By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
There is unprecedented interest the world over, over the US presidential race. And not just over the race but many aspects of it such as the race of the candidates, their stance on Iraq and utterances on Palestine to Israel.
In this hype, with the entire world watching the candidates closely, there is a women’s dimension to it that is sometimes strong, sometimes appalling and at times, immature.
The US poll sadly is showing some of the murky signs associated with local politics and campaigns. That’s when the debates plummet to an abysmal low and issues are forgotten while the debate is on personalities than anything else. Then there are women bashing in all its forms.
Strangely, the women bashing and the feminist debate had little to do with the two contenders, Republican candidate John McCain and Democratic hopeful Barack Obama.
The sequence of the women bashing began with Hillary Clinton as she ran against Obama to secure Democratic nomination. The one time first lady has many pluses to her credit as much as aspects viewed negatively. What’s new about that?
But for daring to run against a man, black or otherwise, and for showing strength instead of crumbling, she had her fill in terms of bad publicity — almost as if she was not born a woman, but a she-man.
The fact that a woman running for Democratic nomination, however successful a senator she had been appeared inconsequential in some US opinion polls as well. She was the hot favourite for a while, with a few snide remarks here and there. Obama was still picking up his campaign at that time.
On cnn.com, there was one time President Bill Clinton crying foul over the fate his wife suffered. It is believed that Bill Clinton was no great supporter of his strong wife who found her voice elsewhere and during the campaign. Until then she was more or less in the shadow except on her health drive.
White and pluses
When Clinton commenced her campaign, she had it all. She was white. That’s important, whether the reference to colour is accepted or not. Then she had many other pluses such as funds, the machinery, a recognised name in her own right as well as being the bright spouse of a former president. For a long time, she was the established candidate.
But now that she is not the Democratic candidate, there are accusations that she divided the country’s massive feminist movement. That she supported Bush’s war theories as a senator. It was as if people could not wait to watch her step down.
A complete change came when Hillary Clinton quit the campaign and conceded the Democratic nomination to Barrack Obama on June 4. It was as if people could not wait to see her go.
As a candidate, she had much strength. She had the support of the whites, Hispanics and women voters (all very crucial vote banks) and with a track record that should not make her blush.
Forger her public health policies or what she did as a senator. The moment she stepped down, Hillary Clinton was hounded by the media, vilified often and portrayed as a woman crazed enough to desire the top post in the country.
And that’s when America’s true biases emerged, opined Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist on Fox TV.
On the other hand, the rabid women supporters of Clinton found it unthinkable to vote for anyone else but a woman candidate and appeared on national TV and radio rambling on for hours, discrediting their own nominee Obama. Some went to the extent of claiming that they would vote for McCain instead of Obama, simply for the ‘acrimonious campaign’ according to them, carried out by Obama.
That Clinton and Obama on and off hit a low in their campaigns and were delivering below the belt was a given. Such is politics. And there was supportive husband Bill Clinton running Obama down with a vengeance, as his wife remained cautiously noncommittal.
Two days after officially ending her campaign, a graceful Hillary Clinton called on voters to support Barack Obama, and in doing so, she noted: "It was an honour to run against him."
Likewise, Obama acknowledged her political presence with words that were equally complimentary.
"Senator Clinton made history over the past 16 months — not just because she has broken barriers, but because she has inspired millions of Americans with her strength, her courage and her commitment to causes like universal healthcare that make a difference in the lives of hardworking Americans. Our party and our country are stronger because of the work she has done throughout her life, and I’m a better candidate for having had the privilege of competing with her."
Analysts are still skeptical, for all of Obama’s eloquent words that Hilary indeed would be his running mate.
The day after clinching the nomination, there was Carolyn Kennedy appearing on Obama’s stage. Nobody would expect this decision to come easy. Obama needs the Hispanics, women and the white population to support him. These are Clinton’s strengths, not his.
At the same time, he also needs a vice president who will do his bidding than someone who will have better opinions than he does. As a campaigner of Barack Obama in Cleveland, Ohio, Enrique Miguel noted, "It is not easy to have a bossy woman as your second in command. He is wise to look at elsewhere."
Elsewhere also meant Carolyn Kennedy, some think. There lies another advantage of mobilising the iconic Kennedys in his favour. So Obama did not lose a minute. The day after he won the nomination he had the beautiful Kennedy appearing by his side on an election platform for good reason.
And she was talking about women’s rights, reproductive health and a foreign policy that accommodates women’s opinions. One would say that she was pitching into what is traditionally recognised as Hillary Clinton’s terrain.
Some felt that Clinton fell off the cliff for she sounded manlier than men. This because she ran a campaign during a rules-changing election and acceded to sexism within her campaign that advised her not to apologise for her disastrous vote supporting Bush’s war resolution. Yes, she was in charge. She could have rejected the advise she received. But Clinton appeared to have bought into the idea that a Commander-in-Chief has to play by "men’s rules"— and be tougher than the toughest. That stance came at a price!
That was when she missed her opportunity to make history by becoming the first women president. Whatever happens, this is a decisive poll. As for Democratic voters, it was a choice between a black candidate and a woman candidate. It seems that despite the overarching majority of whites making the United States their home, they are becoming comfortable with a black candidate. That won’t come easy to America, despite all the rhetoric.
Then there is Michelle Obama, now being referred to as the ‘bitter half’ of Barack Obama, receiving bad publicity on many counts. She was recently called ‘Baby Mama,’ a derogatory reference to black, young, unwed mothers, later a woman of ‘grievance’ and an Islamic militant for her knuckle-knocking with her husband on the day he won the Democratic nomination. His affectionate pat on her back was lost on the audiences that found the wife’s playful gesture a ‘non-first lady’ matter.
And finally to the fact that she referred to women of Caucasian origin as ‘Whiteys.’ So much so that Barack Obama had to open a web site to deal with the bad publicity Michelle Obama seemed to causing a dent in his campaign.
Forgotten was her many credentials as a Harvard scholar and her commitment to many causes. A poll last week claimed with 22% voting "the wife of the candidate is extremely important."
As Richard Spencer, a political scientist in Washington DC commented: "If you believe America is the Free World and women have it easy here, forget it. Michele and Hilary are proving how hard it is at their level. Let’s not speak about the rest of them."
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