Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuit: Voting for your heroes, even when they’re not on the ballot…

It’s Election Day! In hopefully less than 24 hours, this whole reality-show-gone-wrong election season will come to an end. It’s easy to be fed up with the whole thing – the campaigns (including the primary season) have been going on for more than a year. Most of the campaigns failed to really cover themselves in glory, eschewing discussion of policy and concrete plans for our country’s future and instead focused on differing levels of personal attacks, sound bites, and — with certain candidates — statements that would have immediately forced them to drop out in previous years. Really, it’s been a hell of a thing.And amidst all that, a couple of things went seemingly unnoticed. For all the sharp elbows and sharper rhetoric, the Democratic Party primary actually had some substance and did what major party primaries are supposed to do — decide on a qualified candidate, and position the party at a sweet spot (more or less) politically and it did it by consensus. Yes, it was a mess, and the candidate I supported in the primaries did not win the nomination. But again, it did what the whole process is supposed to do. It’s never perfect and there is still much work to do to improve it and the Party itself over the next four years. However, even as messy and contested as it was, it still was 100-percent more successful than the GOP process, where they ended up with neither a qualified candidate or a party platform that has much broad appeal.

Now, as I said, my candidate didn’t win the Democratic nomination, but I will be voting for Hillary later today. Initially I thought I would be doing it somewhat grudgingly – I have never been a particular fan of either Bill or Hillary, their politics has always been more moderate-to-right of my own. That said, both are impressive public servants who have accomplished much – and while they are also flawed human beings to be sure (who isn’t?), you can’t really argue that Hillary isn’t qualified to hold the office of President.

Part of my increased willingness to vote for Hillary is of course due to her opponent: a man-child who is more notable for his tantrums than his policies and who really seems to be an amalgamation of every dystopian dictator ever conceived of in science fiction. He’s not just a bad candidate, he’s genuinely a bad human being – I honestly feel sorry for anyone who has to ever interact with him.

But there’s more to it than that. As many of you know, my mother was the first woman elected to the US Congress from Virginia. And while that is certainly her most high profile accomplishment, it hardly even begins to give an outline of what she’s accomplished. From her early days of being called “honey” by other legislators in the Virginia General Assembly, she always had to fight twice as hard and do twice as much — and still she was constantly belittled and underestimated. But she always did it with a smile on her face (though sometimes it was more of a clenched teeth thing) because she knew that was how you beat them. I was still a teenager when she first got in to politics, and I remember all too well complete strangers calling her a “bitch” to my face (as well as “baby killing lesbian” and many other colorful phrases). While male legislators were lauded for being leaders when they played hardball, my mom was chided for being too hard, too partisan, too …bitchy.

She summed it up well in a quote from a news article about one of her congressional campaigns:

“What comes across in men as ‘fighter, outspoken, champion of the people’ comes across in women differently,” Byrne said. “There was the constant tension between getting the facts out and going toe–to–toe with him, and not wanting to be perceived as pushy [or] brassy.”

Baker, “Byrne Was Subtle in Trailblazer Role.”

So the gender-based double-standard that Clinton has always faced is something I am more familiar with than most men. And as the son of a politician, I also know how intense campaigning really is. Think about the hardest job you’ve ever done – the worst hours, the worst people, whatever it is, and now imagine doing that 18 to 20 hours a day for a year, and you’ve got some idea of what it’s like to run for public office. It’s awful in a way that no one who hasn’t done it can truly appreciate. Sure it looks like a sweet gig from the outside, but from the inside, you realize that no one does this lightly.

I saw my mother in the final weeks of a campaign subtly wincing when people hugged her because of a cracked rib she got from a bad bout of walking pneumonia. I saw her sacrifice and overcome continuously throughout her career in public office – and through it all, no matter what she accomplished and what good she did, there was a certain portion of voters who disliked her just because of her gender and because she “didn’t know her place.”

As I said at the beginning, I had planned on grudgingly voting for Clinton today – my lack of enthusiasm was not because of the emails or anything that’s actually been covered by the “press” (sarcastic quotes are sarcastic!) this election season, but because of my slight disagreements on matters of policy. However, since the conventions and as the two major party candidates have campaigned, I couldn’t help but notice that same double-standard I saw with my mom come up again and again, but amplified by it being a national race. And in the past month or so, I’ve come to realize something: I’m actually glad to vote for Hillary.

Let’s do a little though experiment – imagine if Hillary was a man. Would the email server thing still be an issue? Probably, but only a minor one. After all, men have been elected to the Oval Office after having done much worse. But as a woman, Hillary is somehow being held to a higher standard. The whole controversy comes across as mansplaining on an incredible level: “Well actually, what you should have done is…”. The State Department has almost the same number of employees as Cisco or Whole Foods and I’d say a higher than average amount of red tape for a federal agency, and in the same position, I doubt many of those crying foul would have done much differently in her shoes. It was still a mistake, but let’s not act like this was some huge catastrophe. The email “scandal” is serving the same role that the stupid “secret Muslim”/birther crap did in 2008 and 2012 with Obama – it gives cover for prejudice.

And to play out this experiment, imagine if Donald Trump was a woman. I know, I know – wrong for a whole bunch of reasons, but when you boil it all down, listen to any of his speeches and try and tell me it’s any different than Sarah Palin’s usual word salad. His whole “appeal” is that he’s perceived to be some sort of uber alpha male (which is really laughable if you have half a brain). Can anyone claim that if the race today was between Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, that Palin would be polling anywhere close to where Trump is? Of course not. And yet the only real difference is that Trump is a man.

When I walk into the voting booth today, I will be voting for Hillary, not just against Trump. Partly because she is unquestionably the only truly qualified person in the race (third party candidates most definitely included), and partly because of  all I’ve seen and experienced being my mother’s son.

