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The Gender Card

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A Post-Mortem on The Last Dog.

So…as you probably saw, Sen. Clinton finally, officially left the race on Saturday. In the interests of moving forward, I’ll refrain from commenting too much about her woefully self-absorbed concession speech [text], which has generally been garnering raves out of (I suspect) valedictory courtesy. It might’ve worked better if given at the appropriate time, I suppose, but as a do-over I found it sub-par both in theme (once again, it was all about her) and delivery (she only smiled when discussing herself, and otherwise had that gritted-teeth POW look about her.)

Regarding Sen. Clinton’s much-touted brand-relaunch as a shatterer of glass ceilings and an exemplary avatar of feminism, I’ll point to this earlier post by Alison Benedikt and Anne Applebaum’s essay on Slate: “[T]he last few weeks of her campaign have been not so much feminist as pathological.” For everything else, I’ll refer to my post on Sen. Clinton’s Boromirian tendencies these past primary months. In any case, on to the general election.

Full Circle. | The “VSC.”

Tonight, Iowa, in the fullness of spring, with the help of those who stood up from Portland to Louisville, we have returned to Iowa with a majority of delegates elected by the American people, and you have put us within reach of the Democratic nomination for president of the United States.” After winning Oregon 59-41 (with 94% reporting) and, uh, doing less well in Kentucky (although I was heartened to see he took Louisville), Sen. Obama returns to Iowa with a majority of the pledged delegates, thus effectively sealing up the nomination.

It looks like Sen. Clinton has decided to hang around a few more weeks nonetheless (in part, it seems, to expose the “vast sexist conspiracy” which caused her not to contest caucus states or come up with a plan past Super Tuesday), but the focus for Team Obama is now clearly on John McCain and the GOP. “‘I will leave it up to Senator McCain to explain to the American people whether his policies and positions represent long-held convictions or Washington calculations,’ Obama’s remarks continued, ‘but the one thing they don’t represent is change.’

Update: By way of The Late Adopter and sententiae et clamores, The Village Voice‘s Allison Benedikt puts the lie to Sen. Clinton’s grappling with sexism of late: “Currently pregnant with the next generation, let me just say this: There is no greater wish that a mother can have for her daughter than that she will exploit poor people, obliterate Iran, and win rigged class president elections, Putin-style. (Mom, I won 100 percent of the vote!)…This War on Women is just like the War on Christmas: imaginary.

The Victim-in-Chief.

One of the most laudable things about Obama is that he always elects to rise above the politics of victimization. One of the most troubling things about Hillary Clinton is that she is never above cashing in on it.Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick and Melinda Hennenberger explain what Sen. Clinton might say in a “gender” speech akin to Sen. Obama’s remarks on race last week — and why she’d never deliver it. “She won’t give that speech because the whole narrative of her candidacy — and more broadly, her life — is as rooted in grievance as Obama’s is in getting past grievance. Her biggest supporters are the women who see themselves in her and who feel that she is/they are owed this; after all she has/they have endured…She won’t give that speech because she has been on the wrong side of gender bias.

Sex, Race, and Videotape.

If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.” I saw this yesterday and was going to leave it well enough alone, but since it’s growing into a full-fledged dustup today, and since Team Clinton recently made a point of calling for Samantha Power’s scalp: former veep candidate and Crossfire host Geraldine Ferraro makes some rather unfortunate remarks about Sen. Obama. To quote Ambinder (whom I generaly find irritating, but he pegged this one): “Because running as a black guy named Barack Hussein Obama is soooo easy.” At any rate, if the door is now open to playing this ridiculous identity game, I think it’s rather obvious to all that if Ferraro herself was a white man, we’d never have heard of her, since her gender was basically the sole reason for her inclusion on that historically terrible ’84 ticket. Similarly, if Sen. Clinton wasn’t the spouse of a former president, it’s hard to imagine her still in this race, particularly given her virtual mathematical elimination and all.

