[The following are excerpts (one on an issue / one on strategy) from my new book Don’t Think Of A Republican – How I Won A Republican Primary As A Lefty Progressive And You Can Too, which recounts the rhetoric and game plan of satirical candidate H.F. Valentine’s unprecedented 2022 primary run. See the whole book here.]
Not Always Your Friend, Not Always Feminist
Excerpt from H.F. Valentine’s speech at Jones Farm Bike Rally
The other day I was being interviewed about drug policy, and out of nowhere the reporter blurts out, “Do you consider yourself a feminist?”
And I said, “You know, I’m really disappointed in you. If you’re going to ask a gotcha question, I expect more out of you than that. Obviously I’m a feminist, dumbass. What kind of self-disrespecting ratings chaser are you?
Asking someone if they’re a feminist is like asking someone if they’re anti-racist. It’s kind of a gimme. You need to work on your candidate sabotage game, son.”
Of course, we all know why they sprung that on me. They sprung it on me because I’m running in a Republican primary, and the word “feminist” doesn’t always leave the best taste in the mouths of conservatives.
But that is because the term feminist has been cast like glass into the same disingenuous fire as terms like Black Lives Matter or antifa or socialist, or liberal or conservative, or hell even Democrat and Republican. When a word is misconstrued or misrepresented or maligned or even co-opted to the point where there’s rarely even agreement on what it means, it loses its meaning altogether.
Furthermore, the worst thing that ever happened to the term feminist is that it got relegated to only one side of the political aisle. And that is not an accident.
It is completely uncontroversial to say that the right wing used feminism as a smear against prominent women in the Democratic Party. Yet the ironic thing is not that those same Democratic women welcomed that label and then wore it as a badge of honor. The ironic thing is that many of them counted on that badge to be a shield against what little criticism the mainstream media aimed at their many unfeminist endeavors.
See, Diane Feinstein was a feminist when she was advocating for women’s equal pay. But when she was war profiteering from an invasion and occupation that left a million people dead, maybe not so much.
Nancy Pelosi is most definitely acting under feminist principles when she fights for women’s reproductive health. But when she ditched the public option, refused to even entertain passage of Medicare for All, and in effect guaranteed an excess of 60,000 unnecessary deaths a year, that was not very feminist of her.
When Hillary Clinton fought for children’s health programs domestically and women’s rights and women leadership internationally, those were certainly feminist undertakings. But when First Lady Hillary Clinton pushed less assistance for poor women and more incarceration for the young black men she called “super predators,” when Senator Hillary Clinton led the Democrats’ support for the immoral, illegal, and catastrophic Invasion of Iraq, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ensured a successful coup in Honduras and was the most influential voice advocating for the bombing of Libya? Well, let’s just say she must have misplaced her what-would-a-feminist-do bracelet those particular days.
The point being, that a lot of our so-called feminist icons in the Democratic Party are not always your friend, not always your enemy, and not always feminist. They’re more like the frenemies of feminism. They’re freminists or frenemists or freneminists. Use whichever one you like; I’ve trademarked all three.
And before any good white liberals accuse me of mansplaining feminism to women, I should just point out. It’s not mansplaining; it’s hackery. Because all I’m doing is just repackaging what other women, many women of color, have been saying for a long long time. Unless that is you would like to whitesplain to black feminists what the real work of feminism is. Oh, that’s right. I see your mansplain, and I raise you a whitesplain.
Contrary to what the campaign consultants who conjured up the feminism exploiting trope of the Bernie Bro would have you believe, feminism and feminist policy making is more than just add rich, connected women Democrats and stir.
Whether it’s the government, the military, the church, industry, or society as a whole, feminism is more than women’s faces in high places.
And it is absolutely NOT finding more women to supervise the status quo.
Having said that, it is important for me to point out what else feminism is not.
Feminism is not anti-men.
It is not anti-religion.
It is not anti-humor.
It is not anti-family or anti-marriage or anti-heterosexuality.
Feminism is not the bogeyman.
Feminism is not something to be afraid of.
Feminism is not coming for your balls.
I’ve been a feminist for quite some time, and every time I check, they’re still there.
In fact, if we recognize balls as a synonym for courage, and we acknowledge that real feminism requires the courage to stand up against the status quo, I don’t think it’s at all inaccurate to say that feminism takes balls.
It may be ironic and a tad inappropriate to say that, but not inaccurate.
Throughout history, feminists have been nothing if not courageous. And the courage that real feminism requires is born out of love and a radical thirst for justice. And that radical thirst for justice is why I love feminism.
I love feminism for the same reason I love the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King taught us, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
In that same spirit, feminism is more than a mere response to domestic violence. It is about addressing the institutions and the beliefs that contribute to the making of an abuser, so that we as a society can stop producing abusers.
Is that not a goal that both women and men, Democrat and Republican, can get behind?
The goal of feminism is not to make the police more feminine, to make the military more feminine. It’s to make a world with less paths to crime, a world that needs less military.
Is that not a goal that both women and men, Democrat and Republican, can get behind?
Feminism ain’t trying to limit your freedoms. It’s trying to maximize our fairness.
