Democratic Family Fight or a License to Hate?
One sister supports Obama, the other, Hillary — a microcosm of the family feud that has torn the Democratic party to pieces during the primary season.
May 8, 2008 - 12:00 am
So, Democrats, the media tells us we are in the midst of a “family fight.”
To introduce myself and my family, I am a latte-drinking, white, college-educated progressive Democrat who, despite my demographic, supports Hillary Clinton. Maybe it is because I am also a woman over 45. My mother and my late father are “blue collar” Democrats. My dad worked in a factory in the Detroit area all his life and my mother, in a medical supply house. My mother, whose vote doesn’t count — for now at least — because she lives in Michigan, supports Hillary. My younger sister, another educated progressive Democrat — who, oddly, thinks Starbucks coffee is too bitter and doesn’t drink lattes — voted for Obama. We had several “family fights” about this, mostly by email since I live in the great Hillary-supporting state of California and my sister lives in Maryland, an Obama stronghold.
It occurs to me that my “family fight” somewhat mirrors the Democratic primary that the media has frequently characterized as a “family fight.” Therefore, I thought Democrats, particularly those latte-drinking, educated, progressive, blog-reading Democrats in the upcoming primaries, would like to hear about my family fight and what I learned from it, in the hope that it could illuminate the larger battle.
When I asked my sister why she didn’t want to vote for the first viable female candidate for president — and a brilliant person as well — she told me that she “hates” Hillary Clinton. Stunned at the intensity of her feelings, I asked her why. She proceeded to give me some reasons that I found startlingly similar to the Obama campaign talking points:
Sister: Hillary voted for the war in Iraq.
Me: Actually, she voted to give the president the authorization to go to war so the threat of war would force Saddam Hussein to allow UN inspectors back into Iraq, which it did. Bush, not Hillary, then decided to stop those inspections before they were done and invade Iraq. (I sent her an article in the Huffington Post by anti-war activist, former ambassador, and husband of Valerie Plame Joe Wilson about this.)
Sister: I don’t have time for this. She still voted for the war, and Obama was against the war.
Me: Obama didn’t have to make that tough decision. He wasn’t in the Senate. He wasn’t representing the state of New York that had been devastated on 9/11. He just gave a speech at an anti-war rally in Chicago, in his very safe, very liberal state senate district. How much courage did that take?
Sister: Look, I’m inspired by Obama. Democrats have the right to be inspired too, you know.
Me: Okay, you like the guy. I am not crazy about him, myself. He seems like a snake oil salesman, selling hope and change. But I don’t “hate” him, and you still haven’t answered my question about why you “hate” Hillary.
Sister: Hillary is just like Bill Clinton. She’s too moderate and they both “triangulate.” We don’t need another Clinton. I’m tired of Bushes and Clintons. We need something new. (To her credit she didn’t use the epithet “Billary,” which may have been too sexist for her. Or she may have just been embarrassed to say that to me.)
Me: Have you seen Hillary’s policy proposals? They are very similar to Obama’s. In some cases, particularly her health care proposal, they are more progressive than his. (I sent her one of economist Paul Krugman’s articles from the New York Times on why Hillary’s health care plan, which will cover everyone, is better than Obama’s, which will only cover children.)
Sister: Who has time to read all of these things? Politicians never do them anyway. He inspires people. That’s what we need in a president. I’m going to lose my job if you don’t quit writing all these emails and sending me all these articles.
Me: I am just trying to find out why you “hate” Hillary so much.
Sister: Hillary Clinton will do anything to get elected. She’s running a negative campaign.
Me: Can’t you see that that is just code for she’s an ambitious, ball-busting bitch?! What kind of sexist double standard is that? Hillary has paid her dues. She didn’t run for president in 2004 after only four years in the Senate. She waited until 2008 after being elected by the state of New York with a huge majority to a second term. Yet, Obama’s ambition is very apparent. He has run for higher office every three years. He is impatient to get to the highest office in the land. And do you really think Obama won’t do anything to get elected? Both he and his campaign have been very negative. He or his campaign spokespeople have said she:
- is a “calculating, poll-tested, divisive figure”
- “consistently” and “deliberately” misleads the American people
- is “dishonest”
- is attempting to “deceive the American people”
- is “one of the most secretive politicians in America”
- is “a monster”
- is “not being straight with the American people”
They have also claimed that:
- “The American people are not going to elect a president that they do not trust”.
- And (probably the worse) they have said that John McCain is seen as more honest and trustworthy than Hillary Clinton.
