Friday, August 29, 2008

I Am Woman; I Am Not a Potato

The 2008 United States Presidential election is now assured to be historic regardless of who wins. Either an African American will be President or a white woman will be Vice President. That's an amazing thing, and a surprising thing -- given the continuing conservative bent of the not-so-silent majority in this country.

It never ceases to amaze me that people who make less than $200K a year continually vote against their own economic self-interest by voting for Republicans. A friend of mine (despite her politics) actually related to me the other day, quite seriously, that the Republican party really cared about the little guy. Hello? Clue phone: it's for you. The sad part is, she's not an NRA member, a pro-lifer, or a Christian Fundamentalist -- at least I can understand their attraction to the GOP even if they're not rich. What I don't get is how a woman who is none of those things can possibly think it's a good thing to vote Republican. Another thing I don't get: members of my tribe voting for Republicans, because they think that is the best way to assure a pro-Israel administration. Yet the Republican party and their judicial appointees are the very people who take every opportunity they can to blur the already somewhat muddy line between church and state further in favor of church. But I digress.

The question I really came here to pose is, what are the Republicans (or perhaps Senator McCain without the aid of Republican strategists) thinking with with his selection of Governor Sarah Palin as running mate? This is supposed to win over Senator Hillary Clinton's supporters? Do they honestly think that women such as myself will vote for their ticket simply because a woman is on it? We're supposed to abandon all principle and vote based on chromosomes? Do they think we're potatoes?

James Carville on CNN tonight said it pretty well; there's not much overlap between Clinton and Pat Buchanan, whom Palin supported for President. If the bet is that Clinton women will support Palin because she's a woman, that's a very bad bet based on the faulty anology that any woman is to women what Obama is to African Americans. From what I've observed, Obama has the support he does among African Americans not simply because of race, but because of the simple reason that his politics and those of his supporters are aligned.

I have been a Clinton supporter from the beginning of her campaign, but because I thought she was the smartest, most tenacious candidate, and didn't have a naive bone in her body about what it would take to get things done in the humongoid, pluralist bureaucracy that is the United States government. I never doubted her heart was in the right place. I don't just believe. I know that she would have tried to do what she said she'd do if elected President. The fact that she is a woman was a bonus, and a big one. A really big one. I would have loved to see this country mature enough to vote a woman into the most powerful office in the land and indeed, the world. Other democracies have done so, why not this one.

Clinton was the only candidate with the depth of knowledge on the universal health care issue necessary to solve that issue successfully. And she was pilloried by pretty much everyone for her prior efforts in that regard, back when everyone ran in a dither shouting socialized medicine, next stop the US Soviet -- and by the way, a First Lady has no place doing anything other than hosting luncheons, baking cookies and reading to first graders for a photo op.

She (understandably because such a breach of trust isn't supposed to happen in this country) trusted the Bush White House when they said a vote for the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq was a vote to do so only if diplomacy failed. It's one thing to stand up on the floor of the Illinois State Senate and say the war is a bad idea. It's quite another to be a United States Senator from the state of New York who asked a specific question and was lied to, outright, by her President. And again, she was vilified for it within her own party as well as without.

Bah. Let's not kid ourselves. Partly this was because she is a Clinton, and they have no shortage of detractors, and even enemies. But mostly it was because she is a woman. The sorts of things said about Clinton even by mainstream media during her campaign were appalling and simply would not have been tolerated had they been said about African Americans or any other racial group.

I had decided to sit out this election. I would never have voted for McCain. The Supreme Court is far too important to leave the selection of Justices to him. But I couldn't bring myself into the Obama camp. The things that most bother me about Obama are a couple of incidents similar in nature, one involving NAFTA, where one of his aides was quoted as basically saying not to worry, Obama was only saying the correct thing to get elected and had no intention of rocking the boat once the tiller was in his hand. While I never doubted Senator Clinton's good intentions, I have had reason to doubt Senator Obama's.

But this latest move by McCain has pushed me into action. It feels personally insulting that he and/or the Republicans appear to think putting up a woman with mediocre academic and political credentials and a straight down the line conservative stance on the issues is somehow a substitute for Senator Clinton. I'm insulted that they appear to think the women of this country are, to a one, potatoes: brainless, without principle, and all grown in a patch together. And yet, they have the audacity to put a woman up for the second highest office in the country. (I guess that's not too surprising given Senator McCain's own view of the office of Vice President.) I'm insulted that they think we would want this woman to be the one who pushes through those 18 million cracks our candidate made in the glass ceiling of Presidential politics. What they don't seem to get is that it matters just as much who does it as that it happens. Because whoever does will set the expectations and the stage for those who come behind her. The wrong person will be as much of a setback as the right one will be a catapult forward.

The way I'm feeling now, I'll vote for Obama. He's smart (not as smart as Clinton, but smart nevertheless), he's got a knack for finding common ground, and he's got Joe Biden, who, like Clinton, I have no doubt has his heart in the right place. Choosing Biden, once it was obvious Clinton would not be the choice, was something of a litmus test: it showed how Obama approaches shoring up the areas in which he is less expert than others. Like President Kennedy did before him, he's shown that his approach when he takes office will be to surround himself with the smartest, most talented and experienced people in every field to advise him rather than ideologues and sports fans. He'll do that and he'll be ok in his areas of lesser strength -- he'll learn what he needs to learn, and he'll apply his intelligence and education to make the right decisions. And in any case, the Democratic ticket is the last, best hope to keep the Supreme Court from a clear conservative majority with the power to affect all our lives in a profound and horrifying way.

This Presidential election will make history either way. But history is not the same as progress, in all the areas in which we need it so badly in this country. The economy. Civil rights. Health care. International relations. Education. Science. Stopping the war, and stopping the terrorists. Optimism for the future. Only the Democratic ticket's win in November can bring the hope for these things, as well as making history.


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