Gender Neutral Isn’t Politically Neutral

I am a moderate Democrat. I would like to see Gov. Tony Evers get reelected. But if he keeps going like this, well, hello, Gov. Kleefisch.

Last week I offered some gentle advice about how he might better handle his budget battle with the Republicans in a piece I titled subtly, “Veto the Damn Budget, Already!”

Today, let me offer an observation about issue management. It has been my experience that, especially as an election approaches, the wise politician emphasizes actions that are popular with a broad range of voters. That same politician, if he must do something unpopular, lets somebody else talk about it. This is what Lieutenant Governors are for.

But Evers is not following these simple rules. A case in point is his announcement that state birth certificates will now include a gender-neutral option. That’s right. No longer will women (sorry for my use of this offensive binary term) be forced to identify themselves as “mothers.” Instead, they can be the “birthing parent.”

Now, let me rush to stipulate here that, while I find all this bizarre and befuddling, I’m not really against it. After all, who’s it hurting? And if it makes the approximately one percent of the population who actually care about this stuff feel better about their birthing experience, well hey, who am I to judge?

Whistlers Birthing Parent

But as a political matter this stuff is just killing the Democrats. Joe Biden is working heroically to recast his party as the party of the middle class. His White House just released an analysis showing that 90% of the jobs created by his infrastructure deal will go to people without a college degree. In my view, there is simply nothing more important than demonstrating to the two-thirds of Americans who don’t have a degree that this country still works for them. (In truth though, even Biden has stumbled in sticking to the message with race-based aspects of his COVID relief package.)

If the Democrats would stay on Biden’s page I’m convinced they would defy the odds and pick up seats in Congress as well as state offices next year. That’s why the Republicans love it every time some Democratic pol does something like announce that mothers will now be known as birthing parents.

Even if you think it was time that the forms be changed to include this option, it was just stupid for Evers to get out in front in announcing it. Just let the bureaucrats do it quietly. Instead, Evers went out of his way to take “credit” for it. The Governor was quoted as saying, “This change reflects my and my administration’s commitment to gender-neutral terminology.”

But a commitment to gender-neutral terminology is not in the top 1,000 issues most Wisconsin voters are concerned about. Moreover, while people like me find it mostly harmless. it just rankles a lot of voters. It highlights the Democrats’ obsession with identity and with trivia over substance.

I could better understand what Evers was up to if he was facing a tough primary challenge, but he isn’t. There are no Democrats talking about taking him on, so he has no reason to pander to the party’s hard-left activists. He should be moving to the center right now.

To his credit, Evers has tried to improve education and roads, but has mostly been thwarted by Republicans. If I were him I would talk endlessly about your kids’ schools and the roads you drive on to get them there. Roads and schools. Schools and roads. Over and over and over again, until voters with busy lives hear “Evers” and see black boards and black top.

Stuff like gender-neutral language may be harmless in substance, but it’s politically toxic. Why Evers is going out of his way to identify himself with it is just beyond comprehension.

Welcome to the 134th consecutive days of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

One thought on “Gender Neutral Isn’t Politically Neutral

  1. Dave, I do not disagree with most of today’s column but you would be more effective if you spoke directly to Governor Evers. You are a person of accomplishment and understand political campaigns better than the vast majority of citizens. The Governor and his people may not listen but they are much more likely to listen to this advice given in a private conversation than shouted to the four winds.


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