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Outside the Room

So. I imagine those of y’all that enjoy being outraged by outrageous things politicians say have heard that Mike Huckabee—former future President—said that, well, according to the Washington Post headline, Huckabee: Dems think women can’t control their libido. I’ll post the full quote, from a speech to the Republican National Committee:

Our party stands for the recognition of the equality of women and the capacity of women. That’s not a war on them; it’s a war for them. And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it, let’s have that discussion all across America, because women are far more than Democrats have made them to be.

As David Weigel pointed out in his report in Slate, this is the sort of thing that rattles reporters, but is not going to sound unusual to anyone who has been watching Huckabee. And as Jonathan Bernstein points out over at Bloomberg View (Mike Huckabee Falls in the Female Libido Trap), politicians love applause lines, and an applause line in one context sounds bizarre and offensive to people outside the room.

It’s the outside the room thing I found interesting. My initial reaction to the line was that it’s silly to say that Democrats insult women—most Democrats are women. The whole rhetoric is predicated on women being them, and positing a discussion across America between Republicans and Democrats about this third group. It was, in a fundamental way, mansplaining. My Party’s national committee—with Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz in the chair—is not insulated in that way on that topic; the applause lines about women at a DNC winter meeting would not seem bizarrely out of touch to women who don’t follow politics.

Digression: When I say that most Democrats are women, I mean slightly more than half; according to Pew in 2012, it comes out to something like a 58/42 split among people who identify with My Party. However, keep in mind that while most Democrats are women is true, most Republicans are men isn’t. The Other Party is just about evenly split, with very nearly as many women as men—it’s the men who are sullenly refusing to identify with any political community that are throwing off the balance. On the other hand, there is a tremendous disparity in the officeholders—in the U.S. Senate, for instance, there are 16 Democratic women and 4 Republican women. There are four Republican women currently serving as Governor of a state, to only one Democratic woman, but still that’s a total of seventeen to eight in those high profile Senator-or-Governor positions. In the U.S. House, the disparity is even greater, there are 62 Democratic women and only 20 Republican women. And the disparity persists among nominees, as well, to the extent that a nominee for statewide office is high-visibility even when the odds of victory are long. Anyway, my point (I have one!) is that while it’s not true that most Republicans are men it is true that most high-profile Republicans are men, if not quite that Republican women are invisible. End Digression.

The thing, though, about the applause line is that the men (and the women) in the room are clearly thinking of ‘women’ as being outside the room. It’s possible to think of ‘women’ as being in the room when they are in fact not in the room, as we have I think all seen examples of tight-knit communities who fail at actual inclusion of actual people with all the will in the world. This kind of thing, though, comes from a perspective that can’t really imagine women in the room, and that’s why it sounds so jarring to the women and the men outside the room.

It’s a problem for politics, I would think. I mean, from an electoral point of view, you don’t want applause lines in the room to be the subject of widespread mockery outside it. It’s too easy for the other guys to raise money on lines like that, or use them in ads, or get them on the Comedy Channel News. Inciting widespread mockery is kind of obviously a flawed electoral strategy.

It’s more than that, though. What Gov. Huckabee is really saying, to the applause of the crowd, is that the people in the room don’t need to change their policy platform, and don’t need to change their emphasis or priorities, and certainly don’t need to change the makeup of people in the room. Those things, the former Governor is saying, are all fine. It’s just that his Party is losing the fight with my Party over this other group. It’s not unlike the What’s the Matter with Kansas problem—not the actual book but the discussion afterward, which largely went down the blind alley of if those stupid people were smart, they would be more like us. It wasn’t very persuasive to the people in question. And it didn’t lead to bring them even notionally into the room. It did eventually result in many Republicans wearing tricorne hats, but that didn’t help Our Party as much as you might think.

So while part of me is smugly amused by the trap that Jonathan Bernstein describes, part of me takes it more as warning than anything else.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I'd just like to take issue with "it’s the men who are sullenly refusing to identify with any political community that are throwing off the balance."

As someone who's registered with no political party, I believe I'm quixotically refusing to identify with any political community. I don't believe lessening the strength of the two-party system can be done from within.

True, sullenly is unfair, as I don't really know the affect with which y'all so refuse. Perhaps stubbornly is acceptable?


Eminently acceptable Though you might want to consider describing all others as "stubbornly identifying as members of the Republican and Democratic parties".

Are you sure that the statement isn't also addressed at the women in the room? "Those other guys all think you're sluts, but not me" and "aren't you glad you're here in this group that respects your dignity"--?

"My initial reaction to the line was that it’s silly to say that Democrats insult women—most Democrats are women. The whole rhetoric is predicated on women being them, and positing a discussion across America between Republicans and Democrats about this third group."

But Huckabee is referring to the insulters as the several hundred politicians who appear as the face of each party, not the several million people who register for each party. He may well not see any women as being in the room, but I don't see that his argument would change if he did see women as being in the room. If he had explicitly unpacked "Democrats" into "the Democrat so-called leadership in Congress" instead of "Democrats," would you have heard this as being so silly?

I do also think that it's reasonable for him to think of "the women of America" as not being in the room, even if the room held several thousand people and all of them were women, and even if he himself were a woman, since 99.7% of the women of America still would not be in the room.

Not that I think there's anything wrong with painting Huckabee or the rest of his party leadership as mansplaining misogynistic dicks.

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