Mary Landrieu stands for students

From a letter to the editor I wrote to the Shreveport Times.

“A college degree should help individuals build dreams, not debt.”

— Mary Landrieu, after introducing the Passport to the Middle Class initiative

In May, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu launched Passport to the Middle Class. This initiative represents two acts: the Middle Class Creating Higher Education Affordability Necessary to Compete Economically (CHANCE) Act to increase the Pell Grant award and the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Act to help loan borrowers refinance with lower interest rates.

There are more than 600,000 students in Louisiana who are being compounded with student loan debt at an average rate of $22,000. Mary Landrieu understands this. And through Passport to the Middle Class, she wants to help relieve the financial burden of students throughout the state.

As a student, I should be focused on graduating with a college degree. Instead, I — like many other students — face a future burdened with financial worry. It is unacceptable that years of dedicated time and hard work could result in years of debt.

That this is even a possibility should be enough to incentivize legislators to make a change. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many legislators, including Louisiana’s own Bill Cassidy. He voted to cut Pell Grant funds not once, but at least three times in the past four years. Bill Cassidy cares more about appeasing financial and educational institutions than he has concern for Louisiana students.

Through his voting record, Cassidy consistently has proved he could care less about the debt accrued by hundreds of thousands of Louisiana students.

Mary Landrieu not only cares but is taking action to lessen the financial burden of egregious student loan debts. I stand with Mary not only as a Louisiana resident, but as a Louisiana student.

— Valencia Richardson

Hillary Clinton (breaking walls and taking names): part 2

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[Note: I’ll continue to use Lawrence and Rose’s Hillary Clinton’s Race for the White House as a companion to this series.]

In this second part, I will be discussing Hillary Clinton and the role the media played (and continues to play) in how she is perceived by the public. In order to examine this effectively, it is best to look at the political climate at the time of her first presidential campaign.

The 2008 Democratic nomination campaign was obviously a monumental one. Both candidates were unconventional, so no matter the outcome there would be historical implications. In my opinion, there could not have been a more perfect time for this match-up; the country was just coming out of the Bush-era, unsatisfied with conventional politics and ready for a change of pace. Because of the heightened stakes—the prospect of a black guy or woman Head of State—media coverage was imperative.

The book argues that media coverage surrounding Hillary Clinton was less than unbiased. The suggestion that “the standard media routines for covering presidential candidates served [Clinton] particularly poorly” is generally denied by the media themselves (10). However, considering that the media spent weeks covering Hillary’s “new title as grandma” in the midst of more important Clinton Global Initiative events going on, the argument doesn’t seem completely unfounded.

The more conspiratorial argument dates the media’s negative perception of Hillary Clinton all the way back to her days as the First Lady. President Bill Clinton, a popular president in his own right , made it known that Hillary would have an influence in much of what he did as president—even claiming that in electing him the people would get “two for the price of one.”

This came at a time when, according to a CBS News article, America was unsure about having such an involved First Lady, making her quite the divisive subject. Republican commentator Roger Stone reiterated this sentiment; calling her “grating, abrasive and boastful,” he commented that Hillary Clinton was coming in at time when “[t]here’s a certain familiar order of things, and the notion of a coequal couple in the White House is a little offensive to men and women.”

After her stint in the White House, Hillary Clinton’s positions and experience, both as a New York Senator and as Secretary of State, earned her more popularity and widespread acceptance as a credible leader. However, this did not play into her favor as well as it should have during the 2008 election.

According to the book, research found that Clinton’s coverage was more negative due to agenda setting and framing in the media; this in turn clouded the more substantial issues presented during the campaign (181). In other words, heavy horse-race coverage and “lack of substance” (182) within reporting severely damaged how she was perceived by the public.

But if her coverage lacked so much substance, what exactly was being covered in the race? That answer lies within the statistics. In a study that analyzed the covers of the New York Times, Los Angeles Ties and Washington Post, as well as CBS, ABC and NBC news programs, it was found that approximately 1 percent of stories headlined with Hillary Clinton’s name here issue-framed stories, 89 percent of those stories were horse-race coverage (183).  Data also showed that within the types of negative coverage by the media, Hillary Clinton had a higher rate than both John McCain and Barrack Obama of criticisms of personal characteristics and criticisms of strategies/tactics (184).

I believe this suggests a biased coverage of Hillary Clinton by the media. The race for president has always been a boy’s game, and both the media and the public had a hard time reconciling her as “one of the boys.” Associating a woman as president is an uneasy decision because of the social norms currently in place.

