the greater fear factor

I'm utterly fascinated by Inquirer writer Chris Satullo's apologia to feminists -- for the crime of not supporting Hillary Clinton:

Bless me, for I have sinned, and it has been a while since my last confession.

This, apparently, is my sin:

I have failed to support Hillary Clinton in the fashion to which her most vocal supporters feel she is entitled.

This failing exposes hideous truths about me. I am a male chauvinist pig. A sexist. A sorry excuse for a journalist:

"I'm sure you don't think of yourself as a classic MCP, but that is how you come across. . . . It's the same old same old gender prejudice."

"Are you afraid of a well-qualified woman becoming president?"

"Many of you in the media have lost your sense of perspective and grasp on reality."

These were e-mails I've received for the crime of uttering mildly critical words about Clinton while offering Barack Obama words of praise. These snippets typify the counterattacking tone her most fervent supporters have adopted as the electoral math has grown dubious for her.

First, he's a man. And he's a white man. So the assumption is that he's voting his sex, as opposed to voting his race.

This is something that he denies, but fascinatingly, he assures his female critics that were he given the choice between a race change and a sex change, he'd go with the sex change:

...why, when someone makes the choice opposite yours, assume the worst reason, one with "-ism" at the end?

Clinton supporters slinging charges of sexism need to take a deep breath. Would some American males sooner lose a vital organ than vote for Hillary Clinton? No doubt. But not many such males have "D" on their voter cards.

This is a Democratic primary, remember? You know, the women's-rights party that any self-respecting MCP fled long ago.

The sexism charge assumes poison is somehow more deep-seated than racism: Yep, these men fear a woman in the White House so much they're willing to vote for a black guy. Really, you're serious?

Geraldine Ferraro isn't the only intelligent woman to assert this. Being neither black nor female, I concede I'm not qualified to judge. But if I had to choose one burden over the other, bring on the estrogen.

Frankly, I wonder whether he really would choose that. Maybe he would, but I would not.

Seriously, while I like to joke about changing my sex, were I given the choice at gunpoint I'd much prefer to change my skin color than my sex. Not because of the discrimination issue, for I agree that I'd face more discrimination as a black man than as a white woman. But the inescapable reality is that sex is biologically more of a physical difference than is skin color. Not being able to pee against a tree when nature called, facing the rigors of monthly processes I could not control, and not having the upper body strength to which I am accustomed, these are pretty serious nots.

Call me a sexist pig, but given the choice I'd say bring on the melanin and spare the estrogen.

As to the idea that "not many such males have 'D' on their voter cards," the clear implication is that while Republican men might vote for Obama out of sexism, no Democrat would. Notice that Satullo avoids the inverse hypothesis -- that some men might "fear a black man in the White House so much they're willing to vote for a woman." Not only was this was Ed Rendell's point, it was highlighted in an Inquirer editorial cartoon last month:


At the time, I complained that Republicans are in a no-win:

No matter how they vote, they're suspect!

They simply cannot win.

If I were a white male Democrat, I might be starting to learn how it feels to be a Republican.

Despite the feminist attacks against him, Satullo still seems to be in denial over how it feels to be a Republican. (As the Inquirer's longtime, but recently retired Editorial page Editor, I'm sure he saw the cartoon.) His argument that Republican men would vote their penises over their skin color, but Democrats would not displays a willingness to impugn the motives of total strangers, and to discredit the possibility that they are thinking -- as long as they are Republicans.

I'd love to know what he thinks about the Limbaugh crossover voters. Are they simply racists who are voting for Hillary because she's white?

I'm just fascinated that a guy who is having his motivations impugned by feminists would turn right around and do exactly the same thing to Republicans. You'd think someone under attack like this would display a little more sensitivity; instead, he seems ready to aim and fire at the evil Republicans -- who Absolutely Will Be Either Sexist Or Racist, whichever Democratic candidate prevails.

To be fair, there's no denying that there are people in both parties who do not think, but who vote according to their identities. There are women who vote for Hillary because she's a woman, and blacks who vote for Obama because he's black, just as there are people who would vote against them for the same reasons.

But imputing racism or sexism to voters (and the arguments back and forth) misses another very important factor which Satullo does not discuss. That is the fear factor -- for fear is what these discussions generate. I do not mean the ordinary stereotypical racist or sexist fears, but the fear of being called bigoted -- which here takes the form of either the fear of being called sexist, or the fear of being called racist. I think it is a far more powerful motivator than simply voting according to one's sex or race, and I think it may be the ultimate driving force in the election.

Is it sexist to fear being called sexist? Is it racist to fear being called racist?

Few people ask such questions, probably because they fear being called racist or sexist. It is a fact of life that countless Americans so fear being called bigoted that they will say or do almost anything to avoid it.

This election offers an unprecedented opportunity for such people, for it offers an opportunity for this fear of bigotry to play itself out. By being able to choose between a white woman and a black man, Americans can vote according to their greater fear.

Playing out this Greater Fear Theory, the choice is along the following lines:

Assume you are going to be labeled a bigot. Which label would you more fear:

being called a sexist?

being called a racist?

While the Greater Fear Theory might be seen as applying to Democrats alone, it can't help but factor into strategic thinking, because everyone knows the Republicans will be stuck with the label of sexist for voting against Hillary, or racist for voting against Obama. Thus, this fear becomes very relevant as an offensive strategic tactic. If vulnerability to a charge of racism is worse than vulnerability to a charge of sexism, then many strategic-minded Democrats would be wise to vote for Obama even if they prefer Hillary, just to stick it to the Republicans. Similarly, Republicans who anticipate this might want to cross over and vote for Hillary now in the hope of avoiding ever being in the position of being called racist.

If being called racist carries a worse stigma than being called sexist, it's understandable that Republican crossovers would want to vote preemptively to avoid that now.

I've heard very little discussion of this fear, but that does not mean it isn't there. Anyway, I thought I'd poll the readers of this blog, just to get an idea.

Vote your fear anonymously.

Assume you're going to be labeled. Which label would you more fear:
being called sexist
being called racist free polls

How many voters might want to preempt such an accusation?

posted by Eric on 03.25.08 at 10:46 AM


I want to be labeled racist and sexist.

I'm voting for McCain.

I wish that had been an option in the poll.

M. Simon   ·  March 26, 2008 12:13 AM

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