Content warnings: Inappropriate touching, sexual assault
I don’t know how many of my readers caught this bit of news with the media being in all-pandemic-all-the-time mode, but there is an allegation of sexual assault against former Vice President Joe Biden, who is the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for President of the United States. Namely, Tara Reade, a former Biden staffer when he was a United States Senator representing Delaware, has accused her former boss of sexually assaulting her in the basement of a Capitol Hill office building in 1993.
And yet, I have heard relatively few on the Democratic side even talk about the allegations against him, save a few disgruntled former Bernie Sanders supporters who are struggling to support Biden. Goodness, even the story about the accusations eight women (including Reade) levied against Biden last year for inappropriate touching seemed to disappear after a couple of weeks, even though there are photos of him touching women in ways that clearly made them uncomfortable. For a party that claims to be pro-woman, it’s pretty appalling that the representative of said party for the party has, at minimum, a well-documented history of inappropriate touching of women (and potentially sexual assault).
It’s not just Biden and the Democrats, though. With the Republicans…need I say more? If you’re a Republican reading this piece, with all due respect, your party continues to stand behind someone who says: “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” Your leader literally bragged about getting away with sexual assault. Yet, leadership in your party looked and continues to look the other way.
Examining how the Democrats have handled Biden’s different accusations, and how the Republicans handled Trump’s, there seems to be a commonality: these politicians’ misconduct against women is not scrutinized fully if it is politically inconvenient to do so. It is politically inconvenient for the Democrats to scrutinize Biden’s accusations of inappropriate touching and accusation of sexual assault because of “blue no matter who.” It is politically inconvenient for Republicans to scrutinize Trump’s past allegations of sexual assault because of “Trump no matter what.” Treating these accusations with the seriousness deserved has seemingly been sacrificed in the name of political convenience.
We need to scrutinize the accusations of misconduct against women that our politicians face, regardless of whether there is a D or an R next to their names. We need to talk about and grapple with such accusations of misconduct, even if it’s politically inconvenient, and even if the accused deny the allegations they face.
Quite a few people were devastated when Senator Elizabeth Warren’s campaign for President of the United States ended early with disappointing results on Super Tuesday. Following her departure from the race, there has been much talk of how sexism, not the substance of what she was advocating for, may have affected her campaign.
And, there seems to be truth to the belief that sexism hurt Warren’s candidacy, as well as the candidacies of Senator Amy Klobuchar and Senator Kamala Harris. However, it seems like that sexism is playing out through the veil of a word that has been used time and time again by many a progressive activist in 2020: electability.
There is much terror in progressive circles over what has happened during the Trump administration, particularly with regard to a number of civil rights issues. In response, most Democrats want to nominate someone who can beat President Trump in November…someone who is, well, electable. In fact, the top priority among Democratic voters is beating Trump—a solid majority of respondents in a poll from last November prioritized a candidate who could beat Trump over a candidate who they agreed with ideologically.
This electability argument seems fine and innocent for many progressives…until you consider how that argument likely undermined the female candidates such as Warren, Klobuchar, and Harris. According to an Ipsos poll done in mid-2019, the plurality of Democratic and Independent voters thought that a woman would have a harder time beating Trump than a man would, and only a third of Democratic and Independent voters thought that their neighbors would be comfortable with a female president.
In summary, even Democrats and Independents, who themselves, on average, are ready for a female president, think that female candidates have an electability problem. In an election where electability is by far the top priority of voters, the perceived lack of electability of female candidates put the likes of Warren, Klobuchar, and Harris at a disadvantage from the beginning.
But what should we do about this problem, as this may not be the last time that electability may come up as an issue in primaries at the national level?
It seems like two options tend to be suggested: we either need to stop making electability a priority, or else somehow convince ourselves and others that women are electable.
Suggesting that people should stop making electability a priority is probably the more unpopular of the two options among many progressives; after all, many progressives desperately want to defeat President Trump and would likely feel the same about many prominent Republicans if they were president. At the same time, if people want electability to be a priority, that’s a measurement that, as I have shown, puts all female candidates at the national level, even female candidates in a Democratic primary process, at a major disadvantage even if they had the best policies ever.
However, even if people stop making electability a priority, there’s still that nagging problem that women are often viewed as less electable than men (even if electability is a secondary or tertiary priority). Not making electability the priority doesn’t take away the problem that women are often viewed as inferior presidential candidates because they’re viewed as less electable than men; it only attempts to minimize the problem. Therefore, the better option might be to work towards the point that women are viewed as every bit as electable as men.
But how do we get to a point that women are electable, too? I propose a few ideas, but am open to others:
We need to convince ourselves (and others) that people are, in general, more ready for a female president than many of us realize. That Ipsos poll I cited earlier says that 74% of Democrats and Independents are comfortable with a female president. Yet, only 33% of Democrats and Independents say that they think their neighbors are comfortable with a female president. Some of the other polling I cited earlier notes that 53% of Americans (encompassing all political affiliations) are either “very ready” or “extremely ready” for a female president, yet only 16% of Americans believed that most fellow Americans were ready for a female president. Let these statistics show that most Americans really are ready for a female president.
