A number of good female friends have referred me to articles or op-ed pieces pleading the gender case for Hillary Clinton. It is an easy one to make, and more importantly an understandable one. As said in a recent post, I too am torn by the choice presented to us in this election cycle. That both the gender and race barrier have to be broken if America is to finally fulfill the high-minded promise of the Declaration of Independence is indisputable. Progress remains excruciatingly slow and generally we like to make it serially, one at a time. It wasn’t only Gerry Ford who couldn’t simultaneously “walk and chew gum”. So this election has caught those committed to both civil and women’s rights off guard. Historic opportunity is at hand and we’re faced with an impossible and unanticipated choice; a real conundrum. Perhaps so, but it may also be that, in the very option given us, we’re further along than any of us dared to believe.
I would argue that 2008 might well mark the moment when the choice between gender and race was rendered irrelevant. Looking at it objectively, for me the argument that one is “entitled” to a shot at the Presidency more than, or before, the other is a non-starter. Sexism has deep roots beginning in the first chapter of Genesis where the he-God creates man in his image. The subjugation of the children of unwilling African slave immigrants is an indelible stain on our past and present. Perhaps you can make a case for who had it worse – black women often suffered a double blow – but that really is silly. The “my hurt it greater than yours” is a childhood playground argument. Deep and devastating wounds are ultimately race and gender agnostic.
The only issue in this primary season is who, among two excellent finalists, will make the better President at this moment in time. Like most Democrats, I will support the party’s nominee, and do so with a good conscience. In fact, if that nominee were named Biden, Dodd, Edwards, Kucinich or Richardson I would as well. We’ve had an extraordinary candidate field this year. And the choice we have is not really about issues – there is little daylight between Clinton and Obama even on healthcare. Let’s remember that party platforms and candidate speeches are simply directional signposts. While we have surely learned the power of Executive Orders of late, fundamental initiatives require legislation. That means amassing sufficient public support and votes on the Hill.
For me this primary season is not about race or gender nor is it about policy. The former has been taken out of the mix and with regard to the latter; John Edwards would be on his way to the White House. He has been the policy initiator; Clinton and Obama the followers. No this election is about who we are and how we feel about ourselves. It is about taking that now delayed bridge to the future – reality not words. That future is not merely one of substance it is also one of tone. In fact, I don’t think we can alter the substance without changing the tone. However she may deny it and express her independence, Senator Clinton is campaigning to restore what indisputably were the good times of her husband’s tenure. So they were, but they also initiated a level of acrimony that has poisoned the nation’s internal discourse. We have replaced conversation with shouting. Bill Clinton may not have started the barnyard fight, but his partisans were, and are, more than willing participants. The crossfire of militant right and left talk radio is equally distasteful. At times of conflict, who started it is beside the point. We have all been its collateral damage.
It’s not that we’re mad as hell and can’t take it any more, it’s that we can’t take being mad any more. We want out, we want to delete the ugliness from our collective lives, reduce if not eliminate the red and blue divide. We are damaged and in many profound ways demoralized. That runs contrary to the essential optimistic national DNA. And it isn’t a matter of some romantic notion of nirvana, or that substance doesn’t matter. A positive outlook, some semblance of shared direction, is what has always fueled our economy, defined our self image and established our standing in the world. Does Barack Obama speak of hope, of change and of the future over the past? You bet he does. He has set the underlying conversation of this election. Would Hillary Clinton be a good President? I think she has the potential of being one of our better chief executives. The problem is that we need something more; not the potential of better but of greatness commensurate with our desperate current need. Not gender over race or race over gender but a unifying, and yes an inspirational, leader. That isn’t something to which you’re entitled, but something you embody regardless of your name, background or sex. To me that still translates into Barack Obama. In the end, I remain confident the majority of Americans will come to the same conclusion. If not, and regardless of how disappointed, I will readily admit to having been wrong from the start.