Wednesday, March 05, 2008

We Democrats Need To Remember Who The Enemy Is

Thanks to Hillary's wins last night in Rhode Island, Ohio, and (in the popular vote) Texas, the Democratic race lurches on. I'm okay with that; Like Kevin Drum, I'm skeptical of the proposition that a prolonged primary battle automatically spells doom to the party.

But I am a bit concerned about how the growing testiness of the campaign may be affecting Democratic voters, as suggested by this bit of evidence from yesterday's exit polls:
The question for the fall is whether there are Clinton voters who won't vote for Obama and Obama voters who won't vote for Clinton. The exit polls don't really answer this question. The closest they get is to ask respondents whether they would be "satisfied" or "dissatisfied" if Clinton or Obama were the eventual nominee. The results tonight do not look good for Obama. In Wisconsin, for instance, only 17 percent of Democratic primary voters said they would be dissatisfied if Obama were the nominee. In Ohio, Rhode Island, and Texas, 30 percent or more of voters said they would be "dissatisfied" if he were the nominee. That means that a sizable percentage of voters who backed Hillary Clinton may not back Obama in the fall. But Clinton's percentages were not that much better. They were in the high twenties.
As I've been saying for months, I think we have two fine candidates here, and I would be delighted to vote for either of them. God knows they both rise hand and shoulders above McCain as potential presidents. So I am disturbed by evidence that at least some Democrats are starting to take the inevitable negativity of a two-person intraparty race too much to heart.

In particular--since Obama is still the more likely Democratic nominee, and since Hillary has gone negative more forcefully in recent days than her rival--I worry that some supporters of Hillary are starting to think of Obama as "the enemy" rather than as a friendly competitor.

Hillary herself is starting to show traces of this, as in her sarcastic mockery of Obama's uplifting rhetoric, or in the formulation she started using this past weekend: "I have a lifetime of experience that I will bring to the White House. I know Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience to [bring to] the White House. And Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002" (for which James Fallows, I think rightly, criticizes her).

Is it really necessary to give the Republicans sound bites they can use in October? I don't think Obama has said anything equally harsh about Hillary.

And then there is the question of sexism. Hillary has been the victim of a horrendous amount of misogynistic abuse during this campaign, much of it from the media, some of it from Republican operatives. I've written about it over and over again on this blog. But I think it is a big mistake--and just plain false--for Hillary's supporters to blame this sexism on Obama. Yet this is an accusation I have been starting to hear lately.

The list of Obama's "sexist" acts that I've heard people cite strikes me as pretty thin. For example, his remark to Hillary several weeks ago, "You're likeable enough," was a lame joke that didn't work, but what makes it sexist, particularly?

More recently, there was this (I'm quoting a letter to the editor of the New York Times):
I wonder if Senator Barack Obama would have accused a man complaining about unfair campaign tactics of whining. Since the senator is well aware of the power and meaning of words, he must not have minded revealing a sexist and dismissive attitude toward his female rival. Buck Rutledge
But "whining" isn't a sexist word. A five-minute Google search turns up a whole array of recent news stories and columns in which it is used with reference to men, from Mitt Romney to anti-McCain Republicans to London Mayor Ken Livingstone to baseball pitcher Roger Clemens to Mike Huckabee.

It's just not factually accurate to imply that the word "whine" is generally used with reference to a woman. It's not a compliment, obviously. But it's also not sexist.

If Hillary doesn't win the nomination, sexism will probably be a major reason. But that is not Obama's doing--unless you consider him sexist simply for running against Hillary in the first place.

I'm not trying to say that Obama is a perfect person or a perfect candidate. He's not. But of course neither is Hillary. And more important, for us as Democrats, neither Obama nor Hillary is the enemy. The enemy is the hard-right Republican ideology that has brought our country to the brink of disaster, militarily, economically, and socially. And if we Democrats start fighting viciously among ourselves over the next few weeks, the only winners will be the purveyors of that ideology.

Attacking one another personally--and becoming increasingly embittered in the process--is exactly what they want us to do. In fact, it may be their only real hope for victory.

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