Now comes the crucial Pennsylvania primary of the 2008 US Presidential polls (scheduled for April 22, 2008). As Hillary races neck-and-neck with Barack Obama towards the Golden Fleece awaiting the winner at the White House, let me add my voice to those who are struck by the similarity, and the vehemence, of many of Ms Clinton's most ardent endorsements, the ones coming from "older women".
Let's be clear: The women endorsing Hillary Clinton are, by and large, not only older; they are the leaders and foot soldiers of Second Wave feminism, and they are invested in the outcome of this extraordinary bid for the presidency in a way that is unique to them.
I am of that generation of feminists and I, too, was in the trenches (you should pardon the language of militarism) as we fought for equality and justice in the 1970s and 1980s. I know all too well how difficult and disheartening our struggle was as we paved the way for the Third Wave, which now looks back on us with limited understanding of what we were up against as they reject our "victimization."
So as I watch women like Dolores Huerta, Maya Angelou, Gloria Feldt, and Madeleine Albright vigorously endorse Hillary Clinton I know where they are coming from. I can understand why Gloria Steinem wrote the widely-circulated 'New York Times' op. ed. in which she basically argued that it's time for a woman president and that we shouldn't have to wait, yet again, for black men to pre-empt women in making history.
But, what's wrong with this picture? Well, at the risk of being pilloried despite being a card-carrying feminist, I think what's wrong is that these women - these staunch foremothers, all of whom I respect and admire enormously - are acting like knee-jerk feminists. They are forfeiting their normally impressive critical thinking skills and checking their analytical brilliance at the door because war-weary, they want a woman president, NOW!
I am reminded of what I once called knee-jerk Zionists in another commentary, and as a Jew myself, I took plenty of hits for that too. In that essay, I argued that otherwise liberal, highly intelligent and compassionate members of my tribe were forfeiting their claim to superior suffering and resounding reason by endorsing unreasonable restrictions on Palestinians caught in the vice of oppression coming from a people whose collective history should, in my view, make them more sanguine as they strive for peace in the Middle East. Oh, the hate mails! Now I have long-time, much-loved friends calling me traitor, betrayer, lapsed feminist and more - or not calling me at all.
I am also reminded of the fight for affirmative action, which like feminism, stood for equality and justice. But affirmative action did not mean hiring less competent or less trustworthy people just because they were black; it supported the ideal of justice only if there were two people of equal ability applying for the same job. It is a fair analogy, I think, to claim that in this critical election, we Democrats (and others desperately seeking real "change") must choose carefully between two viable, capable and attractive candidates on the basis of which is better suited to lead and unify the nation at this deeply important time in our history.
I am an Obama supporter because as much as I'd love to see a woman in the White House, I believe strongly and without doubt, that Barack Obama is better suited to lead us into a new era of recovery and reconciliation at home and abroad, to offer hope and help to those most in need, and to guide solid, lasting social change (after cleaning up the Bush mess). I believe his vision is genuinely grounded in the principles of equality and justice. I think that vision is free from narcissism and I trust it is not born of personal ambition that looms larger than political will.
I believe the reason young voters - feminists, social activists, males as well as females - are experiencing their political awakening this year is because they are not mired in the polemics of the past. Their aspirations may be the same as that of their parents' generation, but their personal experience is different. They can look ahead with the belief that rather than doing battle they just might be able to effect change through dialogue, diplomacy, and good deeds in a diverse and ever-shrinking world. They may well make the difference in an election year, which pits past against future.
As much as I want women in leadership, I'll vote for that, which shouldn't brand me an anti-feminist. It simply suggests I'm a concerned, thoughtful constituent who can see beyond gender in deciding who I want effecting a sensible withdrawal from Iraq, nominating Supreme Court justices, reforming health care, saving the environment, and yes, answering the telephone at three o'clock in the morning.