I was at the gym this morning, cycling away in place and reading a story in the New Yorker about the Bratz doll, which is currently cutting into the Barbie market like no doll has done before because little girls are increasingly identifying with multi-racial sex pots who shop, rather than strangely proportioned but highly educated women with perky tits and perma-loft heels. I was musing about the Christmas I spent driving around my state of residence looking for Barbie's Mini-Van because four year-old Extravaganza wanted it (and because no one else would buy it for him), when I saw the topic of a related CNN discussion on the television above me: "Hillary Vs. Obama." And it made me think of a few other things that have been on my mind.
1. Why do we use *her* first name and *his* last name? How has she just become "Hillary"? It is true that unless you are George W. Bush "Barack" rhymes with "Iraq" but so what?
2. More importantly, why is this the race that is so talked about, when there are a number of serious Democratic candidates out there who actually represent what the voters asked for in the last election? Granted, having a woman president would break the barrier, but this woman president would not necessarily be a mark of progress (more on this below). The first black president would also break a barrier, but this one -- although clearly smart as a whip and as quick a learner as either Bill or Hill -- has even less experience in government than George W. Bush did when he came to be president. And that if your guiding assumption is that with all the problems we have now, what matters most is to elect someone black or female -- well Sister, let me tell you that there are highly experienced, thoughtful, effective candidates who are women, black or -- my god, black women! -- who are never going to get the call because for some reason all we seem to care about is star power.
Race and gender do not policy make, my friends, which is lucky for us, since my conspiracy theory is that "the woman" and "the black" are being put up against each other so that one knocks the other out, and whoever is left will still lose against whoever the white male candidate is because -- ta da! -- s/he is a woman or black. My best hope for '08 right now is that more progressive candidates (Vilsack, Edwards) than either Hillary or Barack are hanging out offstage waiting for each campaign, or one of them, to implode.
3. My current least favorite question is, "Why don't women like Hillary?" And I'll tell you why: first of all, I do like Hillary. In many ways, I think she is a class act. I just don't want her to be President because she is too conservative. Is it too much to ask that this distinction be made? She cleaves to the most regressive feature of the Democratic Party, which is being willing to alienate progressive voters like me by promoting these idiotic values agendas that the right put into play and the Democrats have now latched onto to try to pry conservative voters away from the Republicans. Hillary Clinton has made a point of positioning herself as a person who can make deals with conservatives (the Lieberman strategy) but not with progressives: like, for example, putting every possible obstacle in the way of gay and lesbian people to have access to the rights that accompany marriage, or not coming out and saying that No Child Left Behind is a disaster as a concept, not as legislation poorly implemented by Republicans. Through Bill, Hillary is also linked to some of the worst Democratic initiatives we have seen since Woodrow Wilson segregated all federal facilities: the Defense of Marriage Act, welfare reform, the reconfiguration of health care around HMO's, the restriction of abortion rights, expansion of capital punishment and the "don't ask, don't tell" military policy. Unless and until she can explain how she is going to reverse these things, I do not want Hillary to be president.
4. Unlike Hillary, Barack has done nothing. Nothing. Not sponsored a bill, not co-sponsored a bill, not put his name on any initiative whatsoever. All he does is write books and run for office. This doesn't mean he is a bad person -- it means he is a blank slate who doesn't want to be pinned down (in this department, I find much of his hemming and hawing about racial identity disturbing too.) Remember the last time we elected a blank slate? I remember citing experience as an issue when Bush was elected, and people would say, "How bad can he be? He's a blank slate!" And I kept saying, "Yeah, but don't you worry that someone who signed off on an execution every week or so and says he never lost sleep over it has no capacity to care about other human beings? Don't you think such a person might be dangerous?"
And why would we elect someone president who, when asked by a reporter why his way of speaking shifted depended on whether he was speaking to a white or a black audience, could not come up with a better answer than that he adapts to whatever environment he was in? If it is true, it is disturbing on a number of levels. But what is more disturbing is that the answer should have been something like: "That's a really racist question and it doesn't belong in politics."
This Radical is backing a white, straight man right now: John Edwards. Why? Because he can use the words "poor" and "people" in the same sentence, which neither Hillary or Barack seem to be able to do as they weave and wander through the polls and focus groups that politics has become. I have raved about a number of topics in this post, many of them queer and feminist, and in neither case are these issues on the top of "John's" list. But despite what you read in the newspapers, the biggest problems facing LGBTQ people today are economic justice issues: escalating debt; the wage-income gap; access to housing, education and health care; the right to organize in unions.
And -- BTW -- what would it be like to have the voters decide who the candidate is in the primary, rather than CNN or the DLC? This is an important question, with historic implications. Back in 1964, the radically conservative Republican Phyllis Schlafly wrote a book called "A Choice, Not an Echo," in which she articulated a conspiracy theory that East Coast "kingmakers" were manipulating the nominating process to produce liberal national candidates who did not represent the wishes of the party base. OK, so she didn't get Goldwater elected. But this book -- distributed out of her garage -- and the insight it contained is seen by many to have inspired the birth of the modern conservative movement. Unless we are going to just put up with this "Hillary vs. Obama" nonsense for the next two years, progressives need to make a similar move. Because say what you like about my gal Phyllis, the little book worked, didn't it? We should send everyone in Iraq a copy.