When I served in local politics, I, and some of my predecessors, worked hard to shut down a local nursing home in the eastern corner of the county. It was rickety and posed health hazards for the residents, but it had an antebellum grandeur and its patients, who had lived there many years, called it home. For any politician to suggest closing it was a death knell to his or her the future political ambitions. Still, the dastardly deed had to be done for financial as well as sanitation reasons. After 6 years of working to shutter the institution’s doors, after hundreds of heated phone calls and threats, it looked as if two of my colleagues and I might achieve the goal. Then an election intervened. My two stalwarts were replaced by new faces. Predictably, the process of closing the facility ground to a halt. The new officials chose to study the proposal, one that had been studied to death and always came back with the same recommendation: bulldoze the death trap. Naturally, I wailed and gnashed my teeth, sensing the goal would never be reached, much to the taxpayers’ loss.
A similar, dismal battle is being waged for the hearts and minds of women in this Presidential election. I know battle fatigue when I see it in stalwarts like Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright as they campaign for Hillary Clinton. Recently, Steinem accused young women who support Berne Sanders of wanting to be where the boys were rather that than choosing this moment in history to break the country’s highest glass ceiling. Albright quoted herself and reminded others there is a special place in hell for women who fail to help other women.
Neither remark went down well with the newest generation of female voters. (Click) Their retort was that they wouldn’t vote for a woman candidate just because she was a woman. Frankly, I find that response a self-degrading statement, implying that a woman’s viewpoint in politics is unimportant. Nonetheless, it’s an improvement over what I faced as a candidate for public office. If I had a dollar for every woman who snarled, “Women don’t belong in politics,” I’d live in a castle in the south of France.
Women are experts at shooting themselves in the foot and this election gives them another opportunity. I understand why two battle weary feminists like Steinem and Albright might despair. Eight years ago the nation chose “hope” over experience and the government ground to a standstill. Today, some imagine they are making the hope choice again, though, in the fullness of politics, the difference in goals between the two candidates doesn’t amount to much. It’s a matter of style: pragmatism versus raw idealism.
Given that the difference between Hillary and Bernie is no greater than a shard of light, I wonder that young woman can shrug off the gender factor so lightly or show impatience with Steinem and Albright, women who have fought the good fight for women’s equality. They know, better than these new arrivals, what it cost to have come this far and see, better than they, the road that stretches to the horizon before gender equality is reached. If being a woman in this race does not matter, when will it ever?