The woman vs. the black guy
Who's more terrifying to red states, smart Hillary or savvy Barack? The nation trembles
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
It's the question everyone seems to want to address, the imponderable and frightening and slightly insane sociopolitical phenomenon that's happening right now to such a degree that even the left is falling all over itself trying to digest and parse and comprehend it all at once, and simply can't.
It is this: Just how the hell did it come to pass and which planets finally aligned and what sort of Kool-Aid has been gulped by the universe that the two white-hot Dem frontrunners, the two brightest lights on the political spectrum for the 2008 presidential election also just so happen to be members of the two most controversial/least represented groups in modern uber-white ultra-patriarchal American snake-oil politics — which is to say, a smart, savvy woman and a smart, savvy black male?
It's a stunning thing to watch. Right now, the various spurts of venom aimed at Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama from conservative pundits and politicos are, at best, scattershot and convulsive, with only MSNBC's Chris Matthews proving himself to be a consistent blowhard jackass in his relentless slamming of Hillary by claiming that she only made it this far due to adultery-survivor sympathy. Hey, Chris? 2001 called. It wants its puerile, sexist analysis back. Thank you.
Yes indeed, the sexism that surrounds Clinton's run like a toxic fog is almost too easy to spot. (Fox News is, naturally, fueling its entire 2008 programming schedule with it.) It is de facto, built-in, implied and inherent in the coverage of just about everything she does, and what's most amazing to me is that people are still surprised that the sexism is there at all, much less so apparent and shameless.
To which I can only reply: I'm sorry, did you somehow miss the last seven years of brutal, testosterone-drunk war-sucking macho neocon hell? Did your noise-canceling headphones somehow block out the sound of those 10,000 tiny, clashing penises, banging like Satan's own baby rattle all the way from Osama's cave to the Oval Office to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's gay fetish dungeon in downtown Tehran?
Because truly, while a record number of women currently serve in Congress, Washington is still very much an inbred old-boy's network, so deeply entrenched in ancient male power structures and so drunk on stagnant machismo and so poisoned by the Christian right's woman-in-her-place mentality, it will require a couple more decades and a few hundred more dead southern congressmen before the innate sexism finally fades to a tolerable scar.
(Actually, at the moment, it's tough to tell which aspect the right hates more about Hillary: the fact that she's a woman or the fact that she's a Clinton. I think it's a lethal mix of both, the unconscionable right-wing double whammy, insult added to injury and all resulting in a liberal vagina monologue the misogynistic right is simply not ready to hear.)
As for Obama, well, he's not so easy. The inherent racism simmering all over Bush Nation right now over his, um, Negro-ness? Blackitude? Really good tan? (they don't know what to call it, safely) is decidedly more subtle, more insidious, less acceptable as public display than flat-out, everyday Chris Matthews-grade sexism, and therefore, not so easy to spot. Not yet, anyway.
So far, no one on the right really seems to know the best way to play the race card against Obama. Not that they won't try. Will they go after the drug thing? Paint him as a friend to scary hip-hop thug rappers? Resort to saying 'Obama' and 'Osama' in the same sentence so as to confuse the same red state knuckle-draggers who still believe Saddam orchestrated 9/11? Hard to tell. But rest assured, they'll find a way.
Or, you know, maybe they won't. After all, the right has its own heaping bucket of problems right now, not the least of which is the weakest and craziest and least palatable field of GOP contenders in 50 years. There's the chipper creationist nutball who loves him some Chuck Norris, the stupefied Mormon mannequin who simply cannot believe the world is so icky and complicated, the doddering Iraq-loving war vet who seems to be getting more unstable by the minute, and the cross-dressing former New York mayor who has "9/11" tattooed on his ego in fake blood. And oh yes, a zany old anti-choice libertarian who somehow keeps raising piles of cash and sending fascinating postcards from the edge of political reason. Cool!
Perhaps this is the best news of all. The right is a fractured, inchoate mess, with the once Karl Rove-unified evangelical core now gloriously splintered and disillusioned and completely unsure where to turn to find a candidate who will hate gays and slam women's rights and mistrust foreigners as much as Bush promised, but never completely delivered. They can't yet attack Obama because they're too busy destroying themselves.
But I'm most amazed/amused at the one big question that keeps hovering over the media and infiltrating the political blogs — does all this excitement over Hillary and Barack mean the nation is finally ready for a female president? A black president? Have we, at long last, come so far that a guy like John Edwards, an excellent, likable, all-around candidate and a classic populist southern Democrat, actually finishes third?
The answer, I'm afraid, is no, we are not ready. Not by a long shot.
This is the big, astounding myth. See, "ready" would imply we've more or less eliminated the sexism and at least come to terms with the racism, and therefore neither is much of a factor in the slightest. It's a bit like asking if America is finally ready to rid itself of its toxic love of guns and strips malls and numb Christian groupthink. In other words, if you have to ask, we ain't.
However, we do seem to be at this weird flash point, a privileged moment in political history where the anti-Bush recoil has become so potent and the right-wing collapse is so profound and the women/youth vote (at least at the moment) seems so invigorated that it all might coalesce just right and catapult a woman or a black male into the presidency, despite the hardcore misogyny and racism built like a cancer into the framework of this nation. Hey, stranger things have happened.
Look at it this way: Much in the same way Bush whored Sept. 11 to drag the nation to its lowest emotional, fiscal and political point in 100 years, so could the new wave of enraged, inspired voters leverage the Bush nightmare itself to bounce us as far as possible in the other direction. Hell, it could be even weirder than that: Hillary or Obama wins the nomination, chooses the other as running mate. Talk about your perfect liberal storm.
Are we ready for it? Doesn't matter. Quit asking what amounts to a dispiriting, futile question, and let's go find out.
Thoughts about this column? E-mail Mark.