Tuesday, March 30, 2021

It Was More than theTweets: How Intersecting identities sank the Neera Tanden Cabinet Nomination

 Joe Biden’s first selection for the head of the White House Office of Management and Budget was a woman named Neera Tanden. This selection required Congressional approval, and this is where Tanden’s nomination went awry. Biden believed that Tanden was completely capable of filling this role. He went so far as to say that Tanden was a “brilliant policy mind with critical, practical experience across government."(https://www.washingtonpost.com/us-policy/2021/02/25/ron-klain-biden-neera-tanden-omb/). Tanden’s confirmation became about something much more than whether she was qualified for the position. It became a question about twitter and Biden’s commitment to bipartisanship. The tweets in question were mostly directed at Republican senators that include such things as calling Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-K.Y.) “Voldemort” and Senator Susan Collins (R-M.E.) “the worst”. She also made several angry tweets directed at Progressives such as Senator Bernie Sanders (I-V.T.) (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/mar/02/neera-tanden-withdraws-nomination-biden-cabinet). The confirmation process included several rounds of Tanden apologies and giving lip service to the bipartisan vision that Joe Biden ran on during his campaign. This was not enough to satisfy those who opposed Tanden’s confirmation. The Republicans in the senate worked diligently to paint Tanden as a partisan hack and eventually they were successful. Tanden began to lose key supporters especially the crucial swing votes like Senators Joe Manchin III (D-W.V.) and Collins. Eventually this war over tweets cost Tanden the nomination and she had to be removed from consideration at her request. The best way to understand how angry tweeting is okay for Trump and not for Tanden is through the lens of intersectionality.

     The term Intersectionality has existed for a long time in feminist circles. To use the definition provided by Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge intersectionality is how differing power relations impact social relations across everyday society. Intersectional analysis is the method of looking for the intersections of identity that have an impact on an individuals’ life (https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=fyrfDwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PT6&dq=what+is+intersectionality&ots=AAnDGvRx-S&sig=bcj9lOO3mMGxq4GTMK9L1lYoO00#v=onepage&q&f=false). In the case of male-female relations intersectionality refers to the struggle that women have because of the inequalities that exists in most societies. Often times this means that women have additional constraints on their behavior that do not exist for their male counterparts. These kinds of constraints exist for every group that suffers from a lower level of power than another. Race, gender, age, and disability status all result in intersections that lead to people being treated as lesser. The connections between identities can even lead to an individual being perceived as even lesser than those who share some part of that identity. The clearest example of this kind of double identity limitation is women of color and the limitations that exist for them in this world. For greater information about the limitations that women of color face you should read Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America by Melissa Harris-Perry. In this case there were clear intersections that made it difficult for Neera Tanden to receive confirmation after she received the nomination.  

The debate over Tanden’s confirmation was at least in part a discussion about party behavior in response to Donald Trump. The Republicans argued that Democrats were not actually living up to the promises of bipartisanship. The Democrats argued that the Republicans let Trump angrily tweet at his political opponents without repercussion so by opposing Tanden for the same reason they were creating a double standard (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/mar/02/neera-tanden-withdraws-nomination-biden-cabinet). Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) made the claim that the Republican party was aggrieved by Tanden more than Trump because she was a woman. This claim of course is vehemently denied by both Republicans and Manchin (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/w-v-senator-responds-sexism-charges-after-torpedoing-neera-tanden-n1258663). Of course, no one would agree that they voted against Tanden because she is a woman. The problem is that there were intersections of her identity that worked together to make her impossible to confirm. Tanden and Trump are both political actors who sought to gain influence over the country. The problem is where that identity intersects with other identities. Tanden was already at a disadvantage because overwhelmingly cabinet level positions have been held by men (https://www.statista.com/statistics/691173/share-of-women-in-us-cabinet-positions-johnson-to-trump/). It is already difficult for a women who decides to be politically active but in this case that difficulty was added to because anger is seen as a much more negative trait in a female leader than in a male one (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02079.x). In this case Tanden violated both conventions of leaders: she was an angry woman in politics. This hurt her chances of being successfully nominated. It also helps explain how the response to her was different then the response to Trump. He did not violate the same cultural norms that she did. In the end a qualified woman suffered because she behaved in ways that were treated as okay for a man.

No comments:

Post a Comment