Despite all of this, I do believe that Hillary Clinton’s chances in the next election (if she chooses to run) are much stronger than in 2008. As of recent, media coverage, though it could be much better, has been doing a better job of bolstering Hillary Clinton’s credibility, particularly through her work in the Clinton Global Initiative. Her activism within CGI will likely work to her advantage in the upcoming election.

The current political climate could also work to her favor. Polls are now showing that her being a woman might be her best selling  point . Because of the election of President Obama, a precedent has already been set, which could make way for a campaign trail that doesn’t focus on how surprising it is that she is running (in 2008, the “it’s so shocking” coverage suggested that her election was so unconventional that it wasn’t meant to succeed). There is so much speculation surrounding her nomination, and so many polls that show  that her Democratic nomination bid is all but certain, that it seems unlikely that media will present her in the same manner as in 2008.  See: rep noms vs hc

rep noms vs hc

Hillary Clinton (breaking walls and taking names): Part 1

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With the possibility of Hillary Clinton running for President in 2016 looming, I thought it appropriate to conclude the school year with a series on Hillary Clinton. This first part will introduce the three-part series by discussing the barrier Hillary Clinton faced in 2012, and will face if she chooses to run in 2016.

In addition, I will be using a book that I am reading as a companion to the series. The book, Hillary Clinton’s Race for the White House: Gender Politics and the Media on the Campaign Trail is a book operating on the preface that the primary reason that Hillary Clinton lost in 2008 is because she is a woman. Providing commentary from different sources, statistics and historical background for their argument, I believe this book makes some interesting points that will complement my own thoughts throughout this series.

Recently, Jon Stewart addressed the barriers that women face in politics and the media. In particular, he discussed the recent influx of media attention Hillary Clinton has gotten after her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, announced that she was pregnant. After making the announcement, many news outlets pondered on whether or not Hillary becoming a grandmother will affect her running in 2016—a question, as Jon Stewart put it, “that has never, ever been posed to a male candidate ever.”

This question is indicative of one of the many barriers women face when running for any major office, nevertheless a presidency. The book summarizes this problem succinctly: “being a woman generally helps candidates when the stereotypical expectations for women coincide with the expectation office, but hurts when the expectations for women conflict with the expectations of the job” (23). This is why women have a considerably easier time gaining positions at the local level or in the higher position of governor, where the focus is more domestic (education, health care) than in in Congress or in the presidency, where the focus is more national and international (foreign policy, economic).

The office of President is considered a man’s job because the issues are considered more androcentric. The President has to be tough, willing to make the hard decisions and be able to handle foreign policy. Women are at an immediate disadvantage because two of those three behaviors (toughness, hard decision making) are traditionally unbecoming of the conventional woman.

True womanhood—what society perceives as the nature and responsibility of women—initially meant being selfless, emotional, and “untouched by both private vices and public life” (31). Though women’s suffrage movements have moved society past some of these expectations, the stigma still remains. A woman is more emotional and more domestic, and thus unable to hand the pressures of the presidency.

Another significant barrier is the current state of the political system. The book observes that there are essentially four ways that a person can become president, and that these have been the only ways we know since recent memory. The “pathways to presidency” are: 1) the military, 2) the vice presidency, 3) a governorship or 4) Congress (24). Considering these factors, this leaves only two ways that a woman has a chance at the presidency. Combined with media pressures and perception (as examined by Jon Stewart), this leaves creates a very difficult path for women.

Though no woman has ever won the presidency, it has not been for lack of trying. Ten women have run for President in the past with little impact and outrageously biased media coverage (one woman, Patricia Schroeder, was criticized for years after crying in an emotional withdrawal speech). See: women who have paved the way

Hillary Clinton is different. In 2012, she came in at a time of conventional presidency and almost won the nomination, finally presenting the first realistic possibility of a female president. She served as a US Senator and Secretary of State, the first First Lady to do so. Despite media scrutiny and ridiculous commentary about her next title of grandma, she continues to remain the strongest contender for the 2016 Democratic nomination. And to boot, she now has a leg up after Barrack Obama officially broke the barriers for every unconventional candidate by becoming our first African American president.

If anyone has a chance of tearing down the taboos that constrain women, it will be Hillary Rodham Clinton.

women who have paved the way

Women who don’t believe in equal pay?

