How to Vote in a Primary

Tomorrow—Super Tuesday to you!—my home state of Massachusetts will hold both its Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.  Just a few days ago, I made a rather amazing discovery:  I am eligible to vote in them.

When I say “them,” I mean exactly that.  Since registering to vote at age 18, I have identified as politically independent—i.e. unaffiliated with any political party—which Massachusetts formally classifies as “unenrolled.”  In this state (as in many others) registered Democrats vote in the Democratic primary and registered Republicans vote in the Republican primary, but unenrolled voters get to choose one or the other when they walk through the front door:  At check-in, the lady at the desk simply asks you which party’s ballot you’d like to fill out.  The rest is up to you.

All of that was unbeknownst to me until last week (I assumed independents couldn’t vote in any primary).  Now that it’s beknownst, I certainly have no excuse to skip out on this great civic duty.  However, I am left with a question that has been gnawing at me for quite some time:

Why should I be allowed to vote in a presidential primary?

I have no institutional loyalties to one party or the other.  I don’t pay any dues, subscribe to any newsletters or attend any secret party meetings.  Yes, I tend mostly to support candidates of one party more than the other, but I make a quite deliberate effort not to give my vote away in advance—hence “unenrolled.”  So I wonder whether it’s in the best interest of the party system to let us independents into the clubhouse on primary day.  After all, how do they know we’re not up to something shady?

Like what, you ask?  Well, suppose a large gaggle of Democratic-leading independents determines that Donald Trump would be the easiest Republican candidate to defeat in November, and so they conspire to draw Republican primary ballots and cast votes for Trump, hoping that it ensures his nomination and an eventual Democratic victory?  What if a sizable group of conservative independents votes for Bernie Sanders based on the exact same premise?

If that sort of conspiracy sounds vaguely familiar, it’s probably because there have been rumors of such shenanigans following virtually every open primary in recent history.  It’s a phenomenon alternately known as “crossover voting,” “raiding” or “party crashing” (ahem) and any primary system that allows unenrolled voters to participate is leaving itself vulnerable to what amounts to a cheeky form of voter fraud.

In general, it’s probably safe to assume that such a dishonest strategy would rarely, if ever, be so prevalent as to actually affect the final results.  Or it would be, if a version of this practice had not just been openly encouraged by the largest and most influential newspaper in New England, the Boston Globe.

“Stopping Donald J. Trump is imperative—and not just for his fellow Republicans,” the paper wrote in a February 22 editorial.  “The Globe has endorsed John Kasich, the highly qualified governor of Ohio, and urges unenrolled voters to cast a Republican ballot for him instead of voting in the Democratic primary on the same day.”  (The paper endorsed Hillary Clinton for the latter.)

The editorial made clear that it was not recommending the tomfoolery I outlined earlier, saying that “cast[ing] a mischievous vote for [Trump] on Tuesday, seeking to help the eventual Democratic nominee” amounts to “playing with fire” and should be avoided at all costs.  “The best way to stop Trump,” the Globe concluded, “is to stop Trump now.”

The logic of this is sound as far as it goes:  If peeling votes from the Donald is more essential than supporting anyone else, then maybe it does make sense for a Democratic-leaning independent to hawk a Republican ballot this time around.  There is always an argument to be made for coolheaded, wily strategery.

However, I will not be doing that when I step into the booth on Tuesday.  Instead, I will be voting for the person I actually want to be president, without regard for how that person might fare in the general election or any other practical considerations.

Why?  Because life is short.

Yes, in a general election, you force yourself to face the world as it actually is.  But if you can’t vote for your one true love in a primary election, then why bother having a democracy at all?

Last December marked four years since the death of Christopher Hitchens.  While I’ve missed his presence in the national dialogue on a regular basis, I am especially tickled by what he would’ve made of the 2016 campaign—particularly because of his longstanding association, in the 1980s and 1990s, with democratic socialism.

Indeed, Hitchens’ political radicalism in the twilight of the 20th century was so peculiar among intellectuals of his ilk that every time he appeared on C-SPAN, host Brian Lamb would half-jokingly ask, “Are you still a socialist?”  And every time—at least for a solid 15 or 20 years—Hitchens would respond with a resounding “Yes.”

I can’t say for sure that Hitchens would vote for Bernie Sanders today.  In 1984, he would’ve auditioned to be his campaign manager, but the world has changed quite a bit since then, and so did he.  (For Pete’s sake, he even endorsed George W. Bush in 2004.)

