An Obama victory is not a setback for women

As a Democratic woman, I breathed a big sigh of relief last night. Hillary did what she needed to do.

She stepped up with class and grace when the moment demanded it. Plenty of Democrats were nervous as they entered the Pepsi Center last night, and a camera cut to Mchelle Obama’s face as her husband’s one-time rival started speaking indicated she might have been among them. But Clinton quickly allayed doubts with an unequivocal endorsement of Barack Obama as “my candidate,” which elicited cheers amid a sea of bobbing signs proclaiming “Obama” and “Unity.”

It was a poignant occasion for Hillary supporters, and even women like me who have been on board with Obama since the beginning. After a video tribute set to Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” Chelsea introduced her mom as her hero and referenced the 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling that her mother had broken open for women. I found myself getting a little choked up listening to this smart, savvy, dogged trailblazer of a woman.

Of course her campaign wasn’t only about the nation – Hillary’s nothing if she isn’t ambitious – but she was pretty damned convincing about how crucial an Obama victory is to the nation’s collective wellbeing. There’s no question in my mind that that’s more important to her than her own aspirations, and if it isn’t to her remaining legions of resentful backers, then they are betraying all that her candidacy stood for, and not least their own self-interest.

The key point in Clinton’s speech was a set of questions she posed to her supporters: “I want you to ask yourselves, were you in this campaign just for me, or were you in it for that young Marine and others like him? Were you in it for that mom struggling with cancer while raising her kids? Were you in it for that young boy and his mom surviving on the minimum wage? Were you in it for all the people in this country who feel invisible?”

To answer that it was just for Hillary – despite all she symbolizes for women – is a breathtakingly selfish response. To vote for John McCain, or to not vote at all, is beyond juvenile and stupid, it’s a breach of integrity. And I write not, as Susan Faludi opined in the New York Times on Monday, as one of the “daughters of a feminist generation that seems pleased to proclaim themselves so ‘beyond gender’ that they don’t need a female president.”

I’d love to see a female president. I have my reasons for thinking that Hillary might not have been our best hope at this particular moment, when a brand-new generation of voters, female and otherwise, are yearning for a thoroughly fresh direction.

Faludi, who harks back to the history of women’s suffrage and its ultimately disappointing political returns, continues that the daughters of that feminist generation, like me, “will still have all the abiding inequalities that Hillary Clinton, especially in defeat, symbolized. Without a coalescing cause to focus their forces, how will women fight a foe that remains insidious, amorphous, relentless and pervasive?”

Where I take issue with here is that women have no coalescing cause without Hillary. Our coalescing cause, as Democrats, is justice, fairness and equality – for all people. Barack Obama is also committed to those principles. If our nominee had been Hillary and not him, would we no longer have a rallying point to fight racism, because the black candidate was the runner-up?

It’s essential for Democrats to recognize that that which unites us is far greater than that which divides us. And to do that, we don’t abandon our desire and our quest to see a woman in the White House. It will happen. If we can put a black man there, we can also put a woman there. Obama’s candidacy is, for me — as a female voter — reason to hope, not reason to despair.

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