Six Characters in Search of a Blogger

1.7 The Seventh Day: It Takes More than a Village
November 17, 2008, 2:42 am
Filed under: Women of Campaign 2008

As a woman who is very interested in politics, this was a bittersweet year for me. I am thrilled by the success of the Democratic party in races across the country, and most importantly in the very symbolic victory of Barack Obama. Like many of you, I found myself tearing up as he made his election night address at Grant Park in Chicago. Despite the economic hardships we are facing in the coming months, that single moment felt chock full of real possibility. I look forward to his administration and the change that it will bring—to energy policy and the fight against global warming, to our health care policy, to our status in the world, to our day-to-day lives.

But I can’t turn the page on Campaign 2008 without noting how greatly it has saddened me as a woman—specifically in regard to women’s status politically. For this year, in my very humble opinion, was the year we became our own worst political enemies.

Let me say first that I was a Hillary Clinton supporter, and a strong one—as were most of my family (including the men.) What we liked about her was her pragmatism, her ideas, her inside knowledge of the workings of the West Wing. We felt she would be the Democrat to hit the ground running with the greatest speed and efficiency. And there were 18 million people who agreed with us. But how successful Hillary would have been we will never know.

But when Obama won the Democratic nomination, I immediately transferred my loyalty to him—even before Hillary’s graceful and stirring convention speech, where she urged her 18 million followers to do the same. Some of these supporters were unwilling, however. Some, who dubbed themselves “PUMAs” (for Party Unity My Ass) were indignant about the loss, and refused to back Obama, despite the fact that his campaign platform was incredibly similar to Hillary’s. In their protests against Obama, some PUMAs were spiteful, some were conspiracy theorists (saying the electorate had been “hoodwinked” by Obama, the DNC, and the media), some were propagandists, and some were downright offensive. I was ashamed. Because part of my belief about the importance of bringing more women to elected office is that we can raise the level of discourse. But we can’t do it by complaining, or wailing, or saying “why me?”

Even now that the election is over, the PUMAs are still howling from their outposts in the hills. They are muttering that Hillary should not become Obama’s Secretary of State, if she is asked. They are saying that it will ruin her chances to run in 2012. And while I understand these womens’ right to feel passionate about their candidate, what I don’t agree with is the way they go about showing it—with vitriol and nastiness. There can be dignity in political dissension. And they could certainly put their passion to better use.

The issue of dignity brings me to the case of Sarah Palin. I am no more proud of the PUMAs than I am the idiots who wore “Sarah Palin is a C*NT” tshirts to political rallies. That sort of behavior is offensive to all women. Say what you will about Sarah Palin (and I have said a lot), she does not deserve that kind of treatment. We should be able to win our political arguments with civility—if we can’t, we mustn’t have much of an argument to begin with.

Her surprise selection as VP inspired both adulation and revulsion among women. I belong to that group of women who considered Palin’s candidacy to be an assault upon the integrity of political women—and no, not because she was stupid, or she wore expensive clothes, or because she was better looking than me. It was because she wasn’t intellectually curious, because she thought mere ambition qualified her for the Vice Presidency (and, by extension, the Presidency), because she thought the hand holding the door of national political office open was God’s, and not the men who control the Republican party. And that sort of proud ignorance is the worst kind of enemy to any woman seeking political office.

Her performance at the recent Republican Governors’ Association meeting was a good example of how out of her depth she is. While her speech about the future of the party gained some applause (despite its overall rhetorical awkwardness), what will remain as a lasting image of that Conference is Governor Rick Perry of Texas gently pushing Palin aside as he ended her press conference with “no more questions.” The moment had huge symbolic importance—not only in terms of how sexist it was—but also in terms of Palin’s role in the Republican party. Because until she educates herself on policy and starts talking substance instead of folksy platitudes, no one, not least the Republican party, will take her seriously. She will be (as she is now) a pawn, a photo op, a pin up. And worst, a joke.

We need women on both sides of the aisle who can fight the good fight, regardless of their political ideology. Women who have the intellect, experience and credentials to meet men eye-to-eye. And we need them in numbers. For even in this day and age, when women now outnumber men in our country, there will only be 17 women sitting in a Senate chamber of 100 when the 111th Congress begins in January. There will only be 77 women in the 435-member House of Representatives. And 8 of 50 state governorships will be held by women.

It will take more than one woman’s symbolic candidacy at the highest level to change things. It will take one village electing a woman, and then another, and then another, and then another. It will take a groundswell of women actively seeking and encouraging other women to become candidates. It will take women who are willing to run, and to fail, and to get up and run again. It will take supportive spouses and partners helping to shoulder the responsibilities of home and family while women manage their campaigns. It will take more of us getting involved in the political process. It will take donors. It will take talent. It will take time.

So let’s begin.


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