Barack Obama is the 44th president of the United States, even though he’s only the 43rd: Grover Cleveland, who was elected to two non-consecutive terms, is counted twice. There have been 47 vice presidents as well, from John Adams to Joe Biden. All in all, 90 people have served in America’s top two jobs. All were men. All but one were white men. Not a single one was a woman.
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Now, for the second time in her life, Hillary Clinton is poised to break the ultimate female-proof glass ceiling, above which, if you are a believer, there is only the Almighty. With all due respect to current heads of state such as Germany’s Angela Merkel and Brazil’s Dilma Rouseff or even legendary past leaders such as Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi or Margaret Thatcher, in terms of clout, authority and dominance of the world stage, a female president of the United States is in a league of her own. If Clinton would be elected president she could automatically be listed, alongside Queen Victoria and Catherine the Great, as one of the most powerful women in history.
Clinton’s election as president wouldn’t solve all the problems of lingering inequality between men and women, but it would show that these could be solved. The impact of her election would reflect on the entire system, up and down and sideways, eventually eroding many of the conscious or subconscious barriers that still exist. A Clinton presidency could provide powerful inspiration for American women and girls, and, perhaps more profoundly, for women around the world, including countries in which her election would be considered blasphemy. Imagine the impact on women in Iran or Saudi Arabia, in Pakistan or Indonesia - not to mention certain sectors of Israel - when their national leaders would be left with no choice but to deal, if not to curry favor, with the woman who leads America.
But contrary to African Americans, who voted 95% in favor of Obama in 2008 and 93 percent in 2012, many American women seem to be otherwise engaged. In Iowa, Clinton garnered only 53 percent of the female vote, and even that majority was achieved only by virtue of massive support from older, married women. Among unmarried women, only 43 percent supported Clinton. Among voters younger than 29, her opponent Bernie Sanders outpolled Clinton by a whopping 84-16 percent, including, by definition, women of that same age.
Clinton’s numbers in national polls are just as bleak: only 48 percent supported her against Sanders in a recent Quinnipiac pole, going down to 44 percent among college educated women. In a one-on-one matchup with Donald Trump, Clinton did much better, winning by a 52-36 percent; among white women, however, the arguably misogynistic Trump (!) beat her by a 44-42 percent margin. The Evangelical Ted Cruz, who said this week that registering women for the military just like men is “nuts,” beats Clinton among white women by an even larger margin of 49-42 percent.
In New Hampshire, which goes to the polls on Tuesday, Clinton is doing even worse: according to Monday’s University of Massachusetts Lowell poll, Sanders leads Clinton 77-23 percent among women under 29, a whopping 83-17 percent, among women aged 30-39 and 63-35 percent among those aged 40-49. Only among women over 50 does Clinton start to achieve a majority, albeit a much smaller one.
So it must be a generational gap, then, that causes me to be so utterly amazed. Because while I think Madeleine Albright went a bit too far by consigning women who don’t support Clinton to “a special place in hell,” I am left speechless nonetheless. I am not eligible to vote and am therefore writing only as an outside observer, or a kibitzer, as it were, but nonetheless: American women have a chance to make one of their own president, but they have other priorities? They’re willing to wait? They think candidates should be judged solely on their merits, as befits a post-feminist society? Which post-feminist society are they talking about?
Of course, I don’t expect all women to support Clinton. Those who don’t think she’s up to the job, for example, are exempt, along with those who don’t believe any woman should be president. Women who abide by religious dogma that men and women aren’t equal in the first place, along with conservative women who have voted Republican all their lives and find Clinton’s views on social issues abhorrent, are also excused.
