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Eleanor Roosevelt she’s not. But Eleanor never ran for the Senate (despite some urging). That would have been an impossible dream in New York State, where, even until today, no woman has won higher office, except in the all-but-appointed slot of lieutenant governor. Hillary Clinton has a real chance to shatter this disgraceful record, and that is a major reason why we urge our readers to vote for her. We don’t care where she is from—real New Yorkers come from everywhere. We care about sending a strong woman to the Senate. That would be a tangible step toward sexual equality, an issue we regard as central to progressive politics. We are convinced that Hillary Clinton will add a real feminist presence to the American scene.
There are other reasons why New Yorkers can be proud to vote for her. She has a long record as an advocate for children—nearly a million of whom live below the poverty line in New York City alone. Though her health care plan failed, her impulse toward a national system was correct, and we are convinced she will push for a policy that empowers doctors and patients by curbing the brutal prerogatives of HMOs. While we abhor her support for welfare reform, we believe she understands the importance of government to those who desperately need its services. We think she will act on her evident feeling for teachers and other professionals bucking a grotesquely underfunded and overcrowded system.
These instincts will be reflected in Clinton’s Senate votes. But her opponent, Rick Lazio, can be counted on to keep the interests of the Republican leadership front and center, as he always has. These are not our interests. Consider Lazio’s failure to meet with gay groups during this campaign—while Clinton has welcomed them. Consider his recent record on gay issues (among the worst in the New York congressional delegation). He is no moderate when it comes to civil rights. Will Lazio stand up to the right wing of his party if a Supreme Court justice of Antonin Scalia’s ilk comes before the Senate? Please! We need a senator who helps to keep the courts on the right side of social justice. Clinton is that candidate.
We wish it were possible for women with less celebrity—community leaders and people of color—to get as far in politics as Hillary has. But right now, fame and fortune are prerequisites of getting elected for a female Senate candidate from New York. Hillary’s success will help to open the political door.
We remain concerned about her reflex toward ethnic pandering, and we note with anger her decision to return a contribution from a mainstream Muslim group. But Lazio has hardly been immune to the same behavior (and he nibbles knishes while averring a willingness to run on Pat Buchanan’s ticket). We prefer the hypocrite who is most likely to do the right thing in the end.
For that reason, we urge African Americans to vote for Hillary Clinton, though we are dismayed by her failure to reach out to the full spectrum of black leadership. We understand the temptation to sit out an election where one’s interests aren’t adequately addressed, but we would point out that someone will win this race—and if that person is Lazio, there is no doubt that his votes will feed the trend toward retrenchment on affirmative action and other implements of racial equality. George Bush’s policy—which he describes as “affirmative access”—should be a clear signal to all progressives of what he and his fellow Republicans intend. A vote for Hillary is a vote to stop the rollback in civil rights.
This brings us back to Clinton’s highest hurdle: the preternatural opposition of those for whom she has become a lightning rod. Ever since she moved into the White House, she has been the victim—in spades—of precisely the sort of vituperation that haunted every woman who has run for higher office in New York State. The reason why Clinton is regarded with such venom is her attitude toward power. She craves it. That is supposed to be a virtue in a politician, but in a female politician it’s a liability. A woman is supposed to have something other than fire in her belly. This stunting double standard is profoundly difficult for an ambitious and capable woman to overcome. The fact that Hillary has survived a firestorm of abuse is a tribute to her strength, and it shows that what is really at stake in this race is power. Hillary Clinton knows how to wield it, and if elected, she will show her stuff.
We think that is a very good thing.