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« The Obama-Mandate Kerfuffle (Andrew) | Main | Cat Quote »

February 06, 2008


Right on, Sister! And well done!

Today in the Huffington Post, Eve Ensler and a much younger colleague co-wrote a piece about a group of feminists giving Hillary a miss -- Not In Our Names. They made the modest observation that one of the things to be learned from feminism was its values, values there was much to suggest Hillary did not express. That being a woman and leading like a feminist could be two different things, as could voting like a feminist and voting for a woman. Katha Pollit ain't sold on Hillary either -- that's interesting, no?

I don't meet too many people I'm much, much younger than. But I'll go out on a limb here. It could just be that many of the oldest Second Wave feminists need urgently to be validated by seeing a woman win the presidency. As a cherub of 50-something, I don't need that, for I am certain that the right woman will come in my time or after it -- no matter. In my girlhood, that was a distant hope, and it has become a certainty in large part through the ferocity of women like Robin Morgan. So I feel kinda bad dissing her. But I wish she would consider the blowback if Hillary is not the right woman for the job, yet gets it. Feminists who have worked so hard for so long are indeed owed a president -- what if that president isn't, after all, Hillary? What if, instead, she leads a vast Hillary-wing conspiracy that cuts to the right and cuts you loose?

I've been accused of Hillary-hating lately. Okay...I really don't like her, and it's not about the hairdo. Maybe I should be shot. But as I've been telling my friends, not liking Hillary and not voting for her are analogous to not being in love with a man and having, also, excellent reasons why you won't marry him.

As usual, Stanley Fish contributes an interesting angle to the discussion. I don't have a strong position on one or another side of this particular debate, frankly, but I think the criticisms here of Morgan are at least a little unfair. That she isn't "a cool headed analyst" of the campaigns hardly distinguishes her. Political commentary in the USA, particularly commentary appearing on the Saturday preceding a Super Tuesday two days on the heels of a Super Bowl, ought to warn against such an expectation.

Let me say first--well, second at this point--that I don't believe that pointing out HRC's "easy mendacity, cynical opportunism and the brittleness of her principles" counts as the sort of gratuitous hatred attacked by Fish and Morgan. These criticisms are probably spot on. Cynical opportunism is the very motor of politics, by my lights. But I think some of Morgan's gripes--her "angry activist" rhetoric--are justified, too, even if I would hardly imagine holding up Hillary as a feminist icon. For that, Andrea Dworkin would fit the bill, among others. Railing against patriarchy may be anachronistic, it may not be "cool headed," it may make for lousy strategy, but it's called for, nevertheless, because there's something to calling the persistence of patriarchy, despite its being so 1960s. I'm still angry that Sisterhood Bookstore in Westwood closed in the mid-'90s when Borders opened up across the street and the web was on the rise. And what a sour irony that Amazon unwittingly appropriated the name of the oldest feminist bookstore in the country!

Yes, the gender and race mix is a complex stew, and it makes no sense simply to assert that one factor trumps the other, or for that matter that either of these factors entails application of a simple taxonomy. Nevertheless, it is conceivable that white men suffer least from conflict persisting between non-white racial groups, or from conflict between groups defined by gender (that is, as these disputes typically intend the term, women--we men don't dally in gender) and race. Although I think Morgan has overstepped rhetorical decorum in pitting this country's legacy of slavery of Africans against the more insidious varieties she identifies, I'm not quite sure how I would repair the text. It's not about "ringing rhetoric," anyway. Much of it sounds more like aphoristic, bumper-sticker rhetoric.

My post is not about ignoring patriarchy or misogyny both of which pervade our social fabric to disturbing depths. I launched this blog because of my extreme opposition to Bush-Cheney, both of whom I have criticized harshly and relentlessly. Does that make me a man hater? I understand that such social forces don't always apply equally to men and women. But whether the opposition to Hillary can be simply explained away by gender based arguments such as Robin Morgan angrily puts forth, is worth examining. After all Hillary won more votes than more experienced patriarchs like Biden, Dodd and Richardson. Ask them about Hillary hatred.

Ever since I became a blogger, I have spent a fair amount of time surfing the web. It's funny that I have never seen this kind of vituperative language used against Hillary Clinton unless you count the despicable wind bag Rush Limbaugh on the right (who says awful things about women in general) and Maureen Dowd on the left who doesn't use foul language but wields a sharp pen which has eviscerated Bush-Cheney far more often than it has the Clintons. I suppose that with the advent of 24 hour cable news stations, AM Talk Radio and the Internet, nothing is too trivial or too crass to make a note of. I am sure there are enough people saying enough nasty things about Hillary but I doubt that describes the feelings of most voters who oppose her. That is the central point of my post . I question Robin Morgan's extraordinary claims that the hatred directed against Hillary Clinton "the woman," is derailing her campaign as a "politician."

