In Defense of 'Cultists'

03/18/2008 01:11 pm 13:11:14 | Updated May 25, 2011

Clinton's followers have been insulting Obama supporters for months, denigrating them as 'cultists' and worse, and I pointed out last week that Clinton's followers often behave in cultlike behavior. Now we have the controversy over Rev. Wright. His more objectionable comments about Hillary Clinton can be categorized with those of Robin Morgan, who wrote a rambling and vain pro-Clinton diatribe several weeks ago.

Robin Morgan mythologized Clinton, giving her experiences and qualities she doesn't have, while trivializing and denigrating Obama. Morgan seems to associate support for Obama with every offensive sexist act ever taken, much as Rev. Wright seems to assocate Hillary and her supporters with racism. As literal truth, Morgan's essay is almost meaningless.

Other feminist Hillary supporters, especially some of my generation, have put enormous pressure on other women to support Hillary regardless of their personal preference. Jessica Valenti writes about the experience of Maureen McFadden facing the board of the feminist organization that employs her:

.. The chair of the board asked Maureen McFadden, a communications executive with the organization, which candidate she'd voted for in the recent primary. McFadden, hoping to avoid an awkward moment, answered that she'd voted by absentee ballot. The board chair pressed ahead, "Did you vote for a boy or a girl?"

"I paused for a long time," says McFadden. "Then I told her I voted for a boy--I wasn't going to lie." McFadden, who has worked on women's issues for twenty years, says the room went silent and the board chair chastised her. "It was clear that I had betrayed feminism by voting for Obama. It became obvious--if you didn't vote for Hillary, you were less than a feminist and only marginally a woman."

Still other pro-Hillary feminists have suggested that black men are less oppressed than women. These feminists are the mirror image of Rev. Wright.

Yet I'm not prepared to throw any of them overboard because I disagree with their statements. All of them are reflecting genuine experience ... and genuine pain. All of them have struggled with prejudice, and we should honor each of them for their experience, their struggle, and their contribution.

If Rev. Wright says extreme things, he has spent a lifetime fighting against extreme evils - the evils of poverty, inadequate health care, and brutal prejudice. If some feminists say extreme things, they have spent a lifetime seeing half of humanity robbed of the ability to reach its full human potential - and sometimes even robbed of their lives. If they project their own struggle onto a political insider like Hillary Clinton, that's understandable. Hillary's life decisions - even those that may be incomprehensible to younger women - reflect the experience of many generations of women who lacked better choices in their lives.

The tragedy is that neither group can see beyond its own pain to recognize the pain of the other. Hopefully, someday we will move toward a more inclusive politics that can change that. This year, I'd like to see people choose their candidate on the basis of what each could bring to the office of President. I hope that they do, and of course I hope they'll choose the candidate I support. Yet the 'cultists' who project their own experience and pain onto the candidates are a reflection of genuine experience, and have much to teach us about our shared American reality.

I intend to continue learning from all of them.