Wednesday, March 9, 2016

How Tsai Ying-wen shaped my assessment of Hillary Clinton

I'm female, in my 30s, and a Bernie Sanders supporter. I'm very near the cut-off age between older women who support Clinton and younger women who gravitate to Sanders, but being child-free and generally supportive of youth movements (perhaps I'm still young at heart myself), I stood on that fence and took a willing dive to the Sanders side. After all, the youth tends to be eventually proven right.

The why isn't important to this post, but I'll tell you anyway, in a few long paragraphs: because every other developed country in the world takes its tax revenue and plows most of it back into benefits of its citizens. As such, citizens of most developed countries have a highly mature sense of the public good, and how they benefit from being part of that society, as well as the advantages of paying taxes to enjoy those benefits. Every other developed country has managed to make university-level education affordable - even Taiwan, where public universities average about USD$1000/semester. Every other developed country has managed to make health care accessible and affordable to all. Almost every other developed country has a modern and maintained system of public transportation. No other country spends what we do on defense, and no other country pours so much money down the drain for lackluster performance in key development indices.

I want what most other developed countries have figured out how to deliver. I remember being young and broke and not going to the doctor because I couldn't afford to, even though I had health insurance through my low-paid office job. I remember weeks of carrots, lentils and rice because I couldn't afford other food if I wanted bus fare to pay for my two-hour commute each way to work. I remember being mired in student debt despite going to college on a scholarship, and debt was the only way to make college, which is a necessity if you want to really succeed in a career, happen. I still have the debt but it's somewhat less now. I remember wanting to seek out a better-paid job but, in a tight job market, not finding one, ad then being told it was my "choice" to accept subpar wages.

And, well, I just don't want the next generation of Americans to inherit that sort of life - the life I left America to escape because the opportunities just weren't there. It wasn't hell, it wasn't even that bad - I was lucky in a lot of ways. But I paid very high taxes compared to what I pay in Taiwan...for what? For a war in Iraq that could have paid for affordable college tuition for all for a few generations? For unnecessary corporate subsidies and low capital gains tax for the rich? For a deeply inefficient and often broken transit system? For what? Why would I want a new generation of Americans to grow up under that system? Where college tuition has grown exponentially while wages haven't, where if you're exploited at work you're told its your own fault even though you can't afford to leave, where you're told you have a "choice" when really, you're hamstrung by just needing to afford to live? Where you're told affordable college tuition is "impossible" and yet every other developed country has successfully done it and we've paid out far more than affordable, or even free, tuition would cost on a war we emphatically did not need? No. That is the America I willingly left. I'm not going to vote for the establishment I disliked enough to wave goodbye to it.

And yet, I'm told that if I don't support the deeply establishment Hillary Clinton, that I'm letting women everywhere down.

I'm told that I am okay with women having power but don't like to see them in the act of asking for more power.

I'm told that I would support her as the frontrunner despite her flaws if she were a man.

To be fair, there is some truth to both of the articles linked above. She is treated differently by the establishment and the electorate simply because she has both a vagina and an opinion. She is criticized for asking for power that male politicians of her level of achievement are routinely, and unquestioningly, given. She is treated as 'less than' than lower-caliber male politicians simply because the patriarchy would 'rather have a beer' with other men. This all deserves consideration when deciding who to vote for.

And yet, Clinton can be a problematic candidate and that can be true regardless of her gender. She can have connections to Wall Street and the media that we don't like, but it is also true that the electorate would treat her differently if she were a man. Clinton can be someone whose previous record appalls me and others, and yet still suffer from being criticized merely for asking for more power. She can be one of the best at the political game, a true overachiever, the epitome of the saying that "women have to do twice as well to be given half as much", and yet still make me uncomfortable with her status-quo message.

Basically, she can be the victim of sexism and misogyny - and this can be worthy of discussion and acknowledgement - and still be someone I don't want to vote for based on the sum of her record and career.

I feel comfortable in my assessment of Clinton and my reasons for deciding, in the end, to support Sanders over her in part because of president-elect Tsai Ying-wen.

Very few American voters have had the chance to know enough about a non-Clinton female presidential candidate to support her, or care enough to have a somewhat detailed opinion on the matter - this usually comes from actually living in the country where said president may be elected. I have, however, and in the last election in Taiwan I backed Tsai (in spirit at least - I can't vote in Taiwan). Obviously I didn't consciously question whether she was fit to be president based on her gender, but seeing as I ultimately chose to support her, I can't say I subconsciously did so either.

