Five of the Best

The top five pieces on the death of Ted Kennedy

The New Republic's Sean Wilentz reflects on Kennedy's political durability and tenacity:

The sadness, the squandering, the might-have-beens of his life would have crushed others, but Kennedy endured, his principles intact. Of him, it could be written, in Yeats's words, that "[b]eing Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy".

The New York Times's Sarah Wheaton discusses the complex process for electing a successor to Kennedy. In 2004 Massachusetts law was amended to prevent the state governor appointing a temporary replacement and the wait for a special election may hinder the Democrats' attempts to muster the necessary votes for health-care reform.

When Senator John Kerry, a Democrat, was running for president in 2004, the Democratic-controlled state legislature wanted to deny the governor at the time -- Mitt Romney, a Republican -- the power to name a successor if Mr Kerry won. The resulting law requires a special election within 145 to 160 days after the vacancy occurs.

The Guardian's Michael White argues that Kennedy represented the "redemptive power of American life" despite his dark side:

I remain a stubborn believer in the redemptive capacity of American public life. Health-care reform, the parallel battle over climate change, the unravelling of the Bush administration's torture policies . . . It is currently very tough, but this is also evidence of the United States's enduring ability to repair its own mistakes.

Ted Kennedy was born to privilege and screwed it up. But he went a long way towards repaying his debts.

Steve Clemons writes in the Huffington Post that Kennedy was the "last lion" of the United States Senate:

Senator Kennedy's political franchise had no rival in the legislative branch of government, and the youngest brother of the Kennedy political trio may very well have been the very best "Executive Legislator" this country has ever seen.

Over at Salon, Joan Walsh rebukes Senator Orrin Hatch for suggesting that Kennedy would have sponsored a bipartisan health-care bill:

That's completely dishonest. If Kennedy moved hearts and minds in the Senate, it would be by moving Republicans towards sanity. Since I don't believe Republicans have any interest in bipartisan compromise, a healthy Ted Kennedy would be kicking Republican asses.

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Four times Owen Smith has made sexist comments

The Labour MP for Pontypridd and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership rival has been accused of misogynist remarks. Again.

2016

Wanting to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”

During a speech at a campaign event, Owen Smith blithely deployed some aggressive imagery about attacking the new Prime Minister. In doing so, he included the tired sexist trope beloved of the right wing press about Theresa May’s shoes – her “kitten heels” have long been a fascination of certain tabloids:

“I’ll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When called out on his comments by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Smith doubled down:

“They love a bit of rhetoric, don’t they? We need a bit more robust rhetoric in our politics, I’m very much in favour of that. You’ll be getting that from me, and I absolutely stand by those comments. It’s rhetoric, of course. I don’t literally want to smash Theresa May back, just to be clear. I’m not advocating violence in any way, shape or form.”

Your mole dug around to see whether this is a common phrase, but all it could find was “set back on one’s heels”, which simply means to be shocked by something. Nothing to do with “smashing”, and anyway, Smith, or somebody on his team, should be aware that invoking May’s “heels” is lazy sexism at best, and calling on your party to “smash” a woman (particularly when you’ve been in trouble for comments about violence against women before – see below) is more than casual misogyny.

Arguing that misogyny in Labour didn’t exist before Jeremy Corbyn

Smith recently told BBC News that the party’s nastier side only appeared nine months ago:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Luckily for Smith, he had never experienced misogyny in his party until the moment it became politically useful to him… Or perhaps, not being the prime target, he simply wasn’t paying enough attention before then?

2015

Telling Leanne Wood she was only invited on TV because of her “gender”

Before a general election TV debate for ITV Wales last year, Smith was caught on camera telling the Plaid Cymru leader that she only appeared on Question Time because she is a woman:

Wood: “Have you ever done Question Time, Owen?”

Smith: “Nope, they keep putting you on instead.”

Wood: “I think with party balance there’d be other people they’d be putting on instead of you, wouldn’t they, rather than me?”

Smith: “I think it helps. I think your gender helps as well.”

Wood: “Yeah.”

2010

Comparing the Lib Dems’ experience of coalition to domestic violence

In a tasteless analogy, Smith wrote this for WalesHome in the first year of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition:

“The Lib Dem dowry of a maybe-referendum on AV [the alternative vote system] will seem neither adequate reward nor sufficient defence when the Tories confess their taste for domestic violence on our schools, hospitals and welfare provision.

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

But never fear! He did eventually issue a non-apology for his offensive comments, with the classic use of “if”:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing. The reference was in a phrase describing today's Tory and Liberal cuts to domestic spending on schools and welfare as metaphorical ‘domestic violence’.”

***

A one-off sexist gaffe is bad enough in a wannabe future Labour leader. But your mole sniffs a worrying pattern in this list that suggests Smith doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for women, when it comes to political rhetoric at least. And it won’t do him any electoral favours either – it makes his condemnation of Corbynite nastiness ring rather hollow.

I'm a mole, innit.