Culture

A Woman, Sure, but This Woman?

(Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)
Making hay out of ‘making history’

A favorite National Review chengyu is “tallest building in Wichita,” which is derived from William F. Buckley’s response to Gary Wills’s claim that Lillian Hellman, the blacklisted Hollywood Communist, was “America’s greatest living female playwright.” That’s a lot of modifiers separating “greatest” and “playwright.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton is without a doubt the greatest current female American major-party presidential nominee.

It is dumb but, for whatever reason (it isn’t entirely ununderstandable), we place great significance on those qualifiers, which is why that endless parade of witless cow-eyed hacks participating in and reporting on the Democratic National Convention beamed so dopily about the fact that an American political party had nominated as its presidential candidate a person with a genital configuration common to slightly more than half of the human race 37 years after Margaret Thatcher became the British prime minister, 47 years after Golda Meir became the Israeli prime minister, 50 years after Indira Gandhi became the Indian prime minister, 18 years after Ruth Dreifuss became president of Switzerland, etc.

If elected, Mrs. Clinton will replace Barack Obama, who was our first black president, albeit a black president with a white mother and a grandmother who was, in his words, a “typical white person.” (Unlike President Obama, I’ve never met a typical white person.) When Obama was nominated, we were assured by the high and mighty that that, too, was a moment in which we were “making history.”

Did we?

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There is some symbolic importance to Obama’s election and Mrs. Clinton’s nomination, to be sure. But black Americans are not today remarkably better off than before Obama’s inauguration, and it is not clear at all that Obama’s presidency did anything to improve race relations in the United States; there is in fact much more evidence that his habit of cynically and stupidly fanning the flames of racial resentment for his own political ends made things worse.

Probably not a lot worse, though. Presidents are not as important as we think they are, and not half as important as they think they are. America’s black leadership and its would-be black leadership are in the midst of a political convulsion that has thrown up a great deal of asininity and irresponsibility in the form of Black Lives Matters and allied movements, but that doesn’t have much to do with the complexion of the president. It has more to do with the fact that large-scale immigration and the new social prominence of Hispanic and homosexual interest groups is eroding African-Americans’ historical position as the living barometer of American liberalism. For centuries, the racial conversation in the United States was black and white, notwithstanding the occasional atrocity against the Indians or a Chinese Exclusion Act or three. Now that conversation is something else, and this is a source of anxiety for black leaders who do not wish to see their role in the nation’s affairs reduced to that of a Choctaw chief with no casino.

#share#Mrs. Clinton’s nomination will have a similarly negligible effect on the lives of American women. It isn’t exactly a Muppet News Flash that women can run for high office in these United States: You can be Sarah Palin and be on a major-party ticket and be called a “c**t” by all the nice people who will be urging you to vote for Mrs. Clinton as a show of solidarity with women. You can be a woman and do a hell of a lot better job running PepsiCo than Mrs. Clinton did running the State Department. You can be a woman and be seriously considered for the Republican nomination in spite of a slightly short political curriculum vitae. You can be a woman and be a Marine.

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If your daughter didn’t already know that she could grow up and make of her life whatever her dreams and abilities allow, and learned otherwise only upon seeing a dreadful politician take the next step in her dreadful career, that isn’t a failure of a patriarchal society. You’re just a bad father.

The question isn’t whether to elect a woman president; it is whether to elect this woman president.

Mrs. Clinton’s nomination will mean relatively little to women as such for the same reason that Barack Obama’s presidency has had little effect on black Americans as such: because these are large, diverse groups of people with wildly different backgrounds, economic interests, political preferences, and dreams. Nigerian-American Mormon entrepreneurs in Maryland and writers from Caribbean backgrounds in Texas and half-Kenyan politicians in Illinois and 17-year-old women in North Philadelphia are not a coherent unitary group, and neither is the female half of the American polity. These are crude categories used crudely by crude people for crude ends. What ends? Getting you to give them what they want by tricking you into believing that you are doing something for yourself by investing power and status in people with whom you share trivial personal characteristics and who in fact view you in purely instrumental terms.

If you think Mrs. Clinton “cares about women,” ask Juanita Broaddrick or Gennifer Flowers.

There will be much talk in the coming months in the form of this question: “Isn’t it time we elected a woman president?” But the question isn’t whether to elect a woman president; it is whether to elect this woman president, and the answer to that question among sane and sensible people is: “Not if we can help it.”

#related#Yes, Mrs. Clinton is the first female major-party presidential nominee. At some point (perhaps not too far in the future) we will have our first Hispanic nominee, our first Hispanic and female nominee, our first Indian-American nominee, our first Jewish nominee (so close, Barry Goldwater!), our first homosexual nominee, etc. We could have had our first “black, Puerto Rican, one-eyed, Jewish” nominee if only Sammy Davis Jr. had lived in our era, when celebrity is considered a qualification for public office.

If the best you can say for your candidate is that she’d be the first to lug a pair of ovaries over the finish line, that isn’t much.

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