This article was written by Ariel Garfinkel, a sophomore at Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts who's majoring in the Politics of Inequality.
The epic struggle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama reveals strong fault lines between some older and younger women, first underscored by no less than Gloria Steinem who scorned those of us supporting a male over a female. Women of my generation venerate Steinem for her pioneering leadership but tend to reject her insinuation that the Democratic primary winner must have a body like our own. Beyond the importance of race and gender, we believe this election should be about a vision for the nation, leadership style and basic political values.
On the style side, the contrast could hardly be more evident. As the media endlessly ran clips of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, suggesting somehow that Obama was responsible for the extremes of his minister (a scrutiny, by the way, not applied by the media to the provocative spiritual advisors of John McCain), Hillary ducked to let the circus continue. Failing to show true leadership by denouncing one pastor's views as fair game in evaluating a presidential candidate, Hillary sat it out apparently hoping the focus on Wright might injure Obama. While missing her own principled moment, Hillary was left to watch Obama rise to his.
As the media, perhaps correctly, noted that by remaining in the race, Clinton might be jeopardizing a Democratic White House for four more years, Obama stood up to say that Clinton has every right to remain in the race. How easy it would have been for Obama, even coyly, to have egged on the calls for Clinton's withdrawal. In fact, he came to her defense, showing both a difference in style and principle. Ironically, it was the male candidate rather than the female who exhibited one of the values of feminism, the unwillingness to accept the old style politics played by men for decades.
That some older women accept such displays of un-feminist leadership on the part of Hillary Clinton may be due to their understandable and long-desired election of a woman. But we should remember that feminism is not about women only but about changing the values and style of discourse in the nation. On this count too, Clinton comes up far short by exhibiting much of her husband's tendency toward the old politics.
These politics and their perverse values have been the norm in the Clinton campaign. Paramount, perhaps, is Hillary's willingness to condone racial divisiveness as a tool to win the nomination. It began with Bill Clinton dismissing Obama's impressive win in South Carolina as unimportant because it was a Black win, a race "even Jesse Jackson won."
As if to underscore that this reach into the racial gutter was not a mistake, Clinton advisor Geraldine Ferraro, a paragon of feminism gone awry, offered up her own race-based dismissal: Barack Obama is ahead only because of his skin color (did Ferraro really wish to open the door to people saying the same about Hillary because of her gender?). This was not simply an ignorant rendering of the nation's racial history, but an attempt to fan division in a most "old boy" way. And Hillary's sitting out the Jeremiah Wright controversy simply added icing to the Clinton campaign cake of racial division.
But why stop with racial divisiveness when you also can question Obama's patriotism? This time it was Hillary herself who fired the first volley, when asked by a reporter if Obama is Muslim. She did get the first part of her answer right, noting that "he is a Christian," but then offered a conniving low blow by adding, "so far as I know." It then was her husband, the former President, who rendered the coups de gras on Obama's patriotism by noting that it would be nice if the general election could be between "two people who really love their country..." By stooping to challenge Obama's patriotism, does Bill somehow expect to elevate Hillary as the greater patriot?
This pattern of old-style politics and adherence to un-feminist values is part and parcel of the campaign Hillary Clinton has run - let us also not forget her old pal James Carville calling Bill Richardson "a Judas" for endorsing Obama. The Clinton pattern is why most of the young women I know on my all-women's campus and elsewhere are supporting Barack Obama.
Values and vision matter most to us, and Obama's extraordinary world view resonates with our desire for a different future. We do not want a nation or world where the old rules are maintained, and we do not want to continue political discourse at this most base level. We have a future to re-define, not only for women but for men and children, and we may have an opportunity to define it through the leadership of an inspiring and visionary young Senator from Illinois.
In this race, Barack Obama is the true feminist. Hillary Clinton, unfortunately, still does not get it.