White Women for Phobocracy?

Two prominent writers are in the Washington Post this morning to explain their support for Barack Obama on the one hand and Hillary Clinton on the other. The contrasts between the pieces parallel the contrasts between the campaigns so closely that, for me, it goes beyond instructive all the way to eerie.

In “Obama vs. the Phobocracy,” Michael Chabon writes, “There are many reasons not to support Barack Obama’s candidacy for president, but every one of them is bad for the same reason.” The reason? They all spring from fear. “America has become a phobocracy.”

Fear whispers to us that white voters have a nasty tendency to tell pollsters, friends and neighbors that they support an African American candidate, then go into the voting booth and let the fear known as racism pull the lever.

Fear tells us that ugliness, rage and brutality are the central facts of human existence, that decency and tolerance are luxuries on whose altar our enemies will be only too happy to sacrifice us.

It is through our fear of falling prey to the calamity and misadventure from which the media promise faithlessly to protect us — a fear manufactured and sold by the media themselves — that we accept without question the media-borne canard (tainted, in my view, by a racism as insidious as any that hides behind the curtains of voting booths) that Barack Obama, a seasoned and successful 46-year-old husband and father of two, a man sweeping into the prime of his life with all his sails and flags unfurled, is too young and inexperienced for a job that demands vitality and flexibility and that, furthermore, has made nonsense of glittering resumes, laughingstocks of practiced old hands and, in a reverse of Popeye’s old trick, ravenous alligators out of years of accumulated baggage.

Fear and those who fatten on it spread vile lies about Obama’s religion, his past drug use, his views on Israel and the Jews. Fear makes us see the world purely in terms of enemies and perils, and leads us to seek out the promise of leadership, however spurious it proves to be, among those who speak the language of that doomed and demeaning, that inhuman view of the world.

But the most pitiable fear of all is the fear of disappointment, of having our hearts broken and our hopes dashed by this radiant, humane politician who seems not just with his words but with every step he takes, simply by the fact of his running at all, to promise so much for our country, for our future and for the eventual state of our national soul. I say “pitiable” because this fear of disappointment, which I hear underlying so many of the doubts that people express to me, is ultimately a fear of finding out the truth about ourselves and the extent of the mess that we have gotten ourselves into. If we do fight for Obama, work for him, believe in him, vote for him, and the man goes down to defeat by the big-money machines and the merchants of fear, then what hope will we have left to hold on to?

Thus in the name of preserving hope do we disdain it. That is how a phobocracy maintains its grip on power.

I am, of course, overcome with bitter envy at this writer who can invent the image of someone turning baggage into alligators, but the envy is not enough to spoil what is really a terrific and very fitting piece. You should read the whole thing.

Senator Clinton gets equal time from Erica Jong in “Hillary vs. the Patriarchy.” Just as Chabon is drawn to the hopefulness of Obama’s candidacy, Erica Jong is drawn to Hillary’s most salient trait: her victimhood. Her ostensibly pro-Clinton piece begins, quite bizarrely, with two paragraphs criticizing Bill Kristol for his attitudes toward white women. And when Jong finally moves on to Sen. Clinton, the overriding theme seems to be that she is — like Jong — a victim:

I, too, have been watching Hillary Clinton with admiration, love, hate, annoyance and empathy since she appeared on the national scene 16 years ago. (Can it be only16 years?) I’ve had a hard time making up my mind about her. Perhaps that’s because I identify with her so strongly.

I’m hardly the only woman who sees my life mirrored in hers. She’s always worked twice as hard to get half as far as the men around her. She endured a demanding Republican father she could seldom please and a brilliant, straying husband who played around with bimbos. She was clearly his intellectual soul mate, but the women he chased were dumb and dumber.

Nothing she did was ever enough to stop her detractors. Supporting a politician husband by being a successful lawyer, raising a terrific daughter, saving her marriage when the love of her life publicly humiliated her — these are things that would be considered enormously admirable in most politicians and public figures. But because she’s a white woman, she’s been pilloried for them.

She’s had to endure nutcrackers made in her image, insults about the shape of her ankles and nasty cracks from mediocrities in the media like Rush Limbaugh, Chris Matthews and Kristol.

When she decided to run for the Senate she was called a carpetbagger. When she won the hearts of her most conservative constituents by supporting their actual needs, the same poisonous pundits who said it couldn’t be done attacked her.