Perhaps, before Ferraro makes any more dubious claims about an easy road for black males in our society, she should read Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson’s editorial today in the NYT, where he examines the old-school racial fears stoked by Clinton’s infamous 3am ad: “I have spent my life studying the pictures and symbols of racism and slavery, and when I saw the Clinton ad’s central image — innocent sleeping children and a mother in the middle of the night at risk of mortal danger — it brought to my mind scenes from the past. I couldn’t help but think of D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” the racist movie epic that helped revive the Ku Klux Klan, with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society.” Some pundits argue that Patterson is over the top here, but I actually think he’s on to something (and, note, I’ve recently defended the Clinton ad people on charges of intentional racism.)

As Chris Orr notes, this wasn’t just a warmed-over Mondale/LBJ Cold War leadership spot. Team Clinton explicitly turned it into an old-school home invasion ad, the kind that’s so passé that even Slomin’s Shield has moved on. The Clinton campaign still could’ve forestalled any possible racial subtext by changing the race of the family, but, as it is, you’d have to be willfully naive not to see a problem with the Clinton version of “Barack Obama is a menace that will harm your sleeping (white) children in their beds” as it came out. At the very least, the ad gurus at Camp Clinton are guilty of willful ignorance about racist cultural tropes in American history, and perhaps a good deal more. Update: In response, the Clinton campaign points to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her African-American child in the ad, although, given the lighting, that wasn’t immediately obvious, to say the least.)

Update 2: Ferraro blows a gasket, now claiming: “I really think they’re attacking me because I’m white. How’s that?” Well, if it’s any consolation, Rep. Ferraro, I’m sure your fellow national embarrassment, Sean Wilentz, agrees with you. (Patterson rebuts Wilentz here.) Update 3: Ferraro’s done this before, back in ’88: “If Jesse Jackson were not black, he wouldn’t be in the race.

Update 4: “It wasn’t a racist comment, it was a statement of fact.” Ferraro can’t seem to stop digging herself deeper. At this point she’s either dogwhistling to Pennsyltucky or just completely off the rails. Either way, Keith Olbermann’s disbelief about Ferrarogate last night is worth watching. Update 5: She’s gone, and not very gracefully.

Wild Bill.

It’s not so much that women aren’t ready for a woman president. We are. But there’s something about last week’s spectacle of Bill Clinton crashing through South Carolina like the guy poised to drag her back to his cave by the hair that reminds us that Hillary has some stuff to work out in her marriage before she works it out with the rest of us.Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick ponders what feminists should make of President Clinton’s newly increased role in his wife’s campaign. “It hasn’t helped that this Clinton campaign has also reinvented itself almost weekly since January: We’ve had Falling to Pieces Week; Finding Our Voice Week; Unloading a Carton of Whupass Week; and then Heh, Heh, That Bill Is a Maniac Week. Is it just me, or is it true that when it comes to issues of character, you don’t necessarily want a candidate who seems to be testing out new ones for each new crisis?

And, also in light of Bill Clinton’s hogging of the spotlight — and Dick Cheney — historian Garry Wills surveys the serious problems involved in a co-presidency. “We have seen in this campaign how former President Clinton rushes to the defense of presidential candidate Clinton. Will that pattern of protection be continued into the new presidency, with not only his defending her but also her defending whatever he might do in his energetic way while she’s in office? It seems likely. And at a time when we should be trying to return to the single-executive system the Constitution prescribes, it does not seem to be a good idea to put another co-president in the White House.

Buddy Systems and Reverse Muskies.

I was laughing because you know in that debate, obviously Sen. Edwards and Sen. Obama were kind of in the buddy system on the stage.” Having “found her voice” in yesterday’s surprising comeback in New Hampshire, and with the politics of gender clearly coming up aces, Senator Clinton continues with the new winning theme. Buddy system? Sigh…It doesn’t exactly put the b in subtle, does it? Well, this approach seemed to backfire with the “six guys against one strong woman” debate spin of a few months ago. And I can’t say I much prefer Clinton, the skewerer of false hopes and purveyor of the “reality check.” Still, one hopes these blatant appeals to identity politics get dropped relatively soon, and that the Obama campaign doesn’t get caught up in the same game in South Carolina. It’s usually a depressing and polarizing business.

