The consequence of sexism

I’m writing this the morning after the Republicans in the Senate passed a massive tax reform bill that I doubt many of them, or their staff members, or maybe even leadership had read.  The bill wasn’t even printed but evidently photocopies with handwritten insertions and changes were passed out in the hours just before the vote.  There were no hearings.  And now we get to watch Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell try to reconcile the House and Senate bills.  I wish them no success.

So how is this bill a consequence of sexism?  I hadn’t thought about it either until I read this piece by Jill Filipovic in the New York Times.  She writes

Many of the male journalists who stand accused of sexual harassment were on the forefront of covering the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Matt Lauer interviewed Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump in an official “commander-in-chief forum” for NBC. He notoriously peppered and interrupted Mrs. Clinton with cold, aggressive, condescending questions hyper-focused on her emails, only to pitch softballs at Mr. Trump and treat him with gentle collegiality a half-hour later. Mark Halperin and Charlie Rose set much of the televised political discourse on the race, interviewing other pundits, opining themselves and obsessing over the electoral play-by-play. Mr. Rose, after the election, took a tone similar to Mr. Lauer’s with Mrs. Clinton — talking down to her, interrupting her, portraying her as untrustworthy. Mr. Halperin was a harsh critic of Mrs. Clinton, painting her as ruthless and corrupt, while going surprisingly easy on Mr. Trump. The reporter Glenn Thrush, currently on leave from The New York Times because of sexual harassment allegations, covered Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 campaign when he was at Newsday and continued to write about her over the next eight years for Politico.

A pervasive theme of all of these men’s coverage of Mrs. Clinton was that she was dishonest and unlikable. These recent harassment allegations suggest that perhaps the problem wasn’t that Mrs. Clinton was untruthful or inherently hard to connect with, but that these particular men hold deep biases against women who seek power instead of sticking to acquiescent sex-object status.

What these journalists did when they interviewed Mrs. Clinton has the same roots as their sexual harassment.

For arguing that gender shaped the election narrative and its result, feminists have been pooh-poohed, simultaneously told that it was Clinton, not her gender, that was the problem and that her female supporters were voting with their vaginas instead of their brains.

The latest harassment and assault allegations complicate that account and suggest that perhaps many of the high-profile media men covering Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump were the ones leading with their genitals. Mr. Trump was notoriously accused of multiple acts of sexual harassment and assault, and was caught on tape bragging about his proclivity for grabbing women. That several of the men covering the race — shaping the way American voters understood the candidates and what was at stake — were apparently behaving in similarly appalling ways off-camera calls into question not just their objectivity but also their ability to cover the story with the seriousness and urgency it demanded.

Filipovic continues

This moment isn’t about a nation of confused men. It’s about a minority of men who choose to treat women alternately as walking sex objects or bothersome and potentially devious nags. It’s about a majority of Americans who give men a pass for all manner of bad behavior, because they assume men are entitled to behave badly but hold women to an entirely different standard.

That is why it’s so egregious that sexual harassers set the tone of much of the coverage of the woman who hoped to be the first female president.

There are at least two other well known men accused of sexual harassment:  Senator Al Franken and Garrison Keillor.  It is true that both supported Clinton.  Both are alleged to have committed an act or acts that, while harassment, are rather on a different scale than Matt Lauer’s or Charlie Rose’s multiple actions.  I taught my first workshops about sexual harassment in the late 1970s to managers in Virginia state government and my staff began investigating complaints.  The manager who put his hand down an employee’s blouse was suspended; the manager who patted an employee on the rear was reprimanded.  No act can be excused, but we need to maintain some perspective.

As Filipovic writes

The 2016 presidential race was so close that any of a half-dozen factors surely influenced the outcome: James Comey, racial politics, Clinton family baggage, the contentious Democratic primary, third-party spoilers, Russian interference, fake news. But when one of the best-qualified candidates for the presidency in American history and the first woman to get close to the Oval Office loses to an opponent who had not dedicated a nanosecond of his life to public service and ran a blatantly misogynist campaign, it’s hard to conclude that gender didn’t play a role.

