Reflections on the 2008 Democratic Primary

You’ve heard it/read it everywhere.  How at first,  we all felt so proud of the outstanding lineup of Democratic Candidates.  They were all so good that I couldn’t make up my mind which one to vote for – even when the field narrowed to two.  Having donated to Obama’s campaign,  I felt more and more drawn to Hillary.  On the way to vote in my state’s (Georgia) primary,  I still didn’t hadn’t decided.  And then, the moment was upon me and I touched the screen for Hillary and almost burst into tears at the significance of being able to vote for a woman to be a candidate for president.  And a woman who seemed to understand and take seriously women’s issues – from childcare to healthcare to eldercare.

At that time I didn’t “get” Obamamania.  I thought Obama was OK.  No big deal.  He seemed like a nice enough guy, well meaning and smart. But as the campaign progressed, I began to actively  dislike him.  My cognitive dissonance meter began to go off almost every time I heard him speak.  I didn’t like his smug, pompous delivery of empty slogans of hope and change.  I was unimpressed by his debate performances and his weak grasp of the issues.  I didn’t like the fact that Obama, who was claiming to run a different sort of campaign, was doing nothing/saying nothing to condemn the relentless media barrage of Hillaryhate.  I didn’t like his fake “son of a single-mom on foodstamps” narrative.  I didn’t like the fact that he wrote a book about his father who had abandoned him shortly after birth, but said little about the mother and grandparents who had raised him – except to misrepresent them. But,  I soon learned it was best to keep these feelings to myself if I wanted to keep my friends – who would brook no criticism of Obama – and who acted as if there were an unpleasant odor in the room if a kind word was said for Hillary.

One day, I tried to explain my doubts about Obama to a longtime friend,  I tried to tell her how deeply injured I felt by his sins of omission in the sexism department, only to be told that supporting Obama was a “sacred cause,” – that if I couldn’t respond to his rhetoric I clearly had no aesthetic sense, and furthermore she was shocked and surprised at my support of Clinton,  her opinion of me had “lowered.”  She hung up.  Just like that.  A 30 year friendship had ended.  Just because I dared support Hillary Clinton.  Just because I wanted to explain my support.  It’s enough to make one doubt one’s perception of reality.  But,  I know it’s not my perception that’s flawed.  And I know those of us who supported Hillary did not treat the Obama supporters this way.  Which is a commentary on the Obama campaign all by itself.

Now that the campaign has ended, I look back on the last few months and wonder what on earth got into these Obama supporters.  And I think a couple of things were going on.  For one thing,  Obama with his vague  rhetoric about hope and change was more or less like a blank screen that people could project their hopes and dreams on.  Secondly, the media loved him  (remember, this is the same irresponsible media that brought you George Bush and the Iraq War): he was elegant,  he was graceful, he wore his suits well,  he was handsome, he was smart, and he had such a romantic – “only in America” — narrative – black candidate for president, son of single mom on foodstamps – only she wasn’t.  And, there was that great picture in the NYT with his Kenyan grandma – only she wasn’t. And he was very lucky in his opponent – as he has been in past campaigns.   He recognized and was able to leverage  the vast reservoir of misogyny out here in America in his favor.  In addition,  all the disappointment and animosity which should have been reserved for George Bush, which should have been motivating a vote in Congress for Bush’s impeachment, was redirected at Hillary Clinton, who to hear the Obama supporters tell it, was singlehandedly responsible for the war – and every other problem the country is having.  And to top it all off, just as Bush supporters had swiftboated the true war hero Kerry, the Obama campaign used race baiting to damn one of the best friends civil rights ever had.  The Obama campaign: A tour de force, a virtuoso performance,  and a  real tragedy for the American  people who in 2008 are left with two really bad candidates for president.  We had our chance and we blew it.


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