Sunday :: Jan 6, 2008

Sen. Obama and the Facebook Vote

by eriposte

One of the most revealing moments in yesterday's Democratic debate in New Hampshire was this exchange on Sen. Clinton's likability. If you didn't see it yesterday, take a minute to watch it, especially Sen. Obama's comment at the end.

When Sen. Clinton graciously said Sen. Obama is very likable, Sen. Obama had a derisive response - "you're likable enough, Hillary" (watch the video to see what I mean). This of course follows his recent dig about her having tea with ambassadors. His response yesterday reminded me of certain types of men I have encountered in my life, but let me leave it at that. Then, I saw this post by Domenico Montenaro at MSNBC's First Read (emphasis mine):

This may be an indication of why Obama faired well with young voters last week: Young voters may like him, but the majority didn't agree with him when he said that Hillary Clinton is "likable enough." According to the most recent Facebook poll...

"Do you agree with Barack Obama that Hillary Clinton is 'likable enough'?"
No 55%

Yes 45%

Let's just say that finally opened my eyes. For example, some of you may recall this Bill Moyers PBS show (emphasis mine - warning: unpleasant content ahead):

BILL MOYERS: But there's a very dark side to this, too, right?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: There's a dark side as well. The misogyny that is present on the Internet right now about Hillary Clinton is, I think, something worthy of public discussion. There are Internet sites, for example, sites on Facebook--

BILL MOYERS: What is Facebook, for my audience?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Facebook is a place that was originally designed for college students to go and post information about themselves, to talk with each other -- in which groups are formed that post-- people post pictures of themselves and they talk with each other on wall postings. And so you could form a group that would say this is the Bill Moyers discussion group about something on Facebook. And it might have a perfectly fine discussion about anything that we're talking about tonight. Or you could, you know, post a discussion group that says things that I have difficulty even talking with you, even privately much less in public.

BILL MOYERS: Because of the language, the words that are used.

BILL MOYERS: Because of the language, the words that are used.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Because the words and because the graphic images, the images that are manufactured to be placed in these sites are such that you wouldn't want to be associated with them in any way, nor would I. And they contain such things as graphic representations of what a donkey should do to Hillary Clinton. They contain language suggesting various sexual acts in relationship to Hillary Clinton. They reduce Hillary Clinton to various sexual body parts. They engage in characterizations of her in relationship to her policies. They're nothing but name calling in relationship to all of those categories of language. And so if you came home when you were, oh, say, a 15-year-old boy from school. And you said to your mother "Let me give you some of my language for the day," and you repeated any of those words, you know, your mother would have been shocked.

BILL MOYERS: Here are some of the entries from Facebook, you know? "Hillary can't handle one man; how can she handle 150 million of them? Send her back to the kitchen to get a sandwich. She belongs back with the dishes, not upfront with the leaders." It goes on and on like that. I mean, and it is fairly misogynist, but it isn't just the Internet. I mean on Rush Limbaugh, he talks about Clinton's testicle lockbox. MSNBC's Tucker Carlson says there's just something about her that feels castrating. One of his guests, a former spokesman from the Republican National Committee, Clifford May, says that if Clinton is going to appeal to women for support on the basis of her gender, at least call her a vaginal-American. I mean, in fact, isn't the sexist vilification of Hillary Clinton being set by the mainstream media?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: It's being set by both. The mainstream media has a much larger audience. When you look to the size of the groups that have this sort of vulgar, gross language on them about Hillary Clinton, their membership is actually very low. Where mainstream media can reach that number of people with the first second that it's articulated. Underlying this is a long-lived fear of women in politics. For example, we know that there's language to condemn female speech that doesn't exist for male speech. We call women's speech shrill and strident. And Hillary Clinton's laugh was being described as a cackle--


KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: --and why we're looking at a laugh and whether it's appropriate or not is of itself an interesting question. We also know that underlying many of these assertions is the assumption that any woman in power will, by necessity, entail emasculating men and, as a result, a statement of fundamental threat.

So, why shouldn't you vote for Hillary Clinton? Well, first, she can't be appropriately a woman and be in power. She must be a man. Hence, the site that says Hillary Clinton can't be the first woman president; Hillary Clinton's actually a man. But also explicit statements that suggest castrating, testicles in lockbox. She's going to emasculate men. It's a zero-sum game in which a woman in power necessarily means that men can't be men.

