Archive for Saturday, May 24, 2008

Campaign diversity takes ugly turn

May 24, 2008


— Is there anyone who still remembers the folksy winter tableau? Eight Democratic candidates against the picturesque backdrop of Iowa and New Hampshire. It was a feel-good photo-op of diversity. The Democratic Party was black and white and Hispanic, male and female and proud. Our party, its leaders said, looks like America.

As for Barack and Hillary? Yes, there were the predictable magazine cover stories asking whether America was "ready" for an African-American or a woman. But these were not long-shot candidates, a favorite son or daughter running to prove a point.

Obama presented himself as the American sum of his roots. He wasn't "the African-American candidate" but the post-racial, post-divisive orator whose presence and eloquence promised to turn that page. For her part, Clinton seemed to leap over the old gender barriers simply by being the front-runner. For once, a woman was the experienced candidate, the tough guy in the race.

Now what? The sense of freshness, the pleasure of breaking barriers, has been nearly exhausted. We've gone from party lovefest to food fight, from having our eyes on the prize to feeling like partisans at a prizefight.

Look at any blog where opinion-hurling - Racist! Sexist! - has become a bitter sport. The pollsters have sliced and diced us into demographic tidbits of race, gender, class and age, producing self-fulfilling prophecies of splinter. Now national polls say a quarter of all Hillary supporters won't vote for Barack. And the feeling is mutual.

This is what America looks like?

As one supporter told Hillary in an e-mail, "It's not over until the lady in the pantsuit says it is." But the campaign obits are written and waiting for release. So, for many women, the feel-good tableau is tainted by a 5 o'clock shadow of bad feelings. A historic campaign has opened fissures along historic fault lines.

The deepest is between women and our culture. The campaign was rife with reminders of how women charging forward are pushed backward. Hillary supporters aren't the only women who have rediscovered a word rarely spoken outside of women's studies class: misogyny. How else to explain the focus on Hillary's cackle and cleavage, the T-shirt that read "If Only Hillary Had Married OJ Instead"? Or the casual use of the b-word? Or the "hilarious collectible" given to the husband of a prominent politician on his birthday: a Hillary nutcracker?

All season, cable news anchors displayed boorish contempt for a woman Chris Matthews called "Nurse Ratched." A radio host, Randi Rhodes, called the senator a "f--ing whore" while calling herself a progressive. In offices, sly jokes are forwarded by e-mail and women who do not laugh are accused of being "too sensitive." Women who protest are accused of playing the gender card.

There are fractures as well, long dormant, between African-American and white women. Sisters and sisterhood. Who defines a double bind? Who limits that identity?

And the generation gap? Has it become an unbridgeable chasm? Many feminist elders see Obama as just another man leapfrogging over a qualified woman to the corner office. Many post-feminist daughters describe the former first lady as "old politics" and define progress as voting for the person, not the gender.

As for class divisions? Many urban professional women whose lives followed the same arc judge Hillary as if she were running for Perfect Woman while down-the-economic-ladder women identified more with this Wellesley graduate for president.

And as if that weren't enough, at the last minute there was a wedge driven into the reliably Democratic pro-choice community. In a gratuitous slap, NARAL Pro-Choice America pre-emptively endorsed Obama, prompting one among thousands of angry pro-choice women to write: "Et tu, Brute?"

I am sure there will be endless postmortems and Ph.D. theses written on this primary. How did race and gender tip the balance? Was this a loss for women or one woman? Did Hillary blaze the path or leave an ugly footprint for the next woman?

Time and the specter of John McCain may patch these crevices. But we have watched the political become (too) personal. We have watched the first optimistic blush of diversity get bloodied with tribalism.

Both Clinton and Obama brought new voters and energy into the compelling narrative of this campaign. But how hard will it be to rebuild the Humpty Dumpty of diversity into the portrait of what America looks like ... at its best?

- Ellen Goodman is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


Godot 9 years, 11 months ago

Looks like the Dems are eathing their own. Just desserts.

Flap Doodle 9 years, 11 months ago

BTW, Randi Rhodes used to be one of the stars on Air America.

bearded_gnome 9 years, 11 months ago

note, they are not direct talks. and bush, you know, was referring to the idiots like o'bama who want to negotizate with the president of iran, and Jimmy carter who met with hamas. note, israel is not meeting with hamas. again, maxy cites irrelevant web content trying to make his vacuous points.

Godot 9 years, 11 months ago

Earth to Beo: McCain and Bush are opposites, on ideological and personal issues. If you Dems are counting on that "3rd Bush Presidency" spin to throw the election your way, you are delusional.

beaumanoir 9 years, 11 months ago

I do not understand: Hillary claims to have the largest number of people ever voting for a candidate in primaries and she says she is a victim of sexism?????????What importance has a (repulsive) nutckraker story compared to an incompetent managment of a campaign and a budget?

Speakout 9 years, 11 months ago

Well, well, well. I wondered how long it would take a pundit to come up with this article. And I am wondering how much of what was printed is really the truth of the matter.I am not for, couldn't be for, Hillary Clinton. Not because she is a woman. Not because she wears pants suits or has a voice unlike any of other candidates'. I am not for her because I don't agree with her. PERIOD. I don't like the way she campaigns or the way she presents herself. I don't want Bill hanging around either. I think she thinks she is 'entitled' to the nomination and she isn't. No one is entitled except the one chosen by their party.I am not for Barak Obama because he is Black. I like what he says and the way he presents it. I think he has great leadship skills, a good way of presenting himself that is thoughtful and mature, perhaps responsible. He isn't full of gimmicks or tricks.In a larger sense we should always vote for the person not for his race, gender or religion. The gender and race of a person is an act of nature, the rest is where the differences lie.

Speakout 9 years, 11 months ago

Who do you suggest Andy? I agree that the best candidates are not running. But our system of tearing people apart and misunderstanding everything and taking everyone to task for little things is pushing people away. I wouldn't want to be so torn apart. The media has chosen these candidates for us, AGAIN. Why do we let that happen? Because we don't have a nationally funded election. We allow the candidates to get money from special interest groups. Can't happen very fairly this way.

Godot 9 years, 11 months ago

max1, I am a Ron Paul supporter; good try, but no prize, at attempting to divert attention from the cannibalism afflicting the Democrat party.

bearded_gnome 9 years, 11 months ago

oh, max1 in all his exaggeration of minor news through nearly irrelevant links/quotes, of course misses the really big fish:recently O'bama's advisor had to quit his campaign because of his ties to Hamas! and, he had advocated for the terrorist organization to be included in peacetalks, without Hamas renouncing its founding purpose of destroying the nation of israel! barry h. o'bama, one more of his questionable associations, besides his pastor of 20 years; his church with black liberation theology; his wife who hasn't been proud of america for most of her adult life, and his domestic terrorist bomber buddy who si still proud of what they did bombing the pentagon and nypd hq. ***this collumn by EG: waaaaaaah!

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