Sunday, October 10, 2010

Unforced Errors

As I read the follow-ups and comments on this issue in news paper columns, comments threads and blogs, it's clear that Brown's defenders do not understand what kind of political problem they have stepped into. I am reading too many claims that people are not understanding all the possible meanings and connotations of the word "whore" as applied to political figures, and that it isn't misogynistic, it is a true and factual description of Meg Whitman, and don't we know how she is double-dealing on the public employee pension reform, yadda-yadda, none of which addresses the political problem.

Let's be clear about Whitman. Meg Whitman is a member of the dominant social class that mostly identifies as Republican, but not always, and is currently trying to return this country to a pre-New Deal condition. She is trying to win office to protect the interests of her class and position herself for a run at the White House. Bashing public employees in California is hot this electoral season just as much as winning the support of those self-same people is crucial to ballot box success. She is cutting political deals to get enough votes to win the election, just like every other candidate does. Her actions are unexceptional and completely conventional in the context of campaigning. This does not make her into anything except a candidate. She is not a political problem for the Democrats though she is proving to be an electoral problem.

The political problem is the lackluster and tone-deaf campaign Jerry Brown is running and the larger failure of the Democrats to take seriously the disaffection of large blocks of Democratic constituencies after the horrific slash-and-burn primaries of 2008. In particular, the deliberate deployment of misogyny opened wounds that have not healed for many of us who previously and strongly identified as Democrats and who now are not willing to give candidates, especially male candidates, much leeway in how they and their campaigns deploy gender-based appeals and attacks.

Given that Hillary wiped the floor with The Precious in California in the primary back then and given the high proportion of female Democratic office holders, party functionaries and voters in California, you'd think Gov. Moonbeam would have the sense God gave geese and be very certain not to allow a breath of anything in or around his campaign that would hint of sexism or misogyny. That he and his staffers do not "get it" is the political problem. There is also the strategic problem that they have shut down attention to Whitman's Arianna Huffington-esque "nanny problem"that was keeping her on the defensive.

It also follows on the heels of Jerry making an ass of himself by attacking Bill Clinton after a series of clever ads by Whitman, with Moonbeam offering rude and crude comments about the Lewinsky mess. Big Dog had to come in and save Jerry's ass as well as showing the fool how an expert handles these things. Bill just smiled and thanked Whitman for bringing him back to the attention of the California electorate - with special thanks for bringing such a young and good looking version of himself back - and exclaimed about how popular he was and how much people were talking about him now, which forced a comparison between the peace and prosperity of his administration and the Republican mess that followed. He made the target of his attack the Republican record, not Jerry Brown's petulance over a decades old loss.

Further, the use of the term whore (sorry, I won't call it "the w-word") wasn't an outburst in the midst of a heated debate, but calmly put forth as a deliberate strategic move. How anyone could think that publicly calling a female opponent a whore could be a winning or advantageous strategy boggles the imagination.

But there is a further dimension to this political problem that is going unnoticed by most political analysts. On the Spanish language radio stations, Whitman is running some very careful ads. She's making clear that she did not support Pete Wilson's anti-immigrant Prop 187, a measure that rallied Hispanic voters in California and throughout the Southwest and brought many over to the Democrats. She's also very clear to say she does not support the current hoohah in Arizona. (The fact that Pete Wilson is running her campaign only makes the irony more delicious.) Appealing to Hispanic voters and peeling as many as possible away from the Democrats is necessary for a Whitman win. She needs to distance herself from the anti-immigrant fanatics in her party while connecting on traditional family and social norms.

This starts opening up that whole messy cultural signifiers stuff that the Democrats have been failing on for the last few electoral cycles. The term whore has a different resonance in a Hispanic family than it does for the Whole Foods Nation crowd. There, in Jerry's cultural clan, the term is more ironic (especially when a hip guy jokingly uses it as a put-down for another hip guy), understood in its more abstract sense and not implying actual prostitution. This comes through in the comments and columns trying to wangle out some technical, less-female centric connotation of the word.

In a family like my husband's, a good solid working-class, Central Valley, traditional Catholic group, whore means, well, whore - a deadly insult to the woman so named and an attack on the honor of her entire family. It doesn't matter if Jerry's Jerks didn't mean it that way. That's the semiotics of the word in that setting.

It is reminiscent of Obama's clueless blather on people who cling to guns and God because they don't know better, another statement made in a situation where only insiders were supposed to hear it. Such a statement could only be made by someone who hasn't a freaking clue of how those words will be interpreted by other audiences. I don't know which one is worse - a wholesale if impersonal dismissal of millions of voters by a callow and arrogant candidate or a deliberate, malicious and personal targeting of an opponent by a worn-out and arrogant candidate. Both have the effect of needlessly antagonizing Democratic constituencies.

At present, the only thing saving the Democrat's collective ass is the lack of effective candidates on the Right, mostly due to the infighting of the Republicans. The claim of the 2008 campaign that The Precious would bring a newer, younger, hipper, more culturally acceptable constituency to the Democrats has been proved false.

These are unforced errors on Brown's part, all the worse for doing damage within the Democratic fold.


Anonymous said...

Bookmark it, I did!

Sexist slurs have a demonstratable negative impact on perceptions of a female politician's candidacy, with no regard for her actual performance. There is no reason to make racist slurs about a politician, and expect that to be tolerated. How about if we said a Jewish politician was "jewing" his constituents?

PS, the is the first time, like ever, I've been able to get my Wordpress account to work, when bloggers require visitors to log in to comment. I understand people are worried about trolls, but I can't be the only one who has difficulty.

Usually the only time I can comment is when the blog owner has enable the option for visitors to fill in the info manually. Cheers!

The Fabulous Kitty Glendower said...

Jerry Brown and his people have lost a great opportunity with Bell and Vernon, California. I kept waiting for it to be used as a counter to Whitman and it never happen. Why didn’t his people latch on to Bell and Vernon and counter that to Whitman?

In the meantime, my 11-year-old daughter laughs uncontrollably when Whitman commercials come on, especially the one that is like a power point and says FAIL FAIL FAIL FAIL next to Brown’s picture.

Bob Harrison said...

As always-- elegant and precise analysis. Great to see you posting again!

Koshem Bos said...

Welcome back even it's just a visit. I find Corrente to be high schoolish and gave up on it the way I gave up on almost all pretend lefty blogs. Brown demonstrates the same disease common to "progressives." They are not really progressive and good only at poking fun at Republican and Rahm.

I have fond memories of the gov when I lived in California. Too bad his campaign is badly run.

Anna said...

Whore is a term which implies that someone (weakly) abandons a sacred principle or trust in return for gain with a connotation that perhaps the person has no principles to begin with

There is no term or situation applied to males that I am aware of which carries a similar emotional impact. The closest I have come to envisioning one is to say that a man would prostitute his four year old son for gain. But this carries an implication of ruthlessness rather than weakness and the sense that engaging in sex is evil does not apply to him as a man because he is male but aises from the transgression of promoting sex with a child.

We need another term to indicate that someone will do anything for gain.

Eidin said...

Tell it, sister!