BILL MOYERS: And you can't use your uterus and your brain. That's the old argument, right? You can't be caring and tough. That's the old argument against women, right?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Well, and at one time there was actually an argument that if women became educated, they would become infertile. There was also, for a long period of time, serious penalties for women who tried to speak in public. And the residue of this is a language that suggests that women in power cannot be women and be in power. And as a result, as Hillary Clinton certifies herself as being tough enough to be president, competent enough to be president, these attacks say then she can't be president because she's not actually a woman. And you can't trust someone who is that inauthentic. So underlying this and underlying the vulgarity and underlying the assertions of raw sexual violence is deep fear about a woman holding power.

But I'm not sure that it's only about that with Hillary Clinton because Hillary Clinton has been attacked as long as she's been in the public sphere. She came into national public awareness with the candidacy of Bill Clinton. Some of this coincides with attacks on liberals and Hillary Clinton as a liberal woman. Some of this coincides with original attacks when she was in the White House and what was framed as exercise of unelected power. And one of the questions that-- I find interesting is this hypothetical. Let's say if Elizabeth Dole was this far along in the polls for the Republican nomination. Would she be subject to the same kinds of attacks? And I think the answer is no.

One obvious question that comes to mind then is:

How much of the negativity and hatred towards Hillary Clinton amongst Facebook users (the 55% who evidently believe she is not "likable enough") is traceable to what Moyers and Jamieson discussed?

It's worth researching further but given that internet-savvy, Facebook-using youth are Sen. Obama's strongest support group, I can see why, even though he is not sexist or misogynist himself, he hasn't made and didn't make any real effort whatsoever to correct the decades-old, fraudulent right-wing framing on Sen. Clinton's allegedly polarizing nature and alleged lack of likability. His facial expression in the debate and his derisive "likable enough" response made it very clear he was not exactly in a mood to suggest that Sen. Clinton is in fact a very likable person (which she is). Of course, many of today's young people are neither sexist nor misogynist, but they have little knowledge of what the Republicans and the mainstream media really did to Bill and Hillary Clinton in the 1990s and beyond - the false image they created of her using complete fabrications about her or her positions, an image that is sometimes perpetuated by alleged "progressives". They were also too young back then to know that Vice President Al Gore was also turned into a "polarizing" and not so "likable" person in the late 1990s and the early part of the 21st century using similar, although less extremist techniques. So, after yesterday's debate I finally understood why Sen. Obama considers it really important to keep propagating the invented right-wing frames about Sen. Clinton - her alleged "polarizing" nature and her alleged lack of "likability" (which after more than a decade of repetition by the right-wing and the media, along with their myriad lies about her, has led many Americans - including some alleged "progressives" - to believe or propagate this frame uncritically). As Kevin Drum recently said (and see Taylor Marsh's comments on this):

As long as we're laying our cards on the table, this is one of the things that keeps me on Hillary's side regardless of anything to do with issues or tactics or rhetoric or anything else. I just hate the idea that the fever swamp has been able to turn a perfectly decent liberal woman into such an object of malign loathing. If she loses, then she loses. But by God, I don't want her to lose because millions of Schiffren's fellow travelers have carried on a 15-year vendetta of sick-minded smears and hatred. Enough's enough.

Let me add another perspective as well. I am actually glad that today's youth are overwhelmingly turning towards the Democratic party - and I was really pleased with the turnout of the youth vote in Iowa. That said, there is another strong reason why Sen. Obama has aggressively courted the youth vote. Many of today's youth were school kids in the 1990s and early 2000s and not only are they barely aware of what was really done to the Clintons and Gore, many of them don't have much knowledge of the innards of politics or political history or of the full extent of Republican campaign strategies against Democrats. For example, I doubt very much that most of them even realize that Sen. Obama's past stances and statements will make him an easy target for getting slaughtered by the GOP in the general election (which is why many prominent Republicans have come out in his support and why his win in Iowa is making the Republican base happy). I also doubt that they understand that the ChangeTM Sen. Obama keeps talking about - and which Sen. Edwards keeps comically endorsing at every opportunity, further reducing his already shaky credibility (I can't imagine Tom Schaller fell for this canard either) - is actually a worse form of the strategy of triangulation against progressives that the Clintons have long been accused of. I also doubt that they understand that contrary to the rhetoric of Sen. Obama's campaign, his campaign is one of the most textbook campaigns of all in Democratic politics. In many respects his campaign has been copied exactly from the mendacious and hypocritical campaign of Bill Bradley against then Vice President Al Gore. No wonder, Bill Bradley has now endorsed Sen. Obama. The circle is complete.

eriposte :: 10:21 AM :: Comments (46) :: Digg It!