It’s a tossup, right now, whether tonight’s app-related debacle for the Iowa Democratic party is the result of ratfucking — be it Republican or Russian — or just standard issue Democratic rake-stepping, or even just the semi-inevitable buggery when a new tech gizmo is deployed for the first time. Either way it’s giving all of us agita while we wait for the paper/pics of paper to be tallied. The whole thing is pretty on-brand for the twenty-first century.
But there is one silver lining, which is in every explainer published instead of the vote totals (or whatever) and what it all means analysis they all expected to go with, everyone’s finally admitting that Iowa doesn’t mean shit, delegate-wise, and is only important because the caucuses, simply by being first, help shape perceptions and narrative.
“Yet the power of the caucuses is that they can change that state of play. Based on Iowa’s results, candidates believed to be in the top tier can either solidify that status or stumble, and underdogs can either break out or fall flat. Iowa has this effect because it greatly influences the perceptions of the political world — the media, activists, party insiders, donors, the candidates themselves, and voters — about who can win.”
And that, my friends, is a righteous good thing.
All of punditry has been waiting for this night, when they can finally say who’s up or who’s down, who’s a contender, who beat or missed expectations, who should throw in the towel. Every four years, a few hundred thousand white people performing an arcane ritual that has people sorting themselves into physical groups and then performing arcane calculations to allocate delegates who will themselves meet later to perform calculations to allocate delegates, who will themselves blah blah blah so that, come June, 40-odd of 4000-odd delegates to the Democratic Convention can yell their candidate’s name. It’s a ridiculous, outdated process (I, myself, have attended two caucuses, which were such complete shit-shows that I ended up running both precincts because, well, someone had to), a relic from a bygone era of not picking candidates by popular vote. Which is not a good look for a party that takes its name from the word ‘democracy’.
Look, I got nothing against Iowans. But they aren’t even remotely representative of the people who make up/vote for the Democratic party. They’ve had a good thing going these last fifty years, what with the quadrennial boost to their economy. But a tiny, empty, rural state performing an outdated political ritual to allocate their near-inconsequential number of delegates isn’t much better than strange women in ponds distributing swords when it comes to picking a candidate for President.
It’s not like that’s a big secret. But it’s nice to see it said out in the open like that.
In the wake of the DNC (“Stepping on our own dicks since 1972!”) changing debate qualifications so Mike Bloomberg gets his moment to shine after almost all the candidates of color have dropped/been forced out — and in these first days of Black History Month — this piece at The Root by Terrell Jermaine Starr resonates even more:
“Basically, Iowa allows white men to shoot their shot when they really shouldn’t even think about trying.
But it does something else far worse: kill the campaigns of non-white candidates. Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker were two of the most resume-ready candidates for president in recent memory and their melanin was icing on the cake. However, neither of them were able to sustain their candidacies, which depended on prioritizing the black voters who were supposed to buoy their campaigns. Julián Castro, a Latino and former Housing and Urban Development secretary who championed racial justice more than any other person on the trail, dropped out in December.
One has to wonder if any of these candidates would still be in the race if, say, South Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi were the first primary states, where conversations around reproductive rights, infant mortality rates and combating racism would be at the top of black voters’ minds. Invariably, candidates would have to center black issues in the early stages of their campaigns and national media would have to shape coverage around these issues because it’s simply too many negroes in those states not to.
‘Iowa is considered ‘real America’ by far too many journalists and politicians where heartland, Middle America and rural are all proxies for whiteness and centering white political priorities,” Greer said. “And then New Hampshire just one week later presents a lopsided account of the needs, wants, and values of the entire party.’”
“In my view, Warren offers a far more plausible and more detailed case for how the next president must run the government once in office. Her “I’ve got a plan for that” is actually true: She and her staff tapped first-class teams of advisers from nationwide networks of progressive lawyers, economists, techies, educators, medical and military personnel, and environmentalists. In each of her plans, she has adroitly analyzed key issues (in readable, nontechnical language) and stated what her administration would do to address them.
“In her skill and dedication campaigning for other candidates; in doggedly shepherding tough, controversial bills through Congress; and in constructing a significant federal agency from scratch, Warren has demonstrated her ability to both win elections and govern.
Just as important, in weaving together support across the Democrats’ diverse constituencies, she has shown herself to embody not just the prophetic but also the complex and very human mix of emotions most of us feel: indignation, empathy, hope, openness—the deep, abiding yearning to turn America in a new direction.”
“But as we watch – and I with growing dread – the winnowing down of the Democratic field potentially to three white men, Sanders, Biden and Buttigieg, we are faced again with the problem of gender. I have, thus far, been disappointed watching progressive white feminists and feminists of color alike continue to argue for a socialist revolution on the grounds that gender would be covered. They make this same case about race, and that, too, is dubious.
