February 5, 2008
By Mary Lyon
February 5th. It's the Feast of St. Agatha, virgin martyr from the early days of Christianity. It falls on Super Duper Tuesday this year.
I voted early this morning. Wanted to get it over with. It's been torture so far. I have been torn adunder by all this. Is this electoral waterboarding, perhaps? We're told the legendary St. Agatha herself was tortured. To death. Some might say - "hey - it's a GOOD torture." The anguish arises from the many fine, high-quality candidates from the Democratic Party, from the very beginning. Now it's down to two, and therein lies the dilemma. And yes. It's been torture. For us Democrats, the hardest and most painful part this year is trying to settle on the best of the best. But what do you do when each of them is a best in one way or other? Our problem is: We really like everybody, the exact inverse of what agonizes our opponents: they really don't like anybody. If ours is an embarrassment of riches, the GOP's woes stem from a richness of embarrassments. All things being equal, I'd rather have our problem.
Now that we're down to the final two, the choice is even harder. I like them both. Hillary and Barack. Obama and Clinton. I can see both of them at work, seated at the Resolute Desk. I have concerns about each, and admiration for each. Either one has the chance to make history. Kinda cool that it's coming from the Democrats, but not terribly surprising.
Unfortunately, among the partisans on our side, things have grown ferocious and shrill. Obama fans and Clinton-ites are at each other's throats. Both sides have equal merit to equal claims to the top spot. When the Democrats prevail in November, it will mean we have either the first African-American president in history, or the first woman president in history. Either way we ALL win, as Americans. Either way, we will have broken through The Greatest Glass Ceiling. Either way we will have engineered a course correction - a major league change. So in a way, my pains are eased by a Publishers Clearinghouse sweepstakes overtone: "you may already be a winner!"
It's her brains. It's what he represents.
We'd have one of the country's most powerful intellects brought to bear in an intense and executively-focused manner upon the legions of ills presently plaguing this nation. We'd be able to bring a new, more activist view to fixing things, since Hillary Clinton has already said she's almost too impatient to roll up her sleeves in Washington and get crackin'. We already know of the tireless efforts that the smartest girl in the class has brought to the issues so far, and what ails America fairly screams for a towering intellect and boundless energy. On the other hand, we would present a most welcome switch from the face we've shown to the world for years by now. Looking outward, Barack Obama would present newness, healing, and inclusion. By his very nature, he's a uniter. Many different bloodlines flow in his veins from all corners of the world. We desperately need a new face to the world, one that offers reason, circumspection, respect, deep resonance, and positive engagement - instead of a menacing, threatening arrogance pointing a "my-way-or-the-highway" gun at a spot between another nation's eyes.
As our two front-runners have jabbed at each other, we the Ultimate Deciders have been absolutely at each other's throats. Perhaps it's a result of the long years of desperation as we Democrats have watched every progressive stride we've taken since the 1960s trashed like a hotel room at the mercy of a stampede of drunken rock stars, but it can get downright vicious out there. I personally have witnessed it all over the blogosphere, in email traffic. I've never seen so many presumed allies on the internet at each other's throats as there have been over this primary contest. The fight-picking and mud-wrestling dominates cable news and talk radio, and when we're listening to my kid's CDs instead of talk radio, it still overheats inside my own car.
I want desperately to support Hillary. Just the day before Super Tuesday, my son and I were in a novelty shop looking for decorations for his science project presentation board, and noticed all the election paraphernalia on display. A woman about my age stood near us, taking it all in. Soon I realized we were both searching for some OTHER joke toilet brush besides a Hillary Clinton model. We both spotted the George W. Bush version at about the same moment, and with not a little relief. We exchanged small talk about the primary. She said she felt Barack Obama was going to win California anyway, and that her vote wouldn't count for much. Therefore, she planned to cast it for Clinton. Then she said something I have heard over and over and over again from many of my women friends and their mothers - and that I have felt acutely myself: "I've waited all my life to vote for a woman for president." Ever since she got pounded post-Iowa, the "Sense of the Sisterhood" raised itself for Hillary like a political Lazarus and pulled me in as well. But I'm stopped cold by her IWR vote, and an inner dread of what we'd all be subjected to, from coast to coast, if she's the nominee. The hyenas on hate radio and the sneaky dealers of the RNC would happily unpack all the baggage they hauled off to storage with the Lewinsky and Whitewater and Vince Foster labels on them. We'd never hear the end of it.
I also deeply appreciate Barack. He knew what we all knew and tried in vain to enlighten our Senators and Congresspeople about, during the run-up to the war in 2002 and early 2003. He's electrified and inspired young voters who traditionally don't bother to show up on Election Day, and has motivated them to get involved. The publicity-shy Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg can't be all wrong. Nor can those outside our party parameters - the elusive independents and disenchanted Republicans ripe for conversion. Shrieking at me from the back of my mind is the fresh memory of the past weekend, when a staunch life-long Republican couple planted an Obama '08 sign in their front yard. Their youngest daughter, just now old enough to vote (and my daughter's life-long best friend), brought it home to them after a day's worth of knocking on doors for Obama all over Santa Monica. Remarkable. If he can woo them (and they supported McCain in 2000 against Dubya - they kept grumbling "Bush is SOOOO STOOOOOpid..."), he can win over a whole LOT of non-Democrats. We're going to need them - a resoundingly decisive victory is the best vaccine against another election theft. Besides, the LAST thing I want is a candidate that the republi-CONS are already salivating over, while sharpening their knives and forks. FAR better to have them disspirited, discouraged, and inclined to say "the hell with it" and stay home. Clinton would unfortunately energize them and give them a new reason for being. Obama - not so much.
At that West L.A. novelty shop, the erzatz poll there told a similar story. I decided to buy some campaign '08 googaws representing both the Clinton and Obama campaigns, in honor of the historic firsts each represents. There were still quite a few Hillary stickers after I picked my trio of souvenirs. I got the last three Obama stickers on the shelf.
I struggled and wrestled with this. I argued with my son, a star of his history and current events studies at school, with a keen sensitivity about the realities of disenfranchisement, prejudice, and inequality that large segments of our population have had to face. I tried to enlighten him about just how long women of all races and creeds have waited for full equality, even to have the right to vote, and that enslavement and marginalization of women has occurred across the millennia, across all national boundaries, and in virtually every culture that's ever existed. I've argued with other bloggers and activists, with my husband, with just about everyone.
In the end I put it down to head-over-heart. At every crossroads in my life, whether it was college, marriage, jobs, kids, or whatever else, I discovered I fared better in the long run if I made head-over-heart decisions. My heart goes emotional, and many times, if I'd followed its lead, it would have waltzed me straight into a ditch. My head stays almost ruthlessly practical. When my heart rules, I feel temporarily satisfied yet fearful about whether I made the best objective choice overall. When my head prevails, I feel nervous but not terribly worried in the long run. As is, the long run still looks too distant for my tastes. I finally chose the path the republi-CONS are far less prepared to stomp down.
This Super Tuesday was supposed to answer a number of questions for us, about both sides. It was widely expected to point us toward the final round already. It hasn't. Many others on our side - and among our adversaries - are still locked in that same dilemma. And now comes the real torture, since none of us can afford to let up. The winner is - the long slog that doesn't appear to have an end anytime soon. I will genuinely be delighted with whomever we wind up taking to the dance in November - be it Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. It's just utterly maddening to think of what we'll have to go through, just as Democrats, before we get to that point. We're exhausted already, but all we know we can count on for the time being is continued sleep deprivation. It looks like another type of torture to me. St. Agatha, pray for us.