Nor are poisonous women pundits any more kind. Maureen Dowd regularly gives her a drubbing. And “progressives” from Susan Brownmiller to Oprah Winfrey sport Obama buttons.

I, too, was a bluestocking from a woman’s college, straight-A student, Phi Beta Kappa, who found my voice as a writer while exiled to the boonies with a husband who cheated. With every book I published, I saw more clearly how uneven was the playing field for women. We were let into the literary world on sufferance. Unless we wrote unreadable academic tracts that nobody bought, or mysteries or romances or something called “chick lit” (whatever that is), or biographies of Great Men, we were booed off the stage.

I chanced to get famous for my work. Hillary got famous in the unspeakable role of “First Lady,” which Jackie Kennedy Onassis thought sounded like the name of racehorse. If she seemed uncomfortable in her skin, if she kept changing her hair, her image, her style, her way of speaking, how could we blame her? She was trying to be self-protective. Who wouldn’t be if constantly attacked by a beastly press?

Little by little, she loosened up. She learned how to dress and speak and smile and relax on the podium. I’ve watched this whole process with immense admiration.

This is an endorsement? That she’s widely hated? Or are we supposed to vote for here because “little by little, she loosened up”?

Jong then calls Obama a “token” and concludes,

I’m sticking with Hillary. I trust her because all her life, her pro bono work has been for mothers and children. And mothers and children — of all colors — are the most oppressed group in our country. I trust her to speak for our children and grandchildren — and for us. She always has.

The reference to pro bono work for mothers and children at least points to something positive, but that’s one sentence in the final paragraph. From the rest, one gets the impression that someone has a warehouse full of bumper stickers that say, “Victims of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your hope!”

Jong’s dreadful piece would be hard luck for Sen. Clinton if she herself had done a better job of offering positive reasons to vote for her, but the only one that comes to mind is her breathtakingly incoherent argument that she’s been successfully working to change the status quo for 35 years.

For the rest of us, though, Jong’s piece provides a useful service. It clarifies, perhaps unintentionally, what’s at stake for the Democrats tomorrow. I have always maintained that not even Democrats are dumb enough to nominate Hillary Clinton, but some of my Democrat friends have assured me that yes, they are dumb enough. We’ll soon find out, and I for one am hoping they don’t screw this one up.


5 Responses to “White Women for Phobocracy?”

  1. huxley Says:

    True, Jong’s is a most unimpressive and unappealing endorsement. Yet, while Chabon’s is more positive, it is little better.

    Obama has become a feel-good drug, a kind of laughing gas, that will lift Americans up, up, up and away in his beautiful balloon filled with audacity and hope, and anyone asking sensible questions — what about his experience, the thinnest since William Jennings Bryan in 1896? what about his total lack of accomplishment in government? what about his black identity church that gave a Lifetime Achievement Award to Louis Farrakhan? — is slagged off as yielding to Fear.

  2. Mark Grannis Says:

    Welcome, huxley, and thanks for the comment. I too would like to explore the experience question in greater detail. My question is: What kind of experience do we really think would be important? For example, what is the minimum number of years you could add to Obama’s resume to satisfy you that he had enough experience (whatever you might think of his policies)? How many more years, and what would he have to do during those years?

    And another question: If I’m terribly unhappy with both the style and substance of contemporary politics, shouldn’t I actually prefer a candidate with less experience?

    I disagree with most of Senator Obama’s policy positions as far as I can tell, but I just don’t worry a bit that he has insufficient experience. I’d like to know whether anyone can really articulate what kind of experience counts, or whether the experience theme is just an indirect way of saying “I don’t like him.”

  3. huxley Says:

    Typically Americans choose governors to be president and that makes sense since being president requires leading and running a state. Consider George McGovern, the senator who in 1972 ran on a campaign of idealism, decency and opposition to war (sound familiar?). In 1988 he bought a Connecticut hotel for $1 million and within three years the hotel went bankrupt.

    The United States is a huge nation, vastly more complex than a hotel. Whether one approves of McGovern’s politics or not, I think one would want a president competent to run the country.

