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May 06, 2008

One More Word On Hillary

With regard to Hillary's experience in the White House: We've simply never had a presidential candidate with her kind of experience before. There has never been a real presidential candidate before who was the spouse of a president. So we have no idea what kind of experience Hillary can claim, or how this experience will translate into her own presidency.

That's where this whole confusion about whether or not she gets credit and/or blame for Bill's presidency comes from. We know she was active in his presidency. We know she had a level and kind of access to him, personally as well as politically, that no other politician in US history has ever had to a president before. We know that, at times, her role in his presidency was one of a presidential appointee. We also know that, technically, if she opposed him on anything, she would not only be easily overridden, but would also be personally constrained to keep her mouth shut about it in public.

So we simply cannot evaluate her first ladyship--as a political experience--adequately. This is for obvious, personal reasons: even a president must have his private life respected. But it sets up a situation in which Hillary can claim credit for the good things and refuse blame for the bad, and no one can credibly gainsay her, because no one really knows.

Which is why so many men Obama supporters are saying unacceptable things about how her experience ain't shit, or how she has to take the blame for NAFTA, or how Bill gets credit for anything good she does. Because, although we require women in our society to get their access to power through the men in their families, when women turn that access to power into real power, we don't understand how that works.

Unambiguous power is power accessed directly. This is why we talk about "privilege" when we talk about racially clueless white women. You never hear WOC, even during this last bout of absurd racial cluelessness, ranting on about white women's "power." Because we understand "power" as something that is accessed directly, and any feminist knows that even the most privileged white woman has a limited and compromised access to direct power. "Privilege," on the other hand, is something that can be conferred, or accessed indirectly, through familial or marital relationships, or simply through racial or socioeconomic group membership.

Ambiguously accessed power makes us profoundly uncomfortable, for various reasons. One of them is that ambiguously accessed power renders the line of accountability also ambiguous. That's very dangerous. And we're seeing this played out right now in Hillary's candidacy. She's IS trying to take credit for Bill's successes and avoid blame for his mistakes, and she'll--mostly--be able to get away with it because we just don't know.

On the other hand, what Hillary is actually trying to do here is parlay ambiguously accessed power (through her husband) into real, direct power. Once she is president--or even the party's nominee--she cannot fob off responsibility on Bill, no matter how direct a hand he takes in her campaign, or her administration.

Other countries have allowed women to do this: to take ambiguously accessed power and turn it into real power. But the United States has never allowed it. So far. I've made the argument before that this is the only way a liberal woman can achieve highest office, and I still believe that. And for that reason alone, I regret that this is also the election where race will be tested, because it makes it difficult for us to watch the election where gender roles will be tested and see a "clean" result for either one. And I, for one, am fascinated to see if the most powerful nation on Earth will allow a woman into real power.


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Well said, all I felt, but couldn't put into words. I'm so glad you said it. Who IS lowest on the totem pole?

which totem pole?

no, seriously. that's the problem with this election: everyone thinks that we're dealing with one totem pole when we're dealing with a thousand or more.

that's what an election is: a race to see who can top the most totem poles. sometimes they're regional, sometimes they're about political spectrum. there's the "manly man" totem pole and there's the "wonky wonk" totem pole. there's the "good 'ol boy" pole, and the "old money" pole. there's the "i'd want to have dinner with him" pole and the "i'd want her answering the phone at 3 am" pole.

rarely in the past have they been about race or gender, but now suddenly, in a single election, all sorts of new totem poles have sprung up. and nobody quite knows how to climb them because no one has ever had to before.

there are several race and gender totem poles, for example: the "who's the most oppressed? white guilt" totem pole, which obama tops; the "who's the most oppressed? second wave feminist" totem pole, which hillary tops; there's the "lesser of two evils and i'm a sexist" totem pole and the lesser of two evils and i'm a racist" one.

then there's the "i'm a moderate balanced between my fear of republicans and my fear of the unknown" totem pole, which is up for fuckin' grabs.

notice something? you said "totem pole" as if it were an all-time real thing, and I'm saying "totem pole" as if it were entirely and only about perception. which it is.

The totem pole I referred to was the tp of life. We could refer endlessly---Native Americans, people with disabilities...life.

yeah, but that's the point. this election has made it really clear that there isn't just one.

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