January 20, 2008
Most of this post ran originally last July on my blog Finding Fair Hope. I still stand by my original thoughts. At this point I strongly hope Barack Obama will win the Democratic party's nomination for President even though there is little evidence that will happen.
I think it’s time for a real woman to be President of the United States. I say this somewhat defensively because it is assumed that since I cannot support Hillary Clinton, I am one of the ones who is somehow just not ready. On the other hand, I've supported female candidates several times in the past, but never just because they were women.
I have a certain amount of respect for Senator Clinton. I don’t deny that she has great intelligence and drive. I like to see the pictures of her laughing, and I don’t doubt that she enjoys a good joke every once in a while. She has presence and self-confidence. I was genuinely touched when she said, "Well, that hurts my feelings..."in the debate the other night. However, to me her choking up looked like her emotions actually got the best of her when she realized she might not win the nomination. She is gutsy, no doubt. She is tough. But try as I might, I cannot find one thing authentic about her.
She speaks in platitudes (or, as they say, soundbites). This means she seems to be talking but nothing definitive is said or clarified. It’s designed to be clipped out and run on the evening news.
She never makes it clear where she stands on issues – any issues. She’s just being a politician, her supporters say. The Right paints her as a flaming Liberal, the Left as a middle-of-the-roader; in reality it seems she will say whatever it takes to seem reasonable. But she doesn’t convince me. I can’t say I know anything about where she stands on matters vital to the leadership of this troubled land.
Take the war. She says she voted for it because she was lied to, as all of us were. Why is it so hard to say that vote was a mistake? Is she afraid to be called a flip-flopper? What kind of nonsense is that? “Flip-flopper” is a Madison Avenue term that means no more than a person who has changed his or her mind. It’s no disgrace to change one’s mind; in fact, that is an admirable trait as long as it doesn’t get out of hand. The war seems to have receded in the minds of voters as the economy is clearly tanking, so no one in the race is saying much of anything about it these days.
In my lifetime I have seen the birth of a new phenomenon – politicians being led around by the nose by their ad agencies. It is these ad agencies who created the phenomenon of focus groups to take the temperature of the public on every product in the marketplace, including, God help us, people who happen to be running for office.
I have been ready for a woman President long before most people can remember. For years there have been a few strong women pretty highly placed in political office. One even ran for President.
I’d have supported Shirley Chisholm if had lived long enough to run today even though she wrote, when she ran for the office in 1972: "I am a candidate for the Presidency of the United States. I make that statement proudly, in the full knowledge that, as a black person and as a female person, I do not have a chance of actually gaining that office in this election year. I make that statement seriously, knowing that my candidacy itself can change the face and future of American politics — that it will be important to the needs and hopes of every one of you — even though, in the conventional sense, I will not win."
Ms. Chisholm was wise, charismatic, brilliant and brave. She did not evade when asked where she stood on the issues. She was the right person, but at the wrong place in the wrong time. She was unique and the country was not ready for her. I’m sorry to say that, since I had voted for Dick Gregory in the 1968 election and was persuaded by my colleagues that my vote had put Richard Nixon in the White House, I chose McGovern over Chisholm in order to get Nixon out. Seeing how successful that kind of thinking was, I have voted my conscience ever since, almost never going for a candidate from either major party.
I’d love to see someone like Bella Abzug back in politics. The country’s first Jewish Congresswoman, she didn’t worry about how she looked or what group might be offended if she opened her mouth. She was a true Feminist who didn’t worry about appearing feminine. She shot from the hip, and got more flack about her hats than about her policies. She once said, “The inside operation of Congress -- the deals, the compromises, the selling out, the co-opting, the unprincipled manipulating, the self-serving career-building -- is a story of such monumental decadence that I believe if people find out about it they will demand an end to it.” If she had had focus groups her candidacy for anything would have been dead on arrival – or she might not even have arrived.
A few years later I supported Arizona State Member of the U.S. House of Representatives Pat Schroeder in her short-lived bid for the Democratic nomination for President. Schroeder couldn’t raise sufficient funds, and apparently didn’t have the fire in the belly necessary to stick it out. She was bright, inspiring, and witty, coining the phrase “The Teflon President” about Ronald Reagan. She also said, “America is man enough to elect a woman President.”
I agree with that. But let’s wait until a woman who is willing to talk about issues instead of her "experience" (which seems to mean her ability to persevere) runs again. There is a great deal more to the job than that.