Sunday, February 10, 2008

Why I love Hillary

There's a scene in the movie Primary Colors where the Bill Clinton-like main character and his wife have just done an important live television interview together during a presidential campaign. One of the campaign aids is watching it amid a crowd of average folks. He gets an excited call on his cell phone from another campaign aid who asks him, "How'd it play? Wasn't she fantastic?!"

He dryly (and a bit sadly) replies, "Yeah, great. But they'd like to see her hair a little longer."

This is what Hillary Clinton has faced all of her public life. It doesn't matter how much she's accomplished, or what her strength of character is -- someone will always be judging her on whether she is feminine enough. Someone will always feel that somehow she has been "breaking the rules" and that she should have been perhaps more of a mother or just a bit more subservient to her husband. Or maybe that she should have worn dresses more often or that she should have spent more time with her hair in her earlier ears instead of just putting on a simple headband to keep it out of her eyes.

More than anything else, it's Hillary's perseverance in the face of all this that makes her a hero to me. She reminds me of the (largely Jewish) feminists who were heroes to me when I was growing up. People like Bella Abzug , or, more importantly, like my Aunt Bryna, who was such a vital support to me when I was growing up. People who not only said that they, themselves, refused to be limited by the expectations that other people had for them, but who preached to me that I didn't have to be limited to whatever the voices were that were trying to limit me as well. They spoke a narrative of liberation that told me I should have the courage to find my own path.

In choosing between Hillary and Obama, I think this is what most people are relying on -- which narrative of liberation speaks most loudly to them. Obama certainly has an inspiring one, one that speaks loudly to many Americans. But Hillary's is the one that resonates more with the struggles -- and accomplishments -- of my own life. I can remember as a young teen taking one of those standardized tests that are supposed to tell you what you are best suited to do. When it came back telling me I should become a computer programmer it felt like a punch in the gut. Like a death sentence.

I don't mean to denigrate the profession of computer programing or of other information technology (IT) professionals. My father was a proud software engineer and I've done quite a bit of IT work in my time, both for work and for fun. But that test was labeling me. It was telling me the "kitchen" where its designers thought a person like me belonged -- a place where being among people was not important. And that's not what I wanted for myself. I didn't want to me a computer programmer or an accountant. I wanted to be a part of transforming the world. I wanted to be about helping other people find their own paths to liberation. It's that call that led me to become first a journalist, later a rabbi and now a special kind of rabbi who is part of helping other people find their path to helping others (I work in a hospital as a clinical pastoral educator training others how to be chaplains and spiritual caregivers).

Hillary, like many great women of her generation, has also refused to be defined by other's expectations -- by the limits that the society in which she has born have imposed on her. It has been anything but an easy struggle for her. She has had to endure whithering criticism -- really hatred -- throughout it .She has had to make painful compromises she clearly did not want to make -- changing her last name, dropping the headband. And, perhaps most inspiring to me, she's had to overcome what many would consider a fatal disability for a politician -- a lack of the natural skill at communicating a charismatic warmth that is so much a part of her husband's success. She's a part of that great generation of American women who taught us how to throw off our chains. It would warm my heart to no end to see one of theirs finally make it to the highest office in the land.

It's time for a change. It's time for a liberation.

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