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Family and Work Politics Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Mar 19th, 2021

The Moderation Dilemma

Anny Bernstein’s book The Moderation Dilemma is concerned with the discussion of what causes America to fall behind European countries, in respect of enacting social-welfare policies, meant to ensure the well-being of the country’s most socially vulnerable citizens. The foremost idea, promoted throughout the book’s entirety, can be outlined as follows: the reason why the advocates of these policies’ enactment commonly fail to achieve their legislative agenda, is that they often appear incapable of adjusting their strategies, in this respect, to be thoroughly observant of the specifics of the surrounding socio-cultural environment. According to the author, this is exactly the reason why, while striving to convince state-officials to pass bills that would guarantee Americans to be qualified for paid medical leaves, social activists usually adopt a rather uncompromising stance, which in the long run rarely proves effective. In its turn, this prompted Bernstein to suggest that: “In order to succeed, groups (of social activists) need to adapt their strategies to the vagaries of the political climate in which they are operating” (6).

The author substantiates the validity of this idea, in regards to what was the outcome of public campaigns for passing medical leave legislations in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Even though that, just as it happened to be the case with Connecticut, Massachusetts is considered a ‘lefty’ state (which presupposes that the state’s residents would support the enactment of social-welfare policies), the governmental officials in this state nevertheless decided in favor of refusing to approve the proposed leave-bylaws. This is because these bylaws’ advocates went as far, as demanding for temporarily non-working employees to be guaranteed full pay. As a result, employees in Massachusetts continue to be denied the right to have unscheduled leaves – even the non-paid ones.

In Connecticut, however, leave-proponents limited their demands to the extent of agreeing for the proposed leave-legislations to be only concerned with allowing employees to be qualified for non-paid absences, without facing the prospect of losing their jobs. Thus, the reason why social activists succeeded in convincing state-legislators to pass these bylaws (although at the expense of having them substantially ‘curtailed’), is that the concerned individuals were willing to indulge in the public dialogue with their opponents, and to abandon some of their initial demands so that the consensus could be reached. Hence, the discursive significance of the book’s title – it is meant to accentuate the idea that, while trying to expand the range of social rights and freedoms, to which Americans citizens should be entitled by the very fact of their birth in this country, social activists should never cease adjusting their demands to be consistent with the notion of ‘moderation’. In plain words – they should refrain from pushing their social-agenda too aggressively.

Another important idea, promoted by Bernstein in her book, is that; in order for the proponents of welfare-initiatives to expect that they would be able to succeed in ensuring the public appeal of their demands, and to consequently make politicians more willing to side with them when it comes to passing discursively relevant bylaws, they cannot be considered social outcasts. While defending the legitimacy of this particular suggestion, the author pointed out the fact that it was named due to the fact that, while speaking on behalf of ‘underprivileged’ citizens, Connecticut’s advocates of the earlier mentioned leave-legislations continued to be considered thoroughly integrated into the state’s political establishment, which allowed them to prevail in the end. As Bernstein noted: “The fact that the leaders of the movement to pass family and medical leave in Connecticut came from inside the political system meant that they had strong incentives to craft legislation that would pass, even if that legislation did not accomplish all that they wanted” (48). This, of course, implies that, before being put in a position of expecting their welfare-initiatives to be approved by legislators, social activists must make sure that their agenda indeed appeals to the ‘critical mass’ of potentially affected citizens. This is because it will create objective preconditions for these citizens’ votes to be capable of changing the ‘political landscape’ of a particular state.

Nevertheless, even though the line Bernstein’s argumentation, in regards to the tackled subject matter, appears logically sound, there are still a number of apparent drawbacks to it. First, the suggestion that social activists’ willingness to act ‘moderately’ is the crucial prerequisite for them to be able to succeed, cannot be referred to as such that represents an undisputed truth-value. After all, there are no good reasons to rule out the possibility that, under certain circumstances, it is specifically the strength of social activists’ determination to push their agenda in a strongly uncompromised matter, which may account for the actual key for them to be able to prevail. The history of the Civil Rights movement in America illustrates the validity of this suggestion perfectly well. Second, the author’s tendency to regard the process of American society growing progressively ‘fairer’, as such that has been dialectically predetermined, does not make much of sense either. After all, it is specifically the availability of the excessive ‘surplus product’, which makes it possible for legislators to consider increasing the number of enacted social-welfare programs. What it means is that, once there is simply not enough of this ‘product’, the governmental officials in charge of designing domestic policies, will not be willing to qualify citizens for more social benefits – regardless of how the advocates of a ‘social fairness’ go about promoting their cause.