Here’s what I do know for sure:  Whenever Hitchens threw his support behind a particular candidate, he didn’t give a flying fudgsicle what the odds were or whether the rest of the country was with him.  He viewed elections more personally than that:  To him, either you voted for the individual whose worldview you most agreed with, or you were wasting your goddamned time.

Throughout the 1990s, there was no end to Hitchens’ ire toward his fellow liberals for their perceived sellout to Democratic Party principles by supporting Bill Clinton—a political moderate whose policies on crime, welfare and civil rights were far to the right of most liberal voters’, but whose knack for winning elections seemed to trump all other considerations.  Better to play it safe with someone you mostly agree with than to roll the dice with a big fat wildcard, right?

Sorry to say, I don’t think we’ll ever answer that question once and for all.  It’s largely a function of timing and the national mood.  Historically, opting for the most ideologically “pure” candidate during the primaries has produced disastrous results in the fall—except when it hasn’t.  Yes, certified “extremists” like Barry Goldwater and George McGovern were tarred and feathered in their time.  And yet, equally out-there candidates like Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama ended up doing pretty well for themselves, didn’t they?  (Admittedly, Obama’s views weren’t actually extreme so much as they were portrayed as such by the GOP.)

Call me naïve, but I still think the best way to create the society you desire is to vote for candidates who see things the way you do.  You might be surprised how many other voters feel the exact same way, if only they had the nerve to act accordingly.  Every now and again, they do.

But even if they don’t—even if your preferred nominee goes down in the first round and you are left to compromise 15 percent of your principles in November for the greater good of heading off a President Trump—you will still get the consolation prize of waking up on November 9th with your dignity fully intact.  While the rest of America disappoints you with its moderation, its half-measures and its so-called wisdom, you can look yourself in the eye and say, “At least I stood behind my real favorite when I had the chance.”

In a world increasingly devoid of idealism or any real hope for institutional change, that stubborn conviction can be counted as something resembling a victory.

The Battle of New York

Back in January, Ted Cruz floated a novel, but pointed, line of attack against Republican frontrunner Donald Trump:  The latter shouldn’t be his party’s standard bearer, Cruz argued, on the grounds that he represents “New York values.”

Now that it appears Trump will, in fact, be the GOP nominee and will likely square off against fellow New Yorker Hillary Clinton in the fall, we might as well take a moment to glance at Cruz’s diagnosis and say, “Well, so much for that.”

If things continue on their current trajectory—an admittedly dubious assumption—the 2016 election will not merely be a showcase for so-called New York values:  It will be an outright endorsement of and/or surrender to the same.

That may seem like an unlikely and counterintuitive conclusion to draw at this particular moment in history, but there you have it.  Donald Trump was born in Queens in 1946 and has never identified with any other metropolis, while Hillary Clinton moved her family to nearby Chappaqua in the fall of 1999 and has held court in and around there ever since.

For all intents and purposes—for better and for worse—a Trump-Clinton race would be a Subway Series for the soul of America, during which the very notion of “New York values” would be fairly up for grabs, demonstrating yet again that the five boroughs do not comprise the Greatest City in the World by accident and that if you want to truly understand America, you can’t do much better than waking up in the city that never sleeps.

There’s certainly no great mystery as to why New York, of all places, has produced such a disproportionate stock of serious presidential contenders through the years.  (Since 1904, New Yorkers have run against each other in three different presidential elections.)  The city, forever and always, is such a crowded, competitive, high-stakes environment for anyone with high ambitions—be they political, financial or cultural—that it’s only natural for someone who finds any measure of success there to think he or she has the mettle to conquer the rest of the universe as well.

In this respect, Ted Cruz is absolutely right about Donald Trump embodying the city from whence he came.  After all, what could be more of a singularly New York sensibility than buying up zillions of dollars of precious Manhattan real estate, slapping your name on every last inch of it, and then sitting in a room thinking, “You know, it’s about time that I really made something of my life”?

By all means, not every inhabitant of this town harbors such an absurd, colossal level of self-regard—such a hunger to expand their brand and rule the world in every way they know how.  And even among those who do, few have such a comically-inflated ego or speak in such horrifyingly crude, prejudicial tones.  For every arrogant blowhard like Trump or Michael Bloomberg, the city also produces such luminous national treasures as Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose seismic new musical Hamilton reflects the city at its most noble:  A beacon of opportunity, welcoming to immigrants, artists, thinkers and revolutionaries.

