American Identity Politics: American Exceptionalism

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When veteran democratic socialist Doug Henwood chose the cover for his new book Her Turn, he almost certainly hoped to generate controversy. Even though the cartoon of Hillary Clinton aiming a pistol at the prospective reader had been designed by a woman, the unexpectedly strong showing of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has put supporters of of the former Secretary of State on guard. Similar to the way Woody Allen heard “Jew” every time someone said “you” in his classic film Annie Hall, Clinton’s supporters see sexism everywhere.

One of Henwood’s, and Sander’s, most vociferous critics has been Salon writer Amanda Marcotte, a radical feminist and former supporter of North Carolina Senator John Edwards. Well aware of his excellent record on gay rights and reproductive rights, Marcotte, and other Clinton supporters, have attempted to shift the charge of sexism from Sanders himself to his supporters, especially those on social media. Henwood proved to be a convenient target.

The Clintonite charge against the Sanders campaign goes beyond the argument that some of his supporters, like Henwood, might have a bit of a blind spot on gender issues. Some of Clinton’s supporters have made accusations that Sander’s supporters, like Gamergate, have engaged in a systematic campaign of harassment of women on social media. The very strange little anti-Gamergate activist Arthur Chu has even preemptively accused them of a racist backlash against Clinton’s victory.

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Female heads of state are nothing very new. Conservative, Catholic Poland has had two. The current Chancellor of Germany, probably the third or fourth most powerful country in the world, is a woman. Dilma Rousseff, the President of Brazil, probably the fifth or sixth most powerful country in the world, is also woman, as are the Presidents of Chile and Argentina. Nuclear powers Israel, Pakistan, India, and the United Kingdom have all have female heads of state. What’s more, every single time a woman has risen to become head of a major power like Germany or the United Kingdom, she has acted pretty much the way a man would have acted. Angela Merkel has governed as a conservative. Michele Bachelet has governed as a moderate social democrat. President Bidhya Devi Bhandari of Nepal will probably govern as a communist. The idea that even the most sexist man has anything to fear from a female head of state is a bit far-fetched. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has been the President of Argentina for years. As far as I know, it’s still a Catholic country where you can’t get a legal abortion. Nevertheless, it never seems to occur to Amanda Marcotte that Doug Henwood would object to Hillary Clinton’s neoliberal politics, or long-time ties to Walmart. For Marcotte, it’s all about the “fear of female power.”

For Amanda Marcotte and Arthur Chu, there doesn’t seem to be any difference between a female head of state and “female power.” Margaret Thatcher did more to harm women than a male Prime Minister from the Labor Party would have done in her place. The fact that President George W. Bush was a white male, like me, did nothing to empower white males like me. Quite the contrary, he took away my freedom and civil liberties, spent my tax money on a useless war in Iraq, and tarred all Americans as torturers and mass murderers. Amanda Marcotte, in other words, is not a liberal, or even a feminist. Like the conservatives who voted for George W. Bush because he was “the kind of guy you’d like to have a beer with,” she cares more about identity politics than principles. Marcotte doesn’t care about “female power.” She cares about seeing someone who looks like her in the White House. It might, in fact, even be flattering Marcotte to accuse her of identity politics. A better term might be “narcissism.”

Even calling Marcotte a “narcissist,” however, might be letting her off a little too easy. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has helped enable the destruction of Libya. She has invoked the oppression of women to justify the ongoing American occupation of Afghanistan. She is not only a consistent supporter of apartheid in Israel, she has followed the lead of the Israel Lobby against Barack Obama’s attempt to negotiate a peace treaty with Iran. Perhaps it would be best to label Amanda Marcotte, or any other Clinton supporter, as “just another warmonger and imperialist.”

I do not know if Amanda Marcotte is a racist. As someone who’s been unjustly accused of anti-Semitism and racism myself, I don’t throw that kind of accusation around lightly. Nevertheless, the shockingly pro-imperialist cover of Marcotte’s book “It’s a Jungle Out there” doesn’t speak well of her politics. The cover of Doug Henwood’s book may or may not be sexist, but Henwood chose it as a provocation, as a way to sell books. In other words, he was conscious of the effect it would have on thin-skinned feminists like Marcotte. Marcotte, on the other hand, as well as her publisher, were taken by surprise at the reaction to their, now withdrawn, image of a white woman leading the struggle for the “white man’s burden” in deepest, darkest Africa.