Feminism ain’t about your good intentions. It’s about our good consequences.
Feminism ain’t being soft. It’s being flexible enough to change.
Is that not something both women and men, Democrat and Republican, can get behind?
I know that Republicans hate hearing a Democrat badmouth what they believe it means to be a Republican. I get that. I understand why that would make Republicans resentful of Democrats.
That’s why I urge Republicans skeptical of feminism to not make the same mistake.
And don’t let someone else do it either. When you hear some talking head tell you that feminists are your enemies, or that feminism is just for those people and not for you. Don’t believe them. Don’t listen to that shit.
Feminism is not for the high and mighty or the highfalutin. Neither is feminism just for celebrities or academics. And I cannot overstate this next one. Feminism is not just for Democrats.
But most of all, feminism is not just for women.
It’s for all of us. All of us who value the life, the liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for a woman – the same as for a man – the same as for anyone.
That’s where we have to start, no matter our political affiliation. And that’s where feminism starts. A Declaration of Independence and a recognition that we are all created and thus deserving to be treated as equals.
Now, that doesn’t mean that all feminists are in lock step on every issue before them. There are disagreements far and wide within the feminist community. And you may not always agree with each and every prevailing feminist stance.
But ask yourself? Are you really supportive of each and every policy platform of the Republican Party?
Truth be told, if the Republican Party spent even a fraction of the time listening to what matters to their voters’ everyday lives as it spends trying to distract and scare voters with these bullshit labels, they wouldn’t have to worry so much about the candidacy of a badass feminist like myself.
So you can ask me that gotcha question any time you want. Because the answer is always going to be the same.
“Hell, yeah, I’m a feminist. And my suspicion is you are too.”
Not only did I embrace the f-word, but I also touted feminism’s influence on my policies. While I viewed strategy in this campaign through the lens of wanting to win, I did not want to win bad enough that I had to lie to voters about who I was. It was our transparency, just as much as our audacity, that made it worth voters taking a campaign like this seriously.
One of the things I believed was crucial in this task was getting people to dissociate feminism from certain famous persons or politicians, some of whom they may see as full of shit, and instead to get them to think about feminism in terms of its potential value to society. I gently reminded folks about the progress and achievements we’ve accumulated due to causes and movements that were undoubtedly feminism inspired and guided. Then I not-so-gently trumpeted feminism’s forward-mindedness and practicality in tackling serious issues in the present and into the future.
For instance, while basic human rights ought to be low hanging fruit, its material demonstration is far from a reality. Take violence for example. Our desire for less violence is not just a matter of conscience. According to UN Women, the total estimated cost of violence globally for the year 2015 was $13.6 trillion. Meaning we have both moral and quantifiable grounds upon which to champion feminist solutions.
The problem is that most establishment Democrats stake their feminist credibility on the very lowest hanging of human rights fruits, and the majority of Republican politicians and pundits have conditioned voters to either roll their eyes or get on a war footing whenever the word is uttered.
Each may have their own reasons to willfully distort what feminism is, yet the ultimate goal is the same. To maintain the institutional status quo. And just like anti-racism, this is precisely why we must take a view of feminism that does not focus merely on individual behavior, but one that focuses on power and systems.
Unfortunately, it’s easier for many to wear the label of anti-racist than it is to wear the label of feminist. And, apparently, to those who feel this way, it’s not even worth interrogating why.
We have to find a way past this, or at least get folks asking why they feel this way. Either sexism is a problem or it isn’t. Acknowledging sexism is a problem but not feeling comfortable identifying with feminism is like saying that really bad B.O. is a problem and not feeling comfortable endorsing soap. On the other hand, claiming that sexism is not a problem and thus not feeling comfortable identifying with feminism is like saying that racism is not a problem but not being comfortable endorsing soap. (Think about it for a second.)
Feminism is a good thing, no matter how much sexism you think is left in the world. I remember a few years ago there was this meme with people explaining why “I don’t need feminism” anymore. Which I personally think is absurd. But even if you believe that, sexism isn’t some boss you beat at the end of a video game and you “don’t need feminism anymore” because now you’ve got the cheat code. You always need feminism. Because the reality is that defeating sexism is more like killing Jason at the end of one of the Friday the 13th movies. You know there’s gonna be a sequel.
Even if I killed the last zombie to end the zombie apocalypse, I’m probably still gonna carry my crossbow to the next few funerals I attend.
Now, before I use up all my pop culture analogies on this one issue, let me conclude with something I told that very reporter who asked that feminism gotcha question.
I said, “One of the first lessons I was taught about violence was that sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me. The moral being not to be afraid of what people say about you. Not to be cowed by someone using a word against you. Not to be beaten by someone calling you a name.
Yet it is my contention that we still have so many sticks and stones in this world because so many of us are afraid of being called one particular name.
We have to get past that. I’m not afraid of being called a feminist. I am a feminist. And I’m going to win a Republican primary and a U.S House Seat as one.
So thank you for the question.”
I’m Not Afraid Of Who We Are
Excerpt from H.F. Valentine’s Interview with Brad Bailey, Fox News
Brad Bailey: Mr. Valentine, you are getting a lot of press, and your polling is significantly higher than was expected at the beginning of your campaign. But do you really think what you’re saying is resonating with voters, or is it just about the spectacle of your run for office?