Indeed, New York City is nothing if not a million different things at once, attracting a million different types of people, each finding his or her own way in the world.  That’s the beauty and the madness of the place and the primary reason that folks from all over the world have been flocking there since the Dutch Republic first landed in 1624.

If Trump represents one strand of what New York symbolizes, Hillary Clinton represents another strand entirely—a strand, oddly enough, that comes pretty close to the definition offered by Ted Cruz.

Said Cruz during a Republican debate, “Everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal or pro-abortion or pro-gay marriage [and] focus around money and the media.”

Cruz was attacking Trump, not Clinton, but when it comes to the latter, I’d say Cruz was pretty much on the money.

While Hillary Clinton took a bit longer to defend the rights and dignity of gay people than many in her party would have liked, she is now in perfect harmony with the supermajority of New Yorkers on that issue.  Meanwhile, her support for abortion rights has been unerring and unquestioned, as have her views on most other socially liberal causes.

As for the presence of “money and the media”:  You bet your sweet bippy.

Since her national debut as First Lady-in-waiting in 1992, Hillary has been as much of a media character as any other political figure.  Throughout the myriad phases of her public life, newspapers, TV shows and the interwebs have built her up every bit as much as they have torn her down.  As with Trump now, Clinton’s relationship with the press has always been mutually beneficial:  She gives them endless material; in return, they give her endless coverage and the occasional benefit of the doubt.

Then there’s the money, which is arguably the most essential component to Hillary’s candidacy and career.  At this moment, if there is anything that could feasibly lose her the nomination to Bernie Sanders, it’s her unnervingly close relationship to Wall Street and other financial giants in a year that most Democratic voters are prepared to burn the leaders of those institutions in effigy.  Clinton herself assures us that she is equally concerned about the outsize power of Big Money in American life and will make every effort to rectify this imbalance once in office.

The problem—as everyone now knows—is that Clinton has collected nearly $2 million in contributions from various big banks over the last several years.  Officially, these were mere “speaking fees.”  In the minds of millions of Democratic primary voters, they were a down payment.

Here is where the business culture of New York comes into play.  If you are the sort of well-connected, highly-respected insider that both Clintons have become since moving to the Empire State, you would regard giving prime time speeches to major companies as an obvious and uncontroversial part of your job (not to mention an easy and painless way to make a buck).

However, for someone outside of that uber-capitalist milieu, it looks awfully shady for a supposed big bank antagonist to accept millions of dollars from big banks and then claim that the money will have no effect on how she treats those corporations as commander-in-chief.

I am reminded—unavoidably—of the moment in 2013 when John Oliver, pinch-hitting for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, confronted Senator Kirsten Gillibrand about her own six-figure income from companies like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase.  “What I deeply want to know,” said Oliver, “is what do you have to do for that?  What is required of you for that money?”  That Gillibrand didn’t even attempt to answer Oliver’s query is, in a way, more damning than any explanation she might have given.

Need I mention which state Senator Gillibrand represents?

That Hillary Clinton apparently doesn’t understand how anyone could find fault with her particular financial arrangement is, itself, her biggest problem of all.  She has become so insulated in the universe of pay-for-play that she either a) doesn’t recognize open bribery when she sees it, or b) doesn’t think the voters are clever enough to recognize it themselves.  They say no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people; I guess soon enough we’ll find out for sure.

In any case, this year it looks like it’s really gonna happen:  New York vs. New York, and the rest of the country will just have to deal with it.  No doubt those who share Ted Cruz’s worldview will find this situation intolerable.  As someone who lived in the New York metro area for 10 years and still visits from time to time, I consider this geographic quirk among the saving graces of this ridiculous campaign.

Donald Trump, if nominated, would be far and away the most inappropriate presidential candidate in my lifetime, for reasons I have outlined over and over again.  If elected, the damage he would inflict upon the United States is almost too horrific to contemplate.  However, taking all of that as a given and knowing that I would never abandon my country for such paltry reasons as those, I’d much prefer a pigheaded Republican president from New York to, say, someone like Ted Cruz.

