Monday, August 17, 2015


I can see how it seemed like a stupid question.

"Do you think it’s fair that Hillary’s hair gets a lot more scrutiny than yours does?" interviewer Ana Marie Cox asked.
"Hillary’s hair gets more scrutiny than my hair? Is that what you're asking?" Sanders clarified, before asking Cox whether she had any "serious questions."
Here's Bernie Sanders' Response To A Question About Hillary Clinton's Hair
But it WAS a "serious question," even if somewhat inelegantly asked. It's the serious question of whether or not Hillary Clinton in specific, and female candidates for elective office in general, are given a fair hearing in most media outlets and by the public.
I can defend that as a serious question. There is a gendered reason —
When the media worries about what Hillary’s hair looks like or what my hair looks like, that’s a real problem. We have millions of people who are struggling to keep their heads above water, who want to know what candidates can do to improve their lives, and the media will very often spend more time worrying about hair than the fact that we’re the only major country on earth that doesn’t guarantee health care to all people.

It’s also true that the media pays more attention to what female candidates look like than it does to what male candidates look like.
That may be. That may be, and it’s absolutely wrong.
Bernie Sanders Has Heard About That Hashtag
While Senator Sanders may feel that "it’s absolutely wrong" for media outlets to pay more attention to the appearance of female candidates than male candidates, and his supporters may feel that the line of questioning reveals Ana Marie Cox to be "another tool who has no idea what journalism is" or the media to be "trying everything they can to 'gotcha' him," what stood out for me is what may shape up to be the primary problem for the Sanders campaign - being so wedded to the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats that they miss the fact that some of those boats may not be in the water. The United States joining the club nations that have some form of guaranteed health care is not going to change the fact that women are expected to look after their appearances and lose certain social benefits (known as "the Makeup Tax" for not doing so.

The current disconnect between the Sanders campaign (and Sanders supporters) and the Black Lives Matter movement falls along similar lines. Shifting income and wealth away from the 1%, or the .1%, may pay dividends for the 40% of African-American children that Sanders identifies as being in poverty, but it won't, in and of itself, put an end to the deaths of Black people at the hands of law enforcement - or the idea that Black America brought this sad state of affairs on themselves due to rampant criminality and an eschewing of "character and values." After all, people are just as capable of judging the wealthy by the color of their skin (or their gender) as they are the poor.

After the first debate between the majority of Republican candidates, Sanders referred to them as "out of touch" because they didn't place issues like Citizens United vs. FEC or student loan debt front and center in the moderated forum. But Sanders himself comes across as only speaking to the issues that are important to certain constituencies after very public confrontations. And his supporters are often critical of those who feel that Senator Sanders doesn't speak to their concerns, holding him up as self-evidently the best chance that those concerns have of being addressed.

If Senator Sanders does become the Democratic nominee for President, it's unlikely that Black and/or women voters would consciously decide to withhold their support. But an enthusiasm gap can be just as damaging. To bridge it, I think that the Senator will have to learn to understand both the issues that various groups find important, and how they talk about them. And he does have time. But he doesn't have forever.

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