It’s almost Super Tuesday, and my email inbox is flooded with messages proclaiming that to vote for Obama is to oppress women. Most of them are detailed accounts of discrimination against women from time immemorial, coupled with the suggestion that any criticism of Clinton is internalized sexism.
What is most remarkable to me is that it seems never to have occurred to these writers that precisely the same structure of argument could be used to charge Clinton voters with racism for their failure to support Obama. You could practically do it by searching and replacing text: just substitute Jim Crow for misogyny. But the emailers’ own grievances—which are undeniably real and historically grounded—so totally occupy the foreground of their awareness, they seem not even to perceive this glaring irony.
The thing is, even though turnabout would be easy to pull off, I haven’t gotten any emails along these lines from Obama supporters. Instead, the flood of pro-Obama messages proclaims his virtues and argues for the ways an Obama presidency represents a renewal of hope grounded in reality.
In this competition, I like being on the side that plays cleaner, but that is not the most important point. Rather, I think a large blind spot is impeding these Clinton supporters’ view of political realities. What excites me most about Obama (and if you’ve been reading my blog, you know I’m excited) is that he is mobilizing a large number of younger voters who have previously been disaffected from electoral politics. His presence is enlarging democracy.
In 2004, I took part at a program at New York University that offered a day of speakers on a theme of students’ choosing. Given that it was October of that year, they chose the upcoming election. Russell Simmons was there, talking about trying to mobilize music-industry celebrities to get young people registered, along with other speakers who were approaching the problem from a more grassroots perspective. They detailed the creative efforts being made to frame electoral politics as relevant to youth, to increase registrations and votes in the important 18-24 demographic. When the election came, there were small gains in both registration and votes, but not nearly what was hoped. Why? To me, the answer seems obvious: it wasn’t possible to excite young people about the prospect of voting for John Kerry.
Today, things are different. Many young people are standing behind Obama, to the point that pollsters are issuing cautionary reminders that their predictions, based on previous assessments of “likely voters,” may be off because they don’t take into account those who’ve never before been motivated to vote.
The prospect of an Obama presidency thrills me—a diehard supporter of women’s rights, indeed full civil rights for all people—because it carries the image of a body politic that includes all of us. I’m repulsed by the charge, implicit or explicit, that sexism is driving my vote. The people who make it do their candidate no credit, only harm.