You might even say I gave her a slight advantage in my brainspace because she's female and I do want to see more diversity in politics both nationally and globally. I don't think this is 'reverse sexism' - there's an element of power and representation that need to be present for something to be sexist (this is  pretty well accepted as a definition of racism by those who have a nuanced knowledge of racial issues, too). When the establishment is male, refusing to back a woman because of her gender is sexist. Deciding to back a woman because she's female, though, is a blow for pushing for a seat at the table for a group that has typically not had one. It would be the same if the power structure was entirely female and I chose to back a man because I felt we needed more diverse representation in that regard.

Anyway, I'd admit to a pro-female gender bias, but I'd also admit that if a candidate I liked more who happened to be male had come along, I would have supported him instead. How do I know? Well, I chose Sanders over Clinton despite Clinton's advantage of being female. In my heart, though I know my head would tell me it's risky, I would support a Freddy Lim-like candidate for president before a Tsai Ying-wen-like candidate. I may have a pro-female bias but in the end I will gravitate toward the best person for the job.

Sanders, although he is a man, has a better record on supporting women's rights and issues important to women (like LGBT equality and civil rights) than Clinton. Tsai...well, we'll see about how she does in office, but there is no politician, male or female, who has a better shot at doing good for women in Taiwan than her (though again I'd give my support to a Freddy Lim-like candidate).

Tsai, despite being a bit centrist for this old leftie's tastes, was the best person for the job.  I supported her mostly for that reason, and in part, yes, because I felt it would be good for Taiwan to have a female president. Taiwan may be one of the most progressive countries in Asia, with better women's equality than the rest of Asia, but that's a pretty damn low bar and there is certainly room to improve. A female president is not a cure-all, but it's a step.

Tsai is also something of the anti-Clinton. Clinton may not be "likable" (an criticism lobbed at women far more than at men) but she does exude strength and panache, and despite a few stumbles generally gives good, polished speeches. She's an extrovert and a ball-buster (from me that's a compliment) who looks like she'd be very good at steely eye contact. She's more of a power broker than a wonk, though I don't doubt her policy chops.

Tsai, on the other hand, is frightfully competent, but exudes a dorky, scholarly wonkishness that is endearing and popular in Taiwan but would be a hindrance in the US political machine. She looks and acts like a wine-drinking cat lady academic (which she admittedly is, and I like that). Her speeches are not particularly polished - it's been said she almost has an 'anti-charisma' when she speaks - and her gaze is not steely.

I like them both, but as a bit of a dork myself, who also has a bias in favor of scholar-leaders as it seems Taiwan does, I do gravitate a bit more toward the Tsai personality (though admittedly I have something of the Clinton Lion Roar within myself too). If anything I wish more male politicians fit that mold.

I also like that Tsai is a self-made woman in politics - I realize she came from money however - and I'm not a big fan of political dynasties such as the Clintons'.

So when I hear this "well maybe people are threatened by Clinton asking for power even though she is quite competent once she has it" or "you'd be more forgiving of her shortcomings and support her more strongly if she were a man, but because she's a woman she has to be twice as good to get half as much" or "with her experience and background, were she a man she'd be the clear frontrunner", I think, well, I just supported a woman for president. A woman who won the race. I was happy about that and at no point felt uncomfortable watching her ask for, and get, more power. At no point did I expect her to be twice as good as her opponent - although arguably she was. And if I can so clearly support a good female candidate in Taiwan, it's nuts to imply that I (or, more accurately, Sanders-supporting women like me) don't support Hillary because I have not examined my own internal sexism.


Unknown said...

"She looks and acts like a wine-drinking cat lady academic (which she admittedly is, and I like that)."

You didn't go far enough. What a world it would be, governed by more of the same!

Michael Imhoff Arsenault said...

You've described your situation quite well. It sounds like you've given up on the politics of HONOUR and being DECENT. You have a point. Politics is a real jungle. Still think Bernie Sanders understand it all. He's been and seen a lot. He's actually TAUGHT and LECTURED everyone. I baffles me how he kept going. If you think Hillary would have a better connection with Tsai Ying Wen, I think you are quite wrong. Jane Sanders probably has a lot more in common with Tsai Ying Wen than Hillary.