The Morning After: Race or Gender? Neither.
Gloria Steinem, writing an op ed in the New YorkTimes yesterday, the day after droves of older people turned out to vote for the status quo in New Hampshire, hands her support over to Hillary Clinton. She claims this is because of her qualifications, or the "experience argument" that we've come to know and loathe, not her gender, and that she is not anti-Obama. Why then is her entire piece an argument for why we should vote for this white woman over that black man?
First, let it be clear. If Hillary Clinton wins this nomination, I will not be voting for her. Secondly, while we are on the subject of who did what to whom, when and why - not, as she puts it, that we're comparing injustices here or anything sordid like that, but just for the record - to put it in the blunt terms of comedian Chris Rock, "women were burning bras, black men were burning."
I, a woman, a woman not of Hillary Clinton's generation, i.e. a younger woman, and not of Hillary's hue, would never choose a female candidate just because she is female in the same way I would not choose a black candidate just because he or she is black. I choose Obama because he has the power to move me and the diplomatic skill to speak for both sides of the Palestinian conflict - the conflict which underlies every other foreign policy debacle this country has been in, the reason why of the 0.17% that the US gives as foreign aid, the majority goes towards supporting Israel, not assisting in poverty alleviation, indeed, towards actually perpetuating the state of deprivation in Palestine. I choose Obama because he is able to be an American for America from his hair to his toes and also be for the world. For the generations that followed the boomers, these are vital skills and Mrs. Clinton lacks them.
Not only does Mrs. Clinton lack these skills, she lacks real courage. The kind of courage she has, according to Steinem, is to break the "no tears" rule. What no tears rule? Are you saying that women are prone to bouts of irrational emotion and she's had to struggle to prove this stereotype wrong? As a woman I find that insulting. As a woman not of the generation that felt they had to shove their kids in daycare, pull on a pant suit and go play with the boys and then try to forget they ever had kids, as a woman who does not need to take up golf in order to have my voice heard, as a woman who finds both working full time or staying at home full time or anything in between those two extremes equally acceptable, I don't have much regard for a woman who has not once mentioned women in her entire campaign. Mrs. Clinton has tried - until yesterday when she gave such a retch-inducing orchestrated come-see-the-softer-side-of-Hillary performance - to try to make us all forget that she is a woman. Well, what you want is what you get.
Contrary to Steinem's claim, women don't get more radical with age. They have aged just like the men. That generation which marched the marches that gave us the lives we now lead cannot stand to lose control. They want us to go so far and no further. We younger women appreciate what that generation did, but our realities are different, and thankfully so. After all it was that same generation of women who neglected to consider the contributions of women who weren't white, and whose advancement in places of work came upon the backs of black men and women. It is that generation of women who raised the sons - and daughters - who lead the young into war with people we have no quarrel with. And who then refuse to admit that this was a mistake. Who want, in fact, to say that they were "mislead." Since when did Hillary Clinton listen to what George Bush was saying?
The point that the older women and men who vote for Hillary Clinton because she is a woman and say we shouldn't vote for Obama because race is not as important as gender have forgotten is this: we of a younger generation do not care about gender or race. We don't look at Obama and see a black man. We look at Obama and we see a leader. We see somebody who is intelligent, charismatic, unifying. We see somebody who has never needed to talk nasty about other people in order to win points for himself. What he is, what he says, what he has done, speaks for itself.
Hillary Clinton came into this race with the crown hovering over her head, just waiting for the moment when she could put it on. She thought that the Clinton name alone was enough, that all those nostalgia-ridden people who "just want Bill back" would pull her along. I was a youthful supporter of Bill Clinton. I worked with my fellow undergraduates for his campaign; I celebrated with the rest dancing into the night on Capitol Hill. But then I grew up. I fought against the impeachment debacle because it was fundamentally wrong, not because Bill Clinton had kept his campaign promises. He sold out his constituents just as surely as Hillary Clinton has done; he just did it with great charm. And don't forget the bombs he dropped along the way - the bombing of Iraq was ongoing through the Clinton administration, he "forgot" to help out in Rwanda though he managed a tearful apology after the fact. He was no saint. And what was Mrs. Clinton, so close to the seat of power, doing? Was she persuading him otherwise? Was she advising him on the inhumanity of ignoring the massacre of a 100,000 Rwandans? Was she doing some research on Iraq so that when she became a senator she could vote against this war? Or was she simply brushing up on God Bless America so she could sing it with aplomb on the steps of the Capitol after those towers came down? In other words, was she really engaged with this country or was she merely taking care of her image?
So we come to the question of experience. Here are a couple of people from the recent news who had a lot of experience: Andrew Fastow, Ken Lay, Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, Robert Novak to name a few. Some people have experience, but it isn't the kind we want. There are criminals with a lot of experience too, but we don't want them running a bath, let alone the country. Hillary Clinton's experience is that of a fence-sitter, a political animal who will do whatever it takes to position herself correctly. Herself. Nobody else. In her own words quoted repeatedly on the ticker running under live coverage from NBC, "this is very personal." And it is. This is not about the country or the world we and our children will have to inhabit, this is about Hillary Clinton. And frankly, I'm for the country and the world.
There is a generational divide between these two candidates. But the future transcends that divide. If we care about the future, if we want to find the good in America and have a fighting chance to leave behind the bad and the ugly, if we want our children to know more, to value the world, if we want in fact to realize that this country is part of that world, Obama is our best bet. If we want to stay right where we are, or worse, start traveling backwards, Mrs. Clinton's your gal.
In the end, it is not relevant today whether it was clothes or bodies that were burnt in the past. It matters that this country has ignited a conflagration around the world that can only be put out by a leader born out of that past but stands sure-footed in this present. A leader who can inspire divergent factions both at home and abroad to feel the audacity of hope.