December 16, 2008 / Uncategorized

The corrosive principle of partisanship


A few days ago conservative syndicated opinionator Kathleen Parker wrote a column about the photo showing President-elect Obama’s senior speech writer Jon Favreau groping the breast region of a life size cardboard cut-out of Senator and Secretary of State Designate Hillary Rodham Clinton. She quotes me, though not by name, and mentions The New Agenda as well. My reaction can be found here. My awesome blogger friend Historiann also had a great response.

I don’t think anyone could fairly label me an Obamabot, because fandom and hero worship are just not things I engage in. But I was unexpectedly electrified by Obama’s candidacy when he entered the race for the Democratic nomination. The reasons for this are both complicated and personal, and probably not of any particular interest to anyone reading this. But supporting Obama did not make me feel negatively towards Hillary Clinton or John Edwards. I stood in the cold on the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse last January within 100 feet of all three of those folks, and thought I could be happy if any one of them became President.

But that isn’t how politics works in this country. The corrosive overarching principle is that if you don’t actively hate your candidate’s rivals, you aren’t being adequately supportive. One of the most painful ironies for me was that while Obama’s message of reducing partisanship appealed to me tremendously, some of his supporters were among the most angrily and nastily partisan people I encountered. Too many Obama supporters were determined to position Hillary Clinton as evil incarnate. Obama, to his great credit, knows how smart and capable she is, and this was reflected in his decision to make her his Secretary of State. I can understand why this appointment might infuriate Kathleen Parker, but I don’t care what she thinks about anything.

Jon Favreau’s actions are a lot harder to accept. As far as I can tell, he posed for that awful photograph and then uploaded it to his own Facebook page, because he wanted to signal his disrespect of Clinton to his friends and colleagues around the world. This is a man who helped craft Obama’s post nomination message of party unity, apparently without believing it. It’s an offensively cynical approach to politics, and an affront to any women who challenges male hegemony, which is just about all of us.

Join Our Email List

Be the first to know the latest initiatives from The New Agenda to improve the lives of women and girls.

Thank you for joining our list! Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.

  • Ann, thank you for writing this.

    I agree: if Obama’s message of post-partisanship and understanding were ever put into practice, we’d be in much better shape as a country.

    For me, one of the most disturbing aspects of Favreau’s continued employment is the fact that he’s the guy crafting Obama’s message of unity and hope. From now on, every time I hear Obama give a speech I’m going to wonder about the snide sexist behind the words.

  • Ann,

    Thank you for sharing this and thanks for your courage. There are few who supported Obama that seem willing or able to speak out against any of the numerous injustices in the first half of his transition period. Time will judge I suppose. In the mean time, we must all live with ourselves!

    Please come back and post here whenever your time permits.

  • Anna

    Right on piece. What resonates particularly for me is the comment about how divisive things get, how if one aligns with one candidate they must love everything about them no questions asked and hate everything about all the others. It’s so childish and far removed from any real discerning thought process.

    Your piece is very refreshing.

    Meanwhile, without wanting to be too self-serving, a piece I wrote on Favreau was published in Pajamas Media today if you want to read and/or comment.

    Meanwhile, thank you for what your wrote. It captures the essence of what TNA is trying to be in my view, cause this isn’t about whether someone supported Obama, Clinton or McCain, it’s about women and how we’re treated, how our voices are heard or silenced, and so forth. That issue crosses all political boundaries as far as I’m concerned and if we can get over the hurdle, we can become a large and strong organization.

  • I remain cautiously optimistic that women can make good progress under Obama’s leadership, but believe that’s more likely to happen if we speak up both critically and constructively, as appropriate. I think a lot of other Obama supporters feel this way too – I hope so.


  • Thanks for writing this. I appreciate the heartfelt authenticity and the balance this piece provides in terms of The New Agenda’s ideal to appeal to all stripes of political women. I agree whole-heartedly that partisanship has hurt women in particular, though I think it’s the Democratic party’s shallow insistence that it alone has anything to offer women that is the greatest harm done to the our progress, even greater than the bogus pro-life supposed status quo within the Republican party (true on an elected level, not on a voter level).

    That said, I do not hold out the same hope you do regarding President-elect Obama. In fact, I think his campaign, Favreau, and others in agreement have ushered in a new age of sexism that will be even harder to fight than the “old” sexism. Sexism used to just make guys average; now it apparently makes them cool.

