An Obama Supporter Speaks Out

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Mr. Herman is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Central Washington University. He is currently a research fellow at the Clements Center at SMU.

I write in pique. I have been subjecting myself to the recent spate of columns that decry an irrational "anti-Hillary" campaign by Obama supporters. On HNN, there was Rick Shenkman 's POTUS blog, which told us that Obama supporters are nearing fanaticism in their hatred of Hillary, and are threatening to boycott her should she be the nominee. There is also Deborah Lipstadt's piece comparing Hillary detractors to anti-semites. The NYT, for its part, has in the past week run anti-Obama columns by Paul Krugman ("Hate Springs Eternal") and Stanley Fish ("A Calumny A Day Keeps Hillary Away"). Ugh.

First to Shenkman's argument that Obama is able to run only because he is black. It does not hurt Obama that he is black (isn't that in itself interesting?), but that's not to say that no white candidate with a similar resume has never run for president. Abraham Lincoln had served one term in Congress and a few years in the Illinois legislature when he ran. But I'll use more recent examples: John Edwards when he was first considered for VP had two years in the Senate with NO previous political experience, and had only a single term in the Senate when he ran for president (I reiterate: he had NO political experience before the Senate, unlike Obama, who had a lot before he came to Washington). Al Gore, if memory serves, had only a partial term in the Senate when he first ran for president. The difference is that Obama is a better candidate than were either Edwards or Gore when they first entered the fray.

For the sake of argument, however, let's assume that Obama's race has helped him. The implication is that Hillary Clinton was able to run--successfully thus far--only because she is qualified, mature, and experienced. That's a curious idea, given that there were at least three people in the race, namely, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd, who were far more experienced than Hillary but who had no chance against her. Why did they have no chance? There's only one answer: because a large bloc of voters had decided, long before any debates and long before the Iowa caucus, that it was a woman's turn to be president.

It is exciting that Obama is black ... yes it is ... but he is not succeeding, as Shenkman claims, simply because he "does not remind us of Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton." He is succeeding because he is brilliant, charismatic, and positive. No, he doesn't remind us of Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton; he reminds us of JFK and Franklin Roosevelt. Clinton doesn't have that sort of appeal.

Too: Mr. Shenkman, to make up for your slap at Frank Rich, I send him a big thanks. He is the only pro-Obama voice in the NYT. In the same week that he ran the "anti-Hillary" column, the NYT ran the anti-Obama columns by Fish and Krugman that I mentioned above. Their logic went like this: Fish argued that the criticism of Hillary is irrational (focusing on her dress, looks, voice, ambition, etc.) and hence sexist. Deborah Lipstadt on HNN ardently agrees. Krugman, like Shenkman, claims that most of the venom in the race comes from the Obama side, and urged both candidates (but really just Obama) to make a statement to the effect that they would support their opponent if he/she is nominated. Does anyone anywhere really seriously think that Obama (or Hillary for that matter) would be so small as to refuse support to his opponent if she got the nod?

Such nonsense irks me in the extreme. The argument that those who criticize Hillary are sexist mirrors the argument that those who criticize Obama are racist. Both arguments are inane and counterproductive. Let me say here, however, that despite the hoopla about Obama's supporters supposedly charging their enemies with racial bias, not a single Obama supporter that I know, and I know plenty, has made such a statement. The racism critique is out there, but it's far from ubiquitous. I would argue that it's downright rare. Can the same be said of the sexism critique among Hillary supporters?

Message to those who think Obama supporters are engaging in sexism: every candidate gets bashed by their opponents in a personal way, not just Hillary Clinton. Reagan was roasted for his orange hair, his '50s father-knows-best persona, his sagging chin and neck, his superficiality. Bill Clinton was roasted for holding up flights out of LAX while he got an expensive haircut. Edwards suffered a similar fate for his coif. Mondale was pilloried for his monotonous voice and lack of spunk. I personally loved to call attention to Fred Thompson's resemblance to a Klingon. Etc. etc. etc.

Beyond that, Fish and other Hillary supporters cherry pick the particular anti-Hillary comments that seem to make the sexism case. The fact is, the dislike of Hillary is not sexist; it stems from her sense of entitlement. She and her supporters assumed that she had the presumptive right to the nomination because she was the first highly competent and nationally renowned woman to run. Thus the teary speech in New Hampshire: disappointment born of presumption got magically transformed into a touching concern for the country. Voters were taking the country in the "wrong direction," as though an Obama presidency would somehow be a great evil.

That sense of entitlement has led to very personal criticisms. Voters, especially Democrats, love to stick pins in balloons filled with presumption. Too, the very similarity of the candidates' positions tends to make the criticism personal. That's politics, not sexism.

What I find interesting is that the cherry-picked nasty comments about Hillary are attributed to ALL Obama supporters, as though we were a bunch of raving fanatics. The implication could be that Obama's supporters are throwbacks to 60s radicalism, Panther supporters, people who are angry and vicious. Lipstadt and Fish go so far as to compare the critics of Clinton to anti-semites. What the attacks on the Obama supporters show to me, however, is that the Hillary supporters are themselves sore losers. They, like their candidate, had a sense of entitlement and have been disappointed. At least so far.

