Friday, June 20, 2008
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
I don't see any profit in poking the disappointed Clinton supporters, especially those I count as friends, but I think Hendrik Hertzberg has written a fair and smart comment on the particular question which has caused so much grief and worry as the Democrats turn to face John McCain and the GOP. That question deals with the role of misogyny and the glass ceiling, and with the imagined gender persecution of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Without further comment, here is the entire post as it appears in the current New Yorker:
Without further comment, here is the entire post as it appears in the current New Yorker:
The Presidential flight of Hillary Rodham Clinton, which had been aloft for nearly a year, began its descent stage on January 3, 2008, somewhere over Iowa. Five months later to the day, she piloted it to a smooth touchdown, though not without experiencing some turbulence during the final approach. First, there was her non-concession speech, delivered on the final Tuesday of the primary season; then, after a few days of cogitation, consultation, and commiseration, there was her Saturday speech. Tuesday’s speech was anything but full of grace, and, on the whole, was poorly received. Saturday’s was greeted rapturously, often by the same commentators. “The way to continue our fight now, to accomplish the goals for which we stand,” Clinton said, “is to take our energy, our passion, our strength, and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama the next President of the United States.” And she said, echoing the signature chant of the Obama campaign, “Today, I am standing with Senator Obama to say: Yes, we can!” She could scarcely have been more emphatic.
With that, the most astounding primary season in American history came to an end. It was astounding not because of the policy differences separating the competing sides (these were trivial compared with their vast reaches of agreement), or because of the turmoil of the times and the bitterness of the clash (compared with the two campaigns of the Vietnam War era, 1968 and 1972, all was calm and collegial), but because of who the candidates were—more precisely, because of what they were. The first woman and the first man of color to have a serious chance of victory contended for the right to represent America’s party of progressive change in the contest for the most powerful office on earth, and they fought each other very nearly to a draw. This conspicuous, astonishing fact was not much discussed by the candidates themselves; for them, the point was to transcend “identity politics,” lest they be trapped in its stereotypes. Only when compelled by the antics of the retiring minister of his church did Obama directly confront the questions of race and identity, doing so in a speech of such power and nuance that it saved his campaign. Clinton—whose “identity,” after all, comprises more than half the electorate and extends, by definition, into every family on earth—treated her gender as a grace note, a significant but ultimately secondary feature, like Jimmy Carter’s Southernness or Bob Dole’s war wound. Only in the final appearance of her exhausting campaign did Hillary Clinton speak at length about, in her words, “what it means to be a woman running for President.”
Much of what she said was phrased in such a way as to apply to Obama as well as to herself. “I am a woman and, like millions of women, I know there are still barriers and biases out there, often unconscious, and I want to build an America that respects and embraces the potential of every last one of us,” she declared. “There are no acceptable limits, and there are no acceptable prejudices in the twenty-first century in our country.” And, speaking of herself, Obama, and the supporters of both: “We will make history together.”
In the emotional climax of her speech, she said, “Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you it’s got about eighteen million cracks in it—and the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time.” Some people interpreted this to imply that it was her gender that denied her the prize. Only she knows whether she meant it that way, or whether that’s what she believes. In such a close race, of course, almost any factor can be viewed as decisive. But it’s hard to find anyone who will dispute that if she had not voted to authorize the Iraq war, or if her delegate-hunting strategy had been as astute as her principal opponent’s, or if that opponent had been a slightly more ordinary politician, or, perhaps, if her campaign messages had been more coherent and less negative, then she would have breezed to the nomination and made history all by herself.
Competitions among grievances do not ennoble, and both Clinton and Obama strove to avoid one; but it does not belittle the oppressions of gender to suggest that in America the oppressions of race have cut deeper. Clinton’s supporters would sometimes note that the Constitution did not extend the vote to women until a half century after it extended it to men of color. But there is no gender equivalent of the nightmare of disenfranchisement, lynching, apartheid, and peonage that followed Reconstruction, to say nothing of “the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil” that preceded it. Nor has any feminist leader shared the fate of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. Clinton spoke on Saturday of “women in their eighties and nineties, born before women could vote.” But Barack Obama is only in his forties, and he was born before the Voting Rights Act redeemed the broken promise of the Fifteenth Amendment.
