A tame rallying cry for Hillary Clinton

The National Organization for Women PAC endorses Clinton, but emphasizes identity politics over policy.

Published March 29, 2007 12:40AM (EDT)

The National Organization for Women's Political Action Committee formally announced its support for Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential bid today, with NOW president Kim Gandy announcing the organization's "Make History With Hillary" campaign. The news doesn't come as a huge surprise, but especially since former NARAL Pro-Choice America head Kate Michelman announced in January that she was backing John Edwards, it wasn't an entirely foregone conclusion, either.

I read the press release expecting, or maybe hoping, to feel pumped up about Clinton's candidacy, but wound up feeling a little underwhelmed. Not because the release emphasizes that having women in positions of leadership and power is a worthy and desirable goal, but because it focuses on that point to the exclusion of Clinton's actual attributes. Explaining the importance of Clinton's historic bid, Gandy noted, "Today, the first woman speaker presides over the U.S. House of Representatives, and Harvard University has its first woman president. Firsts are important, because they open doors for those who follow -- but our real goal is to have every first followed by seconds and thirds and fourths, until having women in leadership is so common that it isn't even remarkable any longer." I entirely support the general goal, but implying that Clinton's election would be principally important as a matter of precedent sort of makes the Clinton candidacy sound like some unpleasant medicine that supporters of women's rights need to knock back for their own good, in order to see benefits down the road. Might it still be worth it for those of us who want our daughters to feel they can do anything their male peers can do? It really might -- but I still wish NOW had given prospective Clinton supporters a more Clinton-specific rallying cry.

Later, the release promises, the "campaign will organize and energize women's rights supporters across the country -- urging women and men across this nation to stand up and say 'I'm Ready' for a woman president -- for this woman president." On one hand, the idea of millions of Americans standing up in favor of equal opportunity and representative leadership fills me with hope; on the other, the tacked-on "for this woman president" -- which, while I'm sure they didn't intend this, winds up sounding like "er, for this woman president" -- fills me with the desire to take a restorative nap under my desk.

Even the parts of the release that cheerlead for her are vague -- as in, Clinton "has a long history of support for women's empowerment, and her public record is a testimony to her leadership on issues important to women in the U.S. and around the globe." Particularly given Clinton's move away from her lefty roots in recent years, I can see why NOW might be glossing over the specifics of her record for press-release purposes, but I don't think sticking with generalities will satisfy skeptics who'd like to see a female president but have issues with Clinton's positions on the Iraq war or abortion.

Clinton did espouse one specific position today that I feel good about: When asked at a press conference if she identifies as a feminist, she answered in the affirmative. Of course, being a politician, she hedged a little: "If you look in the dictionary, the word feminist means someone who believes in equal rights for women in society, in the economy, the political process -- generally believes in the equality of women. And I certainly believe in the equality of women." Still, I'm glad to hear it.

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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