What feminism isn’t about: Cabinet headcounts.

obama feminist

UPDATE 1/14/13: Please note that Joe Scarborough [see below] apologized this morning to Mika Brzezinski , and it was an entirely warm and human moment, and that’s a nice thing to see.

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people and as such, have an innate right to the same human and civil rights enjoyed by other people.

To the extent that we have mostly failed to incorporate that fact into the norms, mores, culture and laws of humanity over the vast sweep of our shared history, it’s good to practice a kind of affirmative action that seeks out and advances women of skill. When conditions beyond your control mean that you start the race a mile behind everyone else, at a certain point, it’s only fair that you be given help in making up the difference.

But that help is not, unto itself, the realization of feminism, nor is it the only thing necessary to realize feminism in human society.

I say this because there is a flap being made about the fact that President Obama’s second Cabinet is shaping up to be a very male (and very white, it should be noted) group.

Some Democrats are behaving as if the President has betrayed us, and some Republicans are suggesting that the whole “Obama is better for women” thing was so much mendacious diversion, because look! It’s a sausage fest up in the Oval Office! Joe Scarborough went so far this morning as to yell the following at his Democratic co-host Mika Brzezinski (and then later snap his fingers at her! [Yes, really! Video below]):

For Barack Obama and his team to savage Mitt Romney for a month off of an offhanded comment that really meant nothing, and here we are on something that matters. And you’re forgiving him, while you lit into Romney for a month, and the media lit into Romney for a month, and now you all are hypocritically, and I will say it, hypocritically giving this man a pass because he’s a Democrat that you’re cheering for.

Scarborough’s reference was, of course, to Romney’s “binders full of women” comment, which, had it been an isolated moment of poor phrasing would, in fact have been “an offhanded comment that really meant nothing.”

But here’s the damn thing, aggrieved progressives and conservatives alike: That comment was neither offhanded nor meaningless, because it reflected the Republican Party’s oft-expressed and acted-upon attitude toward the rights of Americans who happen to be women, and feminism is more than a headcount.

The feminist movement (to the extent that there is one thing that can be called that) is about bringing women’s humanity to bear on every aspect of life, and as I have noted on several occasions, President Obama has spent his Presidency expressing his dedication to feminist values. Over and over and over (and over and over) again, he has done the work and forwarded the ideas necessary to actually change the reality in which women and girls live, to not pay lip service to our humanity but to acknowledge and act on it.

Here’s another radical notion: Part of why this President has so many more men than women to choose from when filling any post rests in the sexism which continues to mark and harm our society, at each and every level, not least the professional level where women continue to suffer systematic discrimination. And for all that, 43% of Obama appointees have been women (and hey now! Valerie Jarrett’s leg is just visible in this by-now infamous but somewhat misleading photograph). Not to mention that if the GOP had not successfully hounded Susan Rice out of the nomination process last month, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation right now — because the optics of a single woman of color would have been magically enough.

I want to see more women in leadership positions. I want to see more women getting better jobs and better pay and better benefits. And (note to the Republican Party) I want to see women treated as human beings, rather than vessels for the next generation and/or lying sluts who spread our legs and cry rape. I want my daughter and son to see these things, and believe me, I’m hoping that the President surprises us over the next week or two with a couple of women. Press Secretary Jay Carney has suggested that we wait until Obama has actually made all of his appointments before we pass judgement, and given the President’s record, I’m inclined to take the suggestion to heart. If I’m disappointed in the end, I will not hesitate to join those holding Obama’s feet to the fire on the issue. That’s my job as an American citizen, and I take it seriously.

But not a feminist? Not good for women? Somehow pulled the wool over our eyes and tricked all us silly, slow-witted, eyelash-batting wimminz? Just stop it.

We are, as I have said before, in the process of actually recreating humanity right now, and there is simply no way in which any such process could ever be easy or smooth.

In word and deed, in promise and in policy, my President has demonstrated his feminism time and again, making the country in which I live and in which my daughter is coming of age a better, more perfect union. And that is much, much more important to me than an Oval Office headcount.

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Hereunder you can watch Joe Scarborough act like a damn fool:

Please ignore Kristol’s desire to bomb Iran.

I know that not a lot of people, in Washington or out, are thinking about this stuff this week, but former Sen. Chuck Hagel continues to be dogged by a ludicrous smear campaign. Given the Administration’s near-silence on the matter, I continue to be worried that President Obama is going to let the campaign work—simultaneously allowing the world at large to continue to conclude that, really, Israel’s right-wing supporters set U.S. foreign policy (a conclusion that also, frankly, worries me).

Exhibit #1,247 (give or take): this ad, produced by (pay close attention) the Emergency Committee for Israel.

And there it is, straight-up-no-chaser: You don’t support the Emergency Committee for Israel’s desire for an attack on Iran? You are not fit to be Secretary of Defense in the United States government.

