April 10, 2013
L.A. mayoral race: Turning back the clock
The Los Angeles mayoralty race seems to have devolved into a contest to see which of the candidates can rack up more endorsements.
Specifically, endorsements aimed at relevant constituencies that might be swayed by the endorser’s identity, reputation, or cache. From Magic Johnson to Richard Riordan from Jan Perry to Kevin James-- every day brings a new revelation.
But over the past few days there was an endorsement by a group of politicos that was a bit troubling and seemed like a time warp.
On Thursday, several female politicians --- including Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Janice Hahn and Senator Barbara Boxer---held a press conference with Controller Wendy Greuel to endorse her for mayor. They staged the conference in front of a display of suffragettes and other historic figures in the women’s movement.
In their remarks (at least as reported in the press) both former Speaker Pelosi and Senator Boxer urged voters to support Greuel, essentially, because she is a woman.
Pelosi noted that Greuel’s election will “lift up people across the country.” The LA Times reported that Boxer urged support for Greuel because if she isn’t elected “we could see a government without one female in leadership…that is totally unacceptable….I've never claimed women are better than men, some women are, some aren't [but without adequate numbers of women and minorities holding elective office] you're not a representative democracy, and democracy is threatened."
Senator Boxer’s take seems to be that in an era when increasing numbers of Americans have evidenced a willingness to elect individuals independent of considerations of race or ethnicity or gender---we ought to turn back the clock—or else.
The reality is that we have an African American president (in a country that is still majority white), that the numbers of women in the Congress of the United States have reached record levels (a 600% increase over the past 34 years) and that this state in particular has had two female senators (both Jewish, to boot) for over twenty years. It is hard to imagine that “democracy is threatened” if a particular female candidate isn’t elected. Across the country, over 17% of the mayors of cities with populations over 100,000 are women---the results in Los Angeles aren’t going to alter that trend.
The Senator then proceeded to offer some crude stereotypes to justify her assessment of why Angelenos have to elect a woman as mayor, “women tend to be more collaborative…women tend to be less interested in being something more interested in doing something.”
Twenty years ago this kind of vulgar appeal to identity politics might have been more understandable---at least to those who saw race/ethnicity/gender as relevant criteria for electoral decisions---they arguably had a point to make that touched upon reality. But today urging that race/ethnicity/gender criteria should be determinative is insulting, inaccurate and dangerous.
Candidates need to be evaluated because of their positions on vital issues, because of their track records as elected officials and because of their plans for the future---- not because their gender tends to be “more collaborative” or because there aren’t more of “their kind” in office.
If the words of Boxer, Pelosi et al. were offered by a white candidate or a male candidate their offensive nature would be transparently clear---that is hardly a reason to vote for someone. Blatant appeals to “tribal” voting of any sort are, hopefully, an anachronism that we have begun to transcend. Issues, character, platforms, plans----not happenstances of birth---- ought to dominate our political dialogues.
Earlier this decade in an LA Times' op/ed, State Senator Gloria Romero (both a female and a Latina who might have benefited from “tribal” voting) sagely perceived a trend that she hoped would continue:
But ultimately, we trust the voters. Most citizens cast their votes the American way — they vote for the most qualified candidate, regardless of race or gender. All we have to do is compete for votes the old fashioned way: by earning them.
Hopefully, the “American way” of assessing candidates will prevail and appeals to other, irrelevant, criteria won’t.