May 23, 2008:
Think about it: Al Smith broke the seal on a Catholic running for national office. JFK got elected. By the time Kerry ran in 2004, it was essentially an afterthought. You couldn’t name all the Catholics on either side of the two primary races this year. Meanwhile, Jesse Jackson finished a mighty strong second for the Ds in 1988, and Obama more or less has it wrapped up now. Give it another generation and it won’t even be that big a deal. In the past, you’ve had women who were marginal candidates for President at best – Shirley Chisolm, Pat Schroeder, Carol Mosely-Braun – but none who were contenders. Hillary was serious, and by virtue of running a hard second the whole way, she’s basically made it possible for the next woman to close the deal.
And ultimately, I think that’s why the Tab-and-Virginia-Slims cohort is so outraged. It’s not that a woman’s not going to get there, because it’s going to happen inevitably, and probably sooner than you’d expect. No, the reason Ferarro, Steinem, et al are so outraged is because it’s not going to be one of them. Because when the triumph comes, and a woman puts her hand on that Bible, it’s going to be somebody other than a second-wave Baby Boomer feminist.
In the end, this is the flip side of my last post, and the reason (drum roll…here comes the worst kept secret in the entire Interweb tubes) that I’m officially backing Barack Obama for President: because he’s 47 years old. When Woodstock happened, he was 8. When Saigon fell, he was 14. He didn’t get out of high school until 2 years after Star Wars came out, and his college and graduate career was spent in the go-go 1980s. He is chronologically incapable of continuing the 40-year proxy war of the baby boomers.
Think about it: literally every single Presidential election in my lifetime has been a re-fight of 1968. The Silent Majority vs. the Great Other. The good decent hardworking white people against the coloreds, the bra-burners, the dirty hippies, the eggheads, the Communists. This is why Kevin Phillips deserves a frying pan in the nuts, no matter how much he’s repented: what he gave us was a self-propelled bullshit machine that turns our national politics into Groundhog Day with a constant loop of Buffalo Springfield in the background.
National politics will not move forward until the last Wallace supporter is strangled with the entrails of the last McGovern supporter.
Barack Obama is our best chance to break the endless cycle of Boomer narcissism…because he’s not one of them. He’s somebody who can say, yes, the Sixties were a pivotal historical moment…but guess what? The moment’s over. Put the bong and the sandals and the Confederate flags back in the attic and deal with the world as it is in 2008.
So. Yeah. About that.
I genuinely thought that Obama would break through. Not that he would be loved and embraced by all and lead us to the land of sweet reason and moderation, but that he would appeal to enough people that the old Sixties modality could and would be left behind, and that having him at the top of the stack rather than Hillary would mean an end to the Clinton Rules and the 90s-conspiracy-hysteria mode of politics in this country.
Man. I fucked that up.
Ninety percent of the “Clinton scandals” were giant nothingburgers invented out of whole cloth by Arkansas rubes, inflated by the right-wing noise machine and carried to term by a clueless national press. Obama doesn’t even have the peg to hang the other 10% on. And yet, for years and years we were required to act as if clinical insanity was a valid part of our national political discourse and that scorched earth was the time-honored right and proper response to a decisive presidential election.
And the GOP continues on its same accelerating path which has brought us here…to Donald Trump as its standard-bearer. And people have the gall to ask “how can this happen?” It can happen because this is what the Republican Party is. It’s what it has been aiming for since 1994. This is the inevitable result of a political party that completely eschews policy and governance in favor of sloganeering, hysterics, and good ol’ courthouse-steps shit-slinging. Don’t let the Queens accent fool you: Trump as nominee is the crowning achievement of the nationalization of Southern politics.
More mysterious to me is where the rest of the field is. Sure, Hillary seemed unbeatable as the nominee – but people thought she was in 2008 and that didn’t stop Obama and Edwards and Biden and others from jumping in the mix. Bush seemed unstoppable in 1991, but when Cuomo and Bradley dipped, there were still plenty of takers – Tsongas and Brown and Kerrey and Harkin and Clinton. There were four total challengers to Hillary, none of whom was serious and only one of whom acquired enough horsepower to become so – and ultimately it’s only in part because of him. A huge chunk of what Bernie Sanders rode in on was the “Anyone but Hillary” crowd, most of whom are probably responsible for the BernieBro phenomenon.
