Many of Barack Obama's supporters have credited him with nearly-miraculous powers. Finally, I'm inclined to agree with them. It takes something pretty remarkable to infuse someone like me - a conservative woman with minimal sensitivity to "gender issues," who has opposed Hillary Clinton and her policies since 1992 - with even a twinge of feminist outrage on her behalf. Kudos to the Obama campaign; it's succeeded.
Certainly, reasonable people can disagree about whether Senator Clinton should have been Obama's vice presidential pick. Anyone can understand his reluctance to be upstaged and sidelined, as he doubtless would have been had the Clinton team - with its endless hunger for attention and interminable psychodrama - been placed on the ticket. And the decision not to choose Hillary is one that Barack Obama, as the nomination's clear winner, was certainly entitled to make.
It's not at all troubling that Hillary was denied the vice presidential nomination. In fact, for Republicans like me, it's something of a relief. She would have been formidable. Rather, it was the revelation that the Obama campaign wasn't willing even to consider Hillary seriously - despite the candidate's frequent attestations that she'd be "on anyone's shortlist" - that rankled.
Certainly, many American women don't sympathize with Hillary or her policies. Lots of them recall her broadside against the women who "bake cookies and serve tea." Plenty of them can't understand the decisions she's made in her personal life. But just about all of them can relate to any frustration or humiliation Senator Clinton felt as Joe Biden - who can do nothing for the Democratic ticket that Clinton couldn't have done more effectively - was named Obama's veep.
It has nothing to do with having been passed over (that happens to everyone at some point, regardless of gender). Rather, it's about not being taken seriously. Almost every woman can recall at least one instance in which she was treated with similar disrespect - despite being as hardworking, as prepared and as qualified as any rival - by a man who found it necessary to let her know who was boss. And there's really no other explanation for Obama's dismissive treatment of the woman who nearly beat him.
After all, despite a deeply flawed campaign, Hillary Clinton nonetheless managed to win 18 million votes. Her policy knowledge and dogged determination on the stump won grudging respect even from those who had always opposed her. Senator Clinton's support came from states and constituencies that Barack has yet to win over. And after she lost, she ultimately said all the right things about supporting Obama.
Yet none of it was enough to secure even the nominal courtesy of being seriously considered. What, exactly, did Hillary need to do in order to get a little respect from the Obama campaign? You know, the kind extended to Joe Biden - who won a grand total of 9 thousand votes during his most recent presidential campaign - and Evan Bayh, with a wife whose extensive service on corporate boards made his spouse a potential detriment?
Hillary didn't deserve any special treatment because she was a woman. What she did earn was the right to be treated with every courtesy that would have been extended to a similarly-accomplished man. It's hard to understand why the Obama campaign never sought from Senator Clinton the kind of information gathered from the likes of obscure Congressman Chet Edwards of Texas. It's even harder to conclude that the slight was accidental.
Recent reports reveal that some Clinton backers believe that Barack Obama delivered news of his vice-presidential decision at 3 a.m. as the coup de grace for Hillary, who drew blood with an ad highlighting his lack of preparedness for a foreign affairs crisis. Given the gratuitous arrogance and unabashed pettiness of such a stunt, I would previously have dismissed the muttering as the paranoia of embittered feminists.
One of the great "miracles" of the Obama campaign is that now, I'm not so sure. And like other American women, including many with whom I disagree politically, I'm left to wonder: If Barack Obama is willing to treat a worthy but vanquished rival from his own party so disrespectfully, just how credible are his promises to unite us - male and female, Democrats and Republicans alike?