author – activist – faculty – mom
Hillary Clinton, sometimes you are like that guy. When I was in my 20s, and was dating and hoping to get laid, you were that guy who would keep saying sexist shit on a date, and I would think: Dude, you are really not helping your cause here.
Yet an election is not a date, and while the internet has been arguing about whose vagina was feeling which Democratic candidates, I don’t vote with my vagina.* I don’t vote based on feelings, but rather on political strategy. Then again, I’ve never before been in the position to have so many feelings in a presidential election. With Obama, I felt a strong series of changing but un-conflicted feelings: skepticism which turned to doubt, then hope, then exhillaration, then some disappointment which was replaced by pragmatism—we had elected a moderate black man to a political office for which a moderate position was a decided improvement. But with the 2016 Democratic primary, I have the conflicting feelings between my desire to transform economic inequality and my desire for female leadership.
Elie Mistal’s brilliant essay “I’m With Her…I Guess,” really nailed it for me:
Bernie had his chance, but as Junior Soprano might say, he couldn’t sell it. He wants to overthrow the boss, but he couldn’t sell it to the people he needs to support him. Bernie Bros tend to blame the people who aren’t supporting Bernie for not being informed, but it was on Bernie to convince marginalized Americans that he was their voice, and he couldn’t do it. Not in large enough numbers he himself has said he needs….Hillary Clinton…believes in incremental change and compromise. She’d rather pass a crappy law that has some positive outcomes than watch a great law die in committee. She believes in government, she thinks it does work and can work.
I find this compelling because I’d rather see a real inch of political movement to the left than talk of a mile and no actual move.
And Hillary–our moderate who might move that inch–has many problems. But Anna March also called it out in Salon: “The eye of the needle we allow women candidates to thread is perhaps impossibly narrow.” Even beyond that, Clinton speaks to a deeper yearning that many of us have for a woman president. As March put it in an essay a couple years ago:
electing a woman advances the nation in many of the same ways that electing Obama did. It changes what girls and women see in the mirror. It changes what we think about when we think about women. We add president to the list of associations with the word along with all those commonplace associations: wife, mother, entertainer, bitch. It changes our notion of what power and leadership are.
“For goodness sakes, this is the 21st century. We’ve got to get over what happened 50, 100, 200 years ago and let’s make money for everybody. That’s the best way to try to create some new energy and some new growth in Africa.”
Again, the feelings. It’s deeply painful that she, the heir of all that’s been stolen, would tell us to get over it–to, in fact, invite us to get in on the get-rich scheme at our own expense. If you watch the video, she even shows contempt. And I’ve certainly voted for white male Democrats who must’ve held the same position on Africa, if they’d bothered to have a position at all. When I think of the various male democrats I’ve supported:
None is guilty of anything less than the same accusations people are throwing at Hillary. However, in those elections there was never anyone further to the left of them that was actually winning primaries.
These feelings have ambushed me. I find myself reminding myself: I am a very decisive person. I have never wavered in the past. I suppose that it’s a wonderful sign of progress that there’s even an opportunity to be conflicted. Here’s how it used to work: vote for the progressive guy in the primary, then hold your nose and vote for the moderate democrat to beat the horror show republican. So in that way, I’m grateful to have this problem—that there’s actually more than one position or constituency that might be advanced by each of the different Democratic contenders. And that, in itself, is progress.
*At a great AWP panel on political essays, Jamia Wilson talked about how women supporting Sanders were feeling the Bern in their vaginas, and how internet trolls were telling her what her vagina was supposed to feel…