A majority of voters make up their minds precisely the way Stanley Fish recommends they do - based on Clinton's record and not an irrational hatred of her. I have often discussed Hillary Clinton with my middle aged friends some of whom are also supporting Obama. While we don't shy away from expansive (and probably erroneous) pop psychology in our conversations, I can honestly say that I have never heard anything so irrelevant and mean hearted as what Fish and Morgan describe as the screed of Hillary haters. But then we are not Hillary haters. We just won't vote for her.

Dean, you show a healthy skepticism for almost everything. Why do you not also doubt the rhetorical flourish of pundits, Fish included? How come? Can it be (gasp!) that both Morgan and Fish are exaggerating and giving undue weight to a relatively marginal phenomenon for the benefit of personal and/or journalistic motives? Did you notice that a reader linked to Morgan's article in the comments section of Stanley Fish's piece?

And Hillary hating is comparable to anti-Semitism? I am afraid that the venerable Professor Fish is guilty of a bit of Godwinism here.

Ruchira,I share the same notions as you about Hillary, but have reservations about Obama, who seems largely the master of rhetoric with not enough to back it up. For some reason, I keep getting reminded of Rajiv Gandhi, the 'great white hope' after Indira Gandhi's assassination, who turned out to be a dud a fews years later. While I wouldn't wish that fate upon Obama, it has made me cautious about falling in love with mostly pretty speeches. Edwards gave me the same feeling, even though his speeches were even more in line with my thinking than either Hillary or Obama's.
BTW, here's an interesting rebuttal to Robin Morgan by Laura Flanders at The Nation.
In the final analysis, they are politicians all, living and dying by demagoguery. I'm starting to feel as though I will end up writing in Albert Arnold Gore Jr. on my primary ballot, ridiculous and non-bandwagon as that may seem in the current political climate. Then I will staunchly support the Democratic nominee in the November elections, whoever that may be.

You know that I was not particularly thrilled with the Democratic slate either. Al Gore would have brought far more credibility and experience to the table. Of all the candidates who began to look viable, Obama grated on my nerves the least.

Obama's uplifting speeches may sound empty to those who are seeking a meaty message but they are not as vapid as Rajiv Gandhi's. Obama is far smarter and more experienced in politics than Gandhi was when he came to power. Although most commentators point to his campaign stump oratory of hope and change, Obama comes across as thoughtful and substantive in quieter, one on one interviews on specific issues. He speaks calmly without eyebrow raising emphasis but it is clear that he knows what he is talking about. Policy wise he is very close to Hillary although his record is more liberal than hers, I hear.

Given that none of the candidates had me pumping my fist with joy, I made my choice based on issues other than just policy matters (which were not very different to begin with) - personality, lack of ancient baggage (including a troublesome spouse capable of huge distractions), list of debtors and the ability to appeal across traditional bases. Obama beats Hillary in all categories.

Thanks for the link to Laura Flanders' article in Nation - it is spot on. Elatia says in her comment that Katha Pollitt too is not sold on Hillary and I have heard Katrina vanden Heuvel speak favorably of Obama. Morgan might have a problem raising the specter of "slavery" against these women.


The misogynistic sub-text does exist. I was listening to Chris Matthews ask Dana Milbank yesterday about how Hillary can raise more money in February. I was shocked to hear Dana say "well, she certainly can't get that from a bake sale". Really, where does Dana get this thought process of bake sales? No one mentioned bake sales when Giulani's campaign was running short of money.

I agree with Sujatha on Obama being yet unproven. He speaks very well and is inspiring. All that proves is that he can say the right things. We still don't khow whether he will back it up with action. Or how he will behave if he gets into a position with so much power.

Dropping back in... Sujatha and Lekhni (and others), I made a commitment to myself to read all the worst things I could about Obama that appeared in responsible organs of the press. Why? Because I was really scared of that feeling I got when I listened to him. THAT feeling -- the one that tells you your leader is here, and you must follow. When I looked at him, all I could think was "Oh, yes -- get me some of that for President!" It was totally weird. I trusted it because I'm old enough to trust myself in many ways...but I also thought, Women my age get crushes on their cute young dentists, too.

So I went in search of all the reasons why he was too good to be true, just shining it on superbly. Well, for one -- he's not Green enough, but show me who is Green enough who could also win the presidency. And, if you can get no agreement from Congress because you're better at antagonizing and hunkering down for an assault than you are at soliciting cooperation from people who disagree with you, then it's lonely being Green. Between Obama and Hillary, his demographic is Greener. I too am sorry Al Gore is -- kind of -- not in politics any more, because he would be the one for me. But since he's not here, what type of person, with what proven constituency of voters, is probably going to do the most for the Green agenda? It's a natural Obama project, because in order to succeed, it simply must transcend so much divisiveness. Hillary will go Greener if she must -- of course she will -- but it will depend on pressure groups and what the highest card she could play will be, it will not depend on a natural liking for dealing constructively with people who don't think like you do, and a high skill level at it, making for an excellent opportunity to go where no president has gone before.

