This year, I really feel like I have added a new skill to my emotional repertoire: just not thinking about it. Just not thinking about it is a surprisingly effective method, I have found, of dealing with realities you can’t change in order to get things done, stay calm, and enjoy the many awesome things life still has to offer.

Last Saturday and last night, however, that method failed me.

Last night, as Michelle Obama’s speech got closer and closer, and I became more and more certain that I did not want to hear it. I know who I’m voting for. The Democratic ticket has my enthusiastic support. So, I went to go read my Norton anthology in bed. Our house is small, though, and our hallways echo, so I heard most of the speech and the preceding introductory video from my room. I should preface my reaction by saying, I admire the Obama’s immensely and I’m really, really happy for them & all their achievements and for us, as a country, to possibly have them as a first family. Really, I am. I am also disappointed, though not surprised, that the theme of the evening MO: what a lady. She’s a dedicated mother who quit her lucrative job to empower communities, because she knows money isn’t everything, and did I mention, she’s a dedicated mother? I’m not saying that I don’t believe there’s more to work than money–I’m a librarian. I know a big paycheck isn’t the meaning of life. I also know that no man would be questioned for behaving as if it was. No man would be expected to explain away his choices to make more money rather than less. I know being a dedicated parent is important, so why is it the first credential a woman is expected to offer and a nice quality in a man? I get why MO has to be presented as fitting comfortable narratives of American womanhood; they’ve got my vote, the votes they need are people who might find that reassuring. It just felt like a big let down when I was so close to seeing a woman running for president, not quitting her job to help her husband run.

This whole-hearted packaging of MO as an impeccable future first lady in all the ladiest sense of the word gives a little context to the fact that Biden’s little comment about his wife’s PhD pretty much landing under the radar, as far as the television news coverage goes. Seriously, can you believe there was a part of his brain that thought this would go over well:

“Ladies and gentlemen, my wife, Jill, who you’ll meet soon, is drop-dead gorgeous. My wife, Jill, who you’ll meet soon, she also has her doctorate degree, which is a problem. But all kidding aside. . . . “

(There’s probably a tizzy on in the pol blogosphere, but I haven’t checked.) And when it is covered, it’s covered alongside Pelosi’s brush-off of the significance of what was meant to be a joke:

“Lighten up,” [Pelosi] said. “We’ve got a planet to save.”

That’s right, SJ, lighten up. We’ve got a planet to save, and we had slaves to free. We can only be just so progressive all at once. Your turn will come. Just keep doing what you’re doing, and we’ll get there. And queue up that Stevie Wonder.

The larger part of me agrees with Pelosi. Just a few minutes before Biden made that remark on Saturday, I was wiping away unexpected, involuntary tears at the sight of him and Obama on the stage together. All those things I haven’t been thinking about, those 2004 things, those 2000 things, decided to remind me that I make the biggest show about being a cynic because I am probably the least cynical person you’ll ever meet. So when people do bad things, even bad things they could have been predicted to do based, it hurts. When I see the child of a single mother and a former single father on stage together, talking about their leadership for the country, it moves me. In the grand scheme of things, it is much more important that Obama & Biden get elected than that I feel good about how the US treats its women. I don’t want to be divisive. I don’t want to create trouble, or savage the people who are brave enough to do the dirty work of winning at politics. It could have been worse, it could have been Webb. It was such a slap in the face. For the first couple of minutes after Biden made that awful joke, I refused to believe he had said it. But he did, and my job now is to act like it’s not that bad.

Still, in my book, the distance between the world as it is and the world as it should be includes the need for women to tell stories about themselves that highlight selflessness and downplay ambition, for them to be beautiful in addition to being good at what they do, for them to say they want a better world for their daughters while they leave the one they live in undisturbed.
 

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LCB informs us that her cousin, Ada Smith was on NPR yesterday talking about racism and the presidential primaries. Good stuff, listen here to the piece, titled by NPR as “Appalachia the Scapegoat for America’s Racism.”

Thanks to Brian for the tip-off.

Who here has been to Key West?

In Key West, there’s a lot of t-shirt shops. Some of them sell tacky, faux expensive looking shirts that you could wear back in Michigan. Most of them sell tacky, sexually themed shirts that could wear back at the Delt party if you are a dude who feels the need to do such a thing. You know, shirts that say things like “I need some lotion applied here” with an arrow pointing down, or “Breathalyzer test” with an arrow pointing in the same direction. They are shirts for frat boys. Funny how this guy over at Kos thinks that a similarly phallus-centric shirt sold at Spencer’s thinks it is also a shirt for politically enlightened people:

I work at Spencer’s Gifts, a store that prides itself on being fairly humourous and “edgy.” We sell a shirt there that shows portrait shots Hillary and Obama side by side, seperated by the words “Bros before Hoes.”

