Sunday, January 6, 2008

Renewed Faith

Thank God for the voters of New Hampshire. As much of a political junkie as I am, I was about ready to bail on politics altogether because I was so disgusted by the media's treatment of Hillary Clinton.

I started this presidential campaign with a lot of enthusiasm. I was a Hillary supporter but I thought the Dems had a great field of candidates - the first viable woman, the first viable African-American, the first viable Hispanic - not to mention Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, both of whom I admired and thought would make excellent presidents. (I don't take Dennis Kucinich seriously because I believe he uses the presidential campaign not to win but as a platform for his beliefs, which is okay). So, I was prepared to happily vote for whoever the nominee of my party turned out to be.

I'll still vote for whomever the Dems select although maybe not quite so happily. This all started when the mainstream media began its campaign to kill Hillary. First, I believe they set her up with the "inevitability" theme. She wasn't the one who was pushing her "inevitability", it was the media itself. I think they knew full well that it would cause bitterness in voters who don't like feeling they are being taken for granted.

Then they waited for her to make a mistake (and they had to wait a while). Finally, she flubbed an answer regarding driver's licenses for illegal aliens in a debate. From then on the criticism was relentless with much of it being flatly sexist. I watched her being held to a completely different standard than the men.

I heard her referred to as a "witch". I heard male commentators say she made them want to "cross their legs". I heard one analyst say she should be called the "vaginal candidate". I heard them speak of castration in reference to her. I heard her voice called "grating" and "screechy" and that it was like "fingernails on a blackboard". I heard her laugh constantly referred to as a "cackle". I read about her showing "cleavage" when she wore a simple vee-necked sweater that any of us would wear to our jobs. I heard her called "cold and calculating" when she didn't show enough emotion and I heard her called "weak" when she showed too much emotion. I heard all these things endlessly analyzed for deep psychological meaning.

I watched Tim Russert begin an early debate by asking every other candidate to air their gripes against Hillary. Before it was over, 25 of 52 questions were, directly or indirectly, about Hillary, with 23 of them having a negative tone. Meanwhile, the Republicans were doing the same in their debates.

Of course, when she defended herself, she was accused of whining and of playing the gender card because, naturally, only a woman would dare to respond to such treatment.

I was stunned that this could be happening in the 21st century and that almost no one seemed to think it was unacceptable to treat a woman in such a contemptuous and demeaning way.

Meanwhile, the media put Barack Obama on a pedestal so high no criticism could be allowed to touch him. They fell all over themselves fawning over him. He was compared to JFK, Martin Luther King, even Abraham Lincoln! On MSNBC's morning show, Morning Joe, Mika Brezinski and Joe Scarborough practically turned themselves inside out in praise of him. The news people surrounded him by a protective shield. I began to think of him as "He Who Must Not Be Criticized". He was evidently so fragile that the least pushback against him by Hillary was intolerable.

Remember when a McCain supporter asked, "how do we beat the bitch?" Remember how McCain said, "that's an interesting question". (He eventually said something semi-complimentary about Hillary but it certainly wasn't his first response). Remember how the media played it over and over like it was cute? Now imagine that instead that McCain supporter had asked, "how do we get the "racial slur?" and imagine the reaction if McCain hadn't instantly repudiated the question. That tells you all you need to know about the treatment of these two candidacies - and, it seemed to me, the tolerance of our society toward prejudice against women.

I was dejected after the Iowa caucuses because it seemed to me that the media's campaign had worked. I wasn't even going to stay up and watch the New Hampshire primary when it was projected by the polls that Obama would beat Hillary by a double-digit margin and thereby, lock up the nomination. I hated the way the reporters and commentators were so gleeful about writing Hillary's political obituary before the body of her campaign was even cold and the way they'd crowned him King when only about 400,000 people in the whole country had voted.

I told Mom to just leave me a note about the results in New Hampshire so I'd know first thing in the morning. Then John came in and said that CNN had Hillary ahead with 15 per cent of the precincts reporting. After that, I had to stay up. I was ecstatic when the networks finally started projecting her the winner. I loved watching all the media folks who had been so sure they'd destroyed her have to eat crow.

There have been many theories about why she won in New Hampshire. It was her "tears" (she did well up but there were no tears). She showed her "human side" - blah, blah, blah. I think the answer was much simpler. The last week before the New Hampshire vote, the stock market was on a roller coaster ride. Unemployment went up to 5 percent. Christmas sales were flat. Foreclosures and bankruptcies were up, along with the price of gas. I think New Hampshire voters decided it wasn't a good time to take a flier on an unproven young candidate no matter how optimistic and vibrant his campaign appeared to be. They thought with their pocketbooks. Who had the experience for hard economic times? Why, the Clintons, of course, who had already proven themselves in this area. It was the economy, stupid.

We don't know yet who the eventual winner will be and you know, the thing is that I really have no problem with Obama. If he prevails over Hillary in the end, I'll support him. although , I have serious doubts about his "bring everyone together" campaign.

Do people think Bill Clinton came to Washington wanting to pick a fight? No, just like Obama, he was hoping to unite people and pass his agenda. As I recall, he even put Republicans in his cabinet (as Obama says he will do). It didn't happen, because Republicans didn't allow it to happen just as I don't believe they would allow it to happen in an Obama administration. Not only that, even the old, set-in-its-ways Democratic bureaucracy fought Clinton at every turn. It was that old bull senator, Sam Nunn, who stonewalled Clinton in trying to end discrimination against gays in the military (hence leaving us with that abomination, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell").

The party's have different beliefs and different goals and that is why they disagree on most of the major issues. The Republicans have got their way for almost eight years. Seems to me that the Democrats have them on the ropes right now and the last thing we need is someone who wants to go to Washington to make nice with them. I haven't noticed the Republicans wanting to bring us in much the last seven years. I want a fighter, not a lover this time around.

But I understand the freshness and appeal of Obama. I think he has a great future in politics. I just hope it isn't as president in 2009. But if it is, I still think he'll benefit from having to prevail in a hard-fought campaign. If anyone has studied the media as much as I have these last many years, they can bet that, despite the love-fest they've had for him when it was Obama vs. Hillary, it will end when it is Obama vs. whatever Republicans wins his nomination. The media can make a candidate and the media can break a candidate. They tried to break Hillary but they didn't get the job done, at least not yet. It is her toughness to take a licking and keep on ticking that makes me hope she's our nominee. We don't know yet if that's also true of Barack Obama.