Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Why not Hillary Clinton?

The Nation has published what I think is one of the most reasoned and thoughtful discussions of sexism and racism in the 2008 presidential election: "Race to the Bottom" by Betsey Reed.

In the course of Hillary Clinton's historic run for the White House--in which she became the first woman ever to prevail in a state-level presidential primary contest--she has been likened to Lorena Bobbitt (by Tucker Carlson); a "hellish housewife" (Leon Wieseltier); and described as "witchy," a "she-devil," "anti-male" and "a stripteaser" (Chris Matthews). Her loud and hearty laugh has been labeled "the cackle," her voice compared to "fingernails on a blackboard" and her posture said to look "like everyone's first wife standing outside a probate court." As one Fox News commentator put it, "When Hillary Clinton speaks, men hear, Take out the garbage." Rush Limbaugh, who has no qualms about subjecting audiences to the spectacle of his own bloated physique, asked his listeners, "Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?" Perhaps most damaging of all to her electoral prospects, very early on Clinton was deemed "unlikable." Although other factors also account for that dislike, much of the venom she elicits ("Iron my shirt," "How do we beat the bitch?") is clearly gender-specific.

This is where I stand united with my feminist sisters. The 2008 presidential election has dragged into the light the loathsome misogyny that women have always known still existed. I was always smart and cynical enough to know that sexism (and a whole bunch of other "isms") abound in the media boys club, but even I have been shocked at the nakedness of the smirking, doughy, frat-boy talking head gender bias. (Matthews, Carlson, Morning Joe, I am looking at you.)

I have always thought that most virulent Hillary hatred was driven by her gender. My very first vote in a presidential election was cast for Bill Clinton and I admired his wife as an outspoken, smart First Lady. Hillary Rodham Clinton was a different kind of first spouse--not all adoring gazes and sequins like Nancy Reagan. I liked her. And I knew exactly where those complaints about her not being a "cooking baking" woman and her using a hyphenated name came from. The same place charges that Michelle Obama is angry and mouthy come from. America likes its women submissive or sexed-up. Smart and confident females make us uncomfortable.

Thus, feminist opposition to the sexist treatment of Hillary Clinton has morphed into support for the candidate herself. In February Robin Morgan published a reprise of her famous 1970 essay "Goodbye to All That," exhorting women to embrace Clinton as a protest against "sociopathic woman-hating." In the Los Angeles Times, Leslie Bennetts, author of The Feminine Mistake, wrote of older female voters fed up with the media's dismissive treatment of Clinton: "There are signs the slumbering beast may be waking up--and she's not in a happy mood." A recent New York magazine article titled "The Feminist Reawakening: Hillary Clinton and the Fourth Wave" described how "it isn't just the 'hot flash cohort'...that broke for Clinton. Women in their thirties and forties--at once discomfited and galvanized by the sexist tenor of the media coverage, by the nastiness of the watercooler talk in the office, by the realization that the once-foregone conclusion of Clinton-as-president might never come to be--did too."

And this is where I depart from many pro-Clinton feminists. That Clinton is the victim of sexism is not a reason to support her. (Just as the fact that Obama faces racism is no reason to support him.)

Democrats were blessed with a strong field of presidential candidates this time around. I could have been happy with any of them as nominee. At first, it was John Edwards' populism that spoke strongest to me. I supported him, though I was impressed by Barack Obama, who I voted for as my state and federal representative when I lived in Chicago. When Edwards suspended his campaign, I was ready to wholeheartedly back Barack Obama. I view him as more progressive than Hillary Clinton, who can be disturbingly centrist. I think he is less galvanizing to anti-Democratic forces. (Saying the name Clinton is like waving a red flag in front of a Republican.) He has far less political baggage. He is amazingly inspiring and has the ability to bring the country together--and, yes, that is important. He represents a new, more reasoned way of doing things; for instance, I like that he is willing to negotiate with countries before "obliterating" them. And, most of all, despite the irritating spin of the Clinton campaign, he has more legislative experience than Hillary Clinton, has been more accomplished in the U.S. Senate and has a record of getting things done. (Sorry, I just don't buy the 35 years of experience argument. Being First Lady is not a stepping stone to the White House.)

All that said, I began this campaign eager to vote for whoever was the Democratic nominee. But...

