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#NotAllDraftBiden

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Jon Chait objects to my column about the attempt to manufacture a Joe Biden primary campaign out of nothing at all:

One of the unfortunate habits overtaking the left is a tendency to conclude that any behavior that could plausibly be motivated by bigotry is likely motivated by bigotry. It is no doubt true that a misogynist would want Joe Biden to challenge Hillary Clinton. Therefore, Scott Lemieux concludes, people who want Biden to challenge Clinton are sexist.

[…]

This particular form of illogic has gotten endemic on the left. A racist would oppose Barack Obama, but that doesn’t make all opposition to Obama racist. Likewise, a sexist would hate Hillary Clinton, but maybe we shouldn’t spend the next 15 months — and possibly the subsequent four or eight years — defining all opposition to her as sexist.

I concede that if one views my “tantamount to putting a “No Girls Allowed” sign on the door of the White House” one-liner in isolation, then it may seem as if I’m arguing that Draft Biden is entirely reducible to sexism. But as a certain recent high-profile Supreme Court case has taught us, this is not a sound method of interpretation. Given that I also discuss things like the hostile relationship between the media and the Clintons, the potential ideological reasons for wanting an alternative to Clinton, and the desire of the media to create drama in the primary campaigns, it should be clear that I do not believe that sexism is the only factor here.  But, for the record, let me state that the recent spate of stories pretending that Biden might be a serious candidate for president cannot be explained solely by the single variable “sexism.”  (I absolutely do not, as Chait implicitly acknowledges earlier, define “all opposition” to Clinton as sexist — this is just a flat mischaracterization of my argument.  It would also make it hard to explain why I supported Obama in 2008.)

It is also true that the role that sexism plays in the movement to find a challenger, any challenger to Hillary Clinton cannot be established with scientific precision. But I think it would be wrong to therefore ignore its presence. Yes, Maureen Dowd is such an unserious thinker and believes so many nutty things that it’s hard to disentangle the sexism from everything else. But I think it’s well-established that sexism plays a significant role in her bizarre treatment of the Clintons. I don’t think it’s a reach to suggest that someone who attacked Al Gore by portraying him as “lactating” is inclined to see presidential leadership as inherently masculine.

A few other points:

  • It’s worth emphasizing that there is no Biden campaign.  You’re not going to catch Hillary Clinton with no organization at all with less than seven months before the Iowa caucuses and with Clinton already having won the invisible primary — and Biden, with 40 years of experience in national politics, surely knows this.  The Times stories suggesting that Biden is seriously considering a run are notably lacking in the kinds of details that would indicate that Biden is dumb enough to think that he could create an organization to challenge Clinton ex nihilo, and get a grand total of zero sources on the record.  So these stories aren’t really about Biden — they are about Anyone But Clinton.  There is certainly an ideological ABC sentiment that first focused on imagining a primary campaign from Elizabeth Warren and some of which has migrated to Sanders, but since there isn’t a Confederate nickel’s worth of difference between Biden and Clinton on the issues, that doesn’t explain #DraftBiden. (Yes, you can argue that Biden was a more dovish influence within the administration than Clinton, but 1)it’s extremely implausible to think that these marginal inside baseball distinctions have anything to do with the Biden stories, and 2)these marginal distinctions obviously couldn’t be the basis of a successful campaign to mobilize voters against Clinton.) I think it’s hard to deny that sexism plays a significant role in an argument that Hillary Clinton needs to be replaced with a white guy who mirrors her views almost exactly, even when said white guy has shown no actual interest in running.
  • Since there’s no ideological basis for a Biden primary campaign, the only basis for DraftBiden is that Biden would be a significantly more electable candidate.  Chait does have a fair point that 2013 polling data is probably skewed toward Clinton.  But, still, it’s very hard indeed to to make a case for Biden based solely on electability.  He’s not a fresh figure one can see as having an appeal Clinton doesn’t.  In 2008 they ran in the same primaries, and while Clinton came very close to beating Obama Biden came very close to beating Bill Richardson in the Iowa caucuses.  His 1988 entry in the primaries — ultimately won by Michael Dukakis, not exactly an Obama-level political talent — flamed out in a major scandal.  Being vice president raised his profile, of course, but it doesn’t help that much.
  • To address a point some commenters have brought up, it’s true that every recent Democratic vice president has ultimately sought the nomination.  But, first of all, this is the kind of small n pattern that is a stain on American political punditry.  And second, it would explain why he’s running if he was, but he’s not.  Biden being vice president helps to explain why the non-ideological Anybody But Clinton crowd is focusing on Biden rather than, say, Mark Warner, but it doesn’t explain the crowd itself.
  • I don’t think my point — that sexism still plays a substantial role in how people think of political leadership — is at all controversial.  As Chait recently observed, the numbers are damning.  Clinton will almost certainly be the first woman to head a presidential ticket in more than 200 years.  There has never been a female governor of New York or California.  Women are underrepresented at every level of political office.  In that context, I don’t think it’s radical to conclude that the search for a white guy with Hillary Clinton’s views to replace Hillary Clinton that lands on a someone that already has two massively failed primary campaigns under his belt and has shown no interest in running is motivated in part by sexism.  I agree that it would be wrong to conclude that intraparty opposition to Hillary Clinton is motivated entirely by sexism — but I don’t argue this, and I think it’s a willful misreading to conclude otherwise.
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