  • Cynthia Ruccia

    I am actually interested in how you became as you put it “unexpectedly electrified by Obama’s candidacy.” I am stunned and happy that you have written this blog piece as many of us lifelong Democrats saw so much sexism from that campaign right from the start that we were unable to feel anything like electrified. Actually many of us felt electrocuted. But I am trying to get over my anger about it as it is really hurting no one but me. It would be very helpful and healing to hear from someone like you who feels the feminist outrage now after being taken over by the Obama electricity. I know you said it was personal, but understanding how you got from point A to point B could shed some light on a subject hard for many of us to come to terms with. I for one am coming from a place of goodwill, and I appreciate very much you sharing what you have already shared. If it’s too much to share it publically via this blog, and you might be willing to speak with me about it, that would be great too. or 614-239-8928.

  • It would be very helpful and healing to hear from someone like you who feels the feminist outrage now after being taken over by the Obama electricity.

    Cynthia, I just want to clarify — since I know Ann — that she has always felt the feminist outrage! She was sick about the treatment of Hillary Clinton and spoke up about it repeatedly. Ann’s a great feminist.

    I probably agree with Ann on almost everything politically, except that she liked Obama much more than I did. I actually started out feeling neutral-to-positive about him, so I can certainly understand people who continued to support him.

    Politics are a knife fight, and ugly stuff happens. I think it’s possible for committed feminists to abhor the sexism in the campaign and yet still simultaneously believe that an Obama administration offers a better chance for women than, say, a McCain would have.

  • Thank you, Ann. I’m a Clintonista from way back, so I was never seriously tempted by Obama. But I’m encouraged by the early Cabinet selections — Clinton 90s veterans. I suspect the Clintons have got some power there. So — leaving BO and his bots out of the loop — maybe we can make some progress for women by appealing directly to Cabinet members and others up there. Bill and HIllary certainly care about our issues, and many of this Cabinet were people they appointed and worked with.

  • yttik

    Thank you Ann Bartow. We need people who support Obama to stand up for the things we have always believed in. The two are not mutually exclusive, LOL, at least I would hope not. One would think you could support the president elect and also take a stand against sexism.

    Right and wrong isn’t really defined by who is in office or which political party is running things. I mean ideally that is the way it should be, anyway. In reality we often wind up with “you’re with us or against us” or “my guy right or wrong”, but that’s really not the way we want to see the people of this country respond to their leaders.

  • Hi again,
    Some of Obama’s appeal early on to me had to do with friends and family members and I really prefer to keep that personal – sorry about that, it’s just that the blogosphere can be an ugly place and I don’t want to draw abuse to people I care about.

    But something I can talk about is the terrific job the Obama campaign did in South Carolina before our primary. As far as I could tell (and South Carolina is a small enough state that I think I have a pretty good idea about what went on) as far as I could tell the Clinton folks simply gave a lot of “walking around money” to the Usual Suspects here, almost all male and many tied to churches that are not particularly progressive on gender issues (shall I say with some circumspection), and counted on them to get out the vote. Same old, same old. It’s hard to be a Democrat in South Carolina, and part of the problem stems from how ignored we are by the national party. Clinton seemed to take us for granted, and we noticed.

    The Obama campaign really set itself apart by spending a lot of time and money here, and reaching out to a lot of different constituencies. I got invited to more Obama events than you could believe, large and small, by a very motivated and diverse assortment of people. I never heard from the Clinton campaign until a few weeks before the primary, when it was clear she was way behind here.

    So “trying a new approach” was more than rhetoric. Obama really did bring positive change to my little state, and he earned his victory here, and the loyalty and ferocity of his SC supporters got productively channeled later into nearby states.

    Many things happened during the primaries that I wish hadn’t. But I’m a pragmatist and if nothing else, Obama knows how important women were to his election and will be to his re-election prospects. We need to make him hear us, and I hope we can. His failure so far to address what happened with Favreau is disappointing, but I doubt the push back has gone unnoticed.


  • Cynthia Ruccia

    Interesting perspective about what went on in South Carolina. The seminal mistake that the HRC campaign made was ignoring the caucuses.

