Democratic Gender/Racial Profiling

I was aghast after the NH primary to hear an NHPR story in which formerly undecided women--and even women who HAD decided on other candidates-- said that they closed the curtain and realized it was more important to vote for Clinton because she's a woman than to vote for the candidate whose stance on the issues they had supported (and that's essentially what Morgan is saying in this article that Robin DeRosa sent, right?). The same story had a quip from a (female) supporter of Obama saying that his support hadn't really materialized because NH folks were more racist than they wanted to admit. So that's the deal? If I oppose Clinton based on my take on the issues (which I do) or her record (which I do) am I REALLY a sexist? If I oppose Obama on the issues (which I do) or on his record (he has none) am I REALLY a racist? I supported Edwards--a southern white male--does that indicate my latent Klan loyalties or is there still room to focus on the issues?

No doubt--Clinton has been the target of subtle and obvious sexism. It's deplorable. But I'm really struggling with this. Should outrage over her treatment be enough to overcome my reservations about her platform and her record? She voted FOR the USAPATRIOT act. She voted FOR the Iraq War. She only voiced opposition to those things when they became unpopular. Compared to Edwards and DK, her health-care plan will be too complex, help fewer people, and continues to empower big Pharm- and big-HMOs to suck the blood from the poor and middle-class. She has raised more money from the health care and oil industries than any candidate still in the race. She won't say when we can leave Iraq. On and I ignore that because she's a woman and it's her turn?

Ditto for Obama. It's shameful that he has to tout his Kansas (read "white") accent in order to court favor. That doesn't change the fact that he was voting on speed limits for county highways when Clinton, Edwards, DK, and the rest were wrestling with national/world issues. That doesn't change the fact that his pathetic health care plan is only the slightest possible improvement to the status quo and continues to empower big Pharm- and big-HMOs etc. He DOES seem to want to undo some of the harm done by NAFTA, but it sounds like too little, too late for me.

I think Clinton AND Obama are better bets on the environment than any Republican so I'll vote for any Democrat that can capture the nomination. In fact, I probably lean slightly toward Clinton's platform. But now I'm depressed. I've despaired of any hope that we can seriously address the health care crisis or quickly end the war with either of these two. There are no liberals in the race, just two centrist "New-Democrats" with their fingers to the wind. Even worse, the party that split over civil rights may well trade big ideas for identity politics. I'm not equating Robin Morgan to Strom Thurmond, but it's sad (and scary) to think that Democrats would come to believe that gender, race, and so on are better reasons to vote for a candidate than their beliefs, behaviors, abilities and policies.

6 thoughts on “Democratic Gender/Racial Profiling

  1. Well said. I do think it's interesting though-- I don't feel that I am more sympathetic towards or supportive of Clinton because she's a woman, but I do feel both more sympathetic and more supportive because of the sexist attacks and media coverage that have plagued her and her campaign. It wasn't enough to make me support her earlier in the election, or even now when my original candidate has dropped out, but I think it's worth noting that sexism has a lot of insidious repercussions, not least of which is the bizarre and understandable backlash it creates amongst some women and feminists who are attuned to it. Similarly, it's easy to understand why racism-- targeted at a candidate or simply just as the real everyday effects of inequality on the average person of color-- would make some people of color and/or critics of racism feel like casting a resistant vote against the system that is so denigrating. Not always the best way to make political decisions, but I tell you, I do get it.... I always prided myself on someone who voted on the issues, not the identity (the supreme court was always a good place to look for reasons why voting along identity lines was a bad idea), but this election is making me wonder if that isn't slightly oversimplified, and maybe ignorant of the very real pain that oppression causes in individuals and in society as a whole.

  2. Well said (as always). After I posted this I reread Morgan's manifesto and caught her line that she wished Obama were a woman. Such irony that identity politics drives democrats to support "new democrats" [my lip curls every time I write that] over progressives! Maybe I wish DK or Edwards had been women.

    Am I writing as [shudder] the angry-white-male? I don't like it.

  3. Robin forwarded the URL for this blog to me. Interesting discussion. While I do not support Clinton, I have felt these visceral reactions to some of the sexism directed at her that pulls at my heart to support her against my better judgment, which does prevail.
    I do think identity is important. More than I did in the past, and I think voting on "the issues" in a very mathematical way is not productive. Identity and character and judgment matter far more in a president than say, a senator or congressman. When you vote for a president you are voting for someone who will have to make crucial decisions in circumstances we cannot even imagine. It's always, to some degree, a leap of faith.
    I also think identity does matter in a president because it is the face of our country we put out there to the world. Think of the difference between GW Bush and Barack Obama.
    I decided to support Obama in this primary after reading his first book--
    Dreams of My Father-- I recommend it to you. He "gets" a lot of things like institutionalized racism, that I just don't think any of the other candidates get. I became more secure in my decision after having the opportunity to talk with his long time friend Cassandra Butts during the primary campaign.
    I would say that these issues and these matters are incredibly complex and can't be reduced to simple equations based on issues. If I were voting on the issues, I probably would have voted for Dennis Kucinich, but I don't think he would make a good president. A president has to build coalitions and an ideologue, even one I agree with, is not the best choice to do that.
    Thanks for allowing me to weigh in on this.

  4. Thanks Meg, I haven't read Obama's book but it's looking like I should now that his momentum seems to be picking up again. I do agree that identity is important -- especially as you point out because of the message it would send to the world. In fact, I think either Obama or Clinton would send powerful messages to our own youth (I know my daughters are excited about the prospect of Clinton getting the nomination--and they were enthralled in 04 when they got to meet Carol Mosely Braun).

    But I have a hard time agreeing that the issues are, by comparison, simple mathematical equations. War. Climate change. Millions of uninsured (and millions in danger of it). Our reliance on a doomed energy source. To me, these are critical problems for which there are no easy solutions. I think it will take someone with extraordinary resolve--someone whose conviction can inspire our ingenuity, someone willing to do the unpopular and actually call for sacrifice, and (yes) someone who can build coalitions--to make real progress.

    I hate to trust these issues to moderates who are, by definition, less willing to challenge the status quo than with leading real change. Do I think Obama (or Clinton) would move us in the right direction? You bet. Will it be enough and in time?

  5. Point well taken. I did not mean to imply that the issues themselves were mathematical equations, only that our votes cannot be computed in that way. And yes, all of this calls for political courage, which is the thing I most see lacking in Hillary Clinton. She has plenty of political know-how and savvy, but I have not seen her take the risk to take unpopular stands on key issues. My feeling is that a true leader can help us to see that we must do what is right, even when we don't want to. But a true leader can inspire us to do the right thing, even when it involves sacrifice on our part. This is the potential that I see in the Obama campaign.
    Thanks for the opportunity to clarify that I meant in no way to seem dismissive of issues. It's just that the older I get, the more complex it becomes. As I said before, it is always, to some degree, a leap of faith. Let us hope we (collectively) can avoid leaping over a cliff (which is what we ended up doing in the last two elections)

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