Agenda Setting and Legislative Success in State Legislatures

In their study Agenda Setting and Legislative Success in State Legislatures: The Effects of Gender and Race, Kathleen Bratton and Kerry Haynie aimed to test the validity of three hypotheses. First – as compared to what is being the case with White legislators, African-American legislators are more likely to focus on passing bills, relevant to the specifics of their racial affiliation, and that, as compared to male-legislators, female-legislators are more likely to promote bills, concerned with the so-called ‘women’s issues’. Second – there is a certain rationale to expect that Black male-legislators and female-legislators are likely to support the passing of bills, aimed to benefit both: women and the representatives of racial minorities. Third – while in the legislative body, women should be just as capable to ensure the passing of their proposed bills, as it happened to be the case with men.

The empirical phase of Bratton and Haynie’s study was concerned with collecting the discursively relevant statistical data, as to what was the percentile ratio between positive and negative voting-outcomes on bills, proposed by female-legislators/Black-legislators, on the one hand, and White-legislators, on the other, in the lower houses of the state legislatures in Arkansas, California, Illinois, Maryland, through the years 1969, 1979 and 1989. In light of the obtained analytical insights, the authors were able to confirm the legitimacy of the first two hypotheses: “These hypotheses (1 and 2) are supported… Black legislators introduce more black interest bills than do other legislators… Women are more likely than men to introduce women’s interest bills… Blacks introduce more women’s interest measures than do whites, and women introduce more black interest measures than do men” (670). The validity of the third hypothesis, however, was not empirically proven, since the obtained data indicated that there are many discrepancies, between what accounts for women’s legislative success in the states of Maryland and California.

Bratton and Haynie concluded their study by suggesting that the obtained data implies that, far from what mainstream media want citizens to believe, the legislative behavior of the representatives of racial minorities in America (specifically, African-American) reflects their ‘racially-corporate’ agenda. Nevertheless, even though this particular finding can indeed be referred to, as such that represents the discursive value of a ‘thing in itself’, Bratton and Haynie’s study does not really specify what prompts female-legislators and Black male-legislators to remain strongly committed to promoting what appears to be their gender-based and race-based agendas. This can be referred to as the study’s main weakness.

Women as Officeholders

The Chapter Women as Officeholders by Beth Reingold is concerned with the promotion of the idea that, while in governmental offices, women do seem to pay rather disproportionate attention to what they consider particularly pressing ‘women’s issues’. As the author noted: “Across time, office, and political parties, women, more often than men, take the lead on women’s issues, no matter how such issues are defined” (130). While addressing this phenomenon, Reingold discussed its implications within the conceptual frameworks of policy preferences, policy leadership, policy impact and outcome, legislative and leadership styles, and constituent responsiveness. In its turn, this has led the author to assume that there are indeed a number of objective reasons to believe that women’s descriptive representation in this country’s legislative body reflects the essence of their substantive behavioral patterns, as policy-makers. According to Reingold, the female-legislators’ tendency to preoccupy themselves with ‘women’s issues’ should be tackled within the context of what accounts for the specifics of their individual identity, the extent of their affiliation with the country’s political establishment, and the essence of socio-political forces, that affect these women’s perceptual/cognitive attitudes.

Nevertheless, even though that in Women as Officeholders, Reingold did come up with many valid observations, as to what accounts for the specifics of female policy-makers’ legislative conduct, it would prove rather challengeable trying to define the main idea, explored throughout the Chapter’s entirety. Even the Chapter’s ending remark appears thoroughly inconclusive: “As the relationship between sex and gender, the strength and the nature of the relationship between women’s descriptive and substantive representation must be recognized as potentially uncertain and fluid” (146). This, of course, substantially undermines the Chapter’s discursive value. Apparently, the author’s preoccupation with trying to sound politically unengaged (politically correct), while defending her point of view on the issue, prevented her from ensuring the conceptual comprehensiveness of the deployed line of argumentation. Therefore, it is quite impossible to refer to Women as Officeholders in terms of an intellectually honest and discursively enlightening sociological inquiry.

Works Cited

Bernstein, Anya. The Moderation Dilemma. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001. Print.

Bratton, Kathleen and Kerry Haynie. “Agenda Setting and Legislative Success in State Legislatures: The Effects of Gender and Race.” Journal of Politics 61.3 (1999): 658-679. Print.

Reingold, Beth. “Women as Officeholders: Linking Descriptive and Substantive Representation.” Political Women and American Democracy. Eds. Christina Wolbrecht, Karen Beckwith and Lisa Baldez. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 128-147. Print.

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