 And what we get is a tax reform bill that will only help the rich, destruction of the environment, alienated allies, and potential nuclear war.  Thanks a lot, fellows.

Where is Al?

Have you forgotten aobut the Minnesota Senate election?  I admit that I can go days without remembering that it is still not decided. 

A guy named Al Franken, a Democrat, is still leading Norman Coleman, a Republican and the incumbant, and they are still counting ballots under the direction of the Minnesota Supreme Court.  The Court has ruled that Franken cannot be seated until all the ballots have been counted.  They have also refused to issue, or allow to be issued, a certificate of election saying that the U.S. Senate has the authority to seat a senator should they choose to do so.  Of course, the Democrats have already screwed themselves because they insisted on a certificate from the Secretary of State of Illinois before they would seat Roland Burris.  So Harry Reid can’t now decide to seat Al.

As I understand it, there are now about 1500 absentee ballots that are being examined to see if they can be counted.  They are looking at things like is a registration form included (Minnesota has same day registratiion), are the forms completed correctly and are the ballots marked property.  So far, there are 89 such ballots that will be examined further before being counted.

Eric Kleefeld is blogging about the Minnesota Election on TPM daily.  His most recent entry

In order to win, Coleman needs to expand the universe of countable ballots. But this expansion was much smaller than some expected, out of the 1,500 ballots that were searched. At his post-court press conference, Coleman legal spokesman Ginsberg boasted that the search “found between 100 and 150 that were wrongly rejected and should be put in. so that gives you an increasing idea that the universe of ballots with which we’re dealing continues to fluctuate.”

What Ginsberg is relying on is the addition of 72 more envelopes that had incomplete registration cards, and are unlikely to be included under the court’s strict standards for letting in new ballots — a point that the Coleman camp seems sure to appeal.

Two-thirds of the 89 came from pro-Coleman counties, but the sample of votes is by itself too small to provide much of a swing for him — and that’s assuming they do break for Coleman. It’s also likely that some of these envelopes will have other flaws with them, thus shrinking the pool even further.

I should also point out that even if Coleman gets all 89 votes which is not likely as some will be found to be flawed and some votes for Franken, he still cannot overcome the Franken lead of around 225 votes.

So eventually, it seems, the Senate Democrats will get their 59th vote.  And the drama of Minnesota will finally be over.  This saga could only happen to someone who used to be on Saturday Night Live.

Getting things through the Senate

William Kristol, Editor of the Weekly Standard, from his column in the Washington Post following the President’s speech to Congress

For Obama’s aim is not merely to “revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity.” Obama outlined much of this new foundation in the most unabashedly liberal and big-government speech a president has delivered to Congress since Lyndon Baines Johnson. Obama intends to use his big three issues, energy, health care and education, to transform the role of the U.S. federal government as fundamentally as did the New Deal and the Great Society.

Conservatives and Republicans will disapprove of this effort. They will oppose it. Can they do so effectively?

Perhaps — if they can find reasons to obstruct and delay. They should do their best not to permit Obama to rush his agenda through this year. They can’t allow Obama to make of 2009 what Franklin Roosevelt made of 1933 or Johnson of 1965. Slow down the policy train. Insist on a real and lengthy debate. Conservatives can’t win politically right now. But they can raise doubts, they can point out other issues that we can’t ignore (especially in national security and foreign policy), they can pick other fights — and they can try in any way possible to break Obama’s momentum. Only if this happens will conservatives be able to get a hearing for their (compelling, in my view) arguments against big-government, liberal-nanny-state social engineering — and for their preferred alternatives.

David RePass wants to call the Republican bluff.  If they want to implement the delaying tactics and as Kristol says, “slow down the policy train” Harry Reid should let them try.

