The tension has been simmering for awhile but yesterday it boiled over.
"Endorsement Monday" was teeming with surprises and an old-fashioned "battle between the sexes" when one of the National Organization for Women (NOW) NY chapters came out swinging.
Coming off the heels of a landslide victory in South Carolina, Barack Obama struck gold yesterday with the holy trinity of Kennedy endorsements: Senator Ted Kennedy, Patrick Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy. Both Clinton and Obama sought out the endorsement of the second longest-term Democrat in the Senate, Ted Kennedy.
I have had no allegiance to any of the candidates, preferring instead to remain outside the fray. So it was Ted Kennedy's endorsement that caused an "ouch" under my breath (as in "Ouch, Hillary, that's gotta hurt!"). But Toni "Bill Clinton is the first Black President" Morrison throwing her support behind Obama is pretty much a door-slam in the face of the Clintons.
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South Carolina's primary brought Obama 55% of the vote to Clinton's 26% which, looking back, is no surprise considering the Clinton's less than thoughtful – some might say racist – rhetoric in the days leading up to Saturday's event.
How many ways can you wear desperation? Here are just a couple:
- Bill Clinton remarking that Hillary doesn't have a chance in South Carolina because many African-Americans would vote for Barack because he's black.
- Hillary Clinton implying that Lyndon B. Johnson should be given more credit for civil rights gains than Martin Luther King. Jr.
Hillary and Bill Clinton have been integrally involved with the struggle for civil rights for many years and have clearly proven themselves to be deeply committed to the cause – which makes their recent comments all the more astounding and thoughtless.
This particular New York chapter of NOW sent a scathing letter to Senator Kennedy chastising him for his endorsement of Barack Obama:
"Women have just experienced the ultimate betrayal. Senator Kennedy's endorsement of Hillary Clinton's opponent in the Democratic presidential primary campaign has really hit women hard. Women have forgiven Kennedy, stuck up for him, stood by him, hushed the fact that he was late in his support of Title IX, the ERA, the Family Leave and Medical Act to name a few. Women have buried their anger that his support for the compromises in No Child Left Behind and the Medicare bogus drug benefit brought us the passage of these flawed bills. We have thanked him for his ardent support of many civil rights bills, BUT women are always waiting in the wings."
The letter is more than an indictment of Kennedy's choice, it contains the exhaustive anger of an organization that has made Ted Kennedy, and a host of white men and the organizations they run or help to run, the scapegoats for a nation's inability to ensure equality and justice for its female population.
Named in the indictment are Howard Dean, Jim Dean and the progressive web site Alternet.org:
"And now the greatest betrayal! We are repaid with his abandonment! He's picked the new guy over us. He's joined the list of progressive white men who can't or won't handle the prospect of a woman president who is Hillary Clinton (they will of course say they support a woman president, just not "this" one). ‘They' are Howard Dean and Jim Dean (Yup! That's Howard's brother) who run DFA (that's the group and list from the Dean campaign that we women helped start and grow). They are Alternet, Progressive Democrats of America, democrats.com, Kucinich lovers and all the other groups that take women's money, say they'll do feminist and women's rights issues one of these days, and conveniently forget to mention women and children when they talk about poverty or human needs or America's future or whatever."
Senator Ted Kennedy's outstretched hand to Obama is not a slap in the face to feminism. Just as an endorsement of Clinton by Alice Huffman, the head of the California NAACP, is not a slap in the face to civil rights for African-Americans. Isn't this race supposed to be about unification and the understanding that both candidates would do much for both women's rights and civil rights? And what about where those two collide? Like say, for African-American women, Latina women, Asian American women, Native American women, Pacific Islander women?
Has the leadership of this NY chapter of the National Organization for Women become so blinded by their allegiance to a female candidate that they believe that being female – across race, ethnicity, culture, age and class – automatically means support for the white woman running for president?
I am a strong and ardent feminist and believe me when I say I understand the anger and frustration in NOW's letter.
I believe that the campaigns do not address women and the impact of the economy, war, healthcare issues, and immigration on women as much as they should. I am angry that the campaigns do not address the lack of access to affordable childcare or access to contraception or the state of our crumbling abortion laws or how the global gag rule affects women around the world or how pouring billions of dollars into failed abstinence only programs means our young women are more prone to teen pregnancy.
But I cannot believe, as Emily Bazelon writes in Slate, that Hillary Clinton is my only choice, as a female voter in this country. I cannot believe that Hillary Clinton is the only choice for voters – male or female – in this country who believe in equality, justice, and dignity for women of all races, ages, ethnicities and income levels.
In fact, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America in her "message to pro-choice voters" writes,
"Let me be clear: Here are the facts pro-choice voters need as they head to the polls, whether this weekend in South Carolina, on "Tsunami Tuesday" to vote for the Democratic Party's nominee, or on November 4 when we all vote for the next president of the United States: Sens. Clinton, Edwards, and Obama are fully pro-choice. NARAL Pro-Choice America endorsed all three candidates in their previous campaigns. All of the candidates have voted pro-choice; have publicly affirmed that they are pro-choice; and have taken actions that back up their pro-choice voting records and statements."
However, despite Obama's victory in South Carolina, Hillary Clinton still has a lot of support from white, black and Latino voters. An endorsement by Senator Kennedy is not the end-all-be-all nor is a win in South Carolina.
Matt Cooper believes Hillary has an excellent chance on Super Tuesday to bring in some key delegates from states like California, New Mexico, New York and New Jersey.
But the underlying issue – the tension that rose to the surface yesterday and that continues to percolate – is whether we all fall prey to pitting race against gender on the Democratic ticket. In that scenario, no matter how much this NOW chapter and others who believe that a candidates' gender trumps all women will surely lose.
To read the full text of this NY chapter of NOW's letter, go to Politico.com.
For more on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, visit our candidate pages.