Yet what is most troubling--and what has the most serious implications for the feminist movement--is that the Clinton campaign has used her rival's race against him. In the name of demonstrating her superior "electability," she and her surrogates have invoked the racist and sexist playbook of the right--in which swaggering macho cowboys are entrusted to defend the country--seeking to define Obama as too black, too foreign, too different to be President at a moment of high anxiety about national security. This subtly but distinctly racialized political strategy did not create the media feeding frenzy around the Rev. Jeremiah Wright that is now weighing Obama down, but it has positioned Clinton to take advantage of the opportunities the controversy has presented. And the Clinton campaign's use of this strategy has many nonwhite and nonmainstream feminists crying foul.

While 2008 was never going to be a "postracial" campaign, the early racially tinged skirmishes between the Clinton and Obama camps seemed containable. There were references by Clinton campaign officials to Obama's admission of past drug use; the tit-for-tat over Clinton's tone-deaf but historically accurate statement that Martin Luther King needed Lyndon Johnson for his civil rights dreams to be realized; and insinuations that Obama is a token, unqualified, overreaching--that he's all pretty words, "fairy tales" and no action.

This is the clearest explanation I have read of what troubles me about the Clinton campaign. It is that Hillary Clinton--a woman, herself marginalized, a member of the Democratic Party, the party of equality and progressive values--is willing to use Obama's racial identity against him to win. Oh, I have other problems with Clinton's policies and campaign performance, but I can overcome them. It is the race-baiting that I find truly unconscionable and immoral. It is this that is the clearest sign to me that Hillary Clinton represents the worst politics of old: the southern strategy has been around for a despairingly long time. It is this that has moved me to declare what I once thought unthinkable--that I will not vote for the Democratic presidential nominee if it is Hillary Clinton.

I understand that Hillary Clinton is a capable candidate--far better than John McCain. I understand that her platform is not greatly removed from Obama's. I am not being petulant, because Clinton is my candidate's opponent. I am following principles that will not allow me to support someone that I view as morally bankrupt. I feel strongly about this. And I have to admit, I have a hard time forgiving feminists who are so eager to see a woman in the White House that they would condone race bias. I guess some folks think it is okay to step on some heads on the way to the mountain top. But those are not the principles I believe in and if those are the principles of the Democratic party, then it has surely abandoned me.

Read the full Nation article here. (Folks, The Nation is a wonderful publication that is NOT corporate owned. If you are looking for good, progressive, fact-based journalism, get a subscription to this weekly magazine. It is on my must-read list every week.)

UPDATE: Racialicious also tackled The Nation article here.

What Loving is all about

Hat tip to Meteor Blades at DailyKos

On Friday, Mildred Loving died at the age of 68. According to The New York Times article about her death:
Loving [who is black] and her white husband, Richard, changed history in 1967 when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld their right to marry. The ruling struck down laws banning racially mixed marriages in at least 17 states.
If you are not a fan of history, you may remember the Lovings from the 1996 television movie "Mr. & Mrs. Loving," starring Lela Rochon and Timothy Hutton.

In June 2007, on the 40th anniversary of the Loving vs. Virginia case, Mildred penned the following public statement:
Loving for All
By Mildred Loving

Prepared for Delivery on June 12, 2007,The 40th Anniversary of the Loving vs. Virginia Announcement

When my late husband, Richard, and I got married in Washington, DC in 1958, it wasn’t to make a political statement or start a fight. We were in love, and we wanted to be married. We didn’t get married in Washington because we wanted to marry there. We did it there because the government wouldn’t allow us to marry back home in Virginia where we grew up, where we met, where we fell in love, and where we wanted to be together and build our family. You see, I am a woman of color and Richard was white, and at that time people believed it was okay to keep us from marrying because of their ideas of who should marry whom.

When Richard and I came back to our home in Virginia, happily married, we had no intention of battling over the law. We made a commitment to each other in our love and lives, and now had the legal commitment, called marriage, to match. Isn’t that what marriage is?

Not long after our wedding, we were awakened in the middle of the night in our own
bedroom by deputy sheriffs and actually arrested for the “crime” of marrying the wrong kind of person. Our marriage certificate was hanging on the wall above the bed. The state prosecuted Richard and me, and after we were found guilty, the judge declared: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” He sentenced us to a year in prison, but offered to suspend the sentence if we left our home in Virginia for 25 years exile. We left, and got a lawyer. Richard and I had to fight, but still were not fighting for a cause. We were fighting for our love.

Though it turned out we had to fight, happily Richard and I didn’t have to fight alone. Thanks to groups like the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, and so many good people around the country willing to speak up, we took our case for the freedom to marry all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that, “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men,” a “basic civil right.”

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I
support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.

Mildred and Richard Loving's daughter, Peggy Fortune, said of her mother: ''I want (people) to remember her as being strong and brave yet humble -- and [she] believed in love.''

Rest in peace, Mildred Loving.


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