Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Feminine Politique

I had a feminist moment yesterday. I imagined what it might have been like to grow up as a young lad knowing that no one like me had ever been president. It was almost inconceivable. Life as a girl must be hard. I've long understood the injustices of our patriarchal society, but I'm not sure I ever empathized with feminism before this random moment somehow occurred to me. Women have had the raw deal for centuries, and it is high time we made up for it.

Today I read an essay by feminist powerhouse Robin Morgan that at many turns eloquently expresses the hope millions of women see in Hillary Clinton's candidacy. Likewise, Morgan authoritatively decimates many of the knee-jerk (and yes, sexist) attacks that have been unfairly lobbed at Clinton's candidacy. I agree with a lot of what Morgan has to say, and I encourage all voters to read her essay. However, one claim of Morgan's I cannot abide. She writes, "I support Hillary Rodham because she’s the best qualified of all candidates running in both parties."

Much has been made of Hillary's "35 years of experience," in comparison with Obama, whom Morgan describes as "an astute, smooth pol with speechwriters who’ve worked with the Kennedys’ own speechwriter-courtier Ted Sorenson. If it’s only about ringing rhetoric, let speechwriters run. But isn’t it about getting the policies we want enacted?" While it is true that Hillary, in Morgan's words, "smashed the first-lady stereotype and made history as a fine senator," her claims of presidential-qualifying experience deserve some careful scrutiny. Fortunately, I don't have to work very hard, since All Things Considered and The Huffington Post have already done my legwork for me.

In the NPR piece, author Suzanne Goldenberg carefully examines Clinton's claim of 35 years of public service and finds the claim to be dubious. With few breaks, Clinton worked from 1977 to 1993 at one of Arkansas' most prominent law firms representing corporate interests. The Huffington Post piece, by Matt Stearns, examines claims Clinton made with voters in New Hampshire, where she said, "I've spent so much of my life in the nonprofit sector." In fact, "Clinton worked at the Children's Defense Fund for less than a year, and that's the only full-time job in the nonprofit sector she's ever had."

Clinton spent some time as a governor's wife and some time as a president's wife, followed by a term and a year as the senator for a state she never lived in before seeking to represent it. Funny she didn't want to be the Junior Senator from Arkansas. Not very presidential, I guess. I'm not saying she's unqualified to be president, but she's hardly the best resume presidential politics ever saw. Candidates that gained no traction with voters such as Gov. Bill Richardson or Senators Joe Biden and Chris Dodd were far more experienced and qualified on paper than either Hillary or Obama. Were it not for the star-power of the Clinton name, she would have paled beside any of those other candidates early on. And if we're going on resumes, Morgan's claim that Hillary is the most qualified of any candidate in either party is flatly ludicrous. Senator John McCain holds that honor.

The fact is this: we vote not based on resume or at least not on resume alone. We vote for the candidate that speaks in our voice. For many, including some close friends of mine, that candidate is Hillary Clinton, and I respect that. For some others, that candidate will be John McCain, and I respect that. For me and many Americans of both genders, Barack Obama is the candidate who gives voice to our hopes for this nation, and Morgan should respect that. Sexist attacks on Hillary need to stop, but that doesn't mean I have to vote for her to be a feminist.

I believe the day is near when a woman will occupy the Oval Office. Will it be January 2009? I don't know. If not, then in my life time, for certain. When that day comes, regardless of whether I voted for the candidate or not, I will rejoice for my friends, my sisters, my wife, my mother, and for my future daughters, that they can look to that and know with pride that anything is possible.

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