The nail in the coffin

January 10, 2008

According to my Salon account manager, my subscription will expire in 20 days. As I’ve been threatening on and off since early 2007, I am definitely not renewing this time. The reasons are here and here and a whole bunch of other places.

I’ll get back to non-political things directly, b/c I don’t think I’m a stellar political thinker but rather a holder of some strong and often contradictory opinions. BUT.

When I think about a Democratic primary race without John Edwards in it, I have just now realized that there is no question who I’d vote for. Hillary Clinton.

Like I said yesterday, my number one criterion at this point is potential to win in a general election. I am so shallow as to believe that any Dem will be better than any Repub this time around, and I am not so confident as to think that a Dem win is highly probable no matter who we nominate given the disaster that is the US under Bush. I drank that kool aid in 2004 and it gave me a cynical pragmatism hangover.

As far as my number one criterion goes, there was a clear fit given the backwards, bigoted country I live in, and happily for me that clear fit was a person whose policy stances I also happened to largely support.

If that candidate goes away or looks impossible, then the ballgame changes, and I think both of the remaining front-running candidates have serious issues when it comes to electability that don’t go away no matter how excited or unexcited I am by their politics.

I don’t have any kind of a guess about whose issues are more serious. Still, following Gloria Steinem’s observation that black men got the vote 50 years before women in this country, I would say that probably Clinton has bigger issues despite her more mainstream politics.*

And that sucks and it keeps on sucking if you are a woman in this country. Being angry about that suckage might be enough to make me think twice about criterion number one. I would vote for Clinton even though she was less electable than Obama on the basis of gender, because I find this particular double standard particularly pernicious. Women are boring if they are traditionally successful and marginalized if they are interesting. Men, however, can just be themselves and get judged on their merits. We get all happy when we see Obama having it both ways–he’s a minority and a true progressive. Yay, right? Why?

Salon as usual is trying to have it all ways: we admire Clinton’s gumption but we don’t like her politics. All hail Obama. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I find this argument reeks of a kind of sexism that is probably so entrenched that I’d just better learn to deal with it and decide what my values are and live with them.  It’s not changing in my lifetime. Sure, Clinton’s politics on a white male candidate look boring and status quo. If you look at it supposedly gender blind, Obama’s politics are a lot more exciting if you think of yourself as progressive. Just like being race blind is a privilege of whites in this country, I think that being gender blind is a privilege of men. I don’t think there’s any such thing as gender blind, and that leads me to assert that the reverse perspective, Obama’s politics on a white woman, would never have given us a female contender for a presidential nomination as likely to win as Clinton. That woman pol would not have made it this far. She wouldn’t get a second look. So, for what it’s worth, I respect Clinton’s decision to play the game to win it. Some of us will have to if others of us are ever going to have a chance to change the game itself.

Here’s what I see: women often have to choose between being innovative and being successful in conventional terms, and the higher the level of success she aspires to the more likely she is to have to choose between playing by traditional rules to win and standing up for difference to become a marginal if notable figure. This happens in just about every field you can think of. Writing included. Women writers, historically, are often called derivative/phony/bad artists if they do what men are doing as well as men do it, and they are ignored or written off as unrigorous if they do something different. Men, on the other hand, are frequently lauded for the very rules they break, and when they follow the rules that’s OK too.**

Therefore, I get confused when people dismiss Clinton out of hand for the very politics that have allowed her to be successful so far in this race and then turn to Obama like he’s an obvious better choice. He’s a politician too, with a different starting point in this very unfair game that has allowed him to have different stances and still get attention. Both of them are playing the cards they have been dealt.*** Neither of them can do us any good if they don’t get elected, and if it takes some compromising to do it I’m all for it.
Criticizing Clinton for her conservative, compromising politics is tantamount to criticizing her for being a woman at some level, I think. W/o that “whatever it takes” strategy, she wouldn’t be here for us to vote for. That’s a strategy a woman has to have if she wants to be in the big game, whether that game is politics or business or educational administration. You can do good, interesting work and build a career. Or, you can make outward success your priority and compromise and hope for the best. That’s a choice everyone faces, but women face it more and pay a price no matter which way they choose.

No easy choices here, but I for one can respect a woman who chooses to win in a game that really is all about winning. Get powerful, then get cool if that’s what you have to do.

I realize this argument really can’t be stretched too far–if you extend it, you’d think I’d pretty much support anyone as long they are successful. Ha. That’s not what I’m trying to say… but I am trying to say that success for women comes at very high prices, and I more than admire that Clinton has been this successful even if the price has been tending toward politics that don’t get me quite as excited as they could. B/c I honestly can’t think of anything more exciting than a woman in the White House–we have to start somewhere–and she’s doing what a woman has to do.

* Angry Woman Voter Day 1 for SJ: hearing a poll on NPR finding that 14% of women would not vote for a woman candidate categorically, and how that was proof Clinton couldn’t win in a general election. There was no corresponding poll re: Obama’s race, nor should there have been but that doesn’t make the first poll OK. Both are disgusting in concept, and yet only one got done, the one weakening a woman’s position. Not fair.

** Of course there are many individual exceptions to this general trend. I’m just saying.

*** Eg, I think Obama gets too much mileage for being a candidate who didn’t support the start of the Iraq War. The majority of Congress voted (stupidly) to support it, and apparently there were opinion polls showing that the majority of Americans supported it too (although I wasn’t here at the time so I don’t know for sure). Him not having to choose between voting his conscience and voting to keep himself popular w/ his constituency was lucky timing. While in Congress, he and Clinton have voted the same way about 90% of the time.

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