So let me say this to all the Obama-haters out there: every Obama supporter I know would support Clinton if she were the nominee. Indeed most of us would ardently support her, just as we did when she was first lady. We just think our guy is a better candidate. She has the persona of the class valedictorian. Our guy has the persona of a JFK. She has the better policies by a nose, but must we therefore choose the wonk over the guy who might actually overcome gridlock?

I suspect that Clinton supporters will eagerly support Obama if he gets the nomination, especially when push comes to shove--as it will--in a matchup with McCain. But meanwhile, Clinton people, please keep in mind that all this animus that you see aimed at your candidate is in part the specter of your own disappointment. True, there is animus against Hillary; it's not all fantasy; but, among us Democrats (I can't speak for Republicans), it is only the product of the moment. What we see are sparks from the frictions of a first-rate primary season. It is not deep-seated and dark and ominous.

Come summer, we will have all had our say, and we will have a nominee. But before then, let's put aside the jejune and irrational (to borrow the word used by Fish to describe Hillary's critics) recriminations about sexism, racism, and hate. A civil war in our party would be completely stupid and is completely unthinkable, but we may, as Shenkman rightly suggests, get one another mad enough to sit out the general election. In that case we may all lose and, to indulge in one last cliche, we'll have only ourselves to blame.

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William J. Stepp - 2/24/2008

So is Bob Herbert, who writes an op-ed column.

E. Simon - 2/20/2008

Hey, I've voted for female candidates for office, and I'd be more than happy to have voted for a few more that I've recognized in national (and global) politics for whom I just don't presently happen to be a constituent.

Although there is a possibility that some Obama supporters, (although surely not "a growing wing") would never vote for a woman, the much more likely explanation, and one that I've seen ALL OVER THE BLOGOSPHERE for the last several months, is that there are women who are so obsessed with issues of power (as is Hillary) that issues of character never even enter their consciousness. You can deny that such issues matter, but they do. And like many other 2nd-wave feminists, you could also choose to condescend to your conception of "the male vote", but your candidate would do so at her own political peril.

It's very simple: Don't insult the voters of contests you've lost and explain away their "bad" decision. Don't blame the voters for your losses. Congratulate your opponent - don't become jealous of him/her. Gracefully admit to (and learn from) your, ahem, mistakes rather than giving in to a pathologically immature urge to become self-righteous about them. Respect the voters' intelligence and they will respect the candidate. This is a democracy, after all.

E. Simon - 2/20/2008

A candidate's relationship with the press, as with anything else, is a two-way street. Clinton could only refuse to be forthcoming with the press for so long before there wasn't any reason for them to want anything to do with her.

Dan J. Herman - 2/19/2008

Nancy, I don't recognize these male Obama supporters who, you say, would never vote for a woman. Maybe you are right, but I don't know any of these people. I only know people who are excited about Obama, not against Clinton. Of course any time Clinton scores a success, we are glum and apt to feel cranky toward those who support her. I'm sure the same phenomenon occurs on the other side when Obama scores a success.

I will add that, when Obama succeeds, I feel a little pang of sadness that Hillary isn't going to win. I'm thrilled that Obama is doing well but I'm not thrilled that it comes at Hillary's expense. Like others, my emotions about the race run the gamut, but all in all I'm behind Obama.

I realize there is a gender gap in the race, but that may not be so much as "a man will only support a man. It may be because a woman is more apt to support a female candidate because she is female.

Well, whoever wins, I hope both sides will come together in the general.

Nancy Brown - 2/19/2008

I agree that Edwards was too green then and now. I got disillusioned with him when he stopped being NC senator to run for prez. He had replaced Jesse Helms and we still needed in for senator.

Nancy Brown - 2/19/2008

The unfortunate thing is that a growing wing of Obama supporters are males who would never vote for a woman.

Nancy Brown - 2/19/2008

He has been one of the few in the press to stand up for Clinton. The pundits on TV have been so pro-Obama, at least in the beginning, that I could hardly stand to watch them. At that point I had not decided, but I got tired of the bias.

Bee o o - 2/18/2008

All I can say is: wathc "hillary, the movei". Google it. Then watch it, then decide.

Denise Oliver-Velez - 2/18/2008

Thank you for your well articulated piece. I have also dropped a note to Frank Rich - I had just about given up on the NY Times.

At age 60 I have been a feminist for much of my life. As a feminist, my choice is Barak Obama. I would be a very poor feminist if I thought that the word means "females only".

