I definitely understand the disappointment among many of Senator Clinton’s supporters that she did not become the Democratic nominee (See my post- An Open Letter to Supporters of Hillary Clinton from a Supporter of Barack Obama). Believe me – I understand, as a gay man I know that it is unlikely I will see adequate representation from my community in government during my lifetime. Currently there are 2 members of Congress that are openly gay- Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) and Congresswoman Tammy Bladwin (D-WI). Ms. Baldwin was elected openly gay, Mr. Frank came out after he was a member of Congress. There have been a total of four members of Congress who were openly gay in the history of the nation.
How many Americans are aware of the history of the first openly gay elected official- Harvey Milk? Milk was a member of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors and was assassinated along with San Francisco mayor George Moscone by another San Francisco politico- Dan White. Most Americans haven’t heard of him even though there is an Academy Award winning documentary about him and a mainstream Hollywood film directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Sean Penn due out in December. So- I am acutely aware of being part of a community that does not have the sort of representation appropriate in government.
I guess as a gay man it feels a little odd for me to hear some of the vitriol from women about Mr. Obama and this campaign. The idea that I do not have my community being represented in government is understood. Should I be enragaged? Probably- but I am not. I also live in a city where all of my representatives in Congress are women- two powerful Senators, Mrs. Feinstein and Mrs. Boxer, and the first woman to be Speaker of the House, Mrs. Pelosi. I am used to having women in power in government. Sure it isn’t President, but women in politics and power have definitely been more normal for me and my fellow San Franciscans than many others in this nation.
Senator Clinton gave what was arguably the best speech of her career yesterday when she suspended her campaign and endorsed Senator Obama. I say this not because she endorsed Mr. Obama but because she gave one heck of a speech- it was simply brilliant. I would say Mrs. Clinton found her voice yesterday- her speech soared on the issue of unity, issues and women’s rights and history. She pleaded with her supporters to support Senator Obama with enthusiasm, in my open letter yesterday, I repeated that plea.
I agree that there was misogyny in the media covering this race. Racism was also apparent. But it concerns me greatly that many women are defiantly angry about the Obama nominee. One of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters protesting at the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee- Harriet Chistian- was angry and her speech was laced with blatant racism. Geraldine Ferraro- a trailblazer for women made comments that were, to say the least, uncomfortable due to a strong whiff of racism. These are extreme cases. But I have talked to some women who aren’t being racist who are angry. I had dinner with relatives on Tuesday night- the evening where Obama clinched the nomination and my aunt, a liberal Democrat, was visceral in her negative reactions to Mr. Obama. I was truly shocked.
On Friday I was on a conference call that the Obama campaign had with many of us in the LGBT community. It was a conference call meant to heal the wounds of those in the LGBT community that supported Mrs. Clinton (the vast majority of the LGBT community in the nation supported Mrs. Clinton). One of the participants on the call was an old friend who I admire greatly- the former Executive Director of the Human Rights Campaign, Elizabeth Birch. I had a warm relationship with Elizabeth when I was on the Board of Governors of HRC in the late 1990’s and respect and admire her and her former partner Hillary Rosen greatly. I was astonished that Elizabeth spoke of her deep disappointment that Senator Clinton had lost the nomination and that the loss had driven her to tears.
All of this confuses me. I understand the strong desire to have your voice heard in the highest corridor of power- that is a dream I know I will never achieve as a gay American. I must say that I also find all of the hand wringing about Mrs. Clinton’s defeat is a slap in the face to the Speaker of the House. Mrs. Pelosi shattered that marble ceiling in the male dominated halls of Congress and presently- her accomplishments are being completely ignored.
Don’t get me wrong- I admire Mrs. Clinton greatly and I weighed carefully my choice before coming out for Mr. Obama. In due respect though- Mrs. Clinton’s political chops and most of the experience that she has are due precisely because she is the wife of a former Governor and a former President. There is no doubt Mrs. Clinton is formidable in her own right, but clearly the path was paved for her because of her husband’s career. Contrarily Mrs. Pelosi ascended to the Speakership completely on her own merits and without any perks due to a last name that opened doors. I admire Mrs. Clinton’s accomplishments but Mrs. Pelosi’s accomplishments inspire me.
There was so much anger among many about Mrs. Clinton not being the nominee, I felt that the history of nominating an African American was eclipsed. Mr. Obama made significant history on Tuesday night but I honestly feel that all of the drama around Mrs. Clinton’s situation eclipsed this moment for Mr. Obama and the African American community. I find that to be incredibly unfair.
Women and African Americans have historically been shut out of power in our government and our nation’s record is pitiful with both communities but it truly is appalling with African Americans. In all of American history there have been 245 women in Congress, 35 of them in the Senate. In all of American history there have been 121 African Americans in Congress, 5 of them in the Senate. The current 110th Congress has among its members 61 women in the House and 16 women in the Senate. The 110th Congress has 37 members of the House and 1 member of the Senate. Clearly there has only been one woman Speaker and no African American.
Women and African Americans were not included in the original dream of this nation. Women and African American fought hard to get their franchise and arguably many African Americans continue to be denied their franchise by overt and covert creative ways throughout this country. In 2008 there are communities that aggressively look to suppress voting from African Americans.
One community was not disrespected at the expense of the other. Quite frankly- I had been under the impression that it would be easier elect a white woman for President than an African American man. Maybe I am not familiar with those men and women who would not vote for a woman, but sadly I am familiar with those men and women who will not vote for an African American.
Maybe misogyny played a part in Mrs. Clinton’s defeat, but both she and Mr. Obama were fighting odds of historic proportion. I do not know who had the harder fight; my gut tells me that racism is more ingrained in our national psyche than is sexism- although I acknowledge both are at play. I think Mrs. Clinton’s campaign itself defeated Mrs. Clinton. She was running as an insider at a time of change and she had no game plan past Super Tuesday. There was an air of inevitability to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign since before she announced her candidacy. A year ago everyone was talking about a Clinton / Giuliani race. I truly believe that hubris is the tragic flaw for all humanity and I feel that the inevitability that was part of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign that assumed a coronation was indeed hubris.
I understand the desire among women to have a woman president, as a gay man I wish a gay man or lesbian could someday be president- but I know that my dream will never get as far as Mrs. Clinton got and that is truly sad and unfair.