Difference & Politics

Yesterday my twelve-year-old daughter asked me who I will vote for in the upcoming Massachusetts primary and I wanted to know, wanted to give her a definitive answer, but couldn’t. Today, after reading Gloria Steinem’s opinion essay in the New York Times, I know. I plan to vote for Hillary Clinton, although I am angry with her.

A low-income, white, lesbian single mother and adjunct professor, I am also an anti-racist feminist strongly opposed to the U.S. war in Iraq. Senator Clinton’s initial support of the Bush Administration’s invasion profoundly disappointed me. However, the New York Times claims that she’s now opposed and promises to “start phased withdrawal within 60 days of taking office, with the goal to have most troops out by the end of 2013.” That’s not fast enough for many Democrats, myself included, but I question the intelligence of withdrawing all troops within 10 (Edwards) to 16 (Obama) months. As desirable as those numbers sound, they could also add up to a radical, dangerous plan which might seriously backfire on many levels—including another republican presidency. Keep in mind: all of the leading republican contenders are “against a timetable for troop withdrawal” (NY Times). Therefore, I believe that Clinton’s moderate stance is strategically smart from a military as well as political perspective.

As a teacher known for addressing diversity issues, I have noted for my students the relevant precedent of African American men winning the right to vote long before women of any color won that same right, and the possibility that sexism in contemporary America could play a fascinating and disturbing role in the upcoming election. Clearly, Clinton is indeed fighting a damned if you do, damned if you don’t dynamic that none of the male candidates face. When Hillary spoke passionately yesterday about her personal conviction that this election is pivotal for the future of our nation and said that she’s running for President because she is deeply concerned about where we’re headed, I was amazed by the backlash she received for being “near tears.” On the contrary, her passion only reinforced my belief that her brilliance, experience and commitment make her the best candidate.

However, like every other leading candidate, Hillary Clinton is against same-sex marriage. To quote her, “that hurts my feelings.” It is my hope that if elected, Clinton will evolve out of her current, discriminatory stance on this issue, just as she now opposes a war she helped to start.

Gloria Steinem’s final words, “We have to be able to say: “I’m supporting her because she’ll be a great president and because she’s a woman,” made me hesitate and question myself. I’ve been saying all along that I would not vote for Obama or Clinton on the basis of my desire to see a woman or person of color leading the country. As a youth, I ignorantly fancied myself “color-blind.” Now, I’m interested in the notion that instead of trying to ignore difference—like so many of my privileged, white, middle class students at the State college where I teach—Americans would do well to embrace all it has to offer. If I’m honest with myself, I would like to call Obama my president because his stance on a broad range of issues most closely resembles my own and because I respect and even love the difference that his background and resulting perspective would offer, which appears to include much-needed international as well as African-American influences. Similarly, I would like to call Clinton my president because I think she’s the strongest contender and because I respect and even love the difference that her perspective as a woman offers us as a nation. Like my students, I’ve been afraid to admit this—as if difference was something to try and not see, rather than learn from, and relish.

2 thoughts

  1. CS, I thought this was so right on. I have been struggling with the same ideas and read the Steinem article today and felt good about what she said but still more than undecided about who I’d vote for. It’s either Obama or Clinton for me and, honestly, I’m thrilled that right now I’m choosing between a white woman and a black man. That alone feels like progress. And I appreciated your details about the Iraq pull-0ut and timelines. I hadn’t heard those exact details and I agree that Clinton’s seems most realistic and careful. Anyway, thanks for posting. So nice to read your words.

  2. Hey C! Ever since Tues PM, I wake up each morning and say “Yes! to women no longer always ‘not’ coming in first.” For only 87 years of our having the vote, I sa–not bad!

    Food for thought at some point – last year we read an interesting article in our social theory course by the Gender/Queer theorist and ’eminent’ philosopher Judith Butler http://www.theory.org.uk/ctr-butl.htm
    (who also happens to be a lesbian). Her article presents a strong argument that the push for gay marriage actually acts as a distraction for the more pervasive problem of gay oppression and discrimination, which makes our lives so much worse than simply not being able to marry. And since marriage rights of an oppressed group are not really going to be taken seriously, it provides an effective obstacle to our progress against our own oppression.

    Sigh. I don’t think it would have helped those ‘boys’ in Brokeback Mountain to be able to marry. The morbidly fascinated crowd who went to gawk at that movie is still scratching their head thinking, ‘hmmm, do you really think some of those cowboys in the 1930’s could have been…gay?? That’s where society is ‘stuck’ regarding ‘gender variety’.

    I’m just sayin’…

    The Clintons (circa. The movie: The War Room) have always worked with a diverse, out-of-the-box crowd. Barney Frank (MA) endorsed Hillary a while ago. I think her rhetoric is…measured.

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