    I guess living in Ohio where we get LOTS of attention (and that HRC won by 10 points), the sticking point for me was different. My county, Franklin, went soundly for Obama, and I watched people I have worked with closely for 25 years doing Democratic Party work, become so enamored with Obama that they either couldn’t see the sexism, chose not to see the sexism, or whatever. When I couldn’t go along with that I had formerly friendly doors slammed in my face, hate mail, death threats, death threats to my children. I have good friends not speaking to me. All of this for standing up to the sexism. I don’t want or need anyone’s pity, but I find the above behavior impossible to accept or understand. I became a Democrat 40 years ago because I believed that that party was the anti-sexism party. Fat chance. I gave my lifeblood to the Democrats and became the quintessential party insider. But it was this campaign that made me see how misplaced my loyalty was—–and how it was rewarded.

    I’m trying to move on Ann, and any further enlightenment you can offer would be helpful to more people than just me. Thanks for speaking up!!

  • Monarch

    “Politics are a knife fight” – Violet Socks

    Very true, but who established, maintained, and valued the “knife fight” standard? That’s the crux of the problem and misogyny will be part of that “standard” if a candidate happens to be female.

    The demonization of two female candidates that occurred during this election is not far removed from Nazis demonizing Jews in Germany in the years preceding WWII. Senator Clinton was depicted as an arsonist in a Phila. Inquirer cartoon. It is difficult to admire or support any politician who benefits from that kind of propaganda. Thanks to maniacal partisanship and the knife-fight standard, our government looks more and more like a wounded stinking corpse.

    We really need to change “how politics works in this country”.

    Thank you for this thoughtful post.

  • Kali

    I don’t understand how so many people found Obama inspiring, especially his speeches. Even before Obama’s campaign sexism reared its ugly head, I felt mistrust towards him because of his cheesy and insincere sounding (to me) speeches. I am not really surprised that the creepy Favreau is behind those cheesy, insincere words. He’s exactly the kind of slimy character who would come up with lines like “Yes, we can”, “change and hope”. They sound like the political equivalent of pick-up lines that some losers try to use on women.

    Clinton’s matter-of-fact policy wonkiness was a refreshing contrast. Here was a woman who knows what she is doing, cares about her job, and doesn’t have to rely on fluff-words to hide a thin resume. But then, I always saw the crook in Bush while people were discussing how they would like to have beer with him. I just don’t get the American electorate and what motivates them.

  • I’m not suggesting that anybody should “forgive and forget” the bad things that happened during the campaign. Nor am I attacking Hillary Clinton in any way. I was just trying to explain some of the positive reasons Obama was popular in my state. And I know firsthand that some of his supporters behaved very badly, as I noted above. But I think women can still move forward during the next four years, and Hillary Clinton clearly wants to be part of that. And so do I.

  • I just want to weigh in here that more than half the women in this country voted for Obama. We want those same women to feel comfortable joining The New Agenda and to feel at home on our blog.

    We are an inclusive organization.

    We can continue to speak out about what is happening in the Obama Administration and we will.

  • Thia, GA

    We will always have to address the shortcomings of whatever is the current administration at least as it pertains to women’s issues. Whether our individual candidate wins or loses we have to immediately be vigilant with any administration to make sure they are doing what they promised and letting them know what we want. We might as well get used to that, whether the person we wanted to win did or not. It doesn’t have to be rancorous! If someone says something snotty about “your” candidate or “your” president you just have to take a deep breath and decide if it is really a point that is worth defending. When you get really invested in a candidate I know it takes a long time to realize they are just people, like the rest of us, doing the best they can.

    You can be very passionate about “your” candidate or “your” president without telling everyone that disagrees they are stupid or crazy. Whichever party or candidate wins these elections doesn’t change the one thing that holds us together. We are all women (or men actually) with a common purpose to hold all administrations to the same standard of doing the right thing by the women of this country.

  • Sis

    Favreau may have written the lines, but Obama delivered them. Unless he’s a mindless robot, they are his words. He wanted to sound like a guru, a cult leader, a preacher, and he did. The words made the point he wanted to make. They were at the time, and are now, a lie. He doesn’t walk his talk. It was all calculated to make people enthralled. In thrall.

  • Thia, GA


    Everything you say may be true, but if women who voted for Obama want to join us in addressing our goals for all women and with the new administration then I welcome them with open arms. I think we need all the help we can get.

  • Cynthia Ruccia

    Pollyanna weighing in here——-I believe that The New Agenda’s goals are so right and I believe that right wins out over wrong. And I believe that the dialogue that Ann has opened up is necessary. We cannot move forward without talking about these things. Of course, The New Agenda is also taking the lead in bringing all of us back together for the good of all of us. Why? Because NEVER AGAIN will we let this country be divided about the shamefulness of sexism by letting some people look away. And Ann, you deserve special recognition for reaching back and out over this divide. You are the first. May there be many more!!