There’s that old adage, “He’s an idiot, but he’s our idiot,” and that is my feeling about Trump.  If the GOP insists upon nominating a maniac for the highest office in the land, at least the maniac in question will have spent virtually his whole life marinating in one of the most vital, cosmopolitan, enlightened cities on planet Earth—and is damned proud of having done so.  I don’t see eye to eye with Trump about much, but the conviction that New York is the true capital of the United States—the city that most fully captures America in all of its glory, beauty and absurdity—well, that’s one value about which we are in total agreement, and that is slightly better than nothing.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Scalia?

Justice Antonin Scalia was a man of some truly awful legal opinions.  On balance, the United States is worse off as a society for his being on the Supreme Court.

And yet—as we observe a moment of reflection upon his sudden death—it would be horribly unfair if I didn’t also observe (as many already have) that Scalia was a major figure in American government and, for all his insufferableness, I always sort of liked him.

I know:  In saying this, I probably just made many liberals’ heads explode.  On the left, Scalia was nothing if not the perfect ideological antagonist to everything the Democratic Party holds dear.  As someone who was stridently anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, anti-gun control and pro-Citizens United, Scalia served as the poster child for everything that’s wrong with conservatism in America.  More to the point, as a Supreme Court justice, he had the power to effect a socially regressive society in ways that a senator or congressman—or, in some cases, even a president—can only fantasize about.  Whenever we left-wingers needed a bogeyman to unite against, Scalia was always there to do the job.

And boy did he deliver.  Asked to justify his concurrence in Bush v. Gore, his response was always the same:  “Get over it.”  When the Court struck down a Texas anti-sodomy law in 2003, Scalia in his dissent appeared to equate homosexuality with bestiality, incest and murder.  In a recent affirmative action case—also in Texas—he rather casually mused, “There are those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well […] as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well.”

With such charming quips as those, you may well ask:  What exactly is there to like?  Even if Scalia himself was not a racist, homophobic bigot, he certainly trafficked with folks who were.  Can’t we just dismiss him as an anachronistic cretin and move on with our lives?

Only at our own risk.  The truth is that, intellectually-speaking, Scalia was the single most influential Supreme Court justice of the last quarter-century (if not longer) and the basis of his appeal is just too interesting to overlook.

That appeal, in short, was the combination of having a singular (and somewhat eccentric) judicial philosophy and in executing that philosophy with unrestrained passion and gusto.  Here was a man who loved his job with every atom of his soul and conducted himself such that anyone who fell into his orbit could survive only through rigorous intellectual combat.  His was a life of high purpose and, it would appear, great happiness.  Too see him talk, you sense he lived the American dream and relished every moment of it.

It’s easy to understand why so many conservatives regard Scalia as some kind of secular saint.  If I agreed with his worldview, I’d probably feel the exact same way.

The worldview in question—in case you’ve tuned out the last week—is known alternately as “originalism” and, as Scalia preferred, “textualism.”  Those two terms—not completely interchangeable but close enough—stipulate that the Constitution should be interpreted based on what its authors meant at the time, rather than what we might take it to mean today.

This would result, for instance, in the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection” not extending to same-sex marriage, since gay people were clearly not on anyone’s mind when the amendment was ratified in 1868.  Nor—as Scalia often argued—could capital punishment be considered “cruel and unusual”—and thus unconstitutional—since when the Eighth Amendment was adopted in 1791, the death penalty was an utterly usual practice in the nascent American republic.

In other words—according to the originalist creed—even if we reached a point where every one of us agreed capital punishment amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, the Supreme Court would still be compelled to uphold its constitutionality—indeed, even if the justices themselves felt the death penalty was a terrible idea.

Call me old-fashioned, but I find it rather charming—if not outright noble—to champion a judicial philosophy that might prevent you from ruling according to your own best interests—to follow a theory to its logical conclusion, no matter what that conclusion might be.  It’s easy enough to believe in a “living Constitution” that can be molded to accommodate whatever you think the law should be.  It takes a whole lot more nerve—and a perverse degree of humility—to limit the judiciary to merely clarifying what the law is—or should we say was, circa 1787.

It’s not a question of assuming the Founding Fathers were perfect and had everything figured out from now until the end of time.  Originalism, as advanced by people like Scalia, merely holds that the Constitution should be treated like any other legal document:  It means whatever it meant in the context of its time, and we have no right to infer things its authors could not possibly have anticipated, even if we in the present think we know better.  Besides, we can always turn to the two other branches of government for help:  If you don’t like the law as written, then round up some senators and change the damn law.

