Friday, November 05, 2004

Feminist statement on the elections (draft)

With a tip of the pen to the transnational statement against the war (, here is an initial formulation of what some of those around me are saying.


Bush did not win by a landslide. This was the largest amount of votes against a successful presidential candidate. He did not win all the evangelical votes, all the white male votes, all the married white women's votes. Take Ohio -- the East is more blue, the West more red. The maps of Columbus reveal this variation - in the city, more for Kerry and more against the amendment to prevent gay marriage.
Here's the breakdown from the CNN exit polls:

Mary Margaret Fonow, Chair, Women's Studies:
Even though 22% of the voters in the exit poll identified moral values as the number one issue, the economy at 20% was next. ... If you look at the map of Ohio, the old industrial/rust belt went for Kerry even more than they did for Gore in 2000 (need I mentionSteubenville went blue!). It is white folks in the small town and suburbs that went for Bush. Those are two very different constituencies. We need to break them apart.

Segment, segment, segment!

And then we have to ask about the trends that are there -- not all Americans, but:

  • Why did so many white married women vote for him?
  • Why do some (but not the majority) of poor men and women vote for him?
  • Why did more people in Florida vote for him than in 00?
  • Why don't young people (especially women!) vote much?
  • 21% of gay voters are that masochistic? (That would make 79% doms, which we know isn't true.)

Stephanie Grant: I do think it's this kind of thinking we're up against: who makes people feel "comfortable"? And again, the comfort comes from a sense of moral recognition; he'd do what I do, or at least decide the question using the same compass I have. ... Because logical argument- -appealing to people's material needs and priorities--isn't getting us there.

Mary Margaret Fonow: A lot of people I think voted for Bush because they perceived him (as a person) to be down home, average, folksy, a championof the average man or even of the down-trodden and not the rich guy heis! It's a gut reaction and has nothing to do with rational thought.Let's face it Kerry is married to a billionaire and it might have beenhard for people to relate to him.

The standard leftist view imagines that people should vote with their pocketbooks -- that their real interests are economic, as measured by their real incomes and by overall economic performance. This truism obviously doesn't hold up very well in recent years (although it's not entirely inaccurate -- poorer people and union states did vote more for Kerry).

First, what does motivate people to vote? As the media has noted, many who voted for Bush said they did so because of morality, values, and because of some sort of identification with him. So expecting people to vote for their interests, for someone who will act in ways that affect their lives, is often (but not always) misplaced. Perhaps they are seeking a figurehead, a father figure, a narrative, a symbol. Here cultural studies, psychoanalysis, and symbolic analyses could help. Explain what people are doing when they vote for the president -- how do they see the selection involved in voting, what is it for, what does it mean? From the second-hand answers presented in articles, it sounds like they are investing in an identification with an image (perhaps a simulacrum that has no reality behind it). It sounded as if they could imagine Bush in their world, mowing the lawn, like them. One said 'he works hard, he's honest, he's a good man': we know he doesn't work hard, he was famous for a moderate schedule as a governor and pre-9/11 president. We know he lies.

Second, an ethnographic perspective (or a Gramscian one) asks, how do people see their interests? How do they interpret their economic interests?

We still seem to circle around a version of false consciousness: we know that Bush is not what his ordinary supporters say he is, we know that he is not doing what they believe he is doing (handling the war well, making them safer, identifying with them, supporting families, etc).


Stephanie Grant, novelist:
What's really killing me is this question of "moral values." Why can't we seem to make a case for the war being immoral? For plundering Iraq being immoral? For Bush's cronies benefitting materially from his presidency being immoral? Because we're secularists (many of us), I think we shy away from the whole conversation, as if the question or morality were beneath us. In truth, it's sitting on top of us. The Right seems to be able convince Americans that only private acts--how you treat your wife, your kids, your relationship to
God, etc.--have the capacity for being moral. What about moral public behavior? What about sending poor people off to die so that Americans can drive big cars and not be shocked at the gas tank?

Rebecca Wanzo, Women's Studies & African-American Studies Professor:
How did the right manage to hijack language in this way? They own morality and family and values . . . the left has to get better at producing simple, seductive, messages that appeal to people's comfort zones. We have to learn how to make people feel good, while also mobilizing fear (the Bush administration is creating more terrorists everyday , Be afraid, be very afraid etc . . .) It's an overwhelming challenge. ... I'm feeling like we need whole new paradigms for understanding how U.S. politics are working now.

Jaime Grant, development director/screenwriter (paraphrased):
The Left has to work from a spiritual base--has to speak as if
spiritual values inform our decision making. (She sent an article by Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun Magazine.)
Mary Margaret Fonow:
Perhaps we needto focus more on ethics/fairness. I don't know if spirituality is goingin the right direction.
We have to find a clear way to change the discourse. Christian fundamentalists are not the majority and they are not really representative of the voting population yet they were the deciding factor. Let's find some other group to be the deciding factor next time!

Why doesn't economic ethics register? This is the most corrupt regime in recent memory - the right was all over Clinton about a few hundred thousand dollars whitewatered away. What of Halliburton, oil meetings, Enron - and before that, Savings & Loans and small oil companies with big connections? Why doesn't such enormous corruption in Iraq and California and Texas get noted?
And why has religion come to focus soley on sexual politics? Have they no shame? Are the 10 commandments ranked? What of concern with poverty, the vulnerable, forgiveness, state killings, lying and deceit?


  • We need fewer analyses of Buffy the Vampire Slayer et al, and more of the motivations of US voters and the ideological powers of the right (for those who work domestically).
  • We need less pure critiques of reason and more talking points, message to stay on, images, soundbites.
  • We do need theories of ideology, identification, and imaginaries -- but we need them attached to the concrete and allied with rich material.
  • Mary Margaret Fonow: We have to stay focused on his policies and combat nationalism, racism, etc. It is obvious to me that we need to focus more on alliances and united front politics.


  • How has the right been so effective in rhetoric, discourse, "common sense?" How do they make "resolute" a key virtue for a candidate? How do they monopolize "values"? This work has been started but we need more that is oriented to strategies.
  • What narratives might be more effective with white married women, suburbanites, those who are critical of aspects of the republican right? What stories are needed, symbols, images, plots?
    ATTN: writers, artists, screenwriters: apply your skills!
  • If the right has been so successful, do we emulate their strategy, or do the means=the ends, do we need to forge some other tools? (We should remember that the right has stolen many effective strategies of the left. A major conservative funding organization says that they got the idea from Emily's List.)
  • How else can we win power, without appealing to endearing stories? Can we wrest power? Can we gain power from the urban, union, of color, young base that exists?
  • As the youth of the youth vote get older, will they vote?


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