This is worrying. Democrats who lose don’t get another bite, not since Stevenson flopped a second time against Eisenhower in ’56. If Hillary loses in November, who’s going to carry the ball in 2020? Joe Biden, at 77? Bernie again, at 78? California governor Jerry Brown, again, at age 82 and going for a third bite at a White House he aimed for in 1976?? I don’t know anymore. There were always the young-ish Senators and governors in years gone by, or the stalwart names like a Mario Cuomo or Bill Bradley that you could easily jot down as likely contenders (and Mario Cuomo could have won in 1988, don’t think he couldn’t). Now…Cory Booker? Maybe? Gavin Newsome, if only he hadn’t committed to the state-politics track and could have stopped banging everyone in sight? Kamala Harris, if four years as a California Senator are enough to launch a national campaign?
And that lays open the biggest problem of the Obama era: the Democratic machine, nationally, is not what it used to be. State races have gone Republican because the younger Democrats seem to have forgotten that you vote for anything but President. Why were there seventeen contenders for the GOP nomination? Because even when you eliminate the jokes (Trump, Fiorina, Carson) and the has-bens and never-weres (Pataki, Gilmore), the credentials of the rest sounded broadly feasible. Young Latino Senator from Florida. Young Latino Senator from Texas. Governor of New Jersey. Governor of Wisconsin. Governor of Ohio. (Badly failed but roll with it) Young minority former-Rhodes-Scholar Governor of Louisiana. Right there you have a bigger field than the Democrats, who tried to go at Hillary with a former Governor, two former Senators and a socialist gadfly from Vermont who didn’t belong to the party a year ago.
It’s all in at this point. Win or get ready to suffer a calamity for the ages. We, as a nation, literally cannot afford for Hillary to lose, because four years of Trump would play hell with our economy – never mind our standing in the world or a million other things. This is the race of her life and she absolutely cannot blow it.
But here’s the thing…remember the turnout for Obama? Remember the beatific expressions of African-American voters of a certain age for whom Jim Crow and dogs and firehoses and the back of the bus were living memory?
Think about the Tab-and-Virginia-Slims cohort. Think about women of a certain age, for whom living memory means a time without legal abortion. A time without legal birth control. A time without the birth control pill at all, never mind only for married women. A time when you could only get a credit card in your husband’s name. A time when you couldn’t get an apartment by yourself without your parents’ signing the lease. A time when a woman got death threats for trying to drive the time trials in the Indy 500. A time when it was taken as read that you would be obligated to quit your job because you got married.
And for these women, who thought eight years ago that they would have to live with the knowledge that even when it did happen, it wouldn’t be one of them – that second-wave feminism would be relegated to modern-day paving the way for someone in the future, that HRC would just be another step on the stairs with Stanton and Anthony and Mott and “suffragettes” and Steinem and Abzug – all of a sudden, like the Undertaker sitting bolt upright just as the ref counts two, MAH GAWD THAT’S HILLARY CLINTON’S MUSIC. No chance has suddenly become one chance. One shot. One opportunity for a generation of women to finally close the deal for one of their own.
If you don’t think they’re going to storm the gates, you might better brace yourself. Because to borrow the words of the Vice-President, this is a big fucking deal. The Women’s Libbers are going to war one last time and they aren’t gonna leave anything on the field. And if you don’t think a bunch of angry old women won’t get what they came down here for, well, you’ve never worked in local politics, have you?
So yeah, I was was wrong. 68 is plenty of time to get back in the ring for one more attempt (not least in an office where your primary opponent is 74 and your general opponent is about to turn 70). And I was wrong to think that we could get shut of the baby boomer generation without driving a stake through its heart and chopping off its head – but one of them has an opportunity to set things right before they go. We should help her take it.