Sanders is the most progressive and revolutionary candidate on the merits, these folks argue, so the fact that Warren is a woman – and similarly progressive – can’t matter. The insistence that an elderly white man’s socialist revolution will better address my 21st-century black feminist gender concerns is textbook white liberal paternalism. How will Sanders white masculinity affect and inform how he governs? This is a question that we should get to ask. Being progressive doesn’t mean that one’s race or gender ceases to matter in one’s leadership style and prerogatives, especially not in a world where gender and race are always presumed to matter for how women and people of color will govern.
There are two other broad strands of argument on the left from those who insist that they aren’t compelled to proffer the vagina vote. There are those on the black left, who have convinced themselves that there’s no reason to vote for a white woman, because white women are simply water-carriers for a white-supremacist project. As a black feminist, I stand in a long tradition of black women thinkers who have critiqued white women’s gender and racial politics and have called them out for their collusion with white supremacy. And as a regular black chick, I have more than a few stories of white women who inspire my resentment. But a patriarchal analysis reminds us that gender still matters, and it still determines access to structural leadership. In a world where white women voters skewed toward Trump and will likely skew toward him again, it’s fine to distrust white women. It’s not fine to shunt gender to the side when an actual progressive female candidate is running for office.
The second group judges candidates based on how they stack up on the merits with regard to progressive policy. So if you are a member of the radical anti-capitalist left, and Warren insists, as she did in Tuesday’s debate, in talking about how “to make markets work,” then on the merits you have to vote for Sanders the Socialist. Or so the argument goes. But because the analysis of gender here is ancillary, these folks never have to think about whether the first woman to win the presidency can do so as a socialist, given the ways that the concept of the “bleeding heart liberal” carries underneath it a misogynist edge about namby-pamby femme people. It is remarkable that Warren has fared as well as she has running as far to the left as she has. America carries big-stick energy around the world, a phallic project that places female leaders in the position of trying to replicate these behaviors in order to appear tough or reject them at the risk of appearing soft. (Hillary Clinton couldn’t crack this code, and Warren will have to figure it out if she manages to face Trump in the general.)
These voters also choose never to think about the ways that merit-based arguments of the same sort are deployed by corporate America or the halls of academia to wall women and racial minorities out of access to great jobs and organizational leadership opportunities. Anyone who has ever served on a committee charged with hiring candidates who bring some diversity to a place understands how things go when the white guy who meets all the criteria (because he has had structural access to all the privileges that would help him meet all the criteria) is up against a promising woman or person of color who is very good but falls down in a few categories. Or conversely she’s the best, but the standards as written and understood make hiring her seem like too much of a risk. Hiring committees often struggle with what feels to them like the fundamental unfairness of allowing a candidate’s diversity to put them over the top. Many (white) members of these committees see this as a sullying of (a mythic) meritocracy in a way that disadvantages white men. But first, they have to believe that the man in question received all his qualifications on the merits and not because of structural privileges. I expect people on the progressive and radical left, those who claim to understand how intersectionality works, to know better, but they aren’t acting like they do.
Wanting a woman to rise to the top of an almost all-male pack is not a position that needs defending. What should be defended is the uncritical desire to elect yet another man to a position that 45 men and zero women have held. That choice, to choose another man for President, should be held up to the strictest scrutiny and the highest standard. Gender alone is not a sufficient qualification to be President (though I can think of a few recent Presidents for which this seems to be the only qualification they had). But I am convinced that it should offer an edge in a situation where no cisgender women, trans people or gender nonbinary people have ever had a position. I think race should work similarly. The experiences one gains from being marginalized because of racism and sexism offer invaluable perspectives that often make candidates inclined to be more egalitarian and inclusive, precisely because they know intimately what exclusion feels like. We have another opportunity in this election to make clear that gender is not the stepchild of radical politics, and it is long past time that we take it.”
Start with the caveat: I’ve wanted Elizabeth Warren to run for President since 2009, when she first came to national prominence helping manage the Troubled Assets Relief Program. I was thrilled when she took Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat back from the Republicans, and I would have loved her to run in 2016, though I understood why she might choose not to. I’ve been a supporter since she announced in 2019, and I think of all the candidates running she’d make the best President, for reasons I’ll get into in a different post.
Bernie Sanders is my second choice. I was thrilled when he announced in 2016. Even though it was the longest of longshot candidacies, I was glad to see an out loud and proud progressive democratic socialist in the race, making news and getting the kinds of policies and critiques of the status quo I believe in into the mainstream discourse. I was thrilled with how far he exceeded expectations. But a tipping point came, at which he’d done what good he was going to, and the math was against him, with or without superdelegates and Clinton’s institutional support. And Bernie kept going.
Still, I’m glad that, this time around, not one but two progressive champions are not only in the arena, but have made it to the quarter-finals, when votes start getting cast and delegates allotted. And while I prefer Elizabeth over Bernie, I’ll be glad to see either of them collect delegates, because it means more legitimacy and power for the progressive wing of the Democratic party. If either of them win the nomination, they’ll have my full-throated support and whatever time or money I can cobble together to give them.
