that imagery. The shirt "Bros before Hos" with Obama and Hillary's faces on it was a giggle fest for most of the left wing blogs ( at worst a "tsk, tsk, that's childish" objection) but "works" because women are whores and we brothers have to stick together against those greedy bitches. We all know women are just out to bleed you dry, just like your ex-wife did. The current pop hit "Whatever You Like" is little more than a sugar-coated version of a man asking to buy access to a woman's body, but the bro/ho relationship is clear.
Would there have been similar amusement on the Left if McCain supporters promoted shirts with a racial slur, such as "Homeland before Homeboys," or "Stop the buck here"? When someone proposed a PAC called "C.U.N.T" with an image of a star-spangled female crotch, it was seen as tacky at worst and usually as uproariously funny. What if there had been a PAC called "No Indulgence, Genuine Gains, Equal Rewards," with an image of a blackface minstrel in an Uncle Sam costume, or other patriotic emblems on a disembodied rapper (capped teeth, baggy pants, set of heavy chains and medallions, etc.), wouldn't that have been some good natured ribbing? You know, don't take it so seriously or personally. What about PACs called S.P.I.C., W.O.P., K.I.K.E., B.E.A.N.E.R, etc.? All in tacky fun, hey?
Calling Hillary a cunt or Sarah Plain a slut only work because of the misogynistic backdrop in which we understand that these are qualities of being female, and where they are used to shame, humiliate, intimidate and justify violence against the women so named, exactly as racial epithets are used to do the same on reviled minorities. These kinds of racial epithets and imagery were acceptable, even respectable, in popular culture. Alex Guinness' great movie, Kind Hearts and Coronets, released in 1950, shocked me when I saw it in the 70s. Watch the movie trailer for the particular scene. Some versions have been dubbed to remove the offending word. I remember eating at "Sambo's" restaurants as a child, a chain marketed through racist imagery. It is now gone. Conversely, there are two "Hooters" restaurants within 10 miles of my house, where women's breasts are the central marketing tool for second rate fried food. It's promoted as a "family" restaurant, by the way.
What the campaign season has demonstrated is misogyny is as acceptable a weapon of social and political dominance as race demagoguery was through George Wallace's presidential campaigns. By Reagan, it was dog whistle time. I've written before why the fauxgressive Left is happy to profit from misogyny as a social condition in Just Like Grad School and Weeding out the Competition,
The reaction can be guilt rather than anger because there is really no chance that this class of people will ever get ahead as a class such that there would be competition. It may not be PC to say this, but there is a very rational basis for working class white racism that has nothing to do with believing minorities are lesser beings and everything to do with keeping that structural advantage in place. That's why the cynical claims of the Obama campaign about Archie Bunkers - when the target is actually the guilty upper middle class - doesn't ring true. Obama himself is no threat. He codes "white". The threat he offers is not raising up minorities but turning his back on all the working class and failing to enact policies and programs that will help those who are struggling. The real way to undermine racism is by increasing economic stability and prosperity, not by trying to shame people living on the edge as some kind of moral reprobates.
Change the makeup of that class and suddenly the privileged white boyz start getting nasty. The structural disadvantage that kept women from competing directly for previously male-only positions, structures both legal and cultural, have disappeared with enormous speed in the last forty years, especially the last twenty, and while entry of women into the workplace in professional and skilled labor ranks (they have always worked their asses off in retail, agriculture and service industries) has increased household income, it has also curbed a rise in male wages while offering increased competition for positions. Women's economic success has directly harmed individual male economic success and the concomitant social privilege. ...
The success Hillary is enjoying is flushing the fauxgressives out of the woodwork. Hillary hatred has permutations beyond simple misogyny, but the very real competition that women as a class offer these guys is what we see bubbling up in anti-feminist broadsides and pathetic attempts to reduce women's choices and aspirations to acts of vagina voting or bitchy resentment. What we are seeing in this election, from right and left, is the rage of white males who see their privilege under real threat and they don't like it one bit.
It's not the entire explanation, but I think it explains a large part of why Left Blogistan fell all over itself to see who could piss on women, candidates and voters alike.
There is no "answer" for it as long as it is a contest where the privileged have no intention of letting the dominated get a leg up, and where authoritative critical voices fall silent when wrongs are committed. Paul Krugman, I'm sorry to tell you that your willingness to push aside all the unpleasantness for the sake of winning the election, lecturing Hillary voters, us bitter knitters, to not go away mad just because we've been threatened with rape, murder, beatings and torture if we don't ditch that bitch and vote for The Precious has materially harmed women. You should have been screaming every day about how Obama had better put Hillary on the ticket or else watch half the party walk off, encouraging people to be angry over being treated with contempt instead of meekly getting the scraps from the table. Maybe if someone of your stature took seriously that treating women badly to their faces means treating them badly in social policy - the kinds of policies I have reason to believe you support - we'd have a hope of moving Obama out of his neo-Reaganite position and slightly towards something that moves the country towards the left.
Changing the subject doesn't change the situation.
For me, my political calculus has changed. There's never been a chance I would vote for Obama, nor that I would vote for any Republican, and for much the same reason - illiberal, misogynist, classist, and lacking a vision for the construction of progressive state. I also will not be forced out of my party and the institutional power it can command. However, my money will not go to general party funds or to PACs where it might be used to support candidates and party officials who refuse to fight back against misogyny. My votes will only go to women from now on. Male Democrats are going to have earn back my support by performing public, material acts to counter misogyny, such as promoting the ERA again, defending women's reproductive choices, passing UHC, which is of greatest importance to women with dependent children and no employer-based insurance, raising the minimum wage which affects women's job categories the most, defending Social Security, and supporting GLBT rights.
The lady killers are no more and no less than the racists of the Left, and should be treated as such.
Note - A few edits throughout to correct formatting problems and correct grammar. Reference to Annie Liebovitz's book added.