What Alberto Gonzales Can Teach Us about Hillary Clinton

05/25/2011 12:25 pm ET

Back in 2004, I was part of a small but active non-profit organization called Latinos for America. Our mission was to push for greater participation by Hispanics in the public sphere. We organized activist and candidate trainings around the country, and put out bilingual public service announcements encouraging Latinos to exercise their right to vote.

All was well until November of that year, when Alberto Gonzales was nominated by President Bush to serve as Attorney General. Yes, the same Alberto Gonzales, who as White House Counsel had given the president carte blanche to torture terrorism suspects. As an organization devoted to increasing Latino participation in the public sphere, we had to think long and hard about whether to oppose the candidacy of a Hispanic American seeking such a high-level post.

Groups like the widely respected League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) urged us to support Gonzales. After all, LULAC argued, if we were truly devoted to the advancement of Latinos, we shouldn't be passing up a historic opportunity to speak out on behalf of Gonzales.

LULAC is an incredible organization, and we were honored to be discussing the issue with them. Yet Alberto Gonzales gave me and my colleagues reason to pause. Not only did we hold human rights in the highest of regards, but we also had to ask ourselves whether someone like Gonzales, whom we thought to be of questionable character, could ultimately hurt the interests of Latino public officials. If the name "Gonzales" became synonymous with incompetence and corruption, how would we be helping our community by pushing this appointee on the American people?

In the end, we consulted our membership and our conscience, and decided to speak out against Alberto Gonzales. Not because we didn't want to see a Latino serve as Attorney General, but because we didn't want that particular person as the highest law enforcement official in the nation.

These days, I see an unfortunate parallel between the drive by Hispanic organizations to have Alberto Gonzales serve as Attorney General, and the honest, but misguided push by feminists today to elect a woman president of the United States, no matter who she is.

Jennifer Baumgardner, who co-wrote one of my favorite books on feminism, has softly scolded women for not sticking to Hillary Clinton. In a recent Huffington Post blog, she writes: "Here we are: several generations raised with the mantra that a 'woman' could be president, and learning that we don't mean any woman who actually exists."

An activist of incredible depth and courage, Gloria Feldt promotes collective action by all women in support of Clinton at the voting booth: "[We] feminists... might decide to squander this Moment and justify in a thousand ways why it's our right to decide as individuals when we choose our candidate." She doesn't seem to think that choosing a candidate on his or her merits is necessary when that candidate is a woman.

I don't support Hillary Clinton's candidacy, but she is no Alberto Gonzales. She has been a fighter, taking a lot of undeserved hits by misogynists for being an outspoken first lady in the 1990s. But the picture of a gender war, in which women have to support women (and by that logic, men should have to support men), is utterly distasteful and un-American.

I invite fellow feminists to consider the long-lasting impact of supporting a female candidate who is running on her husband's record, and not her own; who has run a questionable campaign at best, pitting herself against concepts like "hope" and "inspiration," and dismissing victories by Senator Barack Obama in South Carolina and Louisiana as merely consequences of race. Most Americans, African American or otherwise, are not that shallow. We know this because prior to the ugly race baiting, many African Americans were supporting Hillary Clinton, and proudly so.

I am glad that I turned my back on Alberto Gonzales back in 2004. I am not a traitor to Latinos, or a blind partisan. I believe in judging a person by the content of his or her character, and Alberto Gonzales was someone I could simply not support.

In this election, I encourage people to continue voting their conscience, rather than their gender or race. There will be many more African Americans, women, and Hispanics reaching for the highest office of the land. But healing our country of the ugly partisan politics of the last 20 years? That's a historic chance we cannot afford to pass up.