Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pant Suits

This is a first for me, I actually found myself really being convinced by a Hillary Rodham Clinton speech. She finally graciously accepted that Obama was selected by the majority of us, and she finally graciously and convincingly asked Democrats to vote for our candidate. Yes, she did go into a long discussion of her platform but then she explained that it is OUR platform, and that the option is to vote for McCain which equals more of the Bush policies. I have no idea if her most enthusiastic supporters will be swayed, but if that speech doesn't do it, nothing will. So with relief I think that we can win, because that speech was good enough to persuade most of the most ardent HRC backers to vote for Obama. 

It was a contrast to last night's speech by Michelle Obama. As my friend noted, Obama had to domesticate herself. And it's true, she framed herself as daughter, sister, mother, wife, never as just herself. Ironically, in my opinion, tonight was Hillary R. Clinton's most overtly feminist speech (and she even had a shout out to us queers). I liked the ways she made reference to the ways in which gender and race intersect in the struggle for social justice. But we all remember the times when HRC had to talk about baking cookies, or stand by her philandering husband, and shed some tears when she was tanking in the primaries. So did another very smart, strong and accomplished woman have to present herself as "non-threatening." 

A commentator on MSNBC used the telling term "rehabilitate" as in Michelle Obama needed to somehow defend herself and clear her record. Rehabilitate herself for what? She is not a criminal, is she? What exactly is her transgression? That she is a woman, her husband's senior when they started dating, strong and accomplished? Or is it that she is all of those things and also African American? Why is it a problem that she lives in a nice house but no one asks about the McCain or Bush family fortune? Because she is black? All of the sexist and racist stereotypes are implicitly deployed against her: the angry Black woman, uppity, shrill, domineering. Another friend commented on the Jackie Kennedy hair and the sleek dress (which was a bit Oleg Cassini-ish now that I think of it). And she even had the softer Jackie tone of voice and the bed time story refrain "See......" 

Yet another friend wondered why she did not use the repeated refrain rhetorical modality in the speech. I told her because that form is too strongly marked as "African American" and religious. So instead she used the self-effacing, halting and conspiratorial intimate story-telling style "You see....." Like Jackie giving the White House Tour on television. Anecdotal. And she herself, anecdotal to the primary story being told. Probably because of this strategic self-effacement, if they are sent to the White House, she might be better liked as First Lady than HRC. I have no doubt that like HRC, she is just as smart and capable as her husband, if not more so, and could just as easily have been running for political office herself. 

I found it fascinating given last night's Kennedy tribute, that it seemed like another political dynasty was being presented - the Clintons. Even if HRC didn't make it to the White House as President, the subtext seemed to read, Chelsea would run in the future.