Supporting Hillary or Barack? Stop Apologizing for It

Election '08

Amid the endless hours discussing emotional "turning points," poor polling, demographics and comebacks, I kept spinning the dial searching for someone to discuss Hillary's own historic moment -- a headline comparable to those for Obama's Iowa win.

I sent a message to Robert Greenwald's live election blog Tuesday evening at Brave New Was this the first time a woman had won a presidential primary? No one was quite sure. Had Elizabeth Dole won a primary? someone blogged.

I wondered, why was Obama's win historic and Hillary's simply a comeback? One could argue Obama's "historic moment" is the beginning of a new era of bipartisanship -- where gay couples and evangelicals stroll arm in arm to adopt unwed babies, assist in late-term abortions and bury cynics like me -- but I doubt it.

Let's start with some history.

It turns out Hillary may have the more "historic" win -- if race and gender "firsts" are the yardstick. Technically, Shirley Chisholm takes both "firsts" with a New Jersey primary win in 1972. And Jesse Jackson won five primaries and caucuses in 1984 -- including Virginia, Louisiana and D.C.

On closer inspection, according to Allan Lichtman, professor of history at American University, Chisholm actually won a "nonbinding preference, where no delegates were awarded" against ex-Gov. Terry Sanford. Humphrey, McGovern and Muskie did not compete. As Lichtman put it, "This is the first time in American history a woman won a major contested presidential primary." At the very least, the first time in 36 years a woman had won a primary.

One reason, perhaps, that pundits and the press found Obama's moment so "historical" was that Obama said so: "At this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn't do." The Chicago Times called his win a "historic and decisive victory in the Iowa caucuses." And most other major media followed the "historic" line.

Michael Powell of the New York Times said, "But the moment is suffused, so as almost not to require that he make it explicit, with a sense of historical moment. I, you, we can make history, he says, by turning the nation's sorrowful racial narrative into something radiant and hopeful."

Clearly, Obama's Iowa victory speech was superior and will be remembered and replayed, and Hillary's New Hampshire primary victory speech will not. But this does not fully explain why journalists and pundits are giving such short shrift to Hillary's achievement.

In a country where every time a woman or black who is "first" at something is properly noted, the lack of historical focus on Hillary's first speaks to the difficulty every pundit faces and to the cutesy games everyone -- especially the candidates -- play when it comes to race and gender in this election.

Obama didn't say Martin Luther King was smiling tonight during his "historic" speech. The racial aspect of his historic moment, as Michael Powell notes, is not "explicit" -- but it's there. Oprah didn't just dive into presidential politics solely because of Obama's policies and good looks.

No one admits supporting Hillary because she's a woman or Obama because he's black. They are the best candidates -- of course. But this is often disingenous. After 200-plus years we still can't find a woman or man good enough to run the country? The white guys are all more qualified again? Hillary and Obama are qualified, and no one needs to apologize for wanting a woman or black to finally get a shot. And luckily, this time, they are also both miles ahead of any candidate on the other side.

Part of this historical lapse is linked to anti-Hillary sentiment and liberal discomfort with the Clintons. Paul Krugman pointed out Obama's more conservative tendencies on Social Security and healthcare -- but Hillary didn't get any traction. Hillary is closer to John Edwards' "We have to fight 'em" than Obama's "Let's all be friends" tactical approach on dealing with the right and achieving change -- but Edwards pushes back on Hillary instead.

On Charlie Rose the night of New Hampshire, Arianna Huffington, who certainly has no love lost for Iraq War-authorizing Hillary, pointed out how her win wouldn't take anything away from Obama's historic moment.

Arianna, time to give sister Hillary her due.

As Gloria Steinem pointed out in her New York Times Op-Ed -- gender politics are alive and well in this campaign. The next time Hillary makes history, she just might have to borrow another element from the Obama playbook -- and point it out herself.

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