  • Thia, GA

    Oops! I forgot to say Thank You Ann.

  • bruce nahin

    Ann ,excellent remarks. Do you think the media is too lenient towards the liberal side of the fence, giving benefits of the doubt? I know with Palin the media called her inexperienced even though seh was a former mayor and istting Governor…yet with Caroline kennedy there is no talk of her absolute lack of experience…only her”dormant desire” that people now seem to want to fulfill.

  • Florida Lady

    What mechanism is in place so that if the Dem party (or any party) again moves to decertify a valid primary election tally by 50% (thanks Howard Dean) they will be stopped? This happened with the Florida primary vote which Hillary won. Plouffe, the #2 Obama campaign guy (they were mostly guys) was quoted in the Wash Post yesterday noting that he didn’t think “we” (meaning Obama) would have been the nominee without the Florida ‘win.’
    Duh! We know!
    We voters had no say in the “dispute” about our primary sked – it was off by a week from what Howard Dean wanted. So, in a well-documented meeting over Memorial Day the Dem powers (all Obama supporters but a handful) decided the Fla. vote would count – by 50%. It was a trumped-up excuse to machine in the candidate a few honchos wanted. The Michigan tally was also reduced; the objections were trumped up there also. Other states were also “off calendar” for a variety of reasons but they were not punished. The big, vote-rich states that were hers (fair and square) were simply reduced. Look it up.
    Then – Obama! The skids were greased not by voters who elected but by deal-makers who selected. Male-centric press helped at every step. My state was inside out with indignation over this. You know – one person, one (whole) vote? As in constitution, U.S.?
    There was monkey business in Iowa, when Hillary supporters at the caucus site were told to stand in line while Obama supporters rushed and filled all the seats. Whole charter buses of Hillary supporters never made it inside (It was cold and they were told to wait on the bus until told to come in. Then they were told it was full – by guess who?) The JJ Dinner in Iowa was the same way – pre-rehearsed Obama supporters (bots??) surged into the place, as diners and standees, and disrupted it with their ‘enthusiasm.’ Other candidates and their supporters were barely able to be heard, those who weren’t left outside the doors.
    This created the buzz that then turned into pixie dust. Maybe the Carolina primary was mishandled by Clinton, or others. Maybe Obama types hit a pitch-perfect blend of active and inclusive there. I am willing to believe you.
    But what I saw and read about, in mainstream press not blog screamers, was atrocious. You Tube some of what I wrote about – esp. the Memorial Day meeting. Or look in NYT or your news outlet of choice. You were busy on Memorial Day and they used that as cover.
    Hillary supporters were stunned at the slam-dunk.
    Not change I believe in and I am positive that if more women had seen this they would not have been enchanted.
    Favreau and the low female head-count on Obama team do not surprise me. My expectations are low and his track record on women is dreadful. I agree with the NOW president’s recent statement about her disappointment.
    It gives Obama a pass he doesn’t deserve to just say – well, we’ll be hopeful. He has never been called to account for the campaign actions, or his Illinois past. He challenged a (female) office holder for a state house seat on the basis of her petition signatures. It sidetracked her and he ran unopposed. (Look this one up also.) Her sigs were fine when re-verified – it was a maneuver.
    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts. Obama kicked Hillary (and the Illinois woman pol) aside with Chicago-style games. No, not for me.

  • Sis


    Ann Bartow is iron clad feminist, one of the five or six feminist sites I have consistently read since I began reading feminist blogs. Her contribution here or anywhere is to be desired. She has my private non-internet e-mail address and real name (possibly the only internet person who does) so I’d say, we are ‘friends’.

    Ann have you read Lynette Long’s work on Obama voter fraud? I’d be interested to know what you think.

  • Thanks to everybody for the kind words and/or for being willing to listen even if you disagree.

    Bruce – I don’t really relate to “the media” as a coherent construct. I think Sarah Palin was badly treated in many contexts, but a fair amount of that was driven by Republicans and conservatives in the media. I’m not giving the Dems a pass, nor the Supposedly Liberal Doods in the media, many of them were awful too. That being said, I did not support her ticket and am very glad that John McCain will not be our next President. I don’t understand the interest in having Caroline Kennedy fill Clinton’s Senate seat, but I have read a fair amount of critical discussion of the possibility in the MSM. Also you should check out the hilarious posts about it here:

    Sis, I think it is in everyone’s interest to have a voting system with integrity, and think evidence of fraud should be investigated. I’m not very informed about what actual evidence exists, how strong it is and what is being done with it. I do think the caucus system needs to be eliminated, and hope that will happen forthwith.