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Bernie Sanders has a questionable record on militarism. While he did vote against the invasion of Iraq, as well as the Patriot Act, he is largely silent on the apartheid regime in Israel. He voted for the war in Afghanistan as well as for the ludicrously overpriced F35 fighter jet. I could understand why a socialist or anti-imperialist would be reluctant to support his campaign. At best, he’ll probably maintain the status quo of the Obama years. Hillary Clinton however, would be much worse, not only because of her well-established ties to the Israel Lobby, and her belligerent hostility to the people of Iran, but because, even more than Sanders or Obama, she can push for war under the banner of women’s rights. Whether it’s preached by George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton, the idea that the United States is a peculiar force for good in the world has been proven false. George W. Bush’s attempts to justify the destruction of Iraq with the idea that “we” were bringing the Iraqis freedom and democracy rang hollow, even before Hillary Clinton voted “yes” on H.J. Res.114, the joint resolution for the authorization for use of military force against Iraq. Hillary Clinton’s arguments that “we” are keeping troops in Afghanistan to protect women’s rights ring just as hollow. Even if it is dressed up as “feminism,” American Exceptionalism is still American Exceptionalism.

Let’s reject it.

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8 comments

  1. As a woman, I’ll expound my views on Amanda Marcotte and her ilk – since she “looks” like me, she won’t take offense. She is no feminist. She doesn’t care about women. She only cares about women like herself, white, well-off and educated. She (and by extension) HRC doesn’t give two shits about PoC women, poor white women, women who don’t have advanced degrees and high earning jobs. No one is afraid of female power, well, let me clarify, they are, but not in the way she describes. People are afraid of female power when that female in power helps other women get ahead. Women who truly promotes the causes of other women and the issues that face women, not women who govern as men. Women like Berta Caceres, who promoted rights of indigenous people and their families, which are usually anchored by women as many traditional indigenous people usually are. The patriarchy (of which many members are comprised of women) do not want an empowered female population, because it throws off the domination of the patriarchy. Like you pointed out, a female head of state doesn’t mean she governs as a woman who shares the concerns of all the women she governs.
    Incidentally, Chancellor Angela Merkel, her approval ratings took a nosedive when she took a humanitarian turn and accepted Syrian, Iraqi and Afghani refugees, of which more than half are women and children; she called it a “humanitarian imperative” – when Frau Merkel began to act like a woman who cared about other women and their children and by extension their families, her approval ratings started to tank. She’s somehow making some HUGE mistake for acting like a decent human being. Other than that, she is still the same hard nosed woman as before.

      1. This problem is twofold – first is the inadequate economy in the Philippines – second is the demand for such services. Demand will not go away for this type of work. As long as mankind existed there has always been a certain class of women who don’t like to do the boring mundane work of caregiving and have the means to farm it out. FWIW, most people don’t find this type of work nice or fun but most don’t have the means to farm it out. Conversely, there will always be desperate people around the world somewhere who will take on this type of work. The policies or type of feminism would be for the women in domestic industries to demand more demand better, whether in their home countries or here. There has to be no fear of reprisals or loss of job or income and even if that were to happen they have a fund or trust to replenish their earnings until the situation with employers are sorted. And the fund should be world wide. The domestic workers union should be world wide. IMOH.

        1. Agreed. When the exploitation crosses borders, nationalism isn’t a solution. This is the main weakness of Sanders’ kind of socialism.

          1. Not to get on moral high horse as I am just as loathe to do caregiving as the next woman but I had to do it all myself. However after reading that article I am glad to have not contributed to that and if I do one day have the means to hire extra help – it’ll be fair wages and not at the expense of her family. I really just hate cleaning and laundry – I don’t mind the rest, taking care of my kids, cooking, reading to them etc. but cleaning – gah.

  2. Excellent analysis. Well researched, balanced, fair. Remember who designs and conducts the polls? That would be the Israeli-friendly media who want Angela Merkel to look bad. WWII is not over.

    As for the Syrian and other refugees . . . what if we offer to take women and children only? That would be a female-friendly way to play a leadership refugee rescue role, no matter who is president.

    Hillary stood by her sexual predator husband while he was president. This is not how you advocate for women.

  3. PS–Hillary’s not aiming that gun at the reader. She’s aiming it at Bill.

  4. […] rights into privileges, your rights can be then taken away. Now that the oppression olympics (a phrase I stole from someone else) and privilege scorekeeping is over, we can all get back to the real issues: how to stop the ruling […]

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