The humble binder has risen to towering heights of fame since Romney’s remark: “Can’t we find some women that are also qualified? … I went to a number of women’s groups … and they brought us whole binders full of women.” This comment has become the butt of jokes; meme generators have been on overdrive.
Democrats have had a field day with binders, but we should not overlook the grain of truth in Romney’s clumsy comment. A key layer in many vetting processes for jobs, colleges, fellowships, etc. involves sifting through reams of paper. These two-dimensional profiles matter. Quite lamentably, binders are not wholly divorced from reality.
The proliferation of memes and hashtags brings to the fore three reasons why Romney’s binders chafe us. First, the remark was responding to a question on resolving gender inequality. This is a pertinent and intimate matter to many. The ruffling of pages bound by three metal rings and sandwiched between two plastic flaps undermines the weight of this issue; “binders” brought to mind an image of clinical nonchalance. It was a lousy choice of words.
Second, “binders of women” rides on the wave of accusations that Romney’s affluence pries him away from the 99 (or 47) percent’s concerns. A “Gangnam Style” spoof depicts a Romney look-a-like gleefully doing the signature horse-riding move in a stable of strapping stallions. Number games are insufficient for, and might be inimical to, matters beyond corporate success.
Third, many of us find it unsettling that so many considerations pivot on our paper-thin profiles. Resumes, personal statements and cover letters are impoverished of the thick human lives that we lead. The backlash against Romney is symptomatic of a deep dissatisfaction in our increasingly alienated world.
However, this critique should not be uniquely levelled against Romney. Presently, binders are making their rounds in the White House. These binders contain profiles of Pakistanis, Afghanis, Yemenis and the occasional American.
As Obama’s eyes scan the lines of biographical data and analyses, the life of the suspect and the fate other people in this candidate’s vicinity hang on the balance. The New York Times calls this Obama’s “kill list.”
On one hand, it is somewhat commendable that Obama has taken it on himself to personally endorse the extrajudicial killing of terrorist suspects. The post-9/11 paranoia has rendered it quite politically infeasible to go soft on terrorism, sparing the lives of dangerous characters and their close relations when American lives could be at stake.
On the other hand, there is something intuitively unsettling about the translation from the presidential pen’s ink to the blood-stained clothes of a father in northwest Pakistan. Like rifling through reams of women’s resumes, poring over the kill list does not seem commensurate to the gravity of a geographically distant outcome. What makes this process more estranged and more disturbing is the weapon of choice: a Reaper drone remotely piloted by someone in Hancock Field near Syracuse.
Practical and robust arguments on efficacy and risk reduction (American pilots are not put in harm’s way and potential innocent victims benefit from more sustained surveillance and more precise strikes) do not silence the throbbing discomfort when we hear of this mechanically removed method.
Perhaps a case can be made that suppressing costs might lead to shoddier decision-making. Now that the lives of American soldiers are well safe-guarded, strikes are more likely to occur despite a lack of robust reasons. However, Obama’s decision to stick his finger in the pie of these killings refutes accusations of blithe aloofness.
Even then, something hollow, an echoing discomfort, still lingers. Perhaps it is because the delineation of Suspect 498—frequently in the company of Companion 498A and Companion 498B, and occasionally in the embrace of Companion 498C—hardly captures the gritty, grimy, gruesome reality when the Reaper’s whistling missile fades to a deafening explosion.
This is akin to the human disconnection that partly explains why “binders of women” was such a galling comment. Women, and the fairness for which they strive, are not fluttering resumes and cover letters that are bind-able.
Just over two weeks ago, three dozen Americans from Code Pink, a feminist anti-war activist group, headed to Pakistan to join a protest against drones. The crowd chanted, “Welcome, welcome.” The co-founder of Code Pink apologized for the American government’s actions.
Like the teenager with shrapnel etched in the stump that has replaced his right hand, some of us have a tiny inkling of what is lost when we are bound by binders.
Jing Song Ng is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Tuesday. You can follow Jing on Twitter @jingapore.