Change gonna come, oh yes it will

Becky O'Malley
Friday July 29, 2016 - 02:52:00 PM

So there I was in the car, on my way to the Farmers’ Market, radio on as usual, with NPR covering the Democratic convention, and I heard Bernie Sanders’ booming voice moving the nomination of Hillary Clinton by acclamation. To my enormous surprise (and luckily I wasn’t driving) I felt tears coming to my eyes and rolling down my cheeks.


No way, I thought, did I care all that much who the nominee was going to be, since the Republican primary the week before had made it clear to all rational political beings that the job at hand for the next 100 days would be defeating Donnie Twimp, no matter who the Democrats backed.

At the market, just as I was trying figure out if the tomatoes were really ripe, I got a call from my sister on my cell phone. Yes, she’d been crying too (I had stopped by that time) and she pinpointed why we were both so affected: What a shame our mother didn’t live to see this day. 

My mother spent the last 20 or so years of her long life following Congress on C-Span the way some men obsessively watch the sports channel. She knew the names and stats of all the players, and when Hillary Clinton began her 2008 run for the presidency she was enthralled. 

It wasn’t that she’d been a lifelong militant feminist. Like most women of her generation, her work after she married in her 20s was at home, and she made a good job of it. But in her relatively brief pre-marital job working as a “salesgirl” in a department store she’d gotten an idea of what was wrong with what the world offered working women in those days, and she wasn’t pleased with it. When she saw Anita Hill’s revelations about Clarence Thomas’s sexual harassment on her C-SPAN screen, she told me for the first time about being harassed on the job by her bosses in the ‘30s. 

She was more than ready for a woman president by 2008. But she’d also been conscious for a great part of her life of the unjust treatment of Black Americans, so when Barack Obama’s star began to rise she made her peace with that, not the least because her adored great-grandaughter was African-American. And of course she was crazy about Michelle. 

But still, too bad that she didn’t live to see this day. She would have been 102, seemingly too old to party, but one woman at the Democratic Convention was indeed 102, born when women weren’t even allowed to vote. 

It’s been a long time coming. 

I’ve never been under any illusion that a candidate was good just because she was a woman. Some of the worst politicians, both candidates and electeds, that I’ve ever known have been women. But some of the very best have been among the very few women who have had their chance at public office. 

Barbara Lee, for example, who is always leading the way in Congress, is one of them. In 1972 both Barbara and I were part of the campaign for Shirley Chisholm. We didn’t know each other—I was in Michigan and Barbara was in California, but we both believed that the time for a woman president had come. We didn’t realize that we would have to wait 44 years even to come close to the finish line. (Wise woman that she is, Barbara stayed out of the messy primary this time.) 

It’s not that Hillary Clinton is perfect. It’s been mighty hard to sing her praises around Berkeley these days, since the economic determinists who dominate the discourse around here rightfully recognized that Bernie Sanders’ income inequity analysis, as far as it went, was accurate. But his stump speech was predictably vague about childcare and pre-K and education and the myriad other “women’s” issues which HRC and women like her have been pushing during my adult life with little help most of the time from male colleagues. 

All too many self-styled progressives when they considered this primary seemed to have bought into the false dishonesty narrative first advanced by a minion of Richard Nixon’s. For a good historical analysis of how that happened, I strongly recommend this piece by Michael Arnovitz, forwarded to me today from Daily Kos: The most thorough, profound and moving defense of Hillary Clinton I have ever seen. 

I’ve also detected more than a whiff of what my friend George Lakoff has written about extensively as the tension between the strict father and the nurturant parent models of political participation. George attributes the former to political conservatives and the latter to liberals in the main, though he recognizes that they are often blended in the real world. 

Once you think of George Lakoff, it’s hard not to think about metaphors (or elephants. See his new revision of his book Don’t Think About an Elephant for details.) In this election, both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders functioned like cowbirds. 

Cowbirds lay their eggs in nests of other species. When they hatch, often the rowdy cowbird hatchling will push the other offspring out to die, though sometimes the nesting parents catch on and destroy the cowbird eggs first. 

Neither Trump nor Sanders were members of the parties they tried to take over. Trump has succeeded in dislodging the original Republicans from their nest, but since Sanders has been pushed out by the Democrats’ nurturing mama bird he can now go back to being the honorable outsider he’s been for his whole career. 

In the Lakoff-style paradigm, Candidate Sanders seemed more like the strict father, the self-proclaimed embodiment of revealed truth from which there could be no deviation. You might call him the conservative progressive, telling you for your own good what’s on the standard left to-do list, like it or don’t. 

Hillary on the other hand was roundly criticized, in my presence, for apparently changing her mind on various specifics, notably trade policy, as the campaign unfolded. Could you call her the liberal progressive? 

I can hear the outraged roars coming from left field already. But what’s wrong with learning from experience? 

Let’s riff on some more prosaic metaphors here, just to stir the pot. Bernie’s election persona looked like a blend of Santa Claus and Colonel Sanders. Both grandfather figures promise to bring you all the goodies you want, just turn in your order, though in most of the real life families I know Mom does most of the gift shopping and fries up most of the chicken, even in some enlightened Berkeley families. (My sons-in-law are both good cooks, however.) 

And the nurturant parent? The best embodiment of that style I’ve ever heard was the orphaned punchline of a long-forgotten Jewish Mother joke which has lingered affectionately in our family: “That’s nice, don’t fight, have a piece of fruit!” Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech had that one down. 

It’s still good advice which my mother would have applauded. Now, kiddies, it’s time to stop bickering and get down to work dumping Trump—it’s been a long time coming, but the time has come to elect a woman president.