This article from the Huffington Post today came out about Cari Christman’s comments on the Lily Ledbetter Equal Pay Act. She is the head of RedState Women, a Texas-based PAC focused on “rallying women for GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott.”

In the video, she essentially says that women are “too busy” trying to create families and get a higher education to fight for equal pay. This message supports Greg Abbot’s stance on equal pay since, according to his competitor Wendy Davis, he fought vehemently against it during his tenure as Texas Attorney General.

I for one am not comfortable with what this message communicates. First of all, Christman denounces the legislation as “rhetoric” that offers no solutions, but isn’t able to come up with any viable solutions herself. Secondly, I’m extremely uncomfortable with a PAC dedicated to conservative women that does not believe in equal pay legislation. What are they trying to say about conservative women, or about women in general? This does not bode well to the rest of Abbott’s campaign, because I’m not sure how well this will play out among conservative career women.

Any thoughts?

To read the article, click on the above link or go here:
Head Of GOP Women’s PAC Flubs Equal Pay Question
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/17/head-of-gop-womens-pac-fl_n_4978650.html

Hunger Games looks into the future

With Catching Fire coming on DVD soon (yay!) and the film world abuzz about the next Hunger Games movie coming out in December, Mockingjay: Part 1, the Hunger Games has been on my mind a lot. Spoiler alert: this post will reveal parts of the story.

Katniss Everdeen is one of my favorite heroines in any novel I’ve ever read. It’s particularly enlightening to see such a strong female role model for the trilogy’s teenage audience. But what I like most about the Hunger Games how the books implicates modern politics and gives way for strong female characters.

In the story, Panem is a post-apocalyptic version of our society, divided into twelve (initially thirteen) districts run by the Capitol. In Catching Fire, we discover that the thirteenth district, initially thought to be defunct, has gone underground and is planning an attack on the Capitol to overthrow the totalitarian government.

Katniss Everdeen is used as a sort of figurehead for the revolution, motivating the other districts to stand against the Capitol and to boost morale. But Katniss’ strength, intelligence and diligence makes her a real-life figurehead for the modern feminist movement. She’s a lead female hero, a soldier and a de facto leader. Despite her initial reluctance, she becomes a key player in the overthrow of the Capitol.

The politics of Panem has clear parallels to that of our society. The  revolutionary group does not have a purely democratic objective. The president of District 13, Alma Coin, wants to take over the Capitol and form a republic, but Katniss (and the reader) detects other motives as well. Once it is revealed that Alma Coin ordered the hit on the Capitol that killed Katniss’s sister and plans to keep the Hunger Games going, Katniss realizes that Alma’s motives are no better than President Snow’s. She kills Alma Coin, and another character, the district 8 leader Commander Paylor, becomes the leader of the new government of Panem.

There are subtleties within the novels that should be praised, mainly in the portrayal of the female characters. The leadership throughout the novel is predominantly female. Because their is minimal discussion about the somewhat unconventional situation, a sense of normalcy is placed on the issue.

This communicates the notion that women as head of state is normal, not unconventional (Katniss the figurehead, Alma Coin the revolutionary leader and Paylor the eventual president of Panem). This is important because it explores possibilities of female leadership beyond what we currently believe is possible. Without even trying, Suzanne Collins gave us a glimpse into a future of a new social structure.

Make or break: how abortion shapes the careers of female politicians

Abortion is a controversial topic that everyone has an opinion about. The option to terminate a pregnancy (or a life, whichever you believe) raises numerous ethical and legal questions that no one seems to be able to agree on. 

The perception of the word has a lot to do with what side of the argument people align themselves with. A part of agenda setting is presenting the opposing position in a negative light in hopes of persuading people to the more “positive” side (which is relative to what side you’re on). Using phrases that express a negative view of a positive word, like anti-life or anti-choice, places a negative connotation on the opposing point of view. If you succeed in placing your opposition in a negative light, then you can effectively add a sense of credibility to your own stance.

Most pro-lifers perceive abortion as a selfish, inhumane act. Generally, pro-lifers believe that life begins at conception, and to terminate a pregnancy is to terminate a life. For people who take the pro-life stance, having a choice is not an argument because they believe the choice lies with the baby. Rather than pro-choice, pro-life activists typically call the opposition pro-abortion or anti-life. This is intended to support the assumption that people who are pro-choice are heartless or self-centered in their decisions. Memes that go along with this notion tend to look like the ones below.

