January Debate

The post-debate chatter where CNN tried to tell me how women were feeling during the exchange was especially irksome. It’s not like they had a huge focus group convened for a virtual watch party, or like they had enough time to poll actual women. They reported what they wanted the reaction to be to the controversy they started just in time to spice up their debate.
How I felt during the exchange? As a woman, I’m used to people conflating specific situations with generalizations and screaming sexism. Which exasperates me because there’s so much ACTUAL sexism to combat. I didn’t think Clinton could defeat Obama in 2008. That doesn’t mean I am sexist. That means I thought about the strengths and weaknesses of both candidates, how the public was likely to see those strengths and weaknesses, looked at how Obama was leveraging then-cutting-edge technology. And thought Clinton wasn’t going to win. Sanders says his assessment was that Trump is a sexist, racist liar. I conjecture from that defense that the conversation was essentially that Trump is going to use that against any candidate. A woman running against him needs to be prepared to respond to sexist statements. A minority running against him needs to be prepared to respond to racist statements. And everyone running against him needs to be prepared to counter his lies. Does that make the path more challenging for a woman? Sure. This past summer, my daughter and I were at a playground when a cop rolled up and chatted with us for a few minutes. Do people who play at a different playground or have darker skin have a more challenging chat with their officer? Often, yes. Hell, I know *men* who take their kids to a playground and get grilled as a potential pedo or kidnapper. Discussing this doesn’t make me racist or sexist … it makes me aware of my privilege.
I already have a trouble trusting Warren. Not because she’s a woman but because she’s relatively new to her convictions. And, with Medicare for All, seems to be willing to drift away from *my* convictions. Sure, I’ll take “the risk that she’s got whatever belief is polling well this week” over “Trump”. I’d also easily take anything this side of pandemic flu over Trump, so that’s a low bar. And I’d be a lot more invested in supporting her this Autumn than, say, Biden. But compared to someone with a long history of beliefs (even when those beliefs ran against the mainstream thinking)? One of the logical flaws I saw in Clinton’s campaign (and McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin) is the idea that women are so invested in promoting feminism that we’ll vote for any available woman. If there’s a candidate who I agree with who happens to be a woman, yeah that would excite me. But I’m not eager to support someone whose views run opposite to mine just because they are female. That’s sexism too. And I worry that Warren is headed down that same “identity politics” path.
The quibbling about 30 years bothered me on two levels. Academically, 1990 is 30 years ago. Sanders didn’t win a special election, it was *Nov* 1990. Which, mathematically, is less than 30 years ago. That is, we don’t need to quibble about whether “in the past 30 years” is an open or closed set. I get rounding, but saying “it’s been almost 30 years since anyone here, other than me, defeated an incumbent Republican opponent” would have retained the big/round number and been factually accurate. “And the only person on this stage who has beaten an incumbent Republican any time in the past 30 years is me.”? Not true. And, just like every car seems to be the ‘best selling automobile in it’s class*’ followed by some small text about how the class has been so narrowly defined that it precludes a few similar-enough and better-selling vehicles … Warren picked the time-frame. Her response was not off-the-cuff; she knew the question was forthcoming and had an answer prepared. She could have picked 25 years which is still a big and round-enough number.
What bothered me more is that, even if her statement were true, it’s a disingenuous argument. It is phrased to sound like “you are worried about electability, well here are a bunch of losers and I’m the one who can win because I have won’. But that doesn’t line up with facts.
* Bernie defeated a Republican opponent back in 1990. Then won elections over non-incumbent challengers – including in 1994 when the Republicans did quite well with challengers for House seats. He didn’t have an incumbent *to* defeat since 1990. So he’s got 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, in the House. Then 2006, 2012, and 2018 in the Senate. That’s not nearly as detrimental to electability as her statement is meant to sound. And, hell, he defeated *Democratic* opponents in this 30 year window too.
* Biden defeated his incumbent Republican opponent back in 1972. But we’re only looking at 30 years. So 1990, 1996, 2002, and 2008 he defeated non-incumbent Republicans. And was on the winning ticket in 2008 and 2012.
* Kobluchar didn’t have an incumbent to defeat when she ran in 2006. Or in 2012 and 2018. Again, still won against Republican challengers.
* Buttigieg — He’s got an actual loss to a Republican incumbent — the state Treasurer race. How much of that race is party line, though? Didn’t have an incumbent to defeat when he ran for mayor in 2011. Or in 2015.
* Steyer hasn’t run for anything AFAIK.
Her assertion would have made more sense if they had been running against Republicans and losing. Across the entire stage, there was one loss to a Republican in the past 30 years.
At that, Warren defeated Brown in 2012. And won against her non-incumbent challenger in 2018. That’s hardly a the long record of winning that “the only person to beat an incumbent Republican any time in the past 30 years” sounds like. She had a well-rehearsed response to a made-for(and by)-TV controversy {one that my conspiracy theory brain says “hey, who might have leaked damaging scuttlebutt about a strong opponent right before a debate and the caucuses?”}. And her prepared response is an appeal to pathos. As a human who appreciates logos and ethos too, my opinion of Warren is diminished by this debate.

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