In the months since I wrote "My Hillary Problem" for this space -- a pondering that moved hundreds of readers to toss bouquets or vitriol, often toward one another - the Democratic presidential race has narrowed itself to three candidates (Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Bill Clinton), the war in Iraq has become- - so we are told -- of secondary concern to voters, and, on a miniature scale, "My Hillary Problem" has become "my problem with some Hillary voters."
According to polls, two groups of voters who lean more toward Clinton/s than Obama are Hispanics (or Latinos, depending on where you live) and older women.
As to Hispanics/Latinos, I would have guessed a supposedly devout and devoted family man would be a great candidate for a supposedly devout family-centric culture, but who knows? I would have guessed the race card would upset people whose own coloring has not always been their ticket to success, but who knows? The Hispanic/Latino demographic is not for me to deconstruct.
I do know, though, about being an older woman, for as I allowed in post past, I am about Hillary's age. And I know well the stated reasons for supporting her. From what I have gleaned in conversations with fellow Older Women, and reading or hearing interviews with O.W.'s, their support comes largely from variations of the following points: It's time for a woman because men have screwed up the world. She is smart and tough. I'm sick of her being belittled and made fun of in "the media." I got mistreated at work/home marriage, too.
I hear you, I hear you, I want to, and sometimes do, say. Yes, it's unlikely any woman has been unaffected by some form of sexism - to put it mildly -- from men. Yes, the personal carping about Hillary, especially her appearance, is infuriating. David Letterman's juvenile nastiness must make him one of Hillary's top vote getters. (If he is not on her payroll, he should be.) Yes, she is tough and smart. (Whether Hillary voters would use the same logic to support a tough and smart Republican woman is another matter.) Yes, much of the world is screwed up and men have done much or most of the damage -- although I back off from absolving women, especially in industrialized nations, from complicity. And yes, in theory it is high time for people besides white males to be president.
All the arguments to vote for Hillary make sense, except one thing.
A vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote from Barack Obama. And Barack Obama is not the problem.
He has nothing to do with mistreating or mocking any women, including her. Surely his grudging, weary, "You're likable enough," cannot hold heft against her belittling his ideas about "hope." Surely we need not deconstruct a non-handshake. And do we want to compare such minutiae with the humiliations Bill Clinton has visited upon his wife?
Barack Obama, furthermore, is not a man who screwed up the world (let us keep in mind his opposition to this horrible war, and Hillary's unrecanted vote for it -- and her shameless posturing of late that they really had the same position all along). He has not, as far as I know, ever been disrespectful of women. He met his wife when she was his supervisor at a Chicago law firm, clearly respects and honors her, has been portrayed by former students as an encouraging teacher of constitutional law to women and men, and -- at least according to him -- has told his daughters they can be whatever they set their minds to. As for issues important to women? Not every man gets a 100% approval rating from his state's Planned Parenthood on abortion rights votes -- Barack Obama did in Illinois. Planned Parenthood says his "present" votes, chastised by Hillary Clinton, resulted from a strategy it worked out -- as he always claimed. (Yes, Illinois's NOW PAC disagrees and supports Clinton.) We also know that Barack Obama worked for poor people, which by default includes women and children.
All in all, is Barack Obama any less of a feminist than Hillary Clinton?
Is Hillary Clinton, in turn, any more of a civil rights advocate than Barack Obama?
We know that before her 35 Years of Experience began, she gave the commencement speech at Wellesley and lit into the previous speaker, the country's then only African-American Senator, Edward Brooke, on the subject of protest. We also know of her recently saying Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (dark!) needed the savvy of Lyndon Johnson (light!) to pass the voting rights bill. The opposite-ends-of-the-political-spectrum columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks both say the race card undeniably came from Hillary Clinton. And we know that following Obama's enormous win in the South Carolina primary, her husband -- whom she has made her major spokesperson -- brought up the fact that Jesse Jackson (dark!) won the primary earlier.
I found that remark, frankly, demeaning to everyone: both Clintons, Obama, Jackson, and South Carolina voters.
Yet despite the race card, or placard, played against Barack Obama, and despite various distortions of his record, he has behaved with remarkable dignity and forbearance. On the issue of race, as in other matters, he has not stooped to conquer. He also has accepted Hillary Clinton's apology about remarks from her campaign referring to his acknowledged past drug use, did not join the pile-on on about her almost crying in New Hampshire, and has only relatively recently given the impression that, damn it, enough is enough. (This is written just before the Jan. 31st debate.) Maureen Dowd, the take-no-prisoners columnist of The New York Times, even called him "the more emotionally delicate candidate, and the one who has the more feminine consensus management style." Whereas "Alpha Hillary," in her view, was "abrasive and secretive" as First Lady in terms of the health care issue, and sees herself as "tough enough to command armies" in the war she helped enable President Bush to start.
Most of us voters probably have made adjustments, and some have made changes, in our support of various candidates. Most of us probably say that issues matter the most, yet on some level indulge our infamous American "gut level" subjectivity in choosing a president. In the past, I resisted, but let 'er rip now. When I listen to the debates and speeches, does Hillary's candidacy make me feel more Glad to Be a Woman? No. Does Barack's candidacy make me feel more Glad to Be an American? Yes.
Perhaps "American" is too narrow. Another Older Woman, a Romanian-born aesthetician, told me she knows nothing ("Nahthink!") about politics. No choice in the election? I asked, from under the steam in her tiny treatment room. Well, she finally said, she has not paid attention to the Republicans very much, and thinks Hillary is very smart, but wonders if she is "a little bit too cruel." She does not want to offend me if I like Hillary, she continued, applying a mask to my face. "But I love Barack."
Before the mask sealed my lips, I quickly asked why.
She replied in her lovely heavy accent, while gesturing with the jar of mask goop and a brush.
"He could be from my country. Or he could be from Italy. Or he could be.... " After naming several countries, she concluded, "To me, he is a son of the universe."