It is not good for Israel or the Jewish people to perpetuate the notion that U.S. policy is set in Jerusalem. Neither is it good for America or American security interests to leta small, unrepresentative group of power-hungry political machers set the tone for Presidential decision-making.

Former C.I.A. official Paul Pillar wrote last week in The National Interest, “Intimidation feeds on itself, with successful intimidation encouraging more of the same and failures discouraging further attempts.” This president has an ambitious agenda for his second term, one which I desperately hope includes working toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. Allowing himself to be browbeaten by the likes of Bill Kristol will not further that agenda.

As I’ve said before, I like Hagel. He has an instinct toward diplomacy and a willingness to say what he believes is really best for his country. I’ve liked him on Israel for a long time, and I also like his respect for one Israeli in particular, Yitzhak Rabin, as expressed to the Israel Policy Forum in 2008:

I don’t know of a better role model or an individual to point to than Yitzhak Rabin. What Yitzhak Rabin did, what he represented, what he still represents is hope, that in his memory, in his honor, but for his courage and boldness, we can come back with a Rabin too. It takes leaders on the other side. Sadat, Begin. It will take a unique set of leaders to do this. It’s possible. Leaders change the world.

I like Hagel. And I really do not like what is being done to his good name by the likes of the ECI. I hope the President doesn’t like it either.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Conservative “feminism” for Flournoy.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michele_Flournoy_official_portrait.jpg

Michele Flournoy

Despite what you may have heard around the internet, I’m no fan of anti-Semitism, and I am (to top it off) an actual-factual Zionist—and I am furthermore a big ol’ feminist, so I’m also no fan of power structures that shut out women.

One might think, then, that I would like the idea of a Defense Secretary Michele Flournoy, particularly when her biggest competition appears to be in the form of former Senator Chuck Hagel, a man who has just been declared an anti-Semite by folks (like Bret Stephens and Jennifer Rubin) who like to declare such things. A not-anti-Semitic lady! What could be finer?

Well, prepare for a shock: I actually like Hagel.

Aside from anything else, I don’t buy the right’s anti-Semitism argument (so neatly eviscerated by my boss Peter Beinart yesterday), or its sudden-onset feminism. Indeed, I have very little time for either.

As I’ve said before, the false equivalency between opposition to right-wing Israel’s political agenda and anti-Semitism is a-historical, intellectually insulting, and frankly offensive. If American conservatives don’t know what 21st century anti-Semitism looks like, they could always check in with Hungary’s Jewish community. But hey—at least this is an argument I’ve met before.

But Conservative demands for more women in Obama’s next Cabinet? Am I the only one gobsmacked by the unmitigated gall?

I don’t know if you recall, but waaaaay back last week, there was every reason to believe that President Obama was considering a woman for a high-level Cabinet position—but Susan Rice wasn’t, apparently, the right woman. So she was hounded out of the running, with neocon darling John McCain at the head of the pack.

Moreover, the party for which American conservatives cast their votes is the same party which until very recently was trying to win control of the country so that it could do things like limit abortion rights, redefine rape, and repeal a health care law set to roll back an enormous amount of gender-based health care discrimination. So you will excuse me if I don’t take the call to grrl power all that seriously.

No, this sudden interest in Flournoy, Obama’s own former under-secretary is (if I may borrow a term) Lady-Washing, at its most crude.

Neocons don’t like Hagel on Iran. Full stop. (Well, they don’t like him on a lot of things, but they really don’t like him on Iran). And neocons want us to believe that being pro-Israel (and, ipso facto, not-anti-Semitic) is identical with supporting a strike against Iran.

But here’s the thing: It’s just possible to love Israel and the United States and believe that starting a war with Iran would actually be bad for both. It’s just possible to believe that the people who sold us the Iraq War shouldn’t be trusted on Iran. And it’s just possible to be a feminist who thinks a man happens to be best choice for a particular job (optics aside).

One caveat: I don’t actually know that Michele Flournoy would be a bad choice for Defense. I know that I don’t agree with her idea that the U.S. military is in danger of becoming overly cautious as a result of a new “Vietnam syndrome,” and as regards her assertion that “we have to be willing to fail,” well, I’d say our military establishment has done enough failing in the last decade—but as Abe Foxman himself has noted, “the Secretary of Defense is not an independent contractor.”

But I do know that I agree with Hagel’s instinct toward diplomacy, and I have long admired his willingness to speak frankly about Israel and the difference between being pro-Israel and being in thrall to a particular set of Israeli policy positions. Regardless of what Bret Stephens might think, there is actual courage involved in taking that position in American politics—as anyone who paid any attention to the last Presidential campaign can attest.

So please, conservative Americans, miss me with your appeals to my feminism, or to my Zionism, when you try to criticize this President. The bloom is off the rose for fact-free smear campaigns (as anyone who paid any attention to the election’s results can attest). You’re embarrassing yourselves.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

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