Amy Siskind, a 42-year-old mother of two from Westchester, stood in a Washington, D.C., park on the last day in May, telling a few hundred cheering people that she would not, under any circumstances, vote for Barack Obama. She was a lifelong Democrat, she said, a donor and a volunteer for the party. But, watching the race with a "mixture of shock, disgrace, and disgust," she was appalled at the leadership's failure to defend Hillary Clinton from the sexism that she believes bolstered Barack Obama's campaign. "Now I have a message for Howard Dean and the DNC," she said into a microphone, acid in her voice. "I'm not your sweetie!"
Siskind was one of the speakers at a rally that brought busloads of people, overwhelmingly women, to demonstrate near the Democratic National Committee (DNC) meeting that would decide the status of the Florida and Michigan delegations. The states had been stripped of their delegates--a decision Clinton endorsed--because they had broken party rules in holding their primaries early. But, as Clinton lost steam, seating them in full became crucial to her argument for the nomination, and thus, to her supporters, a matter of high democratic principle. Oaths to oppose Obama proliferated, often among longtime female fund-raisers. "You have betrayed us, our children, and our future," Siskind proclaimed during her speech, "and you will learn the new meaning of stay-at-home moms!"
Hillary Clinton has lost the nomination, but some of her most ardent female backers seem unwilling to accept it. A strange narrative has developed, abetted by Clinton and some of the mainstream feminist organizations. In it, the will of the voters was thwarted by chauvinistic party leaders in concert with a servile media, and Obama's victory represents a repeat of George W. Bush's in 2000. It's a story in which Obama becomes every arrogant young man who has ever edged out a more deserving middle-aged woman, and Clinton, hanging on until the bitter end, is not a spoiler but a feminist martyr.
This conviction, that sexism cost Clinton the nomination, is likely to be one of the more toxic legacies of this primary season. It is leaving her supporters feeling not just disappointed but victimized, many convinced that Obama's win is illegitimate. Taylor Marsh, a blogger and radio host whose website has become a hub for Clinton fans, says she gets hundreds of e-mails from angry Democrats pledging not to vote for Obama. She's started running posts from such readers under the headline DEMOCRATIC STORM WARNINGS. "I'm not saying that this is a huge voting bloc," she says. "I'm just saying that there is a huge amount of talk and I'm convinced it's a reality that needs to be addressed."
Surely some of this political nihilism will fade by November. Right now, it's hard to quantify; Internet forums and political protests exist, in part, to magnify the passions of a few into an illusory groundswell. In exit polls from Indiana and North Carolina, at least half of Clinton supporters said they wouldn't vote for Obama, but there's no way to calculate the role of gender in their disaffection.
In the months to come, feminist leaders and Clinton herself will urge women back into the Democratic fold. Still, the bitterness is intense. Kate Michelman, the Obama-supporting former head of NARAL, has heard enough of it to get worried. "It does feel to me, just recently, like we're on a death mission," she says. "[T]here is a danger where we set a course for failure in November."
It didn't start out this way.
And I'll add one other "deep thought" for your consideration: a lot of attention has been given to the generational divide within the African American community... older blacks, those born before the civil rights movement, have been quicker to make accusations of racism and see (and therefore to some extent help perpetuate) an us vs. them world. Younger blacks, such as a certain presidential candidate, are concerned about racism but do not interpret everything through that prism. They focus more on opportunities to bridge divides. (This schism was much discussed during the Rev. Wright controversy)
Could there be a similar split among feminists? Thoughts?