You know what I really resent? I resent it when someone tells me I should vote for, or support, or give a pass to someone because it will be a “historic moment.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m as much a sucker for a grand and melodramatic gesture as anyone. I took my nephew to see the updated version of The Jungle Book, and I was reduced to sobs when the animals of the jungle all banded together to defend Mowgli. Heck, I still get a lump in my throat during that scene in Spartacus when all the other slaves rise up to protect Kirk Douglas from crucifixion by saying, one after the other, “I am Spartacus.” (It does lose something, unfortunately, when they get to Tony Curtis, who emotes in perfect Brooklynese, “I yam Spottackus.”)
All of this is to say that I am not insensitive to inspirational symbolism. Back in 2008, we were told that a vote for Barack Obama was a vote for hope, change and a balancing of the playing field. The idea of electing the first black president was an intoxicating prospect for many, which is exactly why so many voted for the first-term senator from Illinois.
That would be the case with Hillary Clinton, who is this year’s flavor of historic. As in 2008, we are faced with the possibility of finally putting a woman in the Oval Office. (No jokes about Monica Lewinsky, here, in case you were getting ready to make one.) There is something equally momentous about saying, “Madame President,” as there was about saying, “Mr. First Black President.” Just because I happen to be a conservative who shrinks in horror from the limiting label of “feminist,” I would still be delighted to see a woman head our government. Many other countries, including some actual democracies, have placed females in positions of supreme authority. My favorite was the United Kingdom’s Margaret Thatcher, but Israel’s Golda Meir comes in a very close second, tied with Germany’s Angela Merkel for my affections. The list continues with Indira Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi, Corazon Aquino and, of course, Benazir Bhutto, who, if you’ve been paying attention, was the prime minister of a Muslim country. (Yes, they assassinated her, just as the Sikhs killed Gandhi, the Burmese imprisoned Suu Kyi and the Filipinos murdered Aquino’s husband. But at least they had some real moments of glory mixed in with the tragedy.)
So yes, it would be wonderful to have a woman take the oath of office in January. Not necessarily this January, but some January at some indefinite date in the future. However, the idea that the gender of a candidate is an overriding factor in deciding whether she’s qualified, just as the idea that the race of a candidate should be given more weight than, say, his educational pedigree, strikes me as ignorant. In fact, it stinks.
Gender is a very poor barometer of how someone is going to vote, and it is insulting to believe that women vote in a bloc, just as it is insulting to suggest that all blacks support affirmative action or that all Latinos are in favor of immigration reform.
Clinton is fueling her campaign with that combustible gasoline that threatens to burn down (not Bern down) the patriarchy. She dismisses her critics as misogynists, even though she’s very skillful about not using that precise word. She simply talks about how important it is to empower women.
Except she’s not talking to women like me. Clinton would love to disconnect the wires on my control panel to make me and other critics completely inoperative.
That’s why this idea that we need to support her because of her gender is offensive. Why should I vote for someone who looks like me when she represents everything I reject? Grand, dramatic gestures are great when Tony Curtis makes them, but not at the polls.
There may be reasons to vote for Clinton, although I certainly can’t figure out what they are. I love and respect some people who have openly pledged their support to her. But gender should be relevant in the calculus.
There are many women who have portfolios as impressive (Elizabeth Warren on one end, Condoleezza Rice on the other) but who don’t have her baggage.
And I’m not talking Fendi.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.