Speaking for the Older Women: On Obama and Clinton

I have spent more than 40 years of my near-80 in public service as a federal judge, international judge, public interest lawyer and government official. A veteran of the woman's movement since its infancy in the 1960s, an ardent Democrat and an equally ardent supporter of women's right-to-choose, to work, to live as we see fit, and yes, one day to elect a woman president. I hail the advances in my lifetime that have resulted in Senator Clinton's dynamic bid for the presidency.

But women my age fought for the opportunity to be judged on our skills, talents and abilities, not on our gender, and that is the standard by which Senator Clinton's candidacy should be judged. Perhaps we were naïve, but legions of us believed that if we were allowed to enter the game alongside men, we would prove our worth.

Which is a prelude to why I now support Barack Obama and why a woman of my age would spend 8 days on the icy streets of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, campaigning for him.

As someone who cares mightily about restoration of our country to conditions under which my grandchildren live and flourish, I have carefully assayed the dueling claims of Senator Clinton and Senator Obama to lead the nation. Senator Clinton proclaims a decisive advantage in experience that notably bears responsibility for some damaging policies as well. During my time on the bench, I saw the largest incarceration boom in the nation's history even as crime rates slowed. The 1995 "tough on crime" legislation sponsored by the Clinton White House, for which the First Lady lobbied, expanded the federal death sentence and gave fiscal incentives for states to legislate "truth in sentencing" laws. The Administration also supported a federal "three strikes" law patterned after California's that overwhelmed prisons and legislations that pushed youthful offenders into adult institutions.

The cumulative result of the policies was a generation of young men and women, heavily tilted toward minorities, which suffered more severely than their crimes warranted. Credible researchers and political leaders later repudiated these policies for their costliness, ineffectiveness in improving public safety, and devastating impact on families and minority communities. Since then Senator Clinton has shown reluctance to support retroactive application of the sentencing reductions for those in prison for crack cocaine violations whose penalties have since been drastically cut by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Senator Clinton's career, in my view, is that of a cautious and expedient legislator. Her ambivalent attitude toward the Iraq war -- particularly her failure to read the critical intelligence report before voting to authorize military action -- gives me pause when considering her claims to leadership and change.

I am impressed with Senator Obama's record. His well-documented years organizing and unifying poor communities in Chicago give him first-hand knowledge of conditions on the ground that a new President will surely need in tackling the still intractable issues of race and poverty. He has been an unwavering supporter of women's right to choose, despite the Clinton campaign's repeated misstatements of his record. He has played a leadership role in Illinois for children's health insurance and tax credits for working class families. As someone whose career has been in law enforcement, I especially admire his unremitting honesty and respect for law. His opposition to the Iraq war at a time when political leaders overwhelmingly supported it reflects sound judgment.

To be old means to remember, and that can be both a blessing and a curse. I recall a time in the 1960s and 1970s when many of us believed passionately in the power of Government and in ourselves to be positive forces for change. We sought visionary leaders who could appeal to our inner angels. I remember Robert F. Kennedy saying in 1968, "I dream of things that never were and ask why not" and how he voiced the longings of our country to go forth together: black, white, Latino, poor, rich, young, old, male, and female to fight poverty and injustice.

It has been 40 years since we have heard so soaring an appeal. Today we hear that appeal from Barack Obama. My ten grandchildren and their peers need not be seared by our failures and our mixed memories. I want them to be moved by the same idealism that once moved us. We should not deny them the chance. For all Senator Clinton's talents, skills, and accomplishments, Barack Obama provides the greater hope.