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June 18, 2009

Right on, Sen. Boxer


Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

Sen. Barbara Boxer reminded a witness just whom he was addressing:

During a terse exchange, as Boxer pressed Walsh on why the levees in New Orleans are still not repaired nearly four years after Hurricane Katrina, she said to Walsh:

"Could you say 'senator' instead of 'ma'am? It's just a thing. I worked so hard to get that title. I'd appreciate it."

The general's response? "Yes, Senator."

Some right wingers are shocked and appalled that a U.S. Senator would assert her authority over a witness testifying before her committee. Evidently they don't watch a lot of congressional testimony.

It's all in the game, yo. Ask a lawyer, a reporter, a cop, or anyone else who questions people for a living. These little primate dominance displays are a good way to throw a target off his game, especially if he isn't used to being challenged.

It's irrelevant whether the general was wrong to call her ma'am, or whether Boxer was being polite. It's not a Senator's job to be polite when she questions witnesses, that is, unless politeness suits her purposes.

It's amusing to see insecure men howling in vicarious indignation over Sen. Boxer's mild dominance display. Echidne even spotted a commenter on a video clip of the exchange dubbing Boxer "Senator Cuntface." If the gambit got such a rise (or wilt) out of bystanders, it probably had the desired effect on the target.

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Comments

It sounds a lot like those annoying scenes in The West Wing where a White House senior staffer yells at people who don't call Bartlet by his title.

American Power tracked-back with, "Did Boxer Call Him 'General Walsh'?".

I think she put that rather nicely -- not at all yelling, with the "I worked rather hard" to soften the request.

Actually, you don't have to call me Dr. Douglas, Lindsay! I'm just not that
"insecure."

That clip is going to look soo good in a campaign commercial.

Babs is a nasty wench... How hard is it to sell yourself to the illegals and perverts to get yourself elected... She's a joke!!! Gen. Walsh worked a lot harder at a much more respectable job than she did or ever will!!!

The only thing that irks me mildly about it is that there isn't anything against protocol about referring to a female Senator as "ma'am."

The only thing that irks me mildly about it is that there isn't anything against protocol...

Oh, I think I see the problem, you missed the meat of Ms. Beyerstein's commentary. Here, allow me to reproduce it for you.

It's all in the game, yo. Ask a lawyer, a reporter, a cop, or anyone else who questions people for a living. These little primate dominance displays are a good way to throw a target off his game, especially if he isn't used to being challenged.

It's irrelevant whether the general was wrong to call her ma'am, or whether Boxer was being polite when she asked to be addressed as "Senator." It's not a Senator's job to be polite when she questions witnesses, that is, unless politeness suits her purposes.

You see? It wasn't about protocol, it was about throwing the witness off balance.

I hope that this helps, no?

Brien, ooh i bet he was scared and off balance - yeah right! It rather looks
like Barb doesn't understand what the word polite means.

The simplest explanation is that Barbara Boxer prefers being called "Senator" to being called "Ma'am."

A more complicated explanation is offered in this blog-post that Boxer was trying to be like a cop-who-intimidates-witnesses.

Scientific parsimony says to go with the simplest explanation which fits the facts.

Bush would become irate in personal interactions when his friends didn't call him "Mr. President" (and, in addition to this, would give that person a belittling nickname). As Lindsay correctly points out, this is all primate-dominance stuff. But it's also a trend toward's gender-neutral modes of address. Likewise, some female military officers prefer "sir" instead of "ma'am."

The simplest explanation is that Barbara Boxer prefers being called "Senator" to being called "Ma'am."

Perhaps, but what's the point of expressing that preference in the middle of a hearing?

No big deal either way, and we wouldn't be talking about this if right-wingers didn't suddenly deem it important, but I don't see why both can't be true.

It just wasn't nice. The
folks in the Matrix have it right. Or should I say they are being fair and balanced

Tyro, "what's the point of expressing that preference in the middle of a hearing?"

If one is being addressed with a term one doesn't like (Ma'am) then it's distracting, and it makes sense to take the 16 seconds shown in the video to deal with that.

I don't know what her intention was, but primate hierarchy (and tribalism) is much of what conservatism is all about. And nothing triggers that submission impulse faster than the sight of a man in a well-decorated military uniform.

She was offended by someone addressing her as "ma'am".
This is known as "faux outrage".

Search the transcripts of house and senate hearings over the years and you'll find thousands of uses of "sir" and "ma'am".

Spin it however you want ("It's all a game, yo", i.e., She wasn't doing the job she was elected to do. She was playing games, wasting the time of other elected officials and tax payer money. All to supposedly throw off her perceived "adversary").

Boxer made a fool of herself.
I suspect this is going to stick - and stick hard - to her for the rest of her life.

Rich -

She didn't say she was offended.

She didn't say she was outraged.

She said, "Do me a favor, could you say Senator instead of ma'am?"

"She was offended by someone addressing her as "ma'am".
This is known as "faux outrage"."

"Search the transcripts of house and senate hearings over the years and you'll find thousands of uses of "sir" and "ma'am"."

There are thousands of times Senator Boxer has been addressed "sir"?

Senator Boxer's point is that she has earned the right to be addressed as "Senator", even if other people are comfortable being addressed as "sir" or "mam".

"Boxer made a fool of herself.
I suspect this is going to stick - and stick hard - to her for the rest of her life."

I see you're an expert at faux outrage.

I liked John McCain's comment to the General. "Thank you for calling me senator and not sir." LOL :^)

I hate to say it, but you would never hear a male senator whine about being called sir.

I voted for Boxer, but her lack of education on military courtesy and the automatic "Maam" response created by years of training is disheartening. The general was showing respect. Yes, properly she should be called "Senator," but to belittle him shows a total lack of class. She has lost my vote and probably 100,000 more.

Who on God's green earth does Senator Barbara Boxer think she is, Diana Ross?

http://sfist.com/2009/06/18/quote_du_jour_call_me_miss_senator.php

He was on her turf. If you're testifying in the Senate, Senate protocol applies. It might have been different if she was visiting the Pentagon.

I just don't see what the big deal is. Powerful men engage in these dominance displays all the time and it's just accepted as normal.

But when a female senator is mildly curt to a general, some people are writing as if she castrated him on the Senate floor or something. All she did was remind him what she liked to be called.

I seriously question your judgment if you'd switch your vote based on this incident. The General's a big boy. Boxer's spokesperson said the two have talked on phone since the hearing and there are no hard feelings.

Members of the legislative branch are supposed to grill witnesses, including generals. That's what congressional oversight is about.

Umm, she's a woman, so why doesn't the Senator learn her place. I am sooooo aghast she would have the temerity to correct a man, let alone a military man. He shoots guns you know...

I will neither "parse" nor "mince" words. The Senator's action was a "cheap shot", nothing more, nothing less!

She has lost my vote and probably 100,000 more.

Why, is there anyone in California with a military background who ever votes Democratic?

As I understand it, US military protocols require the use of "Sir" or "Ma'am" when addressing a US Senator.

Also, Sen. Boxer reportedly had no qualms about referring to Condoleeza Rice as "Madam" rather than by her title when Ms. Rice was Secretary of State.

So, this looks like Sen. Boxer is just trying to generate some publicity for herself, and we've all fallen right into that trap.

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