The world only spins forward, but sometimes it spins in fits and starts


There's lots on Hillary Clinton and issues of feminism and sexism to read today. Harold Myerson warns her die-hard supporters not to "turn feminism into the last refuge of scoundrels," but I think the more important piece is Michelle Cottle and Amanda Fortini's discussion over at The New Republic.

The Democratic field this year was a cornucopia of opportunities for voters to address their anxieties about what it would be like for a black man, a Latino man, or a woman to run the country. And while opportunities like those are exciting, they also involve deciding which societal ill to address first, and no matter the scenario, that's a profoundly uncomfortable decision for anyone who cares about eliminating both racism and sexism.

Of course the chance to address race, or sex are far from the only things that matter. Mechanics of the campaign, the candidates' personal histories, voting records, speaking abilities, etc., have all been crucial in this race, and those elements shaped how Clinton and Obama presented the narratives of their respective gender and race. But race and gender were visible and important issues in this race; it wasn't just about mechanics, and it's not just about societal perceptions. And as Michelle puts it so eloquently:

You have pundits like Andrew Sullivan waxing rhapsodic about how fantabulous it would be for America's image, how great and glorious a morning it will be, when we have an African American taking the oath. You would never hear someone say that about a woman. Even if they're talking about the historic nature of it, they don't talk about it in such grand and soul-cleansing terms. And I think part of it is that in the history of this country, slavery, Jim Crow, and racism have been much uglier, more overt, nasty phenomena than sexism.

Sexism is here, sexism is present, but it's been more paternalistic, and presented in soft, warm and fuzzy terms...Women weren't persecuted for burning their bras. Feminism is a different cause than civil rights. Slavery is kind of a moral scar for America, so we can be poetic about how great it's going to be when we, at last, elect an African American. And we just can't talk that way about electing a woman.

Whether that was a conscious choice we made or not, America's going to seriously grapple in a general election with what it will be like to have the first black president before it takes on what it will be like to have the first woman president. That's not a right or wrong priority, it's just what we've got. But it doesn't make it wrong for people who care about seeing a woman in the White House to be frustrated about that their vision is still a ways away from reality.

Update: Quick clarification. I don't think that electing a black man, or a woman, or a Latino, or anyone in particular is going to--in and of itself--produce substantive change in the lives of Americans, much less produce a magically just society where everyone gets a pony, seasons tickets to the sports franchise of their choosing and a mint-condition copy of "Meet the Beatles." But I do think that who is in the White House gets folks talking and thinking about what the role of that office is, what qualities matter in leadership, and the face we present to the world, and those conversations are one stop on the road to much bigger, and more pressing, changes.