I'm Not an 'Obamabot'

By Ayelet Waldman
Tuesday, March 4, 2008; 1:21 PM

Linda Hirshman doesn't think very much of people like me. As a white woman with a law degree, I am in that "plurality of elite" women she suggests are traitors to their sex. To Hirshman, my decision not to support the candidacy of a onetime Wal-Mart board member who is the descendent of a wealthy Chicago family, but rather a former community organizer who is the son of a single mother, makes me "fickle," an "Obamabot" swayed by a movement, and quite possibly a spoiled brat who doesn't care about women less fortunate.

To say that I resent the implication is an understatement.

I'm a longtime Barack Obama supporter, not because I'm a snob in thrall to his sex appeal, but because I'm heartily sick of candidates who preach populism while accepting donations from PACs and corporate lobbyists. Obama has amassed an astonishing war chest from over one million individual donors, many of whom gave small contributions. Clinton, meanwhile, held a "Rural Americans for Hillary" fundraiser at the offices of Troutman Sanders Public Affairs -- the Washington lobbying firm that represents Monsanto. More like "Rural, Multinational Agribusiness for Hillary."

I support Obama not because I'm "fickle," but because of his principled and courageous opposition to the Iraq war. Clinton dismisses that opposition as mere words. Yet it struck me at the time, and it strikes me now, as a mark of his wisdom. He was prescient about Iraq, as he was prescient about Pakistan when he expressed doubt about putting all America's eggs in Pervez Musharraf's basket.

I support Obama not because I'm an "Obamabot," but because he generates trust across party lines. I heard independents and Republicans talk about this trust when I volunteered for Obama's campaign -- in Nevada, South Carolina, California and Texas. And I believe it stems, in part, from the fact that he has made government transparency a key stone of his campaign. Clinton, on the other hand, issues vague statements about revealing her tax returns and the donors to her husband's library, but fails to follow through. Moreover, when, during her husband's presidency, her health care reform project went down in flames, it was due in no small part to her insistence on secrecy, closed-door meetings and her refusal to allow the input of even many members of her own party.

Far from a betrayal, supporting Obama is a choice feminists can be proud of. He has proposed expanding the federal Family and Medical Leave Act to allow people to take leave to attend school activities or to care for elderly relatives. He has also proposed spending $1.5 billion dollars to encourage states to offer paid family leave, and he has called for a doubling of the funding for after-school programs. In fact, his credentials on issues affecting working women and families are on par with those of Clinton, whose gender makes it no more likely that she will be a better friend to working women than her upper-class credentials make it less likely.

Furthermore, when push came to shove in this campaign, Clinton proved herself willing to betray core feminist values. She allowed Emily's List President Ellen Malcolm to spearhead an effort to mischaracterize Obama's pro-choice record, emphasizing the number of times he voted "present" while a state senator and ignoring that his votes were part of a legislative strategy to protect abortion rights. When Clinton allows high level surrogates to perpetuate such deceptions, she undermines the credibility of the pro-choice community and betrays all of us who struggle to protect that right.

Hirshman's class argument is specious and depressing, especially since the candidate she lionizes as the working-woman's choice is a member of the very social elite of which she is so disdainful. In 2005, Clinton reported assets of between $10 million and $50 million (a range explicable, I imagine, only to someone who has that kind of money to begin with). In the same year, Obama reported assets between $456,000 and $1.1 million. While neither of these candidates' incomes remotely resembles the average of the people whom they seek to represent, the difference between the two makes decidedly odd Hirshman's sneering reference to Obama's "white-porticoed mansion."

We are lucky this year to have two such remarkable candidates running for president, two candidates who inspire passion -- as both Hirshman and my words make clear. What is also clear, however, is that nothing can be gained by making broad generalizations and unwarranted accusations. Let's continue this debate, but let's do so in a thoughtful and respectful manner, without resorting to insult.

The writer is author of, most recently, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits. She can be reached at ayeletwaldman@gmail.com.

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