Image

 

Pro-Life1

 

On the other hand, there are people who take a pro-choice stance on abortion. In general, people who are pro-choice tend to believe either that life does not begin at conception and is therefore morally sound, or that regardless of a individual’s beliefs the overall right to perform an abortion is protected by the right to privacy and freedom of religion and therefore should be made legal. Pro-choicers do not believe that they are arguing for abortion itself, but rather the choice to legally perform one. Rather than pro-life, pro-choice people tend to refer to their opposition as anti-choice or anti-feminism/women. This is intended to support the assumption that pro-lifers’ beliefs are based on religion and misogynistic influence. Memes associated with this idea tend to take this form:

But what do these messages do?

Regardless of what side you’re on, these messages have a similar effect on its audience. For people firm in their beliefs, the negative images of their opposition only serve to reaffirm their beliefs. Additionally,  the negative images of their own beliefs are simply written off as foolishness or ignorance.

But these messages are not intended for the firm of belief. They are made for the uniformed or the undecided person, because those are the people that can most easily be persuaded. For those on the fence of this issue, these images are intended to give the audience an undesirable feeling about the opposing position. By making someone feel guilty or dirty about what they’re seeing (or reading or hearing), a person’s on-the-fence beliefs can be redirected to a respective side. 

This isn’t new science. This method is used for almost every issue you can think of. However, the problem that occurs with the issue of abortion is that the judgment gets placed on the woman rather than the issue at hand. Pro-choice women are usually judged as selfish, cold-hearted women with a weak sense of humanity. Pro-life women are usually judged as close-minded, overly religious women with a lack of insight.

This is alarming for both sides because it places unfair stereotypes on women; how a woman stands on abortion can determine how that woman is viewed. This in turn places an unfair disadvantage on women in politics. From pro-lifer Sarah Palin to pro-choicer Wendy Davis, their views of abortion have shaped the way they are portrayed on a political platform.

This is concerning because it suggests that women only go as far as their uteri. If, despite everything else a woman politician can accomplish, all that concerns their character is what side they take on abortion, then there is a problem. There is a problem with the public opinion of female leaders and there is definitely a problem with how the media shapes a female politician’s character. Women are limited to that single belief and it is unfair communication.

 

 

World War Wendy

Texas senator Wendy Davis made headlines last summer when she conducted an 11 hour long filibuster in an effort to block a bill enforcing more strict abortion regulations. It didn’t take too long for her to gain notoriety, and subsequently come under fire for everything conservatives could think of.

Let’s begin with Abortion Barbie. This clever nickname was bestowed upon her by journalist Erik Erickson in a tweet in response to the filibuster. Though he came under fire for it (from the “leftist media” by his accounts), he was unapologetic, instead suggesting MSNBC give her a pair of tampon earrings.

More recently, Dallas Morning News political writer Wayne Slater sought to correct some of the fallacies in Wendy Davis’ autobiography. In the article, he proposes that Wendy Davis’ trailer park livin’, young single mother backstory is just a façade that Wendy uses. Quoting an anonymous source, Slater suggests that “She’s not going to let family or raising children or anything else to get in her way,” effectively saying that Wendy Davis put her political aspirations over her children.

The onslaught of responses after the article was published included calling Wendy a liar and a bad mother, suggesting (or outright saying) that she was an inadequate mother. What bothered me most about the bad mother comments was the general insinuation that being an ambitious woman and being a good mother are mutually exclusive pursuits.

These systematic attacks against women alarm me because they tend to shift the focus from her actual platform. After all, studies have shown that sexist insults can have a negative impact on the campaigns of female candidates.

Unless that’s the point. If keeping strong women out of major offices is the goal, then shifting the focus towards their personal lives would be the way to do it. If the phrase “ambitious woman” can be placed synonymously with “bad mother,” then you’re job is halfway done with conservatives. If you can do a job of making single mothers feel bad, then you can effectively tarnish Davis’ credibility with a lot of other groups as well.

In my opinion, I believe intimidation plays a major role in the motives of the anti-Wendy campaign. Wendy has become a strong contender in the race for Texas governor and therefore poses a real threat to the current administration. She is targeting an often ignored, but strong in numbers, demographic and she really resonates with their everyday lives. This is so contrary to ultra-red, gun-toting politics familiar to the Lone Star State. So the natural approach would be to target the main selling point of Davis’ campaign: her integrity. The only problem with that is that it’s so obvious and, I believe, won’t work in the long run.