Debriefing the Debates

  • 20 candidates (did you know there are 4 others floating around out there somewhere?)

  • 5 moderators (Chuck Todd is a mansplainer we could have done without)

  • 130 questions (that's according to sources; we did not count them ourselves)


Where did it all land? And, more importantly, what did they have to say about the issues we know you care most about?


Some takeaways from conversations amongst and between our members:


Tulsi Gabbard is a sign of progress. She's a veteran. She's a Hindu. She's Samoan-American. She's an Xennial. Not to mention, there are always men running for office, men who are out of their depth, men who know one issue well, men who have a singular accomplishment (maybe even two), men who don't realize their own limitations and go for it and somehow make it into the conversation and onto the stage. Finally, there was a woman who fit that bill.


Better still: There are enough women running that we can openly criticize some of them and draw distinctions between the approaches, performances, leadership styles, and policy plans of the others.


White men over 60 have no business being part of this conversation. We're sure to get objections from white men over 60 and the people who can only envision white men over 60 in leadership roles at the highest levels (ahem, we're looking at you would-be Sens. Friess and Grady). But that's the truth. We'll concede that Bernie is a cult of personality and may well outlive our organization's founders and even our youngest members. He might be a cyborg. He might be from the same Energizer Bunny-inflected gene pool as our own Sen. Scott. But he's in the demographic we'd like to see cut from the debate stage.


White men under 60 can cage match to determine whether any of them have the chops to stay in the race. We're pretty sure Mayor Pete might. Anyone else? (We had to laugh at this, btw:)

But enough about them.


After two nights of historic representation on stage in Miami here are our big takeaways:


Diverse representation in our leaders better reflects our nation. Creates opportunities to draw distinctions between ideas and experiences. Charts a forward-looking path. Invites new voices to participate. And virtually guarantees that oft-marginalized issues make it onto the main stage. To wit: equal pay, minimum wage, healthcare, the ERA, reproductive justice were all in the conversation. Admittedly, we did not hear about paid family leave, our aging population, maternal healthcare, or gender based violence so we still have a ways to go, to be sure. (And the format left a lot to be desired. But that's because there are too many candidates and you've already read our proposal to resolve that problem.)


We heard about free college. We wanted to hear about free periods.


Talking - yes *talking* - is still gendered. A few points on this matter:

  • "There were more women at last night’s event than there have ever been on a presidential-primary-debate stage, and three more are appearing tonight. And yet to watch them was to be reminded that these are not just presidential candidates—these are professional working women who, like many others, have probably often struggled to be seen or heard over their male colleagues." Read more: The Inescapable Challenge of Talking While Female

  • "Women are interrupted more than men; that men speak significantly more in meetings than women do (one study found they account for 75% of conversation); that even when women speak less they are perceived to have spoken more." (Read more: Why Women Talk Less Than Men at Work.)

  • "Even when women speak less they are perceived to have spoken more." (Read the study: Speaker Sex and the Perceived Apportionment of Talk.)


We have ground to make up if we are to broaden the understanding that women are great leaders, that our issues are everyone's issues, and even (in some circles) that we are as deserving of autonomy and humanity as men. But we were on the stage and represented in a range of ways, in a range of (literal!) voices. Their experiences - as a mom of young children working in Congress, as a little girl who was bused to integrate a school, as a law professor from rural OK, as a county attorney in a Midwestern city - informed their leadership styles and their decisions. As noted, there were distinctions to draw between the policy positions. (Including Marianne Williamson who does not seem to believe in policy positions and spawned some of the greatest tweets from night two.)


There have always been distinctions. Women are not a monolith. Neither are women leaders. It was just the first time this was made (inescapably) visible and writ large.


The bottom line: We were thrilled for our daughters, sons, nieces, nephews, and anyone under 18 anywhere in the nation who was better represented on stage this week than at any point in our nation's history.


Because you have to see it to be it.

 

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