To reduce deadlock, in 1917 the Senate passed Rule 22, which made it possible for a supermajority — two-thirds of the chamber — to end a filibuster by voting for cloture. The two-thirds majority was later changed to three-fifths, or 60 of the current 100 senators.

In recent years, however, the Senate has become so averse to the filibuster that if fewer than 60 senators support a controversial measure, it usually won’t come up for discussion at all. The mere threat of a filibuster has become a filibuster, a phantom filibuster. Instead of needing a sufficient number of dedicated senators to hold the floor for many days and nights, all it takes to block movement on a bill is for 41 senators to raise their little fingers in opposition.

Historically, the filibuster was justified as a last-ditch defense of minority rights. Under this principle, an intense opposition should be able to protect itself from the tyranny of the majority. But today, the minority does not have to be intense at all. Its members have only to disagree with a measure to kill it. Essentially, the minority has veto power.

The phantom filibuster is clearly unconstitutional. The founders required a supermajority in only five situations: veto overrides and votes on treaties, constitutional amendments, convictions of impeached officials and expulsions of members of the House or Senate. The Constitution certainly does not call for a supermajority before debate on any controversial measure can begin.

And fixing the problem would not require any change in Senate rules. The phantom filibuster could be done away with overnight by the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid. All he needs to do is call the minority’s bluff by bringing a challenged measure to the floor and letting the debate begin.

I have to say that it has long puzzled me that a majority is 60 votes, not 51.  RePass concludes

It also happens to make a great deal of political sense for the Democrats to force the Republicans to take the Senate floor and show voters that they oppose Mr. Obama’s initiatives. If the Republicans want to publicly block a popular president who is trying to resolve major problems, let them do it. And if the Republicans feel that the basic principles they believe in are worth standing up for, let them exercise their minority rights with an actual filibuster.

It is up to Mr. Reid. He can do away with the supermajority requirement for virtually all significant measures and return majority rule to the Senate. This is not to say that the Democrats should ride roughshod over the Republicans. Republicans should be included at all stages of the legislative process. However, with the daunting prospect of having to mount a real filibuster to demonstrate their opposition, Republicans may become much more willing to compromise.

Jean Edward Smith concurred with RePass in his entry on the New York Times blog 100 Days.  Writing on March 1 he pointed out the racist modern history of the filibuster.

In the entire 19th century, including the struggle against slavery, fewer than two dozen filibusters were mounted. In F.D.R.’s time, the device was employed exclusively by Southerners to block passage of federal anti-lynching legislation. Between 1933 and the coming of the war, it was attempted only twice. Under Eisenhower and J.F.K., the pattern continued. In the eight years of the Eisenhower administration, only two filibusters were mounted. Under Kennedy there were four. The number more than doubled under Lyndon Johnson, but the primary issue continued to be civil rights. Except for exhibitionists, buffoons and white southerners determined to salvage racial segregation, the filibuster was considered off limits.

But with the enactment of major civil rights legislation in the 1960s and ’70s, the issue of equality for African-Americans faded from the Senate’s agenda, and the filibuster shed its racist image.

It was during the Clinton years that the dam broke. In the 103rd Congress (1993-1994), 32 filibusters were employed to kill a variety of presidential initiatives ranging from campaign finance reform to grazing fees on federal land. Between 1999 and 2007, the number of Senate filibusters varied between 20 and 37 per session, a bipartisan effort.

The routine use of the filibuster as a matter of everyday politics has transformed the Senate’s legislative process from majority rule into minority tyranny. Leaving party affiliation aside, it is now possible for the senators representing the 34 million people who live in the 21 least populous states — a little more than 11 percent of the nation’s population — to nullify the wishes of the representatives of the remaining 88 percent of Americans.

So this is a challenge to Harry Reid:  Call the Republicans’  bluff, call William Kristol’s bluff and make them filibuster legislation proposed by a President that the latest polls show has a close to 70% approval rating.