The Daily Show achieved peak frat party realness on Monday night, as Trevor Noah sat across from Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and point-blank asked if the DNC was "cock-blocking" Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primary race. “A lot of people feel that Bernie Sanders has been, I’m going to paraphrase or quote, Bernie is being cock-blocked by the DNC,” Noah said. “Is there any merit to this?” It's a worthwhile question about how campaigns, parties, and primaries are run, but unfortunately, like so many things in this election cycle, the crass way Noah asked it carries some decidedly unsexy, sexist baggage.
Under the punchline, there are valid questions about the ways the Democratic primaries and caucuses are run. It's important for voters to understand the system and to have honest dialogue about their concerns, particularly when it comes to concerns over party leadership. However, when we talk about "cock-blocking" — and I mean really talk about it in all its phallic glory — that's where things get kind of worrisome. It's indicative of a larger trend of (theoretically benign) little reminders of sexism sneakimg their way into those dialogues.
While this kind of garbage is seldom coming from (and is often condemned by) the Democratic candidates — whose hands have stayed remarkably clean and civil compared to the mud wrestling of the GOP race — I do not appreciate the subtle sexism in Noah's question. Let's be clear: The "cock-blocking" remark does not remotely compare to what has been uttered by many leading Republican candidates and commentators. Compared to The Donald making menstruation jabs at Megyn Kelly or conservative radio host Steve Deace saying in December that then-candidate Carly Fiorina went "full-on vagina," Noah's comments barely stand out. But perhaps we should aim higher than the bar set by certain Republicans?
While Noah was almost certainly trying to be funny, "cock-blocking" was a pretty poor choice of words — or one specifically chosen toe the line between what's controversially funny and what's just sexist. It's also not all that helpful to discuss a major political process — where sexism has been a concern — with a term that's predominantly used in regards to men trying to get laid.
Personally, I believe a comedian-journalist like Noah has a responsibility not to indulge in that subtle sexism, because it stokes both the Clinton supporters who believe the former secretary of state has received unfair treatment in the media as a woman and the Sanders supporters who think Clinton is just crying wolf. Then again, hoping Noah will above the fray may be too much to ask for, especially when considering his pre-Daily Show history of tweets making fun of "fat chicks" and joking about hitting a Jewish kid in his German car.
Wasserman-Shultz remained diplomatic in her response, commending both candidates for remaining civil (and presidential) compared to their Republican counterparts:
As powerful as that makes me feel, I’m not doing a very good job of rigging the outcome or blocking anyone from being able to get their message out. The reality is I have a job as a national party chair that, one, requires a thick skin. It requires me to be able to absorb the body blows so our candidates can stay above the fray. If I have to take a few punches in order for them to be able to get their message out, then so be it. I’m all about making sure we can ultimately elect our party’s nominee in the general election.
The joke may be on Noah in the end. While Wasserman Schultz looked posed and in control, Noah seemed juvenile. Using "clock-block" detracted from Noah making some very valid criticisms of the DNC, and drew the focus back on him.
Images: The Daily Show With Trevor Noah/Comedy Central