What kind of progressive American leader would stand silent, supporting with the cold reserve of ambition the disgracefully sexist, blatantly anti-feminist attack on a well-respected woman of the same party, a political foe perhaps, but a national Democratic leader?
Barack Obama - so far.
Make no mistake, Obama's breakthrough says something wonderful about the state of racial politics in our nation - or perhaps the lack of racial politics - and the involvement of young people in politics. But his silence in the case of the cynical media mugging of Hillary Clinton by a national press corps obsessed with her gender is telling. And unless Barack Obama speaks out, his campaign's chilling acceptance of the gender bias stirred by our national media will also remind many of Ronald Reagan's acceptance of the race-baiting southern strategy - because if Obama accepts the presidency, at least in part, because of abject sexism, a brutal gender attack on a female rival - the most famous female Democrat in history - he will set feminism in our country back a generation.
There is no hope for John Edwards, of course. His cruel, stony reaction to the news that Senator Clinton got a little emotional during a New Hampshire diner visit was a window on the man's soul, a window into an empty room.
But Obama claims a mightier throne, one forged in liberal ideals of justice and equality and hope. He is the secular messiah of the Democratic Party, ordained by Oprah Winfrey as the chosen one and given to preaching about transcending petty politics. Yet there he was at the New Hampshire debate, throwing a scornful "compliment" at his rival when asked about Senator Clinton's "likability," one of the many sexist code words deployed against her in this race. "She's likable enough," he smirked, looking downward.
I think every woman reading this post knows exactly how Hillary Clinton felt in that moment.
Obama has benefited mightily from sexism in this campaign, and has remained silent. And that sexism is starting to be noticed, and commented on - even in places you don't expect it. John Cole, to say the least, is no Hillary Clinton fan but the gender-based attacks have gotten to him:
Quite frankly, I hate to say this, but I think what we are actually seeing is a double-standard here, and the feminists may be right. This is all about Hillary being a woman. John Edwards has been 150 times as angry the whole campaign, and has built his entire campaign around it. Howard Dean was angry, and people lapped it up. Here, Hillary isn’t really angry, just matter-of-fact and frustrated, and people are giving her shit.
I don’t want Hillary as President, but it sure looks to me like she isn’t getting a fair shake and is being subjected to a double standard. It’s bullshit.
Then there was Clinton's flash of anger in the same debate as the two men teamed up to bash her - she showed her anger, something male candidates (think McCain) do every debate, and was promptly accused of having a "meltdown." More people are beginning the see this media mugging as a negative story for Democrats of truly historic; here's Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly:
Am I feeling bitter? You bet. Not because Hillary Clinton seems more likely than not to lose — I can live with that pretty easily — but because of how she's likely to lose. Because the press doesn't like her. Because any time a woman raises her voice half a decibel she instantly becomes shrill.
Nor is it all men, on the attack, sadly. At TalkLeft, blogger Jeralyn shares an email from a reader:
I have a question that I don't see anyone talking about right now and that is the disturbing behavior I see from women toward Hillary Clinton.
I belong to other on-line forums -- Democratic forums -- and I see women referring to Hillary as "bitchy", "catty", "shrill", "ugly" and some too bad to mention. Most of these come from women supporting Obama. The idol worship and willingness to throw their gender under the bus in order to elect Obama is disturbing.
My question is, what happens when the campaign is over and women realize that they have set themselves back ....Will they be surprised?
It's ugly, the MoDo Syndrome - not something lefties believe exists on our side. But it's there. Taylor Marsh is right - the reaction to a little emotion, a little fire from the leading woman in American political history may be too much. Maybe we're not ready for a female president.
Hillary quite simply let them have it. Women everywhere know how she feels. There isn't one person in business or any level of professional life, even college, who hasn't had it happen to them. But having a woman show it in public? It's an emotional cleavage moment inspired by a flash in time when weaker men joined together to take their more formidable female adversary down through a round robin rough up.
You could see it in the fire and flash in her eyes.
This is a defining moment in American history. To see if we can grow up from "bitch" to "strength," while appreciating that an infuriated woman standing up for herself and her record is a sign of real heart, passion of conviction and determination. It all depends if America likes the look of feminine power when it's released through a flash of fire in a potential commander in chief's eye.
Has America grown out of their June Clever syndrome, finally ready for our Golda Meir moment? We don't know the answer to this question yet. But from the signs I'm seeing today, I wouldn't take the bet.
Me either. At the start of the campaign, I didn't think the national media could possibly be successful in an anti-woman campaign against a Democrat. I thought surely that the left wouldn't allow it, that the rest of the Democratic field - avowed feminists all - would object, and object loudly. I may be proved wrong. And Barack Obama is silent.
UPDATE II: Well, the headline's not popular and perhaps I should have proceeded more carefully with my own language in a post about loaded language. But I didn't. So I'll take the lumps. My main argument stands, though Mannion disagrees. Over at Shakeville, however, Liss is with me: "When a female public figure is demonized with sexist swill, and such tactics go unchecked, we collectively give our tacit assent to sexism being wielded against any woman in any situation." And, no Gloria Steinem did not time her Times Op-ed to coincide with this blog or with Senator Clinton's "shocking" show of emotion yesterday, but it's an elegant essay on the sad hit feminism is taking in this race.
UPDATE III: Well, the first candidate to speak kindly of Senator Clinton during this firestorm has made his views clear. Yep, it's Mike Huckabee.
FINAL UPDATE: I have closed the comments on this post for fairly obvious reasons. And I'm taking the rare step of changing the headline. My original headline was, in retrospect, inflammatory and I regret the use of the word "lynching." Its use had two inherent problems: poor writing (the word did not accurately describe what I intended it to) and an unfortunate tendency to discount its historic - and literal - meaning in American history. I'm taking this action because this post continues to draw significant traffic from search engines, and I'd like to correct my error in judgment, however tardy it may be. That said, my overall argument stands uncorrected.