Clinton was right to say that from now on it will be “unremarkable to think that a woman can be the President of the United States”—and that, in large measure, is her doing. But the Speaker of the House is a woman; and there are, at the moment, sixteen women in the Senate and eight in the nation’s governors’ offices, the pools from which Presidential candidates are usually drawn. There are two African-American governors, only one of whom was elected to that office. There is one African-American senator—and seven months from now that one may have a different job.
Clinton’s defeat has left many of her supporters, especially among older women, not just disappointed but angry. Their anger is directed partly, sometimes mainly, at “the media,” especially at a handful of commentators on the cable news networks, particularly MSNBC. (Fox News is hopeless; you might as well get angry at mildew.) One such commentator, in a fairly representative remark, described Clinton as “looking like everyone’s first wife standing outside a probate court.” Ugly, yes, and arguably misogynistic, but not much uglier (and probably less politically damaging) than the ridicule once heaped upon Michael Dukakis for looking wimpy in a tank and Al Gore for being stiff, or sighing, or wearing “earth tones” at the supposed urging of a feminist adviser—insults rooted, like the probate-court crack, in male stupidity. And the likelihood is that this sort of thing pushed more women into the Clinton column than men away from it.
Barack Obama—reared by a single mother, married to a strong-willed woman, father of two daughters—has an unblemished record of support for the goals of the mainstream women’s movement. Yet, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll taken over the weekend Clinton withdrew, in a hypothetical matchup with John McCain— whose record with respect to those goals ranges from indifference to hostility—she would win among white suburban women and Obama would lose. The anger of many such women is real, even if Obama is merely a momentary target of opportunity for it, even if it has little or nothing to do with anything he has done or said and everything to do with their own life experience. Fairly or unfairly, it’s up to him to demonstrate anew that he respects their experience and understands their anger. And it’s up to them to respond.
Posted by Neil at 1:36 PM
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
I spent the weekend at the New Jersey shore - Barnegat Light, on Long Beach Island. Mom and Dad took a beach house for the week, starting the day before Fathers Day.
MaryBeth and I arrived Saturday evening, and besides the two of us, and my folks, only my sister Christine and her friend, Rich, were there. It was good to see them both, and to be able to spend some time with them without all the usual noise and nothingness that seems to prevail when the whole clan is assembled. A nice dinner, some good conversation, the smell and feel of the Atlantic breeze, and all the warmth one could want in this life. It was a lovely evening.
Sunday was fun. My Aunt Mary had arrived late Saturday night. My brother John and his friend, Gert - followed by my sister Mary. Jim and Gen - my son and daughter - arrived shortly thereafter, having started the day at his place in Harlem - a long trip to make on a Sunday. Danny called from Maine to wish me a happy Fathers Day. Makes me proud to have such terrific kids.
As always there were plenty of laughs - none so hearty as the laughter when Dad put on my "Obama '08" ballcap. No pictures were taken of the moment, and that is really too bad. What a good sport!
Speaking of Obama...I heard that he gave a speech on fatherhood - specifically African-American fatherhood. I haven't read it, or heard much of it, but I gather that he channelled Bill Cosby and delivered a bit of a scolding. People seem to have approved of the message, but it smells like Sista Souljah to me, and way off-key. Way off-key.
Fathers Day is a celebration, Barack. A day to celebrate our fathers. One day to focus on the blessing our fathers are in our lives. Not a good day to complain about deadbeats and disappointments.
Something wrong with that. Too self-righteous. Arrogant. Insulting.
My father is a wonderful man. I am proud to be his son. I am most like my father at those moments when I am my best self - patient, loving, cheerful, selfless, gentle, wise, considerate, principled, tolerant, dignified, honest, generous, good-humored, and always reliable.
I love my father. That's the only message we need on Fathers Day.
Posted by Neil at 8:44 AM