Friday, February 1, 2008

Serenity NOW! (JM)

It's been said that either of candidates would fully support women's rights. I agree with that certainly at least in terms of intentions. However, intentions are only part of the package, efficacy matters a great deal. I have made pretty clear in this space why I feel Clinton would make a better president than Obama (thought I must say I am becoming increasingly convinced that either would be a decent leader) so I will avoid rehashing the argument; besides it's irrelevant. It appears quite clear that NOW has decided that Hillary is the better choice to further their particular cause. To the extent that Kennedy endorsing Obama undermines their perceived interests it is perfectly legitimate to call him out on it.

Let's toss all that "who would be better for women" business aside for time being. Let's assert that it is likely a wash. I still contend NOW has a huge stake in the Hillary nomination. The history of women in American politics is checkered at best and here comes a woman who has all the strengths and attributes necessary to be POTUS. All of the sudden a charismatic man comes along and sweeps up a core member of the liberal establishment. It seems a whole lot like a women was acceptable so long as there is no viable male alternative. The perception it creates is profoundly negative and one a core women's identity-based organization has the right to oppose vociferously.

On the flipside, Hillary winning the presidency would be perhaps the most profound moment in the history of women's rights since they got the vote. Consider that she would not merely be the leader of the U.S., but the defacto preeminent world leader. This would be not just symbolically powerful for women domestically, but women oppressed throughout the world. Now obviously Obama would be powerful symbolically but there are few worthwhile distinctions to consider. First, women are more than fifty percent of the world population, yet are second class citizens throughout the many diverse areas of the world. This is not to degrade any particular type of suffering, but to the extent such symbolism means anything (and I expect it has real significance) Hillary would provide the greatest good for the greatest number. But to the extent that such a position is not terribly persausive I would argue that NOW has a special obligation to women throughout the world and, by the very nature of their mission, must take exception with Kennedy's action.

So since Dennis is definitely not going to win the main thrust of this argument I'll give him something else with which he can play: this was a brilliant political move. First of all, it totally helps Hillary consolidate her base. She gets to be victimized by the male establishment without playing victim. This seems unlikely to turn off voters from Hillary, yet it gets her points. Secondly, Obama's camp absolutely cannot respond in kind. They're so concerned about the candidacy being racified that there is no effective response; while Hillary doesn't take the negative hit as it was NOW that went on the attack. But, perhaps, the most important reason this was brilliant politics is that it absolutely makes less eminent figures than Kennedy think carefully before endorsing Obama. Let's be honest, this has literally no effect on the Irish Lord of the North, but Congressmen and Senators who could potentially face primary challenges or rough generals will certainly fear the wrath of NOW. This was an incredibly effective shot across the bow without risking injury to anyone.

For all the moral and political calculi I actually think the truth was much simpler. NOW actually felt betrayed and hurt. For almost two years it has seemed like it was finally their time. Kennedy presented a real threat to this, so the knife felt particularly keen. If nothing I think the total sincerity of this reaction is its own justification.

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