H.F. Valentine: Listen to what you’re asking. Your assumption is that the voters are idiots. That they’re not capable of being genuinely engaged; they’re only capable of being entertained.
BB: That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that, by all previous standards, it’s a stretch to believe GOP voters are going to take you seriously enough to actually cast their ballot for you when Election Day comes.
HFV: Maybe that’s because the previous standards you’re referring to don’t take the voters seriously.
Just look at the way the average voter, the average citizen, is treated by their various spheres of influence. And I’m not just talking about Republican voters; I’m talking about everybody.
Whether it’s business, the workplace, politicians, news and media organizations, even religious operations, far too many of these actors would prefer that we not develop too much critical thinking skills.
BB: Well, that sounds a little conspiratorial.
HFV: It’s not conspiratorial. I don’t even think it’s all that controversial.
You just have to look at the interests of these actors. In which situation are they going to fare better? When we’re accustomed to taking orders, or when we’re constantly asking questions about our own self-determination? When we’re so easily persuaded, or when we can easily recognize propaganda and false arguments?
Obviously, they would prefer us going with the flow. In fact, I would go as far as to say that they’re actually afraid of what might happen if people were left to a lifestyle of more free and open thinking.
BB: Afraid of what?
HFV: Afraid of who they might become. If people start challenging the status quo, if people start challenging institutions, if the average person starts asking, starts imagining, what alternatives might look like? That’s some scary shit to the jokers in power.
But, see, I’m not afraid of who people might become. Because I’m not afraid of who they really are. I have faith in our humanity, as long as our humanity is nurtured.
And that’s what I’m trying to demonstrate in this campaign.
I want people to think for themselves. I want people to ask questions they wouldn’t normally ask, questions that challenge conventional wisdom.
When I say to voters I’m not telling them something they don’t already know, I’m basically just reminding them of what our core values are, what our shared values are, when they are free from unjust or corrupt influences.
BB: And what makes you think you know what those core values are?
HFV: I know what they are because it’s the most glaring irony in our society. Our core values are those first few lessons we teach our children, despite them being antithetical to the world we live in.
BB: Antithetical in what way?
HFV: In the way that we teach our children not to lie, but our political leaders lie all the time. Hell, advertising and public relations are the art of lying.
We teach our children not to steal, while wages are stolen by our very employers to the tune of 15 billion dollars a year.
We teach our children to share, we teach our children to have respect, we teach our children that it’s not if you win or lose but how you play the game. Does that sound at all like the world we live in?
BB: Then why do we do it?
HFV: Because we want to believe they’ll be better than us. We give them these lessons, this ethical foundation, in the secret hopes that they’ll have the courage to do the things we didn’t.
The only problem with this kind of thinking is that we’re not the only influence in our children’s lives. And unless we take the power we have as adults to change those institutions of influence, waiting for the next generation to magically just be better is always going to lead to disappointment.
Every bit of progress we’ve made has been when enough people admitted that our institutions didn’t reflect our humanity, and then did something about it. Something to correct it.
But that takes the freedom to ask questions. This campaign is about that freedom. I tell voters, “You have that capacity. I want to appeal to your intellect. They want to appeal to the side of you that doesn’t ask questions.”
They want a consumer minded voter, taking orders. I want a citizen voter, critically examining what options are or should be available and then giving the orders.
BB: Mr. Valentine, that’s a pretty tall order. We only have about a minute left. The question remains to be seen if Republican voters are ready for this much change in their party. What do you say to those who doubt that’s the case?
HFV: I say that we can’t wait for someone else to do it. And neither can we wait for the next generation to do it.
I want to appeal to people’s intellect and sense of humanity. I’m not afraid of who we are. That’s why my other main slogan is let’s get money out of politics and see what happens. Because I have faith in us. And this campaign is a demonstration of that faith.
BB: Thank you for your time, Mr. Valentine.
HFV: Thank you for yours.
I have found, over the many years I have engaged with political conservatives, your only shot at earning serious consideration for a progressive message is if you first commit to taking them seriously. And taking them seriously means, at the very least, appealing to that person’s intellect and sense of humanity.
Now, I know what a lot of you are thinking. You’re thinking there’s not a lot of intellect or sense of humanity in any of our politics. And I would not necessarily disagree with that. But that is precisely why my campaign was seen as a breath of fresh air.
One of the reasons why there’s so much political theater is because politicians don’t trust the voters. Therefore, they have to fool them. They have to propagandize them. And very often, they turn them into something they’re really not.
While it’s obvious I wasn’t above political theater myself, my own preference for political theater was to turn off the spotlight and bring all the lights up in the auditorium. To show them that they are the real actors. To illuminate their hunger, their hopes, and their dreams. To show them that they are the ones who decide the direction of the drama.
To share with them my story of a better world and then put my trust in theirs. And to then leave them with these words: “You don’t have to be the voters they see you as. You don’t have to abide by these labels, these political identities. You can be and do and vote whatever is in your hearts.”
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