Scalia always allowed that his approach to jurisprudence might lead him, as a justice, to issue a ruling that was diametrically opposed to how he would vote as a private citizen.  Every now and again, such a phenomenon actually occurred, and he deserves enormous credit for valuing his principles over his own political views.  To be in such a uniquely powerful position and not take advantage at every juncture requires enormous intellectual discipline.  I’m not at all sure that I could (or would want to) pull off the same trick.

In fairness to the American left, Scalia spent an awful lot of his career behaving like an intemperate jerk, peppering his written opinions with needlessly divisive language that didn’t necessarily do him much good.  By his own admission, he had neither the gift nor the inclination for building coalitions or bringing other justices around to his point of view.  He had his theories of what the Supreme Court should be, and if anyone thought differently, they could just as well go to hell.  As if that weren’t enough, there were instances in which he didn’t follow the logic of his theories and seemed to formulate judgments on the fly, which he would justify with such priceless rationalizations as, “I’m an originalist.  I’m not a nut.”

At his best, however, Scalia embodied the qualities of some of my favorite people in history:  He developed clear convictions about how to do his job and defended them loudly against any and all challenges, heedless of the risk to his personal image or, frankly, any other professional consequences.

By all means, our government should never have too many of these meddlesome gadflies at any one time—can you imagine if every senator were as irascible as Ted Cruz?—but it’s essential that we always have one or two to keep the others honest.

Scalia, on the whole, was a man of honor.  He steadfastly advocated a particular idea about the Supreme Court that was not especially popular in his lifetime, but which (thanks to him) may well become gospel in the future.  While I think his take on originalism did a lot more harm than good while he was alive, I take some comfort from his conceit that creating a better society was never really his objective in the first place.

Blame the People

It was George Orwell who said it takes a great struggle to see what is sitting directly in front of your nose.  In this three-ring circus of a presidential election, that thing may well be Donald Trump.

I realize the 2016 campaign is only two primaries deep, with some four dozen still to go.  I know that a gazillion utterly unpredictable things could—and probably will—occur between now and the Republican convention in July (say, the death of a Supreme Court justice) and I understand that the pull of historical precedent has the gravitational force of a black hole.

And yet—as I survey the wreckage of the last eight months and scan the primary calendar for the next four—my conclusion is almost inescapable:  Donald Trump will, in fact, be the Republican Party’s presidential nominee.

We all denied this prospect for as long as we possibly could.  Malignant moral tumor that he is, Trump struck us as an entity too horrible to contemplate, too ridiculous to accept.  Whatever the opinion polls said, we just couldn’t bear the thought that a wretched specimen like him could become the standard-bearer for a major American political party, because what would that say about America?

But now—with a 20-point victory in the New Hampshire primary and a group of opponents who keep canceling each other out—the notion of Trump as the nominee has become not just likely, but very nearly inevitable.

The numbers (to coin a phrase) do not lie.  Except for one week in October, Trump has placed first in every national opinion poll taken in the last seven months—often by 15 or 20-point margins—and nothing he has said or done has had the slightest negative impact on that popularity.  Further, since 1976, no Republican has secured his party’s nomination without winning either New Hampshire or South Carolina, and Trump is likely to snag both.  So long as most of his co-candidates stick around (a fairly safe assumption), they will continue to split the non-Trump vote in one primary after another, rendering themselves collectively irrelevant and an utter non-threat.

We can’t deny it any longer:  On the basis of arithmetic and the basic laws of momentum, Donald Trump is unstoppable, and that’s all there is to it.

I can’t say I saw this coming.  Back in August I wrote a dispatch that predicted—in no uncertain terms—that the Trump phenomenon would not—could not—last all the way through the primaries.  “The party will eventually snap out of it, if only out of self-preservation,” I wrote at the time, cavalierly adding, “In our lifetimes, neither the Democrats nor Republicans have nominated a candidate so transparently unelectable who, all the while, held no particular political views and was openly detested by virtually every other official in his own party.”

It would appear I was mistaken.  However, let us be quite clear what I—and everyone else—was mistaken about.

It’s not that we doubted Trump’s ability to rile up a crowd.  Nor did we fail to grasp the appeal of someone who shoots directly from the hip.  Nor—critically—did we misjudge the inner workings of the man himself.