In another interview with FOX News today, Senator Clinton gave her own view of the Reverse Muskie. (By the way, how dismaying is it that this random moment of lip-quavering ended up being the defining moment of New Hampshire 2008? Now we’ll have to relive this bizarre non-story every four years. And it wasn’t even Clinton’s first semi-tear of the campaign — That was on Day 1 of the The Hillary I Know campaign retooling, back in December. It’s a strange world sometimes.)

In any event, her take on the moment: “Maybe I have liberated us to actually let women be human beings in public.” Um…ok, a few things here. First, in keeping with XX Factor’s Rachael Larimore’s recent observation that “Obama is the ‘we’ candidate; Hillary is the ‘me’ candidate,” this is a remarkably self-aggrandizing I-statement. (Let’s see, there’s Seneca Falls, the Nineteenth Amendment, ERA, The Feminine Mystique, the founding of NOW…and the Reverse Muskie? One of these things does not belong.) Second, it must be said: “Liberated” — a word with special import for the older women voters who put Clinton over the top in New Hampshire — seems all too likely to be another unnuanced stab at the dog-whistle, niche politicking that inspired “buddy system.” Third, it would seem the general consensus — not just from the invidious mainstream media but from Clinton supporters too — that, far from smashing down a previously impenetrable social barrier by showing emotion, Senator Clinton just did what everyone’s wanted her to do all along. Part of the reason for Barack Obama’s wide-ranging appeal, and that of John McCain on the GOP side, is that they almost always seem like human beings in public. I really don’t think this is simply because they’re afforded more luxury in the public eye as men. (Case in point, the late Ann Richards.)

By the way, to the men out there: If y’all are feeling left out of the moment, fear not: Chris Matthews may have set us back several generations, but Mitt Romney’s been out there carrying the torch for our own public humanity (as it seems to be defined these days.) Although, thus far — in Iowa and New Hampshire at least — he has not been greeted as a liberator.

Update: “No woman is illegal“? Oh, please. That doesn’t even make any sense.

Speaking of Reality Checks…

‘Gender,’ writes Gloria Steinem on the op-ed page of the Jan. 8 New York Times, ‘is probably the most restricting force in American life.’ That is incorrect. Poverty is the most restricting force in American life. It’s become somewhat unfashionable to point this out, but I don’t see how it could be otherwise.Slate‘s Tim Noah responds to Gloria Steinem, concluding that “Steinem was willing to torture logic on the Clintons’ behalf a decade ago; she’s willing to do the same today.” (Off-topic and apropos of nothing, did y’all know that Steinem is Christian Bale’s stepmother? Like the Figwit-Conchord connection, I learned this just recently. The world is a pretty small place sometimes.)

Clinton vs. the Mad Men.

[I]n spinning away her unsteady performance at Tuesday night’s debate, a Clinton advisor tells the Washington Post: ‘Ultimately, it was six guys against her, and she came off as one strong woman.’I’m just a girl? In a not-very-subtle appeal to her strong female base, the Clinton camp makes an unsightly resort to gender politics to explain away her opponents’ criticisms in Tuesday’s debate. “[I]magine for a moment that it was Barack Obama who stumbled in the face of criticism and pointed questions Tuesday night. Would his campaign dare to declare that it was ‘ultimately five whites and a Hispanic against him, and he came off as one strong black man’? And how would America be feeling about him today if it did? Honestly, this makes me ill. Suggesting all political opposition to Clinton is a “pile-on” grounded in male hostility is as unsavory and disingenuous a tactic as the earlier claim that Obama and Edwards had abandoned “the politics of hope” for even daring to disagree with her in the first place. And neither strategy makes me very enthused about pulling the lever for Clinton, should she become the nominee. Surely, given her gimongous lead in the polls, Clinton can find more honest and substantive ways to address the ripostes of her Democratic opponents. If you’re the frontrunner, you’ll be attacked — that’s how it works, regardless of sex. Update: Obama calls out Clinton’s use of the gender card. Update 2: As does NARAL’s Kate Michelman.

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