Careful, Obama. Humorless Feminists Are Watching

| Thu Mar. 20, 2008 2:57 PM PDT

Now that we're all catching our breath after l'affaire Wright, it's not surprising that those at the center are still freaked out. Obama is too.

As Obama told CNN's Anderson Cooper this week: "In some ways, this controversy has actually shaken me up a little bit and gotten me back into remembering that the odds of me getting elected have always been lower than some of the other conventional candidates."

Uh oh. There are at least three ways to take this, all of which make my spidey sense tingly.

1) This is just another refreshing burst of honesty and humanity from the plaster saint all candidates are required to be, Transcendo-boy most of all. Thank God he didn't tear up, though that would have only endeared him to us more.

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2) Or it could be a rueful admission that he, too, had become a tad over-confident, mentally re-adjusting the height of the Oval Office Aeron rather than wooing Superdelegates diligently enough. Hence the manly slap on his own wrist and cautionary tale against vainglory.

3) Last, it's possible that the day after riveting the nation with a truly beautiful, transcendent speech about race he's now playing the race card, albeit weakly, and following it up with a male privilege chaser.

Had he stopped at, "...the odds of me getting elected have always been low," it wouldn't have caught the eye. But, lemme see, what is it that sets him apart from the "conventional candidates?" And, by the way, since when is Hillary a conventional candidate? Were he only facing white men, OK. But with a woman in the race—how dare he?

Here's the flip side of the black feminist complaint that black women are either forced to choose between the two identities politically—or more typically, just have their preferences assumed to coincide with those of black men (See: Clarence Thomas) on pain of ex-communication. With this bit of rhetoric, Hillary's being forced to be white over female even while she faces non-stop sexism. Why? Because that works best for the black male candidate. Hence, my belief that we're farther along on race than we are on gender; however much racism black men face, they have in common with the worst racial troglodyte the preservation of male privilege.

I've spent the last few days doing non-stop media about Obama, forced to finally give him his props for handling everything from Ferraro to Wright brilliantly, honestly, humanely, and with a minimum of political calculation. I'd been playing hard to get, loathe to swoon over this political Moon Doggie who simply couldn't be all that, and torn by my unquenchable font of feminist fury. But I finally had to give in to my admiration for him; his insistence that Ferraro may not be very articulate but is not a racist, and his treatment of the Wright flap as the legitimate issue that it is, rather than hiding behind either religious privilege or black intransigence, are both simply irresistible.

So, his "conventional candidates" remark surprised me all the more, by sounding like fake grief, a tear-stained hanky in a fisted glove. Like a reminder that he is, all of a sudden, black and therefore downtrodden, when yesterday he was merely Every Man, albeit with a crazy uncle on the loose. (And who doesn't have one of those?)

Obama's comment is a far cry from anything approximating the kind of race-baiting America is used to, but it's pretty typical of the low-level sexism, and male privilege, many of us thought Obama was above. Just 'cause it's subtle don't mean it ain't there. Were I Clinton, I'd damn sure be making this point.

I'm tired of being watchful of public figures I'd like to take the easy way out and admire. The Clintons woke up this sleeping dog with their ham-fisted race baiting up to and including South Carolina; I'm not sure they can soothe me, and all the other formerly loyalist (my bad, "conventional") Dems back to sleep. Now Obama's got me all watchful for more male privilege coming from the quarter I thought least likely to harbor it. The Clintons have taught me well to get suspicious early and stay that way, but it's exhausting.

Of the myriad things I loved about Obama's speech (and gave him much public love for at the expense of my much needed beauty rest) was its insistence that the travails of each historically oppressed or disadvantaged group be respected and alleviated as much as possible—not used to your own advantage.

Practice what you preach, Senator. We humorless feminists are watching.

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