I would recommend anybody who was holding back on Obama do what I did -- find out the worst, and see if it's bad enough for you.

About sexist jabs at Hillary, I hate them too. She still won't get my vote if I don't have to give it to her, because this Primary Season is not all about making disses up to women by electing one. The values of feminism, if not its angriest mouthpieces, tell us we have a war to stop, we have an economy in drastic trouble, a peace to broker in the Middle East if at all we can, and a carbon footprint to lighten -- in any order. It'll all take the cooperation of many people, and I want a president who not only inspires high hopes it can happen, but is himself or herself, a non-cynical initiator of dialog. Women are entering government -- not long from now, we will be living under laws made by and for women and men. Hillary may be one in a million, but she doesn't have to be the first. Now, if Dennis Kucinich were a woman...


I wouldn't read too much into the "bake sale" remark. Dana Milbank is a reporter but his reporting takes a sardonic look at the political theater in Washington - more absurd than literal.

Although the act of baking conjures up a woman in an apron in our minds, bake sales do not have a "feminine" connotation necessarily. True that mostly mothers of grade school children have bake sales to raise funds, so do high school boys' athletic teams, parents of sick children trying to meet medical costs and Rush Limbaugh holds them for conservative causes. It is like garage sale, in my opinion.

Moreover, Milbank surely didn't mean that Hillary was going to "bake" the goodies!! Remember, Hillary herself told us in 1992 that she doesn't bake? Now you can construe my comment as sexist also. But I am going by her own declaration in which she seemed to associate baking with feminine chores. I don't care if she does or does not bake, fry, saute or barbeque. Just pointing out that Milbank's statement is innocuous.

If I'm not mistaken, Dana Milbank's use of 'bake sale' is to imply that the money Hillary needs to raise is not small change like the few hundreds or maybe couple of thousand dollars that a typical bake sale would raise. (He must have been busy working one at his kid's school or some such thing for the analogy to come to his mind!)

Elatia: The speeches of Obama viewed on Youtube, fall a bit flat to me,maybe because I lack a cultural context to appreciate it. I've never been to a truly soul-stirring Fire-n-brimstone Sunday sermon, only yawn-inducing snoozefests where the local Marthomite reverend would sonorously exhort my schoolmates to a life of good works. Perhaps one has to actually be in the presence of campaign speeches to sense the electricity and passion of the moment.

We have to wait until April here in PA to decide on our candidate- who knows where the race will be at then!


That'st exactly what Milbank meant in a tongue in cheek way. It was not a sexist put down - just an allusion to Obama outpacing her in fundraising.

Chiming in here after a few days away in Los Angeles, remote from the 'net. I think the comments here are instructive. I, too, might have read a "bake sale" remark respecting Clinton as sexist, but I see how that could very well be a misreading. And I like the expressions of concern about the "too good to be true" intuitions respecting Obama.

As for Ruchira's question, "Why do you not also doubt the rhetorical flourish of pundits, Fish included?," it is Fish's rhetorical flourish that I almost always most enjoy. I read him--and have done so for decades--for his rhetoric. He is masterful, not in the sense that he manages to persuade me against my better judgment, but because he can be caustic, elegant, sarcastic, and measured, all in the space of a period. Op-eds are not his strength, I'll admit, but that may be due to shortcomings inherent in the genre. He's supposed to be arguing for a position, rather than teasing nuance out of a text, usually a poetic one when it comes to the focus of his past career as a literary scholar. He has come to polemics via two avenues, I gather: his leadership in professional organizations of literary studies, and his detour through law as a discipline.

So I do doubt him. Even better, I used to get rather angry with him, even when he was writing about matters of importance solely to folks interested in literary theory. Now I just chalk it up to his "style," his personality on the page.

The answer to Ruchira's rhetorical question, then, is yes, Fish and Morgan are exaggerating. (I, too, was uncomfortable with the comparison to anti-Semitism, although I recognize that he's trying to capture a shared sense of vicious circularity.) Are they doing so merely to make more than is due out of merely marginal phenomena? Yes and no. That is often the point of exaggeration, after all. But, at least in Fish's case, we're talking about the NYT, where today I started, but couldn't finish reading an article about the banning of strollers from a bar in Brooklyn, and the competition of (and for) "lifestyles" across generations. I won't dare look, but I find it hard to believe there can be a much less--in today's paper, at least--truly important reason for a story. The very fact of its appearance is the worst sort of exaggeration.

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