Hillary and Barack

I am still torn between Hillary and Barack with only a handful of days to decide. Once I get to the poll, it will probably be a gut reaction which one I choose. Hillary has more experience, especially legislative experience, which is needed to get work done, but Barack represents something fresh and new, a new generation of politics, which appeals to me greatly.

Hillary and Barack have gone for each others’ jugular during their campaigns.The bile spewed between the two has diminished the process, and reduced it to politics as usual rather elevated it to “something new,” which we desperately need. Perhaps by the time the national election comes, Democrats will not grow too bitter about winning or losing, so that they turn disaffected and fail to vote. I’m especially concerned that all the black voters who feel energized and enfranchised for the first time will get turned off of voting in the presidential election if Barack loses the primary. I have a feeling that most of the middle-class white female Hillary backers understand the need for a regime change and would back Obama should he win. I’m unclear about the origin of this belief – just intuition or some form of my own racism that I haven’t interrogated yet.

I have tried to avoid the gender/race debates in assessing Clinton and Obama, and instead focus focus on their stand on the issues. Obviously, playing gender and race against each other is so dangerous. On the other hand, it’s been unavoidable. It’s the frame that so many people use. Even Salon frames the the race in these terms, primarily because the candidates themselves are “playing” their race and gender “cards” (a perverse phrase in itself). NOW’s cries of “betrayal” over Sen. Kennedy’s endorsement of Obama reeks of that frame. To cast endorsing Obama as a betrayal of women is typical of the racism in second wave feminism’s identity politics. As are arguments over which trumps which, race or sex. And we all seem to be slipping into these arguments.

Feminist philosopher Nancy Fraser has written a response to NOW, which was sent out on the SWIP list (maybe it was published in the NYT?). It’s quite compelling:

Hillary or Barack?
Two Views of Feminism
by Nancy Fraser

I was distressed to read that the President of NY State N.O.W. excoriated Ted Kennedy for “betraying women” by endorsing Barack Obama instead of Hillary Clinton (NYT, 2/1/08). But I was not entirely surprised. That view reflects what has by now become the mainstream self-understanding of American feminism as a political interest group. To the extent that feminists understand themselves in this way, as defending women’s policy interests within the existing framework of
politics-as-usual, they have found an excellent standard-bearer in Hillary Clinton. But that is not the only way to understand feminism. Not so long ago, many of us saw ourselves as participants in a transformative social movement, which aspired to remake the political landscape. Intent more on changing the rules of the game than on playing it as it lays, we mobilized energies from below to stretch the bounds of what was politically thinkable. Expanding public space and invigorating public debate, our movement projected, not a laundry list of demands, but the inspiriting vision of a non-hierarchical society that nurtured both human connections and individual freedom. Some feminists continue to cleave to that self-understanding. For us, Barack Obama represents a better vehicle for feminist aspirations than Hillary Clinton. The democratizing energies now converging on him promise to create the terrain on which our sort of feminism can once again flourish. Drawing its momentum from activist forces, and inspiring the latter in turn, the Obama compaign offers feminists, and other progressive forces, that rarest of political opportunities: the chance to help build and shape a major realignment of American politics. That is a prospect worthy of the best and the highest in American feminism.

Nancy Fraser
Henry A. and Louise Loeb Professor of Philosophy and Politics
New School for Social Research

And it is indeed how I feel about Obama (feel being the operative word here rather than think). But I can’t help thinking that so much work needs to be done in Washington, and that we need a seasoned political hand for the cleanup effort.

My last devilish thought for the day on this subject is this: How much of my reluctance to choose is a product of my white liberal guilt?

Something to reflect on.

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3 Comments

  1. I agree with Fraser that Obama presents a better opportunity for feminists and for progressives generally. The cover story of The Nation made a similar point, and moreover helped me remember how the Clintons treated their more progressive friends while Bill was in office. I don’t think that Hillary Clinton’s experience is much of an advantage–what she seems to have learned from it is to triangulate and keep pulling right.

    I also think Obama has a much better chance against McCain. Many people mistakenly believe McCain to be a middle-of-the-road kind of guy, and given the choice between McCain and Clinton, a lot of voters won’t see much of a difference and many of them might go for McCain. The thought of a McCain/Clinton race is utterly depressing to me to begin with, but I am also thinking about the very practical goal of getting a Democrat into the White House.

    Besides, even though I’m not as dazzled by Obama as others are, I’m letting myself get caught up in the Obamamania just a little bit. After 7 years of Bush I don’t mind fooling myself a little so I can feel some of that hope.

  2. Nice post, Laura! And it’s great to see you blogging again.

    I am pretty much in lock-step with Cris on this, too, and you and Fraser: Obama is the real difference. McCain and Clinton seem like two faces on the same coin.

  3. I dunno, after the “fresh” directions the Bush NeoCons have hijacked our country into, I think we need Hillary’s experience and ass-kicking to undo 8yrs of incompetence and antidemocratic tampering. Actually, when comparing policies and proposals, there is little difference between BO and HC; and Hillary gets nothing but vitipurous scrutiny while Obama is lavished with adoration (peruse headlines on todays WP and NYT if you doubt).

    I think Obama would be a fine choice, and I think he’d steal some moderate conservatives based upon white guilt and disenchantment with McCain, but I’m not ready to drink the Obama Kool-Aid just yet. Besides, how ironic would it be if the Bushies’ imperial presidency was next handed to Hillary, she who is most demonized and despised by the GOP zombies? The fact that she scares the RepubliChristians spitless is just another (admittedly vindictive) reason I think she should be the next President.

    ~Shaun

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