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Ignore Ad Hominem: Cynthia Ruccia’s Arguments For Switching from Clinton to McCain Tell All

A lot of people are very upset at Cynthia Ruccia, the long-time Democrat who has put together an organization conflictingly called “Clinton Supporters Count Too” and Women for Fair Politics. Whatever the organization is called, it and she have explicitly called for Hillary Clinton supporters to vote for John McCain in the 2008 general election. Cynthia Ruccia has personally committed to voting for John McCain herself.

There are a lot of criticisms people might make, and in some cases are making, against Cynthia Ruccia’s effort. In my review of them, I’ve found a fair number of mentions of the fact that as a congressional candidate in the 1990s, Ruccia criticized her Republican opponent, John Kasich, for sharing living quarters with his male chief of staff. These criticisms call Ruccia a gay-baiter who therefore has no business raising charges of sexism. I’m unimpressed. First of all, it’s not clear that Ruccia meant to imply that Republican Representative Kasich was gay, even though many people assumed that’s what she meant. Taken literally, her argument was about the ethics of taking the favor of cheap living quarters from an employee. Second of all, even if Cynthia Ruccia is being a hypocrite and is guilty of past sexism while accusing others of current sexism, that alone doesn’t make Ruccia’s charge inaccurate. She may be an imperfect messenger, but her message is not automatically invalidated by that.

I am frankly surprised that nobody has identified Ruccia’s historic debt to the Clintons; as a struggling two-time congressional candidate, Ruccia got a big boost to her campaign when then-President Bill Clinton arrived in Ohio to provide personal and public assistance and an endorsement (Source: Robert G. Boatright, Expressive Politics: Issue Strategies of Congressional Challengers, pp. 173-176). This is a debt that Ruccia ought to for her own integrity’s sake acknowledge, in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. But Ruccia’s sizeable debt to the Clinton family, while casting her motivations into some reasonable doubt, does not invalidate her claim.

So let’s set these ad hominem criticisms of Cynthia Ruccia aside and consider her arguments. The conclusion that Ruccia advocates for is a stark one: that prior supporters of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency ought to campaign in active opposition to Barack Obama and vote for John McCain for president on Election Day 2008. Why?

1. “We women are the biggest constituency of the Democratic Party and we have been completely ignored.” — Appearance on the Bill O’Reilly Show, May 2008

2. “An incredibly sexist campaign” by Barack Obama — comment on Bill O’Reilly Show May 2008

What’s the evidence Ruccia provides that the Democratic Party has “completely ignored” women?

In her appearance on the Bill O’Reilly Show, Ruccia provides none. In her other appearance on FOX News, Ruccia also provides none.

And what’s the evidence that Ruccia provides of an “incredibly sexist campaign” by Barack Obama? Again, in neither of these television appearances does Ruccia actually identify such evidence.

Instead, Ruccia slips into a critique of media coverage of the Hillary Clinton campaign, calling it sexist. I have no argument with this. I completely agree that the news media have made sexist comments about Hillary Clinton. I completely agree that this is a problem that the news media needs to address. The news media has made clear it doesn’t understand this. Take for example Keith Olbermann’s contention to the New York Times that he was part of…

constant reflection and analysis at MSNBC, and I must say there was constant good faith in trying to make certain Senator Clinton was not treated unfairly.

If you watched Keith Olbermann’s show during the campaign, you could not possibly swallow that statement without swallowing an entire fifth of whiskey first. Olbermann turned his show into an embarrassingly partisan pro-Obama vehicle. I supported Barack Obama more than I supported Hillary Clinton, and even I felt like I had to wipe myself down with sanitizer after Olbermann’s nightly 30-minute pro-Obama tonguey wet kisses.

Yes, members of the news media said unfair things about Hillary Clinton. Yes, some things the news media said were sexist. But the news media were hardly fair to Barack Obama, either. The same news channels flogged coverage week after week after month after month of scary-black-man coverage of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, even after Obama specifically repudiated Wright’s views, even after Obama specifically repudiated Wright the man. Those channels never examined Clinton’s weird religious affiliations with “The Family,” and they covered Jeremiah Wright much more extensively then they covered Hillary Clinton’s bizarre Tuzla fabrications. The news media was unfair to Clinton, but it was unfair to Barack Obama too. If Barack Obama had not been the nominee, would Cynthia Ruccia have been out there telling Obama supporters to vote for McCain because he had been treated unfairly by the media? I don’t think so, and that’s telling.

A second and more central problem is that the news media is not the same thing as the Democratic party or the Barack Obama campaign. They’re distinct entities, and the news media is not running for president this year. Barack Obama is. In order for Ruccia’s call for opposing Barack Obama to make rational sense, Barack Obama (or at least, in a weaker version, Barack Obama’s campaign) must be identified as the agent of such unacceptable sexism that he is unacceptable as a presidential candidate. She has not done that in her television appearances, and she has not done that in the posts she’s signed on her new website, either. Oh, Ruccia says that the Barack Obama campaign is characterized by “the blatant sexism,” but she does not identify exactly what this such unacceptably sexist behavior is. This is a big, huge, gaping hole in her argument.