Apparently, to him the only issue is, should Spencer’s be selling the shirt? What a non-question. Of course Spencer’s can sell the shirt, it’s Spencer’s and we know what kind of people wear shirts from Spencer’s. 14 year olds. The question should be, should I wear this shirt, and the answer to that is a definite no. You have a problem with Hilary, fine. But the same way that we wouldn’t wear a shirt that says “whites before blacks” if we had a problem with Obama, we shouldn’t wear a shirt that says “men before women.” Even if you think it is funny in context, it is disgusting.

Why can’t all men be more like Ernie?

As proposed by readers of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

This time it’s Lorrie Moore, of all people who I have most recently raved about in conversations with friends! Kate Harding on Shakesville alerts us to Moore’s space cadet views on the Democratic primary. Much like Mary Gordon’s off the all concept of Hillary being unelectable b/c the women of America would be too sexually jealous (??), Moore struts her bizarr-o stuff with passages like:

In my opinion, it is a little late in the day to become sentimental about a woman running for president. The political moment for feminine role models, arguably, has passed us by. The children who are suffering in this country, who are having trouble in school, and for whom the murder and suicide rates and economic dropout rates are high, are boys — especially boys of color, for whom the whole educational system, starting in kindergarten, often feels a form of exile, a system designed by and for white girls.

Point taken, public education is truly broken for large numbers of “boys of color” in our country. That doesn’t automatically mean it’s just peachy keen for white girls, obviously, and what about the fact that girls in the country currently outperform their male peers at almost every level of the academic ladder and still end up making less money and holding far fewer positions of power?

More generally, I’d really like to know how being a fiction writer, albeit a great one, qualifies you categorically for a political op-ed in the Times that has nothing at all to do with fiction. I guess it could be b/c Moore is a contributor to the book that I haven’t read yet but that on its face seems quite odd, 30 Ways of Looking at Hillary: Reflections by Women Writers (?? this book needed to be published why? to give established writers a chance to publicly expound upon a useless topic in unrigorous ways?) Second, as much as I think that learning to read and interpret literary symbols creates mental skills that cross over into just about every area of life, I really think that Moore’s assertion that Obama

is original and of the moment. He embodies, at the deepest levels, the bringing together of separate worlds. The sexes have always lived together, but the races have not. His candidacy is minted profoundly in that expropriated word “change.”

reads more like something I’d expect from an undergraduate essay analyzing one of her books than a statement that can have any kind of serious credibility as political analysis or insight. He “embodies”? Oh my.

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.

I was thinking that I would make a rare foray into overtly political blogging and type up a few of my thoughts on the Democratic primaries and how this week has really changed my thinking about who I will vote for. Up until Monday night, I was a definite Edwards voter. For 2 reasons (I decided not to count a charming southern accent as one of my reasons, or there’d be 3): 1) To my knowledge, he was the first major candidate to make honesty about the state of the middle class in our country a central theme, and I don’t think he gets enough credit for that. The phrase “two Americas” has become a signature line in just about any article talking about our stratifying socioeconomic life, and were it not for his insistence on running on a pro-working & middle class America arguments, I really don’t think that we’d be having the same primary we are having now. The conversation started where he left off in 2004, and I am grateful for that. 2) I think he remains the most electable candidate. On that, more later.

As of Monday night, my thinking began to change. It wasn’t Edwards’s opportunistic, predictable, and pathetic comment in wake of the Clinton Well-up, although that took a few of the stars out of my eyes. It was just a recognition that Clinton has been doing a lot of dirty work on behalf of her own ambition (which IMO makes her a good role model for women everywhere, who are often taught to do dirty work on behalf of anyone’s ambition but their own) and on behalf of anyone who wants to see a woman president in his/her lifetime. Also, I felt my solidarity beacon warming up when I heard about the Well-up, b/c I predicted that someone would say something stupid about how that made her weak, and I am so tired of the damned if you do, damned if you don’t aspect of being female and showing emotion. That recognition deepened on Tuesday morning when the NY Times that filled my browser window was full of talk about whether or not Clinton would drop out of the race after NH, which it looked like she was set to lose big time. This made me a little sad and angry, which is possibly my most productive state of being. First off, she wasn’t gone yet and secondly, if she was gone, I would have been more disappointed than I ever thought I would be. Then, last night of course, Clinton won NH and I woke up a little and thought, she’s doing it, she’s really doing it. That matters to me, and as Kate Harding who just wrote almost everything I was thinking over on Shakesville said, “It matters like whoa.”

