Attempting to provide an honest assessment of Elizabeth Warren as a presidential candidate, Jim Eliason, chair of the Buena Vista County Democrats in northwestern Iowa, described her tone as “very shrill.” Eliason expressed concerned that Warren’s tone will “put some people off.” He added:
If I were Elizabeth Warren I would be thinking about, how can I speak to rural voters in the Midwest in Trump country? Every Democratic candidate for president has got to tell themselves Iowa is winnable, but we can’t do it the way Clinton did it.
As an Iowa political operative, it’s Eliason’s job to worry about candidate attributes that might put Iowa voters off. Nonetheless, he has been criticized for expressing his concern that Warren will be off-putting because she’ll be perceived by some as shrill.
Is there anything wrong with Eliason expressing himself as he did? I don’t think so.
It’s true that “shrill” is far likely to be used to describe a female candidate than a male counterpart. But it’s also true that “bully,” “blowhard,” and “bombastic” are far more likely to used to describe male candidates. Should these terms be off-limits?
The reality is that when women ramp up the volume, they run a much greater risk of sounding shrill than men who do. And when men go into overdrive, they run a much greater risk than women of sounding bombastic and/or bullying.
This is probably why one set of vulgarities is often used to describe highly offensive women and another set to describe highly offensive men. Women and men tend to be offensive and unlikable in somewhat different ways. That’s just how things are.
The relevant question when it comes to statements like Eliason’s shouldn’t be whether the statement is “sexist” or “politically incorrect.” The question should be whether the speaker is on to something. In other words, will Warren’s tone strike Iowa voters as shrill and, if so, will it impair her prospects for winning in Iowa in the general election?
If Democratic voters want to ignore these questions when they vote for their nominee, that’s okay with me. Maybe they will offer up another candidate like Hillary Clinton whom many voters find off-putting.
But it’s entirely understandable and appropriate for an Iowa Democratic county chairman not to ignore the questions and to warn Democrats about the answers.