Bob Herbert gets it:
With Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s win in New Hampshire, gender issues are suddenly in the news. Where has everybody been?
We’ve become so used to the disrespectful, degrading, contemptuous and even violent treatment of women that we hardly notice it. Staggering amounts of violence are unleashed against women and girls every day. Fashionable ads in mainstream publications play off of that violence, exploiting themes of death and dismemberment, female submissiveness and child pornography.
If we’ve opened the door to the issue of sexism in the presidential campaign, then let’s have at it. It’s a big and important issue that deserves much more than lip service.
David Brooks does not.
Both Clinton and Obama have eagerly donned the mantle of identity politics. A Clinton victory wouldn’t just be a victory for one woman, it would be a victory for little girls everywhere. An Obama victory would be about completing the dream, keeping the dream alive, and so on.
Fair enough. The problem is that both the feminist movement Clinton rides and the civil rights rhetoric Obama uses were constructed at a time when the enemy was the reactionary white male establishment. Today, they are not facing the white male establishment. They are facing each other.
First, it’s obvious that Mr. Brooks doesn’t see the world the same way Mr. Herbert does, nor does he recognize the irony in his own dismissal of the “reactionary white male establishment” as the forces against which both Clinton and Obama are fighting because he is a card-carrying, banner-waving member of said establishment.
Second, the idea that there’s something wrong with a politician seeing the world and the causes they’re working for in terms of their own identity is more than a little mind-boggling. Of course they’re going to see it that way; what other way is there? Certainly running for office requires more than its fair share of ego, but it also requires that the people running for office use their own life experiences and talents to frame their case and provide a point of reference so that the voters can say, “this person gets it.” Whether or not this connects with the electorate is often the difference between winning and losing an election. Where it goes off the rails is when the politician tries to convince the voters that they understand their concerns when it is clear, either through thought, word, or deed, that they do not. “I feel your pain” may have become a punch line, but is still the gut-check that a lot of voters use when they listen to someone trying to convince them to vote for them.
I do agree with Mr. Brooks on one point: the argument over race and gender has gotten to the silly stage, and to the credit of both the Clinton and Obama campaigns, they’re seeking to put it to rest. But it does not mean that these are not issues that we shouldn’t talk about, and expecting either candidate to do it without recognizing, even subliminally, that they represent uncharted waters in American politics is nonsense. Better to have it, even with the excess (and the sense to know when to stop) than not at all.
PS: Mr. Brooks notes that it will be the Latino vote that determines the election. Perhaps he needs to be reminded that the GOP and their nearly unanimous support of harsh immigration reform has pretty much taken care of that.