Right now, our Congress is debating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement between 12 countries across the Pacific. Battle lines are forming up much like they did with NAFTA. Pro-business Republicans, some Democrats and the President claim it will open up economic opportunities. Pro-union Democrats and protectionist Republicans claim it gives too much power to foreign countries and corporations. Since many of the details are unknown, I don’t feel qualified to comment at this point.
But one funny thing emerged during the debate. Barack Obama chided Elizabeth Warren, who is one of the most vocal opponents of TPP. And now he’s being branded as sexist:
President Obama is facing criticism from his liberal base over what they say are “disrespectful” and even sexist comments about Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has led the opposition against a White House-backed trade bill.
“I think the president was disrespectful to her about the way he did that,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, told reporters Tuesday, a few days after Obama referred to Warren, who is a Democrat, as “Elizabeth” and “a politician.” Shortly after that, Senate Democrats successfully blocked the trade bill, which would give the president expanded authority to negotiate a trade pact.
Brown made his comments as the liberal-leaning group the National Organization for Women said Obama’s remarks had sexist overtones.
“I think it is sexist,” NOW President Terry O’Neill told The Hill newspaper. “I think the president was trying to build up his own trustworthiness on this issue by convincing us that Senator Warren’s concerns are not to be taken seriously. But he did it in a sexist way.
So what did he say?
Obama told Yahoo in a story published Saturday: “The truth of the matter is that Elizabeth is, you know, a politician like everybody else. And you know, she’s got a voice that she wants to get out there. And I understand that.”
O’Neill also said the “subtext” of Obama’s comments are “ ‘the little lady just doesn’t know what she’s talking about’. … I think it was disrespectful.”
Oh. Come. On. This is standard political debate. This is what Obama says about Republicans all the time. Maybe you could take an issue with him calling her “Elizabeth” rather “Senator Warren”. Some women find it belittling to be addressed by their first name by default instead of by a formal title. But some women don’t. I have no idea what Senator Warren thinks and neither do any of the people getting offended on her behalf.
However, I have to point out that not every use of a first name is sexist. Not every political disagreement secretly is about the gender or race of the participants. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes calling a senator by his or her first name is just, well, calling a senator “Sherrod.” Conservatives will attest that Obama does not reserve condescending and dismissive statements about his opponents and their motives for female politicians; this is pretty much par for the course when Obama discusses the Republican Party.
People who carelessly toss around the “s” word are trying to have things both ways: They want sexism to be something very, very bad that forces the refs to stop the action and pull you out of the game, and they also want to be able to level this charge at every minor verbal tic that might be sexist. Even if it might just be, you know, politics. In this and other contexts, this is not a bargain that a modern society will strike. If you make the punishments draconian, people will hesitate to apply them widely. This is true in law enforcement, and it is true of social sins as well. To claim “sexism” too often just robs the word of its power.
As was pointed out on Twitter:
I'm confused by this Obama/Warren spat. Is he sexist for disagreeing with her, or is she racist for disagreeing with him?
— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) May 12, 2015
Sexism is stupid. Racism is stupid. But invoking them by reflex is even stupider. Obama and Warren are having a disagreement over policy. And Obama has a tendency to be condescending when he disagree with anyone (as, frankly, does Warren). You don’t have to read any hidden agenda into it.
For goodness sake, does everything in our society have to be dissected like this? If you’ve been following the rise of political correctness, the answer for them is, “Yes. Yes it does.” But for the rest of us, it’s just exhausting.