What's a liberal to do? The ongoing fight over trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has cut deep into the heart of liberal politics, a dynamic nicely (if self-satirizingly) summed up by the Blue Nation Review headline "Mommy and Daddy are Fighting Over TPP."
Well, things got even more awkward around the dinner table Tuesday, as a couple of prominent liberals accused Daddy of being sexist toward Mommy. National Organization for Women (NOW) president Terry O'Neill told The Hill, Wednesday morning, that President Obama oughtn't have called Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) by her first name:
O'Neill told The Hill she took issue with Obama calling Warren by her first name during an interview with Yahoo News published Saturday.
"Yes, I think it is sexist," O'Neill said. "I think the president was trying to build up his own trustworthiness on this issue by convincing us that Senator Warren's concerns are not to be taken seriously. But he did it in a sexist way."
...O'Neill said Obama's "clear subtext is that the little lady just doesn't know what she's talking about."
"I think it was disrespectful," O'Neill said.
O'Neill's criticism followed a similar jab by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) on Tuesday, telling reporters “I think referring to her as her first name, when he might not have done that for a male Senator, perhaps? I’ve said enough."
O'Neill and Brown are referring to a portion of President Obama's Yahoo! News interview this past weekend, in which he took on critics of his proposed trade deal:
Matt Bai: It’s personal, too, isn’t it?
President Obama: Elizabeth is a politician like everybody else, and she's got a voice she wants to get out there.
That wasn't the first time he'd done it, though, and not the first time someone raised the sexism charge. A few weeks ago, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow made a similar observation about President Obama's comments to Chris Matthews, which included a first name-only reference.
The White House has yet to respond to the sexism allegation, but when reached for comment, Vice President Joe Biden misheard the reporter, and responded "Barack may be the smartest, but I'm the sexiest."
Now, it is the current fashion of the day to ridicule people who take offense for no good reason, but I'm not going to do that. Using the proper terms of respect is something I've stressed in these pages, and without any context, I can see why someone might be offended. Maybe you hadn't seen President Obama refer to Sen. Warren as "Elizabeth" right to her face, even as he rattled off a list of male senators:
"I was fortunate even when I was running for president to have some friends like Elizabeth Warren..."
"And obviously, Elizabeth, who wasn’t a senator when she thought this up, but is now a senator -- she was poking and prodding people for a long time to help make it happen."
Warren doesn't look too unhappy there, and also didn't object when President Obama referred to Warren and fellow Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey as "Elizabeth and Ed" while he was raising money for them:
"Elizabeth and Ed are representing you with excellence."
That's just one example, of many, that answer Sen. Brown's hypothetical "referring to her as her first name, when he might not have done that for a male Senator, perhaps?" quandary, which is the entire basis for the sexism charge. It's possible that Brown just wasn't aware that President Obama sometimes refers to male senators by their first name only, or maybe it's not:
So, to be clear, if you heard President Obama call Sen. Elizabeth Warren "Elizabeth," and you thought it might be sexist, your concern was legitimate. Sherrod Brown's was not, and now, your own concerns should be allayed. President Obama is the president, he get to call senators by their first names, just like the white presidents. (Oh, no, I di'in't!)
Apart from the fake sexism charge, though, Sherrod won a victory Tuesday when Senate Democrats almost unanimously blocked debate on President Obama's trade bills (Sen. Tom Carper [D-DE] was the lone "yea" vote) in what the White House is calling a "procedural snafu," and what Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) chalked up to Republican chicanery (via email):
“The simple fact is that to pass the Senate, bills must have strong Democratic support. Nearly every bill passed by the Senate this year has enjoyed the support of over ninety percent of Senate Democrats.
“Senator McConnell needs to work with Democrats for our votes. I hope he will reconsider his approach.”
Essentially, Democrats had wanted all four current trade bills to be considered together, and when McConnell moved to separate them, Democrats balked. The move is being covered as a mutiny against President Obama, but at least part of this was engineered by Republicans.
However this trade fight turns out, this kind of liberal infighting could be deadly to Democrats in 2016, especially if it continues to evolve into a proxy fight about sexism versus racism. Hillary Clinton is going to need every part of the Obama coalition and the Warren Wing, and this is going to make that more difficult, which could also complicate Democratic efforts to take back the Senate.
Can't we all just get along?
Update: After suggesting to MSNBC's Morning Joe that Sen. Brown would "find a way to apologize," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest busted on Brown a little bit at Wednesday's daily briefing. In response to ABC News White House Correspondent Jon Karl's question about the sexism charge, Earnest drew laughs with a quick wisecrack:
Earnest: "Can I call you Jon?"
Major Garrett: "That one's been in the works all morning."
Earnest: "Sometimes these things just come to you like a lightning bolt, Major."
Sen. Brown, for his part, was offered the chance to apologize Wednesday afternoon, but seems more like he'd rather pretend it never happened:
Later in the briefing, Fox News' Kevin Corke asked specifically about NOW President Terry O'Neill's comments, and Earnest responded tersely:
"That certainly is not the tone or the tenor of the comments that the President made."