You probably haven’t been hiding under a rock, but in case you have, the non-aggression pact Warren and Sanders worked out a year ago, and that’s been working out for both of them pretty well, started to fray a bit last week. Whether it’ll crumble further’s up for grabs, as much as the mainstream press would like it to, since news means eyeballs and progressives in elected office means cracking the oligarchy trying to murder American Democracy right now and their salaries depend on their not understanding that.
Wolf Blitzer was clearly trying to get them to fight, wording his questions in such a way as to presume Sanders had said it. It was obvious, it was trite, and it showed Blitzer for what he is, a hack more interested in causing news than a journalist whose work is to report it.
There’s not a whole lot of daylight between Warren and Sanders, policy-wise. Certainly compared to the rest of the candidates on stage (don’t get me started on the Republicans). But there are differences of temperament and character that I think are telling and important, and I think the way the two of them handled the question in the moment — and after the debate, while the cameras were still running, though they mics weren’t hot anymore — tells us a lot about those differences.
I think it tells us a lot about the different standards men and women are held to, also. Even on the progressive left, where we really ought to know better.
You could see Elizabeth Warren on the split-screen while Bernie answered. Because he is Bernie — and, like so many men of his generation, can never do or be wrong, nor have done, or been, wrong, ever — he denied outright that he said it, called it ludicrous he or anyone would ever say such a thing (as if the person to whom he said it it were not right there next to him and also his longtime friend and ally), and corrected the record surprisingly meticulously for a conversation had a very busy year ago.
Given her chance to respond, Elizabeth Warren confined herself to two words, “I disagreed.” Then she turned and faced the 800-pound gorilla in the room head-on, and talked about how being a woman running for President in 2020 is not only not a disadvantage, it’s an outright advantage. She got the line of the night with how the men on stage had lost ten elections while the women hadn’t lost any. She made the case that the wave election of 2018 was attributable to the engagement of women as candidates and voters, which led to the Democratic House majority that have brought us not only four hundred plus pieces of legislation but impeached our corrupt gangster wannabe oligarch President.
In the back-and-forth after, Sanders reiterated his denial (reiterating his implicit claim that Warren is lying about what she said he said to her), and, in the middle of a pretty good line about how if any of the women — or men — onstage with him got the nomination, he’d be happy to support them, went off on a tangent about how he hoped it wasn’t any of them, he hoped it was him.
Elizabeth Warren talked about what she wanted to do as President, and made a case for why she was the candidate to unite both sides of the party. A thing that’s pretty important going into a campaign year that could decide more than just who’s in charge of various government entities for the next few years (hey there, climate change! Whatcha got in store for us?).
“I think you called me a liar on national TV,” Warren told Sanders.
“What?” asked Sanders.
“I think you called me a liar on national TV,” Warren said.
“You know, let’s not do it right now. If you want to have that discussion, we’ll have that discussion,” Sanders said.
“Anytime,” Warren said.
“You called me a liar,” Sanders said, adding: “You told me — all right, let’s not do it now.”
She ignores his proffered handshake. He’s confused, then dismissive. We’re not having this conversation right now, says his body language.
I have a feeling every woman I know has had something like that happen to her. Had her concerns — her integrity, even — dismissed and devalued by a man constitutionally incapable of admitting he was wrong.
[Caveat/Spoiler alert: I have also been that guy. Count me chagrined.]
Bernie Sanders could have done a little diplomacy and defused this whole nonsense. He could have made the whole situation disappear just by telling his friend and respected colleague that he recalled their conversation differently, but that he regretted giving her the impression he meant otherwise. He could have accepted some small degree of fault, apologized, and the whole thing would have been over.
Elizabeth Warren does not and did not have that option. Even if she did, that’s not her style. She’s done her damnedest this whole campaign not to go negative on anyone. She’s pointed out behaviors, and drawn distinctions between herself and, say, Pete Buttigieg. But she’s run a relentlessly positive campaign about what she means to do, how she means to do it, and why she’s the person who ought to be doing it. Even in the face of a callous, off-the-cuff insult from a self-proclaimed friend, she kept her cool and kept on mission.
And that, much as anything else, is why she’s my first choice, and Bernie only second. Because my political allegiance is not a fandom, it’s a reflection of my values, my character, and my honest best assessment of political effectiveness. Bernie’s good, and I think he’ll do the things I’d want a President to do more than he won’t, and it’ll be good for the country to elect someone so progressive. But Elizabeth Warren has a better temperament, is a more effective leader of large organizations, and will, I think, not only do better unifying the Democratic party behind her, she’ll do a better job winning the campaign and then governing after.
In more ways than one, I think it’s because she’s a woman.
You may feel differently, and that’s fine. That’s what primary season’s all about. And in the next month or two, we’ll all have a way better idea which candidate’s doing better. Til then, I think we’re all gonna be way better off remembering we’re all on the same side, and concentrating on who the real bad guys are.