There’s been a simmering debate of late in op-ed pages and the blogosphere about the prepoderance of men in the political opinion biz. As an old white guy with no significant influence over who gets to say what in any venue, I figured there was no reason this side of masochism for weighing in, but as a final Lenten discipline, I’ll offer a few scattered thoughts.There are at least three separate issues being kicked around. One is the small number of women represented on the op-ed pages of Big Opinion Leading newspapers like the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. A second is the male domination of influential but seletively read political magazines like The New Republic, The Nation, The Washington Monthly, etc. And the third is the decisively masculine cast of well-linked and well-supported political blogs.The first two issues, in reality, have to do with the ancient canons of the traditional journalism profession.Op-ed columns in all but the largest circulation newspapers have often served as the Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow for that hearty, underpaid tribe of political reporters. (I learned this personally when I tried to make a lateral transfer from government policy work into editorial writing, and was informed that giving me a job would screw up the entire career ladder). Thus, today’s columnists are yesterday’s ink-stained wretches, which means that the Editorial side of the business should eventually catch up with the growing gender balance of the News side.For the Big Papers, though, the problem is that there are so few editorial spots available, and, unlike their smaller competitors, no real market pressure to turn things over. I don’t want to name names, but in my judgment, nearly half of the columnists in the Big Papers, most of them white men, are just filling up space with Left-Right CW that could be, and for all I know, may be written by a computer.That’s why I think an aggressive affirmative action program for Big and Small Paper editorial staffs makes sense, so long as some care is taken to give some protection to those relatively few White Guys, regardless of seniority or connections, who have actually expressed an original thought now and then. It shouldn’t be that hard to find them. Perhaps we can have a Survivor-type contest.Political magazines are a different matter, partially because of ideological factors that complicate the usual “professional” issues about bylines. But as Katha Pollit of The Nation points out, some magazines have selection criteria that tend to discriminate against women. Of course, one magazine she fingers, The New Republic, has a reputation for discrimimating against anybody who didn’t get an Ivy League education (which doesn’t keep Un-Ivied me from reading every line). And many magazines discriminate against writers who doesn’t tow the party line, which gives the white guys who’ve been towing this or that party line since adolescence yet another advantage. The only quick way I can imagine to loosen up the magazines is to encourage them to keep losing money, which might in turn encourage them to diversify their voices, in many cases by tapping the more diverse voices they already feature in online editions.And then, ah yes, there’s the blogosphere, where the gender bias can’t exactly be blamed on Old Guys like me, since the median age of notable bloggers is about 25. And here there is a chicken-and-egg dilemma, since the demographic of inveterate blog readers seems to echo the smart-ass-white-boy demographic of blog writers.But the good thing about blogs is that for all the complaining about sponsors and back-scratching links and mainstream infestation, any woman can get out there and compete, and the recent effort to get more notice for female bloggers is an example of healthy market-based initiative.Personally, I’m paralyzed by ignorance and inertia from providing blogroll links to much of anybody I didn’t know about when I started this thing last fall. If that means I’m paying less attention to wo-bloggers than I should it’s certainly not a matter of bias; I’ve long considered myself a lesbian trapped in a man’s body. So I’m more than happy to discover and link to women who share my general point of view, and/or have something distinctive to say.In the end, the best way for women to get their fair share of the bloviating biz is for us all to push for a meritocracy that elevates talent and a distinctive voice over “representantive” versions of the same old Left-Right CV. And unfairly but inevitably, women will earn those prized high-profile journalistic gigs by performing at a level that makes bias or tokenism or role-playing irrelevant. It will require, in the words of Lucinda Williams, “real live bloody fingers and broken guitar strings.”UPCATEGORY: Ed Kilgore’s New Donkey
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By Ed Kilgore
Some of the contradictions in Republican talking points on election law and voting rights are becoming clear to me, so I wrote about it at New York:
During the intense controversy raised by Georgia’s new election law, which included a negative reaction from Major League Baseball and a number of corporations, many defenders of the law have played a game of whataboutism. What about voting laws in Colorado, the state to which the MLB’s all-star game has been shifted? What about liberal New York? A lot of these comparisons have been factually challenged, or have zeroed in on one benign feature of the Georgia law while ignoring others. But it does raise a pretty important question: What is the posture nationally of the GOP or the conservative movement on the right to vote and its limits?
Not long ago you might have said that Republicans and conservatives were firmly committed to the view that rules governing voting and elections —even federal elections — were purely within the purview of state and local policy-makers. But that was before Donald Trump spent four years disparaging the decisions made by liberal and conservative jurisdictions on voting procedures whenever they contradicted his often-erratic but always forcefully expressed views. If, for example, voting by mail was as inherently pernicious as Trump said it was, almost daily from the spring through the autumn of 2020, allowing states to permit it was a Bad Thing, right? That simply added to the complaints made by Trump after the 2016 elections that California’s alleged openness to voting by noncitizens cost him a popular vote win over Hillary Clinton, and the widespread Republican whining after 2018 that the same jurisdiction had counted out Republican congressional candidates (whining that somehow subsided when Republicans did better in the exact same districts following the exact same rules in 2020).And that was before Team Trump and his many Republican enablers spent the weeks and months after November 3, 2020, shrieking about state and local election procedures around the country, culminating in efforts to get the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule state court interpretations of state election laws. Indeed, since Trump, his congressional Republican backers, and the Capitol riot mob were trying to block the certification of state election results by Congress on January 6, you could say that a major segment of the GOP wanted the federal government to impose its will on the states with respect to voting and elections.
And if the prevailing conservative idea is that decision-makers closest to the people should determine voting and election rules, then it’s hard to explain the provisions in the Georgia law (and in pending legislation in Texas) that preempt local government prerogatives decisively.
So what doctrine of voting rights does the GOP favor, other than whatever is necessary to produce Republican election victories? That’s hard to say.
Yes, at the Heritage Foundation you will find experts who more or less think everything other than in-person voting on Election Day should be banned everywhere. And now and then you will get someone like Kevin Williamson who will articulate the provocative old-school conservative case for restricting the franchise to “better” voters, which was pretty much the ostensible case for the poll taxes and literacy tests of the Jim Crow South. Unfortunately, snooty contrarianism isn’t a particularly helpful guide to the development of voting laws, and most Republicans (other than those caught in a gaffe) are unlikely to agree out loud with the Williamson proposition.
Until quite recently, most Republicans agreed that the jurisdictions that had for so many years discriminated against the voting rights of minorities deserved extra federal scrutiny and some additional hoops to jump through before changing their rules. In 2006, George W. Bush signed a 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act that did just that, after it passed the Senate unanimously and the House with scattered opposition. Then a conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key feature of the VRA, and now it’s almost exclusively Democrats (via the John Lewis Voting Rights Act) who want to restore it. Where are Republicans on that idea? With the states and localities, or just with the states and localities where federal intervention in voting and election practices doesn’t inconvenience Republicans?
Whatever you think of Democratic attitudes toward voting and elections, at least they can answer such questions coherently. They have united to an amazing extent around highly detailed legislation (the House and Senate versions of the For the People Act and the aforementioned John Lewis Act) that generally expands voting rights and sets clear federal standards for procedures in and surrounding federal elections. The Republican response to these proposals has been almost universally negative. But it’s unclear what, if anything, they would propose of their own accord.
If the implicit GOP position on voting and elections is simply that such rules are part of the give and take of partisan politics and that both sides are free to play fast and loose with the facts and get what advantages they can, then I can understand why they are loathe to make it explicit. But in that case, people who care about voting rights one way or the other should simply choose sides and have it out.