I can even understand, though not necessarily condone, women who have been swayed by years and years of the, pardon the adjective, hysterical right wing war of words against Clinton, culminating in the, excuse me, preposterous hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent in vain trying to prove she was guilty of something or other in Benghazi. Or those who believe that her ill-advised use of a private server for her emails, which may or may not have contained classified material, is a crime that ranks up there with genocide and mass starvation. Although I would point out at least part of the abuse that Clinton has sustained throughout her political career is a result of her gender, not her alleged misdeeds, and that the only reason it hasn’t been as intense as the invective hurled at Obama is that for the purveyors of such bile, an African American man still ranks lower on the American totem pole than a white woman, though not by much.
I can also understand the temptation of lifelong socialists who don’t want to pass up the once in a lifetime chance to vote for the one and only presidential candidate who is an openly unabashed member of their tribe. And I empathize with radical proponents of the new buzzword “intersectionality” who refuse to view Clinton as someone deserving of deference because, although she’s a woman, she isn’t black, lesbian, Latino and Palestinian at the same time.
It’s all the others that perplex me. The women who are slightly to the left or slightly to the right of Clinton, those who like her but prefer Bernie Sanders because he’s bolder and fresher, along with those who feel that after eight years of Democrats it’s time for a Republican again, as long as he’s a moderate. According to the latest Pew Research poll, 35 percent of all American women identify as Democrats, another 35 percent as Independents and another 6 percent who for some reason or another “don’t know.” That should give Clinton a theoretical constituency of three out of every four American women, but in practice she’s far from it.
I realize that even suggesting that women should vote for Clinton because of their joint gender can be construed as politically incorrect, retrograde, perhaps even sexist and chauvinistic. And that by doing so one wades into the troubled waters of internal battles between first, second, third and fourth generation feminists, never mind feminists of the post- and anti- variety. And I agree that what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander and that if women should vote for Clinton then men should as well. Nonetheless, in my apparently archaic world in which tribes exist and identities count, women bear a slightly greater responsibility to go to bat for their own gender.
Thus, women who find this or that fault in Clinton and are therefore voting for Sanders or even for a moderate Republican like John Kasich are, in my book, feinschmeckers. In German the word means a connoisseur or gourmet, but in Yiddish and Hebrew the term has been tinged with a smidgen of derision, denoting a snob or one who is excessively fussy. Of course Clinton isn’t the perfect female candidate - far from it - but she’s highly qualified nonetheless, and the only woman around. If we don’t want to insult Carly Fiorina, then she’s the only one around with any real chance of success.
Well, you might ask, by that logic, shouldn’t Jews support Sanders because he’s a Jew? The answer is no, for many reasons: Because Sanders isn’t running as a Jew and it’s hard to tell how much of Jew he feels he is; because American Jews don’t seem like an underprivileged class that needs a symbolic upheaval; because I’m not sure that most Jews even want one of their own to be president; we’ve got enough tsores (troubles) as it is. And because Jews are 1-2 percent of the American population, a small minority, while women are 50.8 percent, a clear majority. And that’s before I start issuing exemptions to Jews who might feel that Sanders is bad for Israel.
So to refrain from voting for Clinton because she’s been around for too long, or because she’s “part of the establishment,” or because she tolerated her husband when she shouldn’t have or because one prefers a candidate who doesn’t have a super PAC, wants to dismantle Wall Street and is peddling the romance of “revolution” is, in my parochial book, a luxury women cannot afford. Even the Beatles, in the wild and unruly 1960s in which both Sanders and I grew up, were wise enough to urge caution: “You say you want a revolution, well you know, we all want to change the world. You say you got a real solution, well, you know, we’d all love to see the plan.”
Electing Clinton as President of the United States would be no less revolutionary than electing Sanders, and contrary to the upheaval he is offering, the Clinton revolution is just around the corner, at least in theory. I agree with those women who claim that the election of a woman as president is ultimately inevitable, but a bird in hand, excuse me, is always better than two in the tree who might take ages before they come down. With such profound change at hand, it’s hard for me to understand women who tell other women to “start the revolution without me” but then again, as I found out this week, I’m just an old fogey, and a man to boot.