Obama is a master at the very negative campaigning that he and his campaign accuse Hillary of practicing. And, though he calls her a liar, he has lied plenty in this campaign. (I sent her a New York Times news article about how he lied about a Senate bill that he claimed to have passed but didn’t regarding radioactive leaks at nuclear power plants.)
Sister: Quit sending me these emails! Can’t we just agree to disagree? I’ll vote for her if she is nominated. But I don’t want to talk about it anymore.
That, sadly, was the end of our conversation. But from it and others with Obama supporters, as well as listening to the regular anti-Hillary rants on the “progressive” Air America talk radio network, I realized something quite disturbing. I realized that a very important pillar of Obama’s campaign strategy is exploiting the irrational hatred of Hillary Clinton. This hatred was first brought to us by the Republicans, and it is now the rallying cry of Obama supporters. The negative things Obama and his campaign have been saying about Hillary are 50 times worse on the blogosphere and the progressive talk stations — she’s a “bitch,” a “f**king whore,” “Billary,” “warmongering,” etc. — than even that coming directly from him and his campaign. But the license to do this, the license to spew negative, vile, and often misogynistic hatred, has come from Obama and his campaign. If they can call her a divisive liar, why can’t talk show host Randi Rhodes go a little farther and call her a whore?
The other strategic pillars of his campaign are 1) his ability to give inspiring speeches about change and hope; 2) his race, which legitimately brings pride to African Americans and makes white liberals feel good about their support for the first viable African American nominee; and 3) his hip, trendy, youthful coolness. These, in my opinion, are not the best reasons to choose a president who will have the responsibility for pulling us out of war, an economic mess, a climate crisis, and various other difficult, explosive foreign policy problems. But they aren’t ugly.
The exploitation and encouragement of Hillary-hating by the Obama campaign, however, is ugly. And it is insulting not only to Hillary but to all women and particularly those who have worked hard and competed in male-dominated professions — like politics.
What is astonishing about what the Obama campaign has accomplished is that it has built so much of its support on this sexist, negative, and inaccurate portrayal of Hillary Clinton, while at the same time successfully spreading the myth that it is the Clinton campaign that is negative. And the Obama campaign couldn’t have done this without the willing participation of Obama himself, which belies the claim that he is a “unifying” figure and that he practices “new politics,” let alone that he brings people together. In fact, he is bringing people to his campaign by scapegoating and demonizing the “other” — the old, traditional, divisive, bitchy, lying, politics-as-usual Hillary Clinton.
Yet, in reality, Hillary is not only not traditional: she is, in fact, a very unusual figure in American politics — a first lady who became a senator and then ran for president. How many of those have we had? She also is not only not divisive, but she has shown as a senator that she can work with people who hated her and her husband when he was president. She has healed relationships that one would expect could never be healed.
Women across the country are working their hearts out for Hillary, not only because they want to see this brilliant woman become the first woman president, but because they are furious at the ugly misogyny coming from the Obama camp. And they know that the Obama campaign could not have been successful in building their support on the demonization of Hillary without the willing cooperation of a male-dominated, sexist media. A media that rarely reports that his campaign is regularly calling her some of the worst epithets ever thrown at one Democrat by another, but one that pounces on her when she or her surrogates even mildly criticize him. A media that doesn’t even notice that he is a Democrat, who, in attempting to tear her down, actually tears down the administration of the one Democrat since FDR, Bill Clinton, who won two terms of office. (In his “bitter”/”clinging” remarks, Obama stated that the Clinton years were as bad for working people as the Bush years.)
I couldn’t talk to my sister about all of this because she wouldn’t listen. But I’m hoping that voters in the upcoming primaries will listen. I’m hoping that Democrats, particularly those latte-drinking, college-educated, Obama-leaning people, will educate themselves to what is really going on in this primary election. I’m hoping that not just women, but men with daughters, mothers, wives, and sisters — men who respect women — will no longer be inspired by hatred.
I’m hoping that this Democratic “family” will not stand by and watch as Obama and his campaign tear down Hillary Clinton and get away with it in the media, if not in the hearts of half of the primary voters so far.
There is no question that this primary campaign has alienated a lot of women. And women are this party’s biggest block of supporters — almost 60 percent of reliable Democratic voters. If we abandon so many women, the backbone of our party, by nominating Obama, it will be more than a family fight. It will be a very bad time for the Democratic family — without the scores of women in local offices to answer the phones, canvass, and run the ground game. We won’t have much of a family with women walking out of the house in droves.
We need these hard-working reliable “mamas” — and Hillary Clinton — much more than we need a candidate, Barack Obama, who has given his followers a license to hate.
Joanne Parrent is an author of six non-fiction books, a screenwriter, and a latte-drinking older sister. She is also a licensed private investigator, with her own firm in Los Angeles.