Monday, January 14, 2008

An Outlier's Field Day

I started to write this in the comment section to my last post, in response to John B and Steve, and then I realized I was saying what I said I'd say later, so I turned it into a post that is still very much off the top of my head, but nonetheless:

What I'm struck by in this primary season so far are the number of outliers who keep surprising the media, and better, take turns moving from outlier to within the field of norms, i.e. Huckabee, Ron Paul, Romney (seems staid and "norm"al, til the Mormon factor gets in there), Barak, Hillary (I'm tired of calling Obama by his last name and Hillary by her first. I get not overusing "Clinton," but there is more to it than that). You can offer up the "people want change and what looks like change" argument for all of these, but when you look at the field of candidates, it seems that only Giuliani, McCain, and Edwards are holding down the center of the field (as norms, not as centrists). And McCain has his outlier moments, for sure. Joyfully, the center candidates do not seem to appeal to the majority of people, and with the usual consolidating mechanisms split (evangelicals, Republicans) or holding their breath (Dems), people seem to be considering choices they may have found unacceptable or unimaginable before. So:

Thanks, both of you, for your comments. I have more to say on the Hillary/Obama issue, particularly on what John B is calling the "claims on our collective guilt," as I have seen a lot of that surface, but perhaps, at least among whites, as an occasion for self congratulation. And, before I go on at all, I am not implying that I mean you, John B. I have a hypothesis that the mainstream (i.e. still quite white) media got swept up in predicting Obama a sure thing by a wide margin in NH is because the Iowa result gave white people a chance to congratulate themselves for not being racist. For the under fifty set, the idea of Obama in this light alone is apparently exhilarating. For the record, I am white and under fifty, too. I had seen the Steinam piece, and, in passing, I thought, "yup, women of any color got the vote after black men, and we should think about that." I had also seen, in the same issue or a day earlier (?) an article mentioning Myra Dinnerstein, a professor emerita of Women's Studies (73; for Hillary) and her daughter, Julie ("39"; for Obama). This article was supposed to be all about how feminism's moment is past (or "post") and the generation gap. Dinnerstein's daughter said of voting for Hillary that “The idea of a woman being president just does not seem to be as powerful or as revolutionary to me as it does to feminists of my mother’s generation,” and that is the quote I've been chewing on, because (a) it saddens me (again) that voting for a woman does not seem "powerful" --- I'm certain she means as a symbol, but her word choice is telling, and to me, not much older than she, revelatory of a certain naïveté among women, and (b) because making a "revolutionary" choice is still not the same thing as voting for the the person per se, hominem ipsum/ipsam. When I said "we are not going back," I meant it both as you construe it, though the whole term "post feminist" gives me pause: it was more of a refusal to be shoved back into the positions or paradigms offered by earlier stances now broadly termed "identity politics," and, of course, I meant in the strongest terms that "Iron My Shirt" is over. I mean, Baby, iron your own shirt. The misogyny of that slogan/demand is striking, the youth of the men holding those signs was striking, as is the permissibility of lashing out at Hillary Clinton by employing the terms and strategies of identity politics, i.e. that Hillary won NH because of a "sympathy vote" from women, which one would surmise is not the same thing as men and women using their minds to choose who would be the best candidate. The Times and now some other news stories are hot on which is more taboo: to be misogynist (but they don't use that word: they say sexism, which has less bite) or racist, and I think that is a very dark undercurrent in all of this: the positive energy from some quarters seems to derive from self congratulation, whereas the undertow asks how subtle or not should one's hatred and fear of one symbol or another of real change be. To my mind, for some, "moving on" to the feel-good choice of Obama is one strategy for avoiding one's subconscious (or internalized) racism and misogyny. Being liberal, in the sense of being truly free of social baggage while not abandoning one's history, is, or should be, a Herculean, not a Protean, task.
In that sense, it was interesting in this morning's Times to read that the youth of the Christian right (perhaps we are better off to speak of Evangelicals 35-40 and under ?) are also caught up in this task, preferring Huckabee, whom the traditional evangelical establishment has kept at a distance. There is a split, there, too, that the Times at least for now wants to limn by generational lines, yet, they report, while Huckabee seems too liberal (in the traditional sense of that word), the under 40's are turning to him because he seems more centrist and sensible. I am paraphrasing, and have not reread the article, which I read at five am this morning. So please read and draw your own conclusions. In a recent issue of Harper's, the Index gave the statistic that the portion of US citizens who have lived half or over half of their lives under a president named Bush or Clinton is 1/4. Can this be correct ? If so, I can see why Hillary Rodham Clinton, would not appear or appeal as much more than a symbol of the status quo or a nostalgia for the Clinton years (Clinton le mari, that is). From John B's writings, I trust that he has thought it through, and though I will be voting for Rodham-Clinton, I respect that John's choice has come from a hard won place in his head and heart. Maybe the most radical or revolutionary thing about this election will be that voters will no longer be so predictable, that people will stop talking about electability and get back to talking about electing, and/or liberal and conservative will redefine themselves as practices and not platforms.

I am very fatigued, dear reader(s), so this is not as polished as I would like, but I did want to post something.

1 comment:

John B. said...

Thanks for this thorough response. As it happens, I've been carrying on a Hillary-or-Barack dialogue with a female colleague of mine who is about your (and my) age and who sees Hillary in much the same way as you do--reading your post is like reading one of her e-mails.

Especially during the events of the past weekend, I've given a lot of thought to the question of whether, at some level, I respond to Barack as I do out of some subconsciously-held white guilt. I'll answer this way: if the proper response to guilt is to feel in some way obligated to Set Things Aright, then I don't feel that. It is true, as I implied in a couple of posts I wrote on Barack's post-race rhetoric as I understand it, that it's because of his rhetoric that I see and feel clearly that the civil rights movement is not a black-people story but an American one, one that has value for all of us. I'd like to think that all of us, no matter our race or gender, would find that thinking, if not his specific expression of it, extremely powerful and, sure, healing. But I don't support Barack out of that impulse. I truly would support him even if I hadn't read the speeches that I made the subject of those posts I mentioned earlier.

I've gone on way too long, so I'll just conclude with something that I wrote to my colleague: Here's the difference between Clinton and Obama, to my mind: When I hear Clinton, I believe her, what SHE will tell government to do on our behalf. That's not a bad thing at all, but it doesn't make me feel like manning the barricades, you know? When I hear Obama, I believe in myself and what I and a lot of other people can tell government to do. That's a heady--and (potentially) powerful, even transformative--feeling.