Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Presidential Election That Almost Was... Or Why It's Difficult for Me to Vote, 3

For a while there it seemed as though the country was destined to have its first female presidential candidate.

Hillary Clinton sat poised atop the Clinton machine, a nearly unrivaled heir to the party her husband defined for nearly a decade. She was the quintessential party insider—all the right connections, big money donors, and despite “high negatives” among some, a legion of women voters eager to pull the lever for one of their own.

She was woman… but as the world waited to hear her roar… Iowa happened. The queen’s crown lost a bit of luster. She was vulnerable. Was it okay to be vulnerable as the first front-running woman presidential candidate? Can you cry in politics?

According to New Hampshire voters, yes. Hillary shed tears, disarming some and befuddling others. In rhetoric minted at the nearest feminist mill she proclaimed, “I found my voice.”

As a literary theme, “voice” ranks among the top in literature by or about women. As a social and political theme it’s no less salient. In claiming to find her voice, Clinton effectively claimed to speak for masses of women disenfranchised, muted by a male-dominated club of power brokers and world leaders.

But just how feminine a voice was Sen. Clinton’s? Listening to stump speeches and interviews it was hard to differentiate hers from the typical testosterone-pumped vocal disturbances of your average male presidential wannabe. She was hawkish on war, sharp and cutting against her opponents. A person could be forgiven for thinking that Mrs. Clinton wasn’t so much the first woman presidential candidate as a woman “trying to play with the big boys.” Perhaps that’s why the story lines were dominated by other historical firsts associated with the primary. It was nearly the end of the primary season before Clinton herself made any consistent noise about the historical nature of her bid as a woman candidate.

That was the trick-bag. How do you celebrate something uniquely feminine or womanly (if that’s a word) when a significant part of your life and philosophy is dedicated to eliminating the distinction between male and female, manhood and womanhood? When the premise is “I can do anything a man can do,” you sorta have to act like a man when you actually do it; otherwise, your philosophy is seen for the farce it actually is.

Sen. Clinton’s historical bid failed her 18 million supporters in one unmistakable way: it failed to call the question on what womanhood and femininity should entail. It failed to advance a compelling vision for what it means to be woman. In assuming that the pinnacle of female achievement is a kind of male parody, her candidacy and its underlying philosophy essentially nullified the glory of femininity and womanhood.

So, Sen. Clinton reluctantly passed the baton to Sens. Obama and Biden and made her exit stage left. Despite the rantings of a few hangers on, any conversation about women and the role of women appeared to vanish with the implosion of the Clinton campaign.

But right about then, the Republicans introduced the world to Gov. Sarah Palin. And it really was an introduction for this rather unknown governor. She proudly proclaimed that the 18 million cracks placed in the glass ceiling by Clinton supporters was only the beginning. She would finish the job as McCain's aid. Some in the Republican camp started calling her nomination a "game changer." But which game? The game of politics or our fundamental view and appreciation of women?

The media scurried to find out who this moose hunting, soccer mom, state executive was. Soon the rumor mill started churning: a pregnant teenage daughter. “Scandal” erupted when the public learned that Gov. Palin dared give birth to a child with developmental disabilities. If Obama was pro-abortion to the extreme, some were making Palin pro-life to the extreme.

But here was the supposed anti-Clinton. A small town girl—actually a beauty queen—turned politician. A political conservative reportedly happy in her role as mother as well.

Most of the world gave Clinton an unquestioned pass. No one raised questions about womanhood, motherhood, and the highest office in the land. Theological conservatives—died in the wool complementarians in particular—didn’t raise a word of protest or lodge a single question about the role of women when Clinton was in the spotlight. But with Palin, perhaps because of her claim to conservative Christian pedigree, something of a rumble rippled through corners of the Evangelical world.

But the conversation, as far as I could tell, didn’t really take off among Bible-believing Christians. On the complementarian side of the aisle, CBMW offered a four-part (one, two, three, four) look at the issue of womanhood and gender roles. Also, my man Lance offered some thoughts as well. But the highest profile comments came from Voddie Baucham during a CNN segment defending a complementarian view of women's roles.

Baucham also added some thoughts on his blog. Over at iMonk, some egalitarians began discussing the issue. What roles does the Bible advance for women?

We almost had a conversation. But then we didn’t. At least not quite nationally.

I’ve never seen an election like this one. We could do race, age, gender and a host of other really meaningful and interesting conversations. Yet, we’re content with the same old nonsense—childish name-calling and mud throwing.

