Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Webb as Obama's VP Candidate?

This has been suggested. I shiver and feel slightly nauseous when I hear that or when I read the glowing arguments supporting Webb: He's a real man's man, full of anger and testosterone, a real military guy who will kick the conservatives in the ass (or the elephant).

Never mind that only recently he was a conservative himself and that there are strong suggestions that he still is a social conservative, at least as far as women are concerned. He's not the most aware of guys in that respect, to put it in very gentle and womanly terms. If I didn't want to be gentle and womanly here I might confess to you that my "sexist pig" radar does light up when he appears on my television screen. He may not be one, of course, but he certainly was one some decades ago, and I have not read or heard anything from him that would suggest that his views on women have really altered that much.

Kathy Geier, guest-blogging for Matthew Yglesias, tends to agree. She also points out why appointing Webb as the Vice Presidential candidate might not be Obama's best political move:

Above all, though, I am very troubled by the idea that a man who has held such sexists views, and has done so much to damage the cause of gender equality in the military, would be one heartbeat away from the presidency. I do not think Webb is at all trustworthy on women's issues, and women's issues are very important to me and to millions of others besides. I think it's essential that any Democratic president or vice president have a good record on women's, civil rights, and labor issues. It's not just that women, African-Americans, and unions are the core constituencies of the Democratic party. It's that advancing the causes of racial, gender, and economic equality are the among the most important moral and political issues of our time. These are core values to me and millions of other Democrats, and elevating a man who has been so awful on one of them to the second most powerful position in the party is completely unacceptable.

Stepping away from all that high-minded rhetoric, I'll add that, in practical terms, selecting Webb would be a slap in the face to the Hillary Clinton supporters. I'm not saying that Obama has to pick Hillary as veep (and indeed, I think that would be a bad idea). I'm not even saying that he needs to pick a woman.

But Hillary was the first woman to ever have a serious shot at the presidency, and she came so close. So the Hillary supporters (of whom, to be clear, I am not one) will feel frustrated enough that their candidate didn't win. But for Obama to choose -- out of all the well-qualified candidates out there -- the one person who has a really awful record on gender issues would be like rubbing salt in the wound. It would be seen as a big "screw you" to Hillary's supporters and to feminists in general.

Indeed. That so many people don't see that suggests that women are still not seen as a meaningful group of voters to court.
Added later: There's an odd sense of double layers of sexism in thinking about Webb as the possible Vice Presidential candidate for Obama. On one level, he is the embodiment of all the masculine values that the conservatives say Democratic politicians lack. He is certainly not the Breck Girl John Edwards, certainly not the wind-surfing John Kerry and certainly not female in actual fact! He could save us! He could! Because he was in the military and all that. He's as sexist as McCain!

At the same time, what does that support tell the Democratic women voters? The idea that we need a man who is not effeminate is more important than whether that man actually looks down on women in general.