I am reminded of a period in history when the women's suffrage movement split over the issue of the franchise. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony on one side and Lucy Stone on the other. Stanton and Anthony opted to court white female Southerners who wouldn't sit in a room with black women. Lucy Stone continued her unswerving support for newly emancipated former slaves; in my opinion the more principled stance. As such I am a "Stoner". And today - I'm voting for Obama.


marte hall - 2/18/2008


Hey, I'm old enough to be mother or Grandmother to any of the posters here, and in the long (in many ways gratefully!) lost world I grew up in (WWI, WWII &etc.) I wouldn't be typing into a computer keyboard in my dotage and reacting (as to the longlostworld ?etiquettes?) impulsively. But hey we all have a lot in stake in this election and the way it's being handled now we only get one vote.

So thanx everyone here at HNN! You all help keep me sane.

[To clarify my opener: Are we here to discuss _history_, or "politics"? Isn't there maybe both a temporal and philosophical distinction? Does that matter, here, on HNN, between now and November?]
?! ;-)


Lisa Kazmier - 2/18/2008

I totally agree. And if anything, it needs to be said that if Clinton's supporters claim that Obama's have "hated" her, it's owing to their polarizing claims.

Frankly, I am sick of "feminists" claiming I have to vote for HRC as a woman. Baloney. First of all, she is not exactly a paragon of feminism given she is riding hubby's coattails. If she were Hillary Smith, is she legit and a leading contender? Is she even a senator? As a result, I don't want to be party to an elective monarchy or a fictive "third term."

I would appreciate her more as a self-made woman. The problem with the policies of Margaret Thatcher or Condoleeza Rice is obvious, esp. to Clinton supporters.

I have supported Obama and will continue to do so. I felt kinda sheepish going to the Women's Historian breakfast at AHA in voicing this but was gratified to hear that many other female historians (at least at my table) supported him also. Maybe it's part of that college educated demographic since none of us were under 30.

Clearly, all of us were ready to support a female candidate but weren't convinced HRC was the one we wanted to support, given Iraq votes and other issues of substance, which these "feminists" think somehow we should overlook.

No thanks.

James W Loewen - 2/18/2008

I suppose it's a good thing if Obama (or Huckabee or Clinton for that matter) has the PERSONA of JFK. But those of us who recall the JFK presidency sure hope no candidate has the ABILITIES of JFK. On Civil Rights, on international relations, in his appointments of judges, he was a TERRIBLE president. In his private life, too.

James W Loewen - 2/18/2008

Rick writes: "... we need a president who knows who Rabin was." Indeed we do. Question is, do we HAVE one? (at present, I mean?) ;)

g crat - 2/17/2008

Obama is riding a wave of black racism based on skin color, supported by left wing liberals and the media.

Robert KC Johnson - 2/17/2008

The point on Krugman is well-taken: his work now has appeared--under the neutral heading of the "New York Times"--in an anti-Obama flyer in Wisconsin.

So we have a columnist who is effectively an arm of the campaign spewing negative items about the other candidate, all under the guise of journalistic neutrality. At least Sidney Blumenthal doesn't claim to be a journalist any more.

Philip L Merrill - 2/17/2008

Let me start with this question- If Hillary had shown the judgment and or courage to vote against the war, does any one honestly believe she would be behind in the race for the nomination?

The suggestion that opposition to Hillary is sexist is as offensive and inaccurate as the suggestion that the only reason to support her is because she is a woman.

I would have supported Hillary if she had demonstrated the courage to vote against the war in Iraq. I am not against war. I have served my country in uniform. I supported Bush 1's war in the Mideast. That said I believe W's war was the worse foreign policy decision in my lifetime, and because of Hillary and a few top Democratic leaders, we never even had a full debate.

In the CNN debate Hillary was asked if her vote was naive. The other more probable answer is she made a calculated judgment about what was best for her future.

As for her and Bills attempt to reduce the importance of Obama's early opposition, it is prevarication of the worst kind. Obama spoke out against the war when his political future was at stake. He had already lost a Congressional race. If he lost the Senate race his chance for major office was over. All projections were that at the very least the war would go well in the short run and still be popular by the time Obama would face the voters of Illinois.

In contrast Clinton had a safe Senate seat. Her voice would have carried weight. If the lives, treasure and our nations standing in the world mean anything and you believe this war was wrong from the beginning then I would argue Hillary's vote should never be forgiven.

In the first election where I could vote, I worked for Bobby Kennedy, but in the end I voted for Humphrey, the man who had gone along with all Johnson's misjudgments. I was a young man then and didn't realize that if we settle for leaders who put themselves first even on matters of war and peace- we'll never get anything better.

Rick Shenkman - 2/17/2008

I beg to disagree with you.

You say:

It is exciting that Obama is black ... yes it is ... but he is not succeeding, as Shenkman claims, simply because he "does not remind us of Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton." He is succeeding because he is brilliant, charismatic, and positive.

I never said he's succeeding only because he's black. I said he never would have been considered a serious candidate but for being black. There's a difference.

As for the argument that Edwards and others had little experience when they ran for president: So? Who said they should have run? I thought Edwards was too green to run for president in 2004 and said so. I remain convinced that he was. Charles Peters reported in the Washington Monthly back in 2004 that Edwards didn't know who Yitzak Rabin was. That was all I needed to hear. Sorry: we need a president who knows who Rabin was.