The following is an email I sent to Marie Cocco, a Washington Post columnist, after reading her article The ‘Not Clinton’ Excuse. In the article, Ms. Cocco describes the “not Clinton” argument as a “rationale” and, by her title, dismisses the “rationale” as an “excuse”, presumably a pretextual excuse to explain away rampant sexism against Sen. Clinton during the campaign cycle. She then asks the question “If not now, when? If not Hillary, who?” Choosing to ignore the dismissive way she referenced the “inspirational quest by Barack Obama to become the country’s first black president”, I chose to respond directly to Ms. Cocco’s implicit assertion that “Not Clinton” was merely an excuse to shield sexism. This campaign cycle has inspired me so much, that I chose to devote my first post to it. Please read it and…let your thoughts flow!
I read both this article and your “Misogyny I Won’t Miss” article. I hope you will not think my judgment is clouded by the fact that I am a man. I will preface my statement by noting that I was raised in a matriarchal family with practically no strong male influences. I have a tremendous amount of respect for women, which respect is borne out of me witnessing the strength of my grandmother, who held (and continues to hold) my family together with remarkable strength. I have long felt that this country should be led by a woman because I felt that men have profoundly screwed up both this country and others. I tend to believe that a woman may, on some measures, be more qualified to lead than a man. It is that sentiment that causes me to take exception to your article.
You see, I do not support Sen. Clinton’s campaign, although I did initially. And my withdrawal of support from Clinton has nothing to do with the fact that she’s a woman. I guess you would lump me into the “not that woman” category of voters. That you dismiss it as an “excuse” is troubling, to say the least. And while I’m sure you have much to say about Sen. Clinton’s qualifications (probably vis-a-vis Sen. Obama’s), the main premise of this article seems to be that if Clinton does not get the nomination, it will be a generation before another woman can vie for it. My response is, as you may guess, why should that simple fact lead me to vote for Senator Clinton? Sen. Obama is the first Black candidate with a realistic shot at the White House since Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose last run for office was also a generation ago. Should I vote for Sen. Obama simply because by not doing so I’ll be condemning the country (or perhaps just the Black community) to perhaps another generation of no viable Black presidential candidates?
Sen. Clinton’s qualifications initially led me to support her, and my support for her continued past Iowa and into New Hampshire. However, as I began to increasingly study her (and her husband’s and her surrogates’) campaign tactics, my support for Sen. Clinton began to wane, causing me to look more closely to Sen. Obama (as I have never been a fan of Edwards and his candidacy was fast running out of steam anyway). You may debate my view that the tactics employed by the Clinton campaign were racially and demographically divisive, but surely you can understand how a significant portion of the voting public might legitimately feel that way. When Sen. Clinton, together with her top campaign officials and supporters, make statements like (paraphrasing): “Obama wouldn’t be where he is now if he weren’t Black. People are caught up in the concept”; “some white people just aren’t ready to vote for a Black person” (on the eve of the PA primary); “Obama’s unelectable”; “sure Obama won S.C., but so did Jesse Jackson”; “MLK might have helped, but LBJ should take credit for the lion’s share of Blacks’ civil rights progress”; and “I have the support of working, hard working Americans. White Americans” (on the eve of the WVa primary); the hearers, especially those hearers whom such statements are interpreted against, have a right to be turned off by Sen. Clinton. Clinton has also “played the gender card” to her advantage, selectively tearing up a campaign event hosted by women on the eve of the N.H. primary, then playing the role of the “tough-as-nails” candidate when she needed that edge to reach a different demographic. She’s also more than once made statements to the effect that she’s running “for all the little girls out there”. And while I find nothing wrong with the statement or the underlying belief, Sen. Clinton has to know what reply comments such statements will evoke. Moreover, she and her surrogates have levied not so subtle emasculating insults toward Obama (stupid comments by James Carville; “if you can’t take the heat…”; etc.). And let’s not forget about what I and many others feel are examples of “pander politics”, such as the convenient support, also on the eve of a primary, of a summer gas tax holiday that would have saved me a whopping $30 - $45 while costing countless jobs and offering no real solutions, and the also convenient flip-flop on her pledge to support the DNC in not seating delegates from FL and MI when it became apparent that she would need those votes to have a chance of winning, notwithstanding how unfair it would be to candidates who didn’t campaign there. Also there are the examples of “fear” politics (”3 a.m. commercial” and its offspring).
That many of these statements/positions were made within a few days of primaries indicates to some (perhaps many) that these positions were only taken to cater to the demographic expected to vote in the upcoming primary. Politicians have played that game since time immemorial, and the Clintons know that game well. They also know the likely result of that game - that some constituents will despise those tactics as “divide and conquer”, “pander” and “fear mongering” politics. That many of the comments were also racially divisive left a particularly foul stench in the nostrils of many voters, owing mainly to surprise that such tactics would come from THE CLINTONS, whom Blacks had pretty much coronated as the first Black “First Family”. When you play that political game, you have to expect the outcome. You can’t say that “not this woman” is a convenient excuse just because it happens to be a woman employing the tactics this time. Since politicians past have suffered for employing those same tactics, and since we’re suffering under the presidency of one of the worst “divide and conquer” and “fear mongering” offenders in the history of the U.S., it stands to reason that many of the electorate are simply fed up with the same brand of politics. In other words, Sen. Clinton employed this campaign strategy at the wrong moment in history. I’m not denying that sexism was at play here (although the examples you cited in your “Misogyny” article, such as Penn Jillette, are questionable because they are mainly pompous blowhard entertainment figures who will say anything for ratings) but to dismiss the views of a potentially significant portion of the electorate as an “excuse” just because those views happen to be toward a woman is unfair, and perhaps disingenuous. When so many people are ready for change and you have a candidate promising change, the responsive tactic shouldn’t be to attack change, call it “unelectable”, a “fairy tale” and a “concept” and then call on “White Americans” to help you defeat it. People who want to come out from under an oppressive regime will lash out against that tactic - as did I. And not because those tactics are being employed by a woman, but because those tactics are being employed, period. Thus, because of the campaign Sen. Clinton chose to run, she turned off voters like me who did not care for their nominee to take pages out of the crappy playbooks of politicians past.
The Clintons are seasoned, highly intellectual politicians who know this game very well. Thus, Sen. Clinton should know the short and long-term impact of the words she used and endorsed, the positions she took and the campaign ads she ran. Those tactics may have succeeded in winning her primaries, but they also cost her the heart of a good deal of the American people - me included. If she somehow gets the nomination, many of us - again, me included - will probably come back to her for the greater good; but we’re bruised. And to say that my bruising is because of the tactics “this woman” employed is not an excuse. It is a fact.