Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

Gender, Class and Economic Fairness: Blaming Voters is a Cop Out

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Laura Bassett and Dave Jamieson have a piece on Democratic strategy, Minimum Wage, Sick Leave Rebranded As Women’s Issues To Pressure GOP that I find troubling (the strategy, not the piece).

Pelosi and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) met with House freshmen two weeks ago to brief them on the new “women’s economic agenda,” which includes raising the minimum wage, guaranteeing workers the opportunity to earn paid sick leave, expanding affordable child care programs and passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Democrats have long supported such worker-friendly reforms. What’s changing this year are their political tactics. Rather than frame these issues in the traditional terms of economic fairness, they’ll be repackaging them as a matter of gender equality and family stability. As they push specific pieces of legislation, Democrats plan to roll out an aggressive communications effort to pressure Republicans who’ve declared the workplace measures job killers.

The strategy takes a cue from last November: If Democrats have managed to trounce Republicans with women voters, then why not turn labor issues into gender issues in pursuit of progressive reforms?

I’d love for Democrats to push harder on these issues.  And I’m definitely for connecting issue of economic fairness to gender equality is a good one. I want to see more of that.  The various issues that make up left politics are not a series of disconnected issue positions, as they are often framed, but are rather connected.  At the core of both of these things is the question of who counts as a full and equal person. The answer should be everyone. But if we don’t draw the connections across these different areas, we’re operating at a serious political disadvantage. Certainly the right appreciates these connections.  When we make the connections, people are more likely to see the issues that affect them personally as related to those that affect others. It helps them see these as a similar struggle. It helps produces solidarity.

But that isn’t what this story is about. Rather, it’s about replacing the economic framing with the gender framing (see my emphasis above).

So why is this necessary? Partly, the implication is that Republicans can successfully resist these measures when framed as economic issues, but would be less successful with the new framing – more specifically that the switch would increase the likelihood that Republicans members of Congress would feel the heat from voters.  Is this because voters aren’t terribly supportive of these sorts of policies? I don’t think it is.  Americans are broadly supportive of government action to ensure economic opportunity and security for all. They are supportive even though one party is extremely hostile and the other party is lukewarm at best.  Voters aren’t hearing the case for this, and yet they remain supportive of it. (This means that this support could be pushed up if party elites were to advocate for it.)

According to Pelosi:

“All these [Congressmen] have mothers, daughters, sisters, wives that they must think are worth their value at the workplace, same as a man.”


Pelosi’s spokeswoman, Ashley Etienne, said the male Democrats were surprisingly enthusiastic about the women’s economic agenda. “Many of our male members were very excited about it because they personally identify with the issues,” she said.

Here I think we get a window into the culprit, and it’s not voters.  It’s elite Democrats, especially the men (and likely the white men).  They are connected in their personal lives to women – but not to the poor! They can empathize with a worker as a mother, but not as a worker.  They generally come from privileged backgrounds, and spend their time with the rich (as they must to raise the constant stream of cash they need to run a traditional campaign).  And I wonder if those fundraisers might be slightly less likely to balk at the idea of framing things this way, rather than suggesting there is something more fundamentally unfair about the economic system.  It’s a question of mobilizing our own side, not convincing the other side.

Blaming voters is often a cop out. Here, it seems to me the real issue is that Democrats are either incapable or unwilling to make strong economic fairness arguments that could mobilize their own supporters (or even better tying class and gender together), and are looking for less threatening ways to frame these policies.  Assuming politics is all about voters is generally going to lead you down the wrong path.

Written by David Kaib

June 18, 2013 at 8:01 am

4 Responses

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  1. Assuming politics is all about voters is generally going to lead you down the wrong path.

    Shouldn’t it read: Assuming politics is all about rich voters … ?


    June 18, 2013 at 10:54 am

    • Well, the positions of the rich voters and of the funders are pretty aligned, but I tend to think its the money rather than the voting that drives it.

      David Kaib

      June 18, 2013 at 6:49 pm

  2. […] David Kaib, while happy to see Dems pushing harder on this stuff, is nevertheless a little annoyed with the implications of the new framing. That is, the Party’s habit of avoiding the language of class or economic rights is now so all-consuming that it applies to issues you’d think couldn’t be understood as anything but. It’s certainly true that raising the minimum wage would help women, of course; but it’s far from intellectually coherent to engage in that kind of demographic segmentation. […]

  3. […] voters for bad policy or consumers for things like labor conditions is a cop out.  (Here and here for voters, here and here for consumers). The general idea is that social outcomes are not a […]

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