The past two weeks have been a rather sobering time for many people in Grand Cayman. A brutal murder of a promising young woman has many in the country asking questions about safety for women and the role of women in society. The woman was a women’s advocate, a counselor helping women escape battering and abuse. Her murder has helped blow the lid off a silent epidemic.

This election could have helped to blow the lid off the very same kinds of issues in the U.S. Alongside the positive advancement of a biblical vision for womanhood, there could also have been strong repudiation of any attitudes, comments, and actions that denigrate women. We need to champion our sisters on both fronts--positive encouragements to godly femininity and big-chested defense of their dignity and worth.

Christians could have advanced a public apologetic for the high calling of wives and mothers. And inside the Christian fold, there could have been a robust discussion about gender distinctions and roles in the family and church, about the abuses and misuses of pseudo-complementarian ideas, and about the wide opportunities for women to be genuinely submitted to male leadership in the home and church and still significantly engaged in the work of the kingdom (see Duncan and Hunt, Women’s Ministry in the Local Church). Where was the Christian conversation about marriage as a form of protection for women, about accountability for husbands who fail to lead and nourish, about discipline for abandonment and abuse, about discipling young girls and women, young boys and men for the callings of singleness, marriage, and parenthood?

And where was the concern for domestic violence? Equal opportunity and pay for women? Child support enforcement as an aide to abandoned women?

Our girls and boys, men and women, and our churches need help on this issue—desperate help. The misinformation is plentiful. And the loudest “positive” voices—those like Clinton and to a lesser extent Palin—happen to suggest a certain feminist orientation.

The single best predictor for well-being of children and adults is stable, healthy marriage. Pick your indicator and the social science data is clear—build a strong marriage and educational, income, asset ownership go up and teen pregnancy, delinquency, stress and a host of other negatives go down.

The prospect of a woman president or vice-president could have put these things on the public radar in a new and fresh way. But we’ve missed the opportunity. Clinton is a non-factor; Palin is all but ridiculed by the left and an embarrassment to many on the right. And we all lose—at least for a time.

I’m really quite hopeful that something like the True Woman conference will bear lasting fruit. The True Woman Manifesto advances some much needed food for thought and use among those who want to see growth and fruit in this area.


Hayden said...

Good thoughts my friend.

I think the reason that Palin is so ridiculed is that she doesn't fit the template of a feminist. She is a real threat to those who are radical feminists much like Clarence Thomas is to those who have a victim mentality. The same ferocity is directed at both (remember the sham hearings for Clarence Tomas and the current Senate majority leader says Thomas' opinions are 'written in crayon' they are so elementary)

The reason that all of this has happened is because there has been very little balance in the media. Scandal, discord, and anger sell. I have tried to have some of these conversations that you are talking about but have found that too often people have put 'emotion' in the driver's seat. Too many people are emotionally invested in their candidate that anything that may be a critique, fair or not, is a threat.

Plain has really been ridiculed and dismissed by too many people. People like Colin Powell point out her inexperience then run over to endorse Obama. (Who has much less experience)Powell may have some real misgivings with her but why say anything. Why not just vote? (The answer to that question is politics)

This is an emotional election that is being driven by emotion. People are 'mad and they are not going to take it anymore' but they do not think about a solution they just feed their emotions. They are mad at racism, but spew different varieties of racism. they are mad at sexism, but spin sexist jokes and innuendo. They are mad at agism , but use code words like 'erratic' and 'fumbling' when talking about McCain.

I pray that after this election is over and there is some time to let people 'lick their wounds' there will be discussions on "race", gender and age. Right now the emotions are clouding judgment and 'zeal without knowledge' has taken over.

I do appreciate the CBMW articles . They are a welcome response to some of the false exegesis that the 'Vision Forum' people are putting out. I am a complementarian but I think some of my brothers on this side of the debate have really strayed from Scripture into speculation.

Thanks for being the one place where we can have a discussion like this Thabiti. Let's continue to have it even after the election.

PS What do you think about the near 90% support of black Americans for Obama? Some have said that they are voting for him because 'he is one of us'. Isn't that racism as well? (Just to stoke the conversation :)

Anonymous said...


In response to your P.S.-- 90+ percent of voting black Americans have supported the (white) Democratic nominee for President as far back as the 1970s. So, I'm not sure why you or others feel the need to play the race card here.

Hayden said...


I was asking a question not making an assertion. The statistic you assert would be correct IF voter registration among African Americans had not gone up since the last election.

According to every source that I have seen it is not true that voter registration has held steady :)

And what about African Americans that are not going to vote for Obama being denigrated because they are not voting for him?

If you read my PS comment above notice that I clearly stated that I was wanting to start a conversation. I have had a conversation about this and some of the answers I have gotten are 'less than stellar'