Rather, it’s that we became so consumed—and appalled—by Trump’s faults that we just couldn’t fathom that the number of people who either admired or were willing to overlook them was large enough to carry the day.  We figured Trump couldn’t win because we assumed Republican voters weren’t as hateful and ignorant as he is.

Oops.  Our bad.

Watching TV analysts try to explain how this campaign has reached this weird juncture, it’s striking how squeamish those pundits are about laying the blame on American voters.  Ask them how an infantile, sexist demagogue has utterly captivated 30-something percent of the GOP electorate, and the answer is always some variation of, “Well, he has successfully tapped into a sense of anger among the public.”

In other words:  Never mind that Trump has advocated religious discrimination as part of our immigration policy.  Or that he has repeatedly compared women to farm animals.  Or that just last week he vowed to commit war crimes against suspected terrorists.  (Yes, waterboarding is still torture.)

No, no, no.  The only worthwhile insight is that Trump identifies with the anxiety of millions of Americans who feel that, in Trump’s words, “the country is going to hell.”

Sorry kids, but that explanation just don’t cut the mustard.  The truth—the whole truth—is that the Republican Party is bursting at the seams with irrational, vindictive, poorly-educated white men vaguely dissatisfied with their lives and convinced it’s the fault of everyone except their own selves—in particular, Mexicans, Muslims and “the blacks.”  (And, I suppose, Congress.)

As it turns out, this cohort of GOP loyalists is indeed large enough to carry a cretin like Trump all the way to the finish line, and the reason his popularity has remained so high is that those folks are determined not to see what is directly in front of their faces—namely, that Trump is completely full of crap and is appealing to their basest possible instincts.

Over and over again, Trump’s appeal—such as it is—has been conflated with that of Bernie Sanders.  I really can’t overstress how simpleminded and wrong this theory is.  Although both men are openly contemptuous of the status quo and make a point of calling it as they see it, the similarities most definitely end there.

Consider:  When a bunch of Sanders supporters—the infamous “Bernie bros”—were revealed to be abusive, misogynistic pigs, Sanders reacted in an interview by saying, “It’s disgusting.  We don’t want that crap.  Anybody who is supporting me and is doing sexist things, I don’t want them.  That’s not what this campaign is about.”

Can you imagine that kind of maturity from Trump when faced with similar criticisms?  Of course you can’t, because as he has proved time and again, he manifestly does not believe in seizing the moral high ground or in being even slightly politically correct.  When a Trump supporter commits some atrocity or other—be it physical or rhetorical—Trump invariably comes to the defense of the assailant rather than the victim.  Indeed, if he values anything at all, it’s loyalty, and he is as faithful to the mobs at his rallies as they are to him.  When he recently quipped that his fans wouldn’t desert him even if he committed murder in broad daylight, it struck many of us as the truest statement he’s ever made.

Long story short (too late?), our collective blind spot for Trump’s amazing success was rooted in the premise that most Republican voters are decent, principled people with an innate disgust for shameless, unhinged narcissism fused with a reckless disregard for the rights of women and other institutionally vulnerable groups.

If that premise were true, Trump would not exist.  But it’s not and he does.  If you don’t accept both of those facts simultaneously, you’re missing the ugly forest for the equally ugly trees.

The GOP is saddled with a rotten candidate because it has rotten voters.  Simple as that.  We can bitch all we want about the lackluster quality of our elected representatives, but in the end, we get the leaders we deserve.

In 2016, the Republican Party deserves Donald Trump, and that’s exactly what it’s gonna get.  Will the rest of America follow suit?  It sure doesn’t seem likely, but then again, neither did much else that has occurred since this godforsaken race began.  What gives us the right to be certain of anything in this regard, considering where that confidence has gotten us so far?

Votes For Women

If you’re a feminist, are you duty-bound to only vote for women?  If you take gender equality seriously and have the chance to put more female candidates into power, is it ever defensible to opt for male candidates instead?

Those are our questions for the week, following comments by Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem, who both seemed to suggest the answers are, respectively, “hell yes” and “hell no.”

Steinem, asked by Bill Maher why Bernie Sanders is so popular among young women, rather glibly responded, “When you’re young, you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys?’  The boys are with Bernie.”  You know, because it’s not like college-aged women could possibly be interested in policy.  (Steinem later apologized for the glibness.)

