I have been trying to understand the rage of Hillary Clinton supporters now that she is out of the Democratic presidential race. Naturally, none of their rage seems to be directed against her personally for failing to win the nomination. Unsurprisingly, much of it is instead directed at Barack Obama who had the audacity to run a better campaign, present a better pitch to voters and, yes, sorry to dash your illusions Hillary fans, but also win the Democratic popular vote.
There are also many passionate Obama supporters out there. Had he lost and Clinton won, which I argued was what should have happened, I suspect many Obama supporters would be upset too. Perhaps they too would threaten to do what a quarter of Clinton supporters tell pollsters they will do: either sit out this election or vote for John McCain. The fact that some of Clinton’s supporters would actually vote for John McCain tells me how strongly they were vested in Clinton’s campaign. That they would actually vote for a candidate who is against almost all the interests that Clinton stood for strikes me as exercising the Audacity of Stupidity. Dogbert would have a field day with this line of reasoning.
As readers know, I support Barack Obama for president. However, I never was one of those Obama fanatics. I liked all the candidates and could have happily voted for any of them. I only narrowly chose Obama over Clinton. I could have happily voted for Clinton in the general election, despite her statements during the Pennsylvania and West Virginia primaries that sure sounded racist to me. I could vote for her because she is smart, personable, has values that are similar to mine, has a fair amount of political experience and also because I would have liked to see a woman in the Oval Office. Those obliquely racist comments about being best able to represent the values of the downsized, lower income white middle class were, I realized, mostly a desperate attempt to change the dynamics. (Moreover, it was probably untrue, given that Obama grew up living on food stamps, and she grew up in a comfortable Republican household.) This was clear to many others and me that by the end of March she just wasn’t going to be the nominee. Obama speaks of the Audacity of Hope. Hope though is predicated on at least something tangible. By the end of March, Clinton’s best hope was that some racist nut would assassinate her opponent. You do not plan a win based on such a strategy.
History will be the ultimate judge of why Obama won the nomination and Clinton lost. A few things are already clear. Obama ran a much better campaign. It is not that Obama’s advisors were all that cleverer, but that Clinton’s advisers were running her husband’s campaign. They never spent much time looking past Super Tuesday, which they assumed would set dynamics in play to seal the nomination. They raised money the old-fashioned way, on the rubber chicken dinner circuit and by networking their well moneyed friends, instead of the tapping the power of the Netroots and the Internet. Bill Clinton certainly did not help her. His own vaguely racist comments solidified the African American vote for Obama, which polls suggest she actually led at the end of 2007.
Mostly Clinton lost because when Democrats pondered it long enough she was not quite the candidate the majority of Democrats were looking for. As much as many of us wanted a woman president, she came with known baggage. Her negatives were well known and overall she was as unpopular a political figure as a popular one. Obama understood that this would be a change election. Clinton did not represent a clean break with the past and a fresh face. Given this dynamic, it is remarkable that she did as well as she did. It is doubtless cold comfort, but she came very close and split the last two primaries with Obama. She was not trounced. She set an excellent example of how to a woman should run for president. I am sure she inspired the woman who will someday hold the job.
Her claim to be the more experienced candidate struck me as rather strange. Like with her dubious claim of having won the popular vote, one can also play the numbers with experience claim. If one counts only time in elective office, sorry, Obama wins. Obama spent eight years in the Illinois senate and is closing in on his fourth year as a U.S. senator. Let us call his political experience a dozen years. By the same yardstick, Clinton’s political experience is eight years, all of it as a U.S. senator. Clinton of course wishes to discount Obama’s time in the Illinois state senate, but it was certainly a political office. She also wants to count her time as First Lady. The position is of course an honorary one and not a political one, although she did manage (and ultimately bungled) an attempt at national health insurance. Yes, she worked on other political campaigns, but Obama also spent many years as a community organizer making $12,000 a year. Personally, I think it is a wash. I do not think either candidate could credibly claim more experience. Clinton could legitimately claim the experience of being in the White House and understanding its unique political culture. There is a big difference though between observing it as First Lady and actually having the responsibility that her husband assumed.
So what drives the animus against Obama by a sizable number of her supporters? I have been reading blogs, news stories and asking Clinton supporters personally trying to find out. Clinton supporters cannot credibly claim that Obama is a misogynist. Quite the contrary, he arguably has as good if not a better record on women’s issues than Clinton. Throughout the campaign, he has been uniformly polite and deferential with Clinton. I will grant you that many commentators showed their misogyny, as this will attest. Mostly they represented forces that already disliked her, and were principally on the right. Remarks about her cleavage, for example, irritated me as much as it did millions of women.
Obviously, given their passion Clinton partisans saw more in her than I saw. Even so, I was overall impressed with her as a politician and as a candidate. While not the perfect woman to run for this office, she was at least eighty percent there. I actually did shake Hillary’s hand once when her husband was running for president. This was in Atlanta in 1992. The brief time I spent in her presence convinced me that she was a woman of substance.
Clearly, I am not a woman. However, I think I can put myself briefly into the minds of her supporters. I think women who supported her felt at last here was a woman who could truly be elected president. She had the right set of political and personal skills to pull it off. Many women also feel victimized by life. This is likely because most of them have been repeatedly victimized. (Men get victimized too, but that’s for another blog post.) They get crass come-ons from horny coworkers, bosses and construction workers. They earn on average 70% of what men earn. They are stuck with the majority of the childrearing business. They have people anxious to tell them what they can do with their own bodies. They were denied the vote until the 1920s. It is our time, it is our turn, I suspect is what they were thinking. Then out of nowhere comes this mixed race African American, another damn man, and snatches away her victory in an incredibly close contest with what looks like unearned charisma and smoke and mirrors. If this is how Clinton women feel, I can understand their anger and exasperation.
I am sorry that this election will mean that we will have another damn man in the Oval Office. I am sorry that no male president can think like a woman because he has a sex organ hanging between his legs. Nonetheless, it would be a profoundly stupid thing for any Clinton devotee to sit this election out or vote for John McCain. It is counterproductive to the values Clinton supporters claim to stand for. A vote for John McCain is a vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. It is that simple. I hope their anger can be redirected before November where it belongs: on McCain and Republicans in general.
No, we will not have a woman president this go around. But it looks likely that we will have a distinguished and energetic man of mixed color who has fought for women’s issues all of his adult life and whose wife is a die hard feminist. It may be half a loaf, but it is at least half a loaf. Sit tight, American women. I think you will find America will have a woman president much sooner than you think.
Update 6/13/08: It occurred to me last night that a reason Clinton supporters might vote for McCain would be on the assumption that this would position Clinton to run again in 2012, given that McCain is likely to be a one-term president. Assuming that Obama won the presidential race, he would likely serve out two terms, which would mean Hillary Clinton would be 68 when she tried to run for the White House in 2016. At that age she might suffer from John McCain’s problem and be perceived as “too old” to hold the job.
Of course if McCain won, Obama would also be free to run again in 2012, which might mean a Clinton and Obama nomination battle redux. It is not clear that Clinton would have any more advantage than she had this time.
In any event, this is a stupid and dangerous reason to vote for McCain, to vote against the issues that Clinton is championing and the damage McCain would inflict on issues women care about on the hope that she would be positioned to run again in 2012.