Is it time to change the role of a president’s spouse? When Martha Raddatz posed this question at Saturday’s debate, the reactions were swift and the ridicule real. Not only was this question viewed by many debate-watchers as irrelevant to the substantive issues facing the nation, but many critics pointed to the particularly gendered way in which the question was posed. Amanda Terkel called Raddatz’s question “awful,” April Siese referred to it as a “major letdown,” and Rebecca Traister wrote, “The degree to which this question sucked is hard to describe.” Many more commentators and critics emerged in the Twittersphere, expressing frustration with the focus on first ladies (or gentleman). The frustration is justified in part due to the significant opportunity cost of asking this question. Critics noted that the moderators underemphasized or overlooked issues such as systemic racism, climate change, and reproductive rights, while spending time on spousal influence. And, of course, posing this question first to the only female candidate in the race demonstrated the gender bias inherent in our expectations for the presidential partnership: if a woman wins the White House, how could a man possibly fulfill the feminine duties expected of first spouses?
Tuesday’s Republican debates, both the undercard and main stage events, focused almost entirely on national security and combatting terrorism at home and abroad. Inevitably, this focus encourages candidates to emphasize their strategies for promoting safety in the face of instability. However, the substance of those strategies and the rhetoric with which they’re discussed can diverge significantly. For the majority of candidates who took the stage Tuesday, promoting security means using tough talk and proposing even tougher action. Whether repeatedly describing how they will “hunt down and “destroy” ISIS, kill terrorists, or bomb cities to protect the homeland, each Republican candidates utilized the language of war to make the case that he (or she) should be Commander-in-Chief. In fact, over 100 direct references to war were made over the night’s two debates.
Recent debates over the racial dynamics of the Democratic primary have included specific focus on the Democratic candidates’ support from and accountability to Black voters. When Professor Michael Eric Dyson wrote “Yes She Can” about Clinton’s ability to “do more for Black people than Barack Obama,” he sparked a discussion about how attentive the Democratic frontrunner has been and will be to the interests of and concerns of the Black community. But Clinton’s ability to implement policy is dependent on winning, and winning requires her to secure and mobilize the Democratic base – of which Black voters are a significant part.
From risky rhetoric to displays of the double bind, recent presidential campaign news provides multiple examples of gender bias. This week’s On the Bias demonstrates the importance and implications of the words we use – and don’t use – for campaigns’ gender dynamics, candidate evaluations, and voter perceptions.
Bernie Sanders doesn’t kiss babies. Patrick Healy’s article in the New York Times describes the lack of retail politics in the Sanders campaign thus far, detailing how the candidate doesn’t linger to talk with voters or take pictures after speeches, preferring to speak from a stage with a microphone. Healy writes, “Mr. Sanders is surprisingly impersonal, even uninterested, in one-on-one exchanges — the sort of momentary encounters in which a candidate can show warmth and humility by gripping every open palm.”