    Obama has nothing–nothing!–in his resume beyond working as an activist, then three years as an activist lawyer, then six years in the Illinois state legislature, and he hasn’t even finished his first term as a US senator (and initially he promised he would finish that term before running for president). He has never run a business, he has written no books, he is not a war hero, he has no special accomplishments, he has pioneered no important legislation, and he has a perfectly bland liberal voting record. As far as I can see, Obama is just a liberal activist who knows how to give a good speech and get elected. That’s not enough to be president.

    I can understand being dissatisfied with politics and politicians, but joining Obama’s children’s crusade surely is not the solution.

  4. Mark Grannis Says:

    Sorry for the interruption, huxley. In case you’re still there:

    Your statement that we “typically . . . choose governors to be president” is indisputably correct — for the last 30 years or so. But no one with gubernatorial experience occupied the White House from 1945 to 1976, so these things change. Indeed, in the 19th century we frequently elected generals to the presidency, but we eventually stopped doing that and although lack of military service is sometimes cited as a weakness, I think that’s mostly just a form of point-scoring. If there is a “draft Wesley Clark” movement out there, it’s been pretty quiet. Between 1828 and 1856, we chose generals five times (Andrew Jackson in 1828 and 1832, William Henry Harrison in 1840, Zachary Taylor in 1848, and Franklin Pierce in 1852.) Lincoln had been an Illinois militia captain in a brief and obscure Indian war, but one might well have expected the nation to prefer a bona fide military man again in 1860, since war looked so likely. I’m awfully glad it didn’t work out that way.

    It’s interesting to look back over the past 75 years or so, back to FDR’s election in 1932, and compare the governors (FDR, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and George W. Bush) with the non-governors (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and George H.W. Bush). It seems to me each of those lists includes some presidents who are usually considered great and some notable failures. Furthermore, if I look at the failures on the non-gubernatorial list, I don’t see one whose real problem was a lack of executive experience or ability. So while gubernatorial experience is something voters usually like, I’m less inclined than you to think that there is much rationality in that demonstrated preference. In fact, I wonder if it doesn’t have more to do with the fact that a legislative record has traditionally been more of a burden to defend because there are just too many votes (some of which used to be compromises).

    In the end, I am left wondering whether the real point about experience (to the extent it is not just a club to beat the other guy with) is not that a long track record tends to help the candidate handle the duties of the office, but rather that it helps us know the candidate. If so, then it seems to me rational up to a point. After all, most presidencies wind up revolving around something not foreseen at the time of the election, so the candidate’s basic character is usually at least as important as his policy prescriptions. But if the point of experience is to help us rather than the candidate, then a relative lack of experience shouldn’t be disqualifying. Ordinary people sniff out bullshit pretty well, I think, and if a candidate can convincingly communicate who he is and what he stands for even though he’s only in his 40s, then I for one don’t need to watch him in the Senate for ten more years, and I care even less whether he’s ever the Governor of Illinois. In fact, if we thought about it this way, I suspect there would be a large bipartisan consensus that long years in government do not improve a person.

  5. Timothy Peach Says:

    Phobocracy — great word.

    With either Hillary or Obama, what I’m afraid of is that they’ll do what they say they’re going to do. Especially the latter.

    I think he is unlikely to do what he says he’d do. Which is an odd thing to hope for when you vote for someone.

    His lack of experience, per se, is not the issue — it’s his lack of judgment (which may well be a byproduct of the lack of experience). His apologia (right word?) on Rev Wright was absolutely brilliant, and touched into some real truths about what imperfections can be present in a genuinely good person. It didn’t repair the fact that his long-term close association with a ranting racist/lunatic, however beneficent in off-stage action, was bad judgment. I suspect more of this sort of thing will wiggle its way out of the woodwork now.

    Fear vis-a-vis Clinton is a simpler matter — she and her husband are monsters, and command our fear. Imus (another serious asshole) has them pegged right… there is literally nothing they won’t do to get back in their House.

    At this point, if you are a betting enthusiast, put your money on Hillucifer. The tide is turning, and “fairness” is about to have its day in court. “Fair” means interpreting the primaries (including FL and MI) as a mandate for the Clintons.

    As a McCain supporter, I’m conflicted on the preferred opponent. Hillary should be easier to beat, but Obama would be more survivable BY FAR should McCain come up short. He can transcend the rhetoric required to get him elected; she cannot transcend the deep, deep corruption she and Billy Boy have basted themselves in for decades.

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