And then there’s the biggie, the big, fat, ginormous gaping hole in Ruccia’s argument, the hole that elicits an uncomfortable change in Ruccia’s stance. You see, it’s not just that Barack Obama has to somehow be a glaring sexist, more glaring than the Bill Clinton whose support Cynthia Ruccia gratefully accepted as a congressional candidate, more glaring than the John Kerry to whom Ruccia gave campaign contributions. No, in order for it to really make sense that Barack Obama’s sexism is driving her to vote for John McCain, Barack Obama has to be more sexist than John McCain!

Is Barack Obama more sexist than John McCain?

John McCain, who said to his wife in public, “At least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt.”??

John McCain, who has sworn to appoint judges that would overturn Roe V. Wade and so lead to the outlawing of abortion in America?

John McCain, who has voted to outlaw contraception?

John McCain, who sought the endorsement of a fundamentalist who preaches against lesbians?

John McCain, who came out this year in opposition to letting women sue when they’ve suffered sex discrimination in pay because that would just lead to a lot of pesky lawsuits?

John McCain, who affirmed he supported abstinence-only sex education, even though it has been shown to have no benefit, just before he admitted he had no idea whether condoms provided protection against HIV infection?

On all these issues, Barack Obama is on the feminist side of the policy spectrum, and John McCain is on the anti-feminist side of the policy spectrum.

What is Cynthia Ruccia’s response to this policy distinction?

“There’s a whole lot more to women’s rights and women’s position in our society than abortion rights.” — appearance on Nightline, May 2008

Ruccia yesterday accused Senators Barbara Boxer, Claire McCaskill, and Debbie Stabenow of being “the Worst Sexist in the United States” for “shilling for the Obama campaign their ‘Women’s Rights’ platform which was made up of the same old stuff we’ve been hearing about for years that they’ve done nothing about——-equal pay, health care, the war, etc…. our worst sexist of the day goes to Sen. Barbara Boxer, Sen. Claire McCaskill, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow. Shame on you, ladies!!!!!!!”

And in an extended comment on the subject, Ruccia writes:

Those of us Democrats who are not supporting Obama are being bombarded with a very ugly scare tactic——Roe v Wade. I want to share my thoughts on the subject with you as we continue on our path to either vote for McCain, write in Hillary, or abstain….

The Democratic Party and the Obama campaign are responding to this by trying to scare us into thinking that if we protest the sexism by not voting for Obama that Roe v. Wade will be overturned and women will be sent back to the dark ages of back-alley abortions and zero women’s rights.

Well, we must stand up to them and reveal that tactic for what it is——FEAR MONGERING.

First of all, Roe v Wade is the law of the land and has been for many years now. The chances of any Supreme Court overturning it in its entirety is slim. They may chip away at it, but they will not overturn it. Also states will have the right to pass their own laws keeping abortion legal. The legal system churns exceedingly slowly and is done piecemeal. The idea of losing abortion rights overnight just like that is ridiculous….

This is an election of change this year. The women’s agenda needs to change as well. For too long, abortion has become the only item on anyone’s feminist agenda. We need to move beyond that and bring to the forefront other pressing issues. Women For Fair Politics is doing that by insisting that our society needs to understand that sexism will not be tolerated. Our agenda is to help our society understand what sexism is and that expreessions of it will not be tolerated. But first, we need by our presidential protest vote make everyone understand that we are a force to be reckoned with.

And that means that we will not be letting the Roe v Wade scare tactic stop us!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You got that right… Ruccia’s position is that

* with one extra justice, Roe v. Wade won’t actually be overturned (despite the fact that abortion bans have been recently struck down by mere 5-4 margins),

* and what the hey, so abortion will be made illegal in some states… at least it will be legal in some other places somewhere.

* Besides, other things matter more to feminists…

… like what? Like what other policy? Ruccia names no other policy… only electing Hillary Clinton president.

There’s a clear choice here, and it was identified by Hanna Pitkin in her 1967 book The Concept of Representation. Pitkin describes two approaches to understanding political representation: descriptive representation and substantive representation. Descriptive representation of a group occurs when a member of that group reaches a position of political power — so women gain descriptive representation if Hillary Clinton becomes president. Substantive representation, on the other hand, occurs when those holding political power enact policies that are favorable to a group — so women can best gain substantive representation by electing the candidate for president who would be most likely to advance women’s interests when enacting policy.

The option of descriptive representation for women is no longer possible in the 2008 election, now that Hillary Clinton has endorsed Barack Obama, who will run as the Democratic nominee against John McCain, another man. Cynthia Ruccia’s argument seems to be that since descriptive representation is no longer possible, the candidate whose primary victory precluded that possibility should be defeated — even though descriptive representation in the presidency in 2008 is now impossible in either case and even if the result of electing his rival, John McCain, is to the detriment of women’s substantive representation in policy. Or, in laypersons’ terms, “Roe v. Wade, Schmoe v. Wade. Equal Pay, Schmequal Pay. Contraception, Schmontraception. Lesbian rights, Schmesbian rights. Sex education, Schmex education.”

Ruccia’s position only makes rational sense for a person who does not care about substantive policy, and for whom descriptive appearance is all that matters. In other words, despite her tossing around of the word “sexism,” for Ruccia substantive sexism isn’t really that important compared to the debacle of the electoral defeat of one person who is a woman. That appears to me to be a very weak stance.

3 comments to Ignore Ad Hominem: Cynthia Ruccia’s Arguments For Switching from Clinton to McCain Tell All

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