In rare endorsement, NOW backs Obama-Biden

And, natch, the organization is accused of not supporting women. Well, woman.

Published September 17, 2008 1:33PM (EDT)

The National Organization for Women -- citing Obama's commitment to reproductive justice, pay equity, ending violence against women (Hi, Biden), and keeping marauding crackpots off the Supreme Court -- has endorsed the Obama-Biden ticket, and yes, this is actually news. NOW has not endorsed a presidential candidate in the general election since 1984, and no, that had nothing to do with Geraldine Ferraro. According to NOW president Kim Gandy -- who talked to Broadsheet late Tuesday about the group's decision -- NOW endorsed Walter Mondale in the primary, back "when he was still fighting it out with Gary Hart and Alan Cranston." (NOW also endorsed Carol Moseley-Braun in 2003 and Shirley Chisholm in 1972 in their respective primaries, but no one endorsable made it to the general election in either race. NOW endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary.)

So why now, NOW?

"We have very high standards for our endorsement," said Gandy. "It's very rare that a candidate is good enough for us."

Or ... bad enough? "The addition of Sarah Palin gave us a renewed sense of urgency because she's being portrayed as 'feminist' when so many of her positions are anathema to ours," Gandy acknowledged earlier yesterday to NPR.

But when it came to the decision to endorse at all, Gandy insisted to Broadsheet, Palin was much more a last straw than enemy No. 1. When NOW -- in July -- surveyed state and chapter leadership about the possibility of issuing a rare general-election endorsement, the amount of consensus among the responses actually surprised her. "Historically, there's been a lot of argument over anyone who was up for consideration, but this time, the support for Obama was quite dramatic," Gandy says, estimating it at around 80 percent. Among the remaining 20-something percent, she says, many said the group should simply focus its efforts on campaigning against McCain -- and whomever.

Again, all BSP. (Before Sarah Palin. Remember when?) Actually, Gandy says, the Straight-to-Obama Express was slowed by the pre-Palin speculation that the GOP might nominate someone who supported abortion rights, which -- McCatastrophe's own dismal record on issues of concern to women notwithstanding -- would have at least required more time for discussion of any decision and fine-tuning of any resulting message.

Most of which is to say that, while I love me some Shakesville, I think their criticism of NOW on this matter is a bit off the mark, if not unfair. (To say nothing, which I will try to, of this kind of looniness, which, aside from getting most of the facts wrong, seems to say that NOW has an obligation to support any woman -- aaaaaaaaaany woman -- a heartbeat away from ... taking away all their rights.)

Anyway. Shakesville. "I'm not thrilled ... NOW is only explicitly rejecting the ticket because Palin whiffs strongly of a double standard," writes Melissa McEwan of the endorsement. "Giving up their neutrality effectively signals they're holding Palin to a different standard -- and even though it can be argued the McCain campaign provoked it, it's a complete betrayal of what NOW ought to be about. I would have preferred to see NOW stay neutral."

First of all, it's not "explicitly" because of Palin. Second, NOW neutral? Since when? (Also, for an advocacy organization: Why?) "Neutral" is not the opposite of, nor the only alternative to, "For." Says Gandy: "Whether or not we endorsed, we would have gone after McCain."

Third, "NOW is about advocating for women's rights. Not for one woman or one job -- no matter how exalted it might be," Gandy responded when I read her the criticism. "Our job is to advocate for opportunity and equality for all women. It's clear to us that the Obama-Biden ticket -- not the ticket that has a woman on it -- is the one that does that." If the NOGWOP (National Organization for Getting Women into Office, Period) wants to endorse McCain's ticket, they can knock themselves out. But for NOW to not endorse Obama just because of Palin's presence -- when her policies, views and record, such as they are, do not meet NOW's own standards -- well, that would obviously require a great big honking double standard of its own.

Anyway, look. We can talk about double standards until we tie ourselves into triple knots. Bottom line, while you may argue that NOW may be -- at best -- preaching to the choir (never mind "proving" that Obama supporters are all radical wackos), I cannot see how NOW cannot endorse this time. There's just way too much at stake. Or, to rewrite NOW's press release (courtesy of one of many supportive Daily Kos commenters): "We're so scared shitless about women's issues under a McCain administration [that] we're going to break our tradition of not endorsing."

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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