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Electoral Dog Whistles Are Giving Me A Headache

From: Tedra Osell To: Courtney E. Martin; Wendy Shanker I love Wendy's imaginary “bitch” speech for Clinton. (Of course, I would.) And like Courtney, I was appalled—no, make that, seriously pissed off—at Charlotte Allen's simpering blow job to the patriarchy. … Read More

By / March 25, 2008

From: Tedra Osell

To: Courtney E. Martin; Wendy Shanker

I love Wendy's imaginary “bitch” speech for Clinton. (Of course, I would.) And like Courtney, I was appalled—no, make that, seriously pissed off—at Charlotte Allen's simpering blow job to the patriarchy.

Speaking of simpering, Chris Matthews continues to smirk and leer about Clinton at every opportunity. Hirshman, who I too like, tries to talk about the class issues in this primary, but concludes with a cutesy swipe at “the fickleness of the female voter.” Allen's and Hirshman's editor tries to defend his decision to publish blatant misogyny by playing the humorless feminist card.

So yes, I too am getting really, really tired of these primaries. Up until recently, I've enjoyed this political season and been excited about the possibility of a brokered convention. But the unremitting media sexism is really wearing me down, and now racism's starting to show up, too, with the increasing claims that Obama is somehow “unqualified.” You know, the same way that black applicants to competitive colleges and professional programs are “unqualified” to take the places that ought to be somehow guaranteed to white students.

Sadly, the Clinton campaign has helped push this message. First with the “plagiarism” charges, and now with the (incredible) statement that McCain “will bring a lifetime of experience to the White House”–unlike Obama. Then there's Bill's statements in South Carolina, and Clinton's own insistence that Obama “denounce and reject” Farrakhan during the Ohio debate.

Part of me wants to point out that this is politics as usual, and that expecting Clinton to be “above” infighting or negative campaigning is just a version of the canard that women have to be twice as good as men to be considered equal. After all, what male politician in recent memory has refrained from negative ads? Even Obama's had a couple of sexist moments—his saying that “the claws come out” when Clinton was behind pretty bad, and though I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt on the “periodically, when she's feeling down” remarks, some feminists aren't. Am I the only one who hears a tone of sexist disdain in arguments that Clinton, the woman candidate, should be more virtuous than that?

Still, part of what's attractive about Obama, obviously, is that he has (mostly) been more virtuous than we're used to. “The claws come out” is mild compared to implicitly endorsing McCain over Obama, or holding Obama responsible for Farrakhan despite not having responded to Andrew Cuomo's “shuck and jive” comments. I'm still hoping that if Obama wins the nomination, his change message and inspirational qualities will help Democrats appeal to America's better nature—and though I'm less sanguine about Clinton's ability to do this, I certainly hope that if she's nominated, she'll do the same.

But in the meantime, all these dog whistles are giving me a headache.

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