Archive

July 4th, 2016

Feminists treat men badly. It's bad for feminism.

            Feminist male-bashing has come to sound like a cliche - a misogynist caricature. Feminism, its loudest proponents vow, is about fighting for equality. The man-hating label is either a smear or a misunderstanding.

            Yet a lot of feminist rhetoric today does cross the line from attacks on sexism into attacks on men, with a strong focus on personal behavior: the way they talk, the way they approach relationships, even the way they sit on public transit. Male faults are stated as sweeping condemnations; objecting to such generalizations is taken as a sign of complicity. Meanwhile, similar indictments of women would be considered grossly misogynistic.

            This gender antagonism does nothing to advance the unfinished business of equality. If anything, the fixation on men behaving badly is a distraction from more fundamental issues, such as changes in the workplace to promote work-life balance. What's more, male-bashing not only sours many men - and quite a few women - on feminism. It often drives them into Internet subcultures where critiques of feminism mix with hostility toward women.

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Despair made voters opt for Brexit, even if they didn't think it would help

            It is a basic principle of economics that human beings choose things that benefit them. But last week, as the results of Britain's referendum on membership in the European Union came in, it quickly became clear that this principle was being overturned. Not only had Britain as a whole voted for a course of action that would almost certainly make it collectively worse off, but individual regions had also voted against their apparent interests.

            Regions such as Wales and Cornwall, relatively cut off from the prosperity of London and the Southeast, had voted strongly to leave, even though they receive more money from E.U. development funds than any other parts of Britain. Wales, for example, was due to receive nearly $3.2 billion between 2014 and 2020. Equally odd was the finding - spotted by researchers prior to the referendum - that regions that are most dependent on trade with the E.U. are also those that are most keen to leave.

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Democrats and Republicans tested by fringes

            Republicans and Democrats share a challenge: staving off the fanatics.

            For the Republicans -- leaving aside Donald Trump for the moment -- the test comes from the right-wing House Freedom Caucus threat to impeach Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen. The charges against this official, who is respected by Republicans and Democrats alike, are flimsy. Congress has not impeached an executive branch official in 140 years.

            Among Democrats, supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders are waging a campaign aimed at intimidating Hillary Clinton into abandoning any consideration of Tim Kaine as her running mate by depicting the Virginia senator as an unreconstructed right-winger. Kaine, a former mayor of Richmond and governor, once was believed by some Democrats to be too liberal to win statewide. He opposes capital punishment, supports same-sex marriages, argues for a more equitable tax system and insists that the United States can only send forces to fight abroad if war is declared.

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Choice of running mate speaks volumes about a candidate

            As Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton ponder their options for running mates, the only question that should matter is this: Is person the most qualified to assume the presidency if fate so dictates. But it's a yardstick that historically has been honored in the breach.

            For many years, the roster of U.S. vice presidents was strewn with little-knowns such as Daniel Tompkins, George Dallas and Henry Wilson. Only when a veep became president through death of the incumbent did he become a household name.

            The most effective veeps in the modern era -- Walter Mondale under President Jimmy Carter, Dick Cheney under George W. Bush and Joe Biden under Barack Obama -- have all been given substantial governing roles in the administrations in which they've served. For the most part, they've shared the political philosophy of their presidents and have enjoyed personal compatibility with them.

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Bill Clinton and Loretta Lynch just made Hillary's email problems even worse

            A big part of politics is appearances and perceptions. If something looks bad, people will likely conclude it is bad - even if there's no actual evidence or proof of its relative badness. Politicians know this; it's why they don't wear funny hats or get in tanks (anymore).

            And it's why Bill Clinton and Attorney General Loretta Lynch should have known better when they huddled privately at the Phoenix airport earlier this week. Lynch is the nation's top cop and, as such, oversees the FBI, which is conducting an investigation into whether Hillary Clinton or any of her associates broke the law in setting up a private email server for her electronic correspondence during her four years as secretary of state. Meeting privately with the former president of the United States who also happens to be Hillary Clinton's husband looks really, really bad.