We need to understand why those who feel “moderately ready” for a woman to be president feel that way. 53% of Americans either feel “very ready” or “extremely ready” for a woman to be president, but there’s another 25% of Americans who feel “moderately ready” (leaving only 22% of Americans who feel only “slightly ready” or “not ready at all”). Namely, we need to understand what makes that 25% feel hesitant about having a woman president, because if those hesitations can be addressed, you then have an overwhelming majority of Americans feeling ready for a woman president.
We need to examine our own biases about women in power. I could probably dedicate a whole post to the topic of biases against women in power, but criticisms such as “bossy,” “strident,” and “abrasive” are levied against powerful, successful women much more than against powerful, successful men. We need to be honest with ourselves and see whether we tend to levy such biases disproportionately on successful women, because if we do, we are making it less likely that we will vote for women (and potentially less likely that we would view women as electable). I say this from experience, because I used to think that Warren was abrasive, and I did not consider voting for her until I realized that this belief came from my own biases about women in power.
“Electability” arguments probably did hurt female candidates this year. However, moving forward, if we want to have the first Madame President of the United States, we need to do all we can to make sure that pro-electability does not result in anti-female attitudes towards candidates.
Those of you who’ve been on my blog during the last week or so will know that I’m doing a mini-series on what it was like to have current candidate for president Michael Bloomberg as Mayor of New York City. I explained in Part One why his record as mayor is relevant, and I explained in Part Two the multitude of problems he had with his treatment of others. Today is the third and final part of my mini-series, which will go into his record on some other issues, as well as where we should go from here with the Bloomberg candidacy.
One of the most important issues this campaign is that of trying to “save our democracy.” And rightfully so, because there is a genuine fear among many that President Trump is dangerous to American democracy. However, if Mayor Bloomberg’s record tells us anything, it’s that he would also be a danger to American democracy. New York City voted not once, but twice, to have term limits for people holding elected office in New York City government (mayor, comptroller, public advocate, council members). Yet, Bloomberg, with the help of the city council at the time, overturned the voice of the people, and changed the limit from two terms to three (it was changed back to two terms…after Bloomberg won a third term). People fear that President Trump would try to overturn the election if he loses, or ruin our democracy further if he wins—those are understandable fears because he has been, for example, not always indicated a willingness to concede an election to a winning candidate, even if it is clear he loses the election. However, Bloomberg, with the help of the New York City Council, managed to do something that not even President Trump has managed to do (yet): actually overturn an election (Bloomberg overturned two, after all). If he becomes President of the United States, let’s hope he leaves his ability to overturn elections in New York City, and not bring that ability to Washington, DC.
He gets praise for his stance on the environment. And, in theory, I agree with him on the fact that the environmental crisis should be treated with urgency. However, I find that praise hollow when he drastically cut funding from public transit while he was mayor, even though use of public transit instead of the car does a world of good for the environment. It’s also hollow when his own environmental practices were subpar, such as having an entourage of SUVs that often idled (mostly to keep on the air conditioning unit on in the SUVs so that he could stay cool during the summer)—he apologized for the idling, but not for the use of the SUVs in the first place (or even an explanation of why those environmentally-unfriendly gas guzzlers were necessary for his team), to my knowledge.
Bloomberg also tries to cultivate an image for himself as being just on health care. Yet, his record on health care in New York City was anything but. Noteworthy was the number of community hospitals that, under his tenure, were forced to close. The New York Times editorial board accused Mayor Bloomberg of having long ago “checked out” on this issue, and a then-mayoral candidate by the name of Bill de Blasio got arrested for protesting the proposed closure of one of the hospitals. Bloomberg also vetoed a proposed law that would have required many city businesses to provide paid sick leave, so if he got his way (he didn’t, ultimately), then tough luck to those working for businesses that didn’t provide the paid sick leave—you’d better work through your flu with a fever of over 102 degrees, even though that would, of course, endanger yourself and others.
Economically, the wealthy became even wealthier. There’s no doubt about that. But if you weren’t wealthy? Not so much. While he thought that taxes on the wealthy were a dumb idea, he thought it was preferable to shoulder the burden of “fiscal responsibility” on unions by letting the contracts of every single one of New York City’s 153 unions expire—unions where many of the members are in the middle and working class. The most painful example of economic inequality under Bloomberg’s watch, however, was that was the increase in homelessness that happened while he was mayor—an increase that continues to this day. While I acknowledge that there may be certain factors with such trends that may not have been in his control (such as policies at the state or federal level), this is a fact worth reflecting on. Given that economic inequality is such a major issue of this era, it’s puzzling that the Democrats would even consider nominating someone for President of the United States who oversaw economic inequality become substantially worse when he was mayor of his own city.
