E.J. Dionne, one of my favorite bigfoot columnists, does another of these columns about the disappointment many women feel about how the Democratic primary turned out. Dionne focuses on female politicians, especially those that were the first to hold certain offices. And there are two main complaints he elicits. The first is that Barack Obama never would have been able to win this nomination with his thin resume if he were a woman. And the second is anger with how the media (particularly men in the media) has treated Clinton throughout this campaign. And, to be honest, I basically agree with their gripes. I can quibble a bit on both scores, but I basically agree.
I don’t think a woman that was a freshman U.S. Senator with only a few terms as a state senator for additional experience would have been able to win this nomination. Two imperfect examples are freshman Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. McCaskill has served in the state legislature, as a county prosecutor, and as State Auditor. Klobuchar’s only prior elected office was as Hennepin County Attorney. Neither of them could have pulled off what Obama has pulled off, even if they had his natural charisma and political skills, which they do not. But here’s my quibble. Barack does, as a man, enjoy a certain advantage when it comes to the experience required for people to take him seriously. But he has his own ‘identity’ problems and they quite dwarf those facing Hillary Clinton. He’s a product of a racially mixed marriage, he’s black in both appearance and self-identification, and his middle and last name sound ominously similar to the two greatest villains of the last eight years, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin-Laden. I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss these obstacles in Obama’s path and make it sound like he had or has it easy because he is a man.
In the end, it’s true that a woman with his experience would not find it easy to get taken seriously. But why use that against him? Ideally, shouldn’t we hope that candidates of all genders and races can get taken seriously if they have the right values and skills to be president?
The second grievance is about how the media has treated Clinton. And on this score I am very sympathetic to Clinton supporters’ argument…for the most part. I try to avoid cable news except on election and debate nights, but I’m weak and I have watched more than is healthy for the human brain. And I’ve read about a lot of what I’ve missed. There is no question that there has been some appalling sexism displayed on Cable News programs and that much of it has been directed at Clinton. It’s both disgraceful and infuriating and I didn’t write about it enough. But…
I watched cable news do two things that infuriated me as an Obama supporter. First, they ran an unending loop of Reverend Wright for…what was it…five, six straight weeks? This was primarily about whether the pastor’s more incendiary comments would, through guilt by association, render Obama unelectable. But when Clinton got caught lying about being under sniper fire in Bosnia, which was potentially more damaging to her electability because it was her own action, the media was done with the story in less than a week. If the media was really favoring Obama the amount of time spent on two stories would have been inversed.
Now, I understand that there is a difference between being pissed off at crappy media coverage and saying that crappy media coverage cost your candidate the election. There can be a lot of lingering resentment at the media even when your candidate wins. I’m resentful of how the media has treated Obama and I’m not happy about how they treat McCain. I’m even angry about how they treated Clinton. But that’s on two grounds. There’s the raw and unapologetic sexism, and then there is the way they have indulged the Clinton campaign’s increasingly delusional rhetoric about The Math and the real history of the Florida and Michigan delegations. The media has made the same mistake vis-a-vis the Clintons that they made with the Bush administration in the run-up to the war. Instead of debunking their bullshit, they have too often reported on it in she said/he said style.
So, I really do feel badly about how so many of Clinton’s supporters are feeling let down and frustrated about her failure to win the nomination and I largely agree with their two biggest beefs. But I just can’t sign up for these beefs being valid beyond the disappointment level. They have reasons to be angry but those reasons do not amount to excuses for why she lost.
Nonetheless, even these very pragmatic female politicians who very much want a Democrat to win the White House are looking for signs of “understanding and respect,” said [Maryland Treasurer Nancy] Kopp.
“It’s a campaign, someone wins, someone doesn’t win, that’s life,” she said. “But women don’t want to be totally dissed.”
Here is what I have to say to Nancy Kopp. I am happy about Barack Obama winning this nomination because I identify with him as someone that screwed around a little too much in my teenage and young adult years but that went on to get a good education and work as a community organizer in the inner city. I like his political style and I like his policies. I prefer his ideology to that of the Clintons, both Hillary and Bill. I support him for these reasons and not because he is a man. And, had Obama lost, I would have felt like the party was dissing progressives and activists and community organizers in favor of the powers-that-be that have not served this country well over the last eight years. But, as a man, I would not have felt dissed. Hillary Clinton deserves support from people for reasons other than her gender. But her failure is not a failure for her gender. Her loss is not really your loss. We didn’t vote and organize against her because of her gender. In some ways, we did those things in spite of her gender. Please do not feel disrespected as a woman because we did not pick a woman this time to be our nominee.
It’s an election…someone wins and someone loses. Barack Obama will be a tremendous advocate for women.