In observing the endorsements garnered by Hillary Clinton as she races neck-and-neck with Barack Obama toward the Golden Fleece awaiting the winner at the White House, I am struck by the similarity of many of those endorsements. While it’s true that Ms. Clinton has strong support from women, I think a necessary refinement of that analysis is called for: The women endorsing Hillary are, by-in-large, not only older; they are the leaders and foot soldiers of Second Wave feminism, and therein lies an observation worth making.
I am of that generation of feminists and I too was in the trenches (you should pardon the language of militarism) as we fought for equality and justice in the 1970s and 80s. I know all too well how difficult and disheartening our struggle was as we paved the way for the Third Wave, which now looks back on us with limited understanding of what we were up against as they reject our “victimization.”
So as I watch women like Dolores Huerta, Maya Angelou, Gloria Feldt, and Madeleine Albright vigorously endorse Hillary Clinton I know where they are coming from. I can understand why Gloria Steinem wrote the widely-circulated New York Times op. ed. in which she basically argued that it’s time for a woman president and that we shouldn’t have to wait, yet again, for black men to pre-empt women in making history.
But what’s wrong with this picture? Well, at the risk of being pilloried despite being a card-carrying feminist, I think what’s wrong is that these women -- these staunch foremothers, all of whom I respect and admire enormously -- are acting like knee-jerk feminists. They are forfeiting their normally impressive critical thinking skills and checking their analytical brilliance at the door because war-weary, they want a woman president NOW!
I am reminded of what I once called knee-jerk Zionists in another essay, and as a Jew myself, I took plenty of hits for that too. In that commentary, I argued that otherwise liberal, highly intelligent and compassionate members of my tribe were forfeiting their claim to superior suffering and resounding reason by endorsing unreasonable restrictions on Palestinians caught in the vice of oppression coming from a people whose collective history should, in my view, make them more sanguine as they strive for peace in the Middle East.
I am also reminded of the fight for affirmative action, which like feminism, stood for equality and justice. But affirmative action did not mean hiring less competent or trustworthy people just because they were black; it supported the ideal of justice only if there were two people of equal ability applying for the same job. It is a fair analogy, I think, to claim that in this critical election, we Democrats (and others desperately seeking real “change”) must choose carefully between two viable, capable and attractive candidates on the basis of which is better suited to lead the nation at this deeply important time in our history.
I am an Obama supporter (as if my endorsement meant squat) because as much as I’d love to see a woman in the White House, I believe strongly and without doubt, that Barack Obama is better suited to lead us into a new era of recovery and reconciliation at home and abroad, to offer hope and help to those most in need of it, and to guide solid social change (after cleaning up the Bush mess). I believe his vision is genuinely grounded in the principles of equality and justice and is free from narcissism or a personal ambition that looms larger than political will.
I believe the reason young voters -- feminists, social activists, males as well as females -- are experiencing their political awakening this year is because they are not mired in the polemics of the past. Their aspirations may be the same as that of their parents’ generation, but their personal experience is different. They can look ahead with the belief that rather than doing battle they just might be able to effect change through dialogue, diplomacy, and good deeds in a diverse and ever-shrinking world. They may well make the difference in an election year which pits past against future.
As much as I want women in leadership, I’ll vote for that.
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