            Lynch insisted in the wake of the meeting that it was purely cordial, saying Wednesday that the two spoke about "his grandchildren and his travels and things like that." She added that the email probe never came up.

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Americans can choose better than Trump

            As our beloved country marks its 240th birthday, I'm not alone in feeling that we occupy a moment of great turmoil and testing as a nation. Maybe we've taken the wonders and blessings of our country for granted, never thinking the grand experiment of our Founding Fathers, so dependent for its endurance upon mutual decency, respect and self-discipline, could ever really fall into disrepair.

            Throughout history our republic has faced other extraordinary threats to our freedom, our existence as a nation and our system of self-government. But in those times, by the grace of God, the nation has been blessed with the emergence of good and courageous men and women of character and fortitude who have led "this last best hope of man on Earth" through harm's way.

            One of the most profound examples of such leadership was provided by Abraham Lincoln, the father of the Republican Party and, many would say, our most distinguished president. But Lincoln was not always perceived that way.

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A salute to the Toast, which was everything that is good about the internet

            The internet is in mourning.

            The Toast, beloved source of all things that are good, shuttered July 1.

            The Toast was so many things (IS! it will still exist, preserved in amber, for generations of internet explorers to marvel at): a bastion of feminism and humor, one of the few sites on the internet where reading the comments is like taking a warm and delightful bubble bath rather than jumping into a vat of acid, your one-stop shop for hilarious commentary on medieval art. But I think fundamentally the best thing about the Toast was that it did in a very specific and delightful way what the whole internet was supposed to do: it made you feel less alone.

            That is what the internet is for, at its best. All the Likes and Retweets and Shares are ultimately to say, yeah, I saw it, too.

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2016 is a fascinating year for politics, and that's awful news for political scientists

            When I was but a wee political scientist, I remember reading old-timey American political scientists writing that two things ailed American politics: the absence of ideological parties and the disinterest of the American public in politics.

            At the same time I was reading these now-laughably outdated tracts, I would occasionally find myself at extended family vacations at which my aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents would talk politics nonstop. Of course, these conversations interested me greatly, and on occasion I would try to interject an opinion that I'd developed from, you know, trying to earn a doctorate on the subject.

            These efforts inevitably fell on deaf ears. To my parents' generation, my graduate studies in political science were likely outweighed by their memory of me, as a teenager, repeatedly losing my wallet or forgetting to pack underwear on vacations.

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Paul Ryan sits atop the ruins of his party

            Paul Ryan is a sunny politician in a party devoted to spreading gloom. But as Republicans slouch toward Cleveland, even he must be having dark moments.

            As the highest-ranking official in his party, he will oversee the Republican National Convention that is poised to nominate Donald Trump -- a role he could have avoided, and almost did. His predecessor as speaker, John Boehner, helped deliver a huge Republican majority in the House. Yet the party's conference was so ideologically unhinged and practically dysfunctional that it rewarded Boehner for this historic achievement by forcing him into retirement.

            After a protracted show of ambivalence about replacing Boehner, Ryan opted to succeed him last October. "We will not duck the tough issues," Ryan said after being sworn in. "We will take them head on." The new motto, Ryan said, would be: "Opportunity for all."

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GOP stoops for scandal

    The Republican yearning to pin a scandal on Hillary Clinton knows no bounds. Any scandal will do, real or imagined. She must somehow be -- or appear to be -- guilty of something.

    They tried Benghazi. Boy, did they try Benghazi. House Republicans even put together a special committee, which House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy praised for hurting Clinton's chances of being elected president. "Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?" he said last September. "But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping."

    To the GOP's consternation, however, those numbers recovered nicely. According to the Real Clear Politics average of polls, she leads Donald Trump by about 5 points; the most recent Washington Post survey showed her ahead by 12. Adding insult to injury, the Benghazi committee came up empty-handed. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the panel's chairman, released a final report last week that found no smoking gun. In fact, it didn't find smoke.

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