Friday, January 15, 2016

Clinton surrogates are still misrepresenting quotes to smear Sanders supporters

There has been an extraordinary amount of scorn – both from the right and from Bernie Sanders supporters – around the notion that Hillary Clinton and women planning on voting for her are playing the “gender card”. - Jessica Valenti
Valenti makes a compelling argument here against critics who would insist that representation doesn't matter - but who exactly is she quoting here?

One might expect her linked reference to "Bernie Sanders supporters" to bring us to an instance of what she's talking about. If you actually click through, however, all you get is another Clintonite making the same accusation, this time Rebecca Traister in her old New Yorker piece. Here, Traister writes:
to admit to a consideration of her gender, even when it is so clearly not the only consideration, means your opinion risks being laughed off as infantile, simplistic, girlish. Some left-wing Clinton critics accuse her defenders of “voting based on that alone,” or with an eye only to “vulgar identity politics,” as Henwood puts it in My Turn.
Here, we have some actual quotes. Let's look at the context.

The Berniebro quote

The first quote comes from a parody article posted on, which I'll quote at length:
In conclusion, if you are Bernie, working for Bernie, or planning to vote Bernie, you are not the hip, millennial-pulling campaign you think you are. You are a sexist, because a woman candidate is available to you and instead of voting based on that alone you are interested in pie-in-the-heavens policies like “$15 per hour minimum wage”, which would mean a flipper of burgers could have the money the Matt Bruenig dot com Elections Desk interns currently make, but that is ridiculous, and middle America would never go for it. Middle America likes one thing, and that is to be constantly and relentlessly accused of sexism against incredibly rich women who have held positions of power most of us could never dream of.
I am not sure what is subtle about this. No one actually thinks, for example, that "Middle America likes...[to be] relentlessly accused of sexism". Not only does no one actually think that, no one thinks that anyone actually thinks that. This is how parody works. The entire point of this piece is to compare things that Clintonites actually believe with self-evidently preposterous things that no one actually believes. The caricature works precisely because it is so unbelievable.

To spell it out, the author is (obviously!) not claiming that Clintonites are actually "voting based on [gender] alone". The standard critique here is and has always been that Clintonites simply value representation gains disproportionately, particularly in light of the material setbacks of a Clinton presidency. An obvious way to make that point is to write a funny parody about an obviously ridiculous Clintonite who only values representational gains, but no one here actually insists that gender doesn't matter. As Bruenig himself insists (in a post Traister links to!), "I don’t actually want to dismiss representational politics out of hand here."

Henwood's quote

So much for the first quote; the second is even weaker. Traister is guilty of blatant misrepresentation here. Henwood is not criticizing identity politics as such - he is criticizing vulgar identity politics, a distinction that he was careful to make and that he explicitly insists on. To read that as a dismissal of any consideration at all for representation is to read against both Henwood's explicit words and his subsequent clarification. Traister can only misrepresent his quote by fabricating a paraphrase out of whole cloth: "with an eye only to 'vulgar identity politics'" is not how "Henwood puts it", which is why she has to put the operative word "only" outside of quotation marks.

So we return to Valenti's article, but instead of finding "an extraordinary amount of scorn...from Bernie supporters", we only found an obvious parody quoted as if it were in earnest, and a carefully qualified phrase deliberately misrepresented to say the exact opposite of what it says. Neither, moreover, used any phrase as crude or self-evidently reactionary as the "gender card", even though Valenti puts that in quotes.

Will either Clinton surrogate correct any of this? Of course not.