The bottom line is that, when doing a thorough examination of his record as mayor, his record was overwhelmingly an ugly one on social justice issues. Even more alarming is the fact that many of these social justice issues he was poor on are issues that are relevant today, for whoever is President of the United States—issues such as racism, sexism, economic inequality, and protecting our democracy. As to whether you think Bloomberg is still better than the other candidates in spite of all the baggage I’ve presented, that’s for you to decide. Just make sure you vote whenever you have the opportunity.
Many of the readers who have listened to some of the debates between candidates for President of the United States may be aware of a line of attack often used against former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders: “You voted for the 1994 crime bill.”
It’s a line used when the candidates on stage, all of whom are trying to become the presidential nominee from the Democratic Party, are trying to distinguish themselves from Senator Sanders and former Vice President Biden on the issue of criminal justice. It is especially important for other candidates to distinguish themselves from those two candidates because Senator Sanders and former Vice President Biden are viewed as frontrunners for the Democratic Party nomination. It is also a line that the other candidates use to try and convince their voters that they, not Senator Sanders or former Vice President Biden, should be trusted on the issue of criminal justice.
Which begs the question: What is the 1994 crime bill, and why is it so controversial? With the first caucus of the election year happening in Iowa tonight, answers to these questions are important.
The tricky thing about summarizing the 1994 crime bill is that the piece of legislation tried to address many issues, ranging from funding for police to gun control to domestic violence. The short story is that the 1994 crime bill, whose proper name is actually the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, was supposed to focus on enforcement of and prevention of violent crimes, though it did some things beyond that scope (a couple of which I will talk about later in this post). For a detailed summary of the 1994 crime bill, view the bill’s summary here.
As one might expect with a bill trying to deal with a wide range of issues, the reality of how “good” or “bad” it was is actually more complicated than many candidates might make it out to be.
In spite of that fact, there are, undoubtedly, parts of the bill that should make one question Biden and Sanders on criminal justice (since they both supported the act and Biden helped write it). For example:
The bill “stripped all Pell Grant funding for college education for prisoners.” This sort of action counters the narrative among many (especially on the left) that incarceration should have a restorative element, that it should not just be about punishing someone for their actions, but that they also can be able to work towards being productive contributors to society when/if they leave prison.
The bill provided $6 billion (in 1994 dollars) in funding “for prevention programs which were designed with significant input from experienced police officers”—money that was, from all accounts, spent on punitive measures for the most part. On the surface, it sounds like a good idea to let people with experience in law enforcement be able to have a say in how to prevent violent crime. The problem? As it turned out, that money was predominantly used for punitive measures—measures that would go against the ideal among many Democrats that there should be a restorative element to time in prison.
The 1994 crime bill is blamed for being a factor in a drastic increase in incarceration in the United States. The extent to which the current mass incarceration issues should be attributed to the 1994 crime bill is up for debate, especially since the increase in mass incarceration was already beginning to happen, but there seems to be significant agreement from criminal justice scholars that the bill made this problem worse.
However, there were also some aspects of the 1994 crime bill that are either popular with progressives or popular on a bipartisan basis. Three of those aspects are as follows:
There was considerable gun control in the 1994 crime bill. According to the bill’s summary, the bill, “Bans the manufacture of 19 military-style assault weapons, assault weapons with specific combat features, “copy-cat” models, and certain high-capacity ammunition magazines of more than ten rounds.” While one could debate the effectiveness of this form of gun control, the fact is that gun control tends to be a major aspect of most candidates’ platforms on the Democratic side, and that therefore the 1994 crime bill did much of what a lot of Democrats want on guns (including Democrats critical of Biden and Sanders for their support of the 1994 crime bill).
One of the most popular aspects of the 1994 crime bill was the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA, which was within the 1994 crime bill, added measures to better hold perpetrators of domestic violence accountable. For example, before the 1994 crime bill, “domestic abusers could cross state lines to avoid prosecution for beating their spouses, as law enforcement was not to required to listen to orders of protection filed in other states” (something that, from my understanding, was not possible after the act passed).
VAWA, which as I said was under the 1994 crime bill, also created the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Before finding out that this hotline was established so recently, I have to admit to taking the existence of this hotline for granted; however, the fact is that the hotline is younger than I am (I’m twenty-five) and was only established thanks to the 1994 crime bill.
So, while it might make for a good debate line to be critical of Biden’s or Sanders’ support of the 1994 crime bill, the reality is somewhat complicated. Some aspects of it, such as the generally more punitive approach to crime as a result of the bill, have been quite controversial and even problematic. Other aspects, such as the creation of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, are quite important. Regardless, it’s important to recognize both the good and the bad in the 1994 crime bill (as well as Biden’s and Sanders’ support of it), because otherwise, we’d be doing an injustice to ourselves and to others when evaluating the platforms these candidates have on criminal justice.