Albright, meanwhile, concluded her remarks at a Clinton event in New Hampshire by asserting, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” implying that, in the New Hampshire primary and beyond, Democratic women don’t really have a choice of which candidate to support.  If you don’t vote for Hillary, you are effectively a traitor to feminism.

Is this diagnosis correct, or is it a relic of a bygone era?  Is the mere fact of a candidate’s gender more important than whatever he or she actually thinks about women’s rights?  Is the need for more female leaders so great that it becomes justifiable—if not outright imperative—to vote for a woman because she’s a woman?

In certain, extreme cases, the question answers itself.  After all, not even Madeleine Albright was in favor of electing Sarah Palin vice president in 2008, presumably because Albright—like every other liberal—figured there’s no point in championing a woman who would actually make life harder for other women.  Same with Carly Fiorina, whose whole candidacy has become a one-person crusade to destroy Planned Parenthood.

But in general, the idea of electing women for its own sake is an utterly valid voting strategy, and we should be politically incorrect enough to say so.

While the debate goes on as to whether men and women are more alike than they are different, we now have more evidence than we could possibly need to show that virtually all organizations are made more productive and more welcoming when they have some measure of gender balance.  All things considered, there are few problems that cannot be mitigated by the presence of more women in the room.

Perhaps you heard about the moment last month when a blizzard closed down Washington, D.C., causing lawmakers to run for the hills.  When the Senate reconvened, the first person to speak, Lisa Murkowski, noted that every single person in the chamber was a woman—from the presiding officer to fellow senators and their staff—and that this was, in fact, a total coincidence.

The implication, however, is that it wasn’t just blind chance that a bunch of female senators trudged their way into work when not a single one of their male counterparts could be bothered to get out of bed.

It’s a truth not-quite-universally acknowledged that a woman in a traditionally male profession is compelled to work extra hard just to be treated equally to her male counterparts.  As such, any woman who manages to achieve a high-ranking position—be it in business or government—is liable to take nothing for granted and forever bring her A game.

Whether it’s genetic or merely an affectation of America’s sexist history and culture, powerful women, as a group, tend to be more dependably competent than powerful men.  Why?  Because they have a whole lot more to lose if they aren’t.

This being the case, why wouldn’t you vote for every qualified woman who came across your ballot?  After centuries of men being given the benefit of the doubt—often undeservingly—why shouldn’t women be extended the same courtesy?

It really does matter that our leaders be representative of the people they serve.  It’s all well and good to tell kids they can be anything they want to be—regardless of race, sex or class—but they won’t necessarily believe you until they see it happen to someone else.  There is a world of difference, for example, between assuming America could elect a black president and actually pulling it off (twice!).  Similarly, there’s no point in assuring young women that they, too, can become leader of the free world unless we prove it.

Again, this doesn’t mean you toss all other issues out the window when the opportunity presents itself.  A liberal feminist shouldn’t be expected to vote for Carly Fiorina any more than a conservative feminist should be expected to vote for Hillary Clinton.  There is more to life than identity politics and, after all, not every male candidate is as irredeemably misogynistic as Donald Trump.

But for those of us who truly believe in the imperative of shattering the world’s highest glass ceiling, there is something to be said for not waiting forever.

Among left-wing feminists today, there is debate as to whether Clinton is the right woman at the right time.  That while electing a female commander-in-chief would be fantastic, there is no reason not to wait until a more ideal candidate turns up.


Far be it from me to argue that Hillary Clinton is perfect, but are we really living in a world in which someone who served eight years as first lady, eight years as a senator and four years as secretary of state is not good enough to carry the distinction of being the first female chief executive?  If so, that’s a hell of a standard for any would-be national leader.  In a way, the fact that this subject is not a first-order concern—particularly among young people—is a testament to how much the women’s movement has already achieved.  I don’t blame Madeleine Albright for accusing millennials of being complacent.

Call me presumptuous, but I suspect that once the primaries conclude and the general election begins, all of that will change.  If and when Clinton secures the Democratic nomination—pitted against a fanatically sexist GOP opponent, no doubt—the excitement of having a female commander-in-chief will finally and fully kick in and the need for a Clinton victory will become all-encompassing for all American liberals.  And should she prevail on November 8, it may well owe to a group of swing voters who, for all their reservations about Clinton personally, will ultimately glance at their wives and daughters and think, “It’s about goddamn time.”