GENDER ISN'T THE ONLY ISSUE HERE
I'm still trying to wrap my head around this paragraph from Kate Zernike's article in the Week in Review section of today's New York Times, which is ostensibly about Eliot Spitzer but primarily about Hillary Clinton:
A year ago, it all seemed so different. If the nation wasn't quite gender-blind, still, a woman stood poised to become president, didn't she? So unskeptical were women about that possibility that lots of them felt they did not have to vote for "the woman candidate"; it was the ultimate feminist decision to find Mr. Obama the better candidate -- or John Edwards or any of the other men running, although it was Mr. Obama who seemed to transcend the identity politics that many young women in particular found tiresome and anachronistic.
There's a lot to unpack there.
Let me start with "A year ago, it all seemed so different." Do you recall where we actually stood politically a year ago? We were in a country where George W. Bush had been president for more than six years and had nearly two years to go -- and the vast majority of us were sick to death of him. The most important issue was the war, yet Bush was doing the exact opposite of what the public wanted and it was becoming clear that he and his Borg Republicans might be able to thwart the will of the people until his last day in office.
Everyone knew that this was the most important fact of our political lives -- women as well as men.
In beginning to form opinions on the upcoming presidential race, those who were the most fed up -- women as well as men -- were asking themselves, What's the best way to ensure that we put an end to Bushism? That seemed so vitally important -- in fact, it seemed vitally important to swing the pendulum as far away from Bushism as possible -- that it colored many people's assessment of the question Should I vote for Hillary Clinton? That was true of women as well as men.
For one thing, she had voted for the war, and for a long time was unwilling to express regret for that vote. Beyond that, she was, justifiably or not, a lightning rod for criticism -- could she really be elected?
So when Zernike says, "So unskeptical were women about [the] possibility" that Hillary Clinton could become president "that lots of them felt they did not have to vote for 'the woman candidate,'" she's ignoring the larger context -- she seems to assume that every woman who wasn't engaging in identity politics was merely letting her guard down, when, in fact, many thought we were (and are) in an emergency in this country, and were desperate the most effective remedy.
Many women backed Clinton. Quite a few others felt that John Edwards offered the most passionate opposition to the Bush agenda. And ultimately Barack Obama persuaded quite a few female as well as male voters that one could reject Bushism and divisiveness at the same time -- and persuaded many others that, whether or not that notion made sense, the young voters and moderates he'd won over with it could be added to the Democratic base and thus make him the most effective vote-getter against the Republicans. And so his level of support increased.
For women, was backing Obama or Edwards a feminist decision, as Zernike says? Well, if women are deeply engaged in the most important issues of our time, that strikes me as feminist. But when Zernike says, "it was the ultimate feminist decision to find Mr. Obama the better candidate -- or John Edwards or any of the other men running," she seems to be implying that the women who didn't join the Clinton camp did so out of naive overconfidence about the strength of feminism. She doesn't seem to entertain the possibility that they thought there were other pressing issues at stake.
And when Zernike says, "it was Mr. Obama who seemed to transcend the identity politics that many young women in particular found tiresome and anachronistic," again I disagree. I don't think it's that young people find identity politics tiresome -- they just want the battles being fought in this country to lead to something other than an impasse. They don't seem angry at the leaders of feminism and other progressive political movements -- they seem angry at a political culture that doesn't seem to want consensus to be reached once issues are aired and grievances raised. Sure, you can call their hope for resolution of conflicts naive, but I don't believe it's a rejection of advocacy.
Women are full citizens. They're voting as full citizens. And if that means some of them are rejecting Hillary Clinton, it doesn't mean they're naive about the health of feminism or disrespecting feminism's godmothers -- it's simply that, as full citizens, they have other concerns.