Both my parents are long-time Clinton supporters – they campaigned hard for Bill in 1992. My dad served as the Assistant Administrator at US AID, and in addition to working with the White House while she was in Congress, after leaving Congress, my mom became the White House Consumer Advocate under Bill Clinton. For my mom though, her connection with Hillary goes deeper than that – sort of a Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuit 🙂 They’ve both had to deal with the fact that some people hate them – not because of what they believe or what they’ve done, but merely because of their gender and their unwillingness to stay silent, stay meek, and stay out of public office.

I’m cautiously optimistic that Hillary will win this thing today – and once inaugurated, I am sure that I will have differences of opinion with her administration’s policies, but I am certain that for whatever successes and failures there are, we as a society will have moved a tiny bit forward and that the world my son and daughter inherit will be a tiny bit more just.

And personally most important to me: the sacrifices and hard work of one of my heroes will have helped make it possible. Thanks mom – this vote is for you! ❤

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Election Night 2013 – Why this was not a great victory for Virginia Democrats *updated*

I should remind myself not to go number diving on election night, it’s depressing even on the nights we win sometimes.

Total voter turnout for Virginia’s gubernatorial races:
2001: 46.38%
2005: 44.96%
2009: 40.37%
2013: ~39% or so it looks like IMO
[from Virginia State Board of Elections]

This is a very bad trend. Democrats may have won for Governor and for Lt. Gov (and perhaps by some miracle Attorney General as well), but less than 20% of registered voters voted for them. 71.78% of Virginia voters turned out for last year’s presidential election and 1.9M of them voted for Obama – there’s a *TOTAL* of 2.2M voters this year. Now I know as well as anyone how hard it is to get people to vote in non-presidential election years, but this goes beyond “it doesn’t even look like we’re trying” to “we’re measurably getting worse at this.”

I started out in Virginia politics back at the beginning of the 1980s at the same time my parents did (the events naturally having a strong causality). Perhaps it’s just nostalgia on my part, but it seems to me that the Virginia Democratic Party of the 1980s (old-school as it was) would run circles around the Virginia Democratic Party of the 2010s with all its fundraising, social media, and complete lack of a party-wide, county-by-county, precinct-by-precinct, from-the-ground-up GOTV effort.

*UPDATE* Okay, so was about to turn in for the night when I found a table of voter turnout in Virginia since 1976 (from http://sbe.virginia.gov/VotingStatistics.html — style annotations are my own: bold = presidential election years and italics  = gubernatorial elections. And the 2013 numbers are estimates based on the results with 99.27% reporting and the Nov.1 registration stats)

What the chart below shows is that we used to have about 80% turnout for presidential elections and about 60%+ turnout for gubernatorial years. Basically starting in ’96 we start drifting down to the 70% range for presidential election turnouts and have a precipitous drop to the 40% range for governor races. Basically, the best we ever did in terms of voter turnout during a gubernatorial race in recent history was 1989 — the year we elected Douglas Wilder as the first African-American Governor of Virginia and we did it with 66.5% voter turnout. As Democrats, we know we’re strongest when turnout is high, and yet as I pointed out, that hasn’t seemed to be the focus of the party for some time now.

Summary of Virginia Registration& Turnout Statistics
November General Elections: 1976 – Present
Year Total Registered % Change from Previous Year Total Voting Turnout(% Voting of Total Registered)
2013 5,240,452 -3.5% 2,160,068 41.2%
2012 5,428,833 6.1% 3,896,846 71.78%
2011 5,116,929 1.68% 1,463,761 28.61%
2010 5,032,144 1.54% 2,214,503 44.01%
2009 4,955,750 -1.57% 2,000,812 40.4%
2008 5,034,660 10.7% 3,752,858 74.5%
2007 4,549,864 – 0.1% 1,374,526 30.2%
2006 4,554,683 2.3% 2,398,589 52.7%
2005 4,452,225 – 1.5% 2,000,052 45.0%
2004 4,517,980 7.1% 3,223,156 71.4%
2003 4,217,227 – 0.1% 1,296,955 30.8%
2002 4,219,957 2.7% 1,331,915 39.4%
2001 4,109,127 0.9% 1,905,511 46.4%
2000 4,073,644 7.0% 2,789,808 68.5%
1999 3,808,754 2.3% 1,373,527 36.1%
1998 3,724,683 4.5% 1,229,139 33.0%
1997 3,565,697 7.3% 1,764,476 49.5%
1996* 3,322,740 9.4% 2,468,229 74.3%
1995 3,038,394 1.3% 1,585,783 52.2%
1994 3,000,560 0.9% 2,078,106 69.3%
1993 2,975,121 -2.6%** 1,817,777 61.1%
1992 3,055,486 9.4% 2,582,966 84.5%
1991 2,791,747 2.1% 1,371,940 49.1%
1990 2,735,339 -0.1% 1,252,971 45.8%
1989 2,737,340 -4.9%** 1,821,242 66.5%
1988 2,877,144 8.3% 2,231,876 77.6%
1987 2,657,412 1.8% 1,571,110 59.1%
1986 2,609,698 0.5% 1,115,179 42.7%
1985 2,597,904 -2.9%** 1,377,966 53.0%
1984 2,675,641 14.8% 2,180,515 81.5%
1983 2,330,595 4.3% 1,178,707 50.6%
1982 2,234,011 0.9% 1,454,628 65.1%
1981 2,214,926 -4.1%** 1,437,382 64.8%
1980 2,309,181 12.6% 1,881,648 81.4%
1979 2,050,499 1.2% 1,059,158 51.6%
1978 2,026,515 0.2% 1,251,471 61.7%
1977 2,022,619 -4.8%** 1,267,208 62.7%
1976 2,123,849 1,716,182 80.8%