These are some unlucky times.
It’s unlucky that after 232 years of white male presidents, a political party is forced to choose between a woman or a black man for their first presidential mold-breaking nominee. In a just world we would have had many female presidents and presidents of all races by now. This is not a just world, and our nation has been afflicted with irrational prejudices since before its inception that we have long struggled to shed. Could an atheist Asian-American woman run the country? Of course, to new heights even. Could she get elected? The odds are currently impossible.
Our current female candidate has gotten to her position largely on the coattails of her husband and shamelessly crass triangulating plastic politics. Our current black candidate rose to the top through powerful virtues few presidents have been lucky enough to possess, and has faced an onslaught of racially tinged attacks from every direction (amazingly, much of it from the campaign of the female candidate). It is progress that they are here, but as prevalent are the signs that we haven’t quite gotten “there” yet.
I feel that given the choice between a female candidate and a black male candidate, one must turn the question to their merits and leave the identity politics behind. Either one would be a historic president breaking a centuries-old pattern of injustice, paving the way for future candidates. Either one benefits the other’s cause, because our nation will now recognize that things need not remain the way they were. If we can elect a female president, then we can also elect a non-white one, and vice versa.
Sadly, this idea has not caught on. Some have simply gravitated to the candidate most like them, understandably since that’s what people do. However, some have chosen to take sides and argue that gender trumps race or vice versa. This conflict was avoidable, yet we did not swerve away.
A recent issue of Newsweek featured a multi-essay feature on Hillary Clinton and women’s issues. Our own Thomas Tallis has put gender at the forefront of his support for Hillary, and the overall theme has been quite clear. It is also one I feel deeply.
For these folks, gender is of particular, often personal concern. These are older women, women who remember the bad old days and still see their remnants, or those who have spent a lot of time absorbing the perspectives of such, empathizing with them, seeing through their eyes through their weighty contributions to literature, the arts; celebrating the achievements of those who have succeeded in typically male-dominated fields. These women and the men who empathize with them have deconstructed the various patriarchies that have endured not on merit but by force and consolidation of power.
This is all quite understandable, and not much different from those who have race as a particular and personal concern. With mostly similar platforms, voters tend to be drawn to the candidate they relate to most.
Yet in the end, those concerned about race or gender must take care to not dismiss the concerns of the other. Especially not so much that they leapfrog past all policy, issue and personal concerns about the candidate. Yet, that is what I continually see from Hillary Clinton supporters.
What I see are efforts to skirt Hillary Clinton’s policy mistakes, like, oh, for instance, essentially co-opting George W. Bush’s foreign policy. Votes enabling war in Iraq and potentially in Iran (here’s the latest instance of sabre-rattling echoing Charles Krauthammer). Discussion of her corporate cash-raking and failure to support ethics reforms, working for Wal-mart as part of her “35 years,” hob-nobbing with Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, and complete assimilation of Karl Rove’s tactics into her campaign fall on the wayside. But worst of all, no mention is made, as people wail about the “lurking sexism and misogyny” that’s apparently just everywhere, of the fact that Hillary Clinton isn’t just running against some man, but against Barack Obama. A black man…one who Hillary, Bill, and her campaign have been happy to play the race card against, gleefully smiling while they do it.
At that point, I’m disconnected from Hillary, entirely. I’m neither female nor black, yet I have done my best throughout life to extend my empathy in both directions, to listen and understand the joys and frustrations of those different from myself. But when I hear women plead for my understanding while they throw blacks under the bus…oh no. I’m not going to play preferences here, but if you’re going to so disingenuously back gender to bash race, then you lose on both fronts.
Here’s where I stand: if you’re a Democrat or liberal in your politics, or just plain all about America, the land of equality, then you should be straight up tickled pink that you have a woman and a black man as your leading contenders. Mission accomplished as far as getting people through the door that couldn’t get through before. Now pick your candidate on the merits, or on who you feel most comfortable with, or whatever, but the wisest thing to do is let race and gender ultimately cancel each other out and pick the best candidate.
Now from what I’ve seen, Obama supporters have made the case for Obama based on policy and character. He is the natural candidate for the Democratic wing of the Democratic party, for the progressives, for the grassroots, for those who have wanted the Democrats to start representing them instead of signing over integrity to big business and fearmongering. Clinton represents the DLC faction of the party, the corporatist triangulators who run in fear of what meanie Republicans will say about them, who hedge and hem and haw until they sound like Republicans themselves, thinking they can get everybody that way. And what did the Democrat Party get from going down that road? Loss after loss after debilitating loss.
The case from the Clinton camp has rested upon dubious claims such as Hillary Clinton’s “35 years of experience!” and the repetition of “Ready on Day One!” Or suggestions that she has been “vetted,” as if the Republicans will lack for mud to throw at her (they surely have been sitting on some of their favorite new items as they join hands with her to take down Obama). But ultimately she has confirmed for principled liberals that she has none. Why do Florida and Michigan matter to her? Because she won them. Why do none of the states Obama won matter to her? Because Obama won them. Why does she bring up Farrakhan or Wright, or the fake “bitter” non-scandal? Because they seem to work, at least according to old paradigms. There is no sign of honesty or forthrightness, and many signs of clinging to the hope of power and damn everything else. For months Barack Obama has held an insurmountable lead over her, and her decision was to attempt to use every Republican dirty trick in the book to destroy him and ruin his chances for November. Her excuse that “Republicans will do it too” means nothing, for she has been the one doing it now. She is responsible.
And apart from all this is the dynasty issue. Bush, Clinton, Bush…Clinton? When does one put one’s foot down?
So yeah, if you come to me at this point with, “Oh, I talked to a guy once and he said Hillary was a bitch, so you know, I gotta get her back…” all I can say is, you have utterly failed, not just liberalism but feminism as well. If the fundamental principle of feminism is truly equality, then that should permeate one’s reasoning on race issues.
I would be proud to see a female president, I would be proud to see a black president. I must choose the one who has displayed to me the greatest virtue, and set aside the one who has failed to honor the reasons I am a socialist libertarian who calls himself a Democrat still. If that were the female, I would back her and fight until Election Day for her all the way. And if Hillary Clinton had chosen to be that candidate, I’d set aside the dynastic concerns as well. The mistake of electing George H.W.’s son has punished Democrats enough already.
But it isn’t. She didn’t.
And, my fellow lefties and lefty-leaners, that should be all there is to say.