This Monday Carol Moseley Braun officially announced she would enter the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Braun is at the bottom of the 10-candidate pack, but one month ago the National Organization for Women and the National Women’s Political Caucus endorsed her.
This was a mistake.
First of all, conventional wisdom is right — she is completely unelectable. But NOW says that criticism “smacks of sexism,” as NOW’s President, Kim Gandy, wrote in a letter to the editor to The New York Times after its editorial board criticized the endorsement of Braun. Gandy ignores that using a candidate’s gender as an assessment is sexist as well.
NOW’s problem is that Braun is unelectable not because of her gender or her race but because of her record.
There is no doubt that Braun deserves respect for her years of public service. She was the first African-American woman to serve as a U.S. senator and most recently served as ambassador to New Zealand. Her record includes some notable achievements, but she fails to stand out from the pack.
Braun was also narrowly defeated in her 1998 re-election campaign for the Senate, widely because of allegations of mismanagement of campaign funds. While neither her opponents nor reporters spend time discussing these allegations, there is no doubt that they would dominate every news cycle were Braun to become a major candidate.
Even NOW admits that this question of electability is important when its president says that its “top political priority is sending Bush back to Texas.”
But this is not the main reason why I and other feminists need to be angry at NOW.
“Carol Moseley Braun — is getting women’s issues onto the table and into the political debate,” Gandy wrote in her letter to The New York Times, explaining a main reason why NOW was giving her its full support.
The main mistake NOW and NWPC made in endorsing Carol Moseley Braun is in saying that Braun forces women’s issues into the national debate. None of the candidates is spending a significant amount of time discussing women’s issues, and they often seem to be completely forgotten. If NOW and NWPC had held off endorsing a candidate and hosted a forum — as the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have done — they could have made the candidates speak to the women’s issues important to their members.
One women’s group is playing this political game correctly. On Sept. 17, 2003, the New Hampshire Chapter of NARAL Pro-Choice America hosted a forum to engage the candidates on reproductive rights. Yet Howard Dean was the only one who took them seriously enough to show up. The other candidates all sent either their daughters or female constituents to tell NARAL that they were pro-choice.
NARAL’s event was a step in the right direction. It forced the candidates to go on the record about reproductive rights in a time when the Senate just voted to ban partial-birth abortions. It forced the candidates to think about a woman’s issue.
But reproductive rights are not the only rights that feminists need to be talking about. Equal pay has yet to become a reality. According to NOW, for every dollar earned by men, women earn 74 cents, African-American women earn 63 cents, and Latina women earn 57 cents. Title IX is not being fully enforced, and domestic violence against women is still a serious problem in this country. Yet there was hardly a mention of these or any other women’s issues at the two recent debates sponsored by the Congressional Black and Hispanic caucuses.
Since it was formed, NOW has been a leader on these issues and countless others that are important to women and men, but by endorsing Carol Moseley Braun, NOW resigns itself to the fact that the candidates are ignoring women’s issues.
Without feminists forcing the important questions on the candidates, they will continue to ignore them. When the loudest and most powerful women’s lobby group in the country ceases to advocate for its constituents, feminists, and indeed all women, have a right to be angry.
Alissa Stollwerk is a sophomore in Saybrook College.