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Opinion

Baby, It’s Cold Inside

I watched the TV coverage of the opening session of the 116th Congress and was happy to see all the inspired women in jewel-toned dresses, many young, some of color, taking their places. Good for them, I thought, and good for the voters who put them in office. No matter what these new legislators do, they are a breath of fresh air compared to the stern white men on both sides of the aisle who steer the ship of state.

And yet, I am uneasy. Not because I am cynical. But because these women come into office with a heavy burden --  the burden of the latter-day women’s movement. Shaped, or actually misshaped, by decades of a cartoon version of feminism and deeply entrenched in the culture of identity politics, I fear that this women’s movement will be no match for the powers that be.

Over Christmas, I spent time with some of my closest friends, many of them women, a good number either African American or Jewish, like me, and periodically the conversations turned to the reports that the Women’s March movement has been riven by divisions and strife. Was this a tempest-in-a-teapot or a sign that the newly-minted women’s movement was unsustainable?

Barely two years after its founding in the charged environment of the so-called “Resistance” to Trump, the March had its knickers in a twist of political correctness. Charges and counter-charges of racism and anti-Semitism paralyzed the leadership, reportedly leading to a split. Two separate marches are now planned in New York, a march in Chicago was canceled, and a wave of cross-cutting press coverage has inflamed both sides.

Oh boy. How to unpackage this one? Early on, black leaders were apparently told by Jewish leaders of the March committee that they were required to repudiate Minister Louis Farrakhan as a show of their commitment to opposing anti-Semitism. They refused to comply. Good for them. This divisive “demand” has been kicking around left and liberal politics for more than three decades and has done nothing to repel anti-Jewish sentiment anywhere.

My good friend Lenora Fulani — an African American independent and herself a victim of the “repudiate Farrakhan or else” game 30 years ago (she refused) — has devoted much of her unique political career to challenging anti-Semitism in all communities and building genuine, sometimes hard fought, working relationships between Blacks and Jews. She will also be the first to tell you that the repudiation game is a corruption, a way that power politics thrives on defining the boundaries of legitimacy, particularly for Black leaders. Trump’s $5 billion wall pales in comparison to this kind of border policing.

The counterpunch was also disturbing. In this round, the Jewish leaders were instructed that their ranking on the all-important roster of oppression was a mixed one. Yes, they had been made to suffer as Jews. But, they also had access to white privilege and availed themselves of that status. Hence, presumably, Jews are not truly oppressed people. Really? Tell that to the millions who were tortured and died in the death camps.

[pullout_blockquote quote="The repudiation game is a corruption, a way that power politics thrives on defining the boundaries of legitimacy..." author="Jackie Salit, President of Independent Voting"]

Fighting racism and anti-Semitism and all forms of social hatred is serious business.  Turning that into a spectacle of demanding political correctness is, since we’re talking about the Women’s March, no way to treat the ladies.

Shouldn’t women be the ones to repudiate this kind of perverse scoring system where various forms of oppression are pitted against one another? I’d like to go to a Women’s March about that!

This clash revealed that for this women’s movement, identity politics and the ranking of oppression trump all. Apparently, even fighting Trump.

For women to come together to assert dignity, equity and inclusion for all women, means (to me) that you find ways to come together for that goal, even given differences. Cleansing the participants of “-isms,” real or imagined, serves no purpose other than to undermine the purpose. And if the net effect of all of this is to give greater power to Nancy Pelosi while disempowering a potentially independent women’s movement, well, shame on us for going along.

I reflected on this feature of American political life as I watched Senator Elizabeth Warren’s interview with Rachel Maddow, following Warren’s announcement of her plans to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 2020. Warren declared her support for a U.S. withdrawal from Syria, aligning herself with Trump’s proposed initiative. Though she took pains to distinguish herself from Trump, we can’t have foreign policy by tweet and a withdrawal would have to be part of a carefully considered and thought out strategy for the Middle East, she was nonetheless willing to jump in and stir the pot. She said the policy of U.S. military involvement in the Middle East was unsustainable and a failure. An understatement, as far as I’m concerned.

[pullout_blockquote quote="For women to come together to assert dignity, equity and inclusion for all women, means (to me) that you find ways to come together for that goal, even given differences." author="Jackie Salit, President of Independent Voting"]

Several MSNBC hosts and guests piled on later, mocking her seeming proximity to Trump and asserting that Joe Biden would never take that position. But Warren did. And she did it well aware that she would draw fire for breaching the “Trump is the Devil” wall. The time is right for those kinds of politically incorrect breaches. Even Trump is apparently afraid of them, as the latest word on Syria has him slowing down the withdrawal process and reassessing its viability.

I have not been a Warren fan, as I think she has focused too much on getting the money out of politics (impossible) and not enough on getting the voters in (like the 44% who are independent voters). Still, I think she has shown some guts and a willingness to shake the political correctness tree. I hope she keeps going.

A word about the title of this article: Baby, It’s Cold Inside. By now, you probably know more about this cultural dust-up than the one roiling the Women’s March.

A great holiday song written in 1944 by Frank Loesser, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a charming and lyrical duet, set on a holiday evening in which a man and a woman flirtatiously spar over the weather (snowy) and whether to stay inside for “a little bit more.”

The ME TOO police have gotten ahold of it, and branded it as an anthem for date rape. Radio stations across the country have banned it from their playlists, fearing retribution from listeners and advertisers. Again, oh boy. Shall we now add flirting to the crimes of racism and anti-Semitism? Have we all gone mad?

In a punchy Wall Street Journal opinion piece, writer Peggy Noonan morosely chronicled the controversy over this song. As a conservative commentator, she pointed out that she, and others like her, do not have standing to react. “But an end to political correctness in the arts and entertainment cannot come from the right. It can only come from the left.”

My advice to Peggy is to keep your voice in the mix, but you’re right. The left has to take responsibility for its Frankensteins. In fact, there is a sector in the progressive movement that has acted on that principle for 40 years. And not just in the arts.

It would be good if Peggy Noonan gave some coverage to that, rather than simply retreating to the sidelines. The progressive wing of the independent movement — that’s where I am — holds to the position that political correctness in politics is the greatest barrier to positive growth. Not just for a movement. But for the country.

Baby, it’s cold inside the citadel of political correctness. Let’s all get the hell out of it. Happy New Year.

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