  • Florida Lady, If you are trying to reform the primary system to make it more democratic and transparent, I support those efforts.

  • Dulcy

    I’m with Florida Lady. And one of the most frustrating issues, trying to talk Obama over with intelligent women, is when I say “But what about____”? and they say, “I didn’t know that.” and it’s yet another dead end. I cannot be in charge of what people know or refuse to check into.
    My posture for myself is the old. “Fool me once…”
    So go on without me.

  • Dulcy, if you feel you have legally sufficient evidence of illegal activities, you should bring it to the attention of the appropriate authorities, or file a civil law suit.

  • bruce nahin

    Ann, thnks for referring me to historiann, I’ve add it to my rss /google home page,bn

  • Egallantry

    I want democrat women to rise within their party and republican women to rise within their party. The same goes for the greens, the libertarians etc. Ideally I would like to have choices between two or more female candidates for every elected position.

    I am unaffiliated for life. The single most important issue to me is gender parity. I believe that most of our social ills stem from the under-representation of women in all branches and levels of government (and positions of power throughout the culture). I will remain a left-leaning moderate but other issues are on the back-burner for me.

    From now onwards a women gets my vote every time. My only requirement is that she be equal to, or better than, the worst man to have ever held that post. Given the political history of this country that is a bar set low but goose and gander and all that. This will be my way to redress the gender bias in dealing with female candidates.

    Currently the 30% solution feels essential. A critical mass of women in politics is vital so that female voices are not silenced. I loved reading that some countries mandate that no gender will dominate their government so a 40:60 ratio is the minimum with the ideal being 50:50. The status quo is a travesty so I say bring on the quotas.

  • Florida Lady

    Howare Dean, the Dem. part chair who proudly stole the Fla. primary votes for Hillary , an unprecedented event that if done to Obama (or anyone else) would have induced riots, is unemployed. We don’t have Hillary as prez. but we don’t have him anymore, either.
    Read this passage from the Dec. 18, 2008 Wash Post, in the column called The Fix, an excellent look at the 2008 political scene. Note the writer’s use of the words “stripping….of their delegates.” They mean stripping my home state’s votes, and Mich.’s, from Hillary, who had won these primaries:

    “Frankly, given all he did, the whole situation is as unexpected as it is disappointing,” said one Democratic source who was close to Dean during the 2004 campaign.

    The source noted that not only did Dean’s own presidential bid lay the technological foundation for the successes of Obama but also that the chairman’s unbending enforcement of the rules of the primary — stripping Florida and Michigan of their delegates and their meaningfulness — played a large role in Obama’s victory over Hillary Rodham Clinton. “I guess it proves that no good deed goes unpunished,” said the source.

    Continue reading this post »
    Posted by Chris Cillizza | Permalink | Comments (1)
    Share This: Technorati | Tag in | Digg This

  • Kali

    Dulcy, if you feel you have legally sufficient evidence of illegal activities, you should bring it to the attention of the appropriate authorities, or file a civil law suit.

    Although I don’t believe the “appropriate authorities” are going to do anything about it, regardless of the amount of evidence, does it still make sense to bring a lawsuit? At least it might get some publicity and more people would know about the underhanded stuff done by the Obama campaign. I don’t think we should leave the responsibility on Lynnette Long’s shoulders alone. Does the TNA have any plans to support a concerted effort in this direction? I would be willing to chip in, moneywise, according to my abilities.

  • Florida Lady, there are steps people are taking right now to try to reform the rules and regulations pertaining to the ways that Democratic primaries are administered, to increase fairness and decrease opportunities for gaming and fraud. If you are part of that effort, you certainly have my admiriation and support.

  • Kali,
    Can you list the authorities who were contacted, and explain exactly what their reponses were? Because I’ve read a lot of generalized claims, but the lack of specifics makes it hard to gauge the reliability of the charges being made in this regard.

  • Kali

    Can you list the authorities who were contacted, and explain exactly what their reponses were?

    What are you talking about? When did I claim that I know of the authorities contacted and their responses? I am saying that I am willing to support any future/planned effort, even though I am skeptical of anything concrete (beyond increased public knowledge) being achieved by doing so.