One of the things I came to admire this season about Hillary Clinton is her undeniable toughness. When I reflected on all of the rotten, mean, and outrageous things that were said about her during her husband’s Presidential campaign and his Presidency (when after all she had no real power and yet was subject to the same calumny as her husband), it would have been understandable if she had decided to withdraw into retirement in 2001 after they left the White House. But, she decided she was ready for more, running for the Senate in 2000, cruising to an easy re-election in 2006, and then running for the Presidency in 2007-08. Her toughness is one of the reasons I caucused for her instead of Obama in February: there’s nothing we don’t know about her, and she’s proved her ability to take a punch and swing right back. That was a fatal flaw in John Kerry’s campaign in 2004: he assumed his biography as a war hero and then war resister would give him an unchallengeable advantage over the lazy frat-boy President. But, he was wrong, and because he didn’t hit back at Bush and against the Swift Boaters, he came close to beating Bush, but not close enough. (And as they say, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.)
In a New York Times column yesterday that I didn’t see until last night, Susan Faludi argues that it’s perhaps this toughness that has caused Clinton’s stock to rise among white male voters over the past few months, while Obama’s support from the same demographic has declined (h/t Talk Left.) Now, let me say that I find the pundit class’s obsession with white male voters to be unseemly, especially in Democratic primaries when women are the majority of voters. But it’s also offensive and obnoxious in general elections, too–as though white men (a minority in this country) are the only “regular people” (as Chris Matthews would have it), and the rest of us (who are after all the majority of Americans) are somehow irregular or abnormal Americans. Faludi argues that Clinton’s success with white men is due to her shedding of the Carrie (or Carry) Nation-style of women-led political reform, which was in many ways an explicit attack on men’s rights and prerogatives. If Faludi is right, then Clinton has indeed made a mark on American politics: Her “strategy has certainly remade the political world for future female politicians, who may now cast off the assumption that when the going gets tough, the tough girl will resort to unilateral rectitude. When a woman does ascend through the glass ceiling into the White House, it will be, in part, because of the race of 2008, when Hillary Clinton broke through the glass floor and got down with the boys.”
But, I don’t see another woman candidate coming as close as Clinton did to a major party nomination, let alone the Presidency, for at least another twenty years. I think Clinton was the last best hope for a woman President in my lifetime, and I’m not even 40 yet. (American lives are all about second acts, so perhaps we haven’t seen the last of Clinton as Presidential candidate. But, Democrats are cruel to their losers, and don’t give them second chances.) I hope I’m wrong about everything I’ve written so far in this paragraph, but this primary season has been extremely discouraging because of the misogyny that has been revealed among so-called “progressives” and Democrats. Clinton was a flawed candidate–so are they all. Clinton made some early mistakes in strategy that in the end were probably unrecoverable. But, it’s also undeniable that she has been treated with more contempt, derision, and condescension than any other candidate for the Presidency in recent American history. And that really, really, really sucks.
How do all of you mothers of daughters (and other feminists) feel about that?