Her post pretty much captures what I was planning to blog. Some excerpts, although I highly recommend reading the full piece.

First off, Harding explains why it’s been a nice couple of weeks, hasn’t it:

“I would love to vote for a man who’s vowed to stand up to corporations and fight for working people, and who always impresses me as being just about as genuine as politicians can get. I would also love to vote for a black man who has the ability to make me — and a whole ton of other people — feel hope, and a passion for the political process that actually matches our passion for the country that’s been stolen from us by thugs. And I would definitely love to vote for a brilliant woman who’s weathered decades of abuse from her opponents and is still standing, still smiling. I have reasons to vote for all three, and I have reasons not to vote for all three. As many others have remarked, it’s an embarrassment of riches. And that’s an incredible feeling.

She continues to explain why I don’t listen to people who say they won’t vote for Clinton b/c they don’t like her politics:

At the end of the day, I — like Hillary — am a Chicago girl. Which means, among other things, that I am certainly not shocked and appalled by the very idea of a Democrat who sucks up to corporate interests. It also means I’m equally cynical and pragmatic when it comes to elections. I don’t believe there will ever be such a thing as a candidate who truly represents my values, because anyone who truly represents my values would never go into politics. So I believe in voting for the person who, in my opinion, will do the most good and/or the least harm, and who actually stands a chance of winning.”

I am cynical and pragmatic when it comes to elections, darn it all, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise. I voted for the first time in 2000 and the second time 2004, and those elections taught me nothing but the fact that elections don’t do anything to forward your agenda unless you win them. So winning is my first priority as a prospective Dem voter. End of story.

That’s part of the reason why I leaned strongly toward Edwards first. I get a personal well-up when I think about voting for Clinton or celebrating an Obama presidency, but I’m not voting my warm fuzzies and in my heart of hearts I seriously doubt that latter two’s viability in a general election. If we were finishing up an 8 year Gore presidency, I think it would be a much more favorable time for them. We’re not–we’re in a country that needs anyone but a Republican to win. So on the basis of electability alone, I’d have to go for Edwards–and all the better he’s the white male candidate to be stuck with, in my mind.

I remember going to a talk on my campus by Green party celeb Jello Biafra right after W had been coronated by the supreme court. He tried to reassure us that a Bush presidency would only be marginally worse than a Gore presidency. He pulled out all kinds of examples of Bill Clinton folding quietly to corporate interests behind our backs and Tipper Gore’s anti-free speech tendencies to support this view. Of course he was wrong, and like a lot of things about the year 2000 that very notion–that Democrats were basically equal to Republicans as enemies to progressive minded people–seems quaint. Democratic centrism may be more right than it used to be, and but it’s still left of the current occupant and right now I think that trumps most details, even when they are details I care about very passionately. There’s a place in my heart that thinks that in the face of tough times like this that it is the time to get truly optimistic, idealistic, and innovative instead of playing it safe & center, but I don’t think that’s the place in my heart that a true politician should cater to right now. Politicians win elections. The rest of us can keep striving toward ideals.

I don’t know if I’ve thought that through full enough to articulate it well, but there it is.

But, as I mentioned earlier, I’m giving Clinton a serious second look. Her status as the most conservative Dem was never my problem–whatever it takes to get elected is fine with me, and if she has managed to absorb the fine art of making it up as you go along from her hubby, all the better for her. I guess I’m a little unprincipled that way. Real politicians stay alive, stay in the game, and win elections. It’s a shitty job most of the time, and if you don’t believe me you should watch The Wire–that will make it quite clear. I think it is misguided to automatically turn away from a candidate who puts that first in the campaigning phase of the process. Once they are elected, it’s open season for progressive wish lists. I’d still be more comfortable in an America led by her than any of the Repub crop. A while back I read that Clinton had secretly advised Kerry to sell out the gays in 2004–that’s appalling on one level, but on another, who’s to say that it might not have gotten him elected, at which point he can ignore whatever he said during the campaign or finesse his way out of it. Her being a woman was my problem, sad as it is to say that. I was proud to see her out there, but I wasn’t going to vote that way if I feared it would cost us the election.

But, as Harding once again articulates beautifully, this week has gotten me to start about voting for her because she just might turn out to be that most electable candidate I’ve been looking for given her savvy and her feistiness AND because we are both women so there:

“I haven’t yet decided if I think that’s Hillary, out of the top three. But it damn well might be. And if she gets the nomination — whether I vote for her in the primary or not — I can tell you right now, my overemotional, girly ass is going to blub when I cast a vote for the first woman president. Because, even if it’s not the thing that matters most to me in this election, you’